Preach the gospel so as to make full use of the right of the gospel
1 Corinthians 9:1-18 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?
8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 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 from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will 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. 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.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.
In today’s text Paul deals with an interesting and vital topic regarding the compensation of those who minister and preach. He says: Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? … 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? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. Yet, Paul also says: But I have used none of these things… For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 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. Perhaps we cannot fully know and understand all of Paul’s reasoning, that while he believes it is right to make a living ministering and preaching, he does it voluntarily. Surely in the church today there are some different dynamics involved then there were in Paul’s day. In the end, each church and each one who ministers must decide how they will deal with compensation for ministry. I believe, that at the very least, ministry must be a calling first and a vocation second. I also believe that when it is possible, it is good for those who minister to also have at least strong connections to the realities of the work place and market places that employ those they minister to.
Perhaps Paul’s reasoning can be understood in part by what he shares with Timothy, his protégé. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5: I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. When a preacher or minister is employed by a church, its board or by the leaders of the denomination, there are times that those who pay will try to dictate what the preacher should say. Preaching that reproves and rebukes does not usually lead to higher attendance and better giving than preaching that tickles the ears. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul says: When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. In the church today there are many who are gifted orators; eloquent speakers. There are many who can expound on the wisdom of scholars regarding scripture. They are experts, well trained in hermeneutics and interpretation. They can dissect and discuss scripture from the perspective of the Hebrew and Greek texts. Yet, they don’t preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Paul speaks of the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Many today focus on the gifts of the Spirit. While prophecy, words of knowledge and discernment, tongues and healing are important to the church and do demonstrate the power of God, nothing demontrates God’s power more than when a sinner repents and is redeemed from sin. The true power of God is demonstrated in changed lives, when people turn to the truth rather than from it.
Again, Paul says: 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. It does no good for a preacher to preach eloquently if they themselves are not saved by the message of the gospel. In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus warns those who would tickle the ears of listeners by relaxing the truth of God’s word. He says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus warns those who operate only in the power of the Spirit but do not walk in the redemption of the cross, saying: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Whether compensated by people or compensated soley by God, James offers some sound advice to those who minister. In James 3:1 he says: Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. Perhaps the only thing greater than the responsibility of ministering, teaching and preaching the word of God, is its privilege and reward.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the truth of Your word and for the power it has to change lives. May all those who minister take seriously the great responsibility and privilege of the calling. May they be good stewards of the word. First and foremost, like Paul, may they preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected. Amen.