The Ancient Faith
FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF PREACHERS, ELDERS AND TEACHERS
Gregory P. Gay
The fact that the Lord allows certain individuals to be supported monetarily out of a congregation’s treasury should not be a surprise to my audience. Whether we want to admit it or not, money is important and vital to the church as described in the Bible. This is probably an area where we have allowed the abuses of the denominational world to keep us from really emphasizing what the Bible says and means on the subject.
There are quite a few verses in the New Testament that prove God intended certain people in the church to be paid out of the treasury. These include 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Galatians 6:6, Titus 3:13-14, 3 John 5-8, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Acts 15:2-3, Philippians 4:10-19, 1 Corinthians 9:1-18. Let us begin by examining the Scripture’s references to paying preachers, elders, and teachers.
In the case of paying an elder, the instruction is given in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scriptures says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ ” (NIV).
In other words, these verses say that the amount of labor and the quality of the labor can determine whether or not the individual is worthy of pay. The principal is, just like the ox could work and eat from his labor, so an elder could be paid for his work. Would any farmer begrudge his best ox a lot of food if the ox ate while he worked? No, but he might have a dim view of an ox that got so busy eating he forgot to work. While it is quite likely that it would be acceptable for all elders to receive some pay because of the honor of their office, those who work especially hard in the congregation in preaching and teaching could and should be paid much more for their labor.
In looking into the subject of what constitutes a teacher, in order to determine whether or not they should be paid for their labor, it would appear we have not maintained the distinction that existed in the First Century church. 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Romans 8:7 both mention teachers. Moses E. Lard in his Commentary on Romans says, on page 385,
The teaching here mentioned, I doubt not, consisted strictly in instructing the church. It did not include preaching the gospel to those without. This was the work more particularly of the prophet. The didaskalia (teacher) who works well laboring in preaching and teaching in the congregation was for members of the church, and had for its object their complete enlightenment in duty. It bore the same relation to those within the church, that preaching did to those without. The design of preaching was to bring men in; the design of teaching, to perfect them when in. Teaching was the work chiefly of the overseers of the congregation.
It would appear from Acts 13:1 that the apostle Paul served for a while in the congregation at Antioch as a teacher. And Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:11, “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” Like Paul, today’s preachers must also be teachers, and of course, an elder must be a teacher. Whether or not it is correct for a congregation to pay what we call “local teachers” is not something I am prepared to prove. I do not find anyone being supported because they were a local teacher. We can know without a doubt that it is correct to pay elders who are also teachers, and preachers who are also teachers, but I think in their case we are paying them primarily because they are elders and preachers. In my opinion to pay a local teacher for teaching would be a bit like the wife asking her husband to pay for his supper, that’s just not something you do at home. And as one brother recently asked me, “If we start paying local teachers for teaching at home, will we start paying men to lead songs?”
Next, not only is it suggested that gospel preachers are worthy of support for their labors, it is commanded. “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14, NIV). Just how serious is the Lord about paying preachers? Serious enough to command that preachers should be paid for their work. The word “living” or “live” in the King James means “to get a living from a thing” according to Thayer, (p. 270). W. E. Vine (p. 348) says it means “the maintenance of physical life.” Zerr comments (vol. 6, p. 19), “To live of the Gospel means to obtain a living from those to whom the Gospel is preached.”
[This is the beginning of the Greg Gay’s sermon from the 1998 Preachers’ Study Notes. Please see the book for the complete sermon]