Archive for October 22nd, 2009

“Supposing that Gain is Godliness”

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Many of our fundamental churches have been influenced by the worldly philosophy that “gain is godliness.”

We can all point to certain money-crazed charismatics who teach on television and radio that financial increase is a sign of God’s blessing and that God wants all of His people to be rich. The Bible calls these people “men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness” (I Timothy 6:5) and adds “from such withdraw thyself.”

Yet this very philosophy has influenced our independent Baptist churches. Preachers and evangelists are pointing to financial gain as a sign of God’s blessing on them, and some are even laboring for this type of gain. We give great influence and prominence to the big colleges and churches, who have the big money.

If money, buildings, and crowds were an indicator of God’s blessing, then we should all convert to Roman Catholicism right now.

We need to look with spiritual eyes, not worldly eyes. Remember, we are not laboring for an earthly reward. If God has called us to labor on a certain field or in a certain way, money and comfort-of-living should never enter into our mind as a “confirmation” of His blessing. We ought to simply pursue the work He has assigned to us, whether or not the money and recognition are there.

The next time someone remarks, “The offerings in Pastor XXXX’s church are up over $700 a week – God is really blessing there!” open your Bible to I Timothy chapter 6 and let the Bible purge them of that charismatic philosophy before they do any more harm to God’s work and to God’s people.

If the Bible is not enough to convince them (it often is not enough for those who are influenced by worldly charismatic thinking), give them a history lesson.

William Carey is recognized as “the father of foreign missions.” As he labored in England, sometimes working two jobs in addition to his pastorate, he lived in abject poverty.

When he tried to convince pastors of the need to evangelize heathen nations, he was met with indifference. When speaking of this need at a pastor’s fellowship, one prominent pastor said, “Young man, sit down and be silent. If God wants to save the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.”

Carey finally convinced enough churches that world evangelism was possible and was the duty of God’s people, and he left for India with promises of support. In India, the money he had brought with him did not last long, and he and his family were soon experiencing dire need. Support from home was slow in coming, and much less than needed. For years he lived and labored in poverty, living at times in a Bengali’s garden house and later on a homestead in the jungle, often not having food for meals. His wife turned on him. The influential East India Company opposed his work.

He saw little fruit in his ministry for the first seven years. The one person who made a profession to Christ was not faithful. Discouragement seemed to beset him on every side. Most of our churches today would have dropped him from support during those first years.

After seven years, the situation began to improve, and gradually support from home increased and he got a well-paying job as a professor at a college in Calcutta. Even during this time, however, Carey lived in poverty by choice, keeping only 10% of his college salary and putting the other 90% directly into the mission. He and his fellow missionaries lived in a common house eating meager meals and wearing clothing that back in England would have been considered beneath any professional. The only exception to clothing was that Carey, after consultation with the other missionaries, purchased a suit of better clothes to wear when he went to teach at the college in Calcutta.

The time of relative prosperity didn’t last. Soon, enemies began circulating nasty rumors among supporting churches back in England, and support plummeted. The mission board, which he had helped create, cut off funds to the mission, believing the rumors rather than the missionaries themselves. Carey found himself, again, immersed in financial difficulty and turmoil.

No, financial gain is not a sign of godliness or of God’s blessing. The approbation of fellow preachers is not a sign of godliness or God’s blessing. Professional success is not a sign of godliness or God’s blessing.

The bottom line is that when God gives us a job to do, we are to labor at the task regardless of circumstances. If we have to look to earthly things as confirmation of God’s calling, then we never believed the calling to begin with. When you know what you are to do for God, pursue it with all your might and with all your resources, regardless of money, possessions, glory, and other people’s approval.

Our reward is not down here. This world has nothing to offer us. Our hope lies above.

Hudson Taylor lived in poverty in China, sometimes not knowing where he would be sleeping the next night. Because of his state, the guardian of the woman he wanted to marry did not immediately give her approval. He was considered a ne’er-do-well because he was not associated with a mission board and had no steady income.

Taylor buried his eight-year-old “daddy’s girl” and two babies in China. His house was looted and burned down. His wife died. Yet, he kept his eyes above – not looking to the circumstances of this world as confirmation of his calling, and not considering for a moment that money should be considered a stamp of approval or sign of God’s blessing on his ministry.

Brothers and sisters, if we are truly living for God, there is a great possibility that we will never see financial prosperity or wealth.

George Műller lived as a pauper in Bristol, sometimes giving his last bread and butter to a house guest, and often not knowing where the next meal for he and the orphans would come from. Fellow Christians told him that he was a fool for living the life of faith and reliance upon God for which he is so respected today – they said he would only bring shame to God by his manner of life.

Even when money came more easily during the latter part of his life, he kept the bare minimum for his own expenses and put everything else into the ministry. He did not consider that the money was a reward for all the hard work and sacrifice he had put in over the years (he had labored for God, not for money). Nobody would have faulted him for taking a little for himself, for buying better clothes instead of mending the older ones, for buying a nice house. But, he didn’t. In fact, he never owned a house. After his wife died, he even relinquished the rental house he had been living in and moved into one of the rooms in one of the orphanages he had built.

Műller said, “A servant of God has but one Master. It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised.”

When so many great men and women of God throughout history have endured severe poverty, hardship, and deprivation, how dare we look to money, cars, nice suits, and nice homes as a sign of God’s blessing – or as something to even be desired in our Christian ministry!

I was naïve about this. I thought, “I’m doing God’s work, so God will send all the money, and the more I work for God, the better finances will be, because, after all, ‘God provides.’”

What I discovered through experience was something very different. Yes, God provides. But sometimes that provision is in the form of affliction which tests your determination and faith. Sometimes He presses your life through financial hardship to the point that you don’t think you can bare it. Sometimes He teaches you to live on less than you ever thought possible. Sometimes He teaches you that the things you thought were “necessities” are really only “wants.” Sometimes He compels you to give up material things that you thought were very important.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept they word … It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statues. (Psalm 119:67,71)

Often God provides for us by bringing us low and shaking us up.

My family is now living on less than 2/5 of what I was making before surrendering to preach. We’re still living on bare plywood floors. We just installed second-hand carpet in the children’s rooms upstairs. We have to keep the house at 50-55 degrees for most of the winter. There’s a five gallon bucket under the kitchen sink because the elbow on one of the drains leaks so much. We hang clothes from the ceiling in the kitchen/dining room because it is expensive to run the dryer. We get our clothes as hand-me-downs or from Goodwill. Every car I’ve bought since becoming a pastor has been at least 8 years old. The driveway has so many ruts and rocks in it that we have to drive it at 5 mph. Winters are cold and laborious and expensive.

God has used me more this year than in all the eight previous years, yet income has dropped to its lowest, and the work I did locally to supply steady income for our household was lost when the company I worked for dismissed all of its independent contractors (including me) this Spring in order to save staff jobs. Our meager savings disappeared within three months.

But not one of the statements above is a complaint! To the contrary. God has been so good and gracious to allow us to continue ministering here.

Being able to serve God is a privilege. Without that purpose, I could have twice the money but still be aimless, desolate, and hopeless. It is through God’s grace that I continue to minister on His behalf, and I don’t look to the things of this world as confirmation or signs of His blessing. In fact, financial prosperity has more pitfalls than blessings for God’s people.

Our hope and purpose as God’s servants need to lie beyond this world, or we will be the most miserable people on the face of this earth.

Let’s don’t put conditions upon our service to God.

We should not say, “God, I’ll serve You if you keep the money flowing.”

Or, “I’ll serve You if I can keep my standard of living.”

“I’ll serve You if I can have my nice clothes.”

“I’ll serve You if I can keep my hobbies.”

“I’ll serve You if I don’t lose my house.”

“I’ll serve You if I have good health.”

“I’ll serve You if I can live with electricity and running water.”

“I’ll serve You if I can have people’s respect.”

Don’t make your faithfulness contingent upon temporal things. Don’t be guilty of “supposing that gain is godliness.” Receive what God gives you and be thankful for it. Be grateful for His provision, whatever it might be.

No, it’s not easy, but it gets easier as we grow toward Him. You’ll find yourself in prayer more. You’ll find yourself more humble, and more sensitive to other people’s needs. You’ll find yourself looking more to God and the next world and less to the things of this world. You’ll find God using you in surprising, unexpected ways.

I ask you to pray for me, my family, and the ministry God has given us. Pray that we are faithful to the end, and that He is able to use us in the way He wants to. I also want to pray for you, particularly if you are enduring hardship for the sake of your ministry on God’s behalf. You have a lot of brothers and sisters that are struggling just as you are, laboring alongside you. Keep your eyes on Him.