1 Corinthians 9:7–18 (NKJV)
7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?1 Corinthians 9:7-14
8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more. Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
Paul continues his discussion of ministers being paid for their work as vocational ministers. Paul reasons that if a person is performing ministry as his or her primary work in life, how is that any different from one who is a soldier or vinedresser or shepherd? He quotes Deuteronomy’s statement that one should not stop an ox from eating the grain as he treads it, and reminds the reader that God cares much more about a person doing ministry than an ox. He uses further analogies, and then sums up the thought with a clear statement: “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.1 Corinthians 9:15-18
Paul then reminds the readers that he has not taken advantage of the option of being paid for ministry. He makes a statement that is somewhat puzzling on its face, stating that he wanted to have the ability to boast about preaching the gospel without pay. Paul, however, was working against an opposition to the gospel that drew criticism for those who were paid. Paul is here establishing the principle by which ministers should–or at least could–be paid, but makes sure that his authority as an apostle will not be diminished by accepting pay himself. In many things, Paul makes the allowance for certain practices (marriages, eating meat offered to idols, now ministers being paid), but almost opines that not doing such things would be the better route. In this particular case, Paul seems to see vocational ministry as more valid than marriage or eating meat offered to idols, but simply chooses not to partake himself.
What is the value of having vocational (compensated) ministers? In today’s church, there are many small church pastors who are bivocational, working jobs while pastoring a small church for little or no pay. Vocational ministers, however, usually have churches that are somewhat larger, and have more people to care for. In this case, the thought of a person pastoring a congregation with over 100 members has been the benchmark for needing a full-time minister and even additional staff. While cultural and legal situations may mandate something different, it is important to understand that ministry takes time: time for study and preparation, time for care, time for organization and planning, time for denominational responsibilities if applicable, time for outreach or missions efforts, time for continuing education, time for counseling, time for other meetings and responsibilities. It is even more so as society becomes more complex and challenging. So, make room for a vocational pastor, or be thankful for a bivocational pastor, for the church needs leaders and ministers, and that ox needs to stop and eat once in a while. Bless your pastor today and help make his load a little lighter. God bless pastors and God bless members alike!