Appropriate, but Potentially Dangerous (1 Thessalonians 2:9–10)

As a vocational minister, I constantly hold in tension two thoughts about what I get paid to do:

First, vocational ministry is how I make my living. According to the Bible, getting paid for ministry is appropriate. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17–18; cf. Deut. 25:4, Luke 10:7). (I wonder whether Paul compared preachers and teachers to treading oxen to keep us humble and remind us to work hard?)

Second, how I make my living might discredit my vocational ministry. Every now and then, some news show runs an exposé of how much this televangelist or that megachurch pastor gets paid. When I see the multiple homes and luxury vehicles some of these guys own, I have to admit becoming a bit cynical about their ministries. What are they in this for? I begin to wonder.

Such cynicism probably underlies what Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:9–10:

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

Remember the history of the founding of the Thessalonian church (Acts 17:1–9). The missionaries (who themselves were Jews) preached peacefully and effectively for approximately three weeks in the synagogue. Then, motivated by jealousy, some Thessalonian Jews who rejected the missionaries’ message “formed a mob,” tried to drag the missionaries before local courts on charges of sedition, but succeeded only in doing that to some of the Thessalonian converts. Alarmed, the Thessalonian believers hustled the missionaries out of town at night. However, they still had to deal with the mob and experienced some kind of persecution (1 Thes. 2:14, 3:3). After a while, some of the Thessalonian believers evidently started thinking, Perhaps those missionaries were only in it for the money.

This kind of cynicism about ministry is deadly to a minister’s credibility and to church members’ faith. If a minister is motivated by money (or power or fame), who knows what he or she will say to get more? And if church members doubt a minister’s credibility, what doubts might they begin to entertain about the gospel’s own credibility? Thus does a pastor’s greed destroy parishioners’ creed.

The missionaries refuted Thessalonian cynicism by working outside jobs: “we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” I don’t think all pastors need to do this. Paul didn’t think so either. But if we’re going to be paid for ministry, we must work hard and well, lest our lifestyle discredit the gospel.

In sum: Pay for pastors? Appropriate, but potentially dangerous.

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