First Corinthians 9--Ministerial rights, part 2
May 03, 2017
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 9:12, saying,
12 If others share the right over you [to be supported, or share in the fruit of that field], do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
First, Paul understood that the Corinthian church was not his own field, but was part of the greater field owned by Jesus Christ. So he acknowledged that apostles and teachers other than himself had a right to be supported financially by those in that church. Yet he asked, “do we not more?” In other words, Paul claimed a greater right, since he had been the chief apostle of that church. Whoever had criticized him had no legitimate case against him.
Furthermore, Paul “did not use this right,” even though he had every right to do so. In the flow of Paul’s letter, he was talking about the use of one’s rights. Recall from chapter 8 that believers had the right to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but there were times when it was not expedient to exercise that right. Love should always take precedence over one’s legal rights. So also, Paul worked a secular job in order not to require support from the Corinthian church. He did not want this to be a “hindrance to the gospel of Christ.”
Perhaps Paul was referring to a financial hindrance, especially when the church was small and could not afford to support a leader. But at the time of this letter, Paul seemed relieved for a more important reason. People were accusing him of accepting financial support from the church. He was able to tell them that this accusation was untrue.
Who would make such an accusation? We are not told, because Paul was hesitant to name names. He tried to deal with issues, not people, so that the church might be instructed in the principles and learn how to judge all things properly according to those principles. We might also add that disputes over money are all too common in the churches to this day. Many board meetings are dominated by disputes over the pastor’s salary, rather than focusing on the best way to preach the gospel.
The Support of Priests in the Law
Paul shows another reason why minister of the gospel have the right to be supported. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:13, 14,
13 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 with the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
Paul was referring to Deuteronomy 18:1-5, which says,
1 The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the Lord’s offerings by fire and His portion…. 3 Now this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. 4 You shall give the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. 5 For the Lord your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes to stand and serve in the name of the Lord forever.
The law sets forth rights, and in this case the priests had the right to partake of the sacrifices as well as the first fruits offerings. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:14 that the right of the priests had carried over into the Pentecostal Age of the New Covenant. The apostles and other ministers now functioned as priests in the church in place of Levitical priests in the earthly Jerusalem.
Paul even appealed to Jesus Himself, saying in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “so also the Lord directed.” How did the Lord direct this? First, by His own example, for He received donations from the people during His ministry. (Recall that Judas was the treasurer carrying the money.) Secondly, when He sent out His 12 disciples, He told them not to take extra provisions with them (Matthew 10:9, 10). Likewise, when He sent out the 70, he said in Luke 10:4 and 8,
4 Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes, and greet no one on the way…. 8 And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you.
In other words, they were to rely upon local hospitality and expect to be fed and sheltered by the people among whom they ministered. This was their right, and their only concern was to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and follow Jesus’ example of ministry.
No doubt Paul himself took little with him on his missionary journeys. He knew that he had the right to be supported by those who received his message. Yet he said in 1 Corinthians 9:15,
15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.
Paul also knew that some might twist his words and apply ulterior motives to them. So he tells them, in effect, “I am NOT telling you this to suggest that you should start supporting me.” He knew that his critics would always assign bad motives to anything that he wrote or said, for such is the nature of the soulish man. But Paul says that he would rather die than to be guilty of such a motive.
Preaching the gospel was not meant to be a profession, but a calling. When men do it because they believe they can make a good living and then retire with a good pension, they miss the whole point. Others enter the ministry because they have no other skills, so they see this as a way to be supported. There are many different reasons why people enter the ministry. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:16,
16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.
Paul’s “compulsion” was based upon the day that Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road. In Acts 9:6 Jesus told him,
6 but get up, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.
Later, Jesus told Ananias about Paul in Acts 9:15, 16,
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
A calling is a compulsion, for those who are truly called have been pressed into divine service to fulfill that calling. Everyone’s calling is different, but Paul himself was called to bear the name of Jesus to the nations. He took this seriously, and during his 14 years of divine training (Galatians 2:1), as his revelation of the New Covenant unfolded, he developed a passion for preaching the gospel in order to fulfill this calling.
He did not go on his missionary journeys to search for more supporters, but to preach the gospel. He did not fulfill his calling to obtain a more comfortable life, for he remembered Jesus’ words: “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” To the extent that he had persecuted the church, he would now eat the fruit of his own actions. Yet God would also use this judgment for a good purpose—as all of His judgments were intended from the beginning.
Paul, a Voluntary Slave
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 9:17, 18,
17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Here Paul drew a contrast between one who works voluntarily and one who is under compulsion who is forced to work against his will. The fact that Paul took no salary showed that he worked “voluntarily,” and so he was rewarded (or paid) by God Himself. Those who serve as employees in regular jobs must often do work that they do not want to do—in essence, against their will. The reward, or payment, comes from the employer, not from God.
The distinction here is a bit subtle, but it has much to do with how a minister views his employment. Is he hired by men or by God? More to the point, is he hired by the church or by God? Often, the answer is both. In such cases a minister may often experience a conflict of interest and must work out his own situation and wrestle with matters of conscience. In virtually all denominational churches, the pastor is an employee of the church that is run by a board. The pastor is expected to fulfill the calling of the board, rather than of his own calling. In cases where a pastor truly has a divine calling, this can often lead to political conflicts between the pastor and the board.
Paul himself was freer than others to preach the gospel according to his own revelation, because he did not have to worry about losing support if he taught things that his supporters might reject. This is, in fact, one of the problems that ministers face today. I myself had to ponder this carefully when I returned to full-time ministry in the early 1990’s. In fact, I had pondered this since 1986, while still working in the secular field, when a man of God came into my office to give me a word from the Lord: “Teach the whole counsel of God.” I took it seriously.
As I pondered this for the next few years, I saw how many preachers were prevented by their church or by their supporters from teaching things that they believed. I discovered that many preachers refrain from teaching the Restoration of All Things because they would lose their jobs or financial support or even their pensions if they taught what they truly believed. There are many preachers in the church who know this truth, but who do not preach it. Hence, they are conflicted in their conscience.
I myself determined to set forth the most controversial topics up front in order to avoid the conflict. So in 1991 I published Creation’s Jubilee. In a way, it was to test the Father’s word and promise. It was not my ministry, so I insisted that God should support His own work. And if He could do so in the face of the most controversial teaching in my calling to teach the whole counsel of God, then I would have confirmation that He was indeed calling me back into full-time ministry.
I was also careful to retain the mindset that I was God’s employee, not man’s. Whenever I had a need, I took it to God, not to man, allowing God to speak to others in His own way. Not everyone must follow my example, of course. Those who labor, Paul says, have a right to be supported. But yet I consider God to be my employer, and He has been faithful to supply the needs of this ministry.
This is part 38 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.