By Irven Lee
“Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). Beginning at the first of this chapter there is one argument after another to show that the preacher, the farmer, the soldier, or the priests of the Old Testament deserved support. Paul then pointed out that he had not claimed his rights in this particular, especially at Corinth. He received help from other places (2 Cor. 11: 8,9; Phil. 4:10-19). He also earned much of his income with his own hands (Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9). When he was planning his third trip to Corinth he still planned to take nothing from the brethren there. His spirit was expressed in his remark, “I will gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Cor. 12:15).
Many American preachers have refused remuneration for their preaching. Some have later felt like using Paul’s words: “Forgive me this wrong” (2 Cor. 12:13). Some were willing to receive support but were not given adequate funds to care for their families. Preachers who lived more than one hundred years ago in America received almost nothing. Their wives and children lived like widows and orphans. This was a sad reflection on the brethren whom they had converted. There was a lack of teaching on the subject of giving in those days.
In our present generation preachers have received more liberal support in most cases from thoughtful brethren. How much should one receive? It costs more to live in some areas than it does in others, so no certain figure would be proper for all situations. Should a gospel preacher live on the economic level of his brethren where he preaches? If a man in the under-developed countries had houses like the ones we have in this country it would set him apart from his brethren and provoke envy. How much support should be given? Each case is a matter for consideration. I know of none who is in a position to set up the official amount for each.
Evidently there are such things as selfishness and unselfishness. There is a matter of expediency to be considered. The love of money is a danger for all people whatever their vocation. (See 1 Tim. 6:7-10; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:3.) Some preachers seem to have made special study of what various churches pay and what kind of homes they provide. Often in private conversations they call off these amounts and describe the homes. It seems evident that they want to “better” themselves. Such men may not be much interested in making any sacrifice to establish new works. There may be some who prefer working with some little church away from established churches with support from these established churches. There is nothing wrong with this desire if they are not secretive about the amount they get and are not constantly searching for more.
If a young man asks for and receives $(many thousands) per year plus house, utilities, social security, insurance, plus a bonus for a savings account it might be in order to ask, “Where will he move next?” Where will he go from here? The young or the old may be selfish. Is the preacher to go to the highest bidder? Is the church to pay whatever it takes to get the man who will say what it wants to hear and in the way it wants to hear it? (See 2 Tim. 4:1-5.) It seems that men are available for a price who will compromise truth for the job. If a man is getting $(many thousands) per year and all the pluses, is there some possibility that he will use the soft pedal when he should rebuke sharply?
If a gospel preacher is living in a very expensive house and has a very large salary, there will be many conversations about that fact among those who object to his position. Is it worth being that target to ask for and receive the salary of any executive? Some receive twice as much as others who work as hard and are as talented as they.
To write an article like this invites criticism. Let it come if it must. I do fear that there are some who are more interested in themselves than in the cause for which Christ died. How much is enough? My brethren should know what income I need. Did Paul make special demands? The Christ was with God in the creation, but He did not live like a king on earth. The Master and His apostles found the poor more receptive, and they made no effort to live on the level of the elite. They did set an example of sacrifice, of purity, and of faithfulness to God (Matt. 11:12; 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
I do not know how much is the proper amount to give a preacher. It evidently could be unreasonably low or unreasonably high. Do the unholy love of money and the very highest salaries for preachers often come in the same package? Let us be fair in our support of good men. Let us not waste money on the unworthy.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 4, pp. 99, 114
February 16, 1984