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Ten Times Commercializing Ministry Is Condemned

Mar 21, 2023 — Jon Here

The Bible has a lot to say about greed and love of money. Almost all Christians know it should be avoided. But how about misuse of money in ministry? While a more specific subcategory, the Bible too has much to say on this topic. It isn’t limited to those who sell ministry either, but also those who offer to buy it. Here are ten passages that condemn commercializing ministry.

Expecting payment

When Jesus said “freely you received, freely give” (Matt 10:8) when he sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel, the obvious implication is that ministry should not be sold. But there are also specific examples of times it was sold, and condemned.

1. The Super Apostles

In 2 Corinthians Paul responds to the “super apostles” who were not just leading the church astray but were also peddling God’s Word, exchanging their teaching for money. Unlike the super apostles, Paul never charged for ministry (2 Cor 11:7), he only accepted voluntary financial support (Phil 2:18).

For we are not like so many others, who peddle the word of God. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as men sent from God.

2 Cor 2:17

While many translations like to constrain Paul’s condemnation by appending “for profit” (implying non-profit sale of teaching is ok), such additions are not from the original text.

2 Corinthians 2:17 — Commercializing the Word of God

Is it ok to sell God's Word if you have good motives? That seems to be what some Bible translations imply, but it couldn't be further from the truth.

2. Micah condemns the corrupt leaders

The leaders, priests, and prophets of Israel did many abhorrent things in the time of Micah the prophet. But included in that list is charging for ministry.

Micah 3:11 (BSB)

Most of their practices would be abhorred today, such as judges taking bribes. Yet most Bible translations read the action of the priests as simply charging for their teaching, which is common practice today outside of Sunday services.

Micah 3:11 — Selling Truth

Micah had a message for Israel's leaders, and he has one for us as well.

3. Eli’s sons want the best meat

Priests in the temple were supposed to be provided for by receiving some of the food offered at the temple after it had already been sacrificed to God (Num 18:8-20). Eli’s sons, however, decided that they wanted to eat the meat before it had been sacrificed, effectively requiring payment from those who came to worship God.

1 Sam 2:15-17 (BSB)

Accepting payment

Some people explain that the reason why they sell ministry is because people would often offer to pay for it anyway, believing this would be appropriate since they also pay for everything else in their life, like shopping and servicing their car. However, this too is condemned.

4. Gehazi cursed with leprosy

There is a story in Kings about an army commander called Naaman who had leprosy, and Elisha the prophet instructed him on how to be miraculously healed. Naaman was very grateful and responded as follows:

2 Kings 5:15-16 (BSB)

While Elisha refused payment for ministry, his servant Gehazi thought this was foolish. Why not accept compensation if it is offered? What’s the harm in that? So he ran back to collect the payment and was cursed with leprosy as punishment (2 Kings 5:27).

Offering payment

While the Bible condemns charging for ministry it also condemns offering to buy it.

5. Simon wants to wield the Holy Spirit

Simon was amazed at the ministry of the apostles, and especially how God granted his Spirit to people they ministered to. Rather than become part of that ministry through sincere means, he thought he could obtain it with money.

Acts 8:18-21 (BSB)

Note that Simon’s sin wasn’t paying for salvation for himself; he was seeking to dispense “God’s gift” to others, most certainly for money. Simon’s sin became known as “Simony”, the sale of spiritual things.

The Sale of Religious Instruction Considered Simony

Simony is the practice of selling spiritual things, which thrived throughout the Middle Ages, and still exists today in a new form.

Profiting from ministry

In addition to actual examples of people commercializing ministry, the Bible has several things to say about those who seek financial gain from ministry.

6. Paul’s warning to Timothy

Paul warns Timothy about false teachers who seek to financially gain from their ministry beyond their actual needs. If ministers are not to profit from ministry, what is the alternative? Paul gives it. To be financially supported and content with that.

… men of depraved mind who are devoid of the truth. These men regard godliness as a means of gain. Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

1 Tim 6:5-8 (BSB)

7. Paul’s warning to Titus

Paul also warns Titus about false teachers who will teach for dishonorable gain.

Titus 1:10-11 (BSB)

8. Requirements for elders

Peter also talks about those who minister for “dishonorable gain”. It is unlikely illegal activity is in view here as that would be too obvious a sin for elders to mistakenly fall into. Rather, ministry can never be entered into with mixed motives, you cannot serve God and seek to make a profit at the same time.

I appeal to the elders among you: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over them not out of compulsion, but because it is God’s will; not for dishonorable gain, but out of eagerness;

1 Peter 5:1-2

Mixing commerce with ministry

It is fine to engage in commerce in society at large, but Jesus himself warns us of the danger of mixing commerce and ministry together.

9. The inability to serve both God and money

Seeking to serve God and pursue money at the same time is not possible according to Jesus, as it will render one or the other insincere.

Luke 16:13 (BSB)

10. Jesus cleanses the temple

Last and most memorable is Jesus’ anger at those who tried to profit from people who came to worship God in the temple, as recorded in all four Gospels:

John 2:14-16 (BSB)

Obviously Jesus was not opposed to the general sale of animals in a normal market. But people were seeking to do commerce in a place of ministry and worship, God’s very own temple. While the holiness of the temple is important context, we should remember that God’s Word is also holy, and all ministry deals with that which is holy.

While people in the temple were selling ordinary things in a place of worship, the commerce that happens today is not the sale of ordinary things but spiritual things! Actual teaching, bibles, and worship music.

We, too, have turned ministry into a marketplace, and the Lord is not likely to be pleased.

Jon Here

Founder of Gracious TechMDiv

Jon has served as a pastor, a missionary in South-East Asia, and went on to start his own company for creating apps for mission. Every app his company makes is free to use and open source.

The first app I made was for evangelizing using plain Scripture. It was almost done when I realised Bible translations forbid sharing plain Scripture! Copyright has been the number one barrier to my ministry ever since. The more I've reflected on Scripture and the practices of modern ministries, the more concerned I've become.