(1 Corinthians 9:1-18)
Do you like to get things for free? No cost, no charge and no payment? I know I do, especially when those things have some value, and even more when they are of great value.
Well, there is no greater gift we can receive for free than to receive the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ which leads us to eternal life in Him and with Him. It does not have to cost you a penny for the free gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.
But unfortunately there are some who twist scripture and take advantage of scripture to their own gain and do not make the gospel free. In fact they make it frightfully expensive and the worst part when they do so, is that the gospel they preach is not the free gospel of Jesus Christ but a tainted version to suit their own ends rather than the will of God.
Paul was concerned about this and so he addressed the matter in this section of scripture.
Make It Free
Paul wanted to preach the gospel to the whole world, or as many people as he could reach. And in the words he wrote in his letters that now form part of the New Testament, he has preached to the whole world.
But in his preaching he recognised that there were any obstacles for the new Christians to overcome. There were many changes the needed to make in their former lives to follow the Lord and the gospel if they were to grow into maturity in Jesus Christ.
In order to minimise, even eliminate one of those obstacles, Paul chose to work for his own living rather than seek a living from the preaching of the gospel.
Paul was a tent maker by trade and he worked in his trade to earn his income, so that he did not burden the early converts with his material needs while he taught them the things of the spirit. Paul made the gospel free of charge to the converts so that no one could say he was doing it for the money and thus reject the gospel.
There were times he would need to speak to these early converts quite forcefully to show them the errors of their ways so as to promote the purity of the message. And it is always hard to do that if you are relying on those same people for your daily bread.
So even though it was a matter of choice for him, it was also a matter of expediency. No one could say that because they paid Paul they “had him in their pocket” so to speak. No one, other than Christ Jesus, could direct Paul in what he might or might not say. Paul remained independent of all men and so could speak freely about any subject and so remain true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Payment For Preaching
Now we must also understand that Paul's position was unique. It was certainly permitted that he, or anyone else, who is preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, has the right to receive compensation for their work. The Lord knows we need to eat, have clothes on our back and a place to sleep at night.
So there is nothing wrong at all in receiving an income from preaching the gospel. Indeed Paul quoted the scripture in this section showing exactly that.
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? 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. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. – (1 Corinthians 9:9-14)
Yes it has been well established that those who work for the Lord in preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ have the right to receive their living from their preaching. They are entitled to be compensated for the work they do for the Lord from the people they are serving.
Just as you might call any other service provider to do work for you, such a s a plumber, doctor, hairdresser, dentist, teacher or any other provider of some service, so too the Christian preacher and teacher is providing a valuable service and so is entitled to be compensated for the service they provide. That is the essence of the scripture above. It's a simple “pay for service” process. The recipient of the service pays for the work done by the service provider, whether a plumber who unblocked a drain, a hairdresser who cuts your hair or a preacher who teaches the words other gospel of Jesus Christ.
Each of these service providers is entitled to make a living from the work that they do, and in the case of the preacher it is declared in the word of God that such a right exists.
So there is nothing wrong in a preacher being paid to preach.
However Paul made no use of his rights. Paul chose to pay his own way by working as a tent maker so as not to be a burden on the people he was serving. He chose not to put the obstacle of having to seek payment from these people in the way of them hearing the word of God.
Paul's Additional Supporters
Now although Paul chose to work for his living, he also did receive support from the churches he served as he worked in his ministry.
But in order to maintain his position of putting no obstacles in the way of the people to whom he was preaching, he received support from churches other than the ones he was serving at that time.
It would appear that his ministry grew to the extent that he had no choice but to preach and serve the Lord full time. But he continued to maintain his standard of making the gospel free to the people he was preaching to at any given time. We see Paul mention this in several places.
15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. – (Philippians 4:15-16)
And again Paul wrote,
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! – (2 Corinthians 11:7-11)
In both of these scriptures we see that Paul received support from churches other than the one he was serving so that he did not put any obstacles to the faith of the new church or converts.
Paul made the gospel free to those he was serving and only accepted support from those willing to give it.
So how much support, especially financial support should a preacher receive? Certainly Paul's case was unique to him and not all can do what he did by teaching for free.
But like Paul it should not be a burden to the people being served by the teacher or preacher today. They, like Paul, should aim to minimise the burden, especially financial burdens of those they serve by not placing them into hardship.
Too often today we see some preachers living the high life where they drive expensive foreign cars, wear high end tailored suits and clothes and basically live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And all of this is funded by the congregations they serve, most of whom could not afford to do the same or live in this same way.
Look at what Paul was provided. In the two scriptures above we see that he was provided his “needs.” His needs were food, clothing and so on. The basic things required for life. It was provided that those who preach the word are able to earn a living from it. But a living is not the same as accumulating great wealth to be able to lead a life of luxury.
The teachers and preachers should know this for the bible tells us in many places of the folly and wrong in seeking money and wealth. Consider these scriptures.
13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. – (Luke 16:13-15)
Are these preachers today falling into this trap? You cannot serve God and money because money will master and overpower you. Have these teachers today become like the Pharisees who were lovers of money? Is their lifestyle more important to them and do they protect their power, position and wealth with greater vigorous then seeking and preaching the truth?
It is a serious problem when preachers of any faith seek wealth rather than the things of God. Look also at these verses.
2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. – (1 Timothy 3:2-3)
An overseer of the church, which in other bible translations is translated as a bishop or an elder, basically anyone in a position of authority in the church, should not be a lover of money. They are in the positions of authority to manage the affairs of the church, to ensure sound doctrine is taught and to be an example to the flock in their care. Any preacher today falls into this category and thus is subject to the same principles.
5 …… 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. 10 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 6:5-10)
The classic teaching I am sure you all know is that the love of money is the root of all evils. Look also at what this verse says about those who desire riches, how they fall into temptation that leads to harmful things and in the end ruin and destruction. Are the modern preachers, especially those who preach a wealth ministry, exempt from such temptations and snares? Absolutely not! When they follow the path of wealth they are setting themselves up for potential destruction.
And Jesus also said how hard it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He likened it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. (Matthew 19:24) So first, should the preachers and teachers today seek wealth? And second, what kind of messages are they sending to their flock when their pursuit of wealth is their aim? Should you follow such a teacher when it is evident they have temptation issues that may lead them to ruin as well as those around them who follow their teachings?
Finally consider this problem for modern teachers and preachers who seek wealth by fleecing their flock.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. – (Titus 1:10-11)
These are the preachers and teachers today who focus on wealth rather than the pure truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is these men and women who are “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”
And what are they teaching? Paul specifically identifies the “circumcision party” who were teaching that the new Christians needed to be circumcised and told to keep the law. But we know that in Jesus Christ we have been set free from law and in Him we are no longer under the law. But these men wanted to bind people under the law.
Does this happen in the church today? Yes it does. Many church leaders preach that you must keep the law. Also many church leaders teach for shameful gain, and they twist the law, especially the laws of the tithe, to achieve their financial “love of money” ends.
Apart from anything else, tithing is a major issue in the Christian church. I won't go into it here, but if you want to understand more about why tithing is an issue in the modern church, go to this link where I have written a paper on this very subject. It will make you think and please feel free to comment on this matter below.
In the end, the writer of Hebrews tells us how we are to approach this matter.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – (Hebrews 13:5)
The gospel is free to all. If anyone wants to charge you for it, carefully consider what they are saying and whether it is truth or they are seeking to feather their own nests. Look into the bible yourself and pray to the Lord for His insight and He will lead you to the teachers who will be of benefit to you and your search. A minister is permitted to make a living from preaching the gospel, but he too must be content and not seek wealth. The wealth of the Lord and all He has to offer far outshines anything this world can offer, including all the wealth of the world.
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