A Snake-Handling Church

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Authentic Ministry 19/Second Corinthians

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When preachers take up the subject of money, it is too often the case that they focus on how the rank-and-file believers ought to be handling their money. But if we follow the lead of Scripture, and especially the example of Paul, we will find ourselves talking about how preachers ought to collect and handle money. And how they ought not to.

The Text

“And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not . . .” (2 Corinthians 8:10–24).

Summary of the Text

Against the background of “get to, not got to,” which we have already covered, Paul is now willing to give some advice on giving to the Corinthians. They had a year before indicated their eagerness to give (v. 10). So he says, as you were willing a year ago, now would be a good time to execute on that commitment (v. 11). Paul wants them to give from what they have (v. 11), and he lays down the principle—if there is a willing mind, God reckons the gift according to the resources available (v. 12). Remember the widow’s mites (Mark 12:42). But also recall how the Macedonians gave liberally out of deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-2). Paul’s intention is not to burden them in order to ease others (v. 13). The principle is one of reciprocity—what goes around comes around. He wants their current abundance to be a blessing for the saints in Jerusalem, and another time it can run the other way. This is what Paul means by equality (v. 14). He then quotes Ex. 16:18, where in the gathering of the manna there was always enough (v. 15). Paul then returns to the eagerness of Titus to return to Corinth (v. 16). Titus had been exhorted to go back to Corinth, but he actually didn’t require any persuasion (v. 17).

Paul then introduces two (unnamed) brothers. The first is a famous brother (v. 18), of great reputation among the churches, and elected by them to escort the gift to Jerusalem (v. 19). Some speculate that this was Luke. The reason is so that everything might be above reproach (v. 20), doing what is prudent and honest in the sight of both God and man (v. 21; Prov. 3:4). Paul then mentions a second unnamed man we might call the “earnest brother.” Paul knew him, and apparently had selected him, but both men in v. 23 are called messengers (lit. apostles) of the churches, and so they both had an official status. Paul then strongly commends all three men to the Corinthians (v. 23). They would be the ones carrying the gift. This passage then concludes with Paul exhorting the Corinthians to show these men the proof of their love, and for them also to vindicate Paul’s boasting on their behalf (v. 24).

The Money Trap

There is an old warning for Christian leaders that cautions them about the 3 G’s—glory, gold, and girls. This portion of 2 Corinthians is about the gold part. A story is told of a time when Thomas Aquinas called upon the pope, and came in upon him when the pontiff was counting out a large sum of money. “You see,” the pope said, “the church can no longer say, ‘silver and gold have I none.’ Thomas replied, ‘True, holy Father, and neither can she now say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” The point here is not that mammon is an idol out in the world—everyone knows that. The point is that it is a snare within the church, and is particularly a snare for leaders within the church.

You cannot serve both God and mammon (Luke 16:13). Because of this teaching, we are told the Pharisees scorned Jesus because they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14). “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17, NKJV). Christian elders must not be covetous (1 Tim. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:2). When Paul thanks the Philippians, he is careful to let them know that his desire for them is not a grasping  for money (Phil. 4:17). False teachers according to Peter are cursed children, with hearts “exercised with covetous practices” (2 Pet. 2:14). And there is a certain kind of teacher who supposes that godliness is a means of financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5). This is not a rare problem.

Our Right to Talk About This

One of the abuses Paul had apparently been accused of by his adversaries at Corinth was the sin of fleecing the flock financially (see 12:14-18; 2:17; 7:2; 11:7-12). That is why he is at great pains to explain his financial precautions to the Corinthians here. And as the great apostle has set us a good example in this, let me take this opportunity to do the same thing.

In the history of our congregation, we have never once passed the plate. The offering box is in the back, if you can find it. We present the offering during worship, but we do not gather it then. And you may have noticed that after the second service the offering is counted, on the premises, by a team of men, not one man. When that offering is deposited in the bank by the church office, it is walked to the bank by a team of two staff members. The person who does our bookkeeping has no authority to cut checks. And so on. Now we do not do this because we are in a constant state of suspicion, squinting at one another with narrow eyes, but rather because—like Paul—we know that we live in a fallen world, and like Paul we want to do what is right in the sight of God and all men (v. 21).

A Snake-Handling Church

There are two kinds of idols. One kind of idol is simply a false god, a carved piece of wood or stone that you bow down to, light candles or leave baskets of fruit in front of, and so on. This kind of idol must simply be toppled, in the most literal sense. But there is another kind of idol—where a legitimate part of your life assumes an importance it ought not to have. In this case, repentance means restoring that person or thing to their proper role. For example, Paul teaches us that covetousness is idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5), but after repentance, a man must still handle money. He now needs to do it right, but he still needs to do it. A man must not love his wife more than Christ (Luke 14:26), but after he repents of her having been an idol, he learns to love her more than he ever did before (Eph. 5:25). That means he must learn how.

Some misguided brethren have thought that the promise of Mark 16:18 means that handling rattlers ought to be incorporated into the liturgy. Although we do not agree with that application, not at all, we are nevertheless a snake-handling church. We have an offering box in the back, and after the worship service men take it out and count it. Thus far, thanks to God, we have been spared.  

The Glory of Christ

The only way it is possible for this to happen is by the grace of God found in Christ. And when this happens, it happens in such a way as to magnify, not the church where it happens, but rather the reason it happens. Notice the phrase Paul uses to describe the team of three men who are coming to collect the offering at Corinth. What does he call them? He calls them “the glory of Christ” (v. 23). And that is what a worship service is all about, the presentation of the offering included. The whole thing is calculated to glorify Christ.

Done right, the presentation of the offering, the gift that you will see deposited on the Table here in front shortly, is the glory of Christ. It is not a regrettable bit of business reality intruding into our spiritual time. The entire worship service—the music, the Scripture reading, the prayers, the preaching of the Word, and the placing of cash and checks on the same Table where the bread and wine are—needs to be aimed at this one thing. How can we best glorify and honor the Lord Jesus Christ? He is the one who died and rose, and we are the ones who are blessed in, through, and by His dying and rising. How could that not affect everything?

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1 year ago

Pastor Wilson, your interpretation and application of the Bible is a blessing.