Financial Responsibility Within the Lord’s Church
[1st Corinthians Chapter 9, verses 1-14]
In today’s installment of this continuing study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we are going to advance to chapter nine of 1st Corinthians, where we will have a look at verses 1 through 14. Here, we find the apostle Paul discussing the topic of exercising our freedom as Christians, provided we never do so in a way that could compromise the faith of another believer. This week Paul shifts his emphasis away from exercising our freedom as individual Christians as he did in chapter eight, and instead expounds on applying it to Christians who are in positions of leadership. He then continues on in that vein beginning at verse one:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are my seal of apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” (1st Cor. 9, verses 1-6 NIV)
Here Paul has written about his freedoms as an apostle, presumably because of some long-forgotten split within the body of the Corinthian church from nearly two thousand years ago, possibly over financial matters or internal politics, or maybe even Paul’s authority. I find it interesting that it seems to closely parallel and correspond with a certain lack of unity that I percieve within the contemporary body of Christian believers, regardless of denomination. Allow me to explain my frame of reference here. Because I am disabled I use public transportation to get around, and I get most my church from the Internet (excluding Sunday mornings when I am privileged to serve as a musician at the church I attend). After all, even those who tend the flocks must stop for lunch sometime! As a result, I see parallels between modern Christian programming on TV, including the way they are being managed financially – and the apparent controversy about the pay and perks of the televangelist and his/her immediate family. This is reminiscent of the First Century controversy within the early Church about who was the greatest apostle, which was reiterated by the apostle Paul back in chapter one of 1st Corinthians. In Paul’s case, that fact that he was not one of the original twelve disciples was the subject of what Paul was writing in the above passage. Was it not good enough for them, Paul wrote, that he had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus? In modern terms, Paul is asking, “What more do you want from me? Stop judging me and focus on your own salvation instead”.
There are TV evangelists today that have generated controversy in recent years with stories of fabulous wealth that was “earned” from offerings and donations to their ministries. There are several famous “televangelists” who actually have their own airplanes. They’re not Piper Cubs either. In fact, one even boasts about owning a twin-engined jet that this TV preacher – who I will not name – allegedly paid about $12,000,000.00 cash for. The Secret Service and the Department of the Treasury both could have asserted their authority against such a huge and clearly illegal cash transaction. But those entrusted to guard our land’s money just looked the other way while a cool 12 million changed hands. Well, praise the Lord! What would Jesus say to these TV evangelists who are presiding over enterprises that seems to be charities on the surface, but in reality it’s a church that’s being run like a profitable business? I have seen this firsthand at certain churches from my own past, and they were all churches that I left soon after. Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money”.
It is clear to us from Paul’s writing that he is trying to nip this sort of thing in the bud within the early church before it gets out of hand. As we can see from all too many modern churches and the way they are being operated, Paul was not successful. Still, we can take a lesson from this and be wary when visiting a church for the first time. The Bible commands us to “test the spirit” of that church. This is not some fancy mumbo- jumbo, it is something we can do quietly from within ourselves because it is real. If you find anything about that church that makes you uncomfortable, and especially if you do not feel welcome, then keep looking for a church until you find the right one. When you find it, Jesus will make it known to you, of that you can be sure! Paul then continues in verse 7 to make his point about how much, and at what level, should church leadership be compensated? Since there are a lot of people who get hung up about money, everyone should read Paul’s writing in these next verses with an open mind:
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the law say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Do not muzzle an oxen while it is treading out the grain’. Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right? On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the Gospel.” (1st Cor 9: verses 7-14 NIV)
Paul is clearly giving an unmistakable message here regarding how ministers of the Gospel were to compensate themselves in the early Church. This explanation is as valid today as it was when it was first written nearly 2,000 years ago. There is nothing wrong with the compensation of church leadership so long as good judgment and common sense are used to calculate the form and amount of compensation. This is emphasized by Paul when he wrote, ….“If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?”….
There are too many “churches” today, particularly in the US, that are very large and therefore they generate eye-popping amounts of cash and checks on Sunday morning during the offering. They are run like businesses, and Jesus will deal with them and their “pastors” as severely as he did when he threw the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. After all, the money changers of Jesus’ time are ther equivalent of the prosperity ‘preachers’ of today. When the time comes for them to collect their reward, Jesus will turn them away instead. “They will be thrown out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
“For the last shall be first, and the first, last.”— Jesus Christ