“They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,” (2 Peter 2:14–15, ESV)
Early on in my Christian life, I was a member and an elder in a small church. Out pastor had just resigned and the associate pastor stepped up to lead the church. In one of our church board meetings, the associate made this statement. I do not remember the context of it, but it hit me the wrong way. He stated simply, “That’s my job.” I know that his intentions were good. However, this wording bothered me. This wording makes it seem like the pastoral ministry is merely another occupation for earning money.
John Piper wrote a book titled, “Brothers We Are Not Professionals.” In it he made the statement, “The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.” (Piper 1) (Quoted from “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals,” John Piper © 2002 by Desiring God Foundation. Reprinted and used by permission.) This is a profound truth that threatens the health of the local church. Peter presented the extreme example of this problem as he wrote about the false teachers of his day.
Peter indicated that the false teachers had followed the way of Balaam. Balaam’s problem was that he was greedy for gain. He was a prophet for hire. (See Numbers 23-24) He was offered money by Balak the king of Moab to come and curse the Israelites so that Moab could defeat Israel in battle. However, God told Balaam that he should not curse Israel. After persistent requests from Balak, God gave permission for Ballam to go to Balak. However, he was to do specifically what God told him to do.
Next, Balaam saddles up his donkey and heads out to meet Balak. Yet, God was angry with Balaam. Apparently not for going, but for his motive in going. On the way, Balaam’s donkey sees the angel of the Lord standing in the pathway with a drawn sword. Seeing this, the donkey refused to go forward. Balaam struck the donkey three times in anger when the donkey spoke to Balaam. Then Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the angel of the Lord, who told Balaam that if the donkey proceeded that he would have killed Balaam and spared the donkey. The donkey was wiser than Balaam.
Even though Balaam had not received payment from Balak, since he did not curse Israel (God forbid him from thus doing), his motivating factor for going to see Balak was a love for money. Moreover, Balaam apparently shared some information with Balak that brought the Israelites to sin against the Lord by engaging in sexual immorality with the Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-5; 31:16).
Balaam is a true picture of the road that false teachers travel. It is one of teachers with a corrupted heart that focuses on fleshly desires. They are mercenaries so to speak, in the ministry for personal gain. Whether it be for gaining pride, advantage, or material wealth, false teachers are out of touch with God and thus, have motives contrary to God’s purposes. They are less intelligent than Balaam’s donkey and are unknowingly headed for destruction.
The point here is that we must be aware of the false preachers and teachers that will attempt to infiltrate the church today. Moreover, we preachers and teachers must guard our hearts against being swayed to minister for the wrong reasons. It is a subtle deception that can lead us on a wrong path.