These are all ministers, well-known from their television presence, who have either been convicted of financial malfeasance in their ministry or have been investigated for such because of their lavish lifestyles. I am afraid that there are whole sections of America that think of people like these first when they think of Christian ministers. For these people, closely associated with church and church leaders is greed and exploitation of followers in order to line the pockets of those leaders.
Today, we learn that Paul was being accused of the same things. We have been progressively piecing together a picture of Paul’s opponents in Corinth. It would appear there is a group of leaders in the Corinthian church who have arrived only recently who are picking away at Paul’s authority in the church by making people question his credentials (chapters 1-4) and now his motives. We can divine from this chapter that they are suggesting Paul is taking advantage of the Corinthians financially in order to benefit his own bottom-line.
Paul’s response is two-pronged. First, he defends his right to support. This is only fair and lawful. Basic life practices show we owe people for what they do for us. It is only right to pay those who minister. For goodness sake, a farmer doesn’t even deprive an ox his due. It is entirely inappropriate and unbiblical to pay a minister a subsistence wage for his or her work. On the other end of the spectrum, we should also ask ourselves whether we can pay a minister so much that it actually begins to hurt him or her spiritually?
However, Paul’s second point was that if they remember correctly, he never even exercised his right to support in order not to give people like these accusers a foothold for scandal. He supported himself through tent-making. He willfully gave up his freedom so as to be as free from accusation as possible:
But we haven’t made use of this right. Instead, we put up with everything , so as to place no obstacle in the way of the Messiah’s gospel. . . . I am indeed free from everyone; but I have enslaved myself to everyone, so that I can win all the more. (9:12, 19)
It is unconscionable to think we can pay a minister well below the average income in a church or community just because they are a minister. Ministers don’t take oaths of poverty. We are saying how much we value these noble people and their work with we pay them a pittance. But in a culture where accusations and realities of ministerial greed do exist, we probably ought to consider whether it is wise to compensate a minister well above the median income of the church of a community or for a minister to live a lavish life. We certainly owe a minister his or her due, but we also owe it to Christ to do whatever we can to “win all the more” and in America that means money is always part of the equation.