I recently ran across an article on the value of the multi-million-dollar homes of several well-known “celebrity” evangelists/pastors. The values were astounding, ranging from $1 million all the way up to $14 million. Some were pastors of very large churches, but many had made their money from book sales, television programs, and other media. Wealth derived from notoriety and fame isn’t confined to the secular world.
I’m not against people making money. I love that we live in a free world where hard work, ingenuity, imagination, and (most of all) the blessing of God can equip the saints to fund the work of the gospel. The question we will all have to answer, no matter how much or how little money we have, is what we did with it. Was it truly used for kingdom work, to further the spread of the gospel, or for our comfort and pleasure? And, especially for those who make their living by the gospel, how do we steward the generous and sacrificial gifts of God’s people?
That last question came to mind as I read John 2 this morning. John’s gospel is not considered one of the “synoptic” gospels, as is Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He gives us details the other writers didn’t include, and the story of Jesus’ first cleansing of the Temple is one of them. The first three gospels describe a similar event that occurred just after Jesus’ triumphal entry at the very end of His ministry, but John tells us Jesus began His ministry with the very same lesson.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making my Father’s house a place of business.”John 2:13-16
The money changers were present because Jewish law required the temple tax (their tithe) to be paid in Jewish money. As worshippers came from all different parts of the Roman empire, they were like a conveniently placed ATM machine. The problem was they overcharged the people, taking advantage of the moment. Also, the worshippers were required to bring sacrifices, and the sale of animals was also an over-priced convenience.
I don’t believe Jesus was upset at the practice of exchanging money or selling animals. People who only had Roman coins needed this service, and it would have been difficult to bring live sacrifices on a long journey. It was the location of their business. They had turned the place of worship and prayer into a business to make money.
The fact that this was going on undeterred for some time tells me two things. First, the worshippers were unprepared. Instead of planning ahead and exchanging their money and buying their lambs earlier, they had grown used to the convenience and were willing to be overcharged. They weren’t good stewards of their own money, and they had no respect for God’s house. It was an indication of their heart attitude toward the very act of worship for which they came.
Second, the priests had to be in on the game. The moneychangers and animal sellers would have needed their permission to set up their tables and stalls in the temple court. I don’t think it is a stretch to assume they were getting a percentage of the profits, as they were highly offended when Jesus destroyed their business.
Jesus’ actions are the very definition of “righteous anger” as He upset the tables and ran the animals out of His Father’s house. His response should cause us to carefully consider our own practices surrounding our worship. Are there any areas where we are allowing the church to become a place of business, taking advantage of those who are seeking to worship God? As leaders, do we act with integrity and humility when it comes to stewarding the gifts of God’s people? Are we building God’s kingdom or a kingdom for ourselves? Are we prepared as worshippers when we come into God’s presence?
As a child, I heard the story of J.C. Penney, a man who found great success by building his business on Christian principles. As his own wealth grew, so did his generosity, and by the end of his life, he was giving away 90% of his income and living on the 10% – flipping God’s tithing principle upside down! What a great example for all of us, whether we are a pastor or evangelist who makes a living from proclaiming the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14), or a worshipper giving our tithes and offerings to our local church and other gospel-centered ministries and missions.
Jesus began and ended His ministry with a bold statement that God cares about these things. May we treat God’s house and all His blessings with the respect and integrity that please Him, and in ways that honor both His gifts and His presence. We are earthly stewards of spiritual treasures, and if mattered to Jesus, it ought to be matter to us.