Support of an Apostle - Part 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
This is the third illustration, to show that ministers have a right to support. The word “feedeth” ( ποιμαίνει poimainei) means not only "to feed,” but to guard, protect, defend, as a shepherd does his flock. The wages of the shepherds in the Middle East does not consist of actual money, but instead they take part of the milk of the flocks which they tend. Consequently, Spon says of the shepherds in modern Greece, “These shepherds are poor Albanians, who feed the cattle, and live in huts built of rushes; they have a tenth part of the milk and of the lambs which is their whole wages; the cattle belong to the Turks.” The shepherds in Ethiopia, also, according to Alvarez, have no pay except the milk and butter which they obtain from the cows, and on which they and their families subsist.”
The argument here is this: “A shepherd spends his days and nights in guarding his flock. He leads his flock to green pastures, he conducts them to still waters—“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalms 23:2; KJV); he defends them from enemies; he guards the young, the sick, the feeble, etc. He spends his time protecting them and providing for them. He expects to be compensated for his time and labor, whether he is in the wilderness or in green pastures; mainly from the milk which the flock furnishes. He labors for their comfort; and therefore, it is right and proper that he should derive his maintenance from them, and he has a right to it. So the minister of the gospel watches over the souls of his flock. He devotes his time, strength, learning, and talents, to their welfare. He instructs, escorts, directs, and defends; he endeavors to guard them against attacks by their spiritual enemies, and to lead them in the path of comfort, righteousness and peace. He lives to instruct the ignorant; to warn and secure those who are in danger; to guide the confused; to reclaim the wandering; to comfort the afflicted; to bind up the broken in heart; to visit the sick; to be an example and a teacher to the young; and to be a counselor and a good-example to all. As he labors for their good, it is right and reasonably that they should minister to his earthly needs, and compensate him for his efforts to promote their happiness and salvation. And can anyone say that this is not right and fair?
Soldiers expect to be paid for their service. Husbandmen and shepherds expect to get a livelihood out of their labors. If they plant vineyards, and dress and cultivate them, it is with the expectation that fruit will appear; if they feed a flock, it is with the expectation of being fed and clothed by it! Who would go to war, if he had to provide for all his own needs? Note, it is very natural, and very reasonable, for ministers to expect a livelihood out of their labors.
The principle of remuneration can be observed everywhere in human affairs. However difficult it may be to lay down an absolute law that would determine the fair wage for every job, profession, occupation, etc, it may be stated as a accepted principle that labor must be paid in a manner, or in an amount that will maintain the laborer in life; to enable him to bring up a family which is not burdensome to society, and to provide for him some reserve that can be used by him for his own enjoyment and improvement.
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
“Say I these things” refers to verse 7 and the three illustrations, taken from people's ordinary occupations that demonstrate the principle of payment received for service rendered.
To speak “as a man” sometimes means speaking according to the perverse judgment of the flesh. A good illustration of this notion is found in this verse: “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)” (Romans 3:5; KJV). I hope that the Lord’s Christians would never believe that our unrighteousness could serve to commend and illustrate the mercy of God, by Him keeping and
fulfilling to us the promise which he made to our forefathers? The more wicked we are, the more his faithfulness to his ancient promise is to be admired. And if so, would not God appear unjust in taking vengeance and casting us off? “I speak as a man”—as a man, I feel sympathetic toward both myself and my countrymen, because of our circumstances, and it is natural for one to speak as I do. I hope you can see the fallacy of this line of reasoning.
Here, however, the meaning is different; what Paul is saying here is this: “In accordance with man’s opinion, these natural illustrations (see verse 7) have no spiritual application?” Since God feeds the shepherd from the flock, does that same God not expect His flock to feed His undershepherd—pastor, evangelist, or missionary? Since the planter of the vineyard gathers fruit from that vineyard, does not God expect the vineyard in which the pastor serves to feed that pastor.
No doubt some were arguing that there was no scriptural instruction concerning the support of the Apostle Paul, pointing out that the Law of Moses did not specifically determine how the minister should earn his bread; but Paul showed these critics they were wrong. Paul’s argument made sense from a human point of view, but it did not need to end there, because his words held the authority of Scripture. Paul uses the Law of Moses to make his case in the two verses that follow.
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Paul has introduced another argument to prop up his opinion on support for pastors. He claims here that the Old Testament teaches the right of maintenance for those who teach the Word. Many have impugned his use of Scripture in this case. It has been said that he shows disdain for the literal sense of the Old Testament. That is NOT true. All that Paul claims is that the passage in Deuteronomy has a deeper significance than the literal sense. Both senses, the literal and the allegorical (both are spiritual senses), are found in the passage.
“Doth God take care for oxen?” The literal sense of the question must NOT be promoted. The Greek construction is such that the answer, “no” is expected. Paul’s meaning is that God’s care is not primarily for animals, but for men: “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth”…“The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God”…“These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season” (Psalms 104:14, 21, 27; KJV). God takes care of man and of all those animals which are so necessary to the convenience, comfort, and nourishment of man.
“That treadeth out the corn” is “while treading out the corn” in the Greek. This concerns the separation of the grain from the husk. The oxen were used to drag the threshing instrument over the grain, and while working in this manner the ox was muzzled; his mouth was left free in order for him to eat as he threshed grain. The truth clearly set forth here is that those who produce food for others ought to share in it themselves. Paul fed the Corinthian believers the Spiritual meat, bread, and milk, and it was only right in the sight of God that they take care of his earthly needs.
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25.4:
“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.”
This statement from the Law of Moses undoubtedly carried much weight with those Jews in the assembly at Corinth who were bitterly opposing Paul and his Gospel.
Since Paul has brought Spiritual benefits to the Corinthians, he deserves material benefits from them. Others served the church at Corinth, since he is no longer there. They also deserve to be supported by the church. Since Paul founded the church, he has a prior claim for material support. It is impossible to tell what specific persons he has in mind; perhaps it includes Apollos: “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples” (Acts 19:1; KJV).