Paying the Preacher – 1 Corinthians 9:3-14

February 25, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

It has become an all too well known story.  A renowned pastor with a gigantic ministry has more money in his personal coffers than Fort Knox hides in its vault.  A local news organization comes in to investigate the pastor’s lifestyle and what is revealed shocks believers and appalls non-believers:  private jets, sprawling mansions, excessive luxuries.  And the pastor at the center of it all seems to spend more time fleecing his flock than shepherding them into the green pastures of God’s Word.

With such scandalous abuses littering the history of the modern American Christian Church, it is no surprise that many people look at their pastor’s paycheck with at least a little bit of suspicion.  “What’s really going on financially behind the scenes?” someone may wonder.  Indeed, recently, I received a question from someone concerning 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul argues that those who preach the gospel should be duly compensated for their labor.  The apostle writes:

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. (1 Corinthians 9:3-14)

A few things are especially notable in Paul’s arguments in these verses.  First, in verse 3, Paul makes a “defense” of his ministry.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, a technical term for a legal defense in a court of law.  Thus, there are some who are questioning the very validity of Paul’s ministry.  Interestingly, however, his antagonist’s accusations seem to flow not from the fact that he’s being compensated to preach the gospel, but from the fact that he’s not being compensated!  Paul frankly admits that though he has a right to receive remuneration for his preaching, he “did not use this right” (verse 12).  The argument of his detractors, then, is this:  “You only get what you pay for!  And you’re not paying Paul anything!  Thus, you’re not getting good preaching!  So you should turn to us!  Our preaching is better that Paul’s because we’ll charge you for it!”  This, of course, is the reasoning of a charlatan.  Compensation or lack thereof does not make the message of the gospel any more or less true.  The gospel is the gospel, regardless of remuneration.

With this in mind, Paul continues by explaining that his free preaching of the gospel does not mean that all pastors should not be compensated for their work.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 to prove his point: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (verse 9).  In ancient Israel, an ox, while he pulled a sledge around a threshing floor to separate the kernels of grain from their husks, would remain un-muzzled so he could eat some the grain while he was threshing it.  Thus, just as ox eats his grain as payment for his labor, so should a pastor be compensated for his labor.  Indeed, Paul concludes: “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (verse 14).

So what does all this mean?  Well, on the one hand, Paul warns against those pastors who have a sense of entitlement because of their preaching of the gospel.  A pastor should never say, “My preaching is great and therefore I deserve an exorbitant paycheck,” as those who were disparaging Paul’s ministry were saying.  On the other hand, Paul clearly says that a congregation should faithfully support its pastors.  Indeed, one of the things for which I consistently thank God is the way in which my beloved Concordia supports me as a pastor – and not only me, but all of the pastors here.  I praise God for the faithfulness and generosity of Concordia’s members.  And it is my intention and prayer, by the Spirit’s power, to serve Christ’s Church well and faithfully all the days of my life.

I am one who makes my living from preaching the gospel.  And preaching the gospel is a weighty task.  But it’s also a blessed privilege.  I am thrilled beyond words that I get to do it.

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Entry filed under: Theological Questions. Tags: , , , , .

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