You get what you pay for
2Corinthians 11: My needs were always supplied by the Christians from Macedonia province.
One reason some of the members of the church at Corinth don’t value Paul’s ministry as much as they value that of others is that Paul served them free of charge during his time with them. Others have come their way with hard luck stories and claims of greater enlightenment. They’ve asked for and received offerings from the church there. Now, when Paul writes to them in authoritative tones they tend to discount his ministry to them because they didn’t pay for it. Paul’s about to join the traveling preachers in stating his credentials and sharing his hard luck stories, and both are much more impressive than those of the traveling preachers they’re listening to. The Apostle wonders if he cheated them by letting churches elsewhere support his ministry during his time in Corinth. He thought he was doing them a favor, making it clear that he wasn’t in it for the money, but now he wonders if they’d be more inclined to listen to him had they supported him during his time there. Paul makes it clear that he’s not sorry he ministered to them as he did, so I don’t want to make more of this than is there. Still, it’s a point worth consideration. Generally speaking, people value that which costs them something. If it’s just handed to them, they think it’s worth what they paid for it. In this passage, I see that, on one hand, sometimes it’s best to just give our ministry away, making it as easy as possible for people to receive it. On the other hand, though, it’s fair and right that people support those who minister to them and, in fact, their doing so increases the value of that ministry in their eyes.
Take Away: We tend to value that which costs us something.
2Corinthians 8: We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves.
Paul’s collecting an offering for the Christian poor in Jerusalem. The idea came from the churches in Macedonia but has now spread throughout the Gentile Church. There’s no pressure as to what individuals give. Paul just urges people to give the best they are able. He does note though, that in spite of the Macedonian Christians going through some hard times of their own that they’ve set the giving bar pretty high. Now, Paul’s sending some folks to Corinth to collect their offering and take it to Jerusalem. He’s quite business like in his approach and wants to assure them that Titus won’t be alone in caring for this money but will be joined by another trustworthy individual in handling it. The Apostle adds that he doesn’t want anyone to have any reason to think he’s skimming expense money off the top of this designated offering. He wants them to be confident that everything they give will go to its designated purpose. As a pastor I’ve always followed Paul’s approach in money matters. I try to stay away from handling church cash if at all possible. Also, in the church we deal with money handling issues using accepted business practices along with a dose of sanctified common sense. Like Paul, we want to handle money and other church assets in such a way that no reasonable person will have reason to question our honesty. Beyond that, of course, we’re well aware that the Almighty sees it all and that someday we’ll stand before him in Judgment.
Take Away: Good business practices are good business for the church.
John 6: He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Those living around the Sea of Galilee are going crazy for Jesus. They follow him from place to place and when he isn’t around he’s the topic of conversation. Jesus is a celebrity. When Jesus sets up shop on a grassy hillside near the lake, the crowd swells to thousands. It’s at this point that Jesus calls Philip over to ask him where they can buy food to feed this huge number of people. Philip, practical to the core, quickly does the math, responding to Jesus that even if there was a bakery nearby that there’s no way that they can buy enough bread for this crowd. In an aside, the gospel writer tells us that the Lord already has a plan and that they only reason he asks this question to Philip is for Philip’s own benefit. Philip, though, at least at first, misses the lesson altogether. He quickly estimates the size of the crowd, considers the cost of bread, and comes up with a figure of 200 silver pieces which, rather being enough to pay the cost of actually feeding the people, would at least give them a bite to eat before going home. Apparently, Philip is a fine bean counter. He’d probably have been a better choice for treasurer than Judas! Still, Jesus knows what he’s doing. He knows that Philip is a practical person and that he needs to learn to trust the Lord to meet needs beyond his resources. Know what? I think I’m Philip and maybe you are too. I’ve sat in church board meetings in which the first response to everything wasn’t “Do you think this is what the Lord wants us to do?” but, instead was, “Can we afford it?” Philip needed to have his faith stretched. We practical people do too.
Take Away: We need to be people of faith first.
1Timothy 6: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.
The final chapter of this first letter to young pastor Timothy is about money. Paul’s concerned about church leaders who see their position as a way to make some easy money. Timothy’s warned to identify such people as quickly as possible to keep them from infecting the whole church with their “germs of envy, controversy…” and other equally bad stuff. Timothy, himself, as a man of God, is to pursue, not money, but “wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.” Finally, Paul addresses how Timothy’s to deal with those who are already wealthy. He’s to warn them to not be money centered but, instead, to handle their riches in the same way the Lord handles his: with extravagant generosity, helping others out of their bounty. Even though this is a short course on the topic of money and the church we find here a well-rounded treatment of the subject. First, watch out for church leaders who are in it for the money. Second, the pastor must be careful to not get caught up on the pursuit of money. Finally, those who do have money are to handle it with care, letting the generosity of the Lord, himself, but their example.
Take Away: Money doesn’t have to be a curse – rather it can be a way in which we reflect the generosity of the Lord.