Supporting Those Who Labor Among Us

Supporting Those Who Labor Among Us

(Everritt Heaton)


    Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 4 that as servants of Christ we are stewards of the mysteries of God and that it is required of stewards to be found trustworthy.  He says in v.6 that those things also applied to he and Apollos and they would learn by them not to go beyond what is written and that none would become puffed up.  Scripture has much to say about staying within the confines of God’s word and conducting everything from our individual lives to our collective worship in ways that God has authorized.  Most often we use the term “scriptural authority” to describe God’s standard for our lives and practices. 


    For everything we do it is vital that we look to God’s word for direction and instruction.  As we said above this holds true in every aspect of our lives but also for the organization, function, and work of the Lord’s church and the local congregations that make up His church.  What we want to do in this article is look into those who can be supported by the local church in terms of leadership.  We will not get into saints who may be in need or supporting widows in this article.  Our focus is on supporting those who labor among us and the roles they have.


    As far back as Numbers 18 you can read of God selecting and authorizing men to focus on service to His people in terms of worship, teaching, and guidance.  The Levites as a whole were chosen as the tribe to minister to the tabernacle and priests.  Because of this focused work they were not given an inheritance in measures of land as the other tribes were but instead certain cities to live in.  In Numbers 18 we learn that they earned their living and received their inheritance from the contributions made by the people of Israel.  In the same chapter the priests also received their living from the people and also the tithes of the Levites themselves.


    This of course was commanded by God and would continue until the new covenant took place.  In the New Testament you see the same principle and pattern set in place for those who fill much those same roles today in the Church.  In Matthew 10 Jesus is sending out His 12 to go into the towns and teach.  He tells them that they need not worry about packing and taking provisions for this but instead rely on those who would open their hearts to the teaching.  He reminds them of this principle in v.10 when he says “…for the laborer deserves his food.” 


    So who is it that labors among us today?  In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about the unity of the body of Christ.  Starting in v.11 he lists the roles of leadership that the Lord established for a specific purpose.  Ephesians 4:11 – “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”  All of these are roles that men serve in and labor among God’s people for what?  4:12 – “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”  Now we know that apostles and prophets are no longer with us as those days have ended.  We have the apostles and prophets within scripture.   Evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are all 3 still roles that men can labor in within and for the body of Christ.


    In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul begins to conclude his letter by saying “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves.” (5:12-13)  Most agree Paul is referencing shepherds here being that he mentions a role that is “over you in the Lord.”  While the role of an evangelist is a leadership role we know from other passages like 1 Peter 5 and Acts 20 that it is shepherds that “exercise oversight” and “shepherd the flock among them.”  The other key to this passage I’d ask you to take note of is that Paul says these men are men “who labor among you.”


    In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul talks about how on some occasions he surrendered his rights because of some challenging him.  These “rights,” as he words it, are not just rights that he claims to have as an evangelist but in his comments it’s clear these rights would pertain to apostles, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers.  He says: “This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”


    Finally when Paul is talking to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5 he says: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The Laborer deserves his wages.’”  Paul is specifically talking about elders here and indicates the same pattern we’ve seen already.  He quotes both the Old Law in Deuteronomy 25:4 and then Jesus in Matthew 10:10.  Some tend to say that the honor we are to show these men is more defined by respect.  Well that does coincide with 1 Thessalonians 5 but notice the direct context Paul connects that honor with supporting wages.


    What we can clearly see from all these passages is that it is well within scriptural authority to financially support those who labor among us in these kinds of roles.  It’s not that this is something that we want to do and we’re just making sure we can technically do these things.  I think if we look at this subject and the passages we’ve noted objectively we see that this is actually God’s design and how He intended it to be.  Culturally in the church we’ve gotten away from this model as outlined in scripture.  It seems that the biblical pattern is for men to be serving in these roles and supported by the local congregation for that work, if that support is obviously needed. 


    We are accustomed to the role of an evangelist and him and his family being supported by the local body.  While many congregations are accustomed to elders serving a role in leadership, admittedly supporting shepherds is something that is a new concept to many.  While we generally think of “teachers” as different people taking turns in the collective bible study rotation I believe we’ve also gotten away from men serving in full time capacities as teachers that labor among a congregation focused on teaching those within the body and those that need to hear the gospel.


    The conclusion I have reached after a diligent study and consideration of God’s word is that not only are we “allowed” to support an elder financially but the pattern laid out for us in scripture indicates that this should be done.  I don’t really like to say support a shepherd “full-time” because I believe and appreciate all the men at Trenton who have served and continue to serve, with their families, as shepherds here.  They are serving full-time because it’s a work that has no set hours and they are diligently serving and laboring among us on top of secular work.  But we all can appreciate the benefits of being able to be free from secular work and more free to engage in the many aspects that make up serving as a shepherd.


    We all know that God’s way works.  It always does.  Supporting shepherds and evangelists to labor among the Lord’s people is the pattern we see from God and because it is His way I know great blessings will be given our congregation and those whom we seek to influence.  All of us play a part and it’s because of everyone’s desire to serve Him faithfully and work together and dependence on God’s grace we have seen and will continue to see growth.