Do you believe that gain is godliness?

The writer is a church pastor and columnist for The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--The Bible contains many encouraging instructions. The Bible also contains some helpful warnings.

One helpful warning is to be found in 1 Timothy 6:3-5. The apostle Paul actually warned people about being prepared to withdraw themselves from the company of people who violated certain principles.

Please read the entirety of the warning in these three verses, although in this article I will focus upon one phrase in verse 5: "supposing that gain is godliness."

Numbers prove what?

Among the Church of God organizations and congregations are people who still place much spiritual significance upon numbers. In other words, people still use numbers to evaluate their closeness to God.

You have heard comments like this: "The income is up. Therefore, God is pleased with us."

Here are three major problems with that kind of reasoning.

The first is that positive numbers do not automatically correspond to positive behavior.

Does the booming sale of pornography prove that God is happy with that consumer product?

The second problem is that if people use positive numbers in religion to form conclusions, they will come to a different decision about where to worship.

If the number of people is your criterion, why aren't you one of the 622 million Roman Catholics in the world?

If a set of financial numbers is your criterion, why don't you associate where you can benefit from the tremendous wealth of the Vatican? You could pledge your allegiance to the pope as "God's anointed." You could look to Rome as "God's headquarters on earth."

Obviously, numbers do not tell the whole story. In fact, numbers do not tell the most important part of the story.

Yet representatives of the various branches of the Church of God continue to use puny numbers in a dramatic way. Sadly, this is downright embarrassing when viewed from a worldwide perspective of reality.

The Church of God (a spiritual organism) is not about marketing, advertising and image. It is about values, principles and truth.

Dying by the numbers?

The third problem is that people are not consistent when evaluating positive numbers and negative numbers.

Do you believe that positive numbers about income or size prove God is blessing you?

In the name of fairness, then, do you also believe that negative numbers about income or size prove God is cursing you?

There is a saying: If you live by the numbers, you will die by the numbers. (Of course, a public-relations department may try to mislead you about the numbers' accuracy.)

We expect businessmen and politicians to use marketing and advertising to mislead. Unfortunately, many representatives of religion use the same misleading tactics.

Generally, religious leaders will dramatically use positive numbers to say that "God is with us."

Generally, religious leaders will reframe negative numbers to hide some realities and to display a most-positive image.

In the Church of God tradition, negative numbers are often packaged as one of the following:

  • "God is purging and sifting us. It's not our fault."
  • "Satan is attacking us. It's not our fault."
  • "Some unhappy people were causing us trouble. It's not our fault. But we just got rid of them, so things will be better."

A few reminders

Why do so many letters among the Church of God corporations and congregations continue to use the same tactic? Could it be because it has worked for years? In fact, it still works well for some people.

We can be thankful that many people see through the fallacy of equating gain with godliness. Clever advertising can never replace God's precious truths. It is true that marketing can fool people for a time. However, God's precious truths endure forever.

Mature saints will not use financial numbers as a barometer of values, principles and truth. Financial numbers are not the barometer of a relationship with God.

Mature saints will not allow finances to dictate their spiritual behavior toward other people.

Here are a few reminders:

  • Remember that the health-and-wealth gospel is wrong.
  • Be careful about people who use finances to validate their righteousness with God.
  • Be careful about people who regularly try to prove to you that God is with them. They may be using a sales pitch to keep your loyalty to them.
  • What does the Bible say about servants and finances?
  • Servants do not accumulate great wealth at the expense of the saints (Matthew 19:21-22).
  • Servants do not live high on the hog at the expense of the saints (Matthew 20:25-28).
  • Be careful about people who claim that gain is godliness.

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