The 80s seemed like the heyday of televangelists. I read about and occasionally caught a brief glimpse of people like Jim Baker and his wife Tammy Fay, who appeared on TV amongst a rapturous stage production and delivered quite a show to their religious flock. As newspapers would later report, the majority of these devoted followers sat rapt by the TV with their checkbooks in hand, waiting for the chance to fork over cash. God wants you to give, Baker and “preachers” like him suggested, and phone lines waited for your call. Any amount will do, but more is better.
I never understood the allure of these TV personalities. Even though I understood little about Christian faith at the time, it seemed incredibly strange that these people had their hands in so many people’s pockets and claimed to be acting in the name of God. Did they really believe that God wanted them to have lavish homes, cars, suits, etc.? I’d heard plenty of stories of people offering their entire life savings to these people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I even shook my head as one by one scandal exposed them. And yet people didn’t learn their lesson, merely finding a new person willing to collect their checks on the pretext that they were buying into god’s plan.
Although Paul’s is not a as slimy or slick as some of these people, in 2 Corinthians–his follow up letter to the Corinthians, where he reiterates some points from 1 Corinthians and apologizes for not scheduling a return visit to their city—he comes across as someone who will not be happy until these people fork over all they can in order to make God happy.
God likes a cheerful giver, Paul suggests (9:7), so they better be super excited about this “big gift” they promised, and lest they get second thoughts about handing it over, he’s sending people to help them get it together (9:5).
Sounds like someone is trying to really hard to convince people to follow through with something with which they are not all that comfortable.
Maybe this is why he tries to assure them that he has their best interests at heart. Why else would he lie to them by saying that all he wants is them, not their possessions? If this were true, why ask for their money? This doesn’t count as a possession? And if he truly believed that Christianity only needed humble jars of clay for their teaching (4:7)—nothing to dress it up—what did they need people’s money for?
Ask not what god can do for you, ask what you can do for god ends up sounding more like a political speech than a truism. Jesus didn’t ask for cash, so why do the people who claim to be acting in his name? Why not ask people to give their time to help others? Why did it have to be money? Why can’t they show their love that way?