Saved by Sacrifice
Soldier, journalist, and author David Canyon Webster once penned these insightful words: “Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.” Sacrifice. It is a term often reserved for the heroes among us—a soldier on the front lines of battle or a fireman who enters a burning building to rescue its victims. From the time we are children, we read stories of such heroes, great men and women who are willing to sacrifice everything to save those things which are precious. One of the places we read of these men and women is the Bible. On the pages of Scripture, one can certainly see that the apostle Paul was one of these heroes. As most heroes, his passion was to rescue people. And as heroes do, he was willing to make any sacrifice necessary to accomplish his mission.
In 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, we see Paul’s heroic heart in the one main passion that permeated his life: the spread of the gospel. In fact, his heartbeat for the gospel resonates throughout this entire chapter. Paul begins by spending a fair amount of time (yet again) defending himself against accusations by the Corinthians. These accusations included questions about his authenticity as an apostle as well as the way he chose to make a living, especially his refusal to accept monetary support from the Corinthian church.
Accepting monetary support from those one ministered to as a missionary was a normal and acceptable way of making a living. Jesus himself told those he sent out to preach the gospel to get their provisions this way, saying “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Paul spends nearly 14 verses expounding on this truth, quoting support from principles in the Old Testament laws (“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”) as well as illustrations from daily life (soldiers, vineyard owners, and shepherds). Paul spells out very clearly that it is right and good that “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (vs. 14). Thus, Paul, as an authentic apostle of God who has ministered to them has the right to get monetary support from them.
Now before we get to the main emphasis of Paul’s argument here, it might be beneficial to stop and reflect on this truth and its relevance for us today. After all, Paul spends quite a bit of time on this issue. Those who have been called to ministry should be provided for by those they minister to, and we who are recipients of their ministry should do everything in our power to make sure that they are provided for financially. My husband and I spent over a decade working in vocational ministry and we can testify firsthand to the financial burdens and stress that most families in ministry experience on a daily basis. With the exception of a few egregious acts of spending that lead to the pastor’s company car being a Lexus, most pastors are sorely underpaid and underinsured (not to mention being underappreciated). And too many times, the church has a mentality that they should be, just because they are in ministry! Nowhere in scripture does it say that those in ministry should be in financial hardship. Nor does it say that they should be driving junkers, living in old houses, wearing thrift store clothing, and keeping their thermostats set to 60 degrees in the winter to save on heating bills! Too many times, we impose on our ministers the expectation that they should be suffering financially. This is simply not a Biblical perspective. To the contrary, what is Biblical is to make sure our pastors are amply provided for, so they are not burdened down by financial hardship, worries, and even guilt.
During our time in vocational ministry, I remember someone once criticizing us for getting a dog. Over 40 million people in the U.S. have a dog but somehow, since we were in ministry, it was considered a luxury that we should have forgone. And yet, as I have interacted with many, many people in ministry over the years, I find this is not unique. Many of them have been judged (some harshly) for the way they spend their money, sometimes being made to feel guilty over any material blessing they have received (whether from the church or another source). Most of us don’t know the level of financial hardship our ministers suffer from, nor the guilt and judgment they have to deal with over financial issues. It is truly sad. Paul states that those who “have sown spiritual seed among you” should “reap a material harvest from you” (vs. 11). Notice this isn’t the dregs of whatever spare food scraps can be scraped off the barn floor, this is the harvest…the abundant, plentiful provisions of a bountiful harvest. Are you giving this kind of harvest to your pastor or missionary? And are you giving them the freedom to enjoy the blessings of it?
Okay, off my soapbox and back to Paul’s main passion here, which actually isn’t financial support, but the gospel: the good news of eternal life through the person of Jesus Christ. After Paul spends nearly fourteen verses discussing the undeniable right of ministers to get their living from those they minister to, he then moves on to say something the Corinthians certainly would not have expected. He says that he does not want any material provision from them! He refuses to exercise this right. Why? So the gospel of Christ will not be hindered.
Now, lest we think that somehow our pastor is hindering the gospel by accepting financial support from the church, let’s try to understand why Paul is giving up this right. Scholars have debated exactly what Paul’s concern was in “hindering” the gospel. The answer is most likely to be found in this passage from 2 Corinthians 11:4-13, which, bear in mind, was also written to the Corinthians:
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
This certainly parallels our passage, doesn’t it? Paul most likely gave up his right to income from the Corinthians in order to set himself apart from these false apostles in Corinth who were teaching false doctrines and “peddling the word of God for profit” (2 Cor. 2:17). He wanted to make sure there would be no debate about the true gospel message and those truly sent from God to deliver it. Because of the specific situation in Corinth, Paul chose to give up his rights to income from them, so that the precious treasure of the gospel would not be hindered. Besides God himself, there was nothing Paul treasured more. He was sold out and passionate about the gospel. And he would do anything and give up anything, for the vital message of the gospel to go forth.
So how about us? Do we share Paul’s passion for the gospel going forth? Do we have that same kind of passion for sharing the good news of our Savior? Like Paul, are we willing to give up certain things in our lives so that more people may come to know Christ? Our rights? Our pride? Our reputation? Our personal comfort? Our money? Our time? Are we willing to make sacrifices so that the gospel will go forth into our families, our friendships, our workplaces, our culture, and the world?
In this important mission, the words of David Canyon Webster certainly ring true: those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice. And the greatest sacrifice of all was the one Jesus made when he died for what he deemed most precious: the souls of men and women. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son….” And all across this world, men and women are waiting for this good news. They are waiting to be rescued from a life of separation from God. Are you willing to make sacrifices to bring them this good news, the life saving treasure of the gospel? Whether they realize it or not, they are waiting for a hero. The question is: will you be that hero?