Rewire: Money and Ministry

Sermon by David Strain on September 3, 2017

1 Corinthians 9:1-14

Well now, we continue our studies in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. And this morning we've come to 1 Corinthians chapter 9, so let me invite you to take a hold of God's Word and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 9; page 956 and 957 in the church Bibles.

 

Last time in chapter 8, if you were with us, you will recall Paul was responding to a problem presented to him by the Corinthians in their letter to him. The problem was food offered to idols. And as he worked through that problem, he articulated a timeless principle. The principle is, that love constrains liberty. That is to say, though we may know the truth, knowing the truth is not the only criteria for judging correct, Christian behavior. But there are times when loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ will limit the liberty that we know we have in Jesus for their good. We will relinquish our freedoms and give up our rights for the good of our brothers and sisters. That was last time – chapter 8. And as you cast your eye over chapter 9, as we read it together, you may get the impression, at least at first, that Paul has entirely moved on from that subject. And in one sense, he has. He was dealing with food offered to idols; he’ll come back to that subject in chapter 10. Here in chapter 9, however, he pauses to defend his ministry as an apostle. But as you listen to him, you will see him doing so in such a way that he models the same principle that he was just teaching back in chapter 8. He models; he practices what he preaches. He models how love – love for the Corinthians in this case – has constrained Paul’s liberty. And he has given up rights he knows he is free to exercise for their good and their welfare. We see Paul practicing what he preaches.

 

And if outlines help you to track with me, let me give you the outline of where we’re going as we consider the first fifteen verses of chapter 9 together and then we’ll pray and read it together and dive into Paul’s teaching. First of all, I want you to be on the lookout for the defense that Paul offers. He is required to defend his ministry, and so there’s a defense here. The defense he offers. Then the duty he explains. There is a normal obligation resting upon churches that he wants the Corinthians to recognize rests upon them also. The defense he offers, the duty he explains, and then thirdly the decision that he makes. Paul takes a particular stance, personally, with respect to the Corinthians, that is surprising and challenging and deeply instructive. There is a decision he makes in his own case for their good from which we will learn. So, the defense he offers, the duty he explains, the decision that he makes.

 

Now, before we turn our attention to reading God’s Word and hearing it preached, let’s pause and pray and ask for God’s help. Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, now we pray for the searchlight ministry of the Holy Spirit who illuminates the Word of God and shows us Christ in His glory and infinite value as the pearl of great price. We pray that He would come and do that now among us and shine into the dark places in our hearts and lives and expose our sin and need that our sin may shrivel and die in the light. It thrives in the darkness, in the shadows, where we can lie to ourselves about it. So bring it out into the light please, and kill it, slay it. And in the light, cause Gospel graces to fructify in our lives, to ripen, that bring You glory and praise and are a blessing to one another. So hear how we need You, O Lord. Come to us by Your Spirit and open our minds to Your Word and apply Your truth deeply to our hearts, for the glory of Jesus’ name, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 

1 Corinthians chapter 9 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 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? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 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?

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 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? 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. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 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. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and authoritative, inerrant Word.

 

A New York Times article I read recently illustrates what it calls the culture of entitlement and is epidemic in our culture by telling the story of an office worker who asked for time off to go attend a friend’s funeral. When his boss expressed sympathy and told him to take all the time he needs, this man, instead, went to a Wisconsin forest to hang out with his brother and blog about his experiences. The blog was entitled, “How to Lose Your Mind and Build a Treehouse.” And the first line read, “I said I was leaving town for a funeral. I lied.” Well, his employer, who followed his blog closely, was more than a little taken aback to read those comments. Not because it was the first time that an employee had ever lied to him to get some time off work; that’s hardly novel. But because the man thought nothing of declaring proudly before the world online his total disregard for workplace rules and expectations. It seems to the employer, at least, to demonstrate a culture of entitlement that left his employer nonplused. Then the same article went on to sight headlines that described millennials as, “entitled, lazy, narcissistic, and addicted to social media.” Forgive me, millennials; that was the news article. That wasn’t me! That was online! Narcissistic, entitled, lazy, addicted to social media. “They don’t need trophies; they want reinforcement.” They want their egos stroked.

 

Entitlement is a problem. Actually, it’s a problem not just for millennials but for all of us if we are honest. “I have 20/20 vision when it comes to my rights, and I expect you all to acknowledge them and respect my rights. I’m a little fuzzy when it comes to my responsibilities, truth be told.” Isn’t that something you can relate to? Rights we know; responsibilities not so much. It’s a culture of entitlement. In our passage this morning, some of the Corinthians Christians at least, seem to have a similar entitlement mindset. They are raising objections, questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle, doubting his word, dismissing his ministry, and if you’ll look at verses 1 to 3, you will see the first thing I want us to take notice of – the defense that Paul offers in response to that critique.

 

The Defense

You see it in verses 1 to 3? “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen our Lord? Are you not my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me.” The words he uses there in verse 3, by the way, “defense” and “examine,” were commonly used in a law court. Paul is defending himself against what he considers to be a hostile and biased, prejudiced prosecution. This is his defense and he offers a number of points in his defense that we’ll consider in a moment. It might be worth our while, first of all, pausing to ask why the Corinthians were so frustrated with Paul in the first place, however. Why are they questioning his role as an apostle? Well, if you read on in the rest of the chapter, it becomes clear what has made them so upset, doesn’t it? Paul has refused to take their money. Paul has refused to take their money.

 

You see, in ancient cities like Corinth, traveling orators and public speakers would often depend on the support of wealthy patrons. They would lodge in their homes and they would receive financial remuneration from them. And of course in those days, much as in our own day, very often money comes with strings attached. And so if you were one of those orators in the employ of a wealthy patron, the wealthy patron had every right to expect some praise from you, some support from you as the orator for your patron's private agenda. He might be the puppet, but if you are the wealthy patron you are the man who pulls the strings. The orator, the speaker, might be the money, but you get to be the organ grinder. But as we'll see, Paul simply would not play that game. He was, Acts 18:1-4, he was a tent maker. Literally, he made tents; that was his skill. And he used it to free him from financial dependence in the churches among whom he ministered. And it drove at least some of the Corinthians believers round the twist. There were no strings for them to pull, you see. There was no way to control Paul or his ministry. And so they adopt a tactic that's not all that uncommon when the entitled do not get their way and get what they believe they are due. They resort to denunciation and they cast aspersions. They undermine Paul and they seek to damage his credibility as an apostle.

 

Eyewitness of Resurrection

And Paul offers, if you'll look at verses 1 to 3, he offers two arguments in his defense. First, he says, "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" verse 1. Remember, that is part of the necessary qualifications for apostleship. You had to be an eyewitness of the resurrection. Some of you will remember Sean Morris who was an intern here a few years back. As a young man, as a new Christian, Sean was in tow with some charismatic brothers and sisters and in a moment of more heat than light, when he was about 16 years old, they all gathered round him, laid hands upon him, and declared Sean Morris, a 16 year old Sean Morris, to be an apostle. I suppose becoming an intern here at First Pres was quite a step down for him after that! It's ridiculous, isn't it? There are no more apostles because there are no more eyewitnesses of the resurrection. Acts chapter 9, however, the apostle Paul, and this is what he's reminding the Corinthians of, saw the Lord risen from the dead and received his commission directly as an apostle from the mouth of the risen and exalted Jesus there on the Damascus Road. And so he says, "I have the qualifications of apostleship."

 

The Existence of the Corinthian Church

And then notice the second argument that he makes in his defense. He points to the Corinthians themselves. Verses 1 and 2, “Are you not my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” This last week I 

had the privilege of addressing some of the MOMS Bible Study leaders at Donna Dobbs request. And she had an icebreaker; we all had to share our pet peeves. So we went around the room and we were getting to know each other sharing our pet peeves. Now just so you understand, to ask a Scotsman to pick just one thing to complain about is like asking him to choose between his children! It’s an impossible thing to do! I did manage to come up with one or two however. I think Donna was wondering if she had unleashed a beast! But here was one of them that is a pet peeve of mine. It’s the expression, “The proof is in the pudding.” You know that expression? The proof is not in the pudding. This is not a sort of a piece of confectionary detective work that we have to do to dig through the pudding for clues of some dreadful crime. That’s not the saying. The saying is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How do you know the pudding is any good? You eat it and you prove that the recipe was a good recipe! Okay? This troubles me! I probably should see somebody about it! So enough, okay!

 

How do you know the apostle Paul is the real thing? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How do you know the apostle Paul is the real thing? Changed lives; changed lives. He says, “You guys have heard my Gospel and you are the evidence of supernatural reality. You are the seal of my apostleship. You know at least in the circles that I move in amongst minister friends, it’s a common saying that God is not interested in our fruitfulness so much as He is in our faithfulness. Fruitfulness is God’s business. We can’t make fruit appear in our own life or anyone else’s, for that matter. That’s God’s business. We are called to be faithful to the calling He’s given us. And that’s a true statement. Our responsibility is faithfulness; God will take care of fruitfulness. But I think Paul is reminding us here, isn’t he, that ordinarily Christian faithfulness is connected to Christian fruitfulness. Faithful ministry bears fruit in our own lives and in the lives of those among whom the Lord sends us. That’s what Paul is saying here. “My faithfulness in the service of the Lord is demonstrated by fruit in your lives.” And so Paul defends his ministry.

 

The Duty

Then secondly, I want you to notice the duty that Paul explains. The defense he offers, now the duty he explains. He has been personally unwilling to receive remuneration from the Corinthians to their chagrin and frustration. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is wrong to pay your pastor, for which I am very grateful! He wants them to know that and a large part of the argument of the rest of chapter 9 is reminding the Corinthians they have a duty, an obligation, to support Gospel work in their midst financially. Notice quickly how he argues. Verse 4, “Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 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? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?" Many of you have suspected that ministers don't really do anything much, don't work for a living. Well, here it is from the mouth of the apostle himself! "Is it only I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?" The other leaders of the early church, he is saying, the apostles, Jesus' brothers, even Cephas, the apostle Peter, they are freed up from secular employment so they can eat and drink and live and even bring along their wives on ministry outings, ministry trips, because the church is supporting them adequately. "So why not Paul?" That's his question.

 

Natural Justice Argument

And then he offers a string of arguments to back up and reinforce the point that he is making that supporting and maintaining the work and the ministry of the Gospel is the duty of the local church. Look at verse 7. A soldier works for wages. Vintners get to eat some of their own grapes. Dairy farmers to drink some of the milk from the herd. That’s just natural justice. One wonders if perhaps Paul selected those professions because some of the Corinthians themselves either were or, currently as Paul wrote to them, are still soldiers or farmers or vintners. If that’s the case, it would certainly reinforce and make the argument stronger. They all benefit from their labors, so why should Paul, who labored among them, be any different? There’s a natural justice argument here.

 

Scriptural Argument

But there’s also a Scripture argument. Verse 9, “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’” Oxen were allowed to munch some of the produce while they trudged round and round and separate the grain from the chaff. “Now is it for oxen that God is concerned? 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.” God, who is concerned about oxen, is much more concerned for his ministers. Like oxen who serve their masters, ministers serve King Jesus. And the Church, Paul says, is to ensure they are provided for.

 

Logical Argument

There is a natural justice argument, a Scriptural argument, there’s even a logic and common sense argument. Verse 11, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?” He’s using logic to argue from the lesser to the greater. “If we sow spiritual things in your lives which have infinite value, surely the merely material provision of our daily needs isn’t too much to ask from you.”

 

Normal Religious Practice Argument

An argument from natural justice, from Scripture, from logic and common sense. And then he finally makes an argument from normal religious practice. Verse 13 and 14, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” So the duty, Paul explains, is clear. It’s no ambiguous, is it? Christians should give to their local churches to support the work of Gospel ministry. The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel.

 

That’s what giving is about Sunday by Sunday. When you give to First Presbyterian Church, that’s what you’re giving to. You’re giving to Gospel ministers and Gospel ministry, Gospel workers and Gospel work. Please don’t think of it as propping up an institution or funding a budget or greasing the organizational wheels. No, it is about maintaining people in ministry, in short-term missions, in women’s ministry, in ordained pastoral ministry. That is the duty that Paul reminds the Corinthians of.

 

And so he defends himself, then he presses upon them a duty, and then he does something extraordinary. In face of the entitled, antagonistic Corinthians, do you see how Paul refuses to exercise his rights to the remuneration that he insists ought ordinarily to be a normal part of congregational life? That’s the last thing I want us to see. This radical decision that Paul makes for himself as he ministers to the Corinthians. He has every right to be financially supported. He even presses it upon the Corinthians to ensure that others in ministry among them are maintained properly.

 

The Decision

And then he makes this radical decision. He refuses to exercise his rights in this whole area himself. Do you see it in verse 12? “If others share in this rightful claim on you, do we not even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right.” Or verse 15, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.” Now Paul, remember in the previous chapter, had been teaching us that love constrains liberty. That’s how Christians ought to behave. That was the message back in chapter 8. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s loving always to do it. And now we see here, don’t we, that Paul is practicing what he preaches. He doesn’t call the Corinthians to live by a principle that he won’t implement himself. He restricts his own freedom. Love constrains liberty in Paul’s life. He refuses and relinquishes his rights for their sake.

 

And if you’ll allow me just another short aside here, I think there is a vital lesson there for all of us who are in any position of Christian leadership and ministry. So ministers and elders and deacons and small group Bible study leaders and women’s ministry Bible teachers, if we are to call other people to a life of sacrificial discipleship, then we need to remember that in God’s economy we are meant to be the models and the examples of what that sacrificial discipleship should look like. We are to practice what we preach and to demonstrate and be, as it were, the visual aide and illustration before the eyes of those among whom we’ve been sent to minister of what the Gospel does in a person’s life. And if I can invite you, First Presbyterian Church, to pray for your leaders, for the men and women that the Lord has placed among you to teach the Bible in different ways and in different venues, would you pray like this? Something like this. Would you pray for me and the other ministers and the elders and deacons and Bible study leaders? Pray like this, “O Lord, make them men and women who teach the Word to us. Grant that they might live what they teach and model for us what they call us to be and do. Make them spiritual leaders who practice what they preach.” Would you pray that for me and pray that for the leaders of our church? That the Gospel we preach would be the Gospel that changes our hearts and bears fruit in our lives also.

 

Sacrificial Discipleship

Well, Paul certainly practices what he preaches as he relinquishes his rights. He's working with his hands as a tent maker and refuses remuneration from Corinth. And it's not hard to imagine the reaction, the astonishment of the entitled Corinthians to Paul's refusal. Really it's no less amazing in our entitled age either to see this happening in someone's life, this kind of radical, sacrificial discipleship. And so our question for Paul really needs to be, "How come? Where does that come from? How is it, in an entitlement culture when everyone else is demanding their rights, you give yours up, you surrender your rights for the sake of others? How come?" We'll have to wait for the weeks ahead as we continue through chapter 9 for the full answer, but if you look again at verse 12 you'll see the first part of Paul's answer. Verse 12, "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." The great burden of his life is that the Gospel might never be hindered. He doesn't want anyone claiming that Paul is only in it for the cash. He wants the Gospel to come to them freely because, after all, it is a Gospel about a salvation that is free. That is provided to us for free at the great expense of the Lord Jesus Christ. He pays with His lifeblood that we might be redeemed and it is offered, that redemption is offered to all and any that would take it, for free. You need merely believe and receive the grace purchased for sinners at the cross.

 

We talk a lot around here about the free offer of the Gospel. That is, that there is a Savior for you, whoever you are. Whatever sin you may be aware of, however guilty you may be in the sight of God, there is a Savior available to you in Jesus and you can take Him for free. You need do nothing but trust Him and He will save you. We have a wonderful Gospel to proclaim, a freely offered Gospel for all people everywhere. But here is the measure of just how far the free offer of the Gospel has penetrated into our bones, into our DNA. Here’s the measure of it. Those who really grasp the wonder of the Gospel will do almost anything to get out of the way of the Gospel to let it come with full force and power for the good of others. They will “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also” if that’s what it takes to get the Good News into people’s hearts and minds and lives. They don’t want the Gospel to come with strings attached because the Gospel is, in its very nature, free. That’s what makes it such good news.

 

And so Paul, you see here a man captured, captivated by the wonder of such a Gospel, such a Savior who is, for a sinner like him, a sinner like me, like you, for free. And Paul has discovered that not only is this a message worth surrendering his life for, but the Jesus who is at the center of that message is his very great reward. And so there is no sacrifice he can make too great to express his delight and wonder at having been found by this Christ and having been called by Him to present Him to others that they might be found by Him also. So Paul will do anything to get out of the way and let the free Gospel of sovereign grace change lives and turn the Corinthians’ lives right-side up at last.

 

So my prayer for us, for me, for you with me, is that God would so arrest our attention and grip our hearts by the freely offered Gospel, by the wonder and glory of what has been done for us in Jesus Christ, that we find ourselves gladly surrendering rights and privileges that that Gospel might come through us to others, to the glory and praise of God. So now would you pray with me, please?

 

O God our Father, we praise You for this extraordinary Gospel; this Good News for sinners enslaved and in bondage. That in Jesus, who died and was condemned and who bore the wrath and curse of God, in Jesus there is for us freedom and forgiveness and pardon and full complete salvation. That it is available to us all and to any who would take it for free. Please let the wonder of that slip in under our guard and penetrate and begin to ignite our hearts with wonder and such gratitude that we could say with Watts that, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my soul, my all. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to know more of this Christ and to make this Christ more fully known.” O Lord, make that the great burden of our lives and of our church, for the glory of the name of Christ. Amen.

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