Note: This is a more in-depth continuation of my introductory article Should Pastors Be Salaried? that can be found at:
Has God really ordained or commanded that pastors be paid, let alone receive a regular on-going salary? Well this is what most pastors tell us that the Bible teaches. Or, in reality has God granted that Gospel-preaching Christians have the right to financial or material support from the church but only if necessary? Probably the most misquoted of all verses on the subject is 1Cor 9:14.
Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. 1Cor 9:14
Based on widespread error, most Christians believe that this verse is a command to the church (and more specifically an express command to themselves) to provide a regular ongoing income for pastors. Not so, as we will see.
Interestingly, the word pastor is not even mentioned in this verse. The phrase “they which preach the Gospel” does not automatically refer to a pastor (or elder). Yet it is not unusual, in fact it is incredibly commonplace for pastors to quote this verse out of context as if it applies exclusively to them by default. They claim that this verse is God's express command that not only empowers them, but REQUIRES them to collect a regular income (and sometimes even an excessive income) from church members as a mandatory church doctrine. They often include verse 13 in their argument:
(13) Do you 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?
On the surface this may sound like a compelling command, but the Apostle Paul is referring to the activities of a Levitical priest at that time, not a pastor. And of course we still need to look at the context of what is really being said here overall. In fact, only in context with the rest of the chapter do we see that what Paul is saying is that God has ordained that those who preach the Gospel have the right to be supported by the Gospel under certain conditions, not that they are given a blanket “command” to always receive support or that the church is commanded to always give them support. Such is not the case as we will see.
Let Us Examine The Context...
We know that in order to properly understand many verses in the Bible, we need to look at the context and if we make the mistake of isolating a verse out of its context, we can come away with an entirely wrong impression and wrong interpretation.
Therefore it would be a very good idea if these pastors and their avid supporters would actually read the entire chapter of 1Cor 9 (with the right heart and right motivation of course) instead of just isolating a verse of two out of context. If they would consider the whole chapter, they might realize that in the first part (verses 4-10), Paul is expounding that it would be lawful for him (and he would be deserving) to accept a living from the Gospel as some others were doing at the time, but he did not avail himself of that right (or power) because to do so would actually hinder the Gospel.
The clincher which clearly shows this comes next in verses 11-12:
(11) If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (12) If others be partakers 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. [Emphasis added]
Many pastors quote verse 11 and sometimes include the first half of verse 12 to try to support their receiving of a regular income from the church, while they completely omit the second half of verse 12 which states: “Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” [Emphasis added]
These men conveniently overlook or shuffle this part of verse 12 under the carpet. This is nothing but clever sleight-of-hand trickery. It is absolutely ungodly for these men to quote verses outside of the immediate context where, if they were honest and also quoted the connecting verses, then this would immediately overturn the false impression or false argument that they are trying to make. Not surprisingly, these men do not generally ever quote verses 15-18 either. These verse offer even more proof of Paul's strong stand against using this basic right of support:
(15) 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. (16) For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (17) For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. [Emphasis added]
Paul's view culminates in verse 18:
(18) 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. [Emphasis added]
When is the last time you ever heard these balancing verses preached from the pulpits of the modern church, let alone properly quoted? Probably never.
The bottom line is the Apostle Paul chose to pass on his right or power to accept a regular financial living from the Gospel so as not to hinder the Gospel. This is simply not taught today in most Christian circles.
Also, verse 18 shows that Paul considers anyone who collects money as a minister as being someone who CHARGES for the Gospel. This alone should put the fear of God into at least some of the many hucksters and hirelings that we have running around today. But sadly, most of these people don't care in the least about how their financial practices reflect negatively upon the Gospel and how they discredit Christ in the eyes of many unbelievers. These men do however care very much about collecting a regular income from the church when instead they should be out working a real job and serving the church for free. Think about it. People have all kinds of free time outside of work to be able to participate in and even become experts in a variety of sports, hobbies and other activities. So don't be taken in by the popular lie that a pastor would not have time to be a pastor and also hold down a regular job at the time. This is total nonsense.
There were times when the Apostle Paul experienced extenuating circumstances beyond his control where, due to the likely dire nature of the situation at hand, he was forced to accept support or “wages”. This was clearly not his normal operating procedure and he considered this “robbery”. He said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service”.
(7) Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? (8) I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. (9) 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. 2Cor 11: 7-9
Some argue that Paul used the word “robbery” here because it was the Corinthians responsibility, not the Macedonian's responsibility to support him. Not so. Paul's strong general teachings against collecting money from the church simply does not support this view. Also, some argue that 1Cor 9 is referring only to a special isolated case or a special set of circumstances where Paul took extra care not to offend the Corinthian church due to alleged unique problems that were going on with this church, that if not for these problems, Paul would have gladly collected money from them. They claim that this was his normal way of operating. Not so. Paul's teachings on the subject of collecting money from churches demonstrate the exact opposite and he provides an excellent example for all churches to follow.
The Better Way
All in all, Paul expounded and lived what we could call, “the better way”. We know from other Scriptures that Paul was not lazy as are so many so-called “pastors” today. He was not a nosy busybody poking around in everyone's personal business, meddling in things that are none of his concern. Within his God-given calling, the Apostle Paul was not like so many modern day pastors who operate outside of their scope of pastoral authority (which is supposed to be to care for the flock by watching, warning and preaching the truth from the Bible – not creating or upholding man made doctrines and commands). Paul did not have too much time on his hands. He was not someone who had nothing better to do than bedevil the church with his own peculiar ideas and legalisms. No, he upheld God's wishes and commands.
That said, even a brief perusal of the New Testament Epistles shows that Paul worked hard to support himself, to be generous and have something to share with others (not to take from others as is so common today). It is also clear that he only accepted sporadic financial or material help from the brethren when he was in serious need or where his work in preaching the Gospel truly required some extra help. Paul exemplified poise and balance in the area of receiving money or material assistance as a Christian minister. Paul was a rare man of God in his own time and such committed men are even rarer in modern times.
So although there is a power or right to accept a sporadic or regular income from the Gospel, the good minister, the most faithful and trustworthy among us will simply not use this right unless there is a dire need and only after they have exhausted every other means of support at their disposal (such as getting a real job, working with their own hands or tapping into personal resources).
In our day and age we see men “going into the ministry” as a church career with a regular income in mind! And as if this is normal! Well this might be very normal as far as the modern church is concerned, but this is far from normal for a good minister according to what the Bible teaches, a minister who wants to present Christ in the best light and not hinder the Gospel.
So instead of isolating verses such as 1Cor 9:14 out of context, as if this were some kind of mandatory “command” for pastors to receive an income from the church, Christians need to read the whole passage in context. And if they have eyes to see, they will hopefully understand that this is not the case at all, but rather that those who preach the Gospel have a right of support under certain special conditions or extenuating circumstances, and that to abstain is the better way so as not to hinder the Gospel.
Also, none of what I am saying here is to give the impression that churches should not financially help a genuine pastor in times of genuine need. I am arguing against incomes and REGULAR salaries based on the teachings of Scripture and Paul's excellent example.
It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. Here we have the heart of God on the matter - Jesus speaking through His Word and basically saying (in so many words) that He loves us so much that He is not going to allow those who preach the Gospel to starve, even at the cost of hindering the precious Gospel (which their collecting an income will cause), but that He greatly prefers abstinence instead. Love can see this view. Greed cannot. This is one of the reasons it is so important for Christians to approach the Bible from the right perspective or they risk deceiving themselves.
By no means did Paul approve of collecting an income from the church, let alone a regular ongoing income. Paul was no hireling. He did not settle in expecting a comfortable income from church members. In times where he may not have been able to find work for his hands (he was a tent maker by trade) or where various urgencies may have come up and his traveling schedule may not have permitted him to work, etc., he accepted help yet obviously reluctantly.
So here's the big question: Who do you think we should follow and look to as one who sets the right example in these financial matters? The average modern day pastor or the Apostle Paul? Hmmm, let me think...
Note I: There are a number of different verses and passages in the Bible that pastors misuse to try to justify collecting an income from the church. In the interest of limited space, I have focused on the widespread misuse of 1 Corinthians Chapter 9 in my presentation above.
Note II: What About Private Parachurch Ministries – Can They Receive Support?
While evangelists and those who do the work of the evangelist and preach the Gospel on a regular ministry basis need to be extra careful not to mix money and ministry, none of this is to say that a private parachurch ministry cannot be supported by donations, book sales or the sales of other materials, etc. Authors and speakers who minister more generally and who are supported by the sales of materials that they produce seem to have more latitude in the area of collecting money than a pastor has. But this is a gray area that is not entirely clear. Regardless, such ministries should still exercise a right heart and not be or behave like a hireling. In 1Cor 9, Paul is addressing a local church body regarding more direct church interaction and regarding issues within a local church. He did not necessarily establish restrictions or protocol here for private ministries in general except regarding those who preach the Gospel. It is no secret that there are many good parachurch ministries in existence today and many of these serve the church in other ways rather than focusing on preaching the Gospel. There are some excellent ministries that serve and inform the church on various matters from current events and discernment issues to apologetics training and who may be free to accept a regular income from subscribers and supporters. However, any private parachurch ministries would do well to learn from the Apostle Paul's good example. Yes, it can be argued that Paul also operated in somewhat of an itinerant parachurch role as he traveled from church to church. And so it can be argued that the financial abstinence that Paul taught can also be applied to private ministries as well. Regardless, it seems that the heart of God on the matter is that, with the exception of allowing for the sales of books and other materials that obviously cost money to produce, it is better to make money elsewhere (such as in one's own business or job) and always minister for free whenever possible. The mixing of money and ministry in general always tends to raise eyebrows, especially among unbelievers and this can hinder the Gospel as well.