REVIEW: THE 10:2B PRAYER
In Luke 10, we see Jesus’ Strategy for making disciples of every people group on earth. (Mt. 28:19-20. Often called “The Great Commission”.) At the center of His Strategy is a simple little prayer. “Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Lk. 10:2b) As a result of this prayer, in less than 300 years (by 300 AD), there were an estimated 400,000 house churches throughout the Roman Empire.
The beauty of this prayer is that it puts the focus in the right place. It is the Lord of the harvest who does the important work (the “heavy lifting”) by preparing and sending out “people/houses of peace”. (And, more apostolic church planters.) When we find one (or more) of these people, starting a vibrant family of Jesus is “a piece of cake”. The Lord gets all the glory in this process. And, we get the joyful privilege of joining Him in the work He is doing.
But, how will this church planting enterprise be financed?
JESUS TELLS US HOW
Once one of His two man church planting teams had found a house of peace, Jesus give them this instruction: “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.” (Lk 10:7) Implicit in the Jesus’ instructions is this – part of the preparation done by the Lord of the harvest with the person/people of peace is that they will joyfully provide for you. In other words, there is a value exchange.
We get more understanding of this value exchange in Mt. 13:44. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” The value of the treasure (the kingdom of heaven) was so great that the man joyfully exchanged the value of “all he had” for it.
In Lk 10, the two man church planting team is bringing this same treasure – the kingdom of heaven. (“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you.” ” Lk 10:9) The natural and joyful response of true people of peace to the church planters is, “From what we have, we desire to provide for your needs.”
PAUL’S COMMENTARY ON JESUS’ INSTRUCTION
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul gives us a commentary on what Jesus said in Lk. 10:7. With the help of New Testament scholar, Dr. Gordon Fee, we will unpack the key passage. Take the time to walk through Paul’s thinking on this subject. (Note: The other biblical giving priority, in addition to the one I will focus on here, is helping the poor.)
A COMMENTARY ON 1 CORINTHIANS 9:1-18
Probably the most important single passage dealing with this topic of Biblical giving is 1 Cor. 9:1-18. The following is a commentary on these verses with a view to discerning principles for financing ministry. This article would be best read with your Bible open to the passage under examination. In the bold print, I’ll suggest what I believe Paul was thinking as he addressed the Corinthian church.
WHAT’S AN APOSTLE?
(Note: As we read this passage, we need to be clear what an apostle is. The English word comes from the Greek verb apostello which means “to send”. I believe the 84 (72 +12) in Luke 10:1 are all apostles because Jesus “sent them to every town and village where He was going”. Specifically, He sent them to find the house of peace where they were to help birth a Kingdom community. So, I think the best definition of apostle is “a man or woman called and gifted to plant multiple churches”.)
“ARE YOU REALLY AN APOSTLE?”
The context for Paul’s commentary is an ongoing dispute with the house churches in Corinth. Seems like the Corinthian churches were always getting things twisted! It makes you wonder if they were truly houses of peace in the first place.
9:1-2. Paul: “You are asking if I really am an apostle. I will give you a clear answer to your question.” “With unexpected vigor Paul suddenly unleashes a torrent of rhetorical questions, each… expecting a positive answer: “Of course I am; of course I have, of course you are.” (Fee, p. 394)
These questions give us a clue as to the context. Some within the Corinthians church were questioning if Paul was really an apostle. His is answer, “Of course I am! There are two reasons why I can say this with complete authority. First, because I have seen Jesus. (Implied in this was that Jesus called him (sent him) to be an apostle to the Gentiles. See Acts 9:15, Gal. 1:15.) The second reason is the work (church planting) that has occurred in your midst. (Read this passage in light of Lk 10:1-12.).”
9:3-6. Paul: “I have three questions that I will ask you. My goal is to clearly establish and clarify my rights as an apostle.” “In a series of cascading questions Paul plays variations on a single theme: his right to their material support…. most likely his failure to take support has been used against him to call his apostolic authenticity into question.” (Fee, p. 398-399) Their reasoning may have gone something like this. “Apostles are supported financially. You are not receiving financial support from us. Therefore, you are not an apostle.” Paul responds by saying, in effect, “Let me review for you the rights of an apostle and ask you (rhetorically) if this doesn’t apply to me.”
THREE RIGHTS OF AN APOSTLE
Paul lists three rights of an apostle. The word “right” (exousia) carries the idea of “appropriate authority”. That is, these are things that are considered appropriate for an apostle.
1. Verse 4. “Don’t we have the right to food and drink?” (v. 4, “food and drink” here represent financial support that meets their needs) Implied answer: “Of course we do!”
2. Verse 5. “Don’t we have the right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Implied answer: “Of course we do!” (Here we have a revealing glimpse into the actual financial practice of the New Testament church towards apostles.)
3. Verse 6. “Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” “The implication is that the problem for the Corinthians is not simply that he took no support from them, but that he supported himself in the demeaning fashion of working at a trade. What kind of activity is this for one who would be an ‘apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ’? Paul’s point of course is that he has the right not to (work), even though he rejected it.” (Fee, p. 404)
FOUR SUPPORTING ARGUMENTS
9:7-14. Paul: “In order to validate the concept of financial support for apostles beyond a shadow of a doubt, I will give you four supporting arguments. I want you to be completely convinced about this.”
1. Verse 7. Arguments from everyday life.
“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense?” Implied answer: “No one! And neither should apostles.”
“Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it?” Implied answer: “No one! And neither should apostles.”
“Who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” Implied answer: “No one! And neither should apostles.”
“In everyday life one expects to be sustained by one’s labors. So with the apostle. He should expect to be sustained from his ‘produce’ or ‘flock’ – the church owes its existence to him.” (Fee, p. 405)
Verses 8 – 12. Argument from Scripture.
“I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? (Implied answer: “Of course not!”) Or does not the Law also say these things? (Implied answer: “Of course it does!”) Paul goes on to quote from Deut. 25:4 and to comment on that verse.
“What Christians call the Old Testament was considered the Word of God by the Jews of the NT era, so an appeal to its words is an appeal to the authority of God himself.” (Fee, p. 406)
“…when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest; that is, they should fully expect to share in the material benefits of their labors. Paul thus applies the analogy of the threshing ox to yet another analogy from farming, both of which together make the point that he has the right to their material support.” (Fee, p. 408-409)
Note: Verse 11 leads us to a helpful question in deciding whom we should support financially. “Who is sowing or investing spiritually into my life?”
Verse 13. Argument from the example of the temple.
“Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? (Implied meaning: “What’s wrong with you! Of course you know these things.)
“Both in Jewish and pagan temples the priests who served in making the sacrifices shared in the sacrificial food itself.” (Fee, p. 412)
Verse 14. Argument from the very words of Jesus.
“So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”
Paul clinches the argument by referring to the words of Jesus Himself (Lk. 10:7, Mt. 10:10). Whereas Jesus spoke this as a proverb, Paul has raised it to the level of a command. “This is the way things are to be done regarding the financing of apostles.” (Fee, p. 412-413)
SOME EXCEPTIONS – IMMATURE CHURCHES
In some situations, it was necessary for the apostles to support themselves through non-ministry work (ie, tentmaking). However, this practice is clearly the exception and not the rule. Paul chose this means of financial support in Corinth (Acts 18:3, 1 Cor. 9:12, 15-18) so as not to be a hindrance to that church. In other words, the Corinthian church was so immature (1 Cor. 3:1-3) that they were unable to fulfill their normal obligation to Paul as the apostle.
However, even in Corinth Paul received at least some of his support from the church – just not the church in Corinth. “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia, they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” (2 Cor. 11:8-9)
In Thessalonica, Paul also chose to make an exception to the normal pattern and support himself from non-ministry work. Again, the reason was because of the immaturity of the church. In this case, the Christians were lazy and Paul realized that he needed to show them how to work. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example; because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example.” (2 Thes. 3:7-9)
THE PRACTICE OF HEALTHY CHURCHES
The more normal and mature church is modeled by the Philippians. Even after Paul had left town, they repeatedly sent him gifts. He points out that this is not so much to his benefit (God will supply all his needs) but for their profit. (Phil. 4:15 – 19)
JESUS THINKS LIKE A FARMER
The Lord’s motivation in all of this is the harvest. The harvest is “ripe”! (Lk 10:2) The time is now! As every farmer knows, when the harvest is ripe, every available man hour must be freed up to bring that harvest in. Those that have been called to be apostles (sent ones) must be released to work from sun up to sun down. The idea that the majority of the workers would work all day making tents with only an hour or two at the end of the day to harvest the grain would have been appalling to the farmer. Perhaps there will be extenuating circumstances that will require a few workers to function like this. However, reducing every apostle (church planter) to tentmaking status would cripple the harvest workforce. By overreacting to the abuse and going to the opposite extreme, the church would play into the strategy of the Enemy.
HOW TO PLANT A MILLION HOUSE CHURCHES
Adopt the farmer’s mentality: IT’S ABOUT THE HARVEST! Jesus said that the problem was not the fields. The fields are ripe! The problem is not enough harvesters. Praying 10:2b can result in the sending out of thousands of houses of peace and a multitude of full time qualified apostles (skilled and gifted house church planters). This is the Jesus Strategy for starting a million house churches in the U.S. (fill in your country!). One key aspect of this Strategy is millions of believers come to understand the Biblical value of funding these apostolic harvesters. (Value exchange!)