First, we arrive at the second passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians relevant to our subject, though this time a more extended discussion than 1 Corinthians 4:9-12. In studying this for the first time, there is a statement made by Paul in this passage that I have often overlooked in my own defense of the professional minister, a position that I had at one time considered and even applied for. The opening of chapter 9 is below
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship 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 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 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? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:1-14For context, chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians is a continuation of the discussion that began in chapter 8, which primarily dealt with the believer’s right to eat meat offered to idols, and then their choice, out of love for their brethren, to forego that right for the sake of another’s conscience. This is seen in 8:1 with the transition, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This indicates that a new topic is now being discussed and introduces a key element, knowledge. At the end of chapter 8, Paul indicates his freedom to refrain from exercising his right to eat meat in order to prevent his brother from stumbling. This context, deferred rights for the sake of others, flows right into chapter 9.
Verse 1 begins with a rhetorical question that carries an implied, “yes” answer, “Am I not free?” With the context at the end of chapter 8, it is clear to see this as a continuation of the freedom, i.e. rights and knowledge discussed there. Three further rhetorical questions in the affirmative are then asked, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?” With these, Paul grounds his freedom in his apostleship which is supported by his witnessing the risen Lord and the evidence of the Corinthian believers.
In the next part of the passage, Paul sets up a series of rhetorical questions, leading him to the popular verse on oxen, which is typically the proof text for paid, professional pastors. The first three of these questions likely addresses three specific complaints against Paul from his critics: 1. The right to food and drink (notice the context from chapter 8 on eating meat sacrificed to idols) 2. The right to bring along a believing wife (sister) 3. The right to be materially supported. These are followed up with three additional rhetorical questions that use natural law to provide the examples of a soldier, farmer, and shepherd, each of whom are materially compensated for their labors.
Rather than resting his case on his apostleship and natural law, Paul presses his argument further by appealing to the highest authority, that of God’s Word, specifically Deuteronomy 25:4 from the Law of Moses. At first glance we might ask, what does a passage forbidding the muzzling of oxen while it treads grain have to do with use of Christian rights, here the right to material compensation. However, when we consider the previous appeals to natural examples, it then seems perfectly consistent to appeal to a passage from God’s law that likewise deals with a natural example. Paul has continued with his examples from nature, but this time the example comes specifically from God’s law. Subsequent to this, we see two additional appeals to nature, the plowman and the thresher. Each of these examples serve as support for Paul’s right to receive support for his ministry, which as we have already seen resembled nothing like today’s pastor, rather it more closely resembles today’s missionary – traveling from town to town preaching the gospel and following back up with discipleship among those who are saved.
In verses 11-14 Paul begins the descent from his argument by summarily asking, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?,” which, based upon his argumentation, would have to be answered in the affirmative. Yes, Paul, you have the right to reap material things because you have sown spiritual things. That said, does it necessarily follow that we should read into “material things” to mean an annual salary with benefits and retirement? This leads us into the all-important verse 12. Most defenses of paid professional pastors ends in verse 9 with the discussion of oxen. However this is not the end of Paul’s point. Remember, based on chapter 8 and now our context into chapter 9, the purpose has been to show that Christians have rights, but may have to exercise the option of rejecting those rights for the sake of others. This is precisely what happens in verse 12. Having gone through his extensive arguments, including his own apostleship, natural law, and God’s Word in order to establish his right to receive material compensation, Paul then states simply that he has chosen NOT to exercise this right. The natural question that arises is, why? Before we look at his reasons, we need to remember the following:
- Paul was an apostle (vs. 1), which means “sent one”.
- Paul’s was a traveling, itinerant ministry (vs. 3)
- Paul refused the right to material compensation. Though not always, it is clear that this was the pattern of his ministry and one he expected others to emulate (vs. 12; Acts 20:25; 1 Corinthians 4:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.In this his last line of defending the rejection of his right to receive material compensation, Paul presents his strongest reasoning. First we see the declaration again that he’s made no use of his rights among the Corinthians and that in discussing the rights, he’s not using it as leverage to secure material provisions. Instead, we see that for Paul the rejection of these rights allows him to boast, though not in a braggadocios or prideful way, to such extent that he would literally rather die than receive payment for the gospel. Let that sink in for just a minute. In all the times that you and I have read or heard 1 Corinthians 9:9 used as a defense to pay professional pastors, let this verse sink in. He then goes on to elaborate on the boasting by saying it is his boast to preach the gospel free of charge because the necessity to preach the gospel has been laid upon them.
1 Corinthians 9:15-18
Imagine if we lived in world where all of those gifted to preach and teach would do so anywhere, at anytime, to anyone free of charge! Paul sets his sight on receiving a reward, far greater than earthly, material compensation, for preaching out of his own will, yet contrasts this by saying even if he received support, he was still entrusted with a stewardship. Though of what? Given the context of the defense to the Corinthians, as well as the later discussion on delivering their aide to the famine stricken church at Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:3-4), the reference is likely to being a good steward of the material support. Finally, in verse 18 we reach the conclusion of Paul’s rejection of his rights, that he may preach the gospel free of charge. This is the example that Paul has laid down. This is the pattern of his ministry which we saw in the previous post. Unsurprisingly, this is precisely the direction that Jesus gives his own disciples as He too sends them out as apostles (apostle means sent one) to preach the gospel to the lost
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:5-15; bold and italics are my ownIn the final post from this extended excursus we will look at the other two common proof texts from Galatians 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18, the latter of which includes the reference mentioned by our Lord, highlighted by italics above, as well as from Paul above (1 Corinthians 9:9). Additionally, we will look at what to make of the case when Paul did receive compensation.