So far, as I have tried to explain my argument against paying a pastor based on his position, I have said that all believers are instructed to “work with their hands” in order to support themselves and others, which is a different kind of work than ministry/service work (see “What about work?“). I have also suggested that elders specifically are instructed to “work with their hands” to provide for themselves and others, and that his type of work is different from their shepherding responsibilities (see “What about work for elders/pastors?“).
A counter-argument for my two points could be stated as follows: Scripture instructs us to offer double honor to elders in particular. This double honor appears to be a salary payment offered because the person holds the position of an elder.
In response, I’ll begin with two more general observations. First, followers of Jesus are instructed to provide help (monetary help as well as other types of help) for anyone (especially other followers of Jesus) who is in need:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45 ESV)
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 ESV)
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17 ESV)
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16 ESV)
So, for the first general observation in answer to this counter-argument, we should recognize that believers in general should share with those who are in need. This was demonstrated in Scripture by description and by prescription.
Furthermore, as a second general observation, followers of Jesus are instructed to share with those who lead and/or teach in response to their leading and/or teaching:
One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. (Galatians 6:6 ESV)
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV)
Note that the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” offered to teachers and leaders in these passages are offered in response to their labor, not in anticipation of their labor. Nor is the “sharing” offered in order for them to teach and lead.
Also, in these two passages, the people leading and teaching are not called elders. Perhaps they were elders, but Scripture does not limit the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” to those who hold the position of “elder”. Instead, the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” is to be offered to any who teach or lead. This is not payment for a position, but response to the impact a teacher/leader has already had on a person’s life.
Finally, as a third observation, and one that is a bit more specific, we should consider the verse referred to by the counter-argument:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV)
This passage is very similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 above. In this case, however, followers of Jesus are instructed to respond to the teaching and leading of elders, not just any who teach or lead. This, then, is a more specific case than 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Once again, though, the response (“double honor”) is not offered to elders because of their position, but the response is offered to elders who lead well and labor in the word (literally “word”, not “preaching”) and teaching.
The illustrations offered in the following verse help to make this case:
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV)
First, we notice that author says that elders who lead and teach well deserve “double honor” just as the ox deserves to eat grain while pulling a plow and just like the laborer deserves his wages. The author knows and uses the word for wages, but not in relation to elders. Also, it can be assumed that the ox does not primarily eat while plowing, but that the ox is provided his main meal at another time.
Just as we would not withhold the grain from a treading ox, nor would we withhold wages from a laborer, we also should not withhold “double honor” from elders who lead and teach well. Once again, “double honor” is a response to the teaching and leading of elders, not an anticipation of teaching and leading, nor even an allowance for more time to teach and lead. Elders are offered “double honor” after they have already led well and labored in the word and teaching.
What is “double honor” then? We see in 1 Timothy 5:3 that widows are to be “honored”, presumably by having their needs taken care of by other believers. “Double honor”, then, would indicate sharing above and beyond the point of need. So, it would appear that it is right for followers of Jesus to offer monetary (as well as other types) of “honor” to elders in response to their leading and teaching. Note, though, that this does not relieve the elders from their responsibility to “work with their hands” to support themselves or others, nor does it indicate that the elders should always assume that the “honor” is for their own use.
This “double honor” should not be confused with a salary either. Instead, it is a response by each believer to the impact that the elder has had in his or her own life through their leading and teaching. While this could be in the form of a monetary gift, “double honor” could also be given – and should be expected – in other forms as well, in whatever form God provides to the individual offering the “double honor”.
If, instead, a salary was paid to an elder based on his position, then withheld if the elder did not lead or teach well, this would be backward from the position of Scripture. This type of salary would attempt to remove the responsibility from the individual, who according to Scripture is responsible for recognizing the leading and teaching of an elder and to respond accordingly.
Thus, the counter-argument is invalid. Scripture does not instruct followers of Jesus to pay elders a salary because of their position. Instead, “double honor” is a response by the individual taught or led to the person teaching or leading.
Do you recognize a difference between paying a salary to an elder because of his position and offering honor because an elder has led and taught well? Do you agree or disagree that an organizational type salary removes the responsibility from the individual to recognize how the teaching and leading of an elder impacts the individual’s life? Money is certainly a valid type of honor, what other ways might someone honor an elder who teaches and leads well?
Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.