Muzzling the Ox
Muzzling the Ox
Words of Faith 6-19-17
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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1 Corinthians 9
 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing?  For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.  If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?  If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.  Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
One of the biggest issues for the church at Corinth was the balance of freedom and responsibility. The entire last chapter dealt with this issue and the fact that though we are free in Christ, we must be careful not to live in a way that might cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble or "pitch headlong" in their faith. This was not just talk. Paul had lived out this principle in a powerful and personal way.
As a missionary and Apostle, Paul had an absolute right to receive support from the places where he was preaching. But some were suspicious and accusatory toward Paul saying that he was in it for the money. Paul chose to go without pay or compensation if that would help further the Gospel of Christ. Paul not only walked thousands of miles on the Roman roads through Asia minor (Turkey) and Achaia (Greece), he worked with his hands making tents in order to support this mission.
Paul had set aside his "right" to be provided for in the places where he ministered even though Jesus had set this as the standard for all the other Apostles-- "Take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave" (Matt. 10:10-11).
The secondary point of this passage was a strong teaching that Christian workers have a right to receive support for their work spreading the Gospel. It is one thing for a missionary or preacher to voluntarily set aside this right, but it quite another for a church to deny them compensation.
Paul had already argued that as a matter of custom the soldier, farmer, and shepherd were all supported by their work. Now Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4 from the Law-- "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." "Not muzzling an ox" was a proverbial expression concerning fair and just remuneration. It makes no sense to starve the very work animal that is treading out the grain you hope to enjoy.
Paul pointed out that a farmer works in the field with a legitimate hope of sharing the harvest. So Paul asked two powerful questions-- "If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?"
Even though Paul willingly set aside this right for himself, he argued overwhelmingly that Christian ministers and workers rightfully hope to receive materially from the harvest in the field where they labor. They should not be the richest folks in town, but they certainly should not work for substandard wages.
Historically, the Christian church has been all over the map on this question. Some traditions have demanded vows of poverty and celibacy that were never dictated in Scripture. Such vows may follow the pattern of the Apostle Paul's choice-- but fail to recognize how clear he was that Christian workers had a right to be married and be supported in their work.
We can all think of the extremes in which charlatans have lavishly enriched themselves on the backs of believers but this is certainly not the rule in Christian churches. Integrity and accountability are vital in every ministry but for us, the extremes should not dictate our practice toward Christian ministers and workers. We should be directed by the Word of God. Jesus said that a Christian worker is worthy of his keep (Matt. 10:10-11).
One of the scandals of the church is probably more in how poorly faithful teachers, preachers, evangelists and missionaries are often supported-- not how lavishly. There is not a tradition I know of that does not painfully struggle with the fact of how meagerly many Christian workers live in retirement.
There are missionaries I know who are owed thousands of dollars in back wages. There are pastors who go without paychecks. In America, things are much better than they used to be, but it is not uncommon to hear of Christian ministers who continue to serve at their own expense, forfeit paychecks, and pay ministry expenses or benevolences out of their own pockets. Part of such a sad legacy is often that of some parsonage kids or missionary kids who grow up resenting bitterly the very church that their parents labored for sacrificially.
What is the answer?
Part of the answer lays in church leadership. Leaders must step up and advocate for Christian workers. It is not good enough to say year after year: "Well, we wish we could afford to pay you what you are worth, but we can't." Jesus said that the Christian worker is worthy of their wage.
Part of the answer lies in our stewardship and personal lifestyle decisions. Research shows that only about 9% of Evangelicals tithe-- commit 10% of their income to the work of the Gospel. Because of this, many ministries are blessed by God, but that blessing is not delivered where it was meant to go.
The prophet Malachi brought the Word of the Lord concerning this-- "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it".
Jesus exhorted the Pharisees and teachers of the Law to be sure and attend to the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness-- but also not to neglect the tithe (Matthew 23:23). When we fail to tithe, for whatever reason, we cause others to carry a burden on their backs for us, and sometimes this includes the missionaries, teachers and Christian workers that God has called to build us up.
Should this discourage the Christian worker? Paul said that he and his team "put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ". Many missionaries, teachers and preachers do exactly that. For Paul, it was a command that those who preached the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel. This had been a part of Judaism for centuries-- that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple. Those who served at the altar share in the offering of the altar. This was not a scandal. This was God's plan.
Let's ask some nuts and bolts sort of questions. Are those who serve you in the church compensated and provided for in a way that is fair and generous? Do they have the benefits of health insurance and retirement preparation? Are they able to provide for their families in ways that will not cause resentment and bitterness later in life? What are you doing to make sure that that those who work in the life of the church and the mission of Gospel are provided for? Are you a faithful conduit of God's blessing through the tithe and generous offerings?
Fair and adequate support of those who serve in the church is not a matter of how much we like a particular Christian worker or how touched we are by a particular ministry. Tithing is about "turning loose" of 10% by faith in the same way that we turn loose of the Sabbath day and give it wholly to God. By faith, we trust that God is providing adequately in our own lives and will do so in the lives of our pastors, missionaries, workers and staff.
Father, forgive me if I have gotten in the way of the blessing that You intended for those whom You have called to carry the Gospel of Jesus into my community and into all the world. Show me the adjustments that I need to make. Show me the recommitments that I need to carry out. Help me to be faithful with a little so that I may be found faithful with much. In Jesus' Name.