Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where Wages are Due

If you are reading this article, there is a good chance you are either not part of an institutional church or are considering leaving the one you currently attend. The closer we get to truth, the farther we get from organized religion. It goes without saying that many things change when we leave the religious system; but while the majority of those changes are for the better, some have the potential to be the opposite.

This article will focus on one of the habits common to organized religion that believers often neglect after leaving their "churches." That habit is the practice of paying teachers. It's no surprise that after engaging in the unscriptural practice of tithing for years, paying a high salary to a pastor who's taught lies, and having little to no say in where their money goes, people are not thrilled with the idea of giving any of their money to faith related pursuits. The notion of paying individual men is especially off-putting as men often have a tendency to be wasteful or unwise with the money they are given. While these concerns are certainly understandable, they do not absolve us from financially supporting those who are worthy of their calling, teaching truth in full commitment to the evangel.

In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul writes, "Let elders who have presided ideally be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who are toiling in word and teaching, for the scripture is saying: 'A threshing ox you shall not be muzzling,' and 'Worthy is the worker of his wages.'"

Paul gives special emphasis in this passage to paying (and honoring) those who teach. Fortunately, many of the expenses that eat up money in institutional churches (massive building loans, utilities, insurance premiums, fancy sound and lighting equipment, etc.) are non-existent to us when we leave; but teaching is still every bit as prevalent and necessary. When Paul wrote to Timothy, the church members throughout the various regions managed their funds very differently (and much more responsibly) than the churchgoers of today. They met in homes instead of expensive buildings and provided for others' needs instead of securing fancy material possessions. They focused on growing in faith above growing in number. In short, their methods enabled them to spend their money on the priorities that really matter, and Paul made it a point to stress the payment of teachers as one of those priorities.

So we know that paying the teachers God has blessed us with is still important when we are no longer part of an institutional church.  Just how important is it, though? Should faithful laborers be paid a small amount for their work, or should they be paid more? Should they make enough money to be able to make their living entirely from teaching, or should they make only enough to help supplement another income?

Fortunately, Paul gives us the answer to this question as well. In 1 Corinthians 9:14, he says, "The Lord has commanded that those who preach the evangel should receive their living from the evangel." It doesn't get much clearer than that. Teachers should earn enough from those they teach to make a living. Why? Because this allows them to dedicate themselves fully to their teaching, thus leading more people into a greater knowledge and deeper understanding of God.

Of course, God has placed us all in different financial situations and we all make different amounts of money. One person may be able to comfortably contribute $100 a month, while another may be able to give only $10. Paul does not advise us on a set amount to give, and teachers are paid by members of the Body collectively rather than by one person alone. The expectation, then, is not for anyone to give beyond his or her means, but to provide as much as they are able to support those who herald the evangel for their benefit. When everyone contributes some, the total contribution should be sufficient for the recipient.

Paul addresses varying capacities for giving in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. He writes, "For it is not, that, to others ease, yet to you affliction, but by an equality, in the current occasion, your superabundance is for their want, that their superabundance also may be coming to be for your want, so that there may be coming to be an equality, according as it is written: the one with much increases not, and the one with few lessons not."

In other words, the structure for giving produces an equality of care within the body of Christ. Paul is saying that we should not give so much to someone else that we can no longer meet our own needs, but that the goal is for those who don't need more to ensure that those who do need more are taken care of. He points out that while we may be helping others less fortunate for the time being, it may be them helping us later if we fall on hard times. The question, then, is: How much can we give to those in need (such as teachers) without placing ourselves in need?

When asking this question, it's important that we distinguish between what we need and what we want. With every expense, we should determine if what we are spending money on is justified. To that end, what expense could be more justified than aiding the proclamation of the evangel? When placed against other costs, the evangel clearly wins. It is more important than a new television, a new pair of shoes, eating out, vacations, an xbox, movies, jewelry, and a new computer or tablet (to name a few). This true, we should prioritize paying teachers above paying for these things. If we refuse to sacrifice other expenses to fund the heralding of the evangel, it is the evangel we are sacrificing.

Payment does not always have to be in the form of cash, either (although cash typically provides the most immediate help). If a teacher has written books, produced audio recordings, or done something else in a tangible form, purchasing the material for personal use or for distribution to others is a great way to support the teacher's ministry and to further the message. After all, teachers don't produce useable material for it to not be used.

If you saw my recent announcement for my new book, Making the Most of the Bible: Lessons on Understanding God's Word, you will remember my statement that I do not keep the money from my books for personal use. I make my living in another profession and am not currently engaged in ministry on a full-time basis. In other words, this article is not an encouragement to pay me. It is, however, a charge to pay the men who are currently engaged in heralding the evangel on a full-time basis - men like Martin Zender and Clyde Pilkington, for example. These teachers, and others like them, make their living proclaiming the evangel and are in great need of our continued support (and well deserving of it). Please DO buy Making the Most of the Bible, however, for yourself or for anyone else you know may benefit from reading it.

If you currently donate money to certain teachers, rest assured that you are fulfilling a vital role in promoting the evangel. If you are able to give more than you currently are, make it a priority even if it means sacrificing other luxuries or non-essentials. When you are faced with the decision to spend money on an unnecessary luxury or a faithful teacher, be sure to put the teacher first. If you benefit from the teaching of several people, be sure to give to all of them as they all need financial support to continue their ministries on a full-time basis. Consider committing to a number to donate each month and make it part of your budget, if need be, just as you would any other expense. It is, after all, worthy of being deemed a "need," not merely a "want."

Let's all follow Paul's advice by paying our workmen their due wages so they can continue their important work. The reward for ourselves and others is worth far more than the cost.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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