God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 9:9b-12 Anything rather than an obstacle
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Is God only concerned about oxen? 10 Doesn’t he speak entirely for our sake? This was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
The law about oxen getting to eat while they walk in their slow circle threshing the grain also applies, and in fact applies “entirely” (πάντως) for our sake. The plowman (who works at the beginning of the growing season) and the thresher (who works at the end) both do their work with the hope of sharing in the bounty of the harvest. More than this, they “should, ought to” (ὀϕείλει) do their work with this hope and expectation. In fact, Paul shows that this law, written between our obligation not to punish too severely and our obligation to a brother who has died, it’s about how we are taken care of as we do our work from day to day.
When Paul says “our sake,” he means called workers. He is not speaking about Christians in general, nor about human beings in general, nor about oxen in general, but about those who serve the needs of the church. We cannot accuse Paul of misapplying Scripture here, or else we would be accusing the Holy Spirit of misunderstanding himself. But Paul is concerned about workers who are called by the Holy Spirit through the church being taken care of by the church.
If Paul meant all human beings in general then every person who ever did anything in faith or in unbelief to benefit the church might expect to be paid by the church. If Paul meant Christians in general then every Christian who ever did anything to benefit the church for any reason might wait in expectation to be paid by the church. And Paul does not mean oxen, because as Luther says, “oxen cannot read.” No, Paul means ministers of the church. Ministers should indeed expect that there should be some compensation from the church. Not that they expect to get rich, or should anticipate that they will sit high on top of the congregation’s wealth like a dragon perched on a pile of gold, but only that they will find that the basic needs of life available to anyone in the congregation will be theirs as well.
11 If we have sown the seed of spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If there are others who share this rightful claim on you, don’t 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.
A minister sows spiritual things among his people by preaching and teaching law and gospel to them. When they are troubled, he comforts them. When they have questions, he points them to the Scriptures if he is wise and answers them from those holy pages. When they have made mistakes, he corrects and guides them if they let him. If they dare to stand smugly on top of their sins, he preaches all the threats of hell to them. If they cower at the door and tremble on account of their sins, he preaches the soothing comfort of heaven and forgiveness to them. What can he expect in return for such spiritual gifts? God blesses him through simple blessings, and he might, as Paul says, “reap material things from you.” But there are times when the minister will not make use of this right, for their sakes. When a minister’s prosperity becomes a stumbling block to his people, he must let go of the reins of his rights and let the matter drop until he has taught and explained the truth in such a way that the person’s conscience is no longer troubled. This begins with Galatians 6:6: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” And again, Paul told the Romans: “If the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27).
See how Paul has circled back to the matter of causing offense and to being a stumbling block for his brothers and sisters in Christ. If this should be avoided with the meat sacrificed to an idol, then it may also need to be avoided with anything else he eats, even those things he is given to support his ministry. For “we put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3). So if it is truly a challenge to a weak brother’s conscience that a minister should be paid for his work (although he has no other source of income at all), then the minister must teach and explain from the Scriptures why this should be so. For “a man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide as in this as in all things, and that whatever crosses we bear will give God glory and teach us true humility.
Pastor Timothy Smith