Do Not Muzzle the Ox
Financial support for Christian workers is not just an issue for discussion at elders meetings... Every believer must realise their God-given privilege and responsibility to support full-time and part-time Christian workers. It’s an issue of righteousness, and it has inevitable and far-reaching implications for God’s people everywhere — and indeed, the entire Christian cause on earth.
The Apostle Paul was actually quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 — the Old Covenant law that specifically forbade the muzzling of an ox to prevent it from eating some of the grain it was threshing. It is quoted twice in the New Testament and both times it is used as an illustration to explain the rights and privileges of those that devote their time and energy to serving God. “Those that preach the gospel...”, Paul argued, “...should receive their living from the gospel”.
Apart from teaching us something about God’s care for animals, this gives us a graphic image of the struggling Christian worker — and I’m not just talking about people in pastoral roles within churches. Here’s a little exercise for you: Get a piece of paper right now, think for a moment and then write down the names of people that you know fit this description:
The problem with people is that we usually tend towards compartmentalised thinking. When we think of “ministers” we tend to think of the stereotypical images, such as pastors or church staff in paid positions in churches. Let’s trash those images... those people are the exception, not the rule! Most of God’s humble servants are people who live with great frugality within very limited means. They are usually not in paid positions, they usually do not dress in designer clothes, drive expensive cars or even own their own homes! They are usually different in this significant way: They want to earn just enough so that they can meet their basic needs, and then they want to spend the rest of their time and energy serving God. In fact, they are so gripped by this heavenly motivation that they wish they did not have to work so that they could serve their Lord full-time! These are the unsung heroes of the Christian faith who spend their time and energy encouraging others, giving sacrificially, constantly taking steps of faith, avoiding the limelight as they try to make a living so that they can just get on and serve God. I know some who clean windows for a living, others work on computers, others build houses and others build websites. But their heart is really in serving God. For them, “work” is just a means to that end. They come from a diverse range of occupations and professions but if they, like Peter of the Bible who left his nets to follow Jesus, had opportunity to leave their profession and go and serve Jesus full-time, they would down their tools and be off in an instant!
There is an acute need for more widespread support for these would-be full-time Christian workers — and I’m not just talking about money you put in the plate on a Sunday. Our understanding of giving needs to be transformed — it needs to be more prayerful and more relational in the way it’s done. Financial support for Christian workers is not just an issue for discussion in church elders meetings. Every believer must realise their God-given privilege and responsibility to support full-time and part-time Christian workers. It’s an issue of righteousness, and it has inevitable and far-reaching implications for God’s people everywhere — and indeed, the entire Christian cause on earth. If God’s workers are not released, empowered, and enabled by their fellow believers, then the Christian movement worldwide will suffer. Jesus said, “The Harvest is plentiful... Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”
7 Good Reasons to Give
Now I’m going to give you 7 good reasons why you should prayerfully consider supporting these people yourself!
1. The work of the Kingdom of God will prosper
2. Rewards will flow back to you.
3. You will have the joy of seeing these people you love set free to serve God more happily and effectively.
5. God might just bless you financially or in other ways
6. They will pray for you and praise God for the grace God has given you.
7. It’s right to do what’s right.
Some Common excuses
Excuse #1: My tithes and offerings belong to my church
My response to this could be a whole article in itself! But it is perhaps sufficient to say that the practice of tithing (ie: Giving one tenth of all produce) in the Old Testament was for the purpose of supporting the Priesthood and the Temple system which was superseded by the coming of the New Covenant. Christ is our High Priest and we are the Temple of the Living God. Our lives are also the sacrifice and offering that we bring to God each time we come to worship. There has been a lot of scripture used out of context to justify the local church as the place where tithe money and offerings should be deposited - I suspect because the western European model of church life (which we have inherited) is so dependent on buildings as a central part of Christian activity and requires substantial amounts money to support it. There are many other ways, however, to have church that do not require expensive buildings. To reject the contemporary tradition of “tithing” does not, however, rule out the biblical directive to give. There are many legitimate ministries within your local church that may merit your primary support, but that’s a judgement call that you’re going to have to prayerfully make. True faith is not bound to rigid legalism, and God may very well be calling you to do your giving “outside the box”.
Excuse #2: But they’re not in a recognised ministry position.
The New Testament makes no distinction between ordained and non-ordained. In fact, the Apostles we just ordinary guys that Jesus called, who became recognised on the basis that He called them and that they showed that they had been annointed by the Holy Spirit and set apart for that ministry.
Excuse #3: But someone else is probably supporting them
A basic assumption which could, sadly, be incorrect.
Excuse #4: But they should get a job - after all, the Apostle Paul made tents for a living.
The Apostle Paul did choose to work and support himself so that he would not be a financial burden on fledgling churches and new believers, but he did not, however, prescribe this to others. In 1Corinthians 9, Paul uses the examples of a solider, a vine-planter and a shepherd to illustrate the common right that workers should derive a reward from their labours. Paul clearly asserts that it is good and right and entirely appropriate that Christian workers derive their income from their ministries. Paul goes even further and asserts that it is reasonable to expect a material harvest from spiritual seed.
Some Pointers on Giving
Do unto others...
Does your left know what your right hand is doing?
There’s more to Giving than Money
Regular and Reliable
That’s really between you and God. How much you give has as much to do with your level of faith as it does with how much you have. In relation to giving, the Apostle Paul said, “If the willingness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard-pressed, but that there might be equality”
Even small amounts given regularly add up to a significant amount over time. Amazingly, it only takes ten people giving ten percent of their income (a common practice among many Christians) to release one person into fully-paid full-time ministry. Unfortunately, a large portion of money given in church today goes to support buildings and many other nonessential and unbiblical programs. How much more satisfying would it be to see a brother or sister with a call on their life set free to serve God more effectively?
How many muzzled Oxen do you know? And what can you do about it?!
1 Corinthians 9:7-18; 1Timothy 5:17-19; Matthew 6:4; Romans 12:9-13; Phillipians 4:10-19
Monday, November 20, 2006 printer friendly version | 14468 reads
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