HAVE WE NO RIGHTS?
When we think of the Corinthian disciples we think about dysfunctional disciples. In our study of the problems that prevailed among the Corinthians, we must understand that the letters of both 1 & 2 Corinthians were written to all the disciples in all of Achaia (See 1 Co 16:15; 2 Co 1:1; 9:2; 11:10). However, it seems that there were some power struggles among the disciples, specifically in the city of Corinth. These struggles led to the same dysfunction that was happening among those to whom John wrote in 3 John. The problem among the disciples to whom John wrote was about Diotrephes who loved to be first, and thus in his narcissistic behavior, he disrupted the evangelists who came through the area, for he refused to receive and support the evangelistic function of the body of Christ (See 3 Jn). In Corinth the problem was a group of puffed up leaders masquerading themselves as children of light (2 Co 11:12-15). In their arrogant attitudes, they challenged the authority of the inspired instructions of Paul. They refused to take note that what Paul wrote was the commandment of the Lord (1 Co 14:37). They were seeking to dismiss the influence of Paul by challenging the authority of his inspired words (See 1 Co 2:6-16). All this disruption led to a financial dysfunction of the church of God in Corinth. And because of this financial dysfunction of the Corinthians disciples, we have the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians that reveal a great detail of information concerning the financial function that should be characteristic of the body of Christ, especially in the area of supporting evangelists.
A. The right to eat.
In the context of correcting the Corinthians’ dysfunction concerning the support of evangelists in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14, Paul began by asking if he had a right to eat and drink. He presents his argument in this context on behalf of the support of those who go faith in travels to preach the gospel. It is an argument that is based on John’s deductive conclusions of 3 John 7 that we should financially support those who are going about preaching the gospel to unbelievers.
John’s deductive argument is that the evangelists went forth to preach the name of Jesus. But in their preaching, they did not take up contributions from the unbelievers to whom they preached. Since they had a right to eat and drink, then the believers, not unbelievers, should support them because it is the work of the church to preach the gospel. Paul argues that this is particularly true if he and Barnabas were married and their wives traveled with them as the other apostles. He wrote, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, even as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Co 9:5).
Paul and Barnabas worked with their own hands in order to support themselves. Paul supported himself while in Corinth, through the believers from Macedonia also sent support to him (2 Co 11:7-9). However, he had a right to be supported by the Corinthian disciples while he labored for a year and a half in the city (See At 18:11). But the Corinthians did not support him, even when he was in need. It appears that in his need, they did not so much as offer to help him. Such was a manifestation of their spiritual immaturity, and their financial dysfunction as members of the universal body of Christ.
B. Laborers are worthy.
Paul then asked the Corinthians if it were not right for a soldier, farmer and shepherd to receive pay for their labors. “Who as a soldier serves at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of the fruit? Or who feeds a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock” (1 Co 9:7). Who would serve to protect the people if he were not paid? Who would farm if he were not allowed to eat of his own produce? And who would be a shepherd if he could not drink of the milk? These are logical questions that Paul asked the Corinthians, for he knew that they knew the answer.
Paul was speaking from the point of view of spiritual dignity. Unbelievers would reason that support is rightfully given to soldiers, farmers and shepherds. But in their behavior toward him, the Corinthians were not doing that which the unbelievers would naturally do for the laborer who was worthy of his wages. In giving these principles of payment, Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians that these same principles were based on what God commanded in the Old Testament. “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You will not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’” (1 Co 9:9; see Dt 25:4). It seems that the Corinthians considered the rights of an ox to be fed more important than feeding the preacher. If God is concerned for oxen, at least those who claim to be His people should be concerned for His evangelists.
C. Partake of one’s hope.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that Deuteronomy 25:4 was also written for our sakes. “Or does He say this altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, not doubt, this is written so that he who plows should plow in hope, and that he who threshes in hope, should be partaker of his hope” (1 Co 9:10).
The evangelist lives in hope of partaking of the fruits of his labors. He does not take contributions from the unbelievers. Therefore, the church must support him. This is especially true if the evangelist is functioning locally as a teacher. In 1 Corinthians 9:10 Paul teaches that the teacher of the body must expect to be paid by the body. And thus, disciples who do not pay their teachers are as dysfunctional in the area of finances as the Corinthians.
Paul rebuked the stingy Corinthians. “If we sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (1 Co 9:11). No disciple has a right to plead poverty when he or she has been taught spiritual things by a teacher. If one has no money, but a garden of fruit, then the material fruit must be paid to the one who teaches spiritual things. The widow who gave her last two coins knew this principle. Any group of disciples who do not do likewise are sinning against the mandate of God that he “who is taught the word share [support] in all good things with the one who teaches” (Gl 6:6). This is what is right and according to the word of God. So we ask the question again: When was the last time you paid your Bible teacher?
We must not be too harsh on the Corinthians. After all, they were at least financially supporting those who were working against Paul (1 Co 9:12). Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 9:12 is that if they supported the arrogant and puffed up teachers among them who spoke against him, then he had more right to their support because he fathered them in Christ (1 Co 4:15).
While in Corinth Paul did not use his right to be supported because he did not want to be accused of preaching for money (1 Co 9:12). But he reminded the Corinthians of the right of the priest under the Old Testament law to be supported by the people. The people offered the sacrifices, but the sacrifices were shared with the priests (1 Co 9:13). This was the law even before the Old Testament was written. For example, Abraham paid a tenth (tithe) to the priest Melchizedek (Hb 7:1,2). Such was Abraham’s duty. And in case the Corinthians, or anyone else throughout history did not get the point, Paul wrote, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Co 9:14). For the disciple who seeks to follow Jesus, this is all that is needed to be said. If one does not support the one who is preaching the gospel, then he is disobedient to the commandment of the Lord. He sins against God. We must be as clear as Paul on this point. If one would be a faithful and functioning member of the church, it is his or her responsibility to make sure that both evangelists who go about preaching the gospel are paid, and those teachers who labor locally are also paid.
Since Paul’s mandate of 1 Corinthians 9:14 is very direct, we must understand the context of the statement. Preaching is the work of proclaiming the good news (the gospel) to unbelievers, not believers. In fact, when the word “preach” is used in the New Testament, reference is to the gospel being proclaimed to unbelievers. Christians preach to unbelievers, but they teach among themselves to believers. Now consider what John said in 3 John 7, that the evangelists did not take up a collection from unbelievers when they went forth to preach the gospel. John’s argument was that the believers must therefore provide the evangelists with the right to eat and drink while they preach to unbelievers. Therefore, Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9:14 is that it is the mandate of the believers to support the evangelists who go forth to preach to the unbelievers. The context of Paul’s 1 Corinthian 9:14 statement is that the Corinthians should have been doing what the Philippians and Thessalonians did when he went to Corinth. The Corinthians should have given Paul the right to live from his preaching the gospel when he left Corinth to preach to unbelievers in other areas. 1 Corinthians 9:14, therefore, is a mandate to support the preachers who are going forth to preach to unbelievers. This is not the passage to use when discussing support of local teachers who are teaching believers. That passage is Galatians 6:6.
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