Earning a Living by The Gospel?

In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel.

-1 Corinthians 9:14
Is this text a proof text for paying preachers a salary?  It sounds like it, at first glance, but it is not.  
We are accustomed to preachers who preach at their church, week in and week out.  But that is not who Paul, nor Jesus, in the command that Paul is referring to is talking about:

Don’t take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a staff, for the worker is worthy of his food. -Matthew 10:10

Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t move from house to house. -Luke 10:7

They are talking about traveling apostolic workers.  If you travel, in your gospel ministry, you are in this category.  If you stay put, and don’t travel, you can’t use this verse to get a salary.
People who don’t travel all the time, but stay put and preach mostly in one place, where they live, can take a salary.  It is not forbidden.  But don’t use this text to justify it.

The strangest person in the church today is the pastor, the preacher, or the priest; who is paid to be there and commands a salary from Jesus’ bride.  And we pay him or her to “do the ministry” for us.  This is not at all the church that Jesus and the Apostles had in mind.  Nevertheless, she persisted.

Gordon Fee, in his First Corinthians commentary, lamented that,

“All too often, one fears, the objective of this text is lost in concerns over ‘rights’ that reflect bald professionalism rather than a concern for the gospel itself.” (p. 414)

John Piper did express concern over the gospel and gospel preaching for profit, in a sermon, transcribed at the Desiring God website:  John Piper, Don’t Sell the Gospel:

Piper said that “Gospel-Peddlers”:

  • Crave earthly pleasure.
  • Dread earthly pain

Their false gospel is that:

  • Human prosperity is the gift of salvation. This appeals to the desire for earthly pleasure and replaces God’s worth with money.
  • Human obedience is the price of justification. This appeals to the desire for earthly achievement and replaces God’s grace with morality.

Piper said that the true gospel, that Paul espoused here is that:

  • All the money in the world cannot replace Jesus as our treasure.
  • All the obedience in the world cannot replace Jesus as our righteousness.

John was right in emphasizing the gospel and what Paul was talking about here.  Paul talked about how some people were hung up on their “rights” as a preacher.  And we don’t want to be like that, is what Piper was teaching, from Paul.

Piper, who has had a distinguished vocational career as a local church pastor, did not address the issue of who Paul was referring to, as preachers who earned their living from the gospel.

They were traveling preachers.

The Bible teaches that we should strongly support traveling gospel preachers.  They should be well taken care of.

The Bible, in the NT, does not teach that we should tithe to our local church, to support local church preachers.  Many of us have grown up in and learned tithing for Christians.  We are actually supposed to or encouraged to just give.

Teachers and preachers, who take a salary or need to meet a budget to pay the bills, are in the awkward position (a dual relationship), where they are desperate for cash from congregants; and tithing is for whatever reason, just simpler than the radical freedom in Christ of giving freely.

Instead of encouraging Spirit-filled living in Christ, where we give and get and give some more; preachers teach tithing in a legalistic way.  They teach and preach Malachi 3, or where Jesus mentioned tithing, in a rebuke to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, to advocate tithing for Christians.

Local church preacher, get a job.

The church that the New Testament envisions has traveling apostolic workers, who are taken care of; as in fed, housed, clothed, and remunerated.  Then, the local churches have elders to care for and teach.

We are supposed to support the travelers who can not hold down a job, because their ministries take them far and wide.

Paul, exempted himself from this and instead did tent making to support himself.  Imagine Paul, working all day on tents, while his disciples ran around town perhaps or maybe helped him; and then doing ministry at night, by candle light and on the weekend.

Paul practiced what he preached.  He equipped others for the ministry and then mentored them.

What this text says is that we should be taken care of by the gospel that we preach, if we are traveling ministers.  The same gospel message that saves also opens homes and gives money and feeds us.

A traveling preacher, struggling at a motel, lonely, and eating poorly on the road is not what God has in mind.  Some Christians have forgotten hospitality.

Hospitality is in the gospel.  Jesus made earth, Jesus came to earth, we welcomed him, we took care of him, and he saved us.  Now we do that with each other, when we come and go with the good news.

The NT teaches that everybody works, unless you can not.  The elders and deacons, the people who preach and teach, have jobs that support themselves, outside the pulpit.

Jesus worked.  He had a job and ran the family business, until he began traveling gospel ministry.

To really support pastor salaries, you have to keep the OT priesthood, which Christ did away with; and re-create the clergy-laity dichotomy.  It is easier to see this with the Catholic and and other “high church” traditions, but most every protestant tradition has the same thing.

This is really sad for local pastors who are in this awkward relationship financially, with the people they serve.

But God loves us anyway, even if our traditions are askew to scripture.  I’m so glad that God has always given me His love for the whole church.  I went to non-denominational grad schools where half the students were Catholic at the first one and half the students were Presbyterian at the second one.  The first school had people who believed in transubstantiation and the second had Calvinists and we all got along.

I know a pastor who got his start in ministry California casual churches, who later went into and became a bishop in the Anglican Church, where he wears what looks like a thick bathrobe and preaches about the Anglican traditions.  Why, why, why?  Because God called him to.

My point is that God is working within man-made traditions.  God is into evangelizing.

Even though this man is an Anglican bishop now, he is at his core, an apostolic church planter.  God sent him to the Anglican church to get people saved.  And the church that has had the gospel worked into it has supported him financially.

Back to 1 Corinthians 9:

The previous verse says: “Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar?” (1 Cor. 9:13)

This also does not justify pastor salaries.  Because verse 14 begins with, “In the same way”.  If you read the whole NT, you know that the OT priesthood is saying goodbye.  And Paul references Jesus’ word about traveling preachers getting support.

Traveling preachers get food, housing, and monies; just like the priests in the old days.

Over the centuries of church history, new church groups have emerged out of old ones, that say, “We are going to follow the Bible!”  The insinuation is that the traditions they are coming out of got off-track.  But they keep one thing that’s been in the Catholic church and many of the incarnations thereafter: the priest, who protestants now call the pastor or the preacher.

And just like in the OT, we must support our priests, who have become and chosen to be set aside for the ministry.

I think that very few people have the gift of celibacy and very few people are traveling preachers who must be supported.  When they get worn out and can not travel, we and their families must continue to support them.  That’s the gospel.

Traveling preachers who have no choice, but to preach on the road and get support from others; are described in Paul’s saying, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:16)  Paul could have taken support, and so can you; if you are like Paul, a traveling preacher of the gospel.

If I begin traveling, with the gospel message; I can expect that same gospel to support me.  I met a man, who left the local church pastorate, and began traveling, accepting invites to come and share.  His motto was and is, “If you invite me to come, I will pay my way to get there and back”.  And he says that God always provides the money.

The positive aspect of 1 Corinthians 9:14 is that if God calls you to go out and become a preacher who travels, with the gospel; that it will take care of you.  And you can also be self-supporting, like Paul.

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