A difficult topic of discussion for any preacher is that which pertains to his pay, or, as some describe it, his support. It is a difficult topic because it appears unseemly for a preacher to “make the case” to be supported by the local congregation. To add to this difficulty, some Christians thinks that the preacher ought to be paid less than he (the preacher) thinks is warranted for his family.
Though this topic is difficult, Paul addresses the very point in 1 Corinthians 9. It appears that some Christians in Corinth thought Paul and Barnabas ought not to be (or have been) supported; in fact, Paul asked a number of rhetorical questions to elicit from his readers clear answers to the questions asked. If one is honest with self, then the topic could easily have been laid to rest, but therein lays the problem—honesty was lacking, and agenda held sway.
In 1 Corinthians 9:3, Paul was called upon by some in the church to defend himself, as if he was in a court proceeding. “They were calling him to defend himself as one would before magistrates in court” (Reese, p. 299). He understood how tremendously unfortunate it was that he would have to even travel down this road; travel he did, though. He did this in order to help the saints understand the propriety of “paying the preacher” for the work he does (9:3-7). To buttress his point in supporting the preacher Paul made use of Scripture (Deuteronomy 25:4). “In the quoted verse Moses is saying that an ox that is being used in the harvesting of a crop must be allowed to enjoy the benefits of that harvest” (Oster, p. 203).
It is clear, then, that God designed for His preachers to be supported by the brethren in the work they do. (It is important to highlight word work. There are many, unfortunately, who work very little and are paid a king’s ransom.) Paul said it was his prerogative as to whether he received support or not (9:15-18), but that God designed for the saints to “pay the preacher” is beyond dispute. Paul laid to rest the propriety preacher support.
A question that often arises, however, is concerning the amount the local congregation should render in support to the preacher. There is no hard-fast answer to such a question. It is reasonable in considering this question to take into account two primary things: 1) his family size and needs, 2) the ability of the congregation to support. If one or both can’t be addressed, then other options need to be considered. In summary, to “pay the preacher” is proper because God designed for it to be done (9:9-14; cf. Galatians 6:6-7) and because the work that he does is tremendously important. It is that way in the Lord’s eyes, and it should be that way in the eyes of the saints also.