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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Pastors and the Poverty Debate : A robust response | By: Victor Olugbemiro


This is an address to Christians and it has been written within the confines of what is central to Christianity. Because I am speaking to Christians, let me make the following assumptions for the purpose of responses.

That because you are a Christian, you Believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross, was buried in a tomb and rose on the third day to take away the sin of the world after man had been condemned to die following the sin of Adam.Having been convinced of your sins by the Holy Spirit, have repented and accepted God’s forgiveness.Believe the bible to be the infallible word of God and you strive daily to live by the precepts therein. Believe in the mystery of the Holy Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.Attend a bible believing church were the word of God reigns supreme with the aim of joining other believers to build your life after the pattern of Jesus Christ.Have the overall hope of making heaven and being with God either through death which is inevitable for all men or at the second coming of Jesus Christ.


Having laid this foundation, let me put forward the question that this write-up will attempt to answer and in answering this question, I may be focusing on pastors, but I am also addressing church members too. Because just as your pastor is supposed to be an example to you, you are supposed to be an example to unbelievers and they hold you to the same expectation of perfection as you hold your pastor to. Simply put. We are all pastors.


“Should a man of God reek of poverty?”


The simple answer to this question is no, but the underlying issues that prompted this question go beyond a yes or no answer. This is because a popular man of God in Nigeria trended yet again on twitter due to what some termed as an excessive display of wealth which by implication is unbecoming of a pastor. Others vehemently supported him on the basis that he is a man of God and must not be criticised because those who do so, risk God’s judgement (I Chronicles 16:22 – “Saying, Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm) and that God is not a poor God so it is only expected that he blesses his servants with exceeding riches. Both arguments are faulty


Firstly, God is not rich, neither is he poor. God is God, and God is spirit. (John 4:24 – “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”). Poverty and wealth are human conditions based on the absence or presence of money. God cannot be classified into human social classes. However, Jesus Christ came to earth and lived as man and his life here on earth has become the perfect example for us to follow as humans.


Secondly, the biblical standards that apply to pastors, apply to church members as well because essentially, we are all Christians but as humans, we hold them more accountable because we believe that they are chosen by God to lead other Christians. Indeed, God has given them some authority over us (Hebrews 13:17 – Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account…) but they are no longer middlemen between man and God. The curtain, screening the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament temple, which represented the barriers between man and God was torn at the crucifixion of Jesus, thereby granting every Christian direct access to God. We must obey authority as instituted by God, but what do we do when that authority is going outside of God’s expectations? We should be able to correct from the scriptures (Galatians 2:11 – “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed ;”)

As I read various arguments, for or against extremely wealthy pastors who flaunt wealth, I couldn’t shake several questions out of my head. What is God’s view on all this? And when I say God’s view, I mean what the bible actually says, not some intellectual or motivational interpretation of the bible. If Jesus was a modern day pastor, will He own jets and live in multi-million naira mansions? Will He be fashion conscious, wearing only the most expensive fashion outfits? Will He have social media accounts where He updates His followers of His latest acquisitions? If people do so on His behalf, what will be His response? Will He employ a security outfit and have multiple bodyguards? Will He upload pictures of expensive vacations on Instagram? If He throws lavish parties, will He invite the crème of the society or the down-trodden? Will He publicise acts of kindness that He has done? If He was to preach for fifty-two Sundays in a year, how many weeks will be devoted to teaching his members how to make wealth? 

The bible says we are in this world but not of this world. Which means what applies to unbelievers cannot and must not apply to us. So when unbelievers are wealthy and they flaunt it, no big deal. But when Christians are wealthy, we understand that there is a purpose to the wealth and we must use it accordingly.


One thing that bothers me greatly is that members of churches whose pastors openly display great wealth vigorously defend their pastor’s wealth. The wealth then becomes a distraction because God has not called us as Christians to justify our wealth to unbelievers. God has called us to make disciples of all nations. In other words, preach the gospel. What gospel does wealth preach? Is it the gospel of salvation or the gospel of prosperity? Jesus told Peter, ‘feed my flock.’ What does a display of wealth by pastors feed the members? 

Let me state categorically that I am not against Christians or their pastors attaining wealth. God himself desires that we prosper (3 John 1:2 – “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”) but not at the risk of our salvation (Matthew 16:26 –“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”) 


When wealth becomes detrimental to the gospel of salvation, then something is definitely wrong somewhere. In fact, we are not supposed to pursue riches because our attention will be divided (Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”). 


So does this now mean Christians shouldn’t get jobs and make money? No. What it means is that your life ambition shouldn’t be to make money but to please God and when you do this, he will bless you with all material things that you need (Matthew 6:31-33 – “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”)


This last verse of scripture that I quoted is also used to justify wealth of men of God. ‘You do not know his story so don’t criticise his glory. You do not know how he suffered as a young man, preaching the gospel up and down. Now that God is rewarding him, tap into the anointing so that God will do your own.’ 


There were extremely wealthy men in the bible (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job and Solomon) but what do we remember them for? These men loved and served God all their days and He no doubt blessed them, but what did Jesus say to the rich young man who came to Him? Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19: 21).  What that response tells me is that no one can successfully follow God without de-emphasizing worldly possessions to the point where the absence or presence of wealth makes no difference to him or her. Your wealth should mean nothing to you compared to your love for God. If your wealth means nothing to you, will you go to great lengths to flaunt it? 

Job was tested and God saw that poverty did not make him turn his back on God despite the fact that his fall from grace was absolute. Despite Abraham’s wealth, no reference was made to it in the New Testament, rather, we are reminded that Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ (Galatians 3:6). Despite the fact that Solomon was the richest man ever liveth, we make reference to him more for his wisdom than his riches. His wisdom benefits us as Christians more than his wealth. He himself made the assertion more than once, that ‘…all is vanity and grasping for the wind.’ (Ecclesiastes 2:17). We remember Jacob (Israel) as the father of the twelve tribes that became the great nation of Israel and a symbol of our inheritance through the promise made to Abraham.


For those who say that wealth attracts people to Christ, it shows that God is not poor and He has the power to prosper you. I am categorically telling you that you have believed a lie from the pit of hell, copyrighted by Satan and distributed to churches. When God is convincing a man of his sin, that man is not thinking of wealth, but of how unworthy he is of God’s love. Isaiah 53 from verses 2-3 says ‘…And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our face from Him; He was despised and we did not esteem Him. 


It is the Holy Spirit alone that can convince a man of his sin. Not even the most anointed man of God can do that on his own. Paul says ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God… that no flesh should glory in His presence. …And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 1: 21, 29; 2:4-5). 


If God had to rely on wealth to attract unbelievers, then every pastor and Christian will be rich, and those who are already rich need not come to Christ.

For those who say you need to be rich before you can have access to rich people and so preach the gospel to them, that is another patented lie from Hell Inc. marketed by foolish Christians. Paul stood before Caesar, the most powerful ruler in the world at the time, and declared the gospel fearlessly. Though he did so under circumstances that we pray against in churches today. 


The truth is that who we are in Christ does not fit into popular culture. The message we carry is not popular either, because it entails self-denial and a disregard to what the world holds dear. But the message we carry is powerful in itself (Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…”) to do what wealth, oration, packaging and feel-good approaches cannot do. It is the power of Christ and the mercy and grace of God, bringing salvation to those condemned to die. It is the hope of future glory with Christ. Nothing can substitute it. Let us not get carried away, let us not lose focus. Let us continue to disregard the things of this world, and constantly look at Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. And He will keep us, body, soul and spirit, till the day of His return, Amen. 

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