THE CHURCHES AND THE WORKERSPrint This Page.
Should the churches provide for the needs of the workers? God's Word supplies a clear answer to our question. We see there that the money collected by the churches is used in three different ways:
(1) For the poor saints. The Scriptures pay much attention to the needy children of God, and a large proportion of the local offerings goes to relieve their distress.
(2) For the elders of the local church. Circumstances may make it necessary for elders to give up their ordinary business in order to devote themselves wholly to the interests of the church, in which case the local brothers should realize their financial responsibility toward them, and seek at least in some measure to make up to them what they have sacrificed for the church's sake (1 Tim. 5:17-18).
(3) For the working brothers and the work. This must be regarded as an offering to God, not as a salary paid to them.
"I robbed other churches, taking wages for the ministry to you. And when I was present with you and lacked, I was not a burden to anyone; for the brothers who came from Macedonia filled up my lack, and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and will keep myself" (2 Cor. 11:8-9). "And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I went out from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the account of giving and receiving except you only....But I have received in full all things and abound; I have been filled, receiving from Epaphroditus the things from you, a sweet-smelling savor, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God" (Phil. 4:15, 18). Where the members of a church are spiritual, they cannot but care for the interests of the Lord in places beyond their own locality, and the love of the Lord will constrain them to give both to the workers and to the work. If the members are unspiritual they will probably reason that, since the church and the work are separate, they have no obligations towards the work, and it is enough that they bear responsibility for the church. But those members who are spiritual will always be alive to their responsibility in regard to the work and the workers, and will never seek to evade it on the ground that they have no official responsibility. They will count it both a duty and a delight to further the Lord's interests by their gifts.
While in the Epistles the churches are encouraged to give to the poor saints and also to the local elders and teachers, there is no mention made of encouraging the giving to the apostles, or to the work in which they were engaged. The reason is obvious. The writers of the Epistles were themselves apostles; therefore, it would not have been fitting for them to invite gifts for themselves or their work, nor had they any liberty from the Lord to do so. It was quite in order for them to encourage the believers to give to others, but for the meeting of their own needs and the needs of the work they could only look to God. As they cared for the needs of others, He did not overlook their needs, and He Himself moved the hearts of His saints to supply all that was required. So the workers of today should do as the apostles did of old, concern themselves only with the needs of others, and God will make all their concerns His.
That was a great and noble statement that our brother Paul made to the Philippians. He dared to say to those who were almost his sole supporters, "I have received in full all things and abound." Paul gave no hint of need, but took the position of a wealthy child of a wealthy Father, and he had no fears that by doing so further supplies would not be forthcoming. It was all very well for apostles to say to an unbeliever who himself was in distress, "Silver and gold I do not possess," but it would never have done for a needy apostle to say that to believers who would be ready to respond to an appeal for help. It is a dishonor to the Lord if any representative of His discloses needs that would provoke pity on the part of others. If we have a living faith in God, we shall always make our boast in Him, and we shall dare to proclaim under every circumstance, "I have received in full all things and abound." There is nothing petty or mean about God's true servants; they are all great souls. The following lines were penned by Miss M. E. Barber on Psalm 23:5 when she had used her last dollar:
There is always something over,When we trust our gracious Lord;Every cup He fills o'erfloweth,His great rivers all are broad.Nothing narrow, nothing stinted,Ever issued from His store;To His own He gives full measure,Running over, evermore.
There is always something over,When we, from the Father's Hand,Take our portion with thanksgiving,Praising for the path He planned.Satisfaction, full and deepening,Fills the soul, and lights the eye,When the heart has trusted JesusAll its need to satisfy.
There is always something over,When we tell of all His love;Unplumbed depths still lie beneath us,Unscaled heights rise far above.Human lips can never utterAll His wondrous tenderness.We can only praise and wonderAnd His Name for ever bless.
We are the representatives of God in this world, and we are here to prove His faithfulness; therefore, above all in financial matters we must be totally independent of men, and wholly dependent upon God. Our attitude, our words, and our actions must all declare that He alone is our source of supply. If there is any weakness here, He will be robbed of the glory that is His due. As God's servants, we must show forth the abundant resources of our God. We must not be afraid to appear wealthy before people. We must never be untrue, but such an attitude is perfectly consistent with honesty. Let us keep our financial needs secret, even if our secrecy should lead men to conclude that we are well off when we have nothing at all. He who sees in secret will take note of all our needs, and He will meet them, not in stinted measure, but "according to His riches, in glory, in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). We dare to make things difficult for God, because He requires no assistance from us in order to perform His miracles.
From the study of God's Word we note two things concerning the attitude of His children to financial matters. On the one hand, workers should be careful to disclose their needs to none but God; on the other hand, the churches should be faithful in remembering the needs both of the workers and their work, and they should not only send gifts to those who are working in their vicinity, or to those who have been called out from their midst, but, like the Philippians and the Macedonians, they should frequently minister to a far-off Paul. The horizon of the churches should be much wider than it is. The present method of a church supporting its own "minister" or its own missionary was a thing unknown in apostolic days. If, with the present-day facilities for transmitting money to distant parts, the children of God only minister to the material needs of those in their own locality, they certainly lack spiritual insight and largeness of heart. On the part of the workers there must be no expectation from man, and on the part of the churches there should be a faithful remembrance of the work and the workers both at home and abroad. It is essential to the spiritual life of the churches that they take a practical interest in the work. God has no use for an unbelieving worker, nor has He any use for a loveless church.
The distinction between the church and the work must be clearly defined in the mind of the worker, especially as regards financial matters. Should a worker pay a short visit to any place on the invitation of the church, then it is quite right for him to receive their hospitality. But should he stay for an indefinite period, then he must bear the burden alone before God; otherwise, his faith in God will wane. Even should a brother willingly offer free hospitality, it ought to be declined, for the life of faith must be carefully maintained. It is right for the brethren to give occasional gifts to the workers, as the Philippians did to Paul, but they must not bear the responsibility of any. The churches have no official obligations regarding the workers, and the latter must see to it that the former do not take such obligations upon themselves. God permits us to accept gifts, but it is not His will that others become responsible for us. Gifts of love may be sent to the workers from their brethren in the Lord, but no believers must regard themselves as under any legal obligations towards them. Not only have the churches no official responsibility towards the workers; they are not even responsible for their board, lodgings, or traveling expenses. The entire financial responsibility of the work rests upon those to whom it has been committed by God.
"We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one" (2 Cor. 7:2). "I will not be a burden" (2 Cor. 12:14). "For neither were we found at any time with flattering speech, even as you know, nor with a pretext for covetousness; God is witness" (1 Thes. 2:5). "Nor did we eat bread as a gift from anyone, but in labor and hardship we worked night and day so that we would not be burdensome to any of you" (2 Thes. 3:8). From these passages we see clearly the attitude of the apostle. He was not willing to impose any burden upon others or in any way to take advantage of them. And this must be our attitude too. Not only should we receive no salary, we should be careful not to take the slightest advantage of any of our brethren. Apostles should be willing to be taken advantage of, but on no account should they ever take advantage of others. It is a shameful thing to profess trust in God and yet play the role of a pauper, disclosing one's needs and provoking others to pity. A servant of God who really sees the glory of God, and his own glorious position as one of His workmen, can well afford to be independent of others, and even liberal. It is only right for us to enjoy the hospitality of our brethren for awhile, but we should most rigidly guard against taking advantage of them in trifles such as a night's lodging, an odd meal, or the use of light and coal, or of household utensils, or even of a daily paper. Nothing reveals smallness of character so readily as taking petty advantages. If we are not careful in such matters, we may as well relinquish our task.
All the movements of workers vitally affect the work, and unless we have a living trust in God, our movements are liable to be determined by prospective incomes. Money has great power to influence men, and unless we have true faith in God and a true heart to do His will, we are likely to be influenced by the rise and fall of funds. If our movements are governed by financial supplies, then we are hirelings working for pay, or beggars seeking alms, and we are a disgrace to the name of the Lord. We should never go to a place because of the bright financial prospects of working there, nor should we refrain from going because the financial outlook is dark. In all our movements we must ask ourselves, Am I in the will of God? or am I influenced at all by financial considerations? We are out to serve the Lord, not to make a living.