Question: The apostle Paul taught that “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (I Co. 9:14) while at the same time he took pride in supporting himself (I Co. 9:18). As preachers today, should we seek to support ourselves or should we expect to be supported by the church?
Rev. Thabsile Thwala
National Superintendent, Emmanuel Wesleyan Church. eSwatini
First of all we must keep in mind that the book of First Corinthians was written to correct certain errors that were occurring in the Church of Corinth. This was after Paul received reports of division from Chloe's household in 1 Corinthians 1:11, and also to deal with several questions asked in the letter sent by the Corinthian Church. The third purpose that appears throughout was to defend his apostolic authority. So, in chapter 9 we are getting to a point whereby Paul addresses the division related to those who were doubting his apostleship.
According to the New International Version Study Bible the chapter has one pericope with both verses (1Corinthians 9:14 &18). However, as we continue with the discussion we will look at the two verses separately.
1 Corinthians 1:14
“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (NIV)
The phrase, “In the same way” indicates that Paul has been saying a lot on the subject on the verses preceding verse 14. In verse 13, Paul takes his readers back to the Old Testament where this teaching was first introduced. (Leviticus 7:28-36, Numbers 18: 8-20). The second key word in this verse is “commanded”, to command is “to give an order.” Usually an order is given by someone in authority and once an order has been given there should be an action. An action is carried out even when you disagree with the order, but because someone senior has given the order it has to be done. In this verse Paul says, this is a command from the Lord not from Paul. And it is not a new teaching that comes from Paul whom the Corinthian Church was even questioning his apostleship; it is an Old Testament command that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Biblical Examples of living from the gospel
In the Old Testament this was a command that was taken very seriously. The priests and the Levites had portions that were given to them for serving in the temple. In Deuteronomy 18:1, the Bible tells us that the Lord commanded that the priests and the Levites shall have no inheritance, that they shall eat the offering of the Lord made by fire and His portion. This means no land was allotted to them because they served in the temple. Numbers 8:21-32, states their duties and rewards so very clearly. Because it was a command that was taken serious by Israel, in the book of Nehemiah 13:10 when Nehemiah learned that portions had not been given and that Levites and singers had gone back to work in their fields he contended with rulers, as to why the house of God was forsaken. The house of God was forsaken because the Levites had gone back to their fields to work in their fields for a living, an act that was contrary to God’s command. Verse 12 tells us that after Nehemiah challenged the situation then all Judah brought in their tithes. 2 Chronicles 31: 4, “He (King Hezekiah) ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give their portion due to the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord.” The following verses describe how the people gave their offering and how blessed the priests and Levites were thereafter. In verse 10 we hear Azariah the Chief Priest responding to King Hezekiah question in verse9, “Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed his people and this great amount is left over.” Priests had enough and there was left over.
In Luke 10, when Jesus was sending out the seventy-two, he tells them to take no purse or bag or sandals (verse 4). In verse 7, he assures them of accommodation and meals while they minister, even though they were to take nothing with them. In Galatians 6:6, Paul teaches that, “Let him who is taught the Word share in all good things with him who teaches” (NKJV). In 1Timothy 5:17-18, Paul advises Timothy in this manner, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is to preach and teach. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ (another quote from the Old Testament), and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ (NIV).
These Biblical examples cut across both the Old and New Testaments in the same manner, it is clear that it is God’s principle for preachers to live from the gospel. Having looked at them let us go back to 1 Corinthians 9:14b in our attempt to answer this question, who are those who preach the gospel today since we not living in the era of Levites and priests anymore? Ephesians 4:11 introduces the New Testament readers to the fivefold ministry, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers, Pastors and Teachers.
1 Corinthians 9:18
“What is my reward then? That when I present the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel” (NKJV)
Bible Scholars agree that Paul’s reward in preaching the gospel is not material things. Paul understood his calling, preaching was a gift and a calling for him. He would do anything even including hard work that will enable him to reach out to even more Gentiles. Paul couldn’t stop preaching even if he wanted to, he was driven by the desire to do what God wanted him to do, and not even lack would stop him. While he knew all his rights as an apostle, he continued to preach even when there was no reward in Corinth. Even when they were questioning his apostleship. But that didn’t hinder him because he understood his calling and his desire was to preach the gospel.
Bible scholars maintain that that Paul’s preaching of the gospel had a sense of urgency, he would do anything that will enable him to spread the message of the cross. In his farewell remarks to the Ephesian Church he says, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.” (Acts 20:33-35) This is evidence that Paul’s desire was to preach the good news everywhere. By his hard working attitude, he was able to support his ministry and was able to help others. His boasting was not by any means saying I don’t need your help.
My view on the subject:
When looking at 1 Corinthians 9: 14, we looked at the command and we said a command can be translated as giving an order, an order is followed by an action. It is God’s command that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. I want to believe that Paul in I Corinthians 9:18 was not by any means trying to challenge or refute the command. Paul gladly received what was given to him. We are not told anywhere in scripture that Paul ever refused any help given to him, because this command stands as it is.
In 2 Corinthians 11:7-12, he shares how the Macedonian brothers have supplied for his needs and how the Macedonian supplies were helpful to him and the ministry. He even uses strong words in verse 8, “I robbed other churches by receiving support so that I could serve you”. In Philippians 4:14-19, he again expresses his joy on how the Philippian Church had been a blessing to his ministry. In verse 19 he even blesses the Philippian church for the gifts that were brought by Epaphroditus from them.
In Philippians 4:17, Paul makes a remarkable statement, I quote, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. He is saying that because of your giving God will credit your account. There is a blessing that goes with supporting the preacher. Therefore, I maintain that while preachers can do all they can to support their families and ministry, preachers should be supported by the church because it is God’s command, a command that that we cannot change, and it goes with promise. Preachers who are self-supporting should not make the mistake of robbing the church of its blessing, by denying them the opportunity to reward them for the work they are doing.
However, may I end by bringing your attention to the last part I Corinthians 9: 18, a very important phrase in this verse: “What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.” Gods command is very clear, preachers should live from the gospel, but take note of the fact that, you as a preacher also have a responsibility not to abuse your authority in the gospel.