Should all of God's ministers forgo employment with the Church and refuse to accept any monetary support from the Church?


In our last Q&A, we wrote:

“Paul, in bringing the gospel to the Thessalonians, worked: ‘…nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us’ (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9).”

Does this mean that God’s true ministers, in following the perceived example of Paul, must not seek employment with the Church of God and that they must not seek to be remunerated or otherwise recompensed by the Church for their services?

This is not what Paul is stating in 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9; nor is it what was implied in our Q&A.

Rather, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary gives the following explanation:

“They preached gratuitously though they might have claimed maintenance from their converts… The Philippians did not regard it as a ‘burden’ to contribute to his support [Philippians 4:15-16], sending to him while he was in this very Thessalonica… Many Thessalonians, doubtless, would have felt it a privilege to contribute, but as he saw some idlers among them who would have made a pretext of his example to justify themselves, he waived his right.”

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds, regarding 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9:

“We have the power… the right, to be maintained by those in whose behalf we labor. The laborer is worthy of his hire, is a maxim universally acknowledged and respected; and they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel: the apostle did not claim his privilege, but labored for his own support, that he might be an example to those whom he found otherwise disposed, and that he might spare the poor.”

The commentary makes also some interesting comments in regard to 1 Timothy 5:17, requiring that “double honor” be given to the elders “who rule well” and “especially those who labor in the word and doctrine”:

“Almost every critic of note allows that [the Greek word for “honor”] here signifies reward, stipend, wages. Let him have a double or a larger salary who rules well…”

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible adds in this regard:

“‘Be counted worthy of double honour’ – Of double respect; that is, of a high degree of respect; of a degree of respect becoming their age and office… it would seem probable that the apostle had some reference also to their support, or to what was necessary for their maintenance… Those among them who ‘labored in the word and doctrine,’ and who gave up all their time to the business of their office, would be worthy of special respect, and of a higher compensation.”

Vincent’s Word Studies elaborates:

“Double honor… This at least includes pecuniary remuneration for services, if it is not limited to that. The use of [the Greek word for “honor”] as ‘pay’ or ‘price’ [or “proceeds”] appears [in Matthew 27:6, 9; Acts 4:34; 1 Corinthians 6:20].”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:

“… ‘counted worthy of double honour’… this is to be understood both of that outward respect that is to be shown them by words and actions; and of a sufficient maintenance that is to be provided for them; in which sense the word ‘honour’ is used in this chapter before; See [1 Timothy 5:3].”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible writes to 1 Timothy 5:17-25:

“Concerning the supporting of ministers. Care must be taken that they be honourably maintained [1 Timothy 5:17]: ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour’ (that is, of double maintenance, double to what they have had, or to what others have), ‘especially those who labour in the word and doctrine,’ those who are more laborious than others… The honour due to those who were not idle, but laborious in this work; they were worthy of double honour, esteem, and maintenance.

“He quotes a scripture to confirm this command concerning the maintenance of ministers that we might think foreign; but it intimates what a significancy there was in many of the laws of Moses, and particularly in this, ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn,’ [Deuteronomy 25:4]. The beasts that were employed in treading out the corn (for that way they took instead of threshing it) were allowed to feed while they did the work, so that the more work they did the more food they had; therefore let the elders that labour in the word and doctrine be well provided for; ‘for the labourer is worthy of his reward’ [Matthew 10:10; the New King James Bible says here, “food,” but in 1 Timothy 5:18, it translates as “wages”], and there is all the reason in the world that he should have it.

“We hence learn, (1.) God… has taken care that his ministers be well provided for. Does God take care for oxen, and will he not take care of his own servants? The ox only treads out the corn of which they make the bread that perishes; but ministers break the bread of life which endures for ever. (2.) The comfortable subsistence of ministers, as it is God’s appointment that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel [1 Corinthians 9:14], so it is their just due, as much as the reward of the labourer; and those who would have ministers starved, or not comfortably provided for, God will require it of them another day.

“‘Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought,’ [2 Thessalonians 3:8]. Though he might justly have demanded a maintenance, because those who preach the gospel may of right expect to live by the gospel. This is a just debt that people owe to their ministers, and the apostle had power or authority to have demanded this [2 Thessalonians 3:9]; but he waived his right from affection to them, and for the sake of the gospel, and that he might be an example for them to follow [2 Timothy 3:9], that they might learn how to fill up time, and always be employed in something that would turn to good account.”

We see, therefore, that Paul teaches throughout his writings that God’s full-time ministers are to be remunerated by the Church. But how is this to be practiced, especially in our times? How does the Church pay them their “double honor”? Is it up to each individual “member” to pay or give monetary contribution to an individual minister of his or her choice? Or, did God ordain a different procedure? Indeed, He did.

In our free booklet, “Tithing-Today?”, we wrote the following:

“Most Bible students know the tithing law, as codified in writing at the time of Moses. But, as we saw, this does not mean that it came into existence at that time; rather, at the time of Moses, it was reduced to the written word. We also find that God gave, at that time, the administration of the tithe to the Levites. Prior to Moses, the tithe was apparently given to the high priest Melchizedek. But God made it clear throughout that the tithe BELONGED to Him, not the Levites. To not tithe always meant—and still means—to WITHHOLD FROM GOD WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY HIS!…

“The Levites received the tithe as compensation for their work for God, but they themselves had to tithe from their reward. Numbers 18:21, 24, 26, 28, 30–31 explains: ‘Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting… For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance… Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: “When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe… for it is your reward [margin, wages] for your work in the tabernacle of meeting.”‘”…

“Today, God’s true ministers who are upholding and forcefully and boldly teaching God’s LAW, are in the same position that the Levites were, in Old Testament times, and these ministers, as spiritual Levites, are to be ‘rewarded’ (compare Numbers 18:31) through tithes and offerings. Notice 1 Corinthians 9:13–14: ‘Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.’

“Paul’s words are very clear: Financial support for the preaching of the gospel is an actual command of Christ Himself! Christ minced no words when He sent out His disciples to proclaim the gospel. He instructed them in Luke 10:3–9: ‘Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals… But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, FOR THE LABORER IS WORTHY OF HIS WAGES'”…

“Paul said very clearly in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 (Living Bible): ‘Pastors who do their work well should be paid well and should be highly appreciated, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scriptures say, “Never tie up the mouth of an ox when it is treading out the grain—let him eat as he goes along!” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!”‘”…

“Today, it is no longer the Levites who are to collect the tithes. That part of the law was changed, but the tithing LAW was not abolished! It is now Christ—through His Church—who has the responsibility of collecting God’s tithes….”

These comments referred to, what is commonly described as, the “First Tithe.” But God also instituted a “Third Tithe” for those in need. We explain in our free booklet, “Tithing–Today?”:

“In addition, God instituted a THIRD tithe system for the purpose of assisting and helping ‘Levites, widows and orphans.’ The third tithe is an additional tithe of one’s ‘produce’ or ‘increase’ and is described in passages such as Deuteronomy 14:28–29 and Deuteronomy 26:12–15. (The third tithe was paid on the third and sixth year out of a cycle of seven years. On the seventh year, no third tithe was to be paid, as the land rested during the seventh year, Leviticus 25:4.)

“Soncino confirms this understanding. They comment on Deuteronomy 26:12: ‘[The term] in the third year [refers to] the tithe of the produce of the third year…the year of tithing, i.e. the third in the cycle of seven years in which a special tithe was to be given to the poor.’”

Today, as it is able, God’s Church distributes money received and designated as “Third Tithe” to those Church members who are in need, especially to “Levites, widows and orphans.” Without attempting to provide a list of all those Church members who might be eligible for discretionary Third Tithe assistance, such monetary help could be provided to spiritual “Levites” or ordained ministers, not employed by the Church, who are in need of discretionary assistance because of, among other circumstances, their voluntary “rule” in the Church and their “labor in the word and doctrine” and, consequently, their resulting decreased income from their secular labor, employment or business.

This reflects the long-time understanding of the Church of God that ordained ministers are spiritual “Levites,” and that they, as such, may be eligible, in the discretion of the Church, for Third Tithe assistance (compare Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-13). (It goes without saying, of course, that ministers, deacons or anyone else incurring approved expenses on behalf of the Church, such as travel expenses, could be reimbursed by the Church, upon request).

Third Tithe assistance could also be given to widows (compare 1 Timothy 5:3, 5, 8-9) as well as “orphans”–any member being in need of discretionary monetary assistance because of their INABILITY to provide for their own sustenance.

As the Churches of God in the USA did not in the past, and in most cases do not today provide any vested pension benefits for their ordained and unordained employees, and as many ordained ministers in the USA who were at one time employed by the Church do not receive Social Security payments for the duration of their Church employment (nor do their spouses), it has been the long-time understanding and practice of the Church of God that former ordained or unordained employees of the Church who have reached retirement age, might be helped through discretionary Third Tithe assistance. This might also apply generally and in similar circumstances to surviving needy spouses of deceased former Church employees.

In conclusion, Paul did not say in 2 Thessalonians 3:8 that ministers are not to be employed and remunerated by the Church for their services. In that case, he would have done away with God’s law of tithing, which he clearly upheld (For further proof, please read our free booklet, “Tithing–Today?” in its entirety.) Rather, in the case of the Thessalonians, he did not demand this right from them, due to very peculiar circumstances in that local church, but, as shown, he received support, at the same time, from the Philippian members.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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