THE USE OF TITHES:
Should Preachers Be Paid?
J. Austin Bennett
A friend who happens to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses asked this question: “Should preachers be paid?” He followed with a stinging indictment of the practice based on some highly publicized abuses.
We all painfully remember the PTL scandal several years ago along with the diamond rings and Rolls Royces of Reverend Ike. The newspapers carried the story of Henry Lyons, a Baptist minister accused of misappropriating his congregation’s funds to lavishly support an adulterous affair spanning many years. These stories and others like them cast a pall over the message of Jesus. They are used by a Christ rejecting world to smear the good news of redemption, salvation and that glorious event that we eagerly await, the return of our Lord to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
So before dismissing this question with the knee jerk reaction that such a query is ridiculous, I can attest that it was raised by a man of conscience and asked in good faith. The question itself raises issues not often addressed but vital to the discharge of our duty as Christians.
We are commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (KJV). To publicize that message and fulfill the great commission given us by Jesus, many churches raise offerings to support missionaries in countries all over the world.
We know the living conditions in many of those lands from the awful pictures of starving children literally dying in the streets. Should those committed men and women who bravely carry the Lord’s testimony abroad be condemned to forage for the very existence of their families without our support? Can anyone reasonably expect those courageous saints to provide for themselves when even the local population, on their own turf, cannot feed their children? . . . And, at the same time, work full time in the service of God? That heartless idea is preposterous on its face! It is also an affront to the command of Jesus in John 15:17. “These things I command you, that ye love one another.”(KJV)
My friend vehemently asserts our responsibility to care for the poor. Malachi 3:10 refers to the keeping of food in the Lord’s storehouse. Acts 4:35 describes the use of offerings brought to the Apostles, “. . . and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” We also see the daily distribution of food to the widows in Acts 6:1, so this role of caring for the poor is biblical.
My friend also agrees in principle with the need to support missionary work around the globe. After all, this effort produced the emergence of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a large worldwide organization, all in the span of about eighty years. This was accomplished going two by two to the doorways of the cities and villages of this earth, something we as Christians should be doing with great urgency in these last days.
But what about the man who pastors a congregation? Or the man who travels to a small group of churches too small to maintain a fulltime pastor bringing God’s word and providing such pastoral care as needed, the circuit rider? These men stand in the pulpit, prepare and oversee the Bible studies, sit by the bedsides of the sick and dying, preach the funerals, comfort the bereaved, counsel the troubled, save the fracturing marriages, visit the prisons and, in all of this, carry some of the weighty load of each member of the flock on their own weary backs. Yes, we as brothers are instructed to, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”(Galatians 6:2 KJV) The man who does this for all of us, the pastor, is the man called by God and appointed by the voice of Jesus to “Feed my sheep.” It is a fulltime, and too often, a heart-rending job.
So, should preachers be paid? The question bears directly on the credibility of the message we are called to deliver. As such, this question deserves a Biblical answer. Despite some serious doctrinal differences, one thing upon which my friend and I agree is the infallibility of scripture; the authority of God’s word. Let’s see what the Bible has to say.
The introduction of offerings to Jehovah originated with Abel and Cain (Genesis 4:3). The concept of tithing is first demonstrated by Abram (later changed by God to Abraham) when he paid tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God (Genesis 14:20). That tithe was a tenth of everything (Hebrews 7: 2,4).
The 10% tithe was made an ordinance to be scrupulously obeyed by God’s chosen people Israel in Leviticus 29:32 along with other specific offerings described in chapters 5-7. Moreover, it was not to be just any 10%, but the first fruits of the field and spotless animals without blemish, the very best (Numbers 18:29 and read Malachi 1: 6-14 to see God’s view of those who violated this command). After all, these sacrifices looked forward to the day our Father would make the ultimate sacrifice to uphold His justice and pay the atonement for man’s sin. He cared enough to send the very best. Nothing less would do.
To what use were these sacrifices put? It is interesting to note that the Bible repeatedly refers to tithes and offerings. Aren’t they the same thing?
The special offerings were used for a number of purposes, but the tithe was specifically designated by the Lord to support His priests. Numbers 18:20-21 reads, “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land [referring to the other tribes of Israel], neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of congregation.”(KJV) Just so there could be no misunderstanding, Jehovah forcefully repeated this instruction in Deuteronomy 18:1-5 promising His fulltime minister the first fruits, the very best. The Lord explained why in verse 5. “For the Lord thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons forever.”(KJV)
The role of the priest was not a part time thing, nor did God intend it to be. In order for the man who ministered for Jehovah to be able to devote full attention to the Father’s business, the Lord assured him he would be paid, and paid well.
O.K. That’s all well and good. But we are under a new covenant (Hebrews 7:26-27 and 8:13). We no longer need to offer ritualistic sacrifices. Jesus paid the price for man’s sin once and for all. (Romans 6:10 and Hebrews 7:27) He fulfilled the law.
So doesn’t this new covenant absolve us from the responsibility to pay our preachers? And what about the Apostle Paul? He worked in Corinth as a tentmaker, taking no money from that congregation. What was the practice of the church in apostolic times and what is the New Testament view?
The Apostle Paul explained his reason for refusing help from the church at Corinth. He did not want to tarnish the message of Christ by permitting the people of Corinth to accuse him of worldly greed. In 1 Corinthians 9:12, Paul tells us that he and Barnabas chose to “suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” He gloried in his self-denial (1Cor. 9:15) to proclaim the Lord’s message in a city filled with false apostles and avaricious religionists of every stripe. By refusing to allow the congregation in Corinth to participate in supporting the Lord’s work, Paul denied them standing to criticize or doubt. He was well aware of their skepticism and weakness noting their immaturity and calling them babes in Christ.
However, the Bible is very clear and Paul took the Corinthians to the woodshed for their attitude that made this necessary. READ 1Corinthians 9:3-18!
Was Paul supported in his ministry? . . . . YES! And even in Corinth! Listen to his stinging criticism of that congregation a year or two later. “Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches taking wages of them to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man; for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself being burdensome unto you, and so I will keep myself.”(2Cor. 11:7-9 KJV)
If these words of Paul were not enough, he even tells us in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And the laborer is worthy of his reward.”(KJV) Those who work faithfully in the Lord’s service deserve a “double portion”.
This stigma of greed is used by many who deny Jesus to steer the unsaved lost of this world away from the gospel and those who preach it. Paul fought this spectre in his day and we face the same problem today.
Men who preach to line their pockets are not new. The Bible describes Balaam, the false prophet, in Numbers 22-24. He could fairly be called the father of the Reverend Ikes, Robert Tiltons or the fictional Elmer Gantry’s of the world. The big-haired televangelist who spends most of his airtime exhorting his listeners to “keep those cards and letters (and their checks) coming” is a familiar stereotype. While unfortunately these charlatans do exist, they are extreme and easily identified.
A more common, and more dangerous, individual is the man described by Jesus in John 10: 11-13. He is the HIRELING. He preaches a feelgood message of complacency to a dying world, leaving his congregation unwarned and utterly ignorant of God’s plan for the restoration of His creation. This man is better left as the subject of a separate article, but he is the perfect fit for the congregation of lost souls whose eyes and hearts are firmly fixed on the things of this world. Unwilling to allow any changes in their lives or make any real commitment to the Lord, their focus is described in broad terms in 1John 2:16 as, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” This is the church of Laodicea of Revelation 3: 14-22. The devil will drive you in his own car to that church on Sunday morning.
The picture of the early churches founded by the Apostles is quite different. No large hierarchies, no rulers at the top living in luxury, no World Council of Churches. It is a picture of small groups of men and women beleaguered by a Christ rejecting world learning the plan of God and fearlessly contending for the gospel of salvation through Christ Jesus. It is also a picture of many independent churches today. These are the churches that rush to the aid of a brother in need and stand beside those attacked for the witness of Jesus by an increasingly hostile world. It is one of the two churches portrayed in Revelation for which the Lord has no condemnation, only praise. This is the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3: 7-13) that has little strength but clings tenaciously to the promises of Jesus.
This church is pastored by men who preach the whole counsel of God. They risk ridicule, insults daily humiliation and, now in many cases, arrest and jail for refusing to compromise, accommodate or dilute the words of the Bible. They aren’t politically correct, but then, God’s men never were.
Their frequently threadbare suits are often drenched with the tears of some poor soul they have led to Christ. Yes . . . . .People are saved in that church.
And it isn’t some half-hearted profession of faith or the purposeless recitation of a formula written in a book of creeds or a liturgy parroted without commitment. We see the entrance of the Holy Spirit into a once dead soul as a man or woman confronts the worthlessness of their life and commits everything to the Lord – Jesus the Savior; Jesus the King! It is being “born again”.
The good shepherd has led another sheep safely into the pen. Yes, tears are staining that old suit coat again. They aren’t the only tears that old coat has known.
Remember, Preacher, after a hard night in the delivery room, the tears of joy when the new father learned that his wife and newborn son were fine? Or months later in that same hospital when the solemn faced doctor said, “I’m sorry. We did everything we could.” And, as they lowered that small coffin into the grave, the tears.
You’ll never forget sitting at the bedside of the young football star whose parents were too choked up to speak. You were the one who had to tell him that his leg had been amputated after a drunk driver ended his dreams of college.
Remember the long night of freezing rain as the grief wracked old woman sobbed into your chest? They finally brought the body of her husband of forty years up from the collapsed mineshaft. He would have retired in another year.
The beautiful wedding you performed was a memory the night you cradled the bleeding, beaten face of the once radiant bride. She told you her husband left with another woman. What would she do? What could she tell the kids?
Of course, you remember the young fellow who successfully completed rehab, drug free for the first time in years. The pride you felt in being a part of it. Then, that piercing wail of anguish through the telephone when his mother asked you to take her downtown to identify his body. Her boy had just died from a drug overdose.
Yes. You remember the many times you asked, “Lord, what could I have done differently? Why did I fail You?”
That coat is soaked with an ocean of tears. Years of them, and many of them your own.
J. Austin Bennett Copyright © 2006 Use with credit.
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