About a month ago my daughter Jericho was accidentally bumped by her brother and ended up biting her tongue so deep that we felt a visit to the ER might be important. We were unsure because while there was a lot of blood, it stopped pretty quickly and she calmed down. But after making a call we were advised to make the trip and so we did.
We signed in and waited for two hours, which was to be expected. In the meantime we tried to keep her happy with an iPad, Olympic figure skating on the hospital TV’s, and even dancing. She was so happy that she didn’t even look like she belonged in a hospital room until just about the time they called her back. By this point she was crying because it was well beyond her bedtime and she just wanted to go home and sleep. As it ends up, the time to go home was not too far away because the doctor looked in her mouth, said she’d be fine and then gave us some medical tips, a popsicle and some motrin.
The bill for them telling us she was fine came in at $789. After insurance paid their part, we owed $512 (though today I just got another bill for this hospital visit for $62 for some reason). Anyways, we are now actually suffering because we paid someone to tell us we were fine—oh the irony.
Look: I haven’t done enough research to be able to say there’s some kind of injustice in the medical world—though to some extent I think the situation speaks for itself. So rather than follow that path further I just wanted to speak to the beauty of Jesus’ healing ministry in comparison.
It’s very questionable how much money Jesus had on him. When he needs food for a crowd, he supernaturally multiples it (Mk 6:30-44). When he needs to pay taxes he gets funds out of a fish (Mt 17:24-27). He tells a rich man to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Mk 10:17-31). When the Pharisees try to trap Jesus into saying something about taxes, Jesus doesn’t have any money on him to make a point with it (Mk 12:13-17). And whatever money he does have, Judas is embezzling a bunch of it so it’s not even as much as it should be (Jn 12:4-6).
In other words, Jesus isn’t getting loaded off his supernatural works. He’s doing the same work that doctors do (though even more proficiently) and he’s not rolling in the big bucks. In fact, when he tells his disciples to go heal people and do miracles, he expressly forbids them from turning it into profit:
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. (Mt 10:8-10)
Jesus gives away the ultimate power that flows through Him both freely and without judgment. He is not here to make a buck off those around him, even if what He can do is worth all the money in the world. He simply gives health and teaching away for free and expects his followers to do the same.
People have abused the Holy Spirit in modern times by charging for His work. All you have to do is take a brief look at all the charismatic teachers who will offer you God’s blessing or anointing oil or a healing so long as you tithe or donate to their “ministry.”
We see throughout all of history that making a profit off of the Holy Spirit is not a new problem—it is an old one that has been greatly abused. While not Scripture, early church leaders valued a book called the Shepherd of Hermas, which very straightforwardly saw charging for prophecy to be a mark of a false prophet:
First, the man who seems to have the Spirit exalts himself, and wishes to have the first seat, and is bold, and impudent, and talkative, and lives in the midst of many luxuries and many other delusions, and takes rewards for his prophecy; and if he does not receive rewards, he does not prophesy. Can, then, the Divine Spirit take rewards and prophesy? It is not possible that the prophet of God should do this, but prophets of this character are possessed by an earthly spirit.
Didache, another popular early church book that also is not New Testament canon reiterates the same idea:
Let every apostle that cometh to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goeth away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodgeth; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet…. But whoever saith in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, ye shall not listen to him; but if he saith to you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him. (Didache, Ch 11)
Obviously, the problem has been around for a long time and to some extent it was a distinguishing mark of a false leader in the early church. Jesus doesn’t come with medical bills. He “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
We even bend Paul’s attitude on supporting ministers and churches by making him seem authoritarian when in actuality his language is quite bashful. As N.T. Wright points out,
Having mentioned the varieties of writing styles in 2 Corinthians, we should note—as a measure of something about Paul’s personality—that chapters 8 and 9 (the fundraising section so to speak) are written in very labored and tortured Greek. I have myself done a small amount of church fundraising and I find it comforting that the awkwardness I’ve always felt in asking people for money—even for causes in which I passionately believe—appears similar to what Paul obviously felt in writing these chapters. A measure of this awkwardness is that at no point in 39 verses does he mention the word “money” or anything close to it. He talks of the “grace” and the “deed;” the “service;” “your service in this ministry;” and of course, “partnership.” (Paul: A Biography, Audiobook, Ch 14, 9:58)
All of that to say that we supernaturally-minded Christians should be very cautious about the way we do our ministry, for we have many giftings people not only want, but need. And if we’re not watching ourselves we can turn power into corruption even on a supernatural level. It’s no wonder Jesus will tell some people who do works with his supernatural power, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt 7:23).
Also, medical bills are more expensive than they should be. Okay, now I’m done.