Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Is it wrong for churches to sell books, tapes and other products?
No. We must understand this saying in its context. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent his disciples out on their first mission. He told them to heal the sick, drive out demons and preach that the kingdom of God was (then as now) near. He also told them that they did not need to take any supplies with them, not even a money bag. And they were not to accept payment for their services: “Freely you have received, freely give” (verses 5-10).
The disciples on those early missions were not to carry money or accept money. However, they could accept room and board, “for the laborer is worth his keep.” Wherever they went, they were to look for hospitable persons and stay with them as long as they preached in that area (verses 10-11). The disciples were able to preach, heal and cast out demons, and the people gave them what they needed.
Shortly before he was killed, Jesus asked his disciples, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” And they answered, “Nothing” (Luke 22:35). The experience had been a practical lesson for the disciples’ faith.
However, Jesus then told his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag” (verse 36). Jesus told them to change the way that they went on missionary journeys. They were to carry a purse. They would need money, presumably because there would be no hospitable persons in some areas. The money would come from those who accepted the message.
Many years later, the apostle Paul wrote that those who preach the gospel have a right to be supported by it (1 Corinthians 9:4-14). Although he did not use that right with the church at Corinth, it was nevertheless a right. Traveling preachers could ask one area to subsidize a missionary journey into another area. Paul commended the church at Philippi for giving him financial support even when he was preaching in another city.
This principle may be applied to ministry today: We may ask believers to pay the expenses of preaching the gospel. We ask them to pay the expenses of preaching the gospel not only within the church but also to many nonmembers.
Our services are open to the public. Those who wish to hear the gospel may do so without charge. The church makes the gospel available for free. In church services, people are sometimes told that Christians have a financial responsibility to support those who preach the word of God to them. They may be asked to contribute money, but no one will ask them to leave if they do not give anything. The gospel is being freely given even though requests for money are made and people are encouraged to give.
There is no prohibition on the church charging for anything it produces. Christ did not mean that Bibles, for example, should not be sold. It is scripturally permissible for Christian publishers to sell Bibles (and other books and magazines containing the gospel) to those who can pay the production costs. Of course, Bibles are often available for free, but that doesn’t change the fact that they may be sold. Before printing was invented, for example, Bibles were extremely rare and expensive; there was no obligation to give them away. It is not wrong to sell religious books and Bibles or to ask for a donation.
Proverbs 23:23 tells us, “Buy the truth and do not sell it.” Does this mean it is wrong to sell books containing truth?
No. If that is what the verse meant, then it would mean that only sinners sell the truth, and therefore the only way we could buy the truth is to purchase it from sinners—and by our purchase, we would be involved in their sin! This is not the meaning.
This verse is a proverb, explaining a principle in figurative language. We could paraphrase it in this way: Value truth highly, and never let it go. Today’s English Version says, “Truth, wisdom, learning, and good sense—these are worth paying for, but too valuable for you to sell.” The Bible in Basic English says, “Get for yourself that which is true, and do not let it go for money.”
It is not wrong to charge for books, lectures or classes in which truth is taught.