“Okay, it’s time to pay the preacher.” Those words made me cringe every time I heard them in my early years of pastoral ministry. Just the mention of the Sunday offering seemed to immediately spawn quips about paying the preacher. I was not sure how to take it—whether they gladly gave to “pay the preacher” or regretted feeling somewhat forced to “pay the preacher.” Did they view the work of “the preacher” as gratefully necessary in the ministry of the Word in their congregation or did they think “the preacher” intruded upon their already tight budgets? Since I was “the preacher” it tended to put me on the spot. I usually tried to say nothing or to quietly respond, let’s just give as unto the Lord.
While uncomfortable with those comments, whether understood or not, they actually revealed a biblical idea. Paul wrote, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Paul’s instruction arose out of a discussion on Christian liberty (1 Corinthians 8–10), and as an application, on congregational support of gospel ministers. Ironically, while expounding from Old Testament texts the New Testament principle of supporting those ministering the Word among the congregation, Paul insisted that out of Christian liberty he had the right to not receive those gifts. Yet that did not mean that they were to forgo those gifts for others or to neglect this practice in the local church.
Paul’s decision to not receive support from the Corinthian church had nothing to do with his right to receive it but due to his desire to avoid confusion with the wandering teachers, sophists, and false teachers who might have taken advantage of them in this regard. With the sometime skewed way of thinking by the Corinthians, Paul did not want the expectation of support to be construed as compulsion. So he refused to use the right to this principle of support. But that did not stop him from teaching how they were to support other faithful gospel ministers among them.
Drawing from Numbers eighteen, Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?” (1 Cor 9:13) That passage, from Paul’s understanding, served as the background for the teaching of Christ. “So also [thus he draws from the Numbers’ passage] the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Jesus told the seventy as they prepared to enter into gospel ministry, “Stay in that house [where there was “a man of peace”], eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). That last clause established the principle for all of the early Christian workers. And it remains the same principle for us today. Those engaged in gospel ministry should find their support from it.
The local church has the responsibility to care for and support those ministering to them through gospel work. By the same token, those receiving this care and support from the gracious gifts of the congregation must feel a weight of gratitude that God would provide for them and their families through such generosity. Sometime those in ministry can slip into a state of presumption that blinds gratitude and accountability. Both congregation and ministers need to recognize mutual accountability in the matter of Christian support. Here are a few questions to help both congregations and ministers.
- (For the church) Are you faithful and regular with your giving?
- (For the minister) Are you faithful to the gospel by believing it, living it, and proclaiming it, as one that regularly receives of the gospel’s bounty from the congregation?
- (For the church) Do your gifts reflect the generosity of God in the gospel?
- (For the minister) Is the worthiness of the gospel expressed by your use of the gifts that have come through the ministry of the gospel by the generous hands of God’s people?
- (For the church) Do your gifts reflect the principle: “It is more blessed to give than to receive?” (Acts 20:35)
- (For the minister) Do you receive the gifts of the gospel with gratitude to God, His people, and the gospel itself for bringing about such support?
- (For the church) Do you express your gratitude to God for those who faithfully labor in the gospel on your behalf by the way that you give generously to support them, along with other local and global ministries through your local congregation?
- (For the minister) Do you shepherd and pray for the members of your congregation who, out of gratitude to God, honor you and your ministry by their generosity in giving?
Paul made local church giving and support of their ministers a matter directly related to the gospel. Faithful, generous congregational support of those ministering the gospel flows out of gratitude for the gospel. Faithful, wise stewardship from ministers receiving these gifts flows out of gratitude for the gospel and its fruitfulness among the congregation.