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Galatians 6:6

October 31, 1999

The word for “the one who receives instruction is “catechumen” a word still in use today in religious circles. The catechist teaches the new convert or the catechumen, often in preparation for baptism. This is a thought that surfaces elsewhere in Paul, viz. 1 Corinthians 9:14: “…the Lord has commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living from the gospel.” (Such was the law of God: “You shall not muzzle the ox” as Paul says in regard to ministerial pay in 1 Timothy 5:18; but you also remember the Lord’s admonition to his disciples as they went out on preaching tours to live off the generosity of those to whom they go, for he says, in Luke 10:7, “the laborer is worthy of his wages.”) It is also a specific application of the principle of reciprocity (e.g. Romans 15:27: “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”)..

Now Paul was in a perfect position to be able to make such a demand, because it was his custom not to take such financial support from the churches he founded. He did that to set a good example for his converts of selfless investment in the gospel and to stop the mouths of those – and there were always some around – who would accuse him of having mercenary motives in his church planting. Though the Lord had commanded that, as a rule, those preaching the gospel should get their living from the gospel, he did not. But the right he chose to forgo himself he strongly asserted on behalf of others.

Now, with less time tonight, I have limited myself to this one verse. It is a great verse, perhaps the climax of the entire argument of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I probably should spend six or eight weeks on this verse alone. Because, after all, what could be closer to the heart and center of the gospel than ministerial pay!

This is about the earliest evidence that the church almost immediately began developing an official or professional ministry. And, from that point, problems began to surface concerning a minister’s pay or living. And those same problems have bedeviled the church ever since and are with us today.

In the NT we have texts like this one where the church is put on its mettle to provide for its ministers. But, at the same time, we read among the qualifications of an elder that he not be a “lover of money.”

In a very early Christian work, The Didache, we read the instruction that if a genuine prophet wishes to settle with a church, he “has every right to his support.” So also a genuine teacher. However, if an itinerating prophet asks for money, “he is a false prophet.”

And we are familiar with both sides of this dynamic in the early history of the church. There were wealthy men, such as Cyprian and Ambrose, who, when called into the Christian ministry, sold their enormous estates, gave the money to the poor and lived the rest of their lives on a modest income practicing a life of self-denial. On the other hand, you had, as the church grew in wealth and stature, bishops who, whatever their salary, lived in what were even called “palaces” and had at their command the impressive wealth of the church. It was inevitable that while some would resist the temptation to exploit that wealth for oneself, others would not.

And so it continued. In the Middle Ages the church produced both mendicant monks, such as St. Francis of Assisi and the Borgia popes who spent the church’s wealth lavishly on themselves. You had simple pastors who lived modestly and worked faithfully for the sake of their flocks and others who always had their hands out looking for ways to use their office to line their pockets.

John Eliot, the early New England missionary and pastor, was renown for his selfless liberality. He was given his salary in coins and often, before he got home, he would have given much of it away to needy folk. So the deacons, one time, wrapped the coins very tightly in a piece of cloth, hoping to get his entire salary home at once. On his way home, Eliot visited a widow and, after struggling unsuccessfully to get the coins unwrapped, said, “Sister, I think the Lord wants you to have it all.” [David Calhoun]

On the other hand, you who have read Jane Austen or any 18th and 19th century English church history know how many Anglican clerics took the good living the church provided (funded by the state) and returned nothing of any consequence in the spiritual care of their flocks.

At the very same time, there was a man in Scotland, William Burns, whose preaching heralded the rival of the late 1830s in Scotland. He could have had any pulpit in the land and the great pulpits of Scotland did very well by the ministers who filled them. Alexander Whyte lived his professional life in a large home, he built a great library, he traveled extensively, took three months of vacation every year — he lived the life of a very well-to-do man. But Burns felt himself called to China. You remember his reputation there. The missionary who was asked if he knew Burns and replied, “Do I know him? All China knows him! He is the holiest man alive!” This is the William Burns, whose personal effects, after he died in China, were sent home in a single box to Scotland, that, when opened, was found to contain his Bible, another book, another shirt and pair of trousers, and a Chinese flag! — the sum of the worldly accumulations of Burns’ entire life.

Today it is the same. You have ministers who cannot live on the salary their congregation provides them, when the congregation is capable of providing much more. You have ministers who, with a heroic faithfulness, live on very little because they are ministering to people who have nothing or very little or to small congregations that are simply incapable of doing more, though wish they could. A minister friend of mine sweeps the streets in the town where he is the Baptist pastor. Ian Hamilton is a more faithful pastor than I am, but he makes considerably less money, and makes less now that he has gone to England that he did in his pastorate in New Milns. And, on the other hand, you have ministers so well paid that, whatever sacrifices they may have made for the gospel’s sake, their income was definitely not one of them! I consider myself among them. This congregation and its officers have always been very generous to me. There are PCA Presbyteries that have a reputation among the laymen in the churches as a labor union for ministers, so much do they seem interested in improving the working conditions, and especially the pay, of the pastors in their membership.

There is, and has always been, a great deal of disparity in ministerial pay. We have in our PCA ministers who make well over $100,000 per annum and other ministers who make very little. Young church planters often come into presbyteries with a salary considerably larger than a man who has for years been the pastor of a settled congregation in that presbytery. And so on.

None of that is addressed directly in the Bible and much of it seems to me to be inevitable. It would be hard to argue that there is some better scheme of ministerial pay than what is used in evangelical churches today. And, there are other differences besides pay. To some a manse is provided, others have no interest in living in a church-owned home. Some get longer vacations and better benefits and the like. Some, like myself, pastor congregations that are sometimes embarrassingly generous to their ministers in a variety of ways beyond salary and benefits.

But, Paul, bypasses all such considerations to focus on one only. That of a reciprocity in charity. “Share all good things” with those who teach you. It is the spirit of liberality in gratitude, the delight of using one’s earthly possessions to render some service and to demonstrate some sense of spiritual, divine blessing. When a congregation desires to show its gratitude for the Word of God that has been taught to them and the provision the Lord has made for their instruction, the minister’s support will always be sufficient, whatever the amount and however it compares with what some other minister receives. In matters of money as in everything else, if the heart is right, if the motives are pure, the problems others face usually never appear at all. It is a very bad sign when a congregation that could do better pays its minister too little. Especially if the minister is a faithful man it is definitely a sign that the congregation is worldly and cares too little for the Word of God. It is a worse sign when a minister makes an issue of wanting more money. Ministers, from time to time, have asked me what they ought to do, because they are not sure they can provide for their families on the salary being paid them. There are some exceptions, but I have often told them that they should make themselves available for a call elsewhere and, then, when they are leaving, tell the church officers and the Presbytery that the church pays too little. He could not raise the issue while he was their minister; it is simply too dangerous. There are too many people who will not be able to hear him afterward. But, he can do his best to ensure that the next man does not suffer from the same stinginess.

But, you see, such situations simply don’t arise – on either side – when a minister’s pay is a case of Christians sharing all good things with their instructors in the Word of God!

How simple; and how wise!