God for sale - the Merchandising of God's Word, Will, and Ways
GOD IS NOT FOR SALE!
This is a grave truth that the masses do not properly understand. Like many other things, the violation of this sacred rule is not without very strong consequences. Trafficking in God is a prime source of much wandering away from God.
Freely you received, freely give. – Jesus to His disciples
We are not like many, peddling the Word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. – Paul to the Corinthians
Almost without exception today, with most of those exceptions usually being “special”, when it comes to acquiring Bibles, books interpreting the Bible, or things like these, a monetary price tag for acquisition is part of the transaction. This fact is long standing and has its firm footing in the remote past. However, it is highly iniquitous and must be abandoned for all time. There are many sins of our day that grieve and quench the Holy Spirit of God. Not least among them are those that treat God and His ways, teachings, and worship like merchandise! When I speak of merchandise, I am not talking about adulterated merchandise, although adulteration often unavoidably happens. Rather, I am speaking about simply exchanging money for goods or services. In this case, the goods are God’s Word and interpretations of His Word (written or verbal) and the services are everything else that operates to inspire or instruct about God.
If you came to this page through the hoped for progression of this web site, you know that the twin monolithic truths of purity regarding marriage and Love of God/Hatred of Mammon are salient and unavoidable standards that verify that professing disciples of Jesus are indeed genuine believers. These requirements are unambiguously revealed by Jesus Himself. In these things you cannot be found by God to be barren! Among the presently overwhelming voices of churchiosity, every now and then one hears of a teacher who correctly teaches certain points about one of these neglected, profound issues. That is good. Even so, it is absolutely grieving that teachers who can grasp Jesus’ teaching in these things turn around and sell these truths (and others) to their fellow man, especially to their brethren. We will see in what follows that such business affairs that are held forth as “ministries” are very offensive to God!
The prominent teaching of the Son of God – In the Gospels, God speaks with one voice about the one faith through four distinct witnesses. Each Gospel is unique, indeed! Yet, they are a harmonious whole. Among these writings, John and Luke are unmatched in emphasizing the temple of God. The temple of God prominently stands as permanent and eternal revealer of motifs of Christianity. I will deal at length and in depth (in further detail) with this special subject matter on its own page. Now I simply mean to highlight that the temple of God in the first place reveals that reverence to God is to dominate everything that a Christian is and does! Furthermore, this reverence is defined by God, not man. The temple is not a place where mankind feels sacred and is expected to act accordingly as one deems to be fitting. Rather, it is the place where God manifests the revelation of what it means to be sacred and how one is, therefore, to be holy and reverent.
It is very obvious that John is not like Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While he shares some features and subject matter alike with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he gives much that is unlike them. Even in his shared material, his rendition is unique among them. His material and emphasis is both supplemental to and different from the three which are appropriately called the synoptic or “seeing together” Gospels. This was all of Divine intention with calculated design for all believers. Like Luke, John’s Gospel has a stated purpose. Luke wrote “in consecutive order…so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” John wrote “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, you may have life in His Name.” Now, it is of utmost importance to grasp the nature of John’s writing. That is, it is imperative to see and understand the method and manner of John’s Gospel in order to believe in Jesus for eternal life. What is it that he emphasized as constituting believing in Jesus for eternal life? What are all of these issues that he emphasized in his witness? It is clearly seen in all the Gospels, but especially in John’s, that the glory of the temple of God absolutely forbids anyone to make merchandise of the things of God for any purpose! Such merchandising utterly profanes the things of God. And, accordingly, such merchandising utterly profanes the Name of God. In all four Gospels, Jesus, as Lord of the temple, comes to the temple and cleanses it from the sin of erroneous buying and selling. Obviously, buying and selling are not sins in other contexts. In the matter of the things of God they are prominent iniquities. Putting away the merchandising of the things of God – hence, putting away the profanation of the Name of God in the sphere of monetary-profit exchange – was so utterly important that John moved the historical episode of this purging from the last week of Jesus’ life to the very front of His ministry. Now, the seeming contradiction for the western mindset needs to be cleared away before we move on to grasp the sublimity of the event. First, many people have a problem with understanding that John did this by design. The problem, however, lies is the mindset that tries to see the Gospels as strict historical and chronological biographies rather than as what they are – unique historical Gospels. “Gospels” or “Good Messages” are writings that in their very natures are solely meant to teach about eternal life as found and summed up in Jesus Christ. They are original to the four Gospel writers. They were never meant to be historical biographies as people understand this genre. In this regard, Gospels are more like modern well written newspapers that emphasize and develop key points of fact than give precisely detailed histories of events. Also, like modern newspapers, the Gospels are not myths or false stories. They emphasize accuracy according to their purposes. Some people think that there is no problem here because they believe that there were two cleansings of the temple. While this “solves” the problem from a chronological point of view, this notion really cannot hold up under scrutiny. It is actually very telling that the two cleansing theory ever really held up in the first place. This theory actually stands because of the failure to understand the nature of the four Gospels as defined above. Furthermore, it is incredible that if two cleansings occurred that not one Gospel writer spoke of both of them in his Gospel. This is especially true regarding John and Luke who, as already mentioned, highlighted the temple as revealing extreme importance in God’s plan. Both of these Gospels start and end in the temple. In Luke this is very obvious. After a brief introduction, Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptizer which was announced by Gabriel to Zacharias, his father, in the temple. The first words of Jesus recorded by Luke are of Him speaking as an astonishing twelve year old boy in the temple. This event and these words are pregnant with meaning! The very last words of Luke reveal that the believers were continually in the temple worshipping God. From first to last in Luke the temple is prominent in his message. This type of writing was an ancient technique used both to emphasize and unify subject matter. It was an ancient form of writing known as (Hebrew) “bracketing”. Its purpose was to make everything between the brackets part and parcel with the message contained in the brackets. It had this affect: “Everything is supremely important!” The brackets in Luke are the temple itself, the house of God and everything that it reveals and demands, that is, Holiness to the Lord! Holiness to the Lord was embodied in the temple, par excellence! Because of Luke’s emphasis on the temple, it is unbelievable that if two cleansings occurred that he failed to mention both of them! In John the bracketing feature is not as obvious as in Luke, but it is readily discernable. In John the bracketing is founded upon his unique emphasis. The first public acts and teaching of Jesus were done in the temple. Indeed, they were done in this very episode of temple cleansing which I will return to shortly. Also, the last public teaching of Jesus was done in the temple. Upon a simple perusal, the public nature of this last teaching event is usually missed. However, when one properly considers this event and that the temple of God was, indeed, the public place where God met with His people; John’s bracketing is shown to be founded upon his unique emphasis of public attestation in the House of God. The last event of public attestation that I speak of was of Jesus before the high priests, all of their attendants, and the Sanhedrin. It is not only the event itself that John emphasizes, but the message of the event also contains complete significance. The outer enclosure of the temple was vast. It encompassed about thirty-five acres. Many groups were allowed access to and use of this area. Gentiles were allowed. Women were allowed. The first Christians met there. This area was also the place where the Sanhedrin met for deliberations and judgments. It was there that Jesus was brought before them to be examined and condemned before He was led away to Pilate for final Roman condemnation. It was there that Jesus was formerly rejected by the leaders of Israel.
Many people wrongly believe that Jesus was led by night to the homes of the high priests before he was led away to Pilate for final judgment. This is partly understandable because of the word “oikia” that is used by Luke to describe the high priest Caiaphas’ “dwelling place”. This word can be properly used to describe a dwelling of greater or lesser extent. In its range of application, it can apply to a house or a domicile and it can apply to a dwelling place or quarters. It is the last meaning that applies to Caiaphas’ oikia. The belief that it described a domicile rests mainly on the fact that the nature and function of the temple complex from the human viewpoint have not been properly understood by Bible interpreters. The vast temple area was composed of many smaller areas of interest. Some of these included occupational rooms, eating rooms, and sleeping rooms for the priests on duty. They also included such rooms for the high priest, and in this case, for both of the high priests. Additionally, these particular rooms of the high priests were partitioned off from the rest of the temple complex by walls and a gate and had a courtyard before them. Both of these dwelling places of Annas and Caiaphas shared the same entrance gate and courtyard. This is attested to by all of the transactions that occurred regarding Peter’s denials of Jesus which had as their setting the entrance gate and the courtyard warming fire. The dual high priesthood during the life of Jesus was an unusual occurrence in ancient Israel. After the Roman governor removed Annas from the high priesthood, he installed Annas’ son-in-law Caiaphas in that office. However, since Annas was properly viewed by the Jews as the rightful high priest, he was acknowledged as such by them. Besides his enormous influential position that he held with the Jews, he also maintained significant persuasive and political power with certain Roman citizens and with the local Roman authority. He, accordingly, maintained his quarters in the temple as high priest.
When the Jews seized their moment they dispatched a group of armed men from the temple in order to apprehend Jesus. They arrested and bound Jesus and brought Him back into the temple to Annas and Caiaphas in order to condemn Him to death. The prior intention of the Jewish authorities to execute Jesus was illegal, as were other features of His trial before them. Before He was taken to Caiaphas for the final verdict, Jesus was led to Annas for examination. John is the only Gospel writer who records that Jesus appeared before Annas. There is much that lies behind this episode. John’s audience understood the background. (This last fact underscores the supreme importance of knowing the culture, history, and background of the Scriptures in order to understand them.) Annas was a very rich powerbroker and a figure of immense judicial weight among the Jews. More than likely, Jesus was brought before him first for several reasons; the first of which was so that he could particularly “rule over” his vanquished foe. In Luke and Mark, the very reason given for the planned death of Jesus was the fact that He cleansed the temple from merchandising with absolute actions and denunciations. What did this have to do with Annas particularly? Annas was the merchandiser par excellence! He headed the Sadducean high priestly family who were enormously wealthy and held a monopoly on that wealth. He literally presided over the lucrative sale of sacrificial animals, produce, and items that were all necessary for the fulfillment of temple sacrifice for all of Israel. He also presided over and monopolized the monetary exchange tables that ensured the obtaining of the only acceptable temple coinage so that the Jews could offer the proper money as demanded by Mosaic prescription. Not only did he do this, but he inflated the exchange rate, as Jewish tax-collectors habitually did. In fact, the very places where the sale and trade of such temple supplies occurred were located both in the temple precincts and, strategically, directly across from the temple upon the Mount of Olives. These places were named “the booths of Annas” or “the booths of the sons of Annas”. Whether called by the shorter of longer name, the fact is that Annas was the head of all these business transactions. Furthermore, in his fixed high priestly business position he was legal co-ordinate with the Roman prefect and the Herods in the self-profitable control of land, agricultural production, and the fishing industry. It is in this last capacity that John would have been an acquaintance with Annas (which allowed him to secure Peter’s entry to the high priests’ quarters) since John, with his father, operated a significantly profitable fishing business. In addition to all of this, it was rumored that Annas would lend money to Roman citizens and then hold personal and political power over them while they were indebted to him; sometimes even blackmailing them. His constant oppression of the people and unrelenting greed were proverbial. The Talmud even embodies a curse regarding him: “Woe to the family of Annas! Woe to the serpent-like hisses!”
Returning to Jesus’ public attestation; His words to Annas were public words. They were public words because of where they were spoken and to whom and before whom they were spoken. At that time and in that place Jesus also spoke words that emphasized the temple and its prominence both in God’s sight and in His dealings with people. When examined about His teaching He said, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said." This statement absolutely underscores the temple as the place of the revelation of God – the place where God meets with and speaks to man – the place of supreme importance! While there were many synagogues throughout Palestine, there was only one temple of God. John brackets important subject matter through his temple/public teachings emphasis. Because of John’s emphasis on the temple, it is also unbelievable that if two cleansings occurred that he failed to mention both of them! He did not fail to mention them because there were not two cleansings. He moved his version of the cleansing to the front of his Gospel precisely to emphasize the absolute importance of true and proper reverence for the House of God and for the things of God as witnessed to by the Lord of the House - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, Annas and his family represent the extreme case. However, it is not only the extreme cases that are sinful before the Lord, but all cases of merchandising the things of God to any degree constitute sin. This is understood by the very words used by Jesus in John’s Gospel. It is verified in Mark through a statement of Jesus that is unique in his Gospel. In John, Jesus physically drove out of the temple all of the sellers of temple supplies together with their animals. He also drove out all the money-exchangers and overturned their exchange booths and scattered their money. Then, to those who were selling doves He made a statement found only in John. He said, “Take these things away! Stop making My Father’s house a market-house!” This last phrase can just as accurately be translated, “a place of business” or “a shop” or “a place for buying and selling”, or “a house of merchandise”. In John, it is the simple fact of conducting business that is condemned. In the synoptics, the emphasis falls upon robbery in the statement, “you have made it (my Father’s house) a den of robbers.” This robbery works both ways. It is robbing your fellow man of his money through inflated prices and exchange rates, and, more importantly, it is robbing God of His honor and glory through the very transactions themselves, irrespective of inflated prices. This last fact is the only emphasis in John. Without specifically naming robbery of God as that which drew His condemnation, Jesus strongly implied it by condemning the very things which robbed God of His glory. They had tuned God’s house of worship into a house of trade. No such transaction was countenanced by Jesus. No kind of business transaction was allowed by Him. For while His words applied to all who were involved in temple-trading, His words of rebuke were spoken specifically to those who sold doves. Doves were provided for the poorest among the people. Jesus allowed no business transacting; even for the benefit of the poor. In Mark all of this is underscored by the fact that Jesus would not even allow anyone to carry any merchandise through the temple precincts. God’s house could not even be used as a facilitating shortcut for business.
All of this Divine rejection is grounded by John in his unique and prominent facts: he placed special emphasis on the abiding standard that God’s things must not be merchandised by moving the climactic temple-purifying episode to the very beginning of his Gospel and by using the exclusive words of conducting business alone (without consideration of costs or expense involved) in describing these rejected transactions and by forbidding even the poorest among God’s worshippers to benefit in any way from such affairs. All were condemned who participated in using the temple as a place to do business, from Annas, the very rich monopolizing high priest to the poorest day-laborer. No one can merchandise the things of God!
Not only is it forbidden to directly buy and sell the things of God as the objects and means of monetary profit, but it is also forbidden to profit from them in an indirect and/or trans-local way. The only times that monetary profit are acceptable regarding the things of God are when that profit comes as a genuine gift – a non-coerced, non-manipulated gift and when that profit comes as a local recompense for true, local leadership.
There is a ubiquitous false notion, one which really has had currency for a long time, which teaches that anyone can profit monetarily from the things of God; even if that profit is obtained in response to trans-local “ministry” or “spiritual gifts”. It is taught that, all greed aside, making money through such ministry is the rightful earthly benefit for people rendering service to and/or for God. This teaching and position have no standing in the Scriptures. The only Scriptural position that permits someone to constantly profit materially from the things of God is when that person is a spiritual leader who renders direct, local service to the people of God. That person is under the purview of God in the real, the actual capacity of a shepherd over his flock. He operates as one directly attending to the concrete, real flock of God in directly meeting their needs through direct teaching, counseling, and healing regarding their compete persons (their spirits, souls, and bodies). His labors, therefore, are complete and sacrificial for their benefit. Because of this totally committed relationship to them, God has ordained that he live by their produce, that is, by their “milk”. This last term translates materially to mean that God has ordained that they supply his needs financially so that he can give himself to constantly attending to them according to God’s Word. In fact, in every New Covenant Biblical instance where someone as an individual is seen to profit materially or monetarily by the things of God, this same kind of relationship of a leader connected directly – not indirectly – to the benefitting people obtains. (Unique Apostolic privilege and assembly to assembly gift giving do not apply here. For what is being considered is individual financial benefit by the things of God.) To use another Scriptural illustration, God has ordained that those priests who constantly attend to the altar get their meals directly from that altar. Both of these illustrations, in the very nature of the case, are localized. There is nothing trans-local, that is, geographically universal in them. The shepherd/flock relationship is local and the priest/alter relationship is local. That is how God’s ordained ministry has always functioned scripturally. The leaders and their people are organically connected. They reciprocate personally and, therefore, directly in spiritual matters. Therefore, God has ordained that they mutually benefit one another. To use another Scriptural statement: The people benefit spiritually from the leaders and the leaders benefit materially from the people. All of this is spiritual. Any other transacting in monetary profit with the Word of God and the things of God is fleshly and sinful. This last fact is exactly what Paul came against in his statement to the Corinthians quoted at the top of this page. While Paul made the made the case for proper material benefit as just described, he also roundly condemned trading in the Word of God to earn money. This is exactly what was happening in Corinth. Like the philosophers of that day, false teachers were going around charging fees for instruction in the things of God. Paul condemned this in exactly the same way that Jesus did about twenty-five years earlier. He said, “We are not like many who sell the Word of God for monetary profit! But rather, out of pure and true sincerity we speak the Word of God – as out of God and before God we speak in Christ!” This statement against merchandising in the things of God cannot be put any stronger! It parallels that of Jesus!
In conclusion: John’s way of emphasizing that God’s people must not sell and buy the things of God is colossal. It exactly corresponds to the monumental way that Matthew focused upon loving God and hating Mammon. Just like Matthew, who placed Jesus teaching about the corruption of money at the very beginning of Jesus’ public discourses, John also placed Jesus teaching about the same subject at the very beginning of Jesus’ public discourses. In Matthew, the emphasis is that the allegiance to money corrupts, with men in view. In John, the emphasis is that the allegiance to money corrupts, with God in view. This must not be missed! This is the Apostolic emphasis and witness by these two Gospel writers! The wrong relationship to money and to God corrupts, condemns, and kills.
Sin abounds when anyone monetarily profits from selling the Word of God, the teachings about God, or anything that edifies in God. The sole exception to this is when someone materially benefits because he is in a real, local shepherd/flock relationship with those from whom he so benefits precisely because he freely gives to them. All have freely received the Gospel of God from Jesus and all must freely give the Gospel of God in Jesus – all of it! To charge a price for the things of God is profaning His Name. Until this quenching and grieving of God’s Spirit is eradicated, people can expect the awful recompense of tradesmen and craftsmen rather than the reward of good and faithful servants.
Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a robbers’ den.” “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a place of buying and selling!” They did not heed Him to their own peril then. Will you now?
Honor the Lord and He will honor you! Dishonor the Lord and you will be dishonored. These are the faithful sayings of God. Hear Jesus!