Money Doesn’t Make the Man of God (click to view/download originally published file as pdf)
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:
“ ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’ ”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,
“ ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’
“ ‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagana country.
And Israel will certainly go into exile,
away from their native land.’ ”
Whoa. What a week to have this text pop up! That may not immediately make sense to a lot of you, but I think your councilmen and active voters may have understand it. That’s because the leaders of our congregation have all been watching the decline in offerings very closely. As John Henry said when he addressed the congregation a few months ago, the average in offerings that we have been receiving has been lower than the budgeted amount all year long. The result, of course, is a growing deficit. It was a big topic of discussion at last Tuesday’s meetings, which is why I said that this was an interesting week for this text.
And what’s the message in this text that the people of God need to hear this week? Well, I didn’t immediately see a message directly related to money, but then I looked a little closer—not only at the text but also at the other lessons.
In our gospel, Jesus sent out preachers and forbade them from taking any extra provisions along. They were only to be concerned about preaching repentance; God would provide places for them to say and food for them to eat. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says that an overseer must not be a lover of money. And Amos? Well, Amos is accused of dishonestly preaching a shocking message about the king of Israel just so that he could create a sensation—and profit from it. But Amos points out to his accuser that, if he had wanted to make money, he would have just stayed at home in the first place. He’d already had a good job. It was God’s idea for him to leave that job behind and preach the message.
Do you see it yet? There is a message in the text that the people of God needed to hear. The thing that surprised me about it, however, was that the specific people who needed the message I was looking at was preachers and teachers. Over time I came to think of that message as Money Doesn’t Make the Man of God. I know they say that “money makes the man,” but just the opposite is true in the gospel ministry. It’s not the money that makes the man of God. It’s the message.
The other called workers and I need to hear that because, according to the figures presented at Tuesday’s meetings, the time is coming soon when we may have to consider wage cuts, benefits cuts, or both. We may even have to talk about cutting a worker altogether. And what if that became a reality? Well, as Paul said, if you’re a lover of money, you’re not qualified for the ministry in the first place. And Jesus clearly demonstrated that the Lord will always take care of his workers.
Now, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, obviously didn’t understand that. But Amos showed that true messengers of God are never in it for the money, even if there is money to be had. This line of work, if it’s legitimately done in the Lord’s name, is all the Lord’s idea. “I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”
Money most definitely does not make the man of God. Money, in fact, must always be considered last when it comes to the ministry of preaching and teaching God’s message. This text holds a perfect illustration of this in Amos and Amaziah. Amos had left a decent and consistent paycheck back in Judah when he answered God’s call. That’s okay, he reasoned. Everything we need for body and life ultimately comes from God anyway. I will simply do his will and preach his message and trust that he will take care of me. Again, you see that same attitude reflected among the apostles that Jesus sent out in today’s gospel reading.
Amaziah’s job, however, pandered to a paycheck. It was that way by definition. He was a priest at Bethel, and Bethel was a religious center that had been set up to rival the temple in Jerusalem. It was political and economical. The first king of the northern tribes had set it up because he was afraid of the money and loyalty he would lose if the people were making pilgrimages down south to Jerusalem every year. It didn’t matter that the LORD had wanted it that way. The king didn’t.
And the king in Amaziah’s day felt the same way about it. So Amaziah got pretty upset when Amos started going around and preaching that the king needed to repent or else God would soon allow the enemies of Israel to run her over. He sent the message to King Jeroboam that “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
By the way, it was true. Israel was only about forty years from being overrun by Assyria. Amos’ message was the very Word of God, so it was true and reliable. It wasn’t making him any friends in the northern kingdom, but it was true. That was more important to him than money or popularity. Money doesn’t make the man of God. The message does.
By now, you’ve probably considered the fact that this isn’t just about pastors, preachers and prophets. This is about you. This isn’t just about true prophets being men of God. It’s about true Christians being people of God. And if money, popularity, politics and other worldly things don’t make the prophet a success, then neither do they make the people of God a success.
Truth be told, there are just an amazing number of parallels between life in the northern kingdom of Israel and life as a Christian in the United States today. In Amos’ day, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel were some of the richest people in the world. They had relative peace, too. Sure, they fought in some wars, but it was never at home. In those days, nothing touched the homeland.
But it was all based on greed, inequality and injustice. Amos isn’t a very long book. You might want to check it out this week. The parallels are striking.
And I would also submit that the parallels are even more striking now than they were ten years ago. Chapter four of Amos’ prophecy details how God struck his people with various kinds of tragedies in an attempt to wake them up before it was too late. Drought, famine, plagues, hunger—they’re all listed as means the LORD used to try to turn his people around, to make them realize that it wasn’t the work of their hands or their ingenuity that supplied them with all their blessings; it was the LORD. They needed to trust and obey him for their good.
We, too, have been struck with tragedies, although not quite at the level Israel suffered it. It seems like almost every week another member of the congregation tells me a story of economic woe. I tell you, it would be heartbreaking if it weren’t for the fact that the LORD is so obviously using these things for people’s blessing. More and more I hear people say that it is not money that makes the person, but the LORD. Praise God!
At the same time, brothers and sisters, I have to warn you that we still have much to learn. Economic struggles are but one part of God’s ongoing plan to bring us blessing now and in eternity through faith in him. We need also to wake up to the effect that living in the religious climate of America has on us. The vast majority of people in the United States still say, “Yes,” when asked whether or not they believe in God. But, like the Israelites who claimed to worship the LORD but then set up their own temples and ceremonies, the people of America largely do not believe in the one, true God, but in a deity that they have pieced together from various preferences within their unbelieving hearts. They call this figment of their imaginations “God” or “the Lord,” or even “Jesus.” But when you speak to them of God in exactly the way that God describes himself in Scripture, they say things like, “Well, I don’t believe that God would say something like that,” or, “The God I believe in would never feel that way, because what you are saying is judgmental and unloving.”
Remember the confession of faith that brought you to the one, true God, brothers and sisters. America’s pious-sounding unbelief, so very much like the false worship of God that the priest Amaziah was a part of in Israel, is going to get worse before it gets better. Now more than ever we need to be studying and understanding God’s will. We need it not only because we can then distinguish fact from fiction in the opinions that are expressed about God all around us, but also because it takes faith to take a stand like Amos against what is popular and profitable, and faith comes from listening to (studying) that Word.
Your called workers have nothing to fear in the years to come because the LORD will take care of them. The same goes for you. Leave cowardice behind in the cleansing waters of forgiveness in Christ, for he is what truly makes the child of God! Amen.
Pentecost 8 Money Doesn’t Make the Man of God July 26, 2009
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Amos 7:10-17 Emanuel Lutheran Church