Article 2019-04 Missions & Money
Chapter 54: Missions & Money
Missionaries are free to receive or refuse financial support but every missionary should test his motives for receiving support. Refusing support does not prove a lack of apostolic characteristics. Receiving money should never be a stumbling block to spread the gospel, and greedy acceptance of funds can expose the receiver as a false apostle. Paul disliked receiving support from people among whom he ministered, but gladly accepted it from churches outside his ministry area. He asked for others, but never for himself or his team.
After this, Paul … went to Corinth. There he met … Aquila … with his wife Priscilla … Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them (Acts 18:1-3)
The issue of missionary finance is tricky. Paul hadn’t brought it up because he didn’t hide the slightest selfish motive behind his ministry. On the contrary: some Corinthians interpreted the visible result of Paul’s highly integer financial policy – his tent-making – as a sign that he was not a real apostle. They hadn’t understood why Paul did this, and often we also have a hard time to correctly esteem the value of his extremely selfless support principles. Below we explore some of these.
Not only did Paul meet this opposition from Corinthian Christians, but also from so-called colleagues who had started ‘ministry’ among them, on their own initiative. These men were Jewish Christians who insisted on keeping the law and requiring circumcision. Paul calls them ‘false apostles’ for that reason. These people set off their ministry to that of Paul – who was absent. Mockingly he calls them ‘super-apostles’ in his next letter. Paul exposed these men for what they were: finance-greedy wolves.
Why were the Corinthians insulted that Paul did not make use of their financial support? Why did they despise a preacher that made tents to support himself, and sometimes his co-workers, like Aquila and Priscilla, who had been expelled from Rome?
Corinthians, before they became believers, were used to support philosophers in their cultural context and pagan priests in their religious context. Now that they were Christians it was natural for them to support Paul who was God’s worker. The latter’s refusal to accept this proved to some that he was no true apostle because he did not use his apostleship rights. They took Paul’s refusal as insult to their generosity.
In his defense, Paul stated that they were right: apostles who sow spiritual seed do have a right to material harvest. The word ‘right’ can, based on the Greek New Testament, better be translated as ‘authority’. Paul argues that he has the apostolic authority to accept support, but also the liberty to exercise that authority to refuse it.
I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so (2 Cor. 11:8,9)
That he did not refuse financial support all the time, becomes clear in his second letter to the Corinthians. Macedonian churches supported Paul when he worked in Corinth. Apparently he had followed the same principles when ministering in Thessalonica, where he provided his own support as well. Only the Philippian church supported Paul often.
His pattern was that he did not accept support from a church as long as he ministered in its midst but that he gladly received it when he started to work somewhere else. Neither did he mind accepting help when he traveled and visited for a short time.
… you Philippians … not one church shared with me in respect to giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need (Phil. 4:15,16)
We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you (1 Thess. 2:9)
Paul had no problem talking about money. Gathering a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem was one of his big projects and he was not hesitant to receive the Corinthians’ money for that. He saw no problem in asking money for others – although he did not even do that for his own co-workers – but was extremely reluctant to mention his own needs. This shows great integrity to whoever exercises ministerial rights unashamedly.
Paul expected his co-workers to follow the same principles. Why do some today think they can follow materialistic ways with impunity? Is our main concern to live from the gospel as is our right or is it rather never to hinder its spreading by attaining to that right? Preaching the gospel for free is a reward in itself. There is nothing against receiving unsolicited gifts. Allowing people to give adds to their spiritual accounts. Also, as gospel ministers we should be the first to testify by our experience that ‘God is able to make all grace abound … so that in all things at all times [we] have all that we need …’.
Discussion & dialogue
- In your study group, compare Paul’s financial policy with that of yourself or your church
- Think of more reasons why it could be expedient to receive funds from other areas than from the field of ministry
- Explain how theme 6 features in this chapter