Gospel Work Should be a Living Wage
February 22, 2016 — 1 Corinthians 9:8–14
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not 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. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
What does it mean to be working for the gospel? I have to ask myself that question sometimes. Don’t get me wrong; if you have ever talked to me about this you know that I have a really broad understanding of what ministry is. I think that every Christian is called into ministry where they are, be it overseas teaching at a school for expats, or down the road at the public school. Ministry is simply faithfulness to our Lord in every aspect of our lives.
I guess the rub comes when I compare what I do with what my parents did growing up. They spent several years planning and training to ultimately move to a place where they would be fish out of water because they cared about a group of people that needed help. It was amazing to see their love and care for children whose families were uprooted and transplanted in a new place. They got to learn and minister at the same time. To me, my parents embodied vocational ministry because at the end of the day, they didn’t get to go home to what was comfortable. They had to deal with rolling brownouts (power outages for the uninitiated). They had to order water every week because the water piped into our house wasn’t safe to drink. It was stressful, and hard and I don’t know how they did it.
You see, I had it pretty easy. I didn’t grow up feeling uprooted; my roots were young and growing in Philippine soil. I didn’t feel like my life was a struggle, I just was kids going to school and dealing with the situations that presented themselves to me. To be honest, I have always felt like going home meant going to home base, it is comfortable and easy and relaxing there.
It is easy for me to look at what my parents did and say that what they were doing was clearly proclaiming the gospel to missionary kids. It is easy for me to say that they deserved to be supported and paid to do what they did. They were working 168 hours a week to be missionaries in the Philippines. I have a great deal of respect for the hard things that they did there.
The thing is, sometimes I wonder if I am “in ministry.” When I look at what I do it feels like a pretty stark difference. I work for a radio station in Chicago that broadcasts Christian teaching, music, and worldview. But I work 40 hours a week. I go home and get to stop working for the gospel. I get to not think. I struggle with the reality that I am getting paid more now as an employee of a ministry than my parents ever did being foreign missionaries. It’s not that I feel guilty, just conflicted that I am earning a living wage for full time ministry, but that there were some hard times where my parents weren’t sure if there would be enough to keep doing what they were doing.
We need to take scripture seriously here. How are we as the church making sure that those who are laboring for the gospel are getting all of their needs met? It is shameful how many families had to stop serving for the gospel due to finances. Their loving work should be paid for. I know that this is complicated, and I know that there is more to this than what I have written. The main thing is that I am guilty of this too. I have allowed my comfortable ministry position to distract me from my fellow workers who are barely scraping by.