By: Raymond Harris
Contributor: Joe Pitman
Regarding Scripture: Titus 1.7
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of Titus in conjunction with this article.
Prophets and Profits
During the previous months of June and July, we have had our Eldership provide us with topics for discussion as we navigated through the letters of First and Second Timothy. This week we continue our Eldership-lead study by looking at an idea from the opening chapter of Titus. Our Elder, Joe Pitman, wants us to examine the idea of what is translated by the King James as “filthy lucre” and what our elder himself has termed “dirty profits verses clean profits.”
The topic for this week seems to have the potential to become somewhat explosive. When one considers our current social situation and that many topics of discussion actually are located within this very issue – filthy lucre – it is not surprising that this has the potential to stir emotions. Yet, it seems not just correct but also necessary to examine, at least in part, this idea of being “money-hungry.”1
As Paul’s letter to Titus opens, it includes a directive given to Titus. Titus was to remain in Crete to “set in order the things that are wanting”2 part of that directive included the ordination (appointment) of elders. From that primary directive objective, Paul then gave Titus a somewhat lengthy description of elders. Interestingly enough, the foremost characteristic of an elder is blamelessness.3 Knowing this, everything that follows are further identifiers of blamelessness from that of marriage and family to congregational and social accountability. One of these blameless identifiers is, as translated by the King James, “not given to filthy lucre.” While it is tempting to jump right into Paul’s letter, it seems right for us consider some of the writings of the Old Testament regarding economics.
In the third book of Moses, Leviticus, God’s people are told to have “no unrighteousness in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.”4 Right up front, it seems that we must accept that God considers proper handling of economic transactions as righteousness, anything less is a transgression. However, it is the next three words that are interesting. Meteyard seems not only to be the act measuring apportionments for garment construction, but it can also be any measured apportionment.5 Weights were used on scales to measure portions, and these too were to be righteous (as in true and accurate) during economic transactions. While similar in nature to the meteyard, measure seems to refer to the divvying and distribution of liquids as economic merchandise.6 From this one verse, we learn that God demands proper economics, and seems to be using an example of buying and selling clothing and liquids through the use of an economic balance (scales).
We, both the reader and this writer, know that the marketplace is important. So important it is that we live and die in the marketplace. It is this very marketplace nature that causes economics to be important to God. God does not just describe healthy economics in one location, no, Scriptures have many instances describing what God expects in economic transactions. The Law goes on to specify that balances are to be just,7 as in true (a contemporary example: a pound is to be 16 ounces, not 15 and 7/8).
Within the same book of Moses, Leviticus, God seems to expect his children to not profit from someone else’s poverty.8 If, or when, “your brother [becomes] poor… you are to relieve [help] him” the law then seems to impose a rule against charging interest for personal profit. While other Mosaic passages can be cited, the Law (Torah) is not the only place that God’s children are instructed regarding what God deems as proper economic behavior. We can find within the book of Proverbs admonishments to use proper and true weights and balances.9 We also learn that God considers anything that is not proper to be false, that it is not good and as such is detestable (abomination).10
As we noticed, it does not seem that God ever prohibited his children from making a profit. To the contrary, it seems that he permitted economic profiting, but prohibited what we have termed profiteering. And it is this profiteering that seems to be at the heart of Paul’s “filthy lucre.” The completeness of this discussion is Paul helping Titus identify those men who are blameless and economic blamelessness is just one identifier, but an important descriptor no less.
This writer has heard it said, “Every Christian should want to live up to the standards of a church leader.” Unfortunately, the reality is that not all Christians can obtain these benchmarks (this may be for various spiritual and non-spiritual reasons), but this writer will encourage that all Christians should be maturing toward these benchmarks. However within Biblical context, these benchmarks were given to Titus, so that he could find the crème de le crème for church leadership. Since, Paul is expecting the best of the best to lead the church, how important is it that economic equitability is demonstrated by the church leaders.
The man who has demonstrated fairness in the marketplace, has one of several different qualities11 that demonstrate that he has the potential for displaying fairness toward and with the church. However, this demonstration of economic fairness does not prohibit the gentleman from having achieved personal wealth. Attainment of personal wealth itself does not define the greatness of a church leader, nor does the lack of personal wealth define a church leader. Knowing that all Scripture is profitable for instructing,12 the inclusion of “filthy lucre” seems to be simply placing an expectation on the potential church leader that he earns his wealth in a manner keeping with the previously mentioned Scriptures.
As we close, let us consider this from our Elder, “The getting of gain can easily be distorted. But profit can come in more than one form. One can profit in: money, power, influence, and one-up-manship. Profit is necessary or else how could we have employment? So, let us profit as much as possible but without gaining at someone’s expense.” Our elder’s statement seems to well summarize our study. May we all be blessed by the LORD in our endeavors, may he profit all of us in our lives, and may we live lives that demonstrate that we are not money-hungry.
1. “Money-hungry.” Translation terminology used in The Message, Titus 1.7.
2. “Directive to Titus.” Titus 1.5, NASB.
3. “Foremost characteristic: blameless.” Titus 1.6, NASB.
4. Levitcus 19.35, NASB.
5. “Meteyard.” Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs definition: a measure, measurement, stature, size, garment; measure: act of measurement; measured portion; garment. e-Sword 8.0.6, August 12, 2009.
6. “Measure.” Strong’s definition: from an unused root meaning apparently to divide; a measure (for liquids) . e-Sword 8.0.6, August 12, 2009
7. “True balances.” Leviticus 19.36, NASB.
8. “Do not profit from someone else’s poverty.” Leviticus 25.35-38, NASB.
9. “Admonishment to use proper and true weights and balances.” Proverbs 16.11, NASB.
10. “False balances and weights: an abomination.” Proverbs 11.1, 20.23, NASB.
11. “Several different qualities.” Titus 1.5-9, NASB.
12. “All Scripture is profitable.” Second Timothy 3.16, NASB.