The New Testament makes essential things crystal clear: "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [besides Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Deny that and you deny the gospel.
But the New Testament also has a category of gospel-informed convictions which are deeply held, sometimes strongly commended, yet are not universal mandates. These are intended by God to shape our kingdom mindset, guard against temptation, and test our hearts. But they are also meant to be adaptable to our particular calling and context.
One example was Paul's conviction that he should go to extraordinary lengths to keep money from being a hindrance to the gospel.
Now, we know that in the Gospels (see Matthew 10:8), Acts (see Acts 8:20), and the Epistles (see 2 Corinthians. 2:17) Jesus and the apostles were all very careful to keep gospel ministry from becoming, in either reality or others' perception, a means of great personal financial gain (1 Timothy 6:5).
But we also know that Paul and Barnabas went to greater lengths than other apostles in this area.
Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit?... If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.... What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:6-7; 11-12; 18)
Two things are clear in the way Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:
- He strongly believed that this strategy contributed to the spread of the gospel most effectively.
- He was aware that not everyone did it the way he did. Paul recognized that there were legitimate ways of making a living off the gospel. He simply discerned that foregoing his right to make such a living was more fruitful, whether because of his particular missional context or in general.
No doubt Paul was a strong advocate for his "make it free" ministry philosophy. But he did not judge other apostles for not adopting it to the same degree he did. He knew that "each [person] will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12).
And it's in that spirit that we talk about our "make it free" approach to ministry, as Matt Perman did in his post yesterday.
I loved the post and said amen to every point Matt made. But when explaining and commending such convictions, which are not Scriptural mandates, one can wonder if we are sinfully judging others who do things differently. That certainly is not our intention.
The Lord has his hand on many churches and ancillary ministries whose approach is different from ours and which are producing very good fruit. And even comparing our approach with Paul's makes me blush. We are not in his league when it comes to foregoing rights and suffering for the gospel.
So do not hear from us the message that you must do what we do to do it right. Every calling and context is different. "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5).
But having said that, we still commend to all to "make it free" as much as possible, and here's why:
The gospel came to us free at great cost to God. Which is why, I believe, Jesus told his disciples, "You received without pay, give without pay" (Matthew 10:8).
The medium of the gospel was to be a reflection of the gospel. When the gospel comes free to people at the cost of those who are bringing it, it says something wonderful. It says that there is a treasure that is worth more than money to be had and by removing even a perceived profit motive it often makes people want to listen.
God is doing an amazing and beautiful thing in our day by bringing about a recovery of and revived love for the gospel of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law. Yet the damage to the gospel by prosperity preachers and other peddlers of God's word still wields tremendous influence for harm around the world.
It is our hearts' desire and prayer to God that as we all join together to re-clarify for the church and world what the gospel message is, that we present it to them with the kinds of radical generosity and radical reliance on God's provision (2 Corinthians 9:8) that we see in the New Testament.
So knowing that it may look different in each case, let us pray and think and act so that our personal lifestyles and our ministry approaches all seek to reflect and remove all obstacles from the gospel of Jesus Christ.