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:

  • They love the Lord and want to serve Him.
  • They have taken steps to make themselves more available to serve God in some part-time or full-time capacity.
  • They have left full time employment and have sacrificed a career opportunity. 
  • They have given their spare time generously and freely to some cause or mission at their own expense, maybe even going to foreign lands for weeks or months or even years at a time.
  • They devote significant portions of time to serving others or playing a support role in a ministry.
  • Maybe they’re self-employed and take time off without pay in order to exercise their ministry. 
  • They have an extraordinary call that does not permit them to devote the same level of time and energy to the everyday work that occupies the rest of us — and God seems to bless them and use them in a remarkable way!

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.”

Now take another look at those names you’ve written on your list.  If you don’t have several names of people fitting that description on your list, then call me - I’ll give you the names of at least 20 more! Now write this above their names: “Ministers needing support”. These are the “Muzzled Oxen” in your part of the world! Now underline and write a short note next to the names of the people on your list that have made a positive contribution to your life. It might say something like “Helped me to find Jesus”, or “Inspired me to be full-on with God”, or “They prayed and I was healed”, or “Gave me much-needed advice”, or “Taught me everything I know”, or “Encouraged me when I was down”. Now put a double asterix next to their name if you know that they would do more for God is they had financial support.

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
Unhindered Christian workers will have more time and energy to serve God. When they don’t have to be concerned about their own needs they can become more focused on what God has called them to do.

2. Rewards will flow back to you.
This is a universal spiritual principle: It is in giving that you receive. Jesus said, Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together and running over...”
In fact, you’ve probably have already been receiving spiritual blessings through these people. Maybe you already owe them big-time! Think about it!

3. You will have the joy of seeing these people you love set free to serve God more happily and effectively.
Jesus also said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive...” Those who have made a practice of prayerfully giving have discovered this amazing truth.

4. God calls us to respond to needs when we see them.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

5. God might just bless you financially or in other ways
“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion...” Just check your motives!!

6. They will pray for you and praise God for the grace God has given you.
“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you...”

7. It’s right to do what’s right.
We should need no other reason to do that which ought to be self-evident.

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...
Put yourself in their shoes. You like to be able to afford nice things occasionally. If you’re in a position to do it, why not generously bless those that bless you?

Does your left know what your right hand is doing?
If you do give support, it’s good not to make people feel indebted to you. After all, aren’t you just a messenger for God’s blessing? No-one likes to feel like they’re a recipient of charity. You can help by verbalising your appreciation for the work they’re doing. Maybe you could consider giving anonymously - although some people would prefer to know who you are so that they can say “thanks” and pray for you.

There’s more to Giving than Money
You may not be able to support financially, but there are lots of other ways. Offers of assistance in practical ways can free up people to serve the Lord. Eg: Baby sitting, cutting grass, cooking a meal... why not get creative?

Regular and Reliable
If you choose to give financially, be reliable. After all, you probably know when you’re going to get paid! Why not ask them for their bank account details and make direct deposits?

Be Thoughtful
Some ministers of the gospel find it easier to raise money for a specific projects which inspire people and attract a lot of attention, but often their own personal day-to-day needs go unnoticed. Remember, they have to pay their bills too!

How Much?

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”
2 Cor 8:12,13.

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?!

Allan Weatherall
Publisher, Worldview Interactive

Further Reading:
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