by Matthew W. Bassford
Never does anyone argue harder for something they won’t actually take than Paul does in I Corinthians 9:3-14. Through much of his ministry, especially his time with the church in Corinth, Paul refused financial support from the church with which he was working. It may be that as per Romans 7:7-8, covetousness was a particular temptation for Paul, so he resolved that as much as possible, he wouldn’t accept money for his proclamation of the gospel. However, Paul spends twelve verses carefully constructing the argument that he had the right to be supported.
This argument has several prongs.
- First, he points out that it was customary for churches to provide not only for preachers but for their families.
- Second, he notes that people expect to be compensated for whatever kind of work they do, and preaching is no different.
- Third, he turns to the Law of Moses to establish that even oxen had the right to eat while they were threshing grain, and if God was concerned with oxen, how much more is He concerned with providing for human workers?
- Finally, he observes that those who provide spiritual blessings to Christians have the right to expect physical blessings in return.
From all this, he concludes that preachers have the right to earn their living from the gospel.
This argument has significant implications for preachers and churches alike. First, it warns preachers that they need to work hard in order to earn their living. Merely filling a pulpit once or twice a week does not entitle them to anything! Instead, if secular workers invest great effort in making widgets or closing business deals, the preacher should show even greater daily devotion to work of eternal importance.
Additionally, the preacher should be humble and appreciative about his salary. Many brethren make significant financial sacrifices in order to contribute appropriately to the Lord’s work. Ministers should not react to these sacrifices with arrogant entitlement. Rather, they should express their heartfelt appreciation to those whose generosity enables them to serve.
In turn, churches ought to remember that preacher support is not benevolent relief. The standard for a man’s compensation is not the minimum that he needs to get by, as determined by those who aren’t trying to make his family budget balance. He is paid as an act of justice, according to what he deserves, rather than as an act of mercy. If he is working hard at preaching and teaching, he should be rewarded accordingly.
Similarly, churches should not import a free-market mentality into their salary determinations. They should not be asking how cheaply they can fill a pulpit. Instead, they should measure the preacher’s value according to the value of what he is teaching them. Is it really a good idea to try to economize in finding a man whom you want to help you inherit eternal life?
All of us know that the love of money tangles everything up in the world. In the church, we must be careful to ensure that it doesn’t tangle us up. However, when churches and preachers both consider financial matters in the light of God’s word, the results inevitably will be to His glory.