(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]
We will never persuade our people that the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) applies to them unless we apply it to ourselves. God called the man a fool because, when his fields produced a surplus, he built bigger barns and took his ease (167).
But does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper the faithful? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation (168-169).
God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized and uneducated and unhoused and unfed millions.
The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.
Very few of our people have said to themselves: we will live at a level of joyful, wartime simplicity and use the rest of what we earn to alleviate misery. But surely that is what Jesus wants. I do not see how we can read the New Testament, then look at two billion unevangelized people, and still build another barn for ourselves. We can only justify the exorbitance of our lifestyle by ignoring the lostness of the unreached and the misery of the poor (169-170).
The problem is not with earning a lot (sic). The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs. If you want to be a conduit for God’s grace, you don’t have to be lined with gold. Copper will do (172).
(From Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 2nd rev. ed. [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003; orig. 1986, with 25th Anniversary Reference Edition available in January 2011]: 198-199: God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professional Christians have been deceived by this doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity), they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun…. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that thousands of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation.)
O how I wish a pastor’s salary could be a simple matter! It would be nice if the calling to a church had a standard package that allowed for the pastor to have all of his basic needs met, including those needs typically covered by a “benefits package,” with cost of living and local adjustments included yearly, along with a means for kindly and obediently providing “double honor.” It would be even nicer if there existed a righteous way to cap the salary before it reached a level of indulgence or greed or stealing or hoarding (for these things do not please Christ). It would be nicest if the entire package came cheerfully, eagerly, willingly, sacrificially, lovingly, loyally, annually, and unanimously without debate from the entire membership of a local assembly. Alas, I am dreaming a world in which Scripture rules our lives more than money.
Prosperity Theology, Word of Faith Theology, and a host of deceptive, greedy, miserly pastors have clouded the waters of Christian care for pastoral needs. In an overreaction to those who take members’ hard earned money and build castles and empires to themselves, many have raised a skeptical eye at giving a pastor a decent living wage and any sort of gracious bonus that many indicate spontaneous love and thankfulness for a man faithful to the Gospel—a faithfulness that often means forgoing the material things of this world (cf. Mk. 10:28-31). But pastors are called to live by the gospel (I Cor. 9:14).
One must admit, however, that many pastors – like many other believers – could make greater sacrifices in order to live on less than they are living, for the sake of the gospel. I understand that my use of discretionary income must be centered on the Gospel and set and example of following Christ with self-denial. In order for me to challenge my people to sell all for the sake of the gospel, I must be above reproach in sacrificial living. Such choices include living simply and contently, maintaining a modest-but-need-meeting-income, and giving away wealth on earth for the advance of the Gospel in order to make my treasure in heaven.
Saying to our people, “Copper will do,” is not easy for me, or possibly for any (American) pastor. We live with the same American Dream temptations and earthly needs as our members. I, like many pastors, wish for my children to avoid being the children who have less than their peers; I hate to see them teased or left-out of extra-curricula functions because of perceived monetary or material limitations. Yet I also know that if I help my children play keep-up I am working against their understanding of the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Pastors are called to point our people toward Christ, who had nowhere to lay his head (Lk. 9:58).
The fate of billions of unfed, unclothed, uneducated, unmedicated, and unevangelized does rest in the Lord’s grace through people who give of their wealth in order to mobilize missionaries to go to the ends of the earth with the truth of Christ. It depends upon people who see more value in the saving of souls that in adding a fourth and fifth flat screen TV to their homes. That value system is gained in part by following the model of pastors whose pulpits are not lined with gold—pastors whose treasure is Christ. Lord, please give us grace to treasure Christ above all.
Congratulations to Dr. John Piper on the 25th Anniversary Reference Edition of Desiring God! The book remains my favorite among modern Christian works, and it has had a tremendous impact upon my understanding of the goal of the Christian life and my walk under the Lordship of Christ. I am glad to see the new edition available. I encourage you, the reader, to read this book if you have not had the joy of reading this great work.