Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1Corinthians 9:4-14: Ministerial compensation and Christian liberty

Paul having asserted his apostleship and defended it with evidence (vv1-3), now turns to the implications of his apostleship for the argument he wants to make about denying Christian liberty to self in the interests of other believers. He begins in v4 with an assertion that he will defend all the way through v14: I have a right to food and drink. What this means is that as an apostle and minister of the word, he has a right to be financially compensated for his ministerial labor. He offers two main arguments to substantiate that claim, marshaling an array of evidence to support each main point.

His first argument is a rational argument. It basically runs like this, everyone knows that if you work you are supposed to get a paycheck for it. So in v7 he gives 3 indisputable examples to establish the claim. Then in v5 he gives another line of evidence from the ecclesiastical world, as he points out, that the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, as well as Peter himself all receive financial compensation. So the point of defense from human arguments has been defended.

Second, he turns to scripture to establish the next point. In v9 he cites Deuteronomy 25:14 and argues from the prohibition against restraining the ox with a bridle while he threshes the corn, that ministers are to be compensated for their work. Its a lesser to greater argument: if God would care enough for oxen that they should receive a "wage" for their labor, how much more ought a minister to receive material compensation for ministerial work. The other argument is based on a parallel between the Levitical priests and the New Testament ministry of word and sacrament. Just as God set up laws for the material provisions of the priests from the tithes and offerings of God's people, so the New Testament ministers of word and sacrament are to be supported from the tithes and offerings of God's people. To nail that down, in v14 he even says "so also the Lord has appointed" that ministers be paid for their work. Paul probably has Luke 10:7 in mind where Christ commands the 70 to take support form the people they minister the word to. I believe that a reasonable conjecture since Paul quotes that very passage in 1Timothy 5:18 and then follows it up with Deuteronomy 25:14. Bringing these two passages together in relationship to the issue of ministerial compensation in 1Timothy 5 puts us on good grounds to think Paul has that passage in mind here in 1Corinthians 9 as he addresses the same topic of ministerial compensation, and applies the same Old Testament passage to the issue at hand.

So Paul has defended his claim that he has a right to financial compensation since he is an apostle, but also points out that he refuses to accept what is due to him so that the gospel will not be hindered. That is the point of connection to the broader context. Paul is addressing this to the broader issue of denying rights and privileges to self, in order to be a spiritual blessing to other Christians. Paul's admonition to Christians based on his example of self-denial is this: just because you have the right to something does not always mean it is wise for you to make use of it; you need to ask whether your indulgence will be a blessing or a stumblingblock for others.


Vic said...

I know you didn't deal with verse 5 specifically, but how did some of the Reformers interpret this verse seeing as how they affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary?

John Sawtelle said...

Good question. The Reformers to a man, believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. That means this phrase here, "brothers of the Lord," was interpreted to either refer to children of Joseph from a previous marriage, or to cousins of Jesus. The fact is, neither view is convincing. The following verses nail down too clearly, that the Biblical writers report that Jesus had biological brothers and sisters, and by implication that Mary was not a perpetual virgin (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 7:3-5; Act 1:14; Gal. 1:19).

Maybe I should just do a separate post on this.

Vic said...

Another questions regarding this topic of compensation is, How do we differentiate between your interpretation and the claims of hundreds of televangelists rolling in their Benzes and Rolexes? After all, can't they base their outrageous claims to compensation and a luxurious lifestyle on a text like this?