Working for The Lord

(Acts 18:1-4)

My website is called “freegiftfromgod.com” for a reason. It is based upon the approach that Paul took to the preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ where Paul chose to work to meet his living expenses while he travelled and taught the word to many people, rather than place a financial burden on the people to support him.

Working for The Lord
Working for The Lord

We see in this short section of scripture that Paul was a tentmaker. When he left Athens and came into Corinth we see him meet up with Aquila and Priscilla and it says in verse 3, “…and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.”

Paul worked to earn his living. He did not take a wage or salary from preaching the gospel but he sewed cloth and repaired tents to earn what he needed to sustain himself, and he preached the word during and after his work. On the sabbaths he went to the synagogues and argued from the scriptures showing the Jesus was the Christ, but during the week he worked to earn a living.

Why? It was written in the scripture that he was permitted to earn his keep from preaching the word but he chose not to. The answer to why is important for all who teach Gods word, and it helps us today at a number of levels.

No Obstacles

Paul said in another place that the reason he did not take a wage or salary from the work of preaching was not that he was not entitled to one, but rather that it was his choice. He shows quite clearly that it was his right to receive his sustenance from preaching the gospel, but he had not and did not exercise that right. In 1 Corinthians 9:3-11 Paul wrote,

3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?

The right to receive his living was clearly spelled out in scripture and Paul knew it. But both he and Barnabus did not exercise that right. As we continue on in 1 Corinthians 9 and read specifically verses 12 and 18 we see Paul’s explanation for his position.

12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

And verse 18,

18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Verse 12 is the key to Paul’s approach. He did not wish to put ANY obstacle in the way of those who would come to The Lord. He did not want to make anyone feel at all obligated to do anything other than to seek the truth and find Jesus. He wanted the word to be everything to everyone and did not want anyone to shy away from the word because they could not afford to put an offering in the plate one week or because they felt they had to give something in order to get it.

Paul in verse 18 above shows it was his desire to make the gospel totally free of any charges so that no one would miss out on what the gospel had to offer because they were too poor or felt they had to give something to get something.

The gospel is not for sale. It is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It cannot be bought and like all the gifts from God it can only be received through it being given to you from God. Salvation is free of charge and Paul’s intention was to ensure it was kept that way.

One of the scriptures often quoted by Christians sums up the way to salvation beautifully. In Romans 6:23 we see these words.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When you analyses these words you see that you have to pay for your sins and death is the wage you earn for doing sin. Sin is costly…it will cost you your life. But salvation and the eternal life it offers is given to you as a free gift. You earn the right to die, but you are given life for free. Paul wanted to keep it free so he chose not to exercise his right to an income and worked to make a living.

Owe No Debts

Another reason why it makes sense not to accept an income from preaching the word is that you are not indebted to anyone for anything. This looks at the issue from the preacher’s perspective rather than those who receive the words.

When you get paid to do a job you are in the employ of the one paying the wage. Thus when a consultant or a worker is hired to do a job, the first thing they will do is to try and find out what would please the one who employed them and do that. It is a well established fact that people are “boss watchers.” They keep an eye on the boss to be sure they do what the boss wants and so keep their employment intact.

Likewise when a preacher receives an income for his preaching he or she is indebted to the one paying their salary. If it is a church hierarchy paying them they will toe the doctrinal line and not deviate from it so as to ensure they continue to get paid. I am aware of some who have been in such situations and although they disagreed with some doctrine, they continued to preach the “party line” rather than rock the boat.

In the same way a pastor being paid from the offerings in the congregation may think twice about raising some issue of a sensitive nature in the church if it puts their own income at risk. Self preservation is a very basic and fundamental part of human nature and there are not too many who can stand against it.

But if the preacher receives an income from a totally independent source, that is, if they work for a living outside the church, then they are not in the employ of the church and are free to speak the truth or to knock down false teaching when or if it rears it’s ugly head.

It is not an easy thing to take a stand against the one who provides your income when they are in the wrong and it was shown that this is a difficulty many faced in the early church. Consider the following scripture in the light of this issue.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Those who love money can be led into all kinds of wrong thinking and evil. If those who teach or preach the gospel have a love of money and get their living through preaching, then they too may be swayed to accept something evil rather than jeopardise their source of income, and by so doing wander away from the truth of the gospel.

No Peddlers of the Word

Paul makes his point abundantly clear in 2 Corinthians 2:17 where he says,

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

They made every effort to be seen as ministers of the new covenant and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, commissioned by God to teach His words to the people. They were not peddling or selling the word of God and it is apparent from Paul’s words that even in those days there were many who were doing exactly that. These other people were using the preaching of the words of God to fatten their own purses, seeking gain from this work.

Is this any different today? How often do the ministers of the church today seem to spend more time selling their books, CD’s, DVD’s and other knicks knacks in order to make money rather than teach the words of the truth. And how often does a pastor make the statement that they will pray a special prayer for this who are paying tithes or making large offerings in the church? How does such behaviour make the poor person who cannot afford to give anything feel?

It is a better way to do this kind of ministry without those encumbrances. Yes the gospel does permit a person to receive a living from the preaching of the word, but not to become wealthy by it. As Paul wrote also in 1 Timothy 6:3-9,

3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

This is the basis of the trap for those who seek gain from godliness. It is those who use the word of God or religion in general to make profit. Paul’s conviction of them is quite fierce and he shows they are depraved in mind and lacking a knowledge of the truth.

Godliness is NOT meant to promote a way of making gain or money for anyone. The great gain in godliness as he shows here is to learn to be content with what you need rather than seeking the wealth and the things of this world. As Paul rightly points out, you can’t take it with you so why try to amass a fortune in this world. Instead focus on the right things and make those you priority because in truth all we really need are the basics for survival to be OK in this world. All we need is enough food and drink and clothing and shelter from the elements.

Instead let us focus on the first and only priority as was set by Jesus Christ himself when he said in Matthew 6:33,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Priority one for us is to seek the kingdom of God. Everything else, especially the wealth, riches and money of this world falls below this priority. And it is especially so for those commissioned by The Lord to teach and preach to His people. If you do a work for The Lord, make it your first priority also to seek His kingdom for both yourself and others and don’t be a peddler of God’s word.

(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by Nathalie Beauvois)

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