Vol. 4, No. 12
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How do you begin a discussion of money and preachers without creating fuel for the fire of some hard-nosed critics who delight in charging preachers with being "in it merely for the money?" I am glad that the inspired apostle Paul addressed and consequently settled the matter in his Spirit-guided writings of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 2:11-13). I am likewise glad that Paul said as much as he did on the subject (even though one word would suffice us) because it is a matter which seems to be seldom addressed by writers among us, even though it is as positive and clear a New Testament teaching as is baptism, the Lord's Day and the Lord's Supper.
In the repertoire of materials which are written for and about preachers it is hard to find where much has been said about such practical matters as the financial support of Gospel preachers, and yet what axiom is more evident than that he who gives himself wholly to the Lord and his people should be wholly sustained by them? That such has the sanction of New Testament authority surely all will admit. The Chief Justice of the Christian system has solemnly decreed that they who preach the Gospel shall live by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).
This lesson will not treat such subjective issues as how much financial support a Gospel preacher should receive. Such questions are better left to the discretion of those elderships which hire a preacher to work with them. Many factors will be involved in their decision of how much to offer in his support. Hopefully a prayer for wisdom will accompany their deliberations over the question (James 1:5).
It is a basic teaching in the Scriptures that every Christian is obligated to supply the needs of his family (1 Timothy 5:8), pay taxes as a citizen of his country (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-6) and to do his part in furthering the work of the church through his financial contributions (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). All of this requires the use of money. The apostle Paul acknowledged his rights in this area by asking, "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5). In so inquiring the apostle defended his right to be supported so as to support a wife (and by implication a family) if such he had. For these reasons alone, the man who gives himself full-time in the labor of preaching the Gospel has a right to earn his livelihood where he preaches.
Tom Holland emphasized this aspect of the ministry to those of us young and aspiring preachers who sat in on his "Preacher And His Work" class at Freed-Hardeman College in 1975. In our text, which he authored, he said,
It is right for preachers to receive adequate financial support, or support that is "fully sufficient." There are several reasons why ample financial support is important to the preacher. If his mind is at ease relative to financial matters, he may devote his mental resources to the work of the Lord.
Furthermore, one feels that in some respects he is fulfilling his role as a husband and father if he is providing for the material needs of his family.1
Relative to the matter of adequate financial support brother Holland continues, "There is an ideal relative to the preacher and his finances: He should receive enough financial support so he is freed from financial care and he can devote his mental, spiritual, and psychological resources to the Lord's word and work."2 In treating the issue of "What Worries Preachers," brother Al Price listed, "Having adequate financial support." He wrote, "Preachers have the same responsibility as anyone to 'provide for his own and especially for those of his household' (1 Timothy 5:8). It is hypocritical to say that preaching is the greatest work in the world and then reward the work with pitiful and inadequate salaries with no long-term security."3 Charles Hodge wrote, "Of all worries, finances should never be the preacher's!"4 Roy Deaver listed financial concerns as one of the reasons many preachers leave full time local work:
Preachers are not "lovers of money," and they are not leaving local work in order to have more money for themselves now. They simply know that every penny they make in preaching is consumed in living expenses. They cannot save a dime for old age. Consequently, many are leaving the local work in order to try to have some assurance of a living in their old age.5
The above contentions sustain the fact that preachers (like anyone else) have needs which only money can supply. Contrary to the teaching of that anti element in the church which pronounces local preachers to be mercenaries, hireling ministers, trained "pastors" and robbers of widow's houses, which theory years ago drove a wedge in fellowship over the question, it is Scriptural for a preacher to be supported from the treasury of the church. It is perfectly obvious to them that the lawyer, the doctor, the teacher and the ditch digger should be compensated for their services, but how unreasonable that the preacher who labors night and day should be compensated. Paul said,
"I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself" (2 Corinthians 11:8-9).
Again, "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Galatians 6:6).
A generation ago there were respected Gospel preachers who determined that they would not preach for a "stipulated salary." Brother G. C. Brewer wrote in his autobiography:
I received no stipulated amount for my preaching, nor would I have allowed anybody to pay me in that way. It was my idea that it was wrong for a preacher to set a price and it was even wrong for the brethren to name a price when they employed him for preaching. For ten years I preached without any salary whatever. I accepted the support that was offered to me and in most places, it was very meager.6
In a contrary view, brother Guy N. Woods took up the question of the scriptural nature of a preacher receiving a stipulated wage, and said, "It is now our purpose to present a portion of the evidence the sacred writing affords in support of the practice of employing gospel preachers for stipulated amounts as is commonly done among us today."7 In regard to the question of whether or not a preacher should be satisfied to make his way in life on just what the brethren want to give him (if anything), brother Woods added,
To urge that a preacher is to subsist on the free-will offerings of his brethren, makes the preacher a suppliant for charity, a beggar, an object of commiseration; whereas, Paul, in this passage (Gal. 6:6, D.G.), teaches that the support is to be his because he is a partner of those of his brethren who are engaged in secular pursuits. His right to support is an equitable one, not a charitable one!8
It is my personal conviction that brother Woods espoused the correct view in this matter. My purpose, however, will not be to consider what Woods or Brewer said about the financial support of Gospel preachers, but rather what Paul has said relative to such. In so doing I will examine in some detail the teachings of Paul relative to the issue before us as found in 1 Corinthians 9:1-19. In an effort to help us more fully appreciate the inspired apostle's instruction in this area I will attempt to set forth some of the arguments which he makes defending his right to financial support as an apostle in his preaching of the Gospel. I will offer this analysis in argumentative form while operating on the assumption that the conclusions drawn will be more easily seen and readily accepted.
In these verses, Paul labors to show that as a free man he was entitled to wages for work done. In this regard Paul said,
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this: Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
He proves his right to maintenance by the example of other workers in the kingdom such as the other apostles (Vs. 5) and Barnabas (Vs. 6), who is called an apostle (Acts 14:14). He was a messenger, or an apostle of the Holy Spirit and of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), and was associated with Paul (Galatians 2:9). His point is that where preachers give themselves entirely or "wholly" (1 Timothy 4:15) to prayer and the ministry of the Word of God, they must be supported by the brethren.
The following examples of such maintenance are acknowledged in Scripture. First, a family may "constrain" or invite a preacher to live with them, as did Lydia (Acts 16:15). Second, a congregation may support a preacher in other regions. Paul wrote, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service" (2 Corinthians 11:8), or, "that I might minister unto you" (ASV). Third, it is also proper for the church where one preaches to provide his financial support. The fact that Paul was entitled to support from the church at Corinth while he was there is shown in Paul's own words: "For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong" (2 Corinthians 12:13). Paul had the right to receive financial support from the Corinthians, however, he had his reasons for electing not to exercise this right on their behalf. In this connection brother G. K. Wallace once told of an early preaching experience of his which occurred in 1925:
After my first appointment sister Baxter again taught me a lesson I shall never forget. I went to a small place to preach and the brethren offered to pay me and I refused the money. I told them, "I have a job [janitor] and don't want it." Sister Baxter came to me and said, "G.K., don't ever do that again. Paul never made but one apology in his life and that was for preaching for a church for nothing. Paul said, 'Forgive me this wrong,' so don't ever do that again. God told those people to support the gospel and you told them not to. If you do not need the money, take it and give it to Christian Education or to some good cause."9
It is scriptural for a preacher to receive a stipulated salary. Paul used the Greek word opsonion which is translated "wages" in 2 Corinthians 11:8. The word "wages" has an interesting background. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes it thusly: "Opsonion, meaning primarily 'rations for soldiers' (opson being the word for cooked meat) and so 'pay' or stipend, provision wages."10 A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels offers this note relative to the word "wages:" opsonion is the technical term for a soldier's pay, and occurs only in Lk. 3:14...In the time of Julius Caesar, a foot soldier received 2/3 of a denarius a day."11 Paul's point is that if a soldier has a right to know what his pay will be, so does a Gospel preacher.
Is it wrong for a preacher to move where a church will pay him more for his work? Upon receiving an invitation to preach for another congregation with a pay raise the joke states, "Dad is downstairs praying and Mom is upstairs packing." Flavil Nichols inquired, "Is it wrong for a preacher to move where the church will pay him more for his work, yet right for a Christian clerk to switch from one employer to another for a higher salary? Preachers and all others should heed this admonition: 'But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth' (Deut. 8:18)."12 Brother Rue Porter, who had certainly seen some lean times as a preacher before, during and after the Great Depression, had this bit of wisdom to offer on this question:
Now I would not have anybody think that I am defending the course of preaching for money, but brethren I really wonder where our consistency was hiding when we decided it was wrong for a preacher to have some choice in the amount of wages he receives. Jones and Brown both ask me to work on their farm. The work is identical. One needs the help as bad as the other, but the wages offered? Well, Jones offers much more than Brown. For whom should I work? All will immediately say, "all things else being equal, I would work for Jones." But when a preacher decides like that the brethren say of him: "He is out for the money."13
The preacher has a right to receive financial support for his preaching. The Scriptures so affirm. He must keep his purpose clearly before him and not become a hireling. A preacher has to exercise extreme caution in this area lest he succumb to the temptation to turn his preaching into little more than a marketing enterprise wherein he makes himself available to the highest bidder. James D. Bales long ago interjected this word of caution:
Since money is not the goal of preaching, but saving souls is, one does not make a move based on the fact that he can get more money elsewhere. One must consider also the possibilities of service and the need of the field. Here, as elsewhere, he must seek first the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 6:33). So money should not be the primary consideration, although it must be considered for one must support his family when one considers where he shall serve.14
Covetousness is a sin of which the preacher can be guilty as well as anyone. Paul classes covetousness with idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,
"For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ" (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6).
Paul was the prince of preachers! As he did not preach so as to please men, neither did he preach for money nor did he preach for fame. Every preacher should examine his heart daily to see if his motive is pure in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. Having sustained his right to financial support by the example of other leaders in the church, the apostle now proceeds to show that the practice of these leaders was perfectly lawful and proper.
The apostle argues, "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?" Paul bases his second argument, not on his own opinions or conclusions, but upon what God had taught in the Law of Moses relative to the ox that treads out the corn being permitted to eat of the same.
It is interesting to note that Paul employs what is considered by many liberal brethren to be a hermeneutical no-no, that is, he engages in inductive reasoning to prove his point. Inductive reasoning simply finds similar specific realities, and using common sense then draws an inference. Paul's hypothesis is that wages for service is the rule of all employment. It is a fundamental principle upheld by the Law of Moses and right in the nature of things that "they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple, and they which wait at the altar are partaker with the altar" (1 Corinthians 9:13). In proof of these three instances are considered: the soldier, the vinedresser and the shepherd.
The soldier does not go to war at his own "charges." The word "charges" in the King James Version means "expenses." This word again comes from the Greek term opsonion. According to Thayer this word means, "univ. a soldier's pay, allowance...that part of a soldier's support given in place of pay [i.e. rations] and the money in which he is paid...Lk. iii.14; 1 Co. ix.7."15
The vine-dresser is not excluded from reaping the benefits of his labor. A worker in a vineyard does not expect to work for nothing. He expects support for his labor and looks for it from the vineyard. Albert Barnes said, "The vineyard owes its beauty, growth, and productiveness to him. It is reasonable, therefore that from that vineyard he should receive support, as a compensation for his toil."16
The shepherd receives maintenance from the flock which he tends. Again, Barnes suggests, "He expects support, when in the wilderness or in the pastures, mainly from the milk which the flock should furnish. He labours for their comfort; and it is proper that he should derive a maintenance from them, and he has a right to it."17
As alluded to in the above argument the apostle presses his case from that which is taught in the Law of Moses. In this argument, he makes specific reference to the Scripture which is applicable to his point:
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
The prohibition against muzzling the ox which treads out the corn is sufficient to show that God (through his revealed Word) made provision for the brute creation which serve the purposes of men, but more important than that, he cared for man. Moses wrote, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" (Deuteronomy 25:4). The apostle's emphasis is on the typical and spiritual application of the command rather than on the letter of the law as it pertains to any benefit received by the animal. J.W. McGarvey and Phillip Y. Pendleton observed that,
In giving the law, God's proximate design was to care for oxen, but his ultimate design was to enforce the principle that labor should not go unrewarded; that each workman might discharge his task in cheerful expectation that he would receive wages for his employment.18
McGarvey and Pendleton likewise point out that the form of argumentation employed here by Paul is that which is called a minori ad magus, that is, arguing from the smaller to the greater. Jesus demonstrated God's care for man by using this same form of argumentation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:26-30).19
In the 1950's, the debate was raging over whether or not it was scriptural for a church to employ an evangelist to preach regularly for a stipulated salary each week. For example, Guy N. Woods and Leroy Garrett debated this and other related questions in Stockton, California, March 18-22, 1954. In that discussion Garrett objected to the regular employment of preachers on the basis that they are to "plow in hope" (1 Corinthians 9:10); and it was contended that one does not "plow in hope" if he is assured of a specified amount for his labors. To this Woods responded with the logic which made him the great debater that he was:
The fallacy of this reasoning is apparent. It assumes that one cannot indulge in hope for that which has been assured him. Garrett cannot hope to see the Lord; for this is a definite promise to the faithful (I John 3:1ff), and one cannot" plow in hope" for that which is assured him. He cannot hope for heaven, for heaven is a promise; and where the promise is definite hope cannot be entertained. The plowboy promised a pay check at the end of the week, according to Garrett, does not plow in hope!20
Again, Leroy Garrett pressed the point for a New Testament example of the church ever employing a preacher full-time. In the above mentioned debate Garrett repeatedly asked, "What church ever employed Paul on a regular salary? What New Testament church ever paid its preacher a $100 a week?"21 To which Woods replied:
For what is he asking? Details. Minute details. Incidentals outside the plan and purpose of the sacred writers. It is sufficient to know that preachers preached; they were supported for such preaching; and they were associated with churches in a full-time capacity when such preaching was done. This, then, for all practical purposes meets the demand of the case.22
The notion that it is wrong to financially support a preacher full-time is not now the divisive force in the church that it was in the 1950's. The damage has already been done. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of the great debaters of the last generation, such as the late Guy N. Woods, the rift in the body of Christ would have been much worse than it is. These brethren now operate under the name "mutual edification," which designation is indicative of the fact that they disavow the engagement of a man as the exclusive preacher for a congregation. According to Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., there are currently 13 congregations, with a membership of 4,689, which are so identified.23
Paul said, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" Those who sow spiritual things ought to receive material necessities from the beneficiaries of their spiritual work. We have here apostolic authority for "paying the preacher" or others who give themselves to the work of the Lord. The same would surely apply to elders who labor in a full-time capacity. Paul said, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17).
The apostle Paul and his fellow laborers had provided the Corinthians with the greatest of spiritual blessings; and so he asked them, Does it seem unreasonable for the spiritual laborers to receive, in turn, financial support? As contended in the above argument, if the farmer is permitted to partake of the fruit of labors, why should those who sow spiritual things not reap some support for their material necessity?
Notwithstanding his inherent right in the matter of receiving financial support for his preaching the Gospel, he chose to forego that at Corinth. Paul said,
If others be partaker of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ...But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void...What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
For reasons which to him were good Paul did not exercise his full "right" in receiving financial support in his preaching of the Gospel at all times. Other teachers who had labored in Corinth had been the recipients of compensation and if they were entitled to it, Paul was more so because of his status as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul chose rather to make great personal sacrifice than to cause any hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. For Paul to have exercised the same right which others claimed for themselves would have given Paul's enemies the opportunity to impugn his motives by claiming that he merely preached for the money (support), and thus, that he was not really an apostle of Christ. False teachers apparently did impugn his motives regarding such matters (2 Corinthians 11:7-15).
There are two extremes which must be avoided in this God-given right which belongs to the preacher. There is the extreme of a church refusing to pay a preacher what is right for his services. An old joke has the brethren who are without a preacher praying, "Lord, send us a preacher poor and humble. You keep him humble and we will keep him poor." It is wrong for brethren not to support the preaching of the Gospel when they are perfectly able to do so. Brethren must be taught their responsibility in this area and they should be expected to fulfill it. The brethren should support the preacher as well as their circumstances will permit. When a church calls for the services of a preacher in a Gospel meeting or some other similar effort, and they turn him away empty handed when they could easily render support for his labors, they sin against the preacher and against God. It is sad, but there are churches which are like the graceless old tightwad which brother J. A. McNutt tells about, with the following inscription on his tombstone:
Here lies old Twenty-Per-Cent,
The more he made, the less he spent,
The less he spent, the more he craved,
If he gets to heaven, we'll all be saved.24
The other extreme to be avoided is the preacher who will not preach unless the price is right. The preacher who is of this disposition is clearly "in it for the money." I myself have tried never to be found guilty in this regard. I have conducted mission meetings when it was understood that I would receive nothing for preaching. I have conducted some weddings and funerals and received nothing for them. When asked, "What do you charge for weddings...funerals?" My answer is always, "Nothing. I am happy to be of service." If there is financial remuneration coming my way, I am glad for it. There are always more necessities at home than the amount I usually receive will even begin to satisfy. If not I am not bitter. Nor do I complain. I have always tried to respond to any invitation to preach the Gospel without even the slightest consideration for whatever compensation may or may not be involved. I know that in this day and age most brethren are fairly generous in their support of the Gospel. Those congregations which act miserly in this regard will certainly have to answer to God for their stinginess in this area.
In the final argument which will here be considered, Paul wrote, "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." The point is that even those priests under the Mosaic order, whose office, like the apostles, was purely sacred, were supported by the offerings brought to the temple. It was also the case that when an animal was sacrificed on the altar that the priest received a share of the sacrifice.
In verse 14 Paul comes to the apex of his argument: "Even so did the Lord during his life on earth, ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel." When Jesus sent the twelve out on the limited commission he instructed them to, "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses...for the workman is worthy of his meat" (Matthew 10:9-10). Also, when the Lord commissioned the seventy he said, "For the laborer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7).
Those people who are guided by reason and revelation, and are likewise candid, conscientious and honest will neither need nor want additional evidence to that which has heretofore been presented in order to be convinced that it is the plan of God that the Gospel be supported financially. There is much more of the inspired instruction of Paul on this matter than has been considered here. It is regrettable that some will remain "anti" on this matter and choose to keep themselves beyond the reach of Scripture which settles the question forever for the sincere student of the Bible.
It is the basest slander to attribute mercenary motives to those faithful Gospel preachers who labor tirelessly in the cause of Christ. That is not to say that there are not many preachers who are indeed soldiers of fortune. There are those whose primary objective is to throw together a Saturday night sermon outline, have something to say on Sunday, make it as palatable and pleasing to the masses as they are able, and pick up their check the next day while on their way to the golf course. Such men are not worthy of the high honor of preaching. Preach the Gospel of Christ with love and boldness and know that you have a right to live of the Gospel of Christ.
1Thomas H. Holland, Preaching: Principles And Practice, Volume II (Vocational Viewpoints) (Henderson, Tennessee: Holland Publications, 1975): 103.
3Al Price, "What Worries Preachers" Gospel Advocate 133 (October 1991): 7.
4Charles Hodge, Your Preacher (Fort Worth: Star Bible Publications, 1972): 58.
5Roy Deaver, "Problems of Gospel Preachers (No. 9)" Gospel Advocate 105 (April 4, 1963): 216.
6G. C. Brewer. A Story Of Toil And Tears Of Love And Laughter Being The Autobiography of G. C. Brewer 1884-1956 (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: DeHoff Publications, 1957): 84.
7Guy N. Woods, "Is a Stipulated Wage for Preachers Scriptural?" Gospel Advocate 96 (July 22, 1954): 561.
9G. K. Wallace, Autobiography And Retirement Sermons (Highsprings, Florida: Mary Lois Forrester, 1983): 13-14.
10The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1956, s.v. "Wages," by William Edward Raffety.
11A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels, 1912, s.v. "Wages," by Richard Galister.
12Flavil Nichols, "Support Of Preachers" Gospel Advocate 105 (August 8, 1963): 499.
13Don Deffenbaugh, "Uncle Rue" A Biography Of Roland Rudolph Porter (Neosho, Missouri: By the author, 1330 Benton Ave., 1985): 61.
14James D. Bales, "Preaching For Money" Gospel Advocate 88 (February 1946): 135.
15Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896): 471.
16Albert Barnes, Notes On The New Testament: I Corinthians (London: Blackie & Son, 1884-85; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983): 156.
18J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Standard Bible Commentary: Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1916): 90-91.
20Guy N. Woods, "The Support of Preachers" Gospel Advocate 96 (July 8, 1954): 522.
21Guy N. Woods, "Bible Talk, and the Employment of Preachers" Gospel Advocate 96 (June 17, 1954): 466-467.
23Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., Separating Fact From Fiction: A Realistic Assessment Of The Churches Of Christ In The United States (Searcy, Arkansas: Harding University, 1994): 20.
24J. A. McNutt, Life, Humor, and Biblical Briefs (Memphis: Mac's Publications, 1986): 227.