by Andy Sochor
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, one of the matters he addressed was the support of preachers (I Corinthians 9:3-14). He explained that although he did not take wages from them (I Corinthians 9:15; cf. II Corinthians 11:8), he had a right to receive such support. To show that a man has a right to receive support for his work as a preacher, Paul cited three other types of work for which men may receive compensation.
“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (I Corinthians 9:7).
The point of this article is not to discuss the right of preachers to be supported for their work. Instead, I want us to notice the three illustrations that Paul used in the verse above. He did not simply pick three random occupations and say that since they have a right to receive a return on their work then preachers should be supported. Every legitimate work is worthy of pay (cf. Proverbs 14:23). Yet the inspired apostle mentioned three works that in some way resemble the role of a preacher. Let us consider these briefly.
One Who Serves as a Soldier
Paul told Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3). Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle against the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). This means that preachers, like Paul, are to be “set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17, KJV). By proclaiming the truth, they will “demolish arguments” (II Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Not only are preachers involved in fighting this battle themselves, but they will also be “equipping … the saints” so that they may “put on the full armor of God” and “be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 4:11-12; 6:11)
One Who Plants a Vineyard
In describing the work that he and Apollos did, Paul told the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6). He then added, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (I Corinthians 3:9). Jesus used a similar illustration in the parable of the sower: “The sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5) and “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The work of a preacher is to plant the seed of the gospel in the hearts of others so that it might grow and eventually produce fruit (Luke 8:15).
One Who Tends a Flock
In the local church, the elders function in the role of shepherds (I Peter 5:2). Preachers do not exercise oversight as elders do (Acts 20:28); however, there is a sense in which the work of a preacher is like that of one who tends a flock. Elders feed the flock by making sure they are taught the word of God. Preachers are involved in this through their teaching. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus emphasize a preacher’s work in teaching those who make up the church (I Timothy 1:3; 4:6; 6:17-18; II Timothy 2:2, 14; 4:2-5; Titus 2:1, 15; 3:1-2).
“The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:14). This is not an act of benevolence as if one is in need because he preaches. This support is given as “wages” (II Corinthians 11:8) because of the work that he does. Those who preach are fighting against sin and error, planting the gospel in the hearts of others, and feeding their brethren by teaching them the word of God. This is an important work that needs to be taken seriously by those who are engaged in it and by those who are (or ought to be) supporting it.