Our family had a conversation several months ago on the topic of compensating ministers. Why do we pay our ministers? Is there a biblical basis for compensating those in leadership? How should we compensate them? Monetarily or otherwise? These are a few of the questions that we brought up and I thought they would be relevant topics to discuss here.
Looking at the principles in the old testament, we find throughout the Scripture that laborers are paid for their service: Jacob is payed for service to Laban in Gen. 29:15; Moses’ mother is payed to nurse him in Exo. 2:9; Solomon hires servants from Hiram in 1Ki. 5:6. This is all in accordance to the biblical principle of recompense or restitution found in Deu. 25:4.
“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” (Deu 25:4 ESV)
This law does not apply solely to animals, but also to mankind and their master-servant relationship. The one who serves, is worthy of his payment, just as an ox is to be allowed to eat from the extra grain that falls while treading.
Servants of the Lord
From looking through the principles in the old testament, we also find that the Levites received compensation for their work as Priests and Civil Magistrates. They were not given an inheritance in the land of Israel, but they received the tithes in return for their service to the Lord, as described in Num. 18:20-28.
20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.
21 “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, 22 so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”
25 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. 27 And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. 28 So you shall also present a contribution to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the Lord’s contribution to Aaron the priest. (Numbers 18:20-28, ESV)
The principle of restitution is accomplished here by the Priests receiving payment for their work in the tabernacle. Even as servants of the Lord, they are taken provided for with monetary substance, but not only that, they are also provided with food as described in Lev. 6:14-17.
14 “And this is the law of the grain offering. The sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord in front of the altar. 15 And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering and its oil and all the frankincense that is on the grain offering and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 16 And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. 17 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. (Leviticus 6:14-17, ESV)
God provides for the needs of the Levites who don’t have an inheritance (land and crops from which to provide sustenance) in Israel by allowing them to take a portion of the tithes and offerings given to him by his people. This principles of restitution and maintaining God’s servants is what carries on into the new covenant with the church, and is what I want to look at in light of the new testament Scriptures.
Looking in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, the apostle Paul gives a discourse on the rights of those who are ministers of the gospel. Using logic he puts forth his case, and then expounding on the law of Moses he illustrates the principles for his logic, namely God’s concern with man and restitution.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:3-12, ESV)
Paul even went back to the Levitical law (verse 13) to show that the Priests received a part of the offering and claimed that this was the principle we should use to provide for those who’s life work is to proclaim the gospel. Though Paul defended his right to receive recompense for his workmanship, he did not use this right. Matthew Henry comments on this passage:
“It is not new for a minister to meet with unkind returns for good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. To the cavils of some, the apostle answers, so as to set forth himself as an example of self-denial, for the good of others. He had a right to marry as well as other apostles, and to claim what was needful for his wife, and his children if he had any, from the churches, without labouring with his own hands to get it. Those who seek to do our souls good, should have food provided for them. But he renounced his right, rather than hinder his success by claiming it. It is the people’s duty to maintain their minister. He may wave his right, as Paul did; but those transgress a precept of Christ, who deny or withhold due support.” – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
In his instruction to Timothy, Paul states that elders who labor hard in the preaching and teaching are to be compensated justly for their work.
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV)
We can conclude from Numbers 18:20-28 that of tithes collected, (now by the governing church leadership) those who labor in the work of the Lord are to be justly compensated for their toil, and those who teach and preach well are to be rewarded double. The laborer is worthy of his wages and restitution must not be forgotten.
“Care must be taken that ministers are maintained. And those who are laborious in this work are worthy of double honour and esteem. It is their just due, as much as the reward of the labourer.” – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
All church leaders who properly exercise their authority and role in the body of Christ are worthy of payment, especially those who teach and preach. Therefore, let us cheerfully provide our tithes and offering as a gift to the Lord so that those who exhort and encourage us in Christian virtue may be recompensed for their labor.