By Walter Cash
“Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”—1Co 9:14.
(The following is from an editorial which appeared in the “Messenger of Peace” August 15, 1917.)
A minister who would have it in mind to serve with a selfish purpose, just for what would be gain to him in material things, would be unworthy of the name of a follower of Christ. But there is another side. What is the duty of the church to the minister ? Must the church just agree that the minister’s labor is one of self-denial and sacrifice, considering that she is entirely relieved from all responsibility of caring for him? Surely this is not the Bible idea. Paul, in the 9th chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth, argues a just claim on the church for his support. It would seem that this church had administered help to some, not only taking care of the preacher, but of the wife, sister and perhaps other dependents. (Verse 5). He claims that he was truly a called minister and so had a right to this support as well as others. “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord and Cephas?” He does not stop at this, but says that he as a minister should not be compelled to work for his living. “Or I only and Barnabas, have we not power to forbear working?”
Applying this principle now, have not ministers who have proved their gift, a right from their calling to cease from working? They might indeed work, for conditions might exist that could not at once be changed, that they hinder not the gospel; but that the right to forbear working goes with the calling is the clear argument of the Apostle Paul.
A church has no right to deny the claim for support when she has recognized the call and the gift and accepted the service. The preacher may not make the claim, for he does not lay the obligation on the church. The same Lord that lays the obligation on the man to be His servant, lays the obligation on the church to take care of him. The apostle argues this point at some length. Paul takes the case of a soldier to represent the case of a minister. The preacher has been drafted as a soldier, to use modern terms. No soldier is expected to go to war at his own charges. Our own government is considering not only the living of the soldier, but the care of his dependents. Who is it that bears the care of this soldier? The people for whom he fights, for it is the people who must pay the expenses of the war in this illustration. We all know that this is true in the case of our own government. Some have seemed to think that as the Lord calls the man to be a soldier, let the Lord take care of him. You try this in the case of the government that protects and provides for you. Say to the tax gatherer, “It is not my business to pay the expense of this war, it is the duty of the government to do that.” “Well,” says the tax gatherer, “that is just what the government is preparing to do, and this is the way it does it.”
Those to whom spiritual things are ministered are required to minister carnal things. “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” The law provided that the ox should not be muzzled which trod out the corn. The apostle tells us that there is a reason for this law beyond that of taking care of oxen. “For our sakes no doubt this was written.” He then seals the meaning of the matter by concluding, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?” “Do ye not know,” said the apostle, “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.” There can be no mistaking this statement. It is clear perversion of the scriptures to try to make it mean anything other than the temporal living. We may say it means that he who preaches the gospel feeds on the gospel while he preaches. But the apostle’s next expression shows clearly that he means no such thing, for he says, “but I have used none of these things.” Remarkable it would be if the apostle preached the gospel and then used none of its encouragement and joy! It means that instead of insisting on his rights to be maintained without working, for reasons which seemed best to him, he did not use this power. But although he did not himself make use of this right to be supported, he very clearly asserted his right to claim it, because it was a rule that God had established—”even so hath the Lord ordained.”
This word, “ordained” means to establish as a law or rule. God established a law that the priests under the old dispensation should live of the things of the temple; that is of the things which were brought up for the sacrifices, a certain portion was taken for the support of the priests. For this reason they were given no allottment of the land when it was divided among the Israelites. When all did their duty as the law required, there was a living for the priests. But when the people forsook the Lord’s house, ceasing to make the required sacrifices, then the priests were obliged to quit the house of the Lord and turn to husbandry and other work for a living; and this the Lord condemned. So now when the church neglects her ministers, they are compelled to go into the fields and the shops for a living. It is no harder on a minister to work than to preach. But it is robbing the church of the service that it needs and ought to have, and that the Lord has provided in the call of the ministry, and the gifts He has bestowed for that purpose. I have no sympathy for, nor patience with, the statement that the church is just what the Lord would have it be, and that His ministers are doing just what is best, and according to His expressed will in regard to serving the church. Such statements make void the record of the scriptures in which the Lord reproves His people for neglecting His service and turning away from His altars. It is a rejection of the scriptures to say that it pleased the Lord for His ancient people to turn after idols instead of serving the true and the living God.
The choosing of the first deacons indicates how important it is that the ministers should give all their time to the work of the Lord. “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” So they were to appoint men over the work that was hindering the apostles. “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” This is apostolic practice and ought to be the practice now. If Paul would exhort Timothy to give himself, “wholly to reading,” to exhortation, to doctrine, to meditation, etc., surely that would be the right course now. As it was then, so it is now, wrong for a soldier to entangle himself with the affairs of this life. We deplore the low state of our churches, and the dearth of spiritual things, and then make it necessary by our course for our ministers to give themselves to the affairs of this life, so dulling their interests and freedom of mind with such things, and thus taking their time, which ought to be given to the church, and then wonder why the Lord has forsaken us, and turned a deaf ear to our petitions.
This matter has been on my mind and heart for many years. I am now getting along in years, and care very little for what men shall say of me, if only I may have the approval of my Lord, and feel to be in accord with His word. While I am in this tabernacle, and until I am called away, I hope to raise my voice and use my pen against the grievous error into which we have fallen, and I appeal to my fellow laborers to no longer hold their peace. For Zion’s sake cry aloud! Our preachers are determined that our people shall be taught the essential doctrines of the Bible. A pastor would be remiss indeed not to have preached to the church he serves on the doctrines of salvation by grace, and on church discipline to some degree at least. But one among the most important subjects the church has to consider is the relation of the minister to the existence of the church. There is no record, to my knowledge, of a church that has existed long in an organized state without the preaching of the gospel.
The character and stability of the churches are shaped to a great degree by the ministry that serves them. The preacher, knowing this, should try to give to the church what the Bible teaches on this important practice. Therefore he ought to teach the church what is the relation of the church to the ministry and the ministry to the church, and the dependence of each upon the other. Our preachers have no doubt neglected this teaching to the injury of the church. I think what has led to this neglect has been the fear of being called a “money hunter;” or being charged with being in favor of a salary for preaching. But this is not a good excuse. If a preacher regulated his preaching altogether by what people thought of it and him, he would come very far from the truth. Acting upon this principle he would not preach salvation by grace, for the world would not have that. He would not preach righteous living, for the licentious would object to that. He could not preach liberality, for the covetous would find fault with him on that point; and there would be no subject upon which he would feel free to speak, if he considered the opinions of others. So there is no excuse for a preacher not teaching his churches and congregations what the Bible tells him to teach on the subject of what the church should do for her pastor. It is surely in the Bible and it ought to be taught as well as other truths.
Now while I write I am wondering how many preachers will think as they read this, “I know that is true,” and then will be content to drift along without saying one word in their sermons on this subject, really leaving the matter so that no one can tell just where they stand. Is this becoming to the service of the Most High, to be so indifferent in preaching that no positive position will be taken? Brethren in the ministry, make a study of what the Bible teaches on the subject of the church ministering of her carnal things for the support of the ministry, and then preach it— declare it from the pulpit—with the plain insistence that you try to teach other truth. If you do not do it, why not ? Are you afraid of what people will say to you and about you? Will you serve men rather than God? We certainly ought to obey God rather than men.
And then what action are the churches going to take? The members should all be Bible readers, and should we hesitate what course to take when the word of God points it out? If it is the duty of the churches to furnish material support for the living of the ministry, shall we do it, or not do it? Many good brethren think we ought to support our ministers, but they have no definite idea about how it is to be done, or what amount contributed. It is not the part of men and followers of the Lord Jesus to be undecided in regard to such an important matter. As a rule it is not because they have no opinion on the matter, but just timidity in speaking the truth in the face of criticism. But those who criticise should be forced to meet the matter on Bible grounds. The future of our church in many places is at stake. There is no one to minister to them that can do so at his own charges. Without preaching, the churches languish and die. God will not compel His preachers to serve those who would muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn, nor to tend a flock where he is not permitted to drink of the milk of the flock. When the church starves the preacher, it starves itself. When it compels him to labor with his own hands for a living, it robs itself of his labor, and ties the hands of the servant of the Lord.
Many churches are amply able to do much for the cause in the way of providing for those who preach the gospel, but have no concert of action among the members as to what they ought to do. They only think of “Paying expenses.” Expenses of the trip from home to the church where the service is to be given, is not the “living.” This practice takes it for granted that it is the duty of the preacher to labor with his own hands to make his own living; and that if the church calls him away it must give him a little for his time perhaps, but mainly be concerned with his “expenses” in coming to the church and returning. Let me say plainly, this is not enough to feed, clothe and provide for a family, which a minister is at liberty to have. He should not take his time, which the Lord has required since calling him to preach the word, and waste it on secular affairs, for the church needs him and all his time. He has blessed and will bless the members of the church so that they can provide for his living if all will but do their duty This is according to the type in the Old Testament. The Levites were to depend entirely upon the other tribes for their support, and so long as they moved along as the Lord directed, they did not want for anything.
Brother, sister, what does the Bible teach on this subject? Do not be satisfied with letting it go the way it has been going for years, unless the Bible says that is the right way. What if our old time preachers did make their own living, and preach for the churches beside. Give them credit for being unselfish, Godfearing and sacrificing, but did the church do its duty by them ? That is the question to be decided. And will the pastors and preachers of this present day be found guiltless if they raise not their voices to restore the way of the Lord according to His word? What if they can speak as the Apostle Paul did—not that it should be so done unto them—still let them follow the example of the apostle and teach what is the Lord’s will in the matter. Perhaps in the years to come this will bear fruit.
There were churches that administered to the apostle’s needs even while he labored for the church at Corinth, and he called this taking wages of others that he might serve the church that was neglecting its duty. This is a suggestion that many of our wealthy churches might profit by now. They should not settle down to think, Well, we are giving one-fourth enough for our pastor’s support, and he is serving three other churches, let them make up the balance. Perhaps the other three are poor; or some of them might be like the church at Corinth, and this well-to-do church that I speak of ought to do like the brethren in Macedonia did for Paul—make up what the others lacked.
Take the Bible for it, brethren, and then be free to say to your pastor, We need you this week to visit our members, and those who ought to be members, and the sick, and look after the interests of our church in many ways; and he will not be prepared to say, “I would like to, but really I have not time,” for his time will be yours. Did you but know how discouraged and heartsick many a preacher has been when he saw how little he could accomplish with the small amount of time and energy he had left after digging in the earth for the bare necessities of life, your heart and soul would be more earnestly engaged in making the pastor’s work your work. You may have spent all your time, nearly, for yourself; perhaps taking one working day out of the month for your church and the service of God, with very little thought as to how the preacher lived, and how it was that he could visit your church and preach for you.
Think how praiseworthy it is for a man to spend his time in the service of his Master down to old age, preaching the gospel of Jesus. Now turn the matter a little further around—how praiseworthy of you, if you would loose the hands of such a one by feeding him while he preached. I know many who think they love the cause, and they delight to honor the soldiers of the cross, but it has been plain to me that they have never considered themselves as connected with this work, and that they did not think how the Lord had blessed them so that they might help, in this material way, in the proclamation of the gospel. They never got down into the depths of the thought of how great a burden was laid on the ministry as compared with what they were bearing. How much easier it would be for them to make the “Living” than it would be to have to preach!
Say, brethren, ministers and all, let us take the covering off this subject, that has been treated as though it were dangerous to get close to it, and let us speak aloud of it, treating it like the scriptures treat it, in the open light of day. Let us not talk all around, and a long way off, but with the open Bible in our hands, search out God’s way. Brethren, ministers of mature years, you can break off a lot of these shackles by speaking out. You have borne the burden and heat of the day uncomplainingly, and you feel like the Apostle 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.” You may not want these things done to you, but you can speak for the truth of God, for the good of the church in the coming generation. The exigencies of the hour call for you to speak before you go home. Younger men await your leading. They fear to be called forward. Speak out against covetousness with a trumpet voice, and point the marching, yet fearful, hosts of Israel by the pillar of fire and cloud. Time rolls on and soon you will be called to your home purchased by the blood of the Lamb. Speak now, in the fear of the Lord, and with indifference to what men shall say; tell Israel the way that is marked out by the word of inspiration.
Lest some young preacher should get a wrong impression of the obligation of the church to him, I will say that the obligation first falls on the minister to feed the flock of God. Paul said if he had ministered spiritual things, it should not be thought a great matter if he should be ministered to of the carnal things of those whom he had served. Notice that he rendered his service first. You must make full proof of your ministry first. You must feed others before expecting them to feed you. You must labor and teach in patience. Whether men will respond or whether they will withhold, you have no choice but to go on serving the Master. But if you serve faithfully and well, teaching the word of God without fear or favor, God will take care of you through the church, which is His appointed way, or by His providence. Do not doubt Him, just labor on. It must be a labor of love on your part. If you are covetous and impatient you will find the road hard and discouraging. But under any and all circumstances be true to the truth of God.