With some degree of frequency, church elders warn young ministers that the three basic areas of temptation for them in life come through money, sex, and power. Common observation tends to confirm this for all. Even without a catastrophic moral failure, preachers can conduct themselves in unwise and even sinful ways, especially in the handling of church funds.
I once heard a radio minister appealing for funds to send Bibles to young people in Israel. He declared that with the monies received he would send the young Israelis a copy of the Bible in their own language. Then he stated dogmatically, "We will send them the King James Version!" He closed his plea for financial support for the project with passion in promising, "Every dollar, every dime you send (above expenses) will go to purchase these Bibles." If I had not been listening carefully, I would have missed his insertion of the words, "above expenses." He spoke those two words so softly and so quickly that I wondered if he really wanted his audience to hear it. I couldn't help but want to know what percentage of the offerings would actually go for "expenses." I suspected the rate would be rather high.
Perhaps it is because the temptation is so great for ministers to go wrong in the handling of church finances that in the lists of qualifications for church leaders, the Bible almost always includes the requirement that a candidate must "not be a lover of money" (1 Timothy 3:3). We commonly hear the instruction, in the wording of the Authorized Version, declaring that ministers must "not be greedy of filthy lucre." We understand that "filthy" money is that which one gets by dishonest means. The preacher must guard against being so bent toward accumulating wealth that he or she is willing to get it "by hook or by crook."
In his writings Paul opens his heart so fully that all may readily see his attitude toward both personal and church finances. The feeling in his breast about receiving money in the ministry for his own personal use appears clearly in a letter he wrote to the church at Philippi. It is contained in a thank-you note that he included in the epistle for an offering that the church at Philippi sent him through its messenger, Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:10-20). The passage sets forth wonderful truths concerning the subject of worship through giving. Perhaps most important of all for this series of articles is the fact that he reveals a proper attitude for ministers to have concerning money.
A commendable attitude toward money in the ministry can be found by adopting the truths Paul shared with the Philippians on these matters.
Much of what he said concerns the preacher and his pocketbook. In the passage Paul expresses his gratitude for a recent offering from the congregation of believers in the church at Philippi; offers an explanation of motive in sending the thank-you note; and declares his expectation of blessing to follow the generous action of this church.
Paul's expression of gratitude for the gift from the Philippians included his thanking them for their love, for sharing in his ministry, for understanding his policy on ministerial finances, for their worship of God through their offering, and for the material things they sent.
Certainly Paul's thank-you note for the offering that he received from the church at Philippi included an expression of gratitude for it. Interestingly, though, he did not focus at first on the content of the gift. To begin with, he declared that he was grateful for the love that the offering demonstrated. He wrote, "I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it" (Philippians 4:10).
He understood this offering to mean that their affection for him still flourished.
Clearly, then, the love behind the offering meant more than the money it contained. That is what caused him to "rejoice in the Lord greatly." Undoubtedly, he always knew that they loved him, but the opportunity of sending this gift to him provided them an avenue to demonstrate their concern for him in a tangible way. Circumstances had not permitted them to do that for some time.
Second, the apostle expressed his gratitude that the Philippians were still disposed to share in his ministry. He said, "It was good of you to share in my troubles" (Philippians 4:14). They were one with him in relieving his afflictions, his financial straits. This was not at all the first time they had been a partner in his work. As a matter of fact, as far back as ten years earlier they had sent him an offering, and they had been the only church at the time to do so. He wrote, "Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only" (v. 15). Matthew Henry notes, "In works of charity, we are ready to ask what other people do. But the church of the Philippians never considered that. It redounded so much the more to their honour that they were the only church who were thus just and generous."
After pioneering the church at Philippi, Paul traveled south a few miles to plant a congregation at Thessalonica. Noteworthy is the fact that the apostle referred to the Philippians' offerings after he had gone on to plant another church. Elsewhere he indicated that he had a policy of not asking for financial support while he was pioneering a work. He spoke of that in a letter to the congregation at Thessalonica, which he wrote after he left them. He declared that he had not used his ministry as a "cloak for covetousness" (1 Thessalonians 2:5). He even called God to be his witness that he did not "put on a mask to cover up greed" (v. 5). Further, he explained that he did not want to be a burden to them, though he had an apostolic right to expect full support from them while serving them as their first pastor (v. 6). He reminded them then, "Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you" (v. 9).
In short, Paul did not want to be classified with those who preached just for money, as many public speakers, first century entertainers, did.
Socrates chided the Sophists for doing that. In addition, the Romans of his world generally thought work beneath the dignity of a nobleman, especially manual labor. Thus the apostle wanted to start the new churches off on the right foundation on the matter of work and giving to others. To the Ephesian elders he explained: "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:33-35).
At the same time, though, it is clear that Paul did receive money from churches after he had established them and passed on to pioneer others. To the church at Philippi he wrote, "Even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need" (Philippians 4:16). Thus, long before sending the recent offering by Ephaphroditus, the congregation at Philippi had repeatedly sent missionary offerings to the apostle.
The Book of Hebrews speaks of the worshiper's intangible sacrifice of praise. In an exhortation, the writer says, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Hebrews 13:15). Regrettably, through the years some have taken the word sacrifice here to mean doing something uncomfortable. Thus for them this verse declares that one should praise God even when one doesn't feel like it. Actually, this book uses the word as a synonym for offering. The intended contrast is between presenting an intangible offering to God now, the fruit of the lips, and presenting a tangible offering in the Old Testament way, literal fruit or produce from the fields.
Next the writer of Hebrews points out a way for believers still to present tangible offerings to the Lord. He says, "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hebrews 13:16). It was this same kind of giving to the work of God that Paul had in mind in expressing his gratitude to the Philippians. He said that their contribution to his ministry was a pleasing, tangible sacrifice to God. Speaking of the gifts that they had sent, He wrote, "They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18).
That Paul waited until late in the note before mentioning the contents of their gifts speaks loudly of his attitude toward money.
Finally he referred to the fact that their offering had abundantly supplied his needs, and for that he was grateful. He said, "I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent" (Philippians 4:18). He had taken the first part of his note to focus on matters that were of more significance than the meeting of his material needs.
The apostle readily recognized that those who heard his accolades concerning the offering of the Philippians might question his motives. Likely some might suspect that he was hinting that they send another contribution right away. Consequently, he explained that he was not writing for that purpose at all. He declared, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11).
To make certain that no one misunderstood why he expressed his appreciation so eloquently, later in the note he explained, "Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account" (Philippians 4:17). He would not stoop to flattering men for the sake of personal gain. He had learned to be content with much or little. The Lord Himself gave him the strength to hold that attitude. As he said, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Philippians 4:12).
Have many of God's people learned that lesson yet?
Can they adjust to life's changing circumstances? Are they able to refrain from being puffed up by prosperity? Is it possible for them successfully to resist being depressed by adversity? Perhaps they should recite from a sense of new meaning Paul's oft quoted words, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).
Paul explained that, rather than hinting that another offering come to him soon from the Philippians, he was concerned instead with "what may be credited to your account" (Philippians 4:17). He wished that they would further their relationship to God through giving. Through their offering they were laying up treasures in heaven. The joy of giving was made real to me when I had no income and thus nothing to give for two years while out of the ministry for physical reasons. I shall never forget the joy of giving when once I could do so worshipfully again!
Finally, the apostle reached the climax in his discussion of church finances. He declared that, since the Philippians had met his needs, His God would supply all of their needs in the same way. He would do so, not in a stingy sort of way, but, as the apostle expressed it, "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). Jeff Berg and Jim Burgess caution against using this as a proof text for a give-to-get mentality. Rather, it is as King David observed once: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Ps. 37:25).
I have witnessed the fulfillment of Paul's promise in my own family.
During the depths of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s, my parents ran totally out of money. My father had not been able to find any work. He had used his credit at the country store to the limit. He had borrowed what money he honestly thought he could repay. One morning my mother went into the kitchen to cook the last of the food in the house. What was there she prepared for her seven children while my parents ate nothing. At midmorning my father walked down to the road after the mailman had just stopped at our box on that rural road. On his way back he was weeping and exclaiming, "Praise the Lord!" Inside the envelope in his hand was a sum of money sufficient to feed the family for six months. It had come from a Christian brother who had gone to a distant state and found work during those difficult days. Accompanying the money was a crudely handwritten note saying simply, "Brother Harris, the Lord told me to send you this."
Not only did Paul declare his expectations that the Lord would bless the Philippians for their worshipful giving, but he also broke forth into blessing God for all that came out of their act in sending him the offering. As Paul contemplated the magnitude of the Lord's promise to His people, he could not help but shout, "To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Philippians 4:20).
Thus, believers can worship God through giving acceptably and can maintain a commendable attitude toward money in the church by observing the truths Paul shared with the Philippians on these matters. May they continue to show their gratitude to God through giving to support the work of their church; to support their home church before feeling any duty to support any radio or television ministry. Let them take good care of their pastor, relieving his financial burdens, sharing in his ministry by freeing him to give fulltime to the Lord's service. He is not in the ministry for the money. He does not preach to pad his pocketbook. May they remember that there is more to giving in the church than just paying its bills; the truths here emphasize that as a fact.
When the preacher holds the attitude toward money that Paul did, no doubt it is easier for the congregation to treat him as the Bible says they should when it comes to paying him. With all of this in view, Wayne Pohl devotes a chapter to the subject of the church's practices in compensating its personnel. His chapter title, "Setting Staff Salaries," makes clear that he speaks of more than just paying the preacher. He has all of the employees of the church in mind. Still he writes, "My philosophy is that pastors should be free from money worries, as much as possible, so they can concentrate in ministry." He continues, "We don't want to overpay or underpay. We don't want anyone to stay at our church only because they couldn't get the same salary elsewhere. Likewise, we don't want anyone to leave solely on account of money. We seek to remove money as a preoccupation."
While encouraging treating the staff fairly in determining the salary of each, Pohl's argument is that if a congregation doesn't do so, it cannot gain the services of quality personnel. He reasons that a church actually hurts itself in not giving its employees a just wage. He writer, "A secretary with poor phone skills can quickly sour the image of the church. A custodian who resents the wear and tear on the church and continually reprimands members is costing some congregations money."
If all ministers today held the same high view concerning church finances as Paul did, it is unlikely that any of them would experience catastrophic failure over money. It is possible to hold the attitude of the apostle by taking to heart all that is in Philippians 4:10-20 on the subject of the preacher and his pocketbook. The passage sets forth wonderful truths concerning the subject of worship through giving. Perhaps, though, most important of all for this series of articles is the fact that Paul revealed a proper attitude concerning money for ministers. He expressed his gratitude for the love of the people in sending an offering, for being a partner in his ministry, and for their worship in giving before he referred to the content of their gift. Finally, he explained that his motive in thanking them for their offering was not to hint for another one soon, and he declared that blessings both physical and spiritual would follow their charitable deed.
Berg, Jeff, and Jim Burgess. The Debt-Free Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary. Vol. 6. New York: Fleming H. Revell, n. d.
Pohl, Wayne. Mastering Church Finances. Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1992.
About the Author
Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Professor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years.
In addition to his career as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in the Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and the Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books--What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure--as well as a commentary on the Book of Second Corinthians in the Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter: A Pentecostal Perspective.
Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.