Paul said leaders should directly support the poor

The writer graduated from Ambassador College in 1964. He has attended Church of God congregations for many years.

By Garry D. Pifer

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.--We in the Church of God tradition are familiar with the qualifications of elders, bishops, overseers and deacons (the leadership) as laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An aspect covered there that has garnered little attention is the statements about "filthy lucre" and the need for leaders not to be "given" to it.

Peter repeats the caution in 1 Peter 5:2: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind."

Filthy lucre, says the lexicon, means "eager for base gain"; that is, greedy for money.

Do these cautions have anything to do with Christ's sober warning to "beware of false prophets"? I suggest they have everything to do with it.

In both the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet prophecy, Christ warned His disciples, including us, to beware of false Christs and false prophets. Later the apostle Paul issued the same type of warning to the Ephesus leadership in Acts 20.

Let's look in some detail at Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul's words in Acts 20.

Specific warnings

The specific warning Jesus gave about false prophets is in Matthew 7:15. However, let us first look at some of His teachings that lead up to this verse as well as those that immediately follow it.

As we see in the first couple of verses of Matthew 5, Jesus gave this message specifically to His disciples.

An outstanding theme of this message is absolute faith and trust in God, not in physical things. One of Jesus' first statements (Matthew 5:6) is that God will bless those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. This is a strong indication that we are not to concentrate on physical food and drink, on physical things.

In verse 12 Jesus mentions a reward for following His instructions. The reward isn't physical; it is "in heaven."

We find an instructive statement in verse 42: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." Jesus here emphasizes again that we shouldn't set our hearts on physical things; rather, we should give and lend whatever anyone asks of us.

In Matthew 6:1-4 He addresses the giving of alms. In verse 8 He points out that the Father knows our needs before we ever ask. In verse 19 He tells us plainly not to lay up treasure on earth; physical things will corrupt and can be stolen.

He shows in verses 20-21 where our treasure is to be, obviously not a physical treasure. We read a strong statement in verse 24: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Mammon means treasure and riches.

Eat, drink and wear clothes

Then, in verse 25, comes a most revealing section of Christ's instructions. He tells us not to take thought for what we are going to eat, drink and wear. He promises God will take care of us if we get our priorities right as spelled out in verses 33-34:

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

When we come to chapter 7 we learn in verses 7-12 that we should ask of God, and God will give.

Dressed to kill

With this background let us begin to understand the warning Christ gave us in Matthew 7:15-23: "Beware of false prophets" (verse 15). He is here unquestionably speaking of teachers, leaders, "ministers." But which ones is He talking about?

Does He mean those down the street in the Christian denominations?

Does He mean those in the Churches of God?

Christ answers: "[They] come to you in sheep's clothing," He says. Who are the "sheep" in Scripture?

They are members of the church, the flock of God.

We need to look closer to home than perhaps we've ever looked.

Notice Christ's next statement: ". . . Inwardly they are ravening wolves."

We will learn more about this stunning indictment in a few moments.

Do mighty works matter?

Beginning in verse 16 Christ tells us how we can tell who the false prophets are: "Ye shall know them by their fruits."

He is plain in His following statements, beginning with verse 18: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit."

He notes that the "tree" that doesn't bring forth good fruit is hewn down and is cast into the fire.

What kind of fruits should we look for? Have the individuals He talks about here been preaching the gospel or perhaps been casting out demons? Have they been doing many mighty works? Read verses 21-23. He says clearly that not everyone bearing these kinds of fruit will enter into the Kingdom.

What, then, are the fruits we should look for to identify false prophets?

The answer is obvious when we compare the teachings we looked at earlier in Christ's message in the Sermon on the Mount with concepts embedded within His statement that some "inwardly" are "ravening wolves."

The lexicon says wolf is a metaphor for "cruel, greedy, rapacious, destructive men." This is exactly the opposite of what we just read of Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

But wait. Let us look at the lexicon again for the word translated "ravening." We find two definitions. The first is "rapacious, ravenous," and the second is "an extortioner, a robber."

Who did Paul support?

The same Greek word here translated "ravening" is translated "extortioner" in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."

I find it interesting that the word is used along with thieves and covetous. These are powerful words that serve as a warning from our Savior about false prophets.

Paul's words of warning in Acts 20 contain the same basic phraseology Christ used: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock."

Wolves is the same word Jesus used. The next several verses emphasize what He meant. He tells leaders in verse 32 that God can "give you an inheritance." He says plainly there is no need to be greedy for money and other physical things.

Paul cites his personal example in verse 33: "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel."

What's a leader to do?

In verse 34 Paul reminds leaders that they already knew of his personal effort to support himself, that "these hands have ministered unto my necessities."

He concludes this section with a specific instruction to the leadership, underlining it with Christ's own words: "I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (verse 35).

Did you catch what Paul said here? He said, "I have just showed you by my example that all of you need to get a job that will allow you to support and help those in need."

Three other translations make verses 34-35 even clearer.

  • First the Jewish New Testament: "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have provided not only for my own needs, but for the needs of my coworkers as well. In everything I have given you an example of how, by working hard like this, you must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Yeshua himself, 'There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.'"
  • The New American Standard Version: "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In every thing I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "
  • The New International Version: "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

Who should support whom?

Paul's point: The leaders should actively work to support themselves and to give aid and assistance to those in need: the weak. Using Christ's own words to highlight his point, Paul reminds leaders that it is better to give than to be "greedy of filthy lucre." It is better to directly support the needy than to strive for riches and abundance. Supporting the weak is better than letting the weak support them.

I'm not attempting to put names to these Scriptures, but Christ does say beware. We need to look to the real fruits, not how much preaching is being done, not what wonderful work is being accomplished.

Rather, we must look at motivating factors. Is a paycheck the motivation? Is it a retirement plan? Or maybe it's the wonderful perks.

We might look at whether a leader relies absolutely on the sure promises Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount.

Or is the leader taking thought as to what he will eat, drink and wear? Are the weak supporting the leadership, or does the leadership support the weak, as Paul says leaders should do?

Are the efforts to care for the flock of God done willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind? (1 Peter 5:2).

You have to answer these questions. Just remember that you shall know them by their fruits.

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