1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 2. Paul’s Use of Liberty (9:1-9:27)
      1. B. Those Rights Relinquished (9:11-9:15)

Calvin (11/17/17)

9:11
Here, Paul considers another argument that might be raised: That his labors being spiritual in nature, the wages he receives should be likewise. His answer is by way of demonstrating the relative nothingness of material things when compared to the inestimable value of that spiritual work and its fruit in them.
9:12
He once again presents the example of others who ministered to Corinth. If they had right to support, surely he did as well, having done so much more for them. But, while he points to their example, he notes that he did not share in that example, choosing not to do so in pursuit of a higher cause. This brings us back to the main point. He had chosen to willingly relinquish his right, rather than to insist on his liberty at risk of possible impediment to the gospel. Here is the end he encourages the Corinthians to pursue, [and through them, us as well]. “Do nothing that would hinder or retard the progress of the gospel.” It is, in this sense, a question of what is expedient. (1Co 6:12 – All things are lawful, but not all are profitable. While all things are lawful, I will not be mastered by anything.)
9:13
Here we have a gently delivered rebuke to the Corinthians, in that they had proven so credulous as to allow this line of thinking any credence whatsoever. In doing so, they set themselves at risk of rejecting the gospel were Paul to use his rights among them. The argument now presented does not look to the example of others, but to the appointed order established by the Lord. To whit: Churches should provide for their ministers. While some have supposed that Paul points to both the Mosaic priesthood and the practice of pagan priests here, the inclusion of that second category would tend to weaken Paul’s argument, rather than support it. Rather, he simply uses two phrasings to make the same point. True, the Old Covenant had distinct categories of ministry, with the priests on one level and the Levites on another, but that is not in view here, as it would not bear on the question at all. The point is simple. The Old Covenant order provided for its ministers. The New Covenant order cannot be supposed to do less. In the Old, it was the Levitical priesthood that had the support. In the New, it is the preacher of the Gospel. That said, a clear distinction is seen between the Old order and the New. The priest of old was set apart ‘to preside over the sacrifices, to serve the altar, and to take care of the tabernacle and temple’. The pastor of the present is set apart ‘to preach the word and dispense the sacraments’. We have no sacrifices to offer up, and therefore no altars at which to serve. [Seems a bit strongly stated, but clearly directed at Catholic practice, particularly, I would think, as regards Communion.]
9:14
It is strongly emphasized that those whom Paul advises the church should support are those who actively preach the Gospel, not administrative bishops, or popes or the like who consume the resources of the church without presenting the gospel to its people. [Bear in mind the practices of the Roman church of that time, with its benefices, which often provided a rather wealthy lifestyle to an absentee bishop or the like.] “What right then have they to claim for themselves the revenues of the priesthood? ‘Because they hum a tune and perform mass.’”
9:15
Lest it be thought that Paul was arguing for being paid by the church in future, he makes clear that he has no such desire or intent, and vehemently so. He would rather die! His is indeed a practice deserving to be boasted of, as it is clear that had he done any other, it would have ceded an apparent authority to those false apostles. “Hence there was a danger, lest the Corinthians, despising him, should receive them with great applause.” In sum, Paul preferred the advancing of the gospel to his own life.
 

Matthew Henry (11/18/17)

9:11
The line of argument here is that what was sown was much better than what was expected of such reaping as is under discussion. Sown: Eternal life. Potential reaping: necessities of temporal life. [Note that we’re not talking luxuries, but necessities.] If we have received real benefit, how can we grudge them so small a return?
9:12
From their use of this matter of support against Paul it is clear that they must pay such support to others. If this is the case, Paul argues, how could they suppose him less deserving who had worked so much harder on their behalf? “Ministers should be provided for according to their worth.” Now we get to the reason for Paul’s dismissing of his right: He would not risk giving offense by his seeking wages for presenting the gospel. He would not have anything stand in the way of successful ministering of this good news. He has, then, ‘a generous disregard to his own’ rights, which ought to make his arguments in favor of those rights more effective.
9:13
Another argument in favor of these rights is presented in the form of God’s established order for the Old Covenant priesthood. For them, He explicitly made provision out of the holy things of the offering, [which is to say out of His own portion.] Surely, Christ’s ministers deserve at least as much.
9:14
Paul asserts [with apostolic authority] that indeed, Christ commanded this: That those who preach the gospel should live by it. This speaks to a right of maintenance, although it does not, in Paul’s view, bind one to demand it. “It is the people’s duty to maintain their minister, by Christ’s appointment, though it is not a duty bound on every minister to call for or accept it.” He does not sin by waiving his right, but they do who deny it.
9:15
Having established the right of support, Paul turns to explanation as to why he waived that right. He notes that this has been consistent practice for him, and was not some novel treatment toward the Corinthians. He had on occasion accepted support from other sources as he went forward to minister elsewhere, but never from those to whom he was ministering directly. He makes clear that he is not now requesting that support either, only establishing his right to have done so had he desired to. From his own perspective, he would rather die than nullify the glorying value of his practice, which glorying does not imply boasting or self-conceit. Rather, he indicates ‘a high degree of satisfaction and comfort’. It was his greatest pleasure to present the gospel free of burden. “It is the glory of the minister to prefer the success of his ministry to his interest.” It is his glory in that it brings great honor to God. God will approve of this, though it cannot be made cause of merit before Him.
 

Adam Clarke (11/18/17)

9:11
“Every man who preaches the Gospel has a right to his own support and that of his family while thus employed.”
9:12 –
you pay others for their services, how can you refuse the minister his wage, who are employed in so great a service to your soul? Yet, Paul has not requested wages, but preferred to support himself, lest any should think he preached for profit.
9:13
All who worked in the temple, whether priest, Levite, or Nethenim [slave given to the Levites as temple servants], had right of support from their work. The priests alone had lawful use of the sacrifices, but the others, who wait at the altar, as Paul phrases it, had right to support from the tithes and offerings.
9:14
Paul apparently points back to the ordination of the twelve, referring to the instruction recorded in the Gospels. (Mt 10:9-10 – Don’t gather coins for your money belt or take a bag for your journey. Don’t even bring a spare tunic or sandals, or bring a staff. The worker is worthy of his support. Lk 10:5-7 – Whatever house you enter, enter saying, “Peace be to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. If not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, and eat and drink whatever they give you, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Don’t keep moving house to house.) The key phrase here is ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages’. These clearly refer to preachers of the Gospel. The Jews had a similar view toward the wise man living in their midst, one who forsook worldly pleasures to pursue the things that please God and are useful to man.
9:15
In spite of all that supports his right, Paul does not avail himself of it, and now makes clear that what he has been writing is not leading to any such claim to support.
 

Barnes' Notes (11/18/17-11/19/17)

9:11
Sowing is a common image for preaching. (Jn 4:37 – One sows, another reaps. Mt 13:3-9 – The sower went out to sow. Some of his seed fell beside the road, where birds came and at it up. Some fell in rocky places. There being but little soil, it sprouted quickly, but was soon scorched by the sun, and having no root, it withered away. Others fell amidst thorns, and were choked out by them. Others, though, fell on good soil, yielding a crop many times greater than what was sown. Let him who has ears hear this. Ro 15:27 – If the Gentiles shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to them in material things.) Note the same principle in view in that last passage as here. Having delivered the plan of salvation and the hope of heaven, how is he not deserving of food and shelter for his support? “We instruct your children; we guide you in the path of comfort and peace; we raise you from the degradations of idolatry and sin; and we open before you the resurrection of the just, and of all the bliss of heaven.” If ministerial support requires further argument consider what follows. Ministers are mainly concerned with their work. Like a physician or other such skilled worker, he could not achieve much if his attention were constantly on other labors done to support himself. “No physician, no farmer, no mechanic, could accomplish much, if his attention was constantly turned off from his appropriate business to engage in something else. And how can the minister of the gospel, if his time is nearly all taken up in laboring to provide for the needs of his family?” Most ministers have spent a great deal of their capital on preparation for ministry, again, much like a doctor or other professional. Should they not, therefore, receive support in pursuit of their calling? We are glad enough to pay others who labor on our behalf, why would we not pay the minister? “So the music-master and the dancing master are paid, and paid cheerfully and liberally; and yet can there be any comparison between the value of their services and those of the minister of the gospel?” It can well be argued that society also receives real, pecuniary benefit from the faithful service of its ministers. Many a convert by their efforts was previously unable or unwilling to support his family or serve society in any useful fashion. But, reformed and renewed, such a one becomes a useful member of society, a promoter of order, peace, and useful industry. Where ministry is established, we find ‘temperance, industry, and sober habits’. Where there is no ministry, we find ‘gambling, idleness, and dissipation’. Is it not worth their pay to promote the former?
9:12
Others’ refers to other teachers then living on the support provided by the Corinthians. ‘We’ refers to the Apostles. Clearly the latter had even greater right to support, yet, Paul reminds them, he did not lay claim to that right. He will explain why shortly. (2Co 11:7-9 – Did I sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted? Is it because I preached the gospel of God at no charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you. And when I was with you and had needs, I did not burden anybody, for brothers from Macedonia came, and they fully supplied my need. So, in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and I will continue to do so. Ac 18:3 – Because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them where they worked, for they were tent-makers like himself. Ac 20:34-35 – You know that these hands ministered to my own needs, as well as those who were with me. 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.”) Paul was willing to endure poverty, hunger, thirst, nakedness, or whatever else his preaching might demand, instead of leaning on them for support. The term stegomen in this usage means to endure or tolerate. Why did he do this? It certainly wasn’t because he was not entitled. Rather, it was to avoid opportunity for evil consequence, had he insisted on pay. “His conduct therefore in this was just one illustration of the principle on which he said he would always act.” (1Co 8:13 – If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause him to stumble.) He would gladly forego any lawful thing if by doing so he could promote the welfare of others. Had he charged, he might have been thought mercenary. It might have lessened the impact of his insistence that he was preaching due to simple conviction as to the truth of the Gospel. It might have alienated those who would otherwise embrace the truth. It would have denied him the benefits of self-denial. (1Co 9:17-18 – If I do this voluntarily, I have a reward. If I do it against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That when I preach, I may offer the gospel for free, not making full use of my right in the gospel. 1Co 9:23 – I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 1Co 9:27 – I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.)
9:13
The right to support is further demonstrated in the example of the Levitical priesthood, who had their support from the sacrifices. The Levites are included in the scope of Paul’s example. They assisted the priests, kept the temple clean, and after David’s time, also provided music in the temple. [I am not going to pursue the OT references here.] They were supported in this by the people’s offerings, and by provisions made for them in Mosaic Law. (Nu 18:24-32 – I have given the tithe of the Israelites to the Levites for an inheritance. This is what I meant when I said that they shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel. They, in turn, will present a tithe of the tithe to the Lord, representing as it were their grain offering. From this, they will present a portion as an offering to Aaron the priest. ‘Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from the best of them, the sacred part of them.’) The priests had their share from the burnt offerings, ‘and thus the altar and the priest become joint participators of the sacrifice’. If, then, God’s Law authorized the support of the priests, it should settle for us that the minister of the Gospel is likewise to derive support from his work. “If God commanded it then, it is to be presumed that he intends to require it now.”
9:14
Just so, the Lord has commanded. The word is dietaxe, indicating that he has set this as law. He sends out ministers, devoted to his work, called and employed in His service. We cannot restrict this to the Apostles. It encompasses ‘all who are duly called to this work, and who are his ambassadors’. [That could get messy in light of a priesthood of all believers, but I take his point.] Paul is likely pointing back to the sending recorded in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:8. (Gal 6:6 – Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.) The command is to live by the gospel, not to grow rich by it. “They should be made comfortable, not rich.” They should not need to be distracted by cares as to their family’s support, nor be so richly supplied as to forget their dependence on God and on His people. “Probably the true rule is that they should be able to live as the MASS of the people among whom they labor live.” This being the command of Jesus, it should be obeyed as any other of His commands. It being a command, the minister is clearly entitled to support. The people are not at liberty to withhold it. His salary is no more a gift than your congressman’s or doctor’s.
9:15
Yet Paul chose to support himself instead. This has been raised as evidence that he is no apostle, but he now shows why this is not true. His actions were not taken because he had no claim, but rather because he desired to do whatever best honored the gospel and prospered the souls of the people. (Ac 20:33 – I have coveted no man’s silver, gold, or clothes. 2Th 3:8 – We did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. With labor and hardship, we worked night and day so as to be no burden to anyone.) The right is established, yet he says he had reasons for not availing himself of that right. And, to clarify, he is not asserting that claim now. What Paul saw as the advantages of foregoing his rightful claim were of greater importance to him than his own life. His glorying, in this use, points to those advantages. It would more properly be rendered ‘joying’. (Php 1:26 – that your proud confidence [KJV: rejoicing] in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Heb 3:6 – Christ was a faithful Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast [KJV: rejoicing] of our hope firm until the end.) What was he joying in? That he had in fact preached the gospel free of charge, avoiding any suggestion of avarice. That he had kept his body subdued in self-denial to the end that he should have happiness in heaven. (1Co 9:23-27 – I do all for the sake of the gospel, so as to become a fellow partaker in it. Every runner runs the race, but only one receives the prize. So, run to win. Competitors in the games exercise self-control in all things for a perishable wreath. We do so for a wreath imperishable. So I don’t run aimlessly, or box like I’m just beating the air. I buffet my body. I make it my slave, lest possibly, having preached to others, I should find myself disqualified.) Were there room for a charge that he had preached for the sake of gain, all that joying would be null and void.
 

Wycliffe (11/19/17)

9:11
The fourth line of argument is that of ‘holy ministry’. The spiritual is of greater value than the material.
9:12
The power referred to is the teacher’s privilege of sharing the believer’s material goods. It would seem that some of those teaching in Corinth were exercising, if not demanding, this privilege. Paul’s triumphant boast is that he did not. Why? Lest his doing so hinder the Gospel. “For some might have thought he preached only for this.”
9:13
He brings in the provision for the priests laid out in Numbers 18:8-24.
9:14
To this, he adds the fifth argument: The command of the Lord Jesus.
9:15
“The apostle now shows how love acted in his case.” The contrast in view is between his choice of personal sacrifice, and the selfishness of those who insisted on their liberty in eating idol offered meats even to the detriment of their fellow believer. Thus, Paul presents an ‘illustration of knowledge regulated by love’.

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (11/19/17)

9:11
We’ is given an emphatic place in the Greek. What was sown was infinitely more precious than what might be claimed in return.
9:12
Others’ might refer to true or false apostles. (1Co 9:5 – Don’t we have the same rights as the rest of the Apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 2Co 11:13 – Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 2Co 11:23 – Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane!) I am more so: In far more labors, far more imprisonments; beaten times without number, often in danger of death.) His suffering all things indicates doing so without complaining, concealing any distress he might be feeling (stegomen). (1Co 13:7 – Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.) He would not suffer to be thought self-seeking, as this would discourage acceptance of the Gospel. (2Ti 2:4 – No serving soldier allows himself to get caught up in the affairs of the everyday, in order to please the one who enlisted him as soldier.)
9:13
The Jewish priests were given part of the sacrificial offering as their share.
9:14
Don’t suppose from this that the Christian ministry is one of sacrifices like the Jewish priesthood. Paul’s only point is concerned with being supported by the people’s contributions. “The stipends of the clergy were at first from offerings at the Lord’s supper.” This is according to Tertullian in his Apology. (1Co 3:9 – We are God’s fellow workers, and you are God’s field, His building.) The minister’s function is not offering sacrifices, but preaching the Gospel, which is the clear point of contrast between this verse and the last. Priests sacrificed. Ministers preach. Were the Lord’s supper a sacrifice, as imagined in the Mass, we should expect the wording here to reflect that fact. “The same Lord Christ ‘ordains’ the ordinances in the Old and in the New Testaments.” (Mt 10:10 – Take no bag for your journey, bring no spare clothes, carry no staff. The worker is worthy of his support.)
9:15
Paul’s celibacy, the way he worked to support himself in such fashion as would not interfere with ministry, “made that expedient to him which is ordinarily inexpedient.” Had he a family, his duty would be different. (Php 4:15-16 – You know that at the first preaching of the Gospel after I left Macedonia, no church other than you shared with me in giving and receiving. Even in Thessalonica you sent gifts for my needs more than once. 1Co 9:4-6- We have the right to support, just like the rest of the Apostles.) But he is not now asking for any such support in writing this. For him, it is a privilege to preach without pay. (2Co 11:7-10 – Did I sin by not charging you? By robbing other churches for my wages while among you? When I was with you I did not burden you with my needs, but brothers from Macedonia came to supply me so that I would never be a burden to you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia.) He would not allow any pretext for charges of ‘interested motives’. (2Co 12:17-18 – I surely have not taken advantage of you through any whom I have sent to you, have I? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not both conduct ourselves in the same spirit, living the same example?) Paul’s expression here indicates that he would rather die of hunger than take his provision from ministry. (Ge 14:22-23 – I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, “I have made Abram rich.”)
 

New Thoughts (11/20/17-11/25/17)

Contrasted Covenants (11/21/17)

It is ever interesting to me to see how God arranges our schedules to suit His purposes, and nowhere is this more evident than when He does so with our various studies and readings.  The schedule for this study, for example, has been established, at least as to its sequence, for a bit more than two and a half years.  Meanwhile, reading through the Pentateuch with my wife has been happening, if sporadically, for a month or so, and happens to have us in Leviticus at the moment.  Then, just to ensure I get the point, a new contract, begun but a few weeks ago, led to a trip with a brother in Christ, a friend and coworker of longstanding, who is working through the Bible via some phone app, and he, too, is making his way through the Mosaic Law, and in particular, to its addressing of priestly duties. 

Something’s at work here.  I could add Jan’s comment last night, as we read the interminable concerns as to how to deal with leprosy.  It almost directly echoed my coworker’s reaction to the text.  Looking at all that was required of the Old Covenant community, it just hits you over and over again how much we have been freed from in the New.  The sheer volume of the terms of covenant are enough to overwhelm.  Considering that this was not exactly a literate community, and that teaching came primarily in oral form, it’s a wonder that anybody could even remember half the rules.  For my part, I have an engineer’s view of the work, and find that Moses wrote unmaintainable code.  So much of this could be refactored, and reduce the volume of text and opportunity for missing detail.  But, God wanted it this way and that’s how Moses relayed it.  Why?  To impress upon us just how important it was to get this right; just how holy is our God, and just how precarious our position.

It’s all well and good to know that Jesus is our friend.  But, this is more than some buddy we go to a game with.  This is more than a good traveling companion.  This is an answer to the precariousness of our position, a remedy for our innate, inherent and incorrigible sinfulness.  As I say, last night’s topic was leprosy, which seems sort of an odd thing to have as part of a legal contract.  What’s up with that?  Why are health issues part of our covenant with God our Healer?  For all that, if He is our God and we are His people, why are health issues even a thing?  Didn’t He keep the people of Israel in health throughout that forty year’s wandering?  Well, no.  In point of fact, all but two men of the original contingent died.  Yet, somehow we have this claim that there was no sickness or disease among them.  Well, then, what did they die of?  It couldn’t all have been wounds received during battle.

All that to say, was we come to the present passage, we find as part of it that Paul is bringing the Old Covenant order to bear on New Covenant practice.  That, too, would disturb many today, and be received a bit too avidly by others.  Paul is not, to be absolutely clear, declaring that the New should follow the Old, certainly not in terms of ceremonial and civil aspects.  Christ has fulfilled the Law for you.  Why would you willingly seek to return to a condition where your standing before God hinges upon your compliance to so vast a legal code?  If you are unsure of Paul’s stance on this matter, revisit Galatians, and let doubt be removed.

At the same time, Paul is hardly advocating that we jettison the whole thing.  Scripture stands.  It cannot be broken.  But, that said, it must be rightly understood.  We are not to be freewheeling interpreters who seek to suit the message to our preferences.  Recall Nadab and Abihu, who took it upon themselves to serve God after their own opinions (Lev 10:1).  Why is this here?  So we might remember that our position, apart from Christ, remains utterly precarious in the presence of an utterly holy God.  It is assuredly our condition as unbelievers, as Jonathan Edwards so eloquently illustrates in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.  What we tend to lose sight of, particularly in our consumer-oriented culture where the customer is always right, is that it remains our position when we seek to reshape worship to our liking.  We have, in fact, forgotten who is the Customer, and who the server.

What Paul does do here is to set forth a comparison.  In doing so, he is not suggesting, certainly, that the New Testament minister is to begin offering sacrifices, nor is he suggesting that what we have in the Lord’s Supper is a sacrificial practice, at least not one over which the pastor officiates as the priests of old.  Paul brings forward their example, but with a noted distinction, which many of our commentaries notice.  It is well we do the same.  Those who perform sacred service in verse 13 points us back to that Levitical code, with its detailed enumeration of how and when various sacrifices were to be made, which parts went to the priests, and which to God, and a constant refrain, lest the priests forget, that all of this represented what was ‘most holy’.  It was so holy that for the most part, it could not be taken outside the tent of meeting, and even what could be taken out must be consumed in a clean place.

But, the point of comparison here is indicated in verse 14.  In this New Covenant community, the equivalent function is found in ‘those who proclaim the gospel’.  Now, that gospel which we proclaim has at its very base the singular, once for all sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God given for our sins.  Here is the fulfillment of all which was performed by the Aaronic priesthood.  Here is the truly efficacious work to which their temporary reliefs pointed the people of God.  Therein lies your continuity, but also your point of contrast.  They served as tutors, if you will, steering the people of God toward God and toward His Savior.  The minister still points us Godward, but now refers us to that inerasable point in the history of mankind when the Savior shifted from being One to whom we look forward in hope of rescue to One who had fully accomplished our rescue.  There’s still an altar, and there’s still a Sacrifice, but we now have an eternal High Priest whose term in office shall never end.  We have the Day of Atonement every bit as fulfilled as the Passover.  We don’t need to revisit those days again.  It is finished!

What we do have is the ongoing work of proclaiming the gospel; an ongoing work which, while rightly the task of every believer is in a particular fashion the work of the minister.  For most of us, it will always be something done in addition to our daily labors, or alongside and within those labors.  But, for the minister, this is typically going to be his sole occupation.  It is his daily labor.  Interesting, in light of this, that pastor’s update at our business meeting last Saturday consisted of giving a general sense of ‘a week in the life of a pastor’.  Truly, here is a labor fully worthy of its wages.

Let me, for the moment, though, stay with the point of comparison which Paul is setting before us.  Those priests of old had their provision from the altar, the food of the temple.  Calvin, I have to say, may go a bit too far in his reaction to this, saying that the pastor no longer has any sacrifice to offer up, and therefore no altar at which to serve.  Now, I get that his concern is primarily with Catholic practices in their approach to the Eucharist, which really does perceive a sacrifice being performed yet again at each Mass.  But, to say that the church has no altar is, I think, an overstatement.  True enough we have no sacrifices to offer up, but we do look to the One Who is our Sacrifice.  We do not offer Him up, but we do avail ourselves of His offering.  It may be a fine distinction, but it feels necessary to me.

That said, the pastor serves ‘to preach the word and dispense the sacraments’.  This is something very different from the priestly order which was set ‘to preside over the sacrifices, to serve the altar, and to take care of the tabernacle and temple’.  In fact, if we look to the Apostolic example, we find that the care of tabernacle and temple, so far as physical plant concerns go, was delegated to the deacons, so that the Apostles could focus more fully upon the word they were to preach.  I believe I have it farther down to consider, but for now I will simply note that this was, in fact, serving and caring for the temple, that temple now being the very people of God.

Before I leave the subject of the Old Covenant priest, though, there is one thing about their portion which I think we ought to consider further.  Notice that in eating from ‘the food of the temple’, and having ‘their share with the altar’, that which was provided for priest and Levite was provided out of the holy things of the offering, not the portions to be taken out of the camp.  What this amounts to is that the portion given to the servants of God came from His own portion.  This is something that I don’t think catches our eye as we read through the Levitical code, perhaps because the code is so wordy and we’re generally just trying to slog our way through it out of a sense of duty, rather than thinking it has much to say to us today.

But, God gave to the priests what was His own.  He fed them from the holiest of provisions available.  Barnes picks up on this, as well as Matthew Henry.  He notes that inasmuch as they had their share from the burnt offerings ‘the altar and the priest become joint participators of the sacrifice’.  That is a curious turn of phrase, I admit, and I’m not quite sure where to go with it.  But, it is striking, is it not?  I don’t generally think of the altar as participating at all, it being an inanimate object in this OT setting.  But, bring it forward to the New, and, despite Calvin’s objection, let us accept that we do in fact offer spiritual sacrifices upon the altar of our hearts, and suddenly that image feels a bit more pertinent.

We are, according to Peter’s declaration, a royal priesthood unto our God, ‘a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1Pe 2:5, 1Pe 2:9).  If there are sacrifices, of necessity there are altars.  If there are altars for spiritual sacrifice, they are spiritual in nature, which is to say in our spirit.  We are priest and altar at once, and as we offer up our spiritual sacrifices, we have our share from God’s portion, participating in it in both aspects, and in it all, sanctified solely and exclusively in and by the blood of the Lamb.

Does this not reflect that righteousness which has been imputed to our account by Him?  We have our share from God’s portion.  God’s portion is, in this final, once for all Atonement, God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son.  He is God’s portion, and we have our share from Him:  Righteousness bestowed upon us, who knew only sin; grace poured out upon the altar of our spirit, that we might become holy in the sight of a Holy God; that we might move from the precariousness of our position before Him on our own under the Law, to the absolute security of our adoption by Him in the Son.  Beloved, what a wonderful situation we enjoy, and what a wonderful, loving God we serve!

The Pastor’s Worth (11/22/17)

Before Paul looks at the Old Covenant precedent, he speaks to the Corinthians in their own language, as it were:  The language of commerce.  The first verse of this passage really presents a cost/benefit analysis approach to the matter.  What is the cost, and what do you obtain by that cost?  Is this a profitable venture?  Is it worth it?  The answer, of course, is that the benefits provided to the Corinthians by those who preach the Gospel is worth infinitely more than such wages as those preachers might reasonably expect from them.

It’s along the same lines as the calculated cost for sin which leads us to understand our need for the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  Every sin being against an infinite God, the penalty is infinitely high, and well beyond the means of finite man to repay.  Paul, and the others who present the Gospel, present us with eternal, infinite life.  They ask in return for no more than the means of supporting themselves and their families; room and board effectively.  The material nature of the repayment can never amount to anything when set alongside the infinite worth of eternal life with God.

Let us consider the pastor’s perspective on what he provides.  For this, I will quote the pastor Albert Barnes, whom I had thought to be a Baptist, but as it turns out, he was a Presbyterian.  “We instruct your children; we guide you in the path of comfort and peace; we raise you from the degradations of idolatry and sin; and we open before you the resurrection of the just, and of all the bliss of heaven.”  This description really gets to the personal benefit part of the calculation and does so in an ever-escalating fashion.  Beginning at ‘we instruct your children’, we are reminded of the older order of American society in which this really was the case:  pastors were by and large the educators once one moved beyond the basics taught down at the schoolhouse.  I’ll account it a personal benefit in that if they did not perform this duty, you would have to do so yourself, which is time you don’t have available for other aspects of providing for yourself and your family.

But, that really is the least of the list, in terms of personal benefit.  We move from this to peace, then to a remedy for sin.  From here we move to gaining right to ‘the resurrection of the just’.  We are given to understand and obtain justification before Almighty God!  Through the ministry of the Gospel at the hands of these pastors, we are moved from being dead men walking to being declared upright, law-abiding citizens of heaven, and thus, the final benefit:  “All the bliss of heaven.”  Apart from the Gospel, you had no chance of said bliss.  Convinced of the Gospel, you have no chance of missing it. 

To borrow the old late-night commercial cliché, “Now, how much would you pay?”  And, we might add, “But wait!  There’s more!”  It’s not just the personal benefit that ought enter our considerations.  There are also the societal benefits or, as we might more readily account them today, the societal costs of the Gospel’s absence.  Again, I will borrow from Mr. Barnes.  Where we have an established ministry, he observes, we find ‘temperance, industry, and sober habits’.  If that sounds a stretch to you, you might consider the accounts of those occasions of real revival in times past.  The record of Jonathan Edwards in Holyoke, for example demonstrates this exact thing.  The present state of Holyoke might well serve as an example of the opposite.  Where there is no ministry, Barnes points out, we find ‘gambling, idleness, and dissipation’.  Having driven through that city not so many years ago, I can aver that at least two out of three points are established.

Now, is it reasonable to set all of this benefit upon the head of the man who ministers the Gospel?  After all, is it not God who sees to the growth of the seed?  Would He not be just as able to bring about a ripened crop of the faithful without the labors of this man?  I would say that yes, God being God, He can assuredly bring about the salvation of the elect without the aid of any man.  That said, it is not the course He has chosen and ordained.  Rather, He has ordained that men shall preach.  Consider the questions of Romans 10:14“How shall they call upon Him if they have not believed?  How are they to believe if they have not heard?  How can they hear unless there is a preacher?  And how shall that preacher preach if he isn’t sent?”  This is the ordained order, established by God.  Yes, where the preacher cannot go, God can certainly go without him.  Yes, the preacher is utterly powerless except God opts to empower his words and grant him the gifts of grace necessary to his work.  But, at the same time, yes, it is entirely reasonable to assay to the preacher’s account the full benefits of his work.  Again I would say, just compare and contrast the state of Christian society with the state of godless society.  Then, once again ask yourself, “Now, how much would you pay?”

The pastor’s worth, given the benefits, is infinitely great, for he brings us into contact with an infinite God for our eternal good – assuming we heed the gospel he brings, and assuming he is faithful to bring that gospel.  In return, what is being asked?  No more than the necessities of eternal life.  As I transition to the other half of this topic, that of the pastor’s wage, I would stress that the phrase I have borrowed from Matthew Henry speaks to necessities, not luxuries.  That has been a bone of contention at least as long as there has been a Protestant Church set to look upon the excesses of Rome.  But, it’s not just Rome that has earned a rebuke for luxurious living at the expense of pursuing real gospel ministry.  The same can be said of the modern-day prosperity movement, the “God wants me to have a jet” crowd.

The Pastor’s Wage (11/22/17)

There is general agreement that Paul is looking back to the first assignment upon which the Apostles were sent as part of their training.  We find this covered in Matthew 10:8-11, and Luke 10:5-7.  While the details in these two accounts are differently focused, the fundamental point being made remains the same; and it is one Paul quotes directly on other occasions.  Jesus, having given His instructions for the mission, declares, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”  I will return to the Matthew passage shorty, but first I want to consider, since it’s a question I wind up involved in annually in this current position of elder, what are those wages?

Well, one thing ought to be sufficiently clear.  The command Jesus issues in those instructions is to live by the gospel, not to grow rich by the gospel.  There is no place in the kingdom for a profiteering preacher.  I shall have to condition that somewhat, taking Paul’s tack from his letter to the Philippians.  Some, he says, preach Christ out of envy, and hope to incite strife, but others preach from good will.  The latter do it out of love, but the former out of selfish ambition.  What of it?  Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and I will rejoice in that (Php 1:15-18).  The Gospel is sufficiently effective that even impure motive cannot prevent it from its intended purpose, and praise God it is so!  Yet, I will maintain that while the Gospel is preached even by those who deliver it in pretense, I do not for a moment suppose that grants the pretender a place in the kingdom.

No, the command is to live by the gospel, not to abuse the office by seeking riches from it.  Barnes, who I seem to be quoting rather a lot today, says of the pastor’s wages, “They should be made comfortable, not rich,” adding later, “Probably the true rule is that they should be able to live as the MASS of the people among whom they labor live.”  There is a proportionality to this that I think is beautifully in keeping with God’s approach to man.  If you consider the tithe, for example, whether you feel it still applies or not, the concept is proportional.  There is no fixed fee due to God, for who could pay what that fee would rightly be?  But, what He asks is a proportional contribution – not so much as will leave you struggling to make ends meet, not so little as to be inconsequential and something you can toss off with no thought.

Similarly, having spent so much time reading through the rules of sacrifice and offering, it is noteworthy that constant provision is made for those of limited means.  Here’s the proper offering, but if you can’t afford that, do this, and if you’re really hard up, catch a couple of birds and bring those.  It’s not stated in quite those terms, but that’s really the idea.  Two birds represented something you could obtain pretty much for free, assuming some minimal skill in trapping.  Is it any wonder that Jesus took such offense at the marketplace approach to the sacrifice as it has come to be practiced in Jerusalem?  The whole point was to make God accessible to all, on whatever terms they could afford, and the priests (here’s that prosperity message again) were instead making a killing charging the poor and the foreigner for the privilege of using their temple.  You can’t bring your foreign coin.  So sorry, you’ll need to exchange that at prevailing rates.  You need a bird or two?  They’re on sale today only, over at table three.  Please have your cash ready.  Keep the line moving.

Getting back to Barnes, the suggestion he offers has great merit.  If you’re a community primarily consisting of day laborers or the minimally employed, it would be asking rather a lot to suggest you should pay your pastor an engineer’s wages.  On the other hand, if you’re a community primarily consisting of professionals, it would be grotesquely miserly to pay your pastor as if he were a gardener’s assistant.  We have, then, two measures set for us.  On the one hand, pay him well enough that he can minister undistracted by concerns about food, clothing, and shelter.  On the other, pay him in a fashion commensurate with the average means of those to whom he is to minister.   Barnes strikes the balance thusly:  The minister ought not to be so poorly paid as to be distracted by cares about supporting his family.  At the same time, he ought not to be so richly supplied as to forget his dependence upon God and God’s people.  I have to say, that’s some pretty good guidance for all of us, isn’t it?  There is a bit of danger in becoming too well supplied, as God reminded Israel out in the desert.  “Don’t forget Me!”

Of course, there’s a counterbalancing message to the minister in the instructions Jesus gives His ministers.  You are worthy of your support, dear servant, but don’t go shopping yourself out to the highest bidder!  Go where you were sent.  Minister where you are.   Accept what you are given, and be content.  This, I will note, is the thing Paul has in view throughout:  Be content.  If God is your Provider and God is Good, then He is given you good provision.  Live ye in it.

With that, let’s have a look at those instructions in Matthew 10:7-11.  First, we have the assignment:  Preach, heal, raise, cleanse, cast out.  Note that preaching has primacy of position here.  Do this first.  This is the critical part.  The rest is really by way of demonstration that the gospel you preached is real.  Now, how to do that:  Give freely because you received it free of charge.  Don’t preach for profit – acquire no gold or even copper for your money belt.  In fact, don’t even bring luggage, or so much as a change of clothes.  Don’t even bring a staff.  The worker is worthy of his support!  I’m sure not hearing the prosperity message here, are you?  Now, then:  Wherever you are sent, ask who is worthy when you get there, and abide with that one so long as you remain.  There it is:  Accept such provision as is given.  The worker is worthy of his support.  Support.  Not mansions, support.

Add this back into Paul’s sense of commandment in this.  Is the command that you are to earn your living by the Gospel?  Is that the point of this instruction?  I don’t think so, not at base.  Yes, you should live your life of ministry in a fashion that demonstrates your belief in the Truth you minister.  Again, if God provides, trust His provision, and demonstrate that trust by your actions.  But, as to how you should go about your days:  Give freely as you received freely.  If you are not acquiring gold and copper for your money belts, what then are you doing with such gold and copper as may come your way?  I think you’ve just heard the answer:  Give freely as you received freely.

If you are a minister of God, a servant of the Most High, I should think it could safely be expected that you’re going to sow whatever extra may come your way back into the interests of the kingdom.  For those of us with less directly ministerial vocations, isn’t this what we are called to do?  If you tithe, what is the point, if not to sow back into the work of the God who Provides?  If you prefer offerings, what is the offering, but a giving into that same work?  If we who receive the benefits of ministry are moved to such a response, is it not to be expected that he who ministers, and spends his days in pursuit of God’s purposes among you, does likewise?  Of course, pastors are fallen men such as ourselves, and may not live up to the ideal on every occasion, just as ourselves.  But, the general expectation, I think, remains apt.

So what is the picture we have painted?  Let me look at the next couple of verses from that passage.  “Give the house your greeting.  If it is in fact worthy, let your peace come upon it.  If it isn’t, let your peace return to you” (Mt 10:12-13).  Let me switch to Luke.  “Say, ‘Peace be to this house.’  If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.  If not, it will return to you” (Lk 10:5-6).  Give it away!  There’s your message.  There’s the instruction Jesus is giving His disciples.  It’s not, “Go earn your living.”  It’s, “Give it away!”  If those to whom you minister are worthy of your message, they’re going to give back to you anyway.  If they’re not, then I will provide.  Either way, you’re covered.  Don’t demand.

That, I think, is a key point regardless which way the provision comes.  Don’t demand wages in keeping with your preferences from those to whom you minister, and don’t demand your idea of better from God.  Demonstrate your real trust in God to provide for you, whether through His sheep or through other means.  And be satisfied.  Whether in riches or in want, be satisfied.  If God is providing, He is providing what is best for you.  If the nature of that provision changes next week, it remains what is best for you.  You preach trust in Him.  Practice it.

With all that in hand, we can come back to Paul’s commentary on that passage, as we see it before us in this letter.  “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”  ‘Directed’ isn’t really strong enough.  The Lord ordained.  He commanded that it be thus.  And yet, here is Paul happily declaring, “Not me!  No way am I going to take pay from those to whom I minister.”  Is Paul out of compliance with the God he serves?  It is unthinkable!  Rather, he has captured the essence of the instruction:  Give it away!

The command, then, is more properly understood as applying to those served than to those who serve.  Church:  Recognize the labors of your pastors, and recognize his worth.  Pay him accordingly.  Matthew Henry comes a bit stronger, and rightly so.  “It is the people’s duty to maintain their minister, by Christ’s appointment, though it is not a duty bound on every minister to call for or accept it.”  This being the case, there is no sin in the minister choosing to work gratis.  There is, however, grave sin in the church that denies him his rightful wages.

One a final note for this subject, the JFB points us to Tertullian’s Apology for a picture of earliest church practices in regard to the pay of their clergy.  Recall that the Love Feast was a regular feature of that church, a somewhat larger representation of the Lord’s Supper than our Communion table.  What would transpire, Tertullian tells us, is that collections were taken at that supper.  The first portion of that collection went to defraying the cost of the meal.  I don’t suppose this means these were catered affairs, but a Church seeking to include the impoverished in their ministry might find it needful to procure more than families would provide for themselves.  At any rate, such expenses as there might be were covered first.  The rest, it seems went to the minister as his pay, a stipend of sorts, taken from the offerings at the Lord’s Supper.  This is simply to say that paid ministry is approximately as old as the ministry.

I also find this interesting in that Tertullian’s name has come up in regard to the matter of Christmas and Easter, which I continue to assess as time and sanity permit.  As it happens, I have his writings available here, so perhaps I should put some time into reading them, if only because I have found this author to be a bit flimsy in argument and accuracy, and I would as soon avail myself of the original and find out what he was actually saying.  So, call this a note to self, I suppose.

The Nature of Trust (11/23/17)

I want to return to the combined message of Leviticus and Jesus.  The parallel between the disciples and the Levites is clarified by this.  The Levites were, you may recall, given no inheritance in the land.  Rather, “The Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them.”  This is part of what Jesus was teaching His disciples by telling them to go out without making typical preparations for travel.  It was the same message:  The Lord will provide, and He will provide through His people.  For your part, Levite; for your part, disciple, the Lord is your inheritance.  What more can you possibly want?

We tend to want much more.  We, like the Prodigal Son, have a habit of wanting our inheritance now.  But, our inheritance is wholly unsuited to our present.  More appropriately, our present is wholly incompatible with our inheritance.  The perishable cannot put on the imperishable.  But, as part of this inheritance of ours, we have come to know God our Provider.  At least, we should have.  This is not, I must stress, God our sugar daddy.  He provides.  He doesn’t shower you with every last thing you crave.  Your cravings, after all, tend toward the unholy still.  His gifts not only tend toward the good, but encompass all that is good.

So, then, the call is to trust God.  Trust Him for your provision.  Don’t, however, let yourself become deluded and become presumptuous, insisting that He must give you what you ask.  You are in no position to make demands of God, nor ever shall be.  When was a servant ever in position to tell his master what to do?  When was a child ever given authority over his father?  Look:  Trusting God in the midst of your circumstances, knowing He will provide even when things look bleak, knowing that it is He who provides, even in the income your labors bring:  All of these demonstrate knowing God, knowing His love for you, and abiding in Him.  Going off to some conference with no means of paying your way hence, and counting on the goodness of other attendees to cover your bills?  However you try to dress that up as faith, it remains presumption.  It’s testing God.  It is sin.

If you trust God to provide, then trust in His provision.  If His provision does not cover the cost of your envisioned journey, then perhaps, dear one, that journey is not within His Providence, and your insistent pursuit of it runs counter to His purposes.  Join Paul.  “I have become content in whatever my circumstance.”  If I must stay, I am content to stay.  If I must go, I am content to go.  If I am given a period of abundance, I will both enjoy it and put it to work for the kingdom.  If I am given a period of subsistence level provision, I am content with my subsistence, and will continue to work for the kingdom.  God is my inheritance.  What more could I possibly want?

I am reminded of the Apostolic sense of their position.  “I am a bondservant of Christ Jesus.”  You read it over and over in their letters.  I serve Christ.  He is my Master.  I am His slave.  I am so willingly, but I am so nonetheless.  These were men who understood slavery, who saw it lived out around them daily.  They knew a slave’s rights were nonexistent.  They knew this was their lot.  “We have no rights.”  But, we have an inheritance that is beyond measure!  For our part, we have lost sight of this.  Our nearest comparison point is working for an annoying boss.  But, even then, we have our right to pay, and we know that if it becomes truly intolerable, we can up and quit.  A slave cannot quit.  His options are much simplified:  endure or die.

We, too, are called to be bondservants of Christ Jesus.  Yes, we are brother and sister to Him.  But, He remains God, and we do not.  We serve.  We serve Him.  We serve His Temple.  In this order He has ordained, the Temple consists in the very people of God, in all the people of God, individually and collectively.  There is not a brother in Christ whom we can look upon and despise as not being our concern.  Yes, there are boundaries to our organization.  The elder is not to try and act as overseer outside the flock assigned him.  But, as brothers, we care, even for those of other denominations, even for those whose particulars of doctrine may be at variance with us.  Serve them.  They are the Temple of Christ.  Trust God.  He has their provision well in hand, even as your own.

Go back to that first mission the Apostles undertook at Christ’s command.  It wasn’t just that they themselves needed to learn to abide by God’s provision.  Their mission was to be a living parable.  They were going forth to proclaim God’s promises, and to declare the fulfillment of them in Messiah Jesus.  That was a claim, I should note, that had been made before by others.  It has proven to be false.  But, now, the Truth had come.  It would not be any more believable for that, because the Lie had now come so many times, true believers could be forgiven, perhaps, for hearing the news with a bit of skepticism.  It was going to take more than words to convince them.  So, the disciples were sent forth to demonstrate their own trust in God.  If this Messiah of yours is trustworthy, and has your provision in hand, prove it.  If He gives you every good and perfect gift, surely you can find no cause to grumble in what He gives you!  He has given you our simple table.  Is this not sufficient?  If, as you say, He provides perfectly, surely this is perfect.  Be content!  Contentment demonstrates trust.

Now, maybe you have that contentment thing down.  Maybe you’ve learned to be content regardless of circumstance, and you’ve bridled your tongue sufficiently to avoid grumbling at every inconvenience.  God bless you!  I still battle with that, although I think it’s gotten better.  My wife might suggest otherwise, though.  But, let’s go the next step.  You have the word of Truth, you say.  Do you live as if you believed it?  I think it was Billy Graham who pointed out the sad truth that many a professed believer declares himself an atheist by his actions.  You say you believe.  You live like you don’t.  I think we are all of us guilty of this behavior to some degree.  I don’t say this as excusing the fact, only as perhaps deflecting a tendency toward despair.

Here’s the thing:  You are a representative of God.  If, by your example – never mind your words – you demonstrate a God who not only winks at sin, but really gives it no particular thought, you lie about the God of Truth.  If you present by your attempts at piety a mindset that pronounces fantasies rather than acknowledging realities, you tell the world that your God is a fantasy of your own imagination, about as real as your claims to what isn’t.  You may be doing this to demonstrate the strength of your faith.  And perhaps, just perhaps, there’s some value to doing so in your private place, as an exercise to strengthen faith when facing a hard providence.  But, to do so in public just demonstrates a tendency toward self-delusion, and undermines your capacity to speak truth on any matter.

If you are perceived as constantly proclaiming as reality exactly what you think is not the present case, what are people going to think when you try to proclaim what you do think to be the present case?  If, to take the common and obvious example, you are forever declaring yourself healthy when you are very clearly sick as a dog, and if you are in the habit of declaring to the heavens those things you wish to be true, primarily because you know full well they are not, at least in the present tense, true, what sort of response can you then expect when you start saying things like, “I love you, I honor you”?  Is it not going to be very likely that the one to whom you speak hears this as a declaration that you wish you could, but in truth right now you don’t?  You have conditioned them to hear your words as declaring pretty much the opposite of what you say.  Don’t be surprised, then, when they hear them in such fashion.  Don’t, I must add, come along after all that and insist you never lie.  The whole problem here is that you do, and do so in so obvious a fashion that any and all must come to count any pronouncement you make as suspect.  And, dear representative of the God of Truth, if this is your habit, what does it say of Him?

That was a tangent I had not expected to explore.  Let me return from it.  It is, after all, a challenge we all need to face.  We all represent God, we believers.  We either do so intentionally, or we do so accidentally.  We all need, constantly, to consider what our example says of our beliefs.  The old adage is true enough:  Actions speak louder than words.  You can say you believe this or that, but what do your actions indicate?  You can say that God is Wise, but what do your actions say?

If that’s too uncomfortable to face directly, consider this.  Why is it that the proponents of Global Warming alarmism face so much skepticism?  OK.  I’ll grant that there are any number of reasons for this.  But, the one I have in mind is example.  Here are all these folks insisting that we must do everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gasses, and reduce our carbon footprint, and why are we so aware of this?  Because, they’re jetting hither and yon around the world, exuding great clouds of carbon, to get in front of bright lights, cameras, and broadcast equipment that generates even more greenhouse gasses, while living in expansive estates that consume absurd amounts of energy to provide for the luxurious lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed.  As is so often said, when you start to live like you believe your own message, maybe I’ll lend you an ear.  Well, dear Christian, consider:  To what degree are your behaviors contributing to a similar lack of credence given your own attempts to speak Truth? 

If you claim to speak the Truth, live like you believe it!  You represent God, as I say, intentionally or not.   Represent Him accurately.  That’s going to take a bit of intentionality.  But, you’re a servant, and here’s your Master’s command.  What else should you be doing?

The Nature of Endurance (11/23/17)

I want to expend a note or two on the matter of endurance, while I’m at it.  Paul, in setting aside his right to supply, says, “we endure all things.”  The term used is stegomen, which the JFB tells us, indicates not just putting up with the hard circumstances, but doing so without complaining, even concealing any distress that may be caused by that enduring.  This is not one of the words I had thought to look up when I first came through these verses.  I rather wish I had.

I think we tend to suppose we have endured just because we got through the other end.  If I look back on my previous contract, for example, I’d like to say I endured it, trying though it was.  But, the truth is, by this definition, I did not.  I survived it.  That’s something different.  If enduring means doing so without complaining, I failed by a longshot!  Why, I don’t know that a day went by on that contract without complaint about the situation.  I have this natural tendency toward such action as it is, and it’s one I really need to address, as God equips.  It goes back to that example thing.

But, the truth is, as much as I like  to think myself the stoic pillar of strength amidst the trials of life, it just ain’t so.  I’ll complain at the drop of a hat, particularly if it’s mine and it got dirty.  I’ll complain while you’re trying to help me.  It’s really kind of grotesque.  No, not kind of.  It’s really grotesque.  Let’s call it out truthfully.  Endurance is apparently something I still have yet to learn.  That being the case, I shall simply say that I am thankful for this clarification.  Perhaps this is a hint of the work God has in mind for my character at present.  Circumstance could certainly lead me to believe so.

Well, Lord, if this is the lesson, than grant that I may be a swift student!  I do wish to improve rather a lot as far as my representation of You is concerned.  I feel I fall so far short these days, perhaps more so than in years past.  Or, perhaps, I’m just beginning to get a clearer picture of how it should be.  No.  I think I’ve been lax.  I think I’ve been overreacting, overcorrecting for other surrounding matters, and that’s not right.  Forgive me.  I thank You even now for your astounding patience with me.  More to the point, I invite Your change in me, that I may better serve and represent You in my brokenness.

That, I think, comes in answer to a question I posed a year and more back, coming through this section.   Then, I asked, “If we need a vacation from our earthly labors, why would we suppose it is different when it comes to spiritual labors?”  Now, I look at this (and I’ll admit my view has altered even from yesterday) and wonder what I could have been thinking?  For one, if we think we need a vacation from our spiritual labors, it seems to me we have forgotten how those labors are accomplished.  Given how often I quote the verse, it is rather alarming that I could miss the implication when it comes to this question, but thanks be to God that He has thought to bring it to bear today.  Yes, you know where this is going.  “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Php 2:13).  And let me notice once more where that leads, since we’re on the topic of enduring.  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Php 2:14).

I’ll confess that my more normative activity is to grumble first, then do, and of late, it seems there has been a growing tendency in the house to dispute how pretty much anything should be done.  Well, I can take offense and let my pride have the driver’s seat, or I can hear God.  Hmm.  I wonder which one I should do…

No, I don’t need a vacation from my spiritual labors, because it is God who is at work, and He needs no vacation, nor ever has.  It’s prideful foolishness at best, the whispering of lying spirits at worst, most likely a mixture of both, that suggests I need a break from godliness.  What was I thinking?

Lord, again I must beg forgiveness.  Keep these things before my eyes, that I may learn them and fully internalize them.  It’s time and past time for a change, for progress toward the goal.  I know full well I cannot do it without You, and I have said often enough that I know You won’t do it without me.  Well, then, let me once again say, I am willing (as you will in me).  May You be pleased to work in me that I may work with You.  May this day be a day when Your grace shines through me towards those closest to me.  May this be the day of change.  It is, after all, Thanksgiving, and I shall indeed give thanks that You have chosen to bring these things before my eyes, that You do in fact continue to love me, to renew me, to reconstruct me so as to be fit for Your own table.

The Nature of Glorying (11/24/17)

When we come to verse 15 it surprises, doesn’t it?  Paul wants to preserve his right to boast?  Can that be right?  “I’d rather die than have somebody make my boast empty.”  OK, so not a right to boast, but having something to boast about, and even that, it would seem runs counter to his own message, doesn’t it?  When he told the Romans that salvation by grace meant that no man could boast before the Lord, did he leave a loophole for himself somewhere?  Of course not.  Rather, the term before us in this passage presents the translator with a challenge as to what term to use.

The KJV, and other older translations had it as glorying, but this, too, gives pause.  If all glory is rightly directed to God, is Paul robbing God by claiming glory for himself?  Again, the answer has to be no.  I have to say that I did not find my usual lexical sources terribly helpful in indicating just how much of a challenge we face here, settling for the standard boasting and glorying concepts, and simply noting that the boasting could be of a good or bad sort.  OK, so there’s a concession that if Paul boasts, it must be good in his case, but that smacks of inferring the point rather than deriving it.

Let me try Kittel’s.  Here, they note that the term can speak to taking pride in one’s work, as opposed to bragging about one’s accomplishments.  That would give some sense of the good and bad here.  Then too, the form we have before us speaks to the reason or basis for this, not the act itself.  The author suggests that very often, the particular intent behind the term is best determined by supporting statements, rather than the term itself.  Thus, we will find an association with confidence.  It is in this sense that we find Matthew Henry suggesting that this glorying, far from expressing a self-conceited boasting speaks to ‘a high degree of satisfaction and comfort’.  Barnes suggests we might try something more like ‘joying’.  I’m actually rather surprised that spell-check even accepts that term.

But, let us try and understand Paul’s point with these perspectives in place.  What gives Paul this joy, this high degree of satisfaction?  It is precisely as he has told us.  “We endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the Gospel of Christ” (v12).  It is his great joy that he is able to present for free that which he received at no charge, and thus to heed that commission he perceives in Jesus’ instruction from Matthew 10:8“Freely you received, freely give.”  This has been his model for ministry.  Yes, he will gladly accept the support of established churches as he brings the joyful tidings to a new place, but he will not charge those to whom he speaks those tidings.  He never has and he never will.  That’s the joying.  It seems, too, that as he raised up coworkers and sent them out, they went with the same instruction guiding their work.  Thus, you find him asking the Corinthians whether Titus had not followed similar course when among them (2Co 12:17-18).

If then Paul claims any sort of grounds for boasting at all here, it is this:  He has been faithful to the commission.  This, we can be assured, he attributes solely to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through him, and thus, and glorying basis remains fully directed to God, and the glory redounds to Him alone. 

There is a lesson we might take from this.  We tend to get so serious and careful about this business of boasting and glorying that we reject anything that might even use the terms.  We will accept no praise without carefully deflecting it off to God.  We will allow no hint of being proud of our efforts, lest it be thought boastful.  Actually, we are probably less concerned about being thought boastful than we are about making our careful avoidance a sort of passive-aggressive form of boasting.  That’s the ironic part of this whole practice.  We make our humility boastful.  Look at me!  I’m so humble, so careful not to claim any credit so ever.  If you praise me, do I not refuse the praise?  If you tell me I’ve done a good job, do I not insist I have done nothing, and it’s all God?  Why, yes you do.  And in doing so, you boast, but in a fashion you fail to notice, or at least hope nobody else will.  I assure you, they do.  More to the point, God does.

I personally find it very helpful to see the distinction made between taking pride in one’s work, and boasting of one’s prowess.  It’s a fine line and easily crossed.  But, if we seek to avoid the latter by refusing the former, we are likely to discover we’ve actually propelled ourselves across the line at high speed.  Better we humbly accept the thanks and move on.  We can thank God for making us able, but need not make show of this.  It is probably far better for our own battle with pridefulness that we do so later, and in private.

The Epistolary Connection (11/24/17)

I have commented often enough in going through this letter that what at first seemed to me a disjointed collection of diverse instructions turns out to be every bit as well-developed and cohesive a presentation as was Romans.  It continues to surprise me, because the flow of Paul’s discussion is not so plain upon the surface here.  But, it’s there.  Perhaps it is the nature of the reason for writing that makes this different.  Romans was primarily an introduction to a new church, and as such, Paul was free to focus primarily on expressing his doctrine and theology in careful detail.  Here, Paul is dealing with a wayward child, as it were, or let us say a teething infant church.  It has issues.  It has questions.  It needs practical instruction, and attitude correction.  Thus, his letter necessarily looks to address the questions they have raised, and to correct the erroneous behaviors that have developed.

Paul knows that it may be some time before he can make a trip to see them in person and spend the time needed to bring them back to the Way.  He also knows that the issues are too serious to leave for such a time.  So he is taking pains to address all of the varied issues and questions, and is also demonstrating that in reality they reflect effectively one, singular issue:  Love has been displaced by pride.  Said differently, the sacrificial service of edification has given way to self-serving super-spiritualist boasting.

Thus, as we look to the developments in this chapter, what we are discovering is that Paul has not in fact just veered off on a lengthy dissertation about his own superiority as an Apostle.  Rather, he has presented his own well established practices as demonstrating exactly the same principle he is urging upon them.  He is saying, in effect, that he asks nothing of them which he does not very intentionally make his own practice.  And furthermore, he reminds them, they have intimate familiarity with the facts of his case, he having lived amidst them for a year and a half.  They have observed his life.  They know how he lives.  They have, however, missed the point apparently.  So, he brings it before them, in context, so that they can make the connection.  Thus, as Barnes writes, “His conduct therefore in this was just one illustration of the principle on which he said he would always act.”  I like the ‘just one illustration’ of that statement.  He’s not bragging.  He’s just offering an example.  See?  This is what I’m talking about.

What is equally instructive to me is that he does not go and rub their nose in it.  He does not beat them over the head with his point and say, “Now do you see how badly you behave by going down to those idol temples, even knowing your brother’s concerns?”  No.  He leaves them to make the connection for themselves, and thus to truly learn.

The Wycliffe Commentary actually brings out an even greater connectivity, noting that, “The apostle now shows how love acted in his case.”  Their point is that Paul, by describing this example, presents an ‘illustration of knowledge regulated by love’.  If the matter of setting aside rights in favor of effective ministry ties us back to chapter 8, this brings us right on back to the beginning of the letter.  And, as mention of love in connection with Paul’s writing must turn our thoughts to chapter 13, we see that this also remains of a piece with his message going forward.  Rightly viewed, I think we should find this theme of ‘knowledge regulated by love’ carries us right on through to the end.  It is, then, the start-to-finish integrating concept of the entire letter, the theme.

It’s been a long while since I went through the exercise of identifying the letter’s theme, but having just revisited my conclusion on that topic, I am, I admit, pleased to see that I reached this very conclusion.  “Let all that you do be done in love” (1Co 16:14).  That is the summation, isn’t it?  That is what he’s been saying start to finish.  Don’t teach for profit or position.  Don’t nod and wink at sin in the church or in yourself.  Remember that you are one body.  What harms one limb harms the whole.  Cherish the Church.  Love one another.  Serve one another.  Use your gifts for their benefit, not your glorying.  If you have the knowledge you so readily claim to have, regulate it.  If you understand liberty, demonstrate it by loving choice in its application.  If you have orthodoxy of doctrine, demonstrate it in orthopraxy of practice.

The Point is the Gospel (11/25/17)

Paul’s example consists of this:  He would not suffer it to be thought that he had preached for the sake of gain, that his labors arose from ‘interested motives’, as the JFB words it.  He certainly would not willingly act in any way that left him open to such charges.  His mission, and he would have this clear to one and all, was to preach the Gospel of Christ, and Him crucified.  It was most assuredly not an effort to become rich, nor even to find a more convenient means of supporting himself.

We have the benefit of retrospection as regards his example.  We can look back across the record of his ministry and see that this was very clearly the case.  We have the record of the trials he faced at pretty much every stop along his journey.  This was not, then, the choice of easy living.  Tent-making, while well-suited to serve the lifestyle Paul adopted, since the army was everywhere and everywhere had need of tents, was not a particularly easy or healthful trade, and it certainly wasn’t rendering him rich, either.  In fairness, if Paul had wanted an easy life, he should have stuck with his training back in Jerusalem.  Mind you, the record shows that said easy life would not have lasted any much longer as the one chosen for him, but the idea that Paul was doing this for the money would have been laughable, I should think, even if he had opted to accept contributions from his listeners.

The JFB, looking at this point, brings forward Abram’s response to Bera, king of Sodom, after he had defeated Chedorlaomer and his cohorts.  The king of Sodom had offered Abram the loot from that victory, since he was the one who achieved it.  He had earned the right to profit by his actions.  But, look at his response.  “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (Ge 14:22-23).  This is the exact same mindset that Paul is discussing.  Abram had the right, but he would not allow his right to provide even the smallest opportunity to belittle God’s Providence.  If I am rich, he says, it is because God has made it so.  It is not because of me, and it is assuredly not because of any other man.

So, we have Abram of old, and Paul of late, saying, as Calvin offers on their behalf, “Do nothing that would hinder or retard the progress of the gospel.”  Make no mistake!  Abram and Paul, and Calvin for that matter, were on the same course, serving the same Gospel.  What Paul is doing here is encouraging the Corinthians to pursue the self-same course.  Your rights, he says, are not demands to be made, but gifts to be rightly appreciated and rightly used.  The right use of any such gifted right is to bend it to the service of the gospel.  The gospel is the point.  The gospel is the only point.

If you are material blessed in this life, do not thereby become confused and suppose that this life is the point.  If you are granted power, or access to the ears of the powerful, it is not so that you can get your way.  It is so that you can by these things promote the gospel, and help it advance.  Think of Paul’s later years, imprisoned in Rome and facing the very real possibility of a death sentence.  Where is his focus?  Is it on his defense?  Is he praying for angels to come bail him out like they did Peter?  No.  He is preaching the Gospel.  He is advancing the kingdom of God right into the courts of Caesar’s palace.  Paul’s claim that, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Php 1:21) is no idle boast on his part.  It is a simple and heartfelt declaration of his mindset.  It is the same thing we hear at the close of this passage.  “I would rather die than have any man make my joying vain.” 

There can be no question but that Paul absolutely preferred the advancing of the gospel even to his own life.  As I say, this is the same perspective he urges on the Corinthians.  As such, it is the same perspective the Holy Spirit urges upon us.  It’s deserving of a question.  What are you willing to forego for the sake of the Gospel?  I can go back to that old Ginsu Knife sales pitch.  “Now how much would you pay?”  But, it’s not how much you would pay to have this or that.  It’s how much would you pay to see another lost soul brought to saving knowledge of your Lord and Savior?  Sadly, I’m not sure most of us would be willing to pay all that much.  If it’s particularly convenient, sure, maybe we could lend a hand.  But, if it means possible embarrassment, or maybe even a bit of ridicule?  That’s not my calling, I’m afraid.

This is not as it should be, and yet I know for myself, it is a sadly accurate depiction.  I’m good with God’s Providence.  I seek to balance it with stewardship, yes, and I run a constant risk of slipping into thinking that I’ve done this, that I’ve brought us to this place of relative comfort.  It’s good to be reminded by Abram, and by Paul, that it’s all God’s doing and none of my own.  It’s also good not to lay back on that realization and become slothful.  But, if God can provide for my employment, my housing, my food and clothing, and has done so with perfection lo, these many years, on what basis do I conclude that He can’t supply in this matter of evangelism?  Why is it I can’t trust Him with my desire to correct error in my loved ones?  Why do I even yet shrink back from boldly standing for His truth, and just let the lost continue in their chosen darkness?  This is not knowledge exercised in love.  This is knowledge horded and held close.

I find I am in a hard place.  It is hard on many fronts and for many varied reasons, but really they come back to this issue of trust in God.  Yes, I trust Him, and yet it seems clear I don’t.  I trust Him to care for my physical plant, but I can be utterly lax about trusting Him for things more spiritual in nature.  I am too inclined to try and battle on that front in my own strength, while I leave the easier, material matters to Him.  What is up with that?  Or, more often than not, I’ll take the more passive aggressive approach, and just leave it for Him to sort out the growing mess.  That has been a pretty good strategy in times past, but it seems maybe He’s asking me to grow up a bit.  About time, as I near my 6th decade.  But, that is not, I should stress, a call to take things firmly in hand and strike out in my own inflated sense of wisdom.  Not at all!  Rather, it’s a call to consider prayer more important, and to put faith into action.  No, let me say, put faith into practice.

Here is God’s promise:  He promises that He will keep and sustain His children.  He has never failed to do so, nor will He.  This is about so much more than food and clothing.  It’s about mission.  It’s about serving.  He has called us as servants in His employ.  He has command of our deeds, by right.  He bought us, after all.  He made us.  For the philosophers amongst us, it is in Him that we live, that we move, that we have being at all (Ac 17:28).  Isn’t it something that Paul sees fit to quote the wisdom of the pagans in saying this?  Truth is truth, after all, and even the darkest corner gets a little bit of light.  But, if our very being depends upon Him, and He has procured us for Himself by the price of His own blood, He surely has the right of absolute command over us.  For our part, we have a bounden duty to obey.

And here’s something shocking:  God does not so demand His right as to leave us destroyed, which is assuredly our rightful end.  The best of us have a miserable track record when it comes to obeying.  David, the one God speaks of as a man after His own heart, had a miserable track record.  Moses had a miserable track record.  Even Paul, we can reasonably assume, had a miserable track record.  This has not somehow escaped God’s notice.  He knows.  But, here is that same model lived out by our Creator:  Knowledge subjected to love.  In His merciful, unending love for us, He does not destroy us out of hand.  Rather, He continues to work on, in, and through us in spite of our endless supply of imperfections.  And, as He works, He makes us aware of another promise:  If we will but get over our embarrassment at serving Him, He can assuredly get over His embarrassment over having kids like us.  That, dear ones, is mercy.