Famous are Jesus’ words that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Not so famous is the context in which His words are found. Not anywhere in the Gospels, Jesus’ words were quoted by Paul at a pastor’s conference (Ac 20:32 -35). Amazingly, Paul instructed the pastors to be in the position of giving silver and gold to the church, rather than receiving silver and gold from it! Does this mean it is wrong for pastors to be supported by the church?

 

Acts 20

In Acts 20, Paul gave the Ephesian pastors[1] specific instructions on their duties. Concerning money, Paul stated that he had coveted no one’s silver or gold and had, in fact, paid his own way by working hard with his hands: “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34; see back to 18:1-3, 20:1-6).

Following Paul’s example, these pastors were also to earn their living from secular jobs so as to be able to help the weak. In so doing they were live out the words of the Lord Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

It is quite obvious from this that Paul expected most pastors to be bi-vocational. Based purely on Acts 20:32-35, some have concluded that all pastors should be in the position of giving silver and gold to the church, not receiving it.[2] However, Acts 20 is not the only passage that deals with support for church leaders.

 

1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9 mentions three groups who made their livings from the church: apostles (missionaries, 9:1-6), the Lord’s brothers (9:5), and evangelists (9:14). Paul offered four perspectives to justify this support:

•Human authority (soldier, vineyard keeper, shepherd), 9:7-8a
•The Law of Moses (oxen, temple priests), 9:8b-10, 13
•Spiritual principle/logic (spiritual seed/material harvest), 9:11
•The words of Jesus, 9:14

Human Point of View: From a merely human point of view (9:8a), Paul asked: “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?” (9:7). The answers are obvious. Paul went on to state, “the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop” (9:10b). Soldiers, vignerons, shepherds, plowmen and threshers all make their livings from what they do, and so should missionaries and evangelists.

Law of  Moses: Then, from the Law of Moses (9:8b-9), Paul quoted, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Applied to apostles, Paul asked “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake?” (9:9-10). The principle is that since oxen can eat from what they do, so can apostles. In 9:13, Paul brought in the example of Old Testament priests, asking, “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?” Since Old Testament priests were supported doing divine service, so too missionaries and evangelists should be supported.

Reaping & Sowing: In 9:11, Paul highlighted an important spiritual principle of reaping and sowing: “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” The answer is that it is not too much if those who sow spiritual things reap a material harvest. Paul concluded that this is a “right” (9:12). Missionaries and evangelists clearly have the “right” to support from the church.

Jesus’ Command: Paul’s final argument was found in the words Jesus, who “commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (9:14). To fail to support missionaries and evangelists is to disobey a direct command from Jesus.

After writing persuasively of an apostle’s right to support in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul then added, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.” (1Co 9:15). If Paul did not write this with the hope that the Corinthians would give him support (1Co 9:15), then why did he write it? In essence, the whole of 1 Corinthians 9 is parenthetical. Paul’s main topic began in 1 Corinthians 8 and concerned not being a stumbling block to others (food sacrificed to idols, 8:9). Paul’s waver of his right to full-time support (1Co 9) illustrated just how far Paul was willing to go to so as to not hinder the gospel (9:12b, 15). Then, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul continued on with his main topic, concluding with, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1Co 10: 32, NIV). Thus, Paul’s objective in writing 1 Corinthians 9 was neither to limit nor extend the categories of those who had the right to support from the church. It was merely an illustration. What is reveals for us is that Paul had a very liberal approach to supporting church workers.

Both churches and individual believers have the privilege and responsibility to give generously toward the support of missionaries and evangelists. In so doing, the giver is co-laboring along with the Christian worker. Without such full-time workers, the advance of God’s kingdom could be hampered. Pray for such ministers. Find creative ways to encourage them in their labor of love. Give sacrificially and consistently toward their support.

Is it wrong to apply 1 Corinthians 9 to pastors? Based on the liberal principles Paul expressed, would it not be committing the unpardonable sin for an elder to make his living from the church. However, since Paul waived his apostolic “right” to get his living from the gospel (1Co 9:15, 18), the example of bi-vocational ministry he modeled for the Ephesian pastors (Acts 20) makes it all the more compelling that they follow his example (see also 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:7-9). Based solely on Acts 20, it would seem that elders will generally not receive financial support for their ministries. However, 1 Timothy 5 must also be factored in.

 

1 Timothy 5

Concerning the same Ephesian pastors found in Acts 20, Paul allowed that pastors who did a good job directing the affairs of the church, and who worked hard at preaching and teaching, were worthy of “double honor” (1Ti 5:17). Using the same reasoning found in 1 Corinthians 9, he wrote, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and “The laborer deserves his wages” (5:18). This parallel should not be minimized. The implications are clear. Some pastors are to be honored by the church with financial supported.

“Honor” is from the Greek word timé and primarily means “respect”. All pastors are worthy of honor. For instance, the church in Thessalonica was asked to “respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”[3] A few pastors are worthy of double honor, which means something more than esteem.

Immediately prior to this passage about pastors, Paul directed that “honor” be given to widows who are really in need (1Ti 5:3). This occurrence of timé obviously means granting the widow more than respect. Giving the widow food, helping with her house and yard work, visiting her, offering her living quarters if needed, and of course monetary assistance, is the idea. The word “honor” was clearly used by Jesus to refer to material support in Mark 7:10. The Law of Moses required, “Honor your father and your mother.” Unhappy with the religious leaders of Judaism, Jesus said, “But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received by me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mk 7:11-13, NIV). Thus, it is clear that giving double honor to qualified elders means giving them material support. Perhaps Paul said “honor” rather than “wages” because the pastor’s relationship to the church is not to be that of a hireling. It has been wisely stated, “There is a difference between being paid to do a job and being released to do a work.”[4] His support should be seen more as an honorarium than as pay.[5]

 

1 Peter 5

What did Peter mean in 1 Peter 5:2 when he exhorted pastors to shepherd God’s flock willingly and not for shameful gain? “Shameful gain” is from a single Greek word, aischrokerdos. Aischros means shame or disgrace and kerdos means gain, profit, or advantages. A related term, aischrokerdes, is used in Titus 1:7 where elders are required not to be fond of sordid gain. 1 Timothy 3:3 parallels this with a requirement that elders be free from the love of money. Thus, aischrokerdes is a virtual synonym for being greedy for money. Reading between the lines, Peter’s warning suggests that financial support did indeed occasionally go along with the ministry of elder. Church leaders are to be mature men who are not in it for the money.

 

Synthesis

Jesus commanded that those who preach the gospel should make their living from the gospel. Paul applied this same principle to missionaries (1Co 9). Finally, using the same arguments found in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul applied it to qualified pastors (1Ti 5). Acts 20 is addressed to pastors in general. Most pastors will be bi-vocational and thus in a position of giving monetarily to the church, rather than receiving from it. The exception to this generalization is found in 1 Timothy 5:17, written with reference to those elders who not only direct the affairs of the church well but who also labor in preaching and teaching. All pastors are worthy of honor (1Th 5:12-13); some elders are worthy of double honor (1Ti 5:17). This double honor is financial support from the church.[6]

— Stephen E. Atkerson

Revised 09/20/2017

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Paul remind the Ephesian pastors that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Ac 20)?
  2. Based on 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, what right do apostles (missionaries) have?
  3. What examples were given in 1 Corinthians 9 of those who made their living from the church?
  4. Why did Paul ask, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” (1Co 9:11).
  5. How have you personally obeyed the Lord’s command of 1 Corinthians 9:14?
  6. According to Romans 15:26-27, what do you owe to those who have brought you a spiritual blessing?
  7. How you personally have obeyed Galatians 6:6? Explain.
  8. What in the following texts suggest that Paul did not always support himself by tent making (Ro 15:24, 1Co 16:5-6, 2Co 1:15-16, 11:7-9, Php 4:10-19, Phlm 22)?
  9. Which elders are worthy of double honor (1Ti 5:17)?
  10. What similarities are there between 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9-10? See Deuteronomy 25:4, Luke 10:7.
  11. What does it mean to show double honor to some elders (1Ti 5:17ff)?
  12. There is a specific Greek word for “wages” (misthos; used in 1 Ti 5:18). Why do you suppose Paul used timé (“honor”) instead of misthos in 1 Timothy 5:17?
  13. What cautions do 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 1 Timothy 6:3-5 hold for ministers?
  14. What did Peter mean when he exhorted the elders to shepherd God’s flock voluntarily and not for sordid gain (1Pe 5:2)?
  15. Does 1 Peter 5:1-4 imply that receiving money did, in some circumstances, go along with the ministry of elder? Explain.
  16. The typical New Testament congregation was no bigger than would fit into a Roman villa. How could a qualified elder make his living from such a small church?
  17. What principle did John establish in 3 John 5-8?
  18. What can be concluded about the idea of ministers who are fully supported by the church?

 

[1] Throughout this article, “pastor” and “elder” are used interchangeably. Any modern distinction between the two is extra-biblical.

[2] Those opposed to full-time pastors include the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In response, one might argue that their insistence on amateur pastors is partly to account for their heretical theology.

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

[4] Jonathan Campbell.

[5] Dan Trotter is of the opinion that supported pastors not be salaried: “The widows of 1 Timothy 5:3-16 weren’t earning a salary, they were receiving charity. And ‘the laborer is worthy of his hire’ quote in Luke 10 referred obviously not to disciples receiving a salary, but hospitality (eat and drink what’s set before you, etc.). The word wages in the Old Testament quotation (1Ti 5:18) is obviously metaphorical (just like the unmuzzled ox eating straw is metaphorical). If you push that metaphor too far, we’ll have Christian workers eating straw! Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had robbed other churches so as not to accept wages from Corinthians. Vine states that the word wages in 2 Corinthians 11:8 is clearly metaphorical, which, of course, it is. I don’t think it’s any body’s business if a Christian worker receives voluntary offerings from anybody for whatever reason. But the minute a salary is paid, the principle of voluntary giving of service to the body is violated . . . If Paul had meant double wages in I Timothy 5:17, why didn’t he say double misthos, or double opsonion, two perfectly clear words which mean wages and would have conveyed what he meant?”

[6] Suggesting that individual believers are obligated to support those elders deemed worthy of double honor does not mean that full time elders are somehow higher in rank than the bi-vocational elders. One pastor may be more super-naturally gifted than another, or have more influence, but there is no such thing in the New Testament as an official senior pastor, a lead pastor, a hierarchy of elders, or a bishop who presides over other elders.

 


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