The Barnabas Ministry

Financial Support for Full-Time Ministry Workers
In order to address the question of financial support for full-time workers in the church today, the question of how the early church addressed this issue must be considered. I will highlight what appear to be significant elements of the practice of the New Testament church.

Discussion of NT Church Examples of Support
Jesus himself was an itinerant teacher traveling around Judea and the surrounding area. In this work, Jesus and the apostles were supported by benefactors:

And it came about soon afterwards, that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him, [2] and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, [3] and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:1-3)
All forms of support for preachers of the gospel in the church age follow this basic paradigm.

Co-Habitation and Initial Missionary Work
The so-called "Limited Commission" of Matthew 10 and Luke 10 provided basic instructions for the apostles going out to preach during the earthly ministry of Jesus.


Matthew 10:9-14 Luke 10:4-11
Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, [10] or a bag for your journey, or even two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.  Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 
[11] And into whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it; and abide there until you go away.   
[12] And as you enter the house, give it your greeting. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your greeting of peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your greeting of peace return to you.  [5] And whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace be to this house.' [6] And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, it will return to you. [7] And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. 
  [8] And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; [9] and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 
[14] And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. [10] But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, [11] `Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'
Even though these instructions were initially intended for a short missionary expedition by the apostles, there is some internal evidence that these instructions also were intended for broader missionary activity, particularly after the beginning of the church. We might draw some basic observations from these two passages towards that end: The "worthy person" hosting the missionary thus becomes the sponsor of the missionary.  Acts provides ample evidence that this practice of co-habitation was carried on in the early church:
And it came about that he stayed many days in Joppa with a certain tanner, Simon. (Acts 9:43)

"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" [48] And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:47-48)

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:15)

And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. [5] But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. (Acts 17:4-5)

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. [2] And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, [3] and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. (Acts 18:1-3)

And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. (Acts 18:7)

And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:4)

And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. [8] And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. [9] Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. [10] And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. (Acts 21:7-9)

And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. [16] And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. (Acts 21:15-16)

There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. [15] And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. (Acts 28:14-15)

Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. (Romans 16:23)

Something that may not be obvious about this arrangement is that the host was someone "worthy." Those going out under Jesus' instructions were to show discretion in seeking this sponsor. They didn't stay with just anyone, but with someone that was worthy, a man of peace.

Early Instances of Local Support
In some places, local support seems to have expanded into a more corporate event, though we hard pressed to find specific examples of it in the New Testament.

Paul discusses this concept of "local support" from an entire congregation with the Corinthians. Paul doesn't say exactly what kind of support he was referring to-- it could have been staying with a sponsor or payment in cash. If he was referring to sponsorship, perhaps the community shared in the expenses of the "worthy person" host. If pay, perhaps this was something like Jesus' practice of multiple benefactors.

Interestingly, Paul did not receive such support from the Corinthians. However, others apparently did, and Paul refers to this practice in discussing his relationship with the Corinthians:

My defense to those who examine me is this: [4] Do we not have a right to eat and drink? [5] Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? [6] Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? [7] Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? [8] I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? [9] For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? [10] Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. [11] If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? [12] If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. [13] Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? [14] So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.  (1 Corinthians 9:3-14)
This passage will be discussed in more detail below, but at this point we can see that the support Paul is talking about is from an entire congregation.

As mentioned, while Paul was in Corinth he did not receive support from the Corinthians. This brings up a another method of support found in the New Testament era.

Remote Support
The congregation in Philippi supported Paul in his work in Corinth as well as other places:

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? [8] I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you; [9] and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia, they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. (2 Corinthians 11:7-9)

But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.  (Acts 18:5)

But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need. (Philippians 2:25)

And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; [16] for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. (Philippians 4:15-16)

This remote support is much like the fundamental concept of sponsorship except that is it the support of Christians in another place. This support no doubt took the form of cash for purchasing those things necessary for support. This is also seen in the initial sending of missionaries from various places:
And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." [3] Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:2-3)

And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. (Acts 17:10)

And then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. (Acts 17:14)

Self-Support
Paul also supported himself in his missionary travels from time to time:
After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. [2] And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, [3] and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. (Acts 18:1-3)

"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. [35] "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:34-35)

Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? (1 Corinthians 9:6)

This self-support was always an option for Paul the tentmaker, having employed it in both Corinth and Ephesus.

Additional Observations Concerning Support in the Early Church
Transience
One thing that must be remembered about evidence from Acts and Paul's ministry is that early preachers were transient. They had no permanent presence anywhere. This has a significant impact upon the parameters and methods of support used.

Families
There is little evidence of spouses and children on the mission field. This was a dangerous place to be, as Paul's experiences would easily testify (ref. 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, 11:23-33). This is not to say dependents were never a part of the picture; certainly Paul's argument that he was entitled to take a wife along shows that others did so. However, we see Paul, Barnabas, John-Mark, Timothy, Silas and Apollos were all apparently single.

Benefits of Co-Habitation
The principle of co-habitation brought many benefits to the early church. Besides the basics of support being provided, the missionary could easily build relationships, train and teach in such a setting. This would also provide an element of credibility for the "stranger" in town. Eliminating the need for collecting cash, it completely removed the accusation of greed from the ministry. Co-habitation was an inexpensive, efficient, equitable manner of supporting transient full-time workers-- which is what evangelists were.

Co-habitation appears to be part of the larger plan Jesus had in mind for the church. In some cases it appears that these people the missionaries stayed with became hosts of the primitive "house churches" for those towns and cities. In a complementary way, the early church valued hospitality greatly (ref. Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). Hospitality was a qualifying criteria for the eldership (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8) and the enrollment of widows (1 Timothy 5:10). This principle of staying with people in other places seems to have had its origins in the early Jerusalem church (Acts 2:42-47). This practice served the church well through all the travels of missionaries and in the formation of early house churches in the New Testament era.

Level of Support
Because of the well-documented "sharing" concept, the amount and quality of support would be on a par with that of those providing the support. Wealthy benefactors could have been excessively generous, but Scriptural prohibitions about greed make it unlikely that "support levels" were significantly better than the population of the congregation or region.

Local Ministers
In time, there were local ministers receiving support in the same manner as missionaries/evangelists. But primarily, those supported in a local congregation were its elders (see discussion on 1 Timothy 5:17 below). It is not inconceivable that these elders might be the very ones with whom the missionary stayed in the first place-- remember the connection between seeking a worthy person, hospitality and co-habitation and the clear built-in benefit to such a close relationship for the purpose of training.

Contemporary Application
The fundamental support for the idea of supporting full-time gospel workers comes from the explicit teaching of Jesus and the apostles as well as their examples as documented in the New Testament. This is that starting point for addressing the question of support for ministers in our day and circumstances.

Discussion of Particular Passages of Interest
Much has been taught and written concerning the support of ministers from a number of particular passages. Several of these passages and lines of reasoning merit closer investigation.

1 Corinthians 9
In discussing the principle of rejecting food associated with idolatry (see the surrounding text in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, 10:14), Paul discusses the concept of refusing one's "rights" for the good of others and the advancement of the gospel. In fact, this is the "way of love" which he goes on to discuss later in 1 Corinthians 13:1ff. Yet, in discussing the "rights" he refuses to exercise, he brings up the matter of support from the local congregation:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? [2] If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
My defense to those who examine me is this: [4] Do we not have a right to eat and drink? [5] Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? [6] Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? [7] Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? [8] I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? [9] For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? [10] Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. [11] If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? [12] If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. [13] Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? [14] So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. [15] But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. [16] For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. [17] For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. [18] What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:1-18)
Concerning the idea of support in his ministry, he makes the following points: 1 Timothy 5:17-20
Paul's instructions to Timothy while at Ephesus discuss many varied aspects of church ministry. Chapter 5 is a discussion of various financial matters-- first the enrollment and support of widows and second the support of elders.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. [18] For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." [19] Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. [20] Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:17-20)
One critical aspect of this text in this present discussion is the meaning of the term "double honor." First, let's discuss the matter of "honor." The Greek term here is the noun "time." The Greek language also has a verb cognate "timao" (meaning "to honor"). These are generally translated into English as "honor." Sometimes these terms refer to "honor" as a relational, metaphysical concept (e.g. "honor one another" Romans 12:10). Other times, the terms clearly refer to money (Acts 4:34, 5:2). Sometimes (just to make our task more interesting) they refer to both (Matthew 15:4-6).

Colin Brown (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 48-51) offers a useful discussion of the term; here are portions of this entry relevant to this discussion:

2. In Gk. thought time is the proper recognition which a man enjoys in the community because of his office, position, wealth, etc., and then the position itself, the office with its dignity and privileges.
2. (b) It is not clear whether time should be rendered honour or honorarium, i.e. remuneration in 1 Tim 5:17.
4. (a) As in Gk. society and the OT, time is also used in the context of the social order decreed by God. time is respect for the standing and task of a person who has his place in this order.
4. (c) The Biblical teaching about natural relationships, e.g. man and wife, parents and children, the authorities, was developed from this. The same principle was applied to church life. Honour was to be shown the elders (1 Tim. 5:17 but see above 2 (b)), widows (1 Tim. 5:3), and the responsible leaders of the congregation in general (Phil. 2:29).
In regards to its use in 5:17, Bauer's lexicon is ambiguous on the precise meaning, offering this on time: "perhaps honorarium, compensation; honor, respect is also possible" (p. 817-8). Kittel is similarly non-restrictive in its discussion of time: "2. Honorarium. This is perhaps the meaning in 1 Tim 5:17, unless 'honor' be meant" (ref. Bromily p. 1182).

Ultimately, the question of more precise word meanings of such terms must result from a consideration of the context. However, the uncertainty among these scholars should give us great pause before we charge forward.

Paul uses words from the word group in 1 Timothy for both "honor" and "honorarium." In this letter, 5:3 uses timao for the honoring of widows, clearly referring to physical support:

In 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:16, words from this group are used concerning the metaphysical honor due to God. In 6:1, it is used with regard to the honor due to masters from slaves. Neither of these uses have anything to do with money, showing that Paul is familiar with both uses/meanings of the word group and that he doesn't expect his readers to have difficulty understanding which type of "honor" he has in mind.

Now to the discussion of "double" honor. This term is the Greek "diplos." It is used three times in the NT-- here, Matthew 23:15 (twice as much a son of hell) and Revelation 18:6 (pay back double for what has been done). Notice each of these is a figure of speech emphasizing the idea under consideration.

A.T Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV p. 587) cites various opinions on the meaning of "double honor":

On this topic of "double honor" David Bercot cites the Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390):
As much as is given to each one of the elder women, let double that amount be given to the deacons, in honor of Christ. Let also a double portion be set apart for the presbyters (elders)... If there is a reader, let him receive a single portion. (Apostolic Constitutions 7:411)
This addresses the question "double compared to what?" After all, if the elders are married that is two people to support compared to the one widow, so a double-amount is equitable. This idea may well be plausible but is difficult to unambiguously substantiate it from the pages of the New Testament. But if "diplos" is figurative, the statement is simply a figure of speech that the elders are indeed worthy of their honor, whatever it is. Double thus relates to worthiness, not the amount of compensation.

Ralph Earle (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, p. 380) opts for "perhaps we should allow both 'honor' and 'honorarium.' as Paul may have intended both." Since the eldership was regarded as a "noble task" (NIV) or "fine work" (NAS) in 3:1, for those "above reproach" (3:2), the notion of honor and respect applies. In this very paragraph (5:19) Paul states that elders are to be above frivolous accusations of wrongdoing; this is certainly a manifestation of "double honor." This "honor and honorarium" perspective on 5:17ff fits the context quite naturally and has fewer difficulties than any of the other possibilities. Certainly these elders were worthy of support and respect.

Great Compensation?
It has been suggested that this "double honor" means that "great compensation" is allowed for ministers. There are difficulties with such a view. First, this text is about elders, not "ministers." It does not seem to apply to ministers because of the notion of "double honor." Second, "great compensation" hardly fits the anti-greed standard of the early church (ref. Ephesians 5:3). It is hard to imagine elders who are supposed to be "not lovers of money" (1 Timothy 3:3) being supported exorbitantly.

Performance-Based Compensation?
Is there support here for the idea of "performance compensation?" No commentator I consulted commended this idea. There is no evidence of support in the New Testament being scaled according to "performance" or "responsibility." Most naturally, the connection between doing their work well is with being worthy of the compensation, not the amount of the compensation.

There are other serious problems with the concept of "performance compensation." Scripturally, historically and by definition, support is based upon need. Migrating from a "ministry and support" model to a "job and performance pay" model is highly problematic. Clearly, this idea does not come from the Scriptures but from our worldly employment concepts. Fee and Stuart offer a wise word in biblical interpretation that must be heeded here: "A text cannot mean what it never meant" (How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, p.27). Simply, it is anachronistic to attempt to use this Scripture to support a modern, worldly, performance-oriented view of compensation for ministry workers. This is not what Paul was talking about.

Galatians 6:6
Paul's urgent letter to the Galatians concerning their falling into Judaizing contains a short snippet that some have applied to the concept of supporting church leaders:

And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. [7] Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. [8] For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. [9] And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. [10] So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)
The principle of sharing is again prominent here, with those who are taught sharing with those doing the teaching. The Greek word for sharing is koinoneo, used of giving to poor Christians (Romans 12:13) and Paul's relationship with the Philippians in giving and receiving (Philippians 4:15).

The word for teacher is katecheo, a verb meaning teach or instruct (ref. origin of the English chatechism). This term is used in Luke 1:4 concerning Theophilus' past training in the life of Jesus, Acts 18:25 concerning Apollos prior to meeting Aquila and Priscilla. Acts 21:21,24 concerning what many Jews had been told about Paul's actions with respect to the Law, Romans 2:18 concerning Jews who are instructed by the Law, and 1 Corinthians 14:19 concerning Paul's preference to instruct with five intelligible words than ten thousand in a tongue. Thus, its use in Galatians 6:6 points to the ongoing instruction that young Christians might receive and testifies to the existence of another class of ministry apart from the ministry of the evangelist and the ministry of the elder. Teachers are ministers, too.

The phrase "all good things" is also used in the letter to Philemon (in 1:6 with koinoneo), by sharing faith with one another we come to understand "every good thing" we have in Christ. It is also used in Hebrews 13:21 that the readers might be equipped with "every good thing" for doing God's will.

The question must be addressed: are these "good things" compensation or metaphysical "good things" as in Philemon 1:6 and Hebrews 13:21? Bauer (p. 3) cites agathos as meaning "possessions, treasures." James Montgomery Boice (Expositor's Bible Commentary) considers 6:6 to relate to compensation for the teacher. A.T. Robertson says "catechumens are to compensate instructors for their time (op. cit. IV, p.316). Agothos is also used in 6:10 (but note that kalos is used in 6:9).

Yet, I am not quite persuaded on this point. It seems odd for this term to be used as a euphemism for material support. Further, this teaching ministry need not have been carried on by "full-time" workers, thought it certainly could have been. But we also have evidence of one-another teaching in the early church (e.g. Colossians 3:16). The material-goods take on Galatians 6:6 would not apply if lay teachers (that is, one-another teachers) are in view, but the metaphysical position on 6:6 would hold for both lay and full-time teachers. These objections aside, it is hard to reject the unanimous opinion of a variety of scholars. For the sake of this discussion, I will concede this point (the physical-goods perspective on 6:6) for now.

Another question that must be considered is this: who is Paul talking about here? Who are these people doing the instructing?  Certainly Paul is not recommending compensation for the condemned false teachers who were afflicting the churches in Galatia with their heresy. But the Judaizers whom Paul is addressing in Galatians (e.g. 6:12) may well have been appearing as itinerant teachers, teaching false doctrine and collecting compensation for it. Perhaps there were local or more orthodox itinerant teachers, or even the "spiritual ones" from 6:1, who needed to be provided for.

Sowing and reaping are not in the context of sharing with the instructor specifically, but in the context of "doing good" (6:9,10). Sharing with the instructor isn't a matter of patiently waiting for a future blessing; the blessing of instruction and learning has already taken place. The readers are instructed to do good to all men and especially those who are believers, and to not lose heart in doing so lest they quit before receiving the hoped-for result-- eternal life.

Philippians 4:10-20
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul discusses the support the Philippians gave him:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. [11] Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. [12] I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. [13] I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. [14] Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. [15] And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; [16] for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. [17] Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. [18] But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. [19] And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [20] Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20)
There are several observations about the practice of support that we can make from this text: 1 Corinthians 16:1-4
The passages in 1 and 2 Corinthians concerning giving are among the most often cited and yet the most often misapplied passages in the New Testament concerning the contribution.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. [2] On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. [3] And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; [4] and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. [14] At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, [15] as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little." (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

The contribution here was for the support of those in Jerusalem suffering under a famine. Paul had organized a contribution from the Gentile churches that they might share with those in Jerusalem in this time of need. This and the more lengthy passage of 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15 are related to a special contribution taken for this express purpose.

All of the misapplications I've heard concerning these passages cannot be discussed. Certainly these passages give some insight into fundamental principles of giving. But these passages are not talking about a weekly contribution for operations and local ministry support. They are about a special situation of need in Judea and special contributions certain churches took up on that account.

Key Points for Today
Moving towards a Scriptural paradigm of supporting full-time ministry workers is not an easy thing. Many aspects of this topic are areas of opinion, and we are extremely likely to bring our own biases into this matter as well.

We must also keep in mind the relative importance of this topic. Compensation of full-time ministry personnel is not as important or as well-defined as the gospel. Yet because of some of the other issues that come into play, this matter has the potential to threaten the unity of the church.

However, I think there are several important principles that merit serious consideration in addressing this topic.

The Principle of Stewardship
The church has finite resources; those leading the church and administering those resources must allocate those resources wisely and within Scriptural limits. The Scriptures allow for support of particular ministry work: evangelism/proclaiming the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14), leading the church (1 Timothy 5:17) and teaching/equipping the church Galatians 6:6, Ephesians 4:11).  Along with these, the Scriptures show that the early church was quite devoted to caring for the poor-- especially other Christians in emergency situations (Galatians 2:10, 6:10, Acts 11:28-30). Administration costs may be necessary for these works, but clearly should not overshadow the primary work intended.

The Principle of Sharing and Equity
The principle of sharing and equity permeates the topic of compensation of ministry workers. There are several compelling reasons for this standard of compensation:

Moderate compensation near the median of the population being served provides for generous support while maintaining faithfulness and harmony with these other spiritual principles. This is easily the most defensible level of compensation.

The Principle of Sponsorship/Endorsement
The principle of sponsorship and endorsement maintains healthy relationships between the supported individual and the one providing the support. This provides for emotional, spiritual and relational support as well as financial support.

Institutionalized support has serious practical and Scriptural problems.

I'm not sure how to make this practical, but we certainly ought to be aware of these shortcomings of institutional support and work to eliminate or minimize them.

Special Problems
There are some aspects of compensation that can be quite difficult but also need attention.

An article of this length can't begin to address all of the issues and considerations that arise in discussing this topic. But I do hope to have provided a short survey of support in the New Testament age and how those principles might be put into place in the modern church.

Copyright © 2003 John Engler. All rights reserved.