Paul Robbed Other Churches
“I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” (2 Corinthians 11:8, 9)
Have you ever thought about or talked about the importance of a local church being self-supporting? Generally, the idea is that a preacher who works with a self-supporting church will not have to seek support from other churches to be fully devoted to spiritual work. Many churches make it a goal to be self-supporting and many preachers seem to prefer working with churches that have enough funds to provide a comfortable living without any help from other churches or individuals.
What do we think about Paul sometimes not receiving support from the churches that he was working with by his own choice? He robbed other churches, but he didn’t receive any support from Corinth and he spoke as if he might never accept financial support from the Corinthians. It seems that he did this in Ephesus for a time as well (Acts 20:34, 35). There are at least two reasons why Paul did this: 1) he preached that people ought to be willing to work to support themselves and to share with the needy. He was willing to practice what he preached when money may not have been available for him to devote himself fully to the word; 2) there were times when it was better for the gospel’s sake not to receive funds from the churches (1 Corinthians 9:6-12). Paul planted a lot of churches. By not accepting money from all of them, or not accepting money from the newer works he demonstrated that he was not planting churches to enrich himself.
This brings us back to the idea of a church being self-supporting. Is this something that we view as ideal or as the pinnacle of growth? If so, how can something that Paul sometimes viewed as unnecessary be ideal? Is it ideal to God or is it ideal to us? Do we like the idea of being able to announce that we are self-supporting? Could preachers get caught up in viewing their level of support as a validation of their work? Would a self-supporting church be insulted if a preacher today suggested that he receive all of his wages from other churches? Paul viewed this as helpful in certain situations, yet it is hard to imagine that a self-supporting church would be interested in going along with such a request today. We don’t want to make a strained comparison between Paul’s church-planting lifestyle and working with churches that are well established. However, it does seem that Paul continued to not receive support from Corinth even after they would have been more established and able to support him.
Preachers can be supported. Paul was often supported to preach. When he wasn’t supported, his spiritual work was affected by his physical work. Hopefully, we would want an able man to be devoted to the ministry of the word. An argument can also be made that the church receiving the fruits of a man’s labors should be willing to feed the ox with their own corn, figuratively speaking. However, the notion of being self-supporting is not necessarily the pinnacle of spiritual growth.
The point of this discussion is to raise the issue of what we consider to be ideal and why. Is it because of something that we are reading in the Bible or is what we consider to be ideal the result of preference or longstanding custom? Is it possible that Christians could begin to make judgments about faithfulness based on what has become typical in our area or our lifetimes? There are some things that we should expect to see in a worship service, but if we visit some other places we will see some differences in order, meeting times, locations, and even the focus of a local church at different times and in different places. The concept of generic authority allows for this.
The spirit of restoration desires to be sensitive to the consciences of others, but if we raise an objection or suggest a change in practice, in the churches or in our lives, let’s make sure that we are willing to reason from the Scriptures and hear one another patiently. Paul taught that disciples of Jesus can and must be united. The basis of our unity is truth spoken in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). If our preferences are ever elevated to the status of what constitutes an ideal church or an ideal disciple, may the Lord grant us the humility to see this before we begin to unfairly question the faithfulness of our brethren. This will not glorify Christ or build up His body.