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...get back to making sure studies were ready to put on camera when the time comes.  :)

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Hidden In Him

August 05, 2019, 03:21:06 PM
An excellent passage I am now writing a study on in the Book of Colossians.

"And I am now rejoicing in [my] sufferings over you, and filling up in my flesh what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake, which is the church, of which I became a servant
 

Hidden In Him

August 05, 2019, 03:20:49 PM
... of which I became a servant according to the administration of God having been given unto me, for you to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations but which has now been made manifest to His saints, to whom God wished to make known what

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Author Topic: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-16  (Read 3398 times)

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Hidden In Him

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2 Thessalonians 3:6-16
« on: May 15, 2015, 09:14:19 PM »
Combatting The Financial Exploitation Of Christianity

     Many take advantage of the church, some from the pulpit and some from the pews. I was browsing one of the larger Christian forums one day and came across the following. This woman was complaining about seeing good, well-meaning Christians in her church getting scammed and ripped off by a particular couple in their church who were letting on as if they were in need when in reality they were pulling the wool over people's eyes:

     Why in the world does the Lord let scammers stay in the church? There is this old couple (they're neighbors too) in our church whom we used to be friends with, but over the last three years we've discovered that they're lying scammers. They tell everyone big sob stories about how poor and sick/invalid they are, yet we've caught them on numerous occasions in lies. The sob stories are to get help from people so they can save their own money. We've helped them I don't know how many times....and then I notice that the wife spends hordes on massages, nails, hair and furniture. Then they tell everyone at church that they're in need of money!
     They just got another older couple to deliver four cords of wood for nothing.... and they have more than enough money to pay for it. They get people to help them and then lie to their faces about their finances and health. We've caught them out and about working in the yard, out four-wheeling and at restaurants when they're supposed to be home with the flu. Now they're trying to drag us down because we stopped helping them. We got tired of them wanting our time and money when they have more than we do! So we distanced ourselves from them. And now we're hearing that WE are being unhelpful and rude.... I've already told the pastor about them, and his wife jumped all over me for being insensitive to their needs. She bought their sob story hook, line and sinker, and tried to make me feel like a horrible person for not understanding. She proceeded to tell me how "we're supposed to help our elders and how much these two need our help... oh, even if they don't really need it. Just do it anyway." I just shook my head and said, "no...I'm not going to do that, and I don't have to if I think we're being wronged. Even if I can't convince you, I'm not helping those people."
     I guess I have always been self-sufficient and independent and expect other people to be as well. I was always taught to live within my means and if I can't pay for things I need...I cut back on my spending, sell some things I'm not using or really don't need and start stricter budgeting. I would never take advantage of someone else to maintain my lifestyle.
     On a positive note: we had lunch today with some good friends (who distanced themselves from the toxic couple too) and they were encouraging. They said there's another couple in the church who won't socialize with them either. So at least there's a few people who know. The main thing she told me was to stick to my guns, keep putting my foot down, and don't let people guilt trip us when we know we're right. They did it and are still there, so we can to. That was nice to hear!

     What is Satan after by inciting some to do these things? 1. Deprive the needy, by seeing that the money goes to exploiters instead. 2. Undermine Christian trust and brotherly love, so that generosity ceases, and 3. Generate strife and contention among the brethren. You could see this already take place early in the church age, when there arose a dispute among the Gentile and the Jews over the distribution of food to widows:

     But with the disciples multiplying in those days, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews, because they were overlooking their widows in the daily distribution. (Acts 6:1)

     This last one is the biggie. Satan is always seeking to create division in the body of Christ. Divide and conquer has always been one of his primary strategies, and when money is involved, fleshly Christians are all the more easily manipulated into being used by Satan rather than God.
     The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to prevent exploitation within the churches, as the apostle Paul very clearly pointed out in his teachings. The question is, how many in the modern church, especially among the leadership, will be willing to adopt them once presented with the alternative.


The Exploitation Of Religion In New Testament Times

     In his first letter to Timothy, Paul ordered that younger widows not be supported financially. His reasoning, apparently based on experience, was that when they were, their inclination was to sit around idle all day and gossip about others instead of giving their time to serving God and helping others in need:

     Let not a widow be put on the list who is less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one man, being witnessed to [engaging] in good works, if she brought up children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed the feet of the saints, if she imparted relief to those who were afflicted, if she followed after every good work. But younger widows refuse. For when sensuality turns them against Christ they wish to to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And at the same time, they learn to also be idle, going about to houses; and not only idle, but also gossips and meddlers, speaking things which are not proper. Therefore I wish younger widows to marry... (1 Timothy 5:9-14)

     Although this is admittedly mild exploitation, it is exploitation nonetheless. If there was not enough to go around, older, more faithful and godly widows might not be supported because the money had already been dedicated to younger widows who were sitting around gossiping, and meddling in the affairs of others instead of doing anything to help those in need.   
     Likewise, there appeared to be men at Thessaloniki who were doing something similar, living off the church only to sit around and meddle in other people's affairs all day long:

     But we command you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to avoid every brother who is walking irresponsibly, and not according to the tradition they received from us.... For even when we were with you we were commanding you that if anyone is not willing to work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some are walking irresponsibly among you, and not working at all but are being meddlers. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

     The most egregious forms of exploitation in religion, however, usually came from leadership, and things were no different in ancient Israel. Scripture says that the Pharisees were covetous (Luke 16:14), and Jesus also condemned the scribes for endorsing the practice of Jewish men declaring their property "Corban," or a "gift" to God. By this practice, Jewish religious leaders were confiscating the houses of these men after their deaths, and leaving their widows homeless and destitute in the process.
     As Jesus warned the disciples:

     Beware of the scribes who like to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the best places at the banquets, [and] who devour widow's houses, and for a pretext pray at great length. These shall receive the more strict judgment. (Luke 20:46-47)
 
     According to the ISBE, "Anything dedicated to the temple by pronouncing the votive word 'Corban' forthwith belonged to the temple, but only ideally. Actually it might remain in the possession of him who made the vow. So a son might be justified in not supporting his old parents simply because he designated his property or a part of it as a gift to the temple, that is, as 'Corban.' There was no necessity of fulfilling his vow, yet he was actually prohibited from ever using his property for the support of his parents." (Corban, Biblehub.com)
     This practice subsequently robbed widows of their homes. After their husband's deaths, the scribes would step in and lay claim on their properties, citing that they had dedicated it to the temple, and concealing their greed by making a long prayer about what a devout man the husband was.
     No wonder Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees over this practice in no uncertain terms: 

     "Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'He who chastises [his] father or mother, let him die the death.' But you say, 'If a man shall say to [his] father or mother, "What you might have derived profit from through me [is] Corban," that is, "an offering,"' and you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother." (Mark 7:10-12)


Early Church Teaching, And The Example Set By Paul

     Exploiting others through religion was something Paul clearly wanted to distance both himself and Christianity as a whole from. He made this clear to the Thessalonians in his first letter:

     For you yourselves know, brothers, that the entrance we made unto you was not in vain, but having been treated abusively and made to suffer at Philippi beforehand, we were [nevertheless] bold in our God to speak the gospel of God to you amid great contentiousness, as you know. For our exhortation did not arise from error, nor [demonic] uncleanness, nor deceitfulness, but rather as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as being acceptable unto men but God, the One proving our hearts.
     For at no time did we come [to you] with a word of flattery, as you know, nor with any pretext of covetousness, God is our witness, nor did we seek glory from men - not from you or from others - [despite] having the power to be heavy-handed as apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)


     Whenever the word "uncleanness" appears in the New Testament, it's often an allusion to unclean spirits. Thus Paul was distinguishing himself here from sorcerers like Simon the Magician, whose teachings were given to him by demonic spirits. By "our exhortation did not arise from error," Paul was also assuring them that he was not simply mistaken in what he was teaching. But the final expression "nor did it arise from deceitfulness" refers to deliberate deception, such as was taking place when the scribes and Pharisees used their religious authority to exploit others financially. This is what Paul wanted to distance himself from most of all, as the rest of the passage makes clear.
     Paul especially highlighted the potential use of religion as a pretext for covetousness. In the early church, ministers were entitled to food and clothing in exchange for ministry, but this was all. According to the Didache (an early church document dating to around the end of the 1st century), any Christian leader who requested financial compensation in exchange for ministry was to be regarded as a false prophet:

     When the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet... whoever says in the Spirit, "Give me money," or something else, you shall not listen to him... If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able. But he shall not remain with you except for two or three days, if need be. If he wishes to abide with you, being an artisan, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, see to it according to your understanding that as a Christian he shall not live with you idle. But if he does not want to do so, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep aloof from such. (Didache 11-12, roughly 100 A.D.)

     This doctrine can be seen in Paul's writings as well. As he told Timothy:

     Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. But having sustenance and [proper] covering, with these we shall be satisfied. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

     While it appears that the other apostles did indeed operate in giving and receiving, it is clear from this passage that if they were demanding money for ministry then they were teaching something contrary to what the apostle Paul was teaching here. And as for Paul himself, he refused even to operate in giving and receiving, doing so only with the Philippians, and only for their sakes, not his:

     If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?... But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:11-12 NIV)
 
     Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you only. (Philippians 4:15 NIV)

     Why was he doing this, foregoing food and clothing in exchange for preaching? As our present passage states, Paul and the others with him were doing so to set an example, so that the gospel they preached might be distanced entirely from all forms of corruption and exploitation:

     For you yourselves know how it is fitting to imitate us, in that we did not behave irresponsibly among you, nor did we eat bread from anyone without paying for it; but in labor and toil we worked night and day so as not to be burdensome to any of you. Not that we do not have authority, but that we might present ourselves to you as a pattern to imitate. For even when we were with you we were commanding you that if anyone was not willing to work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some are walking irresponsibly among you, and are not working at all, but are being busy bodies.
     Now to such ones we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ that, doing work amid quietness, they may eat their own bread. But [as for] you, brothers, do not lose heart in doing good. And if anyone obeys not our word through this epistle, mark that man so as not to associate with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not esteem him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:8-15)


     By eating nothing without paying for it and working to provide for himself and those he was ministering with, Paul was setting a standard, choosing to all the more drive home through his behavior that "it is better to give that to receive." (Acts 20:35)


Bad Examples Set By Christian Leadership Today

     The example set by many Christian leaders today, however, is far different. I came across a web article on the various ways corrupt leaders exploit churches financially, and found it authoritative, as if written by someone familiar with what goes on in Christian circles these days.
      The article by CultWatch.com, entitled "How some pastors get rich," listed various tools ministers use to squeeze money out of congregations. On being invited to make their rounds on "the preacher's circuit," the article had this to say:

     Revenue flows in four ways: from sales of products, from special “love offerings” taken for the speaker, from various perks, and from the formal payments (honorariums) for speaking... If you have a big market (congregation) and are willing to let others come and sell there, then your fellow pastors will invite you to come and sell into their markets (congregations) too. The bigger your own market, the larger the markets that will open their doors to you – as long as you are willing to reciprocate. Quid pro quo.

     Then there are the badly over-hyped speaker's conferences:

     He’s built a church up from nothing to one with thousands of people. She’s the most Godly woman in the universe who is the best wife ever with the best kids and the best lifestyle, and she’s the pastor’s wife too. He’s from overseas. She’s a corporate CEO. Wow. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be triple awesome! It’s going to be mega massively, triply, awesomely awesome! The spiritual reward for going is implied to be life changing. The conference fee is nothing compared to the fire-fighting-bomber worth of blessings and wealth God will dump on your head from upon high.

      In front of their own churches, another good trick is the "tithe or be under a curse" teaching:

     Some pastors are not only money hungry, but often power hungry too... They seek to replace the Holy Spirit in your life.... Using the connection they claim to have with God they threaten you with the stick of spiritual curses if you disobey them, and dangle the carrot of spiritual blessings if you comply. They often imply they have say in where you work, where you fellowship, who you marry, and of course, when, where, and how much you should give. This is a false spiritual authority not supported by Scripture. In fact I believe it to be quite devilish, [in that it displays a] desire to control and dominate others. In these pastor’s teaching, obeying the pastor and giving money are the two pillars necessary for a successful Christian life.

     Others exploit their own congregations by encouraging underlings to promote the "honor the pastor" scam:

     Money-focused churches tend to be run on cultic patterns. One of these cultic patterns is the division of the church into exclusive rings: the all-powerful pastor perched at the center, the inner-ring of sycophants around him consisting of the pastor’s lieutenants and the church’s privileged class... To get more favor the inner ring will employ many favor-currying measures, one of which is a scam called “Honoring the Pastor”. It works this way, the inner-ring will figure out what the pastor would like say for his birthday. Then the inner-ringers will squeeze the outer-ringers for the money to buy this item. Using this method pastors have been “given” diamond rings for their wives, cash gifts, jet skis, luxury cruises, motorbikes, cars, holidays, boats, and a myriad of other expensive luxury items.
 
     These, of course, are not the only ways corrupted Christian leaders exploit churches. There are others. But these serve as a few examples of how the financial exploitation of Christianity is taking place today, and all of it is a direct result of having abandoned New Testament teaching. Only when we return to the original teachings of the church will we begin turning back the tide of corruption that has now flooded Christianity.


The Return To New Testament Teaching And Practice
     
     The church will return to New Testament teaching and practice only when its leaders do. Is it necessary for churches to collect money? Certainly it is. Virtually no church cannot operate without doing so. But as shown earlier, in New Testament times no one received a salary from the money that was taken in, and anyone who did so was regarded as a false teacher.
     How many would be regarded as false teachers today by such standards? The vast majority. Do I say these things to condemn the current leadership? No. I am merely trying to restore true New Testament teaching. Those who do return to it will find the blessings of God rest more powerfully upon their lives, for the Lord promised greater spiritual riches to those who were faithful with earthy riches. As Jesus taught His disciples:

     "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and the same stood accused to him of wasting his goods. And having called him, he said to him, 'What is this I hear concerning you? Give account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' And the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do, for my lord is taking away from me my stewardship?  I have no strength to dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, that when I shall have been removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their homes. And calling to each one of his lord's debtors, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my lord?' And he said, 'A hundred baths of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill and, sitting down, quickly write fifty.' Then, to another he said, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred cors of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill and write eighty.' And the lord praised the unjust steward because he had done wisely…  And I say to you, Make friends for yourselves with unjust mammon, that when it fails they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful with the least is faithful also with much, and he that is unjust with the least is also unjust with much. If therefore you have not been faithful with the unjust mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?"... And the Pharisees, being covetous, heard all these things, and ridiculed Him. (Luke 16:1-8a, 9-11, 14)

     Notice that Jesus ended by saying, "If therefore you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (Luke 16:11). What He meant here was that if they freely gave to others of their earthly riches, He would be able to trust them with spiritual riches, i.e. revelation from God, because they would have demonstrated that they would not withhold anything from those in spiritual need. Hence another reason why Paul stated that it was far better to give than to receive:

     I desired [neither] the silver nor gold nor clothing of anyone. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my needs and those who were with me. I showed you all things [by example], that thus laboring we ought to aid those who are weak, and remember the words of our Lord Jesus who Himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:34-35)

     Sadly, it is no small wonder that few possess true spiritual riches today, but merely spout church traditions. But they cannot be entrusted with greater spiritual authority in the word if they have not been faithful with earthly riches.
     Maybe this is also explained by how the fraud taking place in churches appears to be at far greater levels than many realize. Embezzlement in the church is now big business. According to one article in Forbes.com, more exploitation is taking place in secret now than most are aware of:
 
     Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, MA has conducted research on all aspects of finance related to Christian churches around the world through its Center For The Study Of Global Christianity. The Director of the center, Todd M. Johnson, PhD, said "there is a lack of research on fraud within the church," but that is something he has been trying to change. Johnson teamed with David B. Barrett to write a book World Christian Trends, which represented a statistical view of the Christian churches of the world. Barrett, who passed away in 2011, was a pioneer in collecting data on churches and noticed a significant increase in embezzlement fraud during the 1980's. In one of Johnson's recent studies, Status of Global Mission 2013, there is a line item for "Ecclesiastical Crime," which is projected to be $37 billion worldwide, or nearly 6% of the total $594 billion given to churches... In contrast, the total spent on mission work to introduce Christianity to more people throughout the world is $32 billion.
     "Much of the fraud goes unreported," Johnson said. "Barrett worked with accounting fraud experts on his initial study who estimated that as much as 95% of fraud within churches goes undetected or unreported." Similar studies of corporate fraud have determined that upwards of 66% of frauds go unreported. But why not report it? Johnson told me that "part of it is a reluctance to see the bad side of a nice pastor, a secretary or a board member of the church." Johnson even cited one quote from a church member who knew of an embezzlement and said, "I know he stole my money but I still think he's a wonderful person." (Walter Pavlo, Fraud Thriving In US Churches, But You Wouldn't Know, Forbes.com)

     Some may doubt these statistics, but why would Forbes lie? They only care about money, and because billions of dollars started going missing back in the 1980's (not coincidently when the prosperity message was really picking up speed), those kinds of numbers are significant enough that they noticed it. Again, my intent is not to raise suspicion towards every Christian leader out there. My intent is simply to open people's eyes to the extent of the problem, and drive home that it cannot continue to be swept under the rug or it will only continue to get worse.
     Why do these things ultimately happen? Because Satan works very hard to seduce even good men and women into succumbing to financial temptation, and in a myriad of subtle ways. The corruption often starts with someone getting tempted to steal a small portion of church funds that they think no one will miss. But by allowing those involved in ministry, whether they be pastors, secretaries, treasurers, etc. to have salaries, this provides a cover for all sorts of financial corruption to flourish unnoticed.
     What is the answer? I believe Christian leaders must return to being an example to the flock again. If leaders set an example of being self-sacrificing, this will naturally filter down to those who follow their leadership. On the other hand, if they set an example of exploitation, this too will filter down. But by working to support themselves and posting all church finances publicly, they could thereby make it evident that they were not only not collecting from the church but giving to it, and nothing would any longer be left up to doubt. Surely the Lord Jesus Christ preserved for us the example set by the apostle Paul for a reason. The sooner we take heed and return to that example, the better off we will all be.



Links to sources:
https://www.christianforums.com/threads/scammers-taking-advantage-of-others-in-church.8022779/#post-71653549
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm
https://www.cultwatch.com/howpastorsgetrich.html
https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2013/11/18/fraud-thriving-in-u-s-churches-but-you-wouldnt-know-it/#9644fd4d9d43





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