On an extreme end of Christianity we come across a view that treats God as though He is just looking to prosper, bless and protect both us and our nation. But the Gospels show us that there is a major misunderstanding here. He proclaimed blessing over the people we don’t want to be: The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the reviled, and the slandered (Mt 5:3-11). And while He did take occasional steps to protect Himself, His life still ended on a cross which God asked Him to pursue. We may act as though God is out to make our lives happy and safe, but Jesus certainly didn’t preach that way. Rather, He told His followers,
they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mk 13:9, 12-13)
Have we forgotten what our redemption is based off of? Have we just heard about the cross so much that we have become used to it? Those wooden beams are something straight out of a horror story and are as repulsive as can possibly be. But the cross is our story. We do not get victory until we’ve received the cross. Whatever blessing is, it’s not a nice car, a big house or the newest gadgets. True blessing is complicated to understand and backwards from what we might think—as are most of the qualities of Heaven.
When we embrace the prosperity Gospel, we’re missing the point and calling out for the enemy to show us another way. Certain parts of the church have taken it so far that they’re going to find themselves under judgment if they don’t repent. I hate hearing stories of churches that hold the blessings of the Holy Spirit as though it’s a hostage negotiation. “Just send $10 to this address and we’ll mail you a prayed over handkerchief for your healing!” How did that work out for Simon the magician when he thought he could buy the Holy Spirit from Peter?
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Ac 8:20-22)
When you try to make a financial trade for spiritual power, you’re practicing witchcraft and you’ve turned the Holy Spirit into a service that you think you can dispense, as though you are God and He is not. When you do things like this, your heart becomes so far from God that your ministry becomes nothing more than the Temple of Jesus’ time. It becomes not a house of prayer, but a den of robbers (Mk 11:17). And that word robbers doesn’t even communicate the fullness of what Jesus meant, for as scholar Nicholas Perrin points out, “Judging by its usage especially in Josephus, the term comes closer to something like ‘guerilla’ or ‘gangster.’” He goes on to say that,
When we consider Jesus’ disruption of business in the outer courts along with his specific charge that the temple personnel have turned God’s house into ‘a den of robbers’, and align these observations with the first-century perception of the high priesthood, who, to use a modern-day analogy, were seen as being a cross between a band of Columbian drug lords and a boardroom of extravagantly overpaid executives, we find that the evidence virtually speaks for itself. (Perrin, Nicholas. Jesus the Temple. Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2010, p 94.)
And these aren’t the only religious officials Jesus called out. Likewise, the religious scribes who had somehow found a way to afflict the local widows with their positions will, according to Jesus, “receive the greater condemnation” (Mk 12:40).
We need to pay attention. We are not in ministry to make a profit, we are in ministry to serve Jesus. Jesus’ own demands on his disciples when He sent them out to do supernatural ministry was to, “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” (Mt 10:8-9).
We see through all of this that making a profit off of the Holy Spirit is not a new problem—it is an ancient 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 non-canonical early church book reiterates the same idea. Throughout chapter 11, this book calls attention to all the of ways in which pretend prophets and apostles might try to make themselves privileged or rich based on the authority they claim. When they do these things, they are to be considered false apostles or prophets. Didache is clear: “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” (Did 11:12).
As we operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must take both Jesus’ and the early church’s warnings in stride, because it seems surprisingly possible for us to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit and end up with judgment on our heads. As Jesus Himself says,
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Mt 7:21-23)
This is a strange conundrum. How could one who walks in the power of the Holy Spirit not know God? How could we call Jesus “Lord” and yet live a life of lawlessness? How can we prophesy in the name of Jesus and cast out demons in the name of Jesus and somehow miss Jesus?
Some will answer that Jesus is speaking here of false prophets operating in demonic powers, but I don’t really find that convincing. Once you’ve spent some time in the supernatural realm you can’t help but admit that people are capable of doing ministry in the power of the Spirit and completely missing the point at the same time. Experience tells me to be cautious; for I believe that we are all capable of missing Jesus while doing His ministry, just as we are capable of being married to a person and benefiting from that relationship while not knowing our spouse at all. We are even capable of cheating on them while being married to them and experiencing their benefits. Therefore, perhaps Jesus’ warning is not as incomprehensible as we sometimes think.