So far, as I have attempted to share my argument against paying an elder/pastor based upon his position, I started with a general principle of work: 1) “working with your hands” to support yourself and others is different than 2) work as service or ministry (see “What about work?“). Also, I showed that elders specifically are instructed to work with their hands to provide for their own needs and the needs of others, and that this work was distinct from their responsibilities of shepherding the flock of God (see “What about work for elders/pastors?“).
Then, in response to a possible counter-argument, I suggested that the “double honor” of 1 Timothy 5:17 is not a salary paid because of an elder’s position, but it is an individual’s response to anyone who has already led or taught (see “What about honor for elders/pastors?“).
In this post, I would like to consider a second counter-argument: Paul said that as a minister of the gospel, he had the right to receive compensation from those he served. Even though Paul did not exercise his right, elders still have the right to receive compensation from the church and are not wrong when they exercise that right.
First, we should consider Paul’s “right” to receive support from those he served:
Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:4-6 ESV)
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. (1 Corinthians 9:11-15 ESV)
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10 ESV)
So, we see Paul talking about his “right” to receive compensation from those he served in two passages: 1 Corinthians 9 and 2 Thessalonians 3. Since I have already discussed 2 Thessalonians 3 in a previous post, and since 2 Thessalonians 3 seems to speak against the counter-argument, I will focus my attention on 1 Corinthians 9.
First Corinthians 9 appears in the middle of a discussion of giving up one’s rights for the “weaker brother”. In Chapter 9, Paul offers himself as an illustration and as an example to follow. But, specifically, what “right” is Paul giving up, and is this a “right” that is given to all followers of Jesus Christ?
Paul begins Chapter 9 by explaining the context of his illustration and example. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, he says that he is talking about himself, Barnabas, other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter). In particular, he says that he is talking about those “take along” (not “have”) a wife (vs. 5). These verses set the stage for his argument: Paul is talking about Christians who are travelling away from their home for the purpose of spreading the gospel. Since these people are away from their home, they are also away from their primary source of support: their place of employment or their job.
As we read through Chapter 9, we should keep this in mind. If we begin to apply this to all believers, then the argument will not make sense. For example, Paul says, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14 ESV) However, Paul clearly believes that ALL followers of Jesus Christ are responsible for “proclaiming the gospel”. Does this mean that ALL followers of Jesus Christ have a “right” to receive a salary? No. We must keep context in mind. When Paul says, “those who proclaim the gospel”, we should remember that he is talking about those who travel away from their homes in order to proclaim the gospel.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 9, while talking about his “right”, Paul never changes his focus to “local leaders”. He never mentions elders or pastors or teachers or even prophets. Instead, he maintains his focus – from the beginning of his argument to the end – on those who are travelling away from their home, and thus, away from their source of support. These are the ones who have the “right” to receive compensation, and even they should give up that right, according to Paul’s example.
By the way, we can see that this “right” is not reserved for apostles and the brothers of the Lord by examining 3 John. In that short letter, the author praises Gaius and others for supporting brothers who are travelling away from their home, and he admonishes Diotrephes for failing to offer support. According to the author of 3 John, Christians should offer support to other Christians who are travelling through their area. The author also recognizes leaders who remain in one location, such as Diotrephes.
However, in Scripture, we never see this “right” to support offered to those who remain in one place. It is never offered to elders/pastors.
So, my response to the counter-argument that elders/pastors have a “right” to receive compensation because of their position, I suggest that Scripture does not offer this “right” to elders/pastors or any other believer who stays in one location. Instead, that “right” is available only to believers who travel away from the source of income. Even those believers who travel are encouraged by example to give up their “right” so that they will not hinder the gospel.
Do you agree that Paul is focusing on believers who travel away from their home in 1 Corinthians 9? If not, what in that passage indicates that Paul is broadening his focus beyond those who travel? Does this “right” – either for travelling Christians or for any Christian – include the “right” to a salary?
Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.