LIVING FROM THE GOSPEL
Our Lord said, “The worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7); and Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So also the Lord directed those who announce the gospel to live from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). What is the meaning of living from the gospel? It does not mean that God’s servant should receive a definite allowance from the church, for the modern system of paid service in the work of God was unknown in Paul’s day. What it does mean is that the preachers of the gospel may receive gifts from the brethren; but no stipulations are made in connection with such gifts. No definite period of time is named, no definite sum of money, and no definite responsibility; all is a matter of freewill. As the hearts of believers are touched by God, they give gifts to His servants, so that while these servants receive gifts through men, their trust is still entirely in God. It is upon Him their eyes are fixed, it is to Him their needs are told, and it is He who touches the hearts of His children to give. That is what Paul meant when he spoke of living from the gospel. Paul himself received the gift from the church in Philippi (Phil. 4:16), and when he was in Corinth, he was helped by the brothers in Macedonia (2 Cor. 11:9). These are examples of living from the gospel. Paul received occasional gifts from individuals and from churches, but he received no definite remuneration for his preaching.
Yes, “the worker is worthy of his wages,” and he should certainly live from the gospel. But we do well to ask ourselves, Whose laborers are we? If we are the laborers of men, then let us look to men for our support; but if we are the laborers of God, then we must look to no other but Him, though He may meet our needs through our fellow men. The whole question hinges here: Has God called us and sent us out? If the call and the commission have come from Him, then He must and surely will be responsible for all that our obedience to Him involves. When we make our needs known to Him, He will certainly hear, and He will move the hearts of men to supply us with all we need. If we are only volunteers in God’s service, then God will not be responsible for the liabilities we incur, so we shall be unable to live from the gospel.
When Miss M. E. Barber thought of coming to China to serve the Lord, she foresaw the difficulties of a woman setting out on her own for a foreign country, so she asked advice of Mr. Wilkinson of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, who said, “A foreign country, no promise of support, no backing of any society—all these present no problem. The question is here: Are you going on your own initiative, or are you being sent by God?” “God is sending me,” she replied. “Then no more questions are necessary,” he said, “for if God sends you, He must be responsible.” Yes, if we go on our own initiative, then distress and shame await us, but if we go as sent ones of God, all responsibility will be His, and we need never inquire how He is going to discharge it.
But in Corinth Paul did not live from the gospel; he made tents with his own hands. So there are evidently two ways by which the needs of God’s servants may be met—either they look to God to touch the hearts of His children to give what is needful, or they earn it by doing part-time secular work. To work with our hands may be very good, but we need to note that Paul does not regard that as the usual thing. It is something exceptional, a course to be resorted to in special circumstances.
“If we have sown to you the spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap from you the fleshly things? If others partake of this right over you, should not rather we? Yet we did not use this right, but we bear all things that we may not cause any hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who labor on the sacred things eat the things of the sacred temple, that those who attend to the altar have their portion with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who announce the gospel to live from the gospel. But I myself have not used any of these things; and I have not written these things that it may be so with me; for it is good for me rather to die than—No one shall make my boast void.…What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may present the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:11-15, 18). There are certain rights which are the privilege of all preachers of the gospel. Paul did not receive anything from Corinth, because he was in special circumstances at the time; but though he did not avail himself of his privileges as a gospel preacher on that occasion, that he did so at other times is quite clear. “Or did I commit a sin, abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I announced the gospel of God to you free of charge? 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. The truthfulness of Christ is in me, that this boasting shall not be stopped as it regards me in the regions of Achaia” (2 Cor. 11:7-10).
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 8, by Watchman Nee)