“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:19-20 NIV).
Under Mosaic law, a person appointed to a leadership role was expected to live a life of unquestioned integrity. Jethro advised Moses, “But you should select from all the people, able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes. Place them over the people as commanders…” (Exodus 18:21 HCSB). Kings were specifically commanded “not [to] multiply horses for himself… nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 NASB). Solomon, who ignored these strictures, and ‘refused himself no pleasure’ wrecked his life, his kingdom, and his relationship with God. As for the ministers, the Levites and priests, they were to own no land in Israel except pasture lands for their flocks, “for the Lord was their inheritance”. In the NT, the qualifications of the elder are listed – “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3 NIV).
The reason for these qualifications is clear – money can corrupt even the best intentioned among us. There is a measure of safety in moderation, and danger in excess. The need for moderation is greater for a ministers than others, and an unavoidable hazard of being in ministry is the intense scrutiny one is inevitably subjected to – both within the church and outside. An extravagant lifestyle inevitably prompts questions about a minister’s integrity or his judgment, and results in unwelcome gossip about his private affairs, which can be distressing for himself and his family.
Paul was equally clear about the use and misuse of the freedom we have in Christ. “I have the right to do anything,” you say, but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). “All things are lawful, but not all things edify [or are constructive, profitable, beneficial, helpful or useful]” (1 Corinthians 10:23). To achieve a proper balance, a Christian minister, ought to apply certain common sense rules in his handling of money.
First of all, every elder ought to remember that he is called by God to be an example of righteous living to others. Paul wrote, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”. What would he rather model for his flock – the example of a life of self-denial or a life of unrestrained self-indulgence? Which of these would win Christ’s approval? In writing these things, I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong for a minister to own a comfortable house or drive a nice car or to provide, as best as he can, for his children’s future; only that his choices should be underpinned by a heightened sense of social responsibility, and be in line with biblical guidelines.
Second, an elder ought to ask himself the following questions. Is his lifestyle creating a distance between himself and the flock of God whom he is called to serve? Will the poorer parishioners in his congregation feel out of place and awkward in his home? Could he be setting himself apart from the general populace much like the princely popes of the past. Is his church truly open to all sections of society, or has it become the sort of place where only people of a certain social group feel comfortable or welcome?
Third, in recent decades the media has exposed the opulent lifestyles of several high profile tele-preachers. Such exposure has brought the gospel to disrepute- in public perception such lavish living is considered incompatible with the idea of Christian service, and in stark contrast to the lifestyle that Jesus and His apostles lived. We are taught to “avoid every appearance of evil”. Over generations, societies have formed definite ideas about the way ministers ought to live. The church vicar typically enjoyed a respectable position in society and a modest level of prosperity – similar to that enjoyed by a schoolteacher, a university lecturer or perhaps a doctor (in the days when ‘millionaire’ doctors were a rarity), and the expectation was that he would be a model of dignity, sobriety and restraint. Nobody objects to a businessman or a Hollywood celebrity living a highflying lifestyle, but people are rightly outraged when holders of public office or ministers of religion use their positions for personal enrichment.
Fourth, the more mature ones in the church have a duty to safeguard the faith of their weaker brothers and not become stumbling blocks. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1-2 ESV). When a Christian leader is perceived as using the gospel for personal gain, the church is subjected to public scorn, and the faith of some believers may be shaken. Many prosperity preachers say that “there is no reason to apologise for being blessed”, but if your lifestyle affects another man’s conscience then is it not better to live a simpler life and avoid offence? “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15 NIV).
Fifth, all Christians ought to examine the motives behind our choices. If a minister serves in a church that primarily caters to a wealthier congregation, would he feel short-changed if he were called to move away, and serve a much poorer one? We are instructed to guard against the greed for money. Wealth and social position are temporal things; they may hinder our spiritual progress and restrict our freedom to serve; or in wise hands become instruments in the building of the Kingdom.
In conclusion, greater levels of wisdom, humility, self-control and social consciousness are necessary to avoid the misuses – and pitfalls – that follow the possession of great wealth. Many Christians have used their money to support the preaching of the gospel, and to alleviate human suffering; while others have brought disgrace to the church by their pursuit of pleasure. The wise stewardship of one’s money is a vital part of Christian life, and ought to be taken seriously.
In this post, an attempt has been made to examine the topic of a minister’s lifestyle from the standpoint of prudence and common sense. Only God can truly judge a man’s heart, but we are too often – perhaps unfairly – judged on appearances. In so far as appearances have the power to promote or impede the spread of the gospel, Christians should be careful not to become a stumbling block to others.
Father, teach us to be wise in the use of our money. Help us keep our hearts free of the love of money, and avoid every appearance of evil. May we bring honour to your name even in the way we handle money.