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.
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 is not to be sold. But there are also specific examples of times it was sold, and condemned.
1. 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 given/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.
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.
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.
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.
3. 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:
While Elisha refused payment for ministry, his servant Gehazi thought this was foolish. Why not accept payment 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).
While the Bible condemns charging for ministry it also condemns offering to buy it.
4. 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.
Note that Simon’s sin wasn’t obtaining salvation for himself through money; he was seeking to dispense “God’s gift” to others, just as the apostles were. Simon’s sin became known as “Simony”, the sale of spiritual things.
Profiting from ministry
In addition to actual examples of people commercializing ministry, the Bible has several things to say about those who make a profit from doing ministry.
5. The Super Apostles
In 2 Corinthians Paul responds to the “super apostles” who were not just leading the church astray but were also seeking to profit from their “ministry”. Unlike the super apostles, Paul never charged for ministry (2 Cor 11:7), he only accepted voluntary financial support (Phil 2:18).
6. Paul’s warning to Timothy
Paul warns Timothy about false teachers who seek to make a profit from their ministry. If ministers are not to profit from ministry, what is the alternative? Paul gives it. To be financially supported and content with that.
7. Paul’s warning to Titus
Paul also warns Titus about false teachers who will teach for dishonest/shameful gain. Is the problem that they are stealing or obtaining money illegally? Probably not, just that they take more than they actually need.
8. Requirements for elders
Peter also talks about those who minister for “shameful profit”. Again, 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.
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.
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:
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.
We, too, have turned ministry into a marketplace, and the Lord is not likely to be pleased.