Fellowship In The Gospel
P. J. Casebolt
Paden City, West Virginia
(Note: The following article first appeared in the Cameron Sower, edited by brother Casebolt. Since original bulletin space was limited, it is being re-written and lengthened for us in Truth Magazine.)
The Philippian church possessed many commendable traits. One of these was their determination to "have fellowship in the gospel," that others may enjoy the same hope and blessings which they had received by the preaching of the gospel. The Philippian church began early in this grace and continued faithfully (Phil. 1:5-7; 4:14-18). The only exception to this rule seemed to be when they lacked opportunity (Phil. 4:10). The Philippians manifested an attitude toward the gospel which needs to be. revived: they considered their fellowship in the gospel a grace, a privilege, and an opportunity to have fruit which would abound to their account.
Preaching the gospel is not just a practice which originated with preachers themselves, for the benefit of preachers. Neither is it something which the church "hires" as though it were some secular service. Paul taught the Corinthians, "Even so bath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14). Both preachers and the church need to understand that gospel preaching is something which the Lord ordained, and all attitudes toward it should be based on this fact.
Sometimes I get the impression that some brethren think they have been ordained by the Lord to make sure that preachers do not "live of the gospel." Those brethren treat the preacher like an enemy of the faith instead of one with whom they should have fellowship. Brethren, how are you going to support the gospel (have fellowship in it), if you do not support those who preach that gospel? The two are inseparable. Yet, when some congregations begin looking for a preacher, they try to think of ways to economize and "save the Lord's money" at the preacher's expense. It is like the preacher has lost his "seniority" by changing locations and is forced to start negotiating all over again. Once again, he is forced to defend his God-given right to "live of the gospel."
Brethren try to justify their actions sometimes by saying that it is not right to "waste the Lord's money," or "preachers shouldn't be over-paid." Then tell me, I pray, how the church is going to save the Lord's money by restricting the Lord's preacher who preaches the Lord's gospel? Can we save the money better by keeping it in a bank account? Can we save it better by building comfortable and expensive buildings? Can we save it better by paying the expenses of several preachers who come to "try out," and finally by paying a big moving expense for the preacher selected? Will the Lord be pleased if we present Him with a large checkbook balance when He comes as proof that we saved His money? If the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 means anything, it surely has an application in this matter.
I know young preachers who have literally been starved out by antagonistic brethren and forced to turn to secular pursuits in order to pay their debts and provide for their families. Just when the church should be encouraging young preachers who have both the desire and ability to preach, it seems that we employ the Darwinian theory of "the survival of the fittest," and thereby assure the next generation that they will not have enough preachers to do the Lord's work. It should be of little comfort to boast that we have saved so much of the "Lord's money" that there are comparatively few preachers left to "live of the gospel."
Many preachers will continue to preach as they have opportunity, but it is sad that some brethren have succeeded in limiting their opportunities. I cannot understand it.. How are you going to over-pay a preacher who is faithful and able? In the first place, he will not accept too much of the "Lord's money" and, if he is prospered sufficiently, he will put that much more back into the Lord's work. A few preachers may not be able to manage money as well as some others, but maybe it is not all their fault. In my earlier years of preaching, I had to juggle my income and expenses in such a way that it should have earned me an honorary degree in bookkeeping and accounting. Maybe my methods were not the most orthodox, and though I did not accept the "survival of the fittest" theory, there were times when I was affected by it.
Why do some brethren feel that they have a divine mandate to keep the preacher poor, while they enjoy all the advantages of a prosperous society? We have already noticed the idea that because the preacher is paid out of the "Lord's money" the church should "save" all it can. We all need to understand that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," and that all of us need to use our blessings as good stewards of the grace of God. If brethren can take vacations, trade cars, and do a host of other things with the money God has allowed them to have, why have a different set of rules for the preacher? If those brethren who continually find fault with the preacher and his use of the "Lord's money" would manage what the Lord has given them a little better, maybe they could give more to the Lord.
If some preachers are guilty of false doctrine or practice, then they need to repent or quit preaching. If they will not do either, then brethren should not pay them just enough to "hold them down," they should not get a dime of the "Lord's money." If some brethren think preachers have it so easy, why do not more of them start preaching? Why is there "a famine in the land" for good preachers? Yes, there are congregations who have the proper attitude toward the preaching of the gospel, and use the Lord's money in the Lord's work as best they know how. And, that is why preachers are reluctant to move from these congregations and be at the mercy of those who think they can "save the Lord's money". by keeping the preacher in a lower bracket.
Paul was criticized by the very ones who should have commended him (2 Cor. 12:11). One reason the Corinthians did not appreciate Paul and the preaching of the gospel may have been because Paul was not burdensome to them (2 Cor. 12:13). Paul asked forgiveness for his part in the matter. I must confess that in my earlier years of preaching. I have been guilty of not teaching brethren properly concerning the matter of supporting the gospel. I let brethren put me on the defensive, and spent too much time arguing with brethren about my right to live of the gospel, a right which God gave before I was born, and should not need defending.
We preachers need to understand that God has allowed us to be "put in trust with the gospel . . .," and this sobering thought will keep us humble and determined to use the Lord's money spent on us as efficiently as possible. And, we need to teach brethren that they are allowed (privileged) to support the gospel by having fellowship with those who preach it. Do not worry about what brethren will think if you teach them their duty regarding this matter, any more than you would worry about what they think when you teach them their duty concerning the Lord's supper or assembling. Do not waste time arguing with narrowminded brethren about the preacher's right to live of the gospel the Lord has already decided this matter. If brethren will support you to preach the gospel, "use it rather." If not, support yourself, and preach where and when you can.
Let us all determine that the situation described by Jeremiah will not prevail when the Lord returns, that we are not forced to say, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jer. 8:20).
Truth Magazine XXIV: 8, pp. 140-141