Instructions for the monetary compensation of the minister are not obscure in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who labor to teach the Word or doctrine. The reader dare not miss the admonition that the ox should never be muzzled while it treads the grain. The apostle cites Deuteronomy 25:4 as a command directly from God, and he concludes that a laborer is worthy of his wages. The preacher may not care for the comparison with the ox, but he needs to recall that he has not observed many starving oxen!
Like everyone else, the preacher has to buy groceries; keep his automobile in gas, oil, and good tires; provide medical needs, a roof over his head, and a modicum of clothing for his body. He is as much responsible as anyone for the education of his family, and he must do all of this with a high level of uncertainty, since some churches tend to dismiss their pastors with reckless abandon. Churches dishonor God and the Bible when they fail to honor their preachers or when they treat them in a cavalier fashion (1 Chronicles 16:22).
Nevertheless, that instruction from 1 Timothy is for the church – not for the pastor. Marching orders for the pastor occur in 1 Peter 5:2, where he is cautioned to shepherd the flock of God, not for the sake of gain but with eagerness to edify those entrusted to his care. In 1 Corinthians 9:14-15, Paul reiterates that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel, yet he is grateful to God that he himself preaches and ministers, paying his own way through tentmaking. Peter adds that the lasting rewards associated with the preaching of the truth are given only when the Chief Shepherd appears (1 Peter 5:4).
Rarely is the pastor a beneficiary of considerable wealth. To have abundant possessions is not necessarily sinful or wrong, and such is nowhere condemned on the pages of God’s Word. Such blessings from God may come to the pastor, however, with greater responsibility than they come to others. Stewardship of those provisions, including unusual generosity to the work of the Lord, are certainly the order of the day in exhibiting gratitude to God not only for salvation but also for the sacred call of God to the ministry. The precarious dangers involved with the acquisition of wealth must be strenuously avoided by the pastor. What are these?
First, “the love of money is the root of much evil.” The corruption of our government, the courts, even the eleemosynary institutions, on the businesses of our social order are directly attributable to greed and the devotion to wealth. When ecclesiastical institutions and even churches become affected, the last remaining source of undiluted good in society is compromised. For nominally Christian institutions to pursue litigations against one another and grasp at monetary gain is a defiance of God’s Word, which sternly prohibits taking fellow believers to a court of law:
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?. . . 7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? . . . 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
To ignore or disobey the clear words of Scripture is also a reprehensible tarnishing of the Christian testimony to the world. At the very least one cannot claim to endorse the inerrancy of Scripture and disregard this command. Why not allow yourself to suffer being defrauded? God is ultimately just and true. A suit in a court of human justice is a de facto judgment that God’s program of church discipline is totally inadequate.
Second, the pastor must forever face the temptation of bowing to the will or desire of those who are “big givers,” even though evidence may well exist that their way is not the better one. Since Southern Baptists began to struggle with the shackles of racism, more than one pastor has faced the inevitability of dismissal because church finances began to fail when “big givers” tainted with prejudice and racism would withhold offerings. Money is never the issue! Truth is the issue.
Third, the tendency to depend on what money can buy or accomplish rather than trusting the Lord for essential provision has crippled more than one church. Poised at the Red Sea, Israel possessed little of the wealth of Egypt, even after spoiling the Egyptians. Egypt maintained superior weapons and had the equivalent of war colleges and the experience of many battles. Unarmed slaves against armed militia presented a plan doomed to failure by all human measurement. All Israel had is. . . . Yes, all Israel had was an ear – the ear of God! With the Egyptian army closing, the desert on either side and the rolling sea yawning before them, they did not even have much faith with which to fight. The plaintive cry for God’s help marshaled wind and wave, which proved more formidable than all the wealth and logistical advantage of Egypt.
Why do we never see a movement of God like that anymore? Has the Eternal One grown old and feeble? Has He stayed abreast of the technical advances of modernity? Is He too busy saving souls to care for the elect? Or have we changed? Have our hearts grown cold toward the standards in Holy Scripture?