Never does anyone argue harder for something they won’t actually take than Paul does in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14. Through much of his ministry, especially his time with the church in Corinth, Paul refused financial support from the church with which he was working. It may be that as per Romans 7:7-8, covetousness was a particular temptation for Paul, so he resolved that as much as possible, he wouldn’t accept money for his proclamation of the gospel.
However, Paul spends twelve verses carefully constructing the argument that he had the right to be supported. This argument has several prongs. First, he points out that it was customary for churches to provide not only for preachers, but for their families. Second, he notes that people expect to be compensated for whatever kind of work they do, and preaching is no different.
Third, he turns to the Law of Moses to establish that even oxen had the right to eat while they were threshing grain, and if God was concerned with oxen, how much more is He concerned with providing for human workers? Finally, he observes that those who provide spiritual blessings to Christians have the right to expect physical blessings in return. From all this, he concludes that preachers have the right to earn their living from the gospel.
This argument has significant implications for preachers and churches alike. First, it warns preachers that they need to work hard in order to earn their living. Merely filling a pulpit once or twice a week does not entitle them to anything! Instead, if secular workers invest great effort in making widgets or closing business deals, the preacher should show even greater daily devotion to work of eternal importance.
Additionally, the preacher should be humble and appreciative about his salary. Many brethren make significant financial sacrifices in order to contribute appropriately to the Lord’s work. Ministers should not react to these sacrifices with arrogant entitlement. Rather, they should express their heartfelt appreciation to those whose generosity enables them to serve.
In turn, churches ought to remember that preacher support is not benevolent relief. The standard for a man’s compensation is not the minimum that he needs to get by, as determined by those who aren’t trying to make his family budget balance. He is paid as an act of justice, according to what he deserves, rather than as an act of mercy. If he is working hard at preaching and teaching, he should be rewarded accordingly.
Similarly, churches should not import a free-market mentality into their salary determinations. They should not be asking how cheaply they can fill a pulpit. Instead, they should measure the preacher’s value according to the value of what he is teaching them. Is it really a good idea to try to economize in finding a man whom you want to help you inherit eternal life?
All of us know that the love of money tangles everything up in the world. In the church, we must be careful to ensure that it doesn’t tangle us up. However, when churches and preachers both consider financial matters in the light of God’s word, the results inevitably will be to His glory.
Among its other vices, our society loves to find people with unpopular views (the more unpopular, the better) and hold them up for public scorn. Self-righteousness is apparently very pleasant to the American palate. Amazingly enough, some reporter recently succeeded in finding someone who did not believe that Bill Cosby deserved to be in prison.
An ancient actress named Carroll Baker gave an interview in which she expressed her belief that Cosby was innocent. Instead, it was his victims were at fault. Baker’s claims are fantastic and easily dismissed, as they were meant to be. However, in her semi-coherent rambling, she did say one thing that struck me. “My heart is broken for Bill Cosby,” she said.
Our hearts ought to be broken for Bill Cosby, not because he is not a malevolent sexual predator, but because he is a malevolent sexual predator. Baker to the contrary, there is no doubt that he drugged and raped dozens of women, doing unimaginable harm. However, among his victims, we must number Cosby himself.
Like all of us, God gave him an immortal soul. He also was blessed with great gifts such as few of us possess. Through these gifts, he accumulated great wealth, reputation, and fame.
Tragically, he also listened to the whispers of the devil. In pursuit of selfish pleasure, he did great evil, and this evil corrupted everything else he had done.
His wealth was expended in lawsuits and payouts to victims, his reputation was shattered, and his fame was transmuted to infamy. Today, although he is a free man, he is every bit as miserable and ruined as the women he exploited. This is to say nothing of the horrible damage he has done to his soul and the horrible fate that likely will befall him on the day of judgment.
What a tragedy! What a waste! Even the predator is the prey of the evil one, who has betrayed him as he always betrays his followers. The true villain here is Satan. While we long for justice, we also must regard the evildoer with compassion.
If we’re not willing to do that, we must ask ourselves where we draw the line. What is the difference between the sinner who is worthy of pity and the sinner who isn’t? Is it, perhaps, that we are moved by our own plight and the plight of those who sin like we do, while we shower contempt on those who sin differently? It was not so for Jesus. Though He did not sin, He pitied even those whom He knew never would listen.
In particular, we must learn to see the tragedy in those who sin against us. “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” Jesus cried on the cross. Well, yes, they did know! They were unjustly killing a genuine prophet who told them He was the Son of God, and they did it for the sake of their position and power.
However, they acted in ignorance too, ignorance of the damage they were doing themselves, ignorance of the doom they were bringing on their nation, and ignorance of the eternal destruction they were storing up for their souls. Jesus saw that they were deceived, and He appealed for their forgiveness.
Our hearts ought to be broken for Bill Cosby. They ought to be broken for all those who trouble us. Mourning is as appropriate a response to sin as anger is, and they ought to be combined in us as they are in God. In a world so marred in every way by sin, we need not fear an excess of compassion.
As I contemplate my future, one of the most unpleasant prospects is that of developing frontotemporal dementia. In my family, FTD and ALS are genetically linked. My mother had both. I do not know whether I will be spared.
However, as awful as FTD is, my trust is in the One whose power is greater than any illness. As of now, there is no medication that will slow its inexorable march, but I am confident that any victory that it wins over me will be temporary only. For me, as for any Christian afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia, I know these things to be true:
In Christ I will not lose my memories. Jesus knew His friends and loved ones after His resurrection, and I will be raised like Him.
In Christ I will not lose my personality. He who is able to restore the martyrs from scattered ashes will be able to restore it too.
In Christ I will not lose my relationships. Heaven is a place of greater fellowship, not lesser.
In Christ I will not lose my mind. I know I will have it because it is impossible to love God fully without it.
In Christ I will not lose my joy. At His right hand there are pleasures forever.
In Christ I will not lose my salvation. He will not hold me accountable for the foolish and hurtful actions that I am no longer able to control.
In Christ I will not lose my life. It is hidden in Him.
I first encountered the classical statement of the problem of human suffering in a religious-studies class in college. The professor wrote on the board, “If God could stop suffering and chooses not to, He is not perfectly good. If God wants to stop suffering and can’t, He is not perfectly powerful. If God is both perfectly good and perfectly powerful, why does suffering exist?”
Though skeptics are fond of the problem of suffering, there are several problems with it. To me, one of the most significant is its assumption that our understanding of the good is the same as God’s understanding. A toddler cannot comprehend why their mother does not feed them candy for every meal and let them stick their fingers into electrical sockets. Is it the mother’s conception of the good that is flawed, or the toddler’s?
God knows more than we do, has a far better grasp of the consequences of suffering, is far more concerned with the eternal than the earthly, and doesn’t think like us to begin with. The Bible presents Him as a God who is perfectly good, yet whose actions are not subject to human reason. It calls us to trust even when, and especially when, we don’t understand.
All of this, though, is the sort of thing that is discussed in collegiate lecture halls and Wednesday-night Bible classes. It doesn’t have much to do with the actual lived experience of suffering. When you are the one who has lost a child, when you are the one who is grappling with a terminal diagnosis, you are much more concerned with the consequences of God’s existence/nonexistence than you are with proofs to establish either.
If God is and is a rewarder of those who seek Him, suffering and indeed life itself are meaningful. I suffer, yes, but I suffer with hope. My efforts to glorify God are significant and give others the opportunity to make consequential changes in their own life. In the end, I will be blessed with such joy that all my suffering will seem to me as nothing more than momentary, light affliction.
If there is no God, then none of the above applies. Neither my suffering nor my life have meaning. It is impossible for them to be meaningful. I am nothing more than the victim of malignant chance, as everyone will be sooner or later. My efforts to lift others up are pointless. In the end, I will die and be forgotten, with no more significance than the pattern left on the sand by the last wave to wash up on the beach.
If that’s all there is to life, why live? Why go on? Why bother wrestling with the monstrous? The counsel of atheism to the sufferer is the counsel of despair, and it never can be anything else.
Yes, this is an emotional argument, but our reactions to the “rational” arguments about the existence of God are emotionally driven too. Anybody who thinks they can dispassionately reason to fundamental truths about the nature of existence without being powerfully influenced by their desires and fears is a fool. We make such decisions with the Biblical heart, the Eastern mind-and-heart, not the Western mind.
Indeed, the belief that we can rely on the latter is one of the great illusions of Western civilization. The product of such self-deceptive “reasoning” might stand up in the classroom, but suffering forces us to confront the truth. Either we choose to trust in the God whose ways are not our ways, or we reject Him. The former choice is not pleasant, but the latter is unbearable.
I will extol You, God and King!
Forever I will praise Your name,
For You are great and highly praised;
All ages will declare Your fame.
I will reflect upon Your works
And tell Your deeds to everyone
So they may shout Your righteousness
And magnify what You have done.
The Lord is merciful and kind;
His grace is great; His anger, slow;
Your works shall thank You for Your care;
The just shall bless the God they know.
Your majesty they will declare;
The glory of Your realm, repeat,
So all the sons of men may know
That it will never see defeat.
The Lord sustains each living thing;
His open hand provides their needs,
For He is good in all His ways
And generous in all His deeds.
The Lord is near to those who call
And keeps His godly ones from shame
Forever I will speak His praise;
All flesh will bless His holy name.
Suggested tune: “He Leadeth Me”