Online Bible Commentary
Ministers are to be Supported Financially
1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. (NKJV)
In the previous passage, Paul compares apostles to soldiers, farmers and shepherds. All three are entitled to be supported by their work (v.7). In the same way apostles are entitled to support from their labors in spiritual warfare, spreading the gospel by planting and watering, and pastoring a congregation. Paul also cited “Moses” (Dt. 4) who declared that even an “ox” should be supported for his labors (v. 8b-9a).
Now, in this passage Paul expands upon this principle. He states that those who “have sown spiritual things for you” should “reap your material things” (v. 11a). It is not “a great thing” to support materially those who support us spiritually (v. 11b). In other words, the spiritual is many times more valuable than the material, and thus it should be no big deal to support those who preach the gospel.
Paul states that if the church is supporting apostles who minister to them, how much “more” should they support Paul and his workers who actually started the churches (v. 12a). Even so, he reminds them that he and his workers have not insisted on receiving this material support in the past (v. 12b).
In verse 13 Paul writes of the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses, in many ways the founder of the Jewish religion, was a descendant of Levi. Moses appointed his older brother Aaron to establish the Jewish Priesthood. The Levites then became the tribe who were in charge of ministry and the operation of the Tabernacle.
The Levites were not given land when the Israelites took possession of the land promised to them by the Lord. Instead the Levites were given land within each of the other tribes’ land and would minister in their cities. Also, the Levites were materially supported by the offerings received at the Tabernacle in each of the cities.
This practice has led to the parsonages and other material compensation paid to ministers today in exchange for their services to their community. So, in this way, “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (v. 14).
After citing this commandment, Paul then applies it to his own ministry in the remaining verses of this passage. For him personally, he has decided not to accept regular material compensation from the churches he has established (v. 15a). He would rather “die” than for someone to question his motive for ministry (v. 15b}.
Paul does not “boast of” his ministry, for it is “a necessity” that has been “laid upon him” (v. 16a). He states “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (v. 16b). Paul is saying that he has no choice but to preach the Gospel so he has nothing to boast about. He was “chosen” by Jesus on the road to Damascus to preach the Gospel and he would not dare to defy the Lord’s charge (Acts 9:15).
If he preaches “willingly”, he will receive “a reward” (v. 17a). But he would even preach unwillingly, because he has been “entrusted with a stewardship” (v. 17b). He is a steward of the ministry that the Lord has entrusted him with, and he must be a good steward, willingly or unwillingly. Again, he has no choice but to preach the Gospel.
Paul recognizes that his reward will come in Heaven. He will not accept regular compensation, even though he did accept material support at times. He did not want there to be any question about his motive. He did not want to “abuse” his “authority” given to him by God to preach the Gospel (v. 18).
This passage, and many more throughout the Old and New Testaments, make it overwhelmingly clear that ministers should be financially supported by those to whom they minister. Here Paul wanted to make his personal reasons known for not accepting regular compensation so as to not give Christians the idea that they are not commanded to financially support those who minister to them.