These are the notes from my talk today at One Hope Church. Download the audio here.
Click here for notes and audio from my recent talk "Why We Work" that I mentioned at the end of the meeting.
The issue of ministerial compensation may not be as widely controversial as some of the other topics addressed in Paul's letters to the Corinthians, but there are Christians today who believe that ministers should not be financially compensated or only in certain situations, many basing this belief on the verses we will look at today.
This issue is personal for me. My undergraduate degree is in church music. For well over a decade, I was supported financially either part-time or full-time by a local church or Christian ministry. Near the end of this period, I became incredibly discouraged and disappointed by vocational ministry and began questioning whether the entire enterprise was flawed in design and/or practice. This searching, in addition to other factors, ultimately led me to One Hope Church (then Downtown Community Fellowship).
One of the passages I studied was 1 Corinthians 9, the subject of this post. As we have been working through 1 Corinthians, the past few weeks have included discussions of eating food sacrificed to idols, marriage, singleness, and other matters of conscience. It is important to keep those in mind as we look at 1 Corinthians 9.
1 Corinthians 9:1-14
The Right to Compensation
Paul points to Jesus in making his case. Two particular statements from Jesus come to mind. First, in Matthew 10, Jesus said, "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support." In Luke 10, He said, "Stay in the house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house." Jesus was instructing those He was sending out to wholly rely on God's provision through other believers to provide for their needs.
All of this is not to say that there aren't legitimate concerns around ministerial compensation. Paid, professional ministers can feed into the "clergification" of ministry and endorse a consumer mindset among members. Church members begin to think things like, "Evangelism? That's the minister's job." Members may develop a sense of entitlement because of their giving. They can become disengaged from ministry and may use their financial support of the church (or lack thereof) to harm the paid minister(s) if there is conflict. I've seen it happen.
We should also do a reality check of what support for ministers looked like for the early church. We know that many, if not most, of the first believers were quite poor, so the support of ministers was likely primarily to provide for food and shelter. This is what Paul was referring to in verse 4. Today in our state, it is quite different. In Georgia, a full-time minister makes between $60,000 and $80,000 annually (LifeWay). Ministerial compensation should be generally comparable to that of the church members and in line with the minister's education and experience, but there are those that will use their ministerial position to build tremendous wealth for themselves, often on the backs of impoverished church members. As 1 Peter 5:2 shows us, this has been a problem from the beginning.
If you have been around OHC for any length of time, you hopefully
recognize that we have a contrasting view of pastors, "clergy," and
ministry: Jesus is our pastor, the local church should have a plurality
of leadership, and all believers are priests unto God. It can be difficult to balance these principles with the idea of paying someone to do ministry, but that doesn't mean that we should abuse Scripture to take things to one extreme or the other.
1 Corinthians 9:15-18
Paul says that he is obligated to preach, under compulsion...it's his duty. It was a necessity for him, so he saw no reward or credit due. Preaching without charge was voluntary and for his glory (reward), a sort of free will offering. Paul still had to eat, though, so he supported himself by making tents, the same trade as Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:3; 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).
The principle is that there is a reward in not making use of something that you have a right to. With that said, Paul does not command or expect other ministers to do the same. Even Paul didn't do this all of the time. His statements regarding voluntary non-compensation were in regards to the
Corinthians; Paul did receive support from other churches at other times
Those who oppose supporting ministers financially sometimes make a distinction between an itinerant preacher, evangelist, or church planter and the salaried minister of a local church. This is an effort to allow for the examples of compensation we see in Scripture but still prohibit supporting a minister tied to a local church. I don't think that this distinction has any merit and reveals their true motivation. I think those holding such a view err in only focusing on Paul (and only on Corinthians) to the exclusion of the other apostles and ministers, including the other places Paul ministered and the ministry of Jesus Himself. Paul stayed in some places for extended periods of time, and others ministered primarily in Jerusalem. In many cases, those against local church compensation seem to be motivated by disappointment or outright rebellion against the authority of the local, organized church. They also could be using this as justification for an unwillingness to give generously (or at all).
Yes, some churches hire too many people to do the ministry that regular church members should be doing, but we can't let such bad practices cause us to hold an incorrect view on this subject. The fact is that no church can hire enough ministers to do all the things that need to be done, nor should it try to. In order to reach the world, we need missionaries and church planters that can support themselves as Paul did at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
"all things to all men"
Christ was responsible to the Law for us so that we are no longer responsible to it (Galatians 3:13, 24), but Paul often kept the law to remove hindrances to the Gospel. He circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek (Acts 16), he cut his hair because he was keeping a vow (Acts 18:18), and he went through a purification ceremony (Acts 21:20-26). He was not Judaizing (making people become Jews before becoming a Christian), but rather avoiding things that would get in the way of the Gospel being heard.
Paul was no stranger to what we often call contextualization; he even quoted popular poets. Yet he did not conform to the world around him. He became "all things to all men" without breaking the law of Christ. His purpose was also clear: "for the sake of the gospel," not just for his own comfort or preference...certainly not to just fit in. Paul didn't want to simply enjoy the Gospel by himself.
A call to ministry does not necessarily mean leaving the working world. In fact, it could mean planting yourself firmly in that context.
Paul had a right to marry, a right to eat whatever he wanted, and a right to be compensated for his ministry, but did not claim these rights in every situation. The (false) 'prosperity gospel' has been summarized as "name it and claim it," the exact opposite of Paul's mindset. Is there anything that you have a right to that you are not claiming for the sake of the Gospel? Are we, both individually and corporately as a church, truly sacrificing to reach people with the Gospel?
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Run to Win!
The Isthmian games were one of the Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece, along with the Olympics and two other similar events. They took place near Corinth, and there was a lot of local passion about them (sound familiar?). They were held every two years, and athletes had to train for 10 months with a qualified trainer in order to compete. They were allowed no wine and had a rigid diet and specific training regime. All of this provided the backdrop for Paul's explanation of his extraordinary approach and use of liberty.
"The body may be made a good servant, but is a bad master." If the athletes were willing to work so hard for a reward that was dead before they put it on, what should we do for an eternal reward? The word Paul uses for "discipline" literally means being black and blue under the eyes. Paul is not shadow boxing; he's throwing knockout blows. The athlete controls his diet, exercise, sleep, and training. The believer should show even greater control over the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, worship, and resisting temptation. Paul's fear of disqualification is not referring to his salvation, but rather avoiding a failure that would hinder the Gospel or limit his heavenly reward. How many apparent champions for Christ have fallen morally and destroyed their ministry in the process?
Are you in the race? You can't run this race apart from Christ. If you have yet to do so, commit your life to following Him now. That is the starting line.
Are you "running to win," disciplining yourself to avoid being disqualified? Are you practicing the spiritual disciplines necessary to compete? Are you taking steps to avoid temptation? Are you being held accountable by spiritual mentors (coaches) and fellow believers (teammates)?
What lengths are you going to in order to identify with those apart from Christ? Are you investing in those apart from Christ or living comfortably in a Christian bubble? When making decisions about where to live and work, are you asking how these decisions can help you reach people for Christ? Does your desire to reach people affect how you dress and communicate?
Are you then actually sharing the Gospel with them? Don't stop with contextualization. If we stop short of sharing the Gospel, we are just out for a casual jog. Run to win!
Is it okay for pastors to be paid for ministry?
Do Not Muzzle the Ox: Does Paul Quote Moses Out of Context?