Paying Uninspired Gospel Preachers

by Terry W. Benton

In discussing the right and expectation preachers ought to have for adequate financial support, I appealed to Paul's statements in I Corinthians 9:4-14 for the proof of that rightful expectation. A man of the house-church persuasion responded, and I think the exchange hits on some very needed points of scriptural understanding on this issue. I've added a few points to the original exchange for purposes of clarity for this article.

Quote: First let's notice that you have left out I Corinthians 9:3, "My defense to them that examine me is this." Now let's go back to another verse and show what he also said, "If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord." So everything that Paul said from I Corinthians 9:4 to 9:14 was the defense of his apostleship.

Reply: It is a defense of his apostleship alright because some were questioning that. However, his right to lead about a wife (I Corinthians 9:3) is not a right that is his because he is an apostle but because he is a human being with the same rights as others, only he chose not to have a wife so he could do more work for the kingdom, and the difficulty he faced from place to place would be too much for a wife to handle. Still, it was his right, but he chose not to use that right. So, even though he is an apostle, defending his apostleship, he is not saying that wives and material support are due him because he is an apostle, but that being a man, he has the same right as others to have a wife if he wanted to, and being a preacher of the gospel, he had the same right as others to reap material things from them.

Quote: These verses did not apply to anyone else but him. He did not apply them to anyone else but himself.

Reply: This is not correct. He mentions a principle from the law that said: You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain. He said that was written for our benefit to tell us that he who plows (not just apostles) should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope (not just apostles) should be partaker of his hope (I Corinthians 9:10). Then he says "if others (not just apostles) are partakers of this right over you, are we (apostles) not even more?" So, it is actually a perversion of this text to say that only apostles have a right to sow spiritual things and reap the brethren's material things. Now it is true that Paul did not use his right because they were too critical of him already, and if he took it they would have criticized him for that, saying he was in it for the money. Later on, some criticized him for NOT taking money from them, saying that he knew he was unworthy. He did take wages from other churches to do service at Corinth (II Corinthians 11:5-11), but he was having to walk carefully with the carnal brethren at Corinth. But, being an apostle meant that he could demand support if he wanted to, but he did not want to abuse his authority. Had the brethren been spiritually minded they would have wanted to have supported him and all others that they could. It was a very different situation at Corinth that made Paul believe it to be expedient to not demand their support (financially) until he won their support in faith and confidence in him.

Now, the principle of receiving spiritual things from a teacher or preacher and so returning in gratitude some material support is a wide-open principle that does not apply just to apostles. Paul said the principles apply in this way: "the Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel (not just apostles, but including them) should live from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14).

An elder is not an apostle, yet those who "labor in the word and doctrine" are worthy of double honor or support (I Timothy 5:17). The principle is wide-open. There were places Paul went that made it expedient to refrain from demanding support. However, there were times when he took wages (II Corinthians 11:7-8) showing he did use his right and that it was right and lawful to do so. There are places I have been where I had to compensate my income with another job. That takes away a preacher's ability to spend as much time in the word and do things he needs to do, but each circumstance dictates what a preacher may need to do. However, once brethren realize how important the gospel is and how much it needs to be understood, expounded upon, and shared with the church and the church to the world, they begin to realize that our teachers and preachers need support to give them time in the word that their profiting may in turn profit the church (I Timothy 4:13-16). Lack of knowledge has destroyed many of God's people (Hosea 4:6) and lack of depth is often expedited by having a man who can dig it out, mine it, and bring forth to the church that profit he has gained.

Quote: Any man that comes along and declares that he is a "Preacher" and tries to say these verses apply to him is taking them out of context and putting himself in the place of Paul.

Reply: That is also incorrect. Paul applied the principles across the board that "he who (anybody) preaches the gospel should live of the gospel." To apply that principle ONLY to apostles is doing violence to the text and the principle Paul used in the text. In fact, the above statement is a perversion of the gospel. He is speaking of compensating a man who preaches the gospel, sows spiritual things to you (the church). He could have said: "The Lord commanded that apostles only should live of the gospel." But, instead, he said: "The Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel (now can there be those who preach the gospel today?) should live from the gospel", that is "reap your (the church) material things". That is what should take place. At Corinth, it wasn't being done due to carnal thinking, but it should have been the case that they pleaded with Paul to take their gifts of love. They should have seen the value of what he was doing and offered it voluntarily. The modern house-church-denomination is of that same carnal mind-set. They do not want to involve themselves in what the Lord commanded, and they will pay in another way I'm afraid. The church needs to free up faithful men to give themselves to the word and doctrine so that they can sow spiritual things from the deeper waters of knowledge and wisdom in Christ. These men should give themselves entirely to the word that their profiting may be evident to all and that they may save those who hear them (I Timothy 4:13-16). The motive for wanting to go into a house-church to avoid paying preachers, and then to use false arguments like this to justify the position is to demonstrate what lack of depth flows from such house-churches and demonstrates why preachers do need to be supported to help avoid this kind of tragedy in the church.

Quote: Paul was an inspired man with gifts to prove that he was from God by miracles. Preachers today who teach variations of what Paul taught have not received any inspiration. All they can do is teach what Paul or Peter taught.

Reply: That is all we need to teach. When we read we can know what they knew (Ephesians 3:3-5). We can give ourselves to reading and then preach the word, save ourselves, and those who hear us (I Timothy 4:11-16; II Timothy 4:1-4). Paul did not say the principle applies if it is an inspired preacher of the gospel. If he preaches the gospel, he should be supported. Nor was there any implication that if a man works miracles support him. Actually, preaching to help get people's names written in the book of life is greater than any of the miracles that the apostle's performed. It is not about supporting miracle-workers, but supporting preachers of the gospel who sow to you spiritual things.

Quote: A Preacher today carries no more weight than the average disciple. He is no more special than the next guy. He may know little more than the next guy but everyone has access to the same new testament. A man that claims to be a Preacher did not receive an appointment from God to do anything different than the average disciple.

Reply: No, there are men who have an appetite to teach and learn and teach and learn more and teach more. They have a talent and an interest that drives them that other members do not have. Paul spoke of an elder that "labors in the word" (I Timothy 5:17). Well, all elders are to labor in the word to some extent, but here was an elder that was particularly devoted to studying and learning and sharing from his labors in the word. That is what we are talking about. We need men of depth. We need men who want to develop depth. We need to give men room and time to develop depth. We need to support and honor men who dig and search, read, and meditate, and gain profit that they can share with the church and outsiders (I Timothy 4:13-16). We need to desire to support such men. If one man is all a church can afford, then use him to the fullest. If a church can support more full-time teachers and preachers, then it would be wise to do so. But, the church was a beneficiary of the men who preached the gospel to them, and therefore those men were doing something that the other members were not in a position to do as well with as much depth, and whoever is given entirely to the word and foregoes a secular job to give himself to that, is a man we all should want to support for the benefit of the church.

Quote: But this is not the case with Paul. Now lets read the verses after I Corinthians 9:13. "so also did the Lord direct to those proclaiming the good news: of the good news to live. (TB: Proof that the principle is general, not just the apostles.) And I have used none of these things; neither did I write these things that it may be so done in my case, for [it is] good for me rather to die, than that any one may make my glorying void (TB: He knew what some of those carnal brethren would say and thought it best not to raise the issue of financial support); for if I may proclaim good news, it is no glorying for me, for necessity is laid upon me, and woe is to me if I may not proclaim good news; for if willing I do this, I have a reward; and if unwillingly -- with a stewardship I have been entrusted! What, then, is my reward? -- that proclaiming good news, without charge I shall make the good news of the Christ, not to abuse my authority in the good news" (I Corinthians 9:14-18). Notice it says, "so also did the Lord direct". And then he says, "and I have used none of these things." What things? Well, the verse did not say. We do not know exactly.

Reply: You forget. He did not use his right to lead about a wife or his right to receive material compensation for the spiritual things he sowed in their hearts. Those are the "things" he chose not to use under the circumstances. But, he used his right in other circumstances. Why not here? Because it was not expedient due to the carnal immaturity they had that even questioned his apostleship, much less supporting him financially. He was glad to do it free of charge, as all preachers should like to do and would do if they could survive that way, but it should not be the case that a church remains too immature to see the value of what they are getting for their soul in a faithful gospel preacher. Paul did not use his right to a wife, or his right to their financial support, but that does not prove this exception should be the rule. The exceptional situation should be the exception, not the rule.

Quote: Then on down he says he was "with a stewardship I have been entrusted." Now, what was this stewardship? The text does not say.

Reply: His stewardship was to be wise with what he does with the gospel. If some are going to accuse him of peddling the gospel for money, then it taints the value of the gospel and casts his work in a bad light. His stewardship was to make judgments about who understood how valuable his message was and would volunteer to help support the preachers of it in every way, and who would be so carnal and childish as to think those who preach it are doing so only for the money. His stewardship made him decide against taking support (a right he had) from the carnal brethren at Corinth. That is what the text is all about.

Quote: The point is the arrangement between Paul and the Lord we do not exactly know but we do know there was one.

Reply: The arrangement is to be a good steward of the gospel. Be careful with this treasure, and don't undermine its value by making demands of those who do not yet trust you as a messenger. God's arrangement is that "those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (reap your material things).

Quote: Nowadays no man who claims to be a preacher has special management with Jesus. They have no special instructions.

Reply: That is not a correct point to make from the text. I think this abuse of the principle Paul stated is just something that the house-church-movement desires not to do, and this is carnal thinking that is used to justify their covetousness. They do not want to be committed to the support of gospel preachers. A man can be given to preaching the gospel, and if he is preaching the gospel, he has a manager in Jesus. Paul committed the gospel to Timothy's trust. He was to teach other "faithful men" so that they in turn can teach others also (II Timothy 2:2). That trickles down to us. We need "faithful men" who have a zeal for God and His truth. That stewardship is handed down to this day. Those who sow spiritual things should be freely compensated for their time and spiritual work.

Quote: Then Paul says "not to abuse my authority." Most people want to take I Corinthians 9:14 where it says, "of the good news to live" as money that is paid out of some church treasury. There is no proof of such and just because people cannot conceive of it being any other way does not make it so. The argument lacks proof.

Reply: No, that is a false argument. The church fellowships (shares) with those who preach the gospel. The common commitment is to do what God-ordained. If God ordained that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel, and part of that principle also entails "if we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?" All had the same responsibility to support the sower of spiritual things. He also based this upon the shared responsibility the Israelites had to the priests who ministered holy things. The shared responsibility of Israel was to keep up the temple and those who served there. Paul draws from that that those who preach the gospel have every right to expect the shared responsibility of giving the worker his wages knowing that you can never really compensate a man for the value of this work. If the priests of Israel should be supported with a comfortable living for them and their family, the gospel preacher has more important work to be supported.

Quote: Notice where Paul says he was entrusted with a stewardship. This word rightly translated means a management. Like a manager of an estate. And Paul says he was entrusted with it. Now we have no information exactly as to what this was.

Reply: Yes we do know what it was. He had this treasure (the riches of knowledge in Christ Jesus) in his earthen vessel (II Corinthians 4:1-4). That treasure needed to be protected and distributed carefully. With great care, the apostles managed to share that treasure which faithful men, in turn, continue to manage as well.

Quote: But drew out of this management a reward or wage and that when he was proclaiming the good news he could do it without charge. When people read into these verse "church treasury" and apply them to their selves there is no proof from the contest only conjecture.

Reply: Call it a pooled giving, if "church treasury" bothers you. The whole church was obligated to fellowship preachers of the gospel in material support. Like the giving to the temple and the upkeep and support of the priests and their families under the Old Testament system, God ordained that the sower of spiritual things should reap material things. From whom? The whole congregation. That means that there should be regular giving from all the members. A means of collecting and protecting those gifts as they await distribution may be scripturally called a "treasury" of the church's gifts. Those gifts are for doing what God ordained should be done.

Quote: Notice what Paul said to the Elders, "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:33-35). I have heard many paid preachers teach these verses trying to get their congregation to give more so they can have a bigger paycheck.

Reply: I don't recall ever running into that situation. When I preach about giving and making spiritual sacrifices that smell good to God (Philippians 4:14-18), I never get an increase in pay. If an increase happens, it goes to another preacher in another location usually. That is good. Paul was glad to get the gifts he got from Philippi, not for the money's sake, but mainly because it reflected the fruit of good, spiritually-minded and committed hearts (Philippians 4:14-18) and because it was something that pleased the God as an acceptable sacrifice on their part and an indication of "fellowship" or partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:5).

Quote: But what is really ironic is Paul was applying this to himself not being on the taking end but on the giving end. These instructions were not addressed to a congregation of People but to elders. I know of very few modern-day preachers that can make this claim like Paul.

Reply: Well, I don't know of a preacher who cannot make the same claim. It is the preacher that gets hit up for money more times than the average member. Most never know how much and how often the preacher is on the giving end. But, let us not forget, that giving spiritual things IS being heavily on the giving end of things, and receiving material things is a "small thing" in comparison. It is the preacher who gives as much as he can and beyond his means to help the poor and gives his heart to digging out spiritual jewels of the gospel treasure to give to his brethren. From the money he rightly gets from the church, he returns a portion, like all members, and uses a portion for good works. However, you are correct that there are not many like Paul in having to work with his hands to support himself and those traveling with him. Notice that he had to support those traveling with him (was it wrong for those with him to receive his support?). Why did Paul support himself and his companions in travel at times? Why? Because there were carnal brethren who did not want to support him and he was not about to ask or demand it. However, when brethren grew and understood just how important his labors were in the Lord, then they began to give him gifts of love (Philippians 4:14-18; or "wages" - II Corinthians 11:7-8). Now that we have learned better than the Corinthians did at that time, it should be self-evident that school teachers are valuable, but not nearly as valuable as gospel preachers, physicians are valuable, but not nearly as valuable as those who can preach the remedies for cancer of the soul. There ought to be a demand among brethren raging in their heart, wanting to give to help gospel preachers not have to worry about bills and insurance, and a place for his family and food. Brethren ought to desire to support the preaching of the gospel in every way that they can. We also need to dedicate ourselves to finding ways of helping the weak (those in circumstances that they did not create) where they are not able to make ends meet. Extra income should be sought for that very purpose.

Quote: Then Paul said, "follow the tradition which you have received of me." Very few follow Paul in this area. Paul also says that by his working with his hands he also provided for the ones that companioned with him. He not only provide for himself but the ones who traveled with him and then he says by laboring like this that you must support the weak also. Laboring like what? Like this with his hands. What is important is all of this was done as a result of Paul's laboring with his hands. Now how many Preachers today follow Paul in this example? Where are they at? The word weak here is referring to the infirm. I take this to be those who are poor and have physical problems. This is one reason why we like to give 100% to the poor.

Reply: Again, Paul had a right to support, a right to lead about a wife, and he chose not to do either because of the circumstances. Now, where those circumstances also occur in and around us, we are to do the same. Now, are we to follow Paul's example in not leading about a wife? Are we to follow Paul's example in refusing church support? Yes, if the circumstance is the same. If the brethren suspect you are in it for the money, then prove them wrong. If brethren know that the preachers they support are not in it for the money, then use the right to be supported. If you are going to travel all over the world into dangerous environments, don't take along a wife. Don't do that just because you have the right to. However, if you are going to settle in a town like Philip did in Caesarea and raise a family, then it is fitting to use your right to do so. I can tell you this for sure. No church in the New Testament had a right to give 100% to the poor, and nothing to the preachers of the gospel that God ordained should be supported. Corinth was wrong and needed growth and maturity. Philippi was right, and all the churches that gave wages to Paul were right, and Paul was right to take it on those occasions (II Corinthians 11:7-8).

Quote: Paul said, "I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (I Corinthians 4:16). "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1). "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Philippians 3:17). "For you know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that authority, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate" (II Thessalonians 3:7). Now, this is what I am looking for a Preacher who walks according to the example that is in Paul. One that works with his hands and does not charge the disciple. I know that person has the right motive like Paul. Usually, he will not twist verses to suit his own position.

Reply: I've done that on many occasions, and I have also followed Paul's example of taking wages (II Corinthians 11:7-8). Now, WHY did Paul labor with his hands at Corinth? Because they were very carnal and immature (I Corinthians 3:1) in their thinking and would accuse him of preaching for the money. It was expedient not to take wages from them, but support himself as best he could. why did Paul labor with his hands at Thessalonica? Because here was a different situation where brethren thought the coming of the Lord was imminent. Some apparently quit their jobs thinking it was not going to be long and all that work would be burned up, but the longer this went on the more they had to eat from their neighbor's table. This was not good. So, here an apostle comes in, views the situation, and decides to show them that working is still necessary, and providing for your family is still necessary. Did he always do that in every town? Not unless the situation called for it. However, there were times when he received wages from churches as God ordained should be done (I Corinthians 9:4-15; II Corinthians 11:7-8; Philippians 4:14-18). There are times when a preacher needs to get his hands dirty and be willing to labor physically for influence sake, for the gospel's sake. But, it is a misuse of these passages to say that preachers must always under all circumstances support themselves and never receive material things from the church as God-ordained. The circumstances dictate what should be done. As stewards of the gospel, we must do all to keep the gospel honorable. It is a twist of the above scriptures to say that Paul always worked with his hands and never received church support. It is a twist of these scriptures to formulate a doctrine that preachers ought not to be supported and that all giving must be only for the poor. The fact of the matter is that the house-church-denomination is just not interested in the commitment that God demands of churches to support those who sow spiritual things, and that is why they twist these verses out of context and make a human law to never support preachers of the gospel. God commanded that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. The house-church-movement, unfortunately, is committed to disobeying God and teaching false liberty.

Quote: To me, people that claim to be a preacher and that demands pay have very little regard for Paul when he says to be imitators of me.

Reply: A preacher of the gospel should make sure he is not preaching for the money, but he should preach what Paul said that God ordained that those who do preach the gospel as a dedication should live of the gospel and that those who benefit from being taught by them in the Word should freely reward them with material things to keep going in this great work (Galatians 6:6; I Corinthians 9:11,14). A preacher is not going to "demand" pay from a group like Corinth who does not want to pay, help, or support. They should demand repentance of their suspicion and covetousness and blindness, which in turn should result in a maturing group wanting to pay, help, and support. That is what Paul finally accomplished at Corinth. He got them to thinking of opportunities way away in Jerusalem for a need (II Corinthians 8-9) and got them to think about their lack of sacrifice for the gospel. He rebuked the fact that he had to get wages elsewhere because of their carnality and immaturity (II Corinthians 11:7-8). He felt like it was "robbing" other churches because he should not have had to get his support from elsewhere. He should have been generously received and supported by them. He had to tip-toe around to baby them and bring them to maturity in these matters. A preacher should not demand payment, but he has every reason and right to expect that mature brethren will want to.

Quote: When a person reads all of Paul's letters to the disciple you will notice there is no mention of Preachers in these congregations. Who was the Preacher at Corinth? Who was the Preacher in Rome? They are not to be found. Did Corinth have a Pulpit Preacher or a Youth Minister? None mentioned.

Reply: At Corinth, there was Paul planting, and Apollos watering. There were gifted prophets as well. But the principle is "those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Thus, anyone that would dedicate his life to that should be supported if he is sound and has faithfulness and depth and dedication. Who was the preacher in Rome? Anyone who dedicated himself to preaching the word there could have been supported to do so. They are found in the Timothy's and Titus' and Paul's and Philip's, and Peter's of the time. These men were not supported to be apostles but supported to preach the gospel and sow spiritual things of eternal value. Pulpit preacher? Yes! If they had a pulpit or stand like Ezra used. Youth minister? No! That is not a good idea at all in my opinion. But, supporting those who preach the gospel is what God ordained, and those who are not willing to do so will not fair well in the judgment. This is one of the sinful attitudes that plague those who go into the house-church-denomination. Unless they mature out of that thinking, their candlestick will be removed if it has not already been discarded by God anyway.

This topic is a clear topic, but an uncomfortable one to many preachers, mainly because preachers do not want to seem covetous or preaching to get a raise or preaching merely for the money. But brethren need to re-examine how carnally they might tend to evaluate the worth of a faithful preacher. The faithful preacher of the gospel is worthy of his wages if anybody is worthy of theirs. That is God's clear judgment on the matter, and woe to us if it is not ours.

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