Saturday, December 11, 2010

Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel

This is a very interesting post that was shared with me today. This is good encouraging reading for one who labors in the Word!

Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel
by DAN on FEBRUARY 20, 2010

I know that’s a bold statement, but I didn’t say it. The apostle Paul did. That is a direct quote from 1 Corinthians 9:14, and it is preceded by saying that this is the Lord’s command (not Paul’s). Here’s the whole passage, in context:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it (1 Corinthians 9:3-18, NIV, emphasis mine).

Matthew Henry wrote this in his commentary on v. 6:

[Paul] had a right to marry as well as other apostles, and to claim what was needful for his wife, and his children if he had any, from the churches, without labouring with his own hands to get it. Those who seek to do our souls good, should have food provided for them. But he renounced his right, rather than hinder his success by claiming it. It is the people’s duty to maintain their minister. He may wave his right, as Paul did; but those transgress a precept of Christ, who deny or withhold due support.

In other words, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel have the right to earn their living from it. This is the modern day pastor (which corresponds more to the biblical role of elder). Paul chose to serve in bi-vocational ministry, that is, he chose to earn his living from a separate job, that of tentmaking. But that was Paul’s choice. Paul makes it clear that biblically, ministers have a RIGHT to earn their living from preaching the gospel.

However, Paul also says that voluntary preachers receive a reward for their duties, while those who exercise their right to a salary “simply discharge the trust committed to [them].” In other words, their vocation is no better than the local plumber, teacher, tax collector, or nurse. Each of these is commanded to be a full-time minister of the gospel (all believers), but some may earn their living from it as a right, which has clearly been commanded by the Lord.

Paul recognized that as a missionary in his context, bi-vocational ministry was a more effective approach. He willingly sets aside his right to financial support so that people will not think his message is just a fancy speech designed to get money. Some Greek orators made their living by traveling and entertaining audiences with speeches. Others formed schools and charged students for lectures. Paul does not want anyone to think his message is motivated by selfish concerns. But Paul’s willingness to support himself does not change the Lord’s command. Ministers of the gospel have a right to financial support, and believers have an obligation to provide that support.

The command is not aimed solely at vocational ministers so that they should run around demanding their support (although it would be biblically warranted if their “flock” didn’t support them), the command appears to target all believers so that they recognize that it is their responsibility to support the work of the gospel.

1 Timothy 5:17-20 says:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

Elders here are appointed leaders, not merely those recognized because of their age and experience. Those folks are actually addressed in v. 1: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.” In Acts 14:23, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” “Double honor” in the 1 Timothy 5 passage does not refer to salary, but this passage does reiterate the point that “the worker deserves his wages.” It also establishes that those elders whose work is preaching and teaching are serving in an honorable vocation. It is a respectable career choice.

This becomes even more pertinent as more and more heresies abound and the resurrection of false teachings from the past continues. It is extremely beneficial to the church to have individuals who receive in-depth training in the bible, church history, theology, and practical ministry (counseling, helping people cope with traumatic events, addiction therapy, etc.). There is nothing wrong with this, indeed it is very helpful to the Church. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to go to seminary to learn about church history, biblical languages, etc. Many more don’t have the opportunity to go, and even more do not have the intellectual capacity to retain this knowledge. This doesn’t invalidate the education and training, however. A lot of people aren’t smart enough to go to medical school, but we’re all glad that we have doctors. The same is true of pastors. They are not better than other believers because of their training, but they are to be respected and should be able to earn a living from their work.

Not everyone is meant to serve in this role. Ephesians 4:11-13 says:

It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Clearly not all are called to fulfill these roles in the Church. The purpose of these roles is to prepare God’s people for good works of service, building up the body of Christ “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Since this hasn’t happened yet, we still need people to fulfill these roles. Not just anyone should jump into these roles, either. James 3:1 says:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

God apparently even has a higher standard of judgment for those who teach His people. This should not be taken lightly. To ensure that not just anyone became an elder, Paul set up standards for them. Hear his words in Titus 1:5-9:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished andappoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

There you have it, the requirements of an elder and parts of his job description, and a reiteration of the fact that it is an appointed position. Paul also mentions here (and in several other places) that elders should not pursue dishonest gain. This precludes those folks who would serve in these roles solely to make money, or to make it dishonestly (such as through prosperity teachings). That would be wrong. But it doesn’t preclude them from making an honest living from preaching and teaching the gospel.

There are a lot more scripture passages that we could explore, but this post is long enough as it is. It is a topic that deserves attention, though. And it is one I should have posted at least a few weeks ago before I started shifting some of my terminology on this blog. I apologize for not sharing these thoughts sooner with you, my readers. I know I have written blog posts with the opposite stance in the past, but the clear teachings of the word of God prevail, as explained above. Undoubtedly there will be more discussion on this issue, feel free to comment and read the comments to gain more insight.


Dr. Terry Dorsett said...

Thanks for this post. While it is true that pastors deserve to be supported, it is also true that some churches simply are unable to do so. Not because they are not willing, but because they are unable. For example, the pastor who serves a small rural church in a remote area that may be "crop rich" but "cash poor." Or the pastor who serves a small inner city mission filled with single moms struggling to survive on limited income. Such people deserve a godly pastor who will lead them well. But that pastor will also have to find a second job to support his ministry. For pastors who feel a calling to serve such unique churches, they need to be looking for leaders to train up to assist them in the ministry. They might consider the resource, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. It is published by CrossBooks and also available on and as an e-book for Kindle.
A number of fully-funded pastors are also finding that resource helpful because developing leaders is important regardless of the pastor's vocational status.
Keep writing!

J2 said...

I, too, thank you for this post. I think it is good to really understand one's rights as a believer, and specifically here as one serving in spiritual ministry. The Lord has really been speaking to me this evening with this and similar things I've read on this matter tonight.

Firstly, while I certainly agree with Dr Dorsett's intent, even "crop rich" can share a portion of their harvest, and even widows and single moms are right in giving a portion. I don't believe he's giving excuses out of their obligation, but certainly this might not amount to enough to cover a given situation.

However, I really want to emphasize and highlight the example Paul gave by his election not to demand this right from those he served.

Paul's eyes were on a greater prize, and he willfully became a slave (work without just reward) to those because he knew there was a greater reward in doing so. Both for the Kingdom overall, but - by simple sowing and reaping - also back unto himself.

So, if things are tight, and a comfortable sustained income hasn't been falling out of the sky for you (the reader), perhaps God is calling you higher. To be both the laborer, and the giver. This, I see, is a multiplication of blessings.

And, if this is so, the question is not "how can I get others to rightly pay me" but "What has God placed upon my heart to go do, in regards to business and finance?"

The answer to that, in my humble estimation, could far exceed any meager income from raising support, giving you both the heart and the opportunity to give extravagantly, as well as serve.

Bless you!