Billy Graham, the most prominent, influential and respected Christian evangelist in the world throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, went to his heavenly reward Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the age of ninety-nine. As was the case throughout his fruitful sixty-year career as a public evangelist, so now in his death Graham is being highly honored by Christians and even many non-Christians for his life of dedicated service.
Billy Graham’s outstanding, long-term success was ultimately due to God sovereignly choosing to use, enable and bless him in the ways He did. In conjunction with that, many of the personal characteristics which Graham consistently manifested – integrity, sincerity, earnestness, humility, single-mindedness of purpose and purity of motives (to name but a few) – definitely contributed to his long-lasting ministry success. His example has much to teach us that will strengthen our own service for the Lord.
Graham may have faced stronger enticements to fame and fortune than any other Christian minister of the twentieth century. With wisdom, single-mindedness and resilience obviously of the Lord, he succumbed to none of those temptations.
During a press conference prior to his 1950 Boston crusade Graham was asked how much money he expected to make through the venture. He explained that his salary of $8,500 per year was paid by the Christian college of which he was president at the time, and that he would receive no income from the crusade. But the reporter kept pressing him to admit he expected to turn a large profit from the evangelistic campaign.
Just before the press conference began, Graham had been handed a telegram, which he read and placed in his pocket without observable reaction. Pulling the crumpled communiqué from his pocket, he responded, “Sir, if I were interested in making money, I would take advantage of something like this.”
It was an offer from a Hollywood studio of $250,000 to star in two Hollywood movies. As the reporters passed around the telegraph, their attitude toward the evangelist changed noticeably.
Though unsought by Graham, at the closing service of a series of meetings in Atlanta in 1951, the crusade committee had taken up a substantial love offering for the evangelist and his team. The next day the Atlanta Constitution ran a pair of pictures side by side: one of a group of ushers holding up four large sacks of money; the other of Graham waving and smiling broadly as he got into a car in front of the Biltmore Hotel just before leaving Atlanta. Graham was deeply troubled by the pictures, which appeared in newspapers across the country and which implied that he was serving both God and money.
As a result, and to avoid all such appearance of evil in the future, a system was immediately put in place whereby Graham and the members of his team received fixed salaries from their recently-formed evangelistic association. Graham’s salary was comparable to that received by prominent urban pastors but far less than he could have made from crusade love offerings. Never again did he or his team accept another honorarium for their crusade ministry.
Two years later Graham turned down an opportunity to play Billy Sunday in a feature film. And when NBC offered him one million dollars a year to host a regular television program, he declined that proposal as well, stating his unwillingness to trade places with the richest man on earth if it meant taking away from his evangelistic work.
Dallas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt offered Graham six million dollars to run for the U.S. Presidency against Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Hunt pledged to put that amount in Graham’s personal bank account if he allowed his name to be put in nomination at the Republican convention that summer. According to witnesses, Graham took no more than fifteen seconds to tell the tycoon he was flattered by the offer but had no interest in relinquishing a post he regarded as more important than the presidency.
Graham was a sterling example of 2 Corinthians 2:17: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” All Christians, whether in prominent or obscure ministries, are called to represent Christ in these ways. As we do, His ongoing blessing will rest on our ministries, to His glory and for the good of those to whom we minister.
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Billy Graham is one of the individuals featured in my book Timeless Stories: God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. The examples from Graham’s ministry cited in this Perspective were gleaned from William Martin’s excellent biography, A Prophet with Honor, The Billy Graham Story.
Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie