Not Peddlers of God’s Word
“WE WERE selling our ministry for money.” Those are the words of a former “telephone prayer minister” interviewed in an investigative report of American television evangelists late in 1991.
This program focused on three televangelistic ministries in the United States. It disclosed that people are fleeced of tens of millions of dollars every year by just these three. One “ministry” was described as a “state-of-the-art factory for donations.” All were implicated in numerous frauds. Does this shock you?
Religion Is Under Scrutiny
Not only television evangelism but even orthodox, middle-of-the-road religions are being given a searching look by governments, private watchdog agencies, and people in general. In some cases church stock portfolios, religiously financed political interests, and the sumptuous living of highly paid clergy have raised questions of propriety.
How do some religious leaders measure up to the noble description of the Christian ministry given by the apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago? He wrote: “We are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are, but as out of sincerity, yes, as sent from God, under God’s view, in company with Christ, we are speaking.” (2 Corinthians 2:17) Who fit that description today?
To help you weigh matters, let us take a closer look at how the Christian ministry of Paul and his associates was financed. In what way was it different from others of his day?
Traveling Preachers of the First Century
As an itinerant preacher, Paul was not unique. In that day many took to the road to promote their views on religion and philosophy. The Bible writer Luke speaks of “certain ones of the roving Jews who practiced the casting out of demons.” (Acts 19:13) When Jesus Christ condemned the Pharisees, he added: “You traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte.” (Matthew 23:15) Jesus himself was a traveling minister. He trained his apostles and disciples to imitate him by preaching not only in Judea and Samaria but “to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.
During their travels, Jesus’ followers met non-Jewish preachers. In Athens, Paul clashed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. (Acts 17:18) Throughout the Roman Empire, Cynics practiced persuasion by harangue. Devotees of Isis and Serapis expanded their influence over women and slaves with promises of religious and social equality with free men. Eastern fertility cults provided the springboard for the numerous mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world. A promise of expiation from sin and a desire to share divine secrets attracted followers to the false deities Demeter, Dionysus, and Cybele.
How Were Expenses Met?
However, travel was costly. Besides cartage, tolls, and sailing expenses, itinerants needed food, lodging, firewood, clothing, and health care. Preachers, teachers, philosophers, and mystics satisfied these needs in five main ways. They (1) taught for hire; (2) took up employment doing menial tasks and trades; (3) accepted hospitality and free-will donations; (4) attached themselves to wealthy patrons, often as pedagogues; and (5) begged. To prepare himself for rebuffs, the famous mendicant Cynic Diogenes even begged lifeless statues for alms.
Paul knew of certain preachers who claimed to be Christian ministers but, like some Greek philosophers, cultivated the rich and took from the poor. He chided the congregation in Corinth, saying: “You put up with . . . whoever devours what you have, whoever grabs what you have.” (2 Corinthians 11:20) Jesus Christ never grabbed anything, and neither did Paul and his fellow workers. But Corinth’s greedy evangelists were “false apostles, deceitful workers,” and ministers of Satan.—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
Jesus’ instructions to his disciples precluded teaching for hire. “You received free, give free,” he counseled. (Matthew 10:8) Although begging was common, it was looked down upon in those days. In one of his illustrations, Jesus portrays a certain steward as saying, “I am ashamed to beg.” (Luke 16:3) Hence, never in the Bible narrative do we find Jesus’ faithful followers soliciting money or goods. They lived by the principle: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”—2 Thessalonians 3:10.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to care for their needs in two ways. First, they could, as Paul put it, “live by means of the good news.” How? By accepting hospitality that is willingly given. (1 Corinthians 9:14; Luke 10:7) Second, they could provide for themselves materially.—Luke 22:36.
Principles Applied by Paul
How did Paul apply the foregoing principles? Well, regarding the apostle’s second missionary tour, Luke wrote: “We put out to sea from Troas and came with a straight run to Samothrace, but on the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, a colony, which is the principal city of the district of Macedonia. We continued in this city, spending some days.” All the travel, food, and lodging involved was cared for by them personally.—Acts 16:11, 12.
Eventually, a woman named Lydia accepted “the things being spoken by Paul. Now when she and her household got baptized, she said with entreaty: ‘If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay.’ And she just made us come.” (Acts 16:13-15) Perhaps at least partly because of Lydia’s hospitality, Paul could write to fellow believers in Philippi: “I thank my God always upon every remembrance of you in every supplication of mine for all of you, as I offer my supplication with joy, because of the contribution you have made to the good news from the first day until this moment.”—Philippians 1:3-5.
Luke cites numerous instances of persons welcoming these traveling Christian workers. (Acts 16:33, 34; 17:7; 21:7, 8, 16; 28:2, 7, 10, 14) In his inspired letters, Paul acknowledged and gave thanks for hospitality and the gifts he had received. (Romans 16:23; 2 Corinthians 11:9; Galatians 4:13, 14; Philippians 4:15-18) Yet, neither he nor his associates hinted that they should be given gifts or financial support. Jehovah’s Witnesses can say that this fine attitude is still seen among their traveling overseers.
Not Hospitality Dependent
Paul was not dependent on hospitality. He had learned a trade that required hard work and long hours but resulted in low wages. When the apostle arrived in Corinth as a missionary, “he found a certain Jew named Aquila . . . and Priscilla his wife. . . . So he went to them and on account of being of the same trade he stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers.”—Acts 18:1-3.
Later, in Ephesus, Paul was still hard at work. (Compare Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:11, 12.) He may have specialized in working with cilicium, the rough, goat-hair tent material from his hometown area. We can imagine Paul sitting on a stool, bent over his workbench, cutting and sewing until late into the night. Since shop noise was likely minimal, making it easy to talk while toiling, Paul may have had opportunity to witness to the shop owner, his employees, slaves, customers, and friends.—Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9.
The missionary Paul refused to commercialize his ministry or in any way give the impression that he was living off the Word of God. He told the Thessalonians: “You yourselves know the way you ought to imitate us, because we did not behave disorderly among you nor did we eat food from anyone free. To the contrary, by labor and toil night and day we were working so as not to impose an expensive burden upon any one of you. Not that we do not have authority, but in order that we might offer ourselves as an example to you to imitate us.”—2 Thessalonians 3:7-9.
To this day Jehovah’s Witnesses follow Paul’s fine example. Elders and ministerial servants do not receive a salary or even a stipend from the congregations they serve. Instead they provide for their families like everyone else, most of them by entering the job market. Full-time pioneer ministers also provide for themselves, many working just enough to satisfy basic needs. Each year some Witnesses travel at their own expense to preach in distant areas seldom reached with the good news. If local families invite them to share meals or lodging, they appreciate this but do not abuse such hospitality.
All the preaching and teaching done by Jehovah’s Witnesses is voluntary, and they never charge for their ministry. However, modest donations toward their worldwide preaching work are accepted and forwarded to the Watch Tower Society for that purpose. (Matthew 24:14) The ministry of the Witnesses is noncommercial in every way. Like Paul each one of them can truthfully say: “Without cost I gladly declared the good news of God to you.” (2 Corinthians 11:7) Jehovah’s Witnesses are not “peddlers of the word of God.”
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HOW SOME MAKE DONATIONS TO THE KINGDOM-PREACHING WORK
◻ CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE WORLDWIDE WORK: Many set aside or budget an amount that they place in the contribution boxes labeled: “Contributions for the Society’s Worldwide Work—Matthew 24:14.” Each month congregations forward these amounts either to the world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, or to the nearest branch office.
◻ GIFTS: Voluntary donations of money may be sent directly to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, or to the Society’s local branch office. Jewelry or other valuables may also be donated. A brief letter stating that such is an outright gift should accompany these contributions.
◻ CONDITIONAL-DONATION ARRANGEMENT: Money may be given to the Watch Tower Society to be held in trust until the donor’s death, with the provision that in the case of personal need, it will be returned to the donor.
◻ INSURANCE: The Watch Tower Society may be named as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or in a retirement/pension plan. The Society should be informed of any such arrangement.
◻ BANK ACCOUNTS: Bank accounts, certificates of deposit, or individual retirement accounts may be placed in trust for or made payable on death to the Watch Tower Society, in accord with local bank requirements. The Society should be informed of any such arrangements.
◻ STOCKS AND BONDS: Stocks and bonds may be donated to the Watch Tower Society either as an outright gift or under an arrangement whereby the income continues to be paid to the donor.
◻ REAL ESTATE: Salable real estate may be donated to the Watch Tower Society either by making an outright gift or by reserving a life estate to the donor, who can continue to live therein during his or her lifetime. One should contact the Society before deeding any real estate to the Society.
◻ WILLS AND TRUSTS: Property or money may be bequeathed to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania by means of a legally executed will, or the Society may be named as a beneficiary of a trust agreement. A trust benefiting a religious organization may provide certain tax advantages. A copy of the will or trust agreement should be sent to the Society.
For more information regarding such matters, write to the Treasurer’s Office, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, or to the Society’s local branch office.
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SHE WANTED TO HELP
ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Tiffany is a schoolgirl in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.A. Recently, this young Witness of Jehovah prepared an essay on the theme “Education in America.” As a result, her Witness parents received this letter from the school principal:
“During American Education week, one outstanding essay for each grade is read over the intercom. I had the pleasure of using Tiffany’s essay this morning. She is truly a remarkable young lady. She is poised, self-confident, talented, and gracious. Seldom have I seen a sixth grader with so many of these attributes. Tiffany is an asset to our school.”
Tiffany won first place in the essay contest. She thereafter wrote to the Watch Tower Society and said: “Probably I only won the contest because of the publication Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work. . . . I used the chapters on education. . . . Thank you very much for publishing this useful and inspiring book. For my winning essay, I won seven dollars. I’m contributing this 7 dollars and 13 more, for a total of 20 dollars to the worldwide preaching work. . . . When I grow up, I also hope to volunteer for Bethel service.”
[Picture on page 26]
At times, Paul earned his living by making tents