The apostle Paul was committed to the Lord and to the ministry to which he was called. The Lord was faithful to provide for him and to meet his basic needs. Sometimes others supported Paul and his ministry, and in this way, were conduits of God’s grace. At others times, Paul’s needs were met when God opened doors for him to have employment. Either way, God provided. And Paul trusted the Lord, whatever his situation, whether he had few resources or many. Paul told Timothy, “If we have food and shelter, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8). And Paul practiced what he preached, saying, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil 4:11-12). Here is a stable soul; one that trusts the Lord to provide.
Paul was on mission for the Lord, as he said, “I am compelled to preach, and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Certainly, there were times when others recognized Paul’s ministry and helped support him financially. In this way, they were partners with him in the Lord’s work. When writing to the Christians in Philippi, he said, “you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Phil 4:16), then said, “I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
However, because Paul was not always financially supported by others, there were times he had to work to meet his needs. Luke tells us that Paul was a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:2-3). This meant Paul had skill working with his hands. When addressing the elders at the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me” (Acts 20:34). And to the Christians in Thessalonica, he said, “we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Th 3:8). This meant that Paul had to do physical work at times in order to meet his daily needs. This is true perhaps for the majority of ministers today who work a full time job to pay the bills and then volunteer their spare time to study the Bible and teach it to others.
Biblically, it’s right that a pastor be compensated for his work of ministry. Paul wrote of “those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17), saying of them, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:18). Paul wrote elsewhere, saying, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Cor 9:11), and “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6:6). Concerning Paul’s statement in Galatians, Arnold Fruchtenbaum wrote, “The point is that if one is benefiting spiritually from any teacher—be he a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, an author, or a radio teacher—if one is being blessed by these ministries, if he is learning Scripture from them, then he is obligated to share his material goods with the teacher. He should be financially supporting those from whom he is receiving spiritual benefits.” I love that Fruchtenbaum covers this issue with a broad understanding, for there are many good ministers in the world doing the Lord’s work. However, it also seems that for every good minister, there are a hundred false teachers, all promoting their false doctrines that keep people enslaved to lies.
The Bible teaches that those who give to support God’s ministers will themselves be honored and blessed by the Lord. The apostle Paul commended the Christians at Corinth for their “participation in the support of the saints” (2 Cor 8:4), and went on to say, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7). Furthermore, Paul said, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:10-11). Warren Wiersbe states, “the Christian who practices grace giving will always have what he needs when he needs it. Furthermore, the grace of God enriches him morally and spiritually so that he grows in Christian character. In his walk and his work, he depends wholly on the sufficiency of God.” Sowing and reaping is a biblical concept. Charles Ryrie states, “Generosity will be rewarded by additional grace. This undoubtedly includes sufficient material provision for the giver as well as development of his character. In other words, God gives or ‘begraces’ the giving Christian with sufficient money and character in order that he may continue to want to and be able to give.” And according to Wiersbe, “There is no such thing as ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ in the Christian life. The giving of money is just as spiritual an act as the singing of a hymn or the handing out of a Gospel tract. Money is seed. If we give it according to the principles of grace, it will multiply to the glory of God and meet many needs. If we use it in ways other than God desires, the harvest will be poor.”
Though I believe it’s valid for ministers to make their ministry needs known to others, I personally think it’s wrong to solicit others for money. I believe this for three reasons. First, I should live by faith and trust the Lord to work supernaturally in the hearts of others. As a minister, I can depend on the Lord to provide for my daily needs, trusting that “The LORD Will Provide” (Gen 22:14), and that “God will supply all [my] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). Second, it is contrary to the grace of God, which focuses more on giving than receiving. When Jesus sent out the disciples to minister to others, He said, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt 10:8). That’s grace! God had blessed His disciples with an ability to minister to others, and they were to perform their work for the benefit of others and without cost to them. That resonates with me, and it’s how I want to minister to others, with the attitude that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Third, I don’t want my ministry to be confused with the many charlatans who exploit others for personal gain. I would rather have my ministry remain wholesome, even if it means I have to work a secular job to make ends meet. God is faithful to those He calls into service, and He will provide. He always has, and He always will.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Gospel Explained
- The Christian with Integrity
- A Biblical View of Work
- Giving to Support God’s Ministers
- The Manifold Grace of God
- A Role Model for Believers
- Advancing to Spiritual Maturity
- Knowing and Doing the Will of God
- The High Calling of God’s Servant
- The Life of Faith
- The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
 Years ago I used to think of secular work as separate from Christian ministry, but the Lord corrected me concerning this artificial distinction. I came to realize that Christian ministry means sharing God’s love and speaking His truth with everyone, everywhere, all the time. When at my place of employment, I share the gospel when opportunity permits, talk Scripture and theology with those who will listen (always with an attitude of love and grace), show compassion to the needy, pray for those whom the Lord places in my path, and try to model the Christian life for others to see.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone: The Condition of Our Salvation: An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics, ed. Christiane Jurik, Second Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2016), 57.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 661.
 Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1963), 64.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1, 661.