In many sectors of the church, elders/pastors and financial benefits seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, until a few years ago, I had never heard of a church that did not fall into one of the following categories: 1) already employed one or more people as elders/pastors, 2) actively looking for one or more people to employ as elders/pastors, or 3) could not afford to hire someone as elder/pastor but was working toward that goal.
In this series, I am examining three passages (in four posts) in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are explicitly connected. Those three passages are Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2. I think it is important to analyze each passage to determine what it can or cannot mean before synthesizing the information together to help us understand what Scripture says about the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits.
In this post, I’m going to examine what Peter wrote to elders in 1 Peter 5:2 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits. (By the way, of these three passages, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 is not written to elders. Only Acts 20:33-35 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 are written directly to elders.)
Here is the passage that Peter wrote directly to elders:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV)
Peter uses three pair of contrasting descriptors to explain how he expects elders to shepherd by exercising oversight: 1) not under compulsion but willingly, 2) not for shameful gain but eagerly, and 3) not domineering but being examples. The pair of descriptors that may indicate some type of financial benefits for elders is the second pair: not for shameful gain but eagerly.
These two descriptors are composed of adjectives. The first has the following range of meanings: “eagerness for gain,” “greedily,” “fond of sordid gain,” etc. The primary idea is a desire for money. The second adjective as the following range of meanings: “willingly,” “eagerly,” “freely.”
If we recognize that Peter was using these descriptors to contrast one another, we see that he is pitting the idea of shepherding others with a purpose of financial gain versus shepherding others willingly or freely. Unfortunately, interpreters often focus on the “sordid gain” (or “filthy lucre”) range of meanings of the first adjective and miss the second contrasting adjective. Peter is not telling them to seek “good” financial gain instead of “bad” financial gain. He’s telling them to serve other free of charge.
Of course, once again, this does not mean that NO financial benefits may come their way. Instead, Peter is saying that they should not serve so that they can earn financial benefits. So, for Peter, the elders should shepherd others even if they receive no money or other financial benefits in return.