For ye remember brethren our labour and travail: for labouring night and day because we would not be chargeable unto any of you we preached unto you the gospel of God.lThess.2.9.
THE LORD HATH ORDAINED IT
Notes of a sermon preached at the annual meeting of the Strict and Particular Baptist Ministers Help Society, at Tunbridge Wells, October 24, 1981 by K. W. H. Howard.
“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.”lThess.2.9.
In this verse the Apostle Paul carries on what he has begun at verse one. His general theme is the important question – How should the Gospel be preached? The great good news from God can be, and sometimes has been misrepresented because presented in wrong and faulty ways. So Paul reminds the Thessalonians, and tells us how he preached the Gospel, so giving them and us a guide and a norm. Here he sets out some of the leading marks of Gospel preaching. First, boldness: “We were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel” (w 1,2). Forthrightness, clarity, and conviction, are indispensable. Second, sincerity: of motive, of speech, and of aim. That is the gist of verses three to six. Third, love; love that is patient, persistent, and affectionate in all its boldness and frankness (vv. 7,8).
In verse 9 the Apostle introduces a fourth essential in the manner of the Gospel preaching – wisdom. However spiritual in its origin, matter, and aim, Gospel preaching is the practical occupation of the Gospel minister. If ever there was a calling in which wisdom in practicalities is essential it is in relation to the work of a Gospel minister. Sanctified commonsense, care and consideration should mark everything in a minister’s calling, appointment, maintenance, and service, both on his part, and on the part of the church over whom God sets him as overseer. The principle is established in 1 Corinthians 6.12 – “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are
not expedient”. What is lawful and right as a general rule is not necessarily the best thing in every case without exception. This concerns practicalities. It does not mean that you alter doctrine, or relax the Christian ethic. On these things “thy word, O Lord, is settled in heaven” and it is the height of folly to unsettle it on earth. And yet there is a wisdom from God in the practicalities surrounding Gospel preaching. The message and the method by which it is presented must be mutually consistent. That principle needs application on all fronts, but the Apostle here applies it to one thing – the maintenance of the ministry. “Ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God”.
First, by way of basic principle, it is lawful for the Gospel Minister to be maintained in material things by the Lord’s people, the church. There is grave misunderstanding on this point in some quarters. Some are proud of the fact that they never took a penny for preaching the Gospel; others (less vocal) of the fact that they never paid a penny for the Gospel to be preached. The rightfulness and the necessity of maintaining Gospel ministers is Paul’s sustained argument in I Corinthians 9. Hear him in verse eleven of that chapter- “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” If the minister of the word gives himself to the word of God, and to spiritual things deriving from it, he has no time to secure his necessary ‘carnal’ or material things. He has a home, a wife, a family, like others; so, says the Apostle, common wisdom tells you that if you have the benefit of the ministry at his hands, you must make good what he has lost materially by devoting himself to this high calling. In this Paul follows Old Testament precedent in the method by which the Levites were maintained by the combined support of all the non-levitical tribes.
The point is enforced in verses thirteen and fourteen of 1 Corinthians 9 – “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”. This is strong language: the Lord has ordained it! It is not an option; it is a command; as plainly so as the command to “go… and preach the gospel.” The same principle is put to us in Galatians 6.6 – “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The hearer is to communicate, convey, supply, to the teacher those needful ‘good things’ which the teacher cannot acquire by normal secular labour. Again, there is the plain practicality of 1 Timothy 5.17 – “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they that labour in the word and doctrine.” Honour means not simply respect, it means
remuneration; and Paul quotes scripture to prove his point – “For the scripture saith. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn” (v.l8, citing Deuteronomy 25.4). If your soul longs for “the finest of the wheat”, says Paul, remember that flour grinding is a laborious business; it takes time and strength that therefore cannot be applied to earning a living in the world; it means that those who feed your souls with Gospel marrow, must be fed by you in their natural needs, for, “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”
This is the principle; this is what God has ordained concerning the maintenance of the gospel ministry. Scripture knows nothing of the reticence, the embarrassment, the squeamishness, or the inquisitiveness shown by so many Christians on the subject. The matter is plain and clear. The minister who feeds the flock in spiritual things is to be fed by the church in material things; it is not their privilege; it is their duty. If they perform it, they are faithful; if they do not perform it, they are guilty before God who ordained it. The first charge on a church’s funds is the maintenance of the ministry. If the minister is not maintained, the ministry is not maintained; and if the ministry goes by default, it is not long before the candlestick is removed. Yet, all too often, churches give the minister what is left when everything else has been paid for, so inverting the New Testament pattern which mentions only the support of the ministry and the support of the poor, of whom the minister is all too often one.
What, then, are the practical lessons to be drawn from this principle?
(i). It tells the Gospel minister not to accept remuneration for the work of the ministry from other than the Lord’s people, the church. Preaching the gospel is the church’s business, and no-one else’s. The church is custodian of the gospel, and in that capacity she calls and appoints gospel ministers. By the same token, she is obligated for their maintenance. The state is ordained by God for its specific task, but that task does not include preaching the Gospel; the state-church idea, and state maintenance of the church’s ministry is alien to New Testament ecclesiology. Where the twin spheres of state and church intersect, as in the case of the armed forces and hospitals, it is arguable that the maintenance of chaplaincies belongs, strictly speaking, to the church rather than to the state. The history of patronage in the settlement and support of ministers shows that whatever the minister gained under that system, he usually lost his freedom of speech in terms of faithful gospel proclamation. For the gospel minister to be maintained by the gospel’s custodian, the church, is lawful and normal. Any other way tends to hamstring the preacher, harm the message, and make it subservient to the will of a person or institution unsympathetic to its main thrust.
(ii). Then this principle prohibits over-payment or the maintenance of a minister above the level of common need. This is not a presenting problem in the church of today, but it has been so in the past. Over-endowed vicarages, ‘fat livings’, were once scrambled for by a race of unworthy clerics, all of whom had taken oaths
against simony! Pluralism was the parallel sin. It dishonoured the gospel and it prevented effective gospel preaching, because it created a situation in which neither man nor message was credible.
(iii). Equally, the application of this principle prohibits underpayment of the gospel minister. If too much was once the lot of unworthy occupants of the office, too little has certainly been the lot of countless worthy, gracious, and greatly used ministers of the word. Ministerial biography often makes pathetic reading on this subject. Too many gospel churches have had the gospel ‘on the cheap’. Was it wisdom on their part so to do? Was the gospel enhanced as this became known? Because ministers are generally reckoned not to be mercenary minded, it is assumed that they would not disclose the short-comings of their churches. The fact remains that their bread and butter costs exactly the same as everyone else’s. Under-payment of the gospel minister indicates a low esteem of the gospel itself, and a flagrant disregard of what God has ordained for his support.
The question arises – How do you establish the ‘happy mean’ between overpayment and underpayment? Doubtless there is no rule of thumb to be applied. There are variable factors connected with the size and circumstances of a minister’s family; though these same variables run through the membership also. With any application of sanctified wisdom the governing factor must be the cost of living, which is the same for all at any given time and place. The national average income may be above (or below) the income of a particular church, so it cannot be invoked as a rule. But is it beyond basic common Christian love to ask each member of the church to indicate his weekly/monthly income anonymously on a slip of paper in a ballot box, the average of which would be the stipend of the minister? In this way the minister is rescued from the indignity of poverty in the eyes of his flock and the community at large, and he has whereof he may give to the poor of the flock himself.
It is lawful, necessary, and God-honouring for the gospel minister to be maintained by the gospel church. This is the standard, the norm, the requirement.
Having established the basic principle, and made some application of it, I now lay down a subordinate principle which will indicate a great deal concerning the spirit in which the first and basic principle is held. There are times when what is lawful in the matter of ministerial maintenance is not expedient; neither wise nor prudent;
when it is better for the gospel’s sake neither to claim nor to receive rightful dues. There are situations when it is better for the minister to forego his rights, and find other maintenance as Paul did at Thessalonica, and as he also did at Corinth. Ordinarily he was supported by the churches; sometimes he made tents. Neither way was permanent, and neither way excluded the other as
impermissible. Generally speaking this inexpediency is dictated by the accusation that the minister has mercenary motives; when the enemies of the gospel say ‘he’s only in it for the money’. Occasionally a counterfeit, a charlatan, a man who does make merchandise of the gospel is discovered. In those circumstances the genuine. God-called minister needs wisdom as well as knowledge, prudence as well as boldness.
Something of the kind happened to Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they went to preach at Thessalonica. “The Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar” (Acts 17.5). Why? Many things provoked their envy, among them the suspicion of mercenary motives in the preachers;
else why did the preachers refuse maintenance? They laboured “night and day, because (they) would not be chargeable unto any…” (1 Thess. 2.9). They employed sanctified wisdom in the discharge of ministerial duty in order to free the gospel of so much as the suspicion of incompatible motives in the service. They recognized that what was lawful in ministerial maintenance was, on that occasion, not expedient. How, then, were Paul, Silas, and Timothy supported in the common needs of life in this type of situation?
(i). By help from other churches. Not from their current sphere of labour, but from other churches. While preaching in Thessalonica, in order to live down the lie that they preached for money, they took nothing from Thessalonica, but they were supported by the church at Philippi. “For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity” (Phil. 4.16). Something similar happened during Paul’s ministry at Corinth, when accusations of avarice were levelled against him. Later he wrote – “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them to do you service. And when I was present with you and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself (2 Cor. 11.8,9). Here is practical, and sanctified wisdom. Lawfully, it was right to receive maintenance from the Lord’s people in the places served; but in these circumstances it was unwise to do so. The appearance of granting substance to the foul accusations of the gospel’s enemies would have compromised the gospel. It was “lawful, but not expedient”. “Chargeable to no man” in Thessalonica or Corinth, they preached the word, and God supplied their material needs through the fellowship, partnership, and common concern of other churches.
In this matter the independence of the local church is in no way infringed by a relationship of interdependence with other gospel churches. The strong assist the weak; the larger and more resourceful help the smaller and struggling churches. They “took their wages of other churches”. It may be done by the direct action of one church toward another, as in the apostle’s case. In others it may be done by the association of a number of churches or
individuals subscribing to a common fund administered by mutual agreement in the name of all. Sometimes ‘Philippi’ must help Thessalonica’. Sometimes we are called on to maintain the ministry of the word in places where we shall never benefit from it personally. How else can new churches be planted? or the gospel preached in heathen lands?
(ii). Further, Paul, Silas, and Timothy also maintained themselves, at least in part, by offering their labour in return for wages in the normal course of secular employment. Tent making or its equivalent was engaged in, and was seen to be undertaken. They did it cheerfully, and were glad to do it to prove that they were not governed by a mercenary interest. “Remember, brethren, our labour and travail; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you…” Here is sanctified wisdom at work in the gospel ministry.
It is sanctified wisdom on the part of a minister to forego normal maintenance if by so doing he will save the gospel from scandal. He must be ready to show, if need be at some cost, that the first thing in his call to the ministry is the gospel, and not anything that accrues to him incidentally in that calling. The higher one’s office in the church the more vulnerable one is to the attacks of the world and of the devil, and so the greater the need for discernment in all things. A true minister does not preach for wages, though he needs wages. The burden of the word of the Lord is enough to open his mouth whether he is paid or not. And if not, and other churches cannot help him, he will turn his hand to whatever way of self-support may be available. He follows Paul- “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9.16-18).
It is sanctified wisdom on the part of a church to recognize that a minister supporting himself by his own secular labour is abnormal, the exception and not the rule. It is expedient in a given situation, but it is not a rule for every situation. There are some who make a rule of the exception, overturning the New Testament norm. They make a man’s ministry a spare time hobby, or drudge, usually at the expense of his wife and family, rather than a noble calling into which he enters with every power and faculty God has given him. This savours more of worldly wisdom than of sanctified practical Christian principle. What does the world think of the church that likes itÂ’s ministry ‘on the cheap’? Or of a church that will spend anything on bricks and mortar and material things, and a pittance on the man of God who gives himself to the word of God and prayer, and comes forth with things new and old out of the word, for the enriching of the church and the salvation of the lost? Why do so many Christians cheerfully pay the going price for a car or a suit of clothes, or for the service of any of the secular professions, yet
reckon on the service of a gospel minister for next to nothing? Where are their priorities?
It is lawful and God honouring for the gospel minister to be maintained by the gospel church. There are, however, times when what is lawful is not expedient. What is expedient in an abnormal situation is not to be adopted as a rule for all situations.
Finally, when these principles are applied to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry with sanctified wisdom, they do not rob the minister of his earnestness, but rather encourage him in it. Only a hireling shepherd can respond with smugness and a diminished sense of urgency. Paul was in a difficult situation at Thessalonica. It was not expedient to receive wages from them; but did he say, ‘no wages, no gospel’? On the contrary, “labouring night and day…we preached unto you the gospel of God.” They laboured constantly, regularly, in both secular and sacred occupations because the need existed. They did not forsake the gospel to earn their living. The God-given passion for the glory of God and the souls of men did not automatically wilt because of the existence of this temporary call for tent making. They were “instant in season, out of season” whether the Thessalonians supported them, or not.
The fact that the work of the ministry is a labour, is itself a weighty argument that ministers should not be expected to maintain themselves except on the most exceptional occasions. The labour of the ministry involves prayer, study, reading and preparation if it is to be profitable and fruitful. And “much study is a weariness of the flesh , so much so that to add this weariness to a man already weary with a week’s secular work, to say nothing of his duties as husband and father, is to ask more than flesh can bear, save for the most temporary period.
Who would be a minister of the gospel? He who can do no other;
in whose soul there burns a divine imperative that will not let him go; whose mouth is neither opened nor closed by material considerations. “By all means” they toil on. The love of Christ constrains them; the word of Christ illumines them; the glorious news of free and sovereign grace to the vilest and worst of men is a fire in their bones. The Lord keep His ministers true to then- high and holy calling, and give them wisdom and discernment in all their practicalities. The Lord shame His churches if need be, into setting His ministers free to devote themselves to the word of God and prayer, without anxiety over material maintenance.
On this subject a God-sent minister will have what the Puritans were wont to call a ‘pernickety conscience’. And in the end of the day he will want to echo in his own way some words found in the last will and testament of John Knox – “None have I corrupted. None have I defrauded. Merchandise have I not made of the glorious evangel of Jesus Christ. I have divided the truth into just parts;
beating down the pride of the proud; and raising up consciences troubled with their own sins, by the declaring of Jesus Christ.”