Provision for the Lord’s Servants
K. T. C. Morris, Southampton
"My God shall supply all your need", wrote the apostle Paul to the Philippians, who had had the privilege of being the medium through whom God had sometimes provided for His own, Phil. 4. 14-19. We now ask, what are the norms of behaviour indicated in the Scriptures regarding the relations between the Lord's servants and their brethren, in the supply of their temporal needs? We have both divine commands and apostolic examples to help us.
The Privilege of the Servant.
The apostle Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that those who preach the gospel have the power, or right, to refrain from working.
1. He points out that such a pro vision is most reasonable, by referring to the work of a soldier, an agricultural worker, and a pastoral worker. What soldier ever serves "at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof ? or
who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?", 1 Cor. 9. 7.
2. He teaches that the law of Moses enunciates the same principle, first, in commanding that an ox is not to be muzzled when treading out the corn, and then in providing for the temporal needs of the priests who served at the altar, vv. 9,13.
3. Finally, he reminds us that the Lord Jesus, in sending out the apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, appointed that those who preached the gospel should obtain their living by the gospel, V. 14.
Indeed, he is not ashamed to say that, in order to be able to serve the Corinthians, he "robbed other churches, taking wages of them", 2 Cor. 11.8. For wages are a reward that has been earned; saints are showing no special favour to those who serve them in the gospel when they support them with money or goods. They are simply obeying the command that those who are taught in the Word are to share all the good things of life with those who teach them, Gal. 6. 6. As Paul says, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal (i.e. material) things ?", 1 Cor. 9. 11.
Yet this truth that the preacher of the gospel should have the material support of his brethren is explained at length to make clear that Paul did not avail himself of this right at Corinth; neither did Barnabas; neither did Titus, and the unnamed brother who accompanied him there, 2 Cor. 12. 17-18. It is a most merciful provision of God that those who give themselves to "prayer, and to the ministry of the word", Acts 6. 4, should be supported by the gifts of the saints. Why, then, did Paul and his fellow-servants not take advantage of it? It was for the Gospel's sake, that he might gain the more souls for Christ, 1 Cor. 9. 17-23. His concern for the souls of men was such that he would not "use to the full" his right in the Gospel. He wanted men to have a true impression of the liberal giving of God. How like our Lord was this, not to insist on one's rights! How suitable to the day of grace! How suitable for the followers of the Lamb I
The practice of earning one's living while labouring in the Gospel was followed, not only by Paul, Barnabas and Titus, but by Silas and Timothy also; cf. 2 Thess. 1. 1 with 3. 6-12. Paul and Silas wrote to the Thessalon-ians that they "wrought with labour and travail night and day", 2 Thess. 3. 8, in order not to be chargeable to their brethren. This was not merely a matter of personal exercise. Believers are definitely exhorted to imitate this example. So Paul exhorted the Corinthians; so he exhorted in every church: "Be ye followers of me", 1 Cor. 4. 16-17; Phil. 4. 9.
There are five reasons given for this practice:
1. It is an example to others, especially the "weak brother", 2 Thess. 3. 9. Compare the link between chapters 8 and 9 in 1 Corinthians.
2. It is in order that the Lord's servant should not be a burden to his brethren, 2 Cor. 12. 16; 2 Thess. 3. 8.
3. It is so that he may have a good testimony to those who often regard religion as a money-making concern, 1 Thess. 4. 11-12.
4. It is that he himself might lack nothing, 1 Thess. 4. 12.
5. It is because it is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20. 34-35. It is a great privilege to give to the poor.
Paul's last message to the elders who were to exercise pastoral care at Ephesus shows that such men particularly are to follow his example. "Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive". Thus the example that pastors and teachers are to follow is that of men who, whenever they could, plied their trade; see Acts 18. 3. By so doing, Paul kept himself free as the servant of the Lord, and not of men. He did not refuse to receive gifts from the faithful Philippians, but he was in no sense dependent upon such gifts; yet to spend eighteen months working for his living in Corinth, with the care of all the churches weighing upon him, must have been no small burden.
The Duty of the Saints. With the fields white unto harvest, with the labourers few, and with men like sheep without a shepherd, we should be glad of any who are prepared to go forth "taking nothing of the Gentiles”; and how ready we should be to bring them on their way in a manner worthy of God, the liberal Giver, 3 John 5-7. There are clearly times when the demands of the Gospel are such that a man cannot follow his normal occupation, at least for the time. And when a man gives up lucrative employment and prospects for the sake of the Gospel, fellow-believers should be concerned about his resultant needs. An assembly of the saints should count it a privilege to "communicate", that is to share what they have with such a servant, Phil. 4.15; Heb. 13.16. Though there may come times when the servant, like Paul, judges it a privilege to resume his normal "working with his hands", Eph. 4. 28.
Further, "Let the elders who rule (i.e. take the lead) well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine", 1 Tim. 5. 17. As in verse 3, the word "honour" often carries with it the meaning of 'honorarium' or financial support. Indeed, verse 18 repeats the quotation, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn", and adds, "The labourer is worthy of his reward", that is, his wages. But there is certainly no ground for saying that such a man is worthy of a 'double stipend' as one modern version puts it. The idea of a stipend, which means the periodical wages or salary paid to a clergyman or other official, is completely foreign to the New Testament. The word "honour" must be regarded as honour in its widest sense, and such honour is to be paid to every elder who toils (see 1 Tim. 6. 1), often at great cost to himself, and sometimes at cost to his family as well. If we support such a man financially, it is not because we hire him, but because we recognize that he is the Lord's servant, graciously serving us, and possibly in financial straits as a result. He himself looks to His Lord rather than to men to supply his need. It has often been said that sheep do not choose their shepherds, but we should gladly show our appreciation of every true shepherd whom the Lord raises up in our midst.
The Twelve Apostles. We must, however, consider the call of the twelve apostles of the Lord. Their case was unique. The Lord Jesus called them from their work to "be with him", and to be witnesses of all things that He did from the baptism of John till the resurrection. They were definitely called therefore to give up their occupation, Mark 3. 14; Acts 1. 21-22; 10. 39. While they companied with the Lord, they were adequately sustained. But we learn from 1 Corinthians 4. 9, 12 that after the ascension they also toiled and did not think it unworthy to work with their hands like Paul and Barnabas. This was in accord with the Lord's own instructions. When He sent them on their preaching and miraculous healing mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He said, "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses ... for the workman is worthy of his meat". Matt. 10. 9-10. But when He was about to be taken from them, He gave them further and different instructions: "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them. But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip (bag or wallet)", Luke 22. 35-36. Evidently the peculiar circumstances of their initial call were changed by their Lord's departure.
Conclusion. Two general conclusions appear from all these Scriptures. First, for believers in general, the love of Christ should constrain them to help His servants gladly. The Lord Himself has said that they are worthy of this, for, in His servants' devotion of time and energy to the Gospel, they are not to suffer want. Secondly, for His servants in particular, they are as far as possible to follow the example of Paul and his fellow-labourers so as not to be a burden to others; we have seen that this applies to evangelists, pastors and teachers, and to overseers. We must think of Acts 20. 34-35 and 1 Timothy 5. 17-18 not as being contradictory, but as complementary.
So there are demands upon us all. The path of faith is something essentially personal. We must learn to tread it, each for himself, while respecting the exercises of heart of our fellow-servants. Let us do so in submission to the Word of the Lord, praying one for another in view of the day when our one Master shall render to every one according as his work shall be.