Should Paul Get Paid for the Work that He Does?

Paul appears to open this ninth chapter defending his standing as an apostle, citing his encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 and the work that God is doing through him in this church in Corinth. As an apostle Paul has certain rights. This theme of rights carries us from chapter eight and the discussion of food offered to idols, where the right was to eat meat. Here the right of Paul, as an apostle, is to be able to earn a living from his preaching of the gospel.

He makes his argument via parable (soldier, shepherd, thresher) about those whose work provides for them, and he then makes arguments from scripture about an ox that is not muzzled when treading grain. More than the ox, Paul says God is concerned with us. 1 Corinthians 9:9b-10 says, “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 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.” Paul concludes that those who work for the gospel have a right to earn a living off of that work.

As much as Paul argues for his right, he then turns around and says he has not made use of his right. Why? He wants to present the gospel free of charge. He doesn’t want to put any obstacle in the way of their hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. It is another example of sacrificing a right in order to do something greater.

When I gathered to study this chapter this morning, I wanted to talk about the pros and cons of supporting those who preach the gospel. I myself am blessed to be financially supported as a pastor. So perhaps I’d be biased in arguing for that practice. But I think there can be great advantages to earning your pay somewhere else. For one, the temptation of money that we are taught of in much of the Bible doesn’t factor into the equation. You serve Christ not for money, but for his glory alone. I’ve been especially challenged by this quote on that issue from Sir Robert L’Estrange, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on preachers being paid. Pros and cons. Advantages to being a “tentmaker” or being financially free to focus solely on the ministry? Thoughts?

Being a cheerful giver because of the gospel

Part of 2 Corinthians is a defense that Paul makes about his ministry and actions, including a discussion on the church giving financial aid to those in need.

Paul wants them to be cheerful givers and does not want to use his authority to coerce them. Instead he tells them about what Christ has done for us.

2 Corinthians 8:9 
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Rather than command the church in Corinth, he tells the gospel again in the language of money. If they understand the gospel and accept it, Paul believes they will act according to it. He writes in chapter nine about a “submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ.”

Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods describes 2 Corinthians 8:9 like this:

Jesus, the God-Man, had infinite wealth, but if he had held on to it, we would have died in our spiritual poverty. That was the choice–if he stayed rich, we would die poor. If he died poor, we could become rich. Our sins would be forgiven, and we would be admitted into the family of God. Paul was not giving this church a mere ethical precept, exhorting them to stop loving money so much and become more generous. Rather, he recapitulated the gospel. (Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 67)

Unlikely Sermon Title: Please, Stop Giving an Offering

Throughout the latter half of Exodus, God is describing for Moses and the people what is required for the tabernacle. There needs to be fine cloth, gold and silver, jewels, and other materials for the craftsmen to assemble this dwelling place of God among the Israelites.

In chapter 35 Moses says to all the congregations of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bonze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns…”

Moses goes on listing valuable items that were surely precious to the people. The people hear this message and Scripture says they came back to Moses, “everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him,” and they brought a contribution for God’s tabernacle and for its service. These items came in the form of brooches and armlets, and other personal possessions. It was not as though the people went out to the bank and withdrew some spare gold bullion. They took what was being used in one way for themselves and sacrificed it to God, to be used for his purposes. They also gave of their time, such as the women who spun fine yarns and linens. The people brought their treasure, and in doing so revealed what truly should be our treasure–God.

What really amazed me in reading is in chapter 36. Bezalel and Oholiab, along with the other craftsmen God had gifted skill and artistry to, all had to stop their work and come to Moses with a message. The people had continued to bring contributions for God, a free will offering, every morning to such an extent that the workers had far too much. So they tell Moses, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution of the sanctuary.” People gave their treasures over to God to such an extent that it says they had to be restrained from bringing more. They gave what was sufficient and then some.

What a wonderful problem for the craftsmen to have, and what a wonderful testimony to God of how the Israelites were here being joyful givers, gladly treasuring God and his will above whatever earthly treasures they had previously cherished.