The Workman's Hire

Should teachers of the gospel be paid for their teaching, or should they teach without compensation?

Is is wrong to receive money as compensation for spiritual work? (Image © Bigstock)

The Master warned the disciples not to pedal miracles or charge for their services. The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be purchased, nor can it be sold. Likewise, the sages warned their disciples against turning the Torah into a shovel with which to dig, i.e., making one’s living from teaching Torah. The Talmud says, “Just as [God] teaches freely, so should you teach freely.” (b.Berachot 29a).

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. (Matthew 10:8-10)

Rabbi Yeshua told the twelve to go out without carrying money for their expenses or extra provisions for the journey. They were to carry no money in their belt, nor were they to bring a bag, pack any food, or even carry an extra coat, pair of sandals, or extra staff. At least for purposes of this mission. He encouraged them to rely on God, saying, “The worker is worthy of his support” (Matthew 10:10). He reminded the disciples that they are workers in God’s field, harvesters laboring to bring in the harvest before the kingdom. The LORD will sustain them so long as they are in His employ.

Does this mean that ministers of the Word should not receive compensation? The apostles understood it to mean just the opposite. Luke 10:7 explains the Master’s saying “the laborer is worthy of his wages” as the apostle’s right to receive hospitality and provision from his hosting community. The Didache instructs the local community to provide their prophets and teachers with the firstfruits of their income and produce: “Every true prophet that wants to abide among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support” (Didache 13:1-2).

The apostle Paul alluded to Yeshua's saying when he stated, “The Master directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Paul presented a long argument in the same passage arguing for financially compensating and sustaining apostles and ministers of the word. He instructed his communities to “share all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6), and He told Timothy that elders over a community who both preach and teach should be compensated:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and [as Yeshua said,] “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1Timothy 5:17-18)

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