Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Free Gospel

“What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.”

~1 Corinthians 9:18 (NRSV).

The Apostle Paul knew that for him to claim full rights and privileges in the gospel—though the Law would’ve allowed it—would have been high treason to the New Covenant idea, in his context, which was about setting the highest possible example of loving, living sacrifice to the Corinthians and others in his sights and scope.

There is an elusive paradox here.

Although he had every right to claim payment and other ‘entitlements’ for his ministry Paul knew it would not only send the wrong message, but worse, it would denigrate and dilute the power of gospel that was sweeping the First Century world. Paul could not in right conscience let that happen.

Besides, his fight—as he mentions—was for others. This now is the minister’s way; no better example of this is Jesus himself.

So, Paul made tents by day and preached and ministered later in the day and evening for free so many could be saved. Yet, Paul was fighting also for the rights of ministers of the gospel to be fed and supported financially. This is an eternal imperative of the church—to support ministers appropriately to their individual context, to the flavour of their particular God-discerned needs.

The Personal Relevance

Paul had a remarkably simple formula, but one that had some very complex consequences for himself, personally. This simple formula ensured that money and income were not blockers for him in getting the gospel message out. Imagine if Paul had even a slightly different approach, seeking payment. For all else he offered, what a poor example of leadership he could have been seen as in stopping short of being beyond reproach.

It’s no different for us. Pastors naturally want to minister fulltime with plenty of study time thrown in so they can develop and grow—and a generally stress-free time of it wherever possible. They also don’t want their families to suffer lack. Missionaries have similar needs for their families to be looked after, and for decent furlough arrangements. Christian musicians and writers want to record their music and write books and sell sufficient copies to afford to play or write fulltime. But, who will pay when we don’t have a ‘payable’ ministry to speak of? And even if we do, is there the funding to go around?

“Funding” seems in some ways to be a bit of a red herring. It distracts us from the real issue—that of the gospel and its preaching.

It is better to start from where we are, not expecting any support other than what support we already have access to. If we’re fortunate to have a day job like Paul, something that pays us for the privilege of ministering at other times, we are positioned to both serve and praise God.

God is not releasing many into ministry such that our day jobs will be improved or changed into ministry opportunities or better ones, though that may still happen for some. We should wish them the best and resist envying them as much as we can.

Very simply we are positioned to minister from where we are, and in ways that makes, and keeps making, the gospel free and accessible to all. It’s a tradition as old as Paul.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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