Heart Trouble? Ministry Trouble

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By Jim van Heiningen

          Simon the Samaritan of Acts chapter 8, now a Christian, felt called to the “ministry”. He could see himself a conduit for the Holy Spirit… Then his heart condition was diagnosed, and all his lofty aspirations crashed. The apostle Peter’s diagnosis spelled ‘acute heart trouble’!

          In Dutch there is a saying that “soft physicians create stinking sores”. Peter wasn’t a ‘soft physician’, as the reader of Acts already knew from chapter 5 in connection with the case of Ananias and Sapphira. But was Peter’s diagnosis of Simon’s case too stern? This particular “Thought-of-Heart” condition was, he said, induced by a fearsome “gall-poisoning” of BIS (bitterness & iniquity syndrome).

Of course, Luke, the physician, who wrote down the story for us, makes it plain that the malady had everything to do with “money”. It could have been Simon who coined the phrase, “Money makes the world go round!” Perhaps he gave it a religious twist: “Money makes the ministry go round!”

His “Thought-of-Heart” condition was obviously extremely serious, and, as we know today, contagious as well – so contagious, in fact, that by now we are faced with an epidemic.

If we go back a bit, before Simon’s time, we find that ‘Pharisees’, Jewish ministers of religion, were also “lovers of money” (Lk. 16:14). And the Chief priests and elders were sitting on piles of money. It was supposed to be God’s money, yet He was denied control of it. They could readily pay Judas his betrayal fee. Then, a few days later, they were doling out “a large sum of money” to the soldiers, who knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was the priests’ effective launch of their non-resurrection campaign (Mt. 28:11-15).

In contrast, Peter’s ministry did not revolve around money, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit to the lame man at the temple gate that he simply had neither gold nor silver (Acts 3). His treasure was altogether superior…

Later, when opportunity knocked, Peter told Simon:Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!

God’s gifts are “gifts” – no money involved. The same goes for God’s “ministries” – you can’t buy them, neither does God pay you a “salary”. Peter told the elders of the congregations that, as overseers, they were to shepherd and serve their flocks, not for money, i.e. for “dishonest gain” (1 Peter 5) – their ministry was to be carried out “eagerly - financial inducements out of the question!

Now here’s a contrast. Last year an annual survey by the “Your Church Media Group”, in a certain country that boasts a sizable “Christian” population, found that “the average senior pastor earns more than $81,000 a year in pay and benefits”… In the same country, the standard expression used by church “officials”, when it comes to ensuring the services of a new pastor, is that the man will be “hired for a pay-check of so many dollars a month” – never mind what Jesus said about the “pastor-hireling” in John 10.

Balaam, the son of Beor, was a remarkable “minister”, a prophet (though he is also called a “soothsayer”), yet Balaam was spiritually dirt poor (cf. Rev. 3:17). He is mentioned in the Bible by name, no less than 62 times (more than Isaiah’s 54 times). Balaam was after Balak’s gold, pure and simple. And, yes, he got his trophy…, then perished miserably (Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22). Peter refers to Balaam’s heart disease as Balaam’s TIC, “trained-in-covetousness” (2 Peter 2:14-16). Mysterious as it may seem, a “minister” can proclaim the truth with his mouth, while his feet “run greedily after profit in Balaam’s way” (Jude 11).

The apostle Paul, in his three letters to companion ministers of the Word, left them in no doubt regarding a true minister’s attitude to money. In each letter he puts great emphasis on the total incompatibility of ministry with greed. In 1 Timothy 6, he says that the love of money makes you stray from the faith, then gets you pierced with many sorrows! Paul’s own testimony to the elders of the region (Acts 20:33-35) speaks volumes about what are to be considered normal New Testament financial practices!!

Talking about letter writing…, have you noticed that neither Paul, James, Peter, John or Jude, ever appealed for donations, in any of their twenty-one letters, be it for themselves, for their ministries or for missionary work? Neither did the apostle John tag on a footnote to that effect when he penned the Lord’s seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. The very thought of a “fund-raising apparatus” would have been totally bizarre, and out of sync with their high calling…! So, did the apostolic ministry fail miserably? We’ll leave you to answer that one…

In a recent issue of PRESSING ON! we presented several contemporary “ministers of the Word”, with what they had to say about “ministry” – George Rice of South America and Spain, Andrew Murray of South Africa and Amy Carmichael of South India. These servants of the Most High were “notoriously” content with simply “having food and clothing” (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Any “heart problem” of the Balaam or Simon variety would have ruined their ministries. Of course, many other such workers could be named. The early diagnosis of the heavenly Physician, and their complete submission to him, saw them through – “God is greater than our heart, and knows all things!” (1 John 3:20). It meant that heavenly treasure filled their hearts (Mt. 6:19-21). And the wonderful result? “Being poor, they made many rich!” Their legacy has been, and is, truly precious.

Finally – here’s a thought-provoker from yet another “minister”, Watchman Nee of South China:

“It is a shameful thing to profess to trust in God and yet play pauper,
disclosing one’s needs and provoking others to pity.”

          Watchman Nee’s personal testimony is well-known. This is what he recalled: “When I began to serve the Lord, I was somewhat anxious about the question of my livelihood. Since I was to walk in the Lord’s way, I would only rely upon Him to support me. In the years 1921 and 1922, very few preachers in China lived in sole reliance on the Lord. Yet when I looked to the Lord, He said to me, ‘If you cannot live by faith, you cannot work for Me.’ I knew that I needed living work and living faith to serve a living God. God has supplied all my needs and has not failed me once!

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Philippians 4:19