In The First Century Church
In Five Parts
We have all heard the saying, “Money makes the world go ‘round”. Well, no. Actually,
makes the world go round, i.e., Angular Momentum. But money certainly does make some folks’ world spin. How did the First Century Church deal with the issue of money and what was their attitude toward the giving and receiving of it?
We know what has become the attitude of today’s Church. Many in leadership positions love it. Some crave it. They use it as a gauge of whether you are blessed by God or not. If you have piles of it, you are a blessed and righteous person. In many fellowships, hardly a Sunday will pass without hearing at least some reference to how you ought to be giving more than you are.
My experience in attending Charismatic fellowships is there was always a 15-20 minute mini-sermon on giving before the plate was passed. EVERY TIME! Then, many times the main sermon would be on giving. This preoccupation with money is a perversion of the Gospel and is an abuse of God’s Flock.
There has been a perverse and specious doctrine assimilated into much of Western Christianity. It is known as the Prosperity Gospel. The basis of this teaching is the allure of wealth under the guise of godliness and blessing. There is some truth to the principle, however the teaching far exceeds the Scriptural bounds.
The Scriptural passages that are used to prove such a position, are twisted far out of context. Someone once said, “If you torture the Scriptures long and hard enough, you can make them admit to anything.” This is what this teaching relies upon - the torture of the Word of God.
I believe Peter speaks concerning these perverse teachers in his second letter. Hear what the Apostle Peter writes,
1. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
3. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
Allow me to make something plain from the beginning. What makes these false teachers false? The same thing that makes false prophets false. In Deuteronomy, chapter 18, the Lord says,
18. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19. And it shall come to pass, whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
20. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
The falseness of the prophet or teacher, is found when they say, “Thus saith the Lord God,” when the Lord has not spoken. It is presuming to speak a word or message on behalf of the Lord, when He has said no such thing. Death is God’s remedy for the false prophet. Why?
Because he has the ability to lead the people of God astray. When anyone teaches contrary to the Word of God, they become a false teacher in that area. It is for this reason that James exhorts and warns, “My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation (judgment).” Those who teach the Word of God, will stand before the Word of God made flesh, and will be judged for what they taught. The reason for this is the unique position of the teacher. He has the ability to lead God’s people to the Truth, or he has the ability to lead them astray. In this sense, ANYONE WHO TEACHES THE WORD OF GOD, CAN POTENTIALLY BECOME A FALSE TEACHER.
Let us go back and look carefully at how Peter describes these false teachers.
Who privily bring in : The term privily is a word used to denote the unlawful introduction of something foreign. This introduction is done by stealth, in secret. This will become clearer as we go, as to how this happens.
damnable heresies : damnable simply means ‘that which leads to ruin’. Heresies, in its basic idea, means ‘a school of opinion’. These teachers secretly introduce foreign opinions that are to the ruin of the hearers.
Denying the Lord that bought them: How do they deny the Lord? Do they deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. By no means! Let us make this as plain as possible. They deny the Lord by their teaching. That is, what they teach is in opposition to the teaching and character of the Lord.
Many shall follow : It will be a popular opinion, because of its allurement to riches, and likely because of the status or reputation of those who teach this foreign opinion. This refers not only to those who hear the message, but to those who will pick up the message and continue its propagation.
their pernicious ways : pernicious, now there is a word for you. Its basic idea is destructive. But this one word definition fails to give us the true flavor. Let’s also try lethal, fatal, noxious, ruinous. The way of these false teachers are deadly, smelly, and ends in ruin. Not a pretty picture, is it?
evil spoken of : Because of these teachers, the Way of Truth will be, literally, blasphemed. Because the world sees these teachers as representative of Christianity, the Way of Truth, the True Doctrines of Christianity, will be blasphemed.
Through covetousness: This is their driving motivation, greed.
with feigned words: The word feigned is a translation of the Greek word, plastos. Yes, you guessed it. We get our word plastic from it. It means something well formed or crafted for a purpose. These teachers carefully form their teachings in words that will fit their purpose.
Remember privily? The picture here is a teaching that can be compared to the Stealth bomber. Just as the Stealth bomber (or fighter) is able to enter enemy airspace, without being detected by radar, due to its unique configuration, so also this teaching. The prosperity teaching is formed with well-crafted words, so as not to set off the radar of the unsuspecting listener.
One other advantage is helpful. This is the doctrine of Authority. That is, one should not question the Man of God who stands in the pulpit, because He is God’s authority over you. So if you are taught not to question the Man whom God has put over you, then you surely will not question that which comes from his mouth. However, Jesus warns, “Take heed what you hear!” (Mark 4:24).
Make merchandise of you : to make merchandise simply means to use a thing or person for personal gain. These teachers have gone the way of Balaam (vs.15). What is the way of Balaam? It is standing in the place of being a spokesman for God, and using that position for financial gain. PREACHING FOR PROFIT, INSTEAD OF PROPHET PREACHING! They are wells without water (empty) and clouds carried with a tempest (unstable, vs. 17).
The sad truth is, the only reason that these ruinous opinions can have any entrance into God’s people, is that we are by and large, ignorant of God’s Word. Most believers do not know the Word. They know teachings. The task of those whom God has set in the Body as apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints. We are to literally, perfect the saints. That is, we are to grow them up, so that they will not become victims of the very thing these teachers are subjecting them to. Being tossed to and fro, with every wind of doctrine. This doctrinal wind that blows, is not a refreshing breeze, but is a life-threatening storm. This ‘wind’ is the same type of wind that suddenly came up on the Galilee, and threatened to drown the disciples.
One of the favorite passages used to validate this so-called prosperity teaching is found in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9. We will now take a close look at this passage in its context. It is CONTEXT that normally lacks in most erroneous teachings.