Today let us live not as citizens of earth trying to make it to heaven, but like citizens of heaven sojourning on earth.
To listen to the sermon, click the play button:
To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 24
Galatians #24 . Chapter 6:6-10
Paul is finishing his letter with some practical instructions for Christian living, and for functioning as a church. Verse six is basically a command for the Galatians to provide material/financial support to those who teach them the Bible. It’s a little awkward, because in some ways, this passage is about me. I am a teacher/preacher of the bible. But I want to remind you of this: it is about you, too. You are one who is taught.
Before I dive into this, I want to make a deal with you. I will try to be as objective and “disinterested” about this as I can. I’ll try not to be self-serving in how I teach this. But here’s the deal – I want to ask the same of you. This passage is about you as much as me. So I’m asking you to try and be as objective as you can, and really listen to what the Lord wants to say to you. Try not to be self-serving in how you receive this.
For the record, I do believe that even if I received no money from teaching the Bible, I would still say the same things. More significantly, Paul said the same thing to a group of people from whom he refused to receive money: the Corinthians.
Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not drink the milk from the flock? Am I saying this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the law also say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain. Is God really concerned with oxen? Or isn’t He really saying it for us? Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more?
However, we have not made use of this right; instead we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel. (1Cor 9:7-14, HCSB)
Paul chose not to ask for support from the Corinthians. Many Christians make a big deal out of that. I say, “Good for Paul.” But I want to point out two things:
First, Paul’s main point is that, properly, they were supposed to support him. None of what he is saying makes sense unless that is true. In other words, this passage from Corinthians teaches that the normal thing is for local churches to support local bible teachers, and apostles.
Second, though Paul supported himself through tent-making (or, leatherworking) for a short time when he was in Corinth, he did not do so for very long. After a short while, he devoted his full time to teaching the word (Acts 18:5). It is almost certain that Silas and Timothy brought gifts from other churches that allowed Paul to do this. So, though he was not supported by the Corinthians, he was supported by other churches during most of his ministry. In any case, the main point of the Corinthian passage is that it is God’s design that those who preach the gospel make their living at it.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 says,
The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain, and, the worker is worthy of his wages. (1Tim 5:17-18, HCSB)
Taken together, these three passages present a clear, consistent, unambiguous picture: Some people are called to be full-time Bible teachers and preachers; and in most cases these people are supposed to receive their living (financial and material support) from those they teach. This is good and right, both practically speaking, and in God’s eyes.
This isn’t a call for everyone who gets the fancy. It isn’t a frivolous thing to be a bible teacher. James wrote this:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas 3:1, ESV2011)
In other words, this is a specific and unique calling, not given to every Christian, and perhaps not given to very many at all, proportionally, speaking. I will say from experience that it is not as easy as it looks from the outside. My advice to any people who are wondering if they are called to do this, is, try to do something else. Twice in my life I myself have tried to do something else, and the Lord has compelled me to come to back teaching and preaching. If you are called, you won’t be able to avoid it. So go ahead and try to avoid it, and see what happens.
In recent years, I have noticed that many people seem to look down people who are called to study, teach and preach the bible full-time. I’ve heard people mis-quote Paul from the Corinthians passage above, and suggest that no one is called to full-time bible teaching. For me, that only illustrates the need for good teachers, since it is the exact opposite of what the passage clearly says; and is in fact the opposite of the way Paul lived. I’ve seen many people who definitely should not have presumed to teach. Some people seem to think that any old fool can get up and talk about the bible. I suppose, in one way, that’s true, and you’ll hear almost any old foolish thing come out of their mouths. I’ve heard false teaching, and even heresy from such people. I would not want to be in their shoes when they have to explain themselves to the Lord. But the biblical position is that some few people are called to the unique ministry of teaching, and they should be provided for by churches, so that they can devote a great deal of time and prayer to it.
Every Christian should learn how to study the bible for himself or herself. We should all take personal responsibility for following Jesus and being better disciples. But that does not eliminate this special ministry of teaching. Ideally, we take what the teachers give us, and incorporate it into our own walk of faith. Paul’s point to the Galatians, Corinthians and Timothy is that the teacher offers spiritual blessing, and the churches offer material blessing in return so that the teacher can continue to give that spiritual blessing.
Both here in Galatians, and in the Corinthian passage, Paul refers to sowing and reaping. “Sowing” is another way of saying “planting seeds.” The bible uses it often to mean “investing for the future.” “Reaping” means “gathering the harvest.” It refers to getting the results of what you sowed.
There is no doubt in my mind that Paul is talking generally about where you invest your time, energy, talent and focus. However, there is also no doubt in my mind that he is also talking about how you use your money. Jesus talked extensively about investing earthly money in spiritual things. The entire parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16) is about that. Jesus summed it up at the end:
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own? No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.” (Luke 16:9-13, HCSB)
Jesus seems to be saying that you can use money (which he calls “unrighteous”) to gain a spiritual result. This isn’t about buying your way into heaven. It is about investing your money (along with the rest of the life) in spiritual, eternal things. He told the rich young ruler that giving money away could help him to have eternal treasure:
“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Matt 19:21, HCSB)
Let’s be completely honest. We sow most of our money to the flesh. In other words, we generally spend money in ways that gratify our external, earthly desires, or the desires of our loved ones. When we do that, the payoff is in the flesh. That means our reward is temporary, fleeting and fading away. Gratifying your flesh now, gets you nothing in eternity. Jesus said:
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21, HCSB)
“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:31-34, HCSB)
Jesus actually suggests that we trade earthly money for inexhaustible, eternal treasure in heaven. Some people teach that if you give away earthly money, God will give it back to you, plus interest – in earthly money. Jesus doesn’t say exactly that. He tells us not worry about our physical needs, and tells us that we can invest in eternity with our earthly money. Again, this is not about buying your way into heaven. It is about weakening the connection between you and your flesh. It is about breaking the hold that money has on us, and strengthening the hold that heaven has on us. It is about consciously acting as if your real treasure is in heaven; because it is. Every time you give money for spiritual purposes you are affirming that you are really a citizen of heaven. You are agreeing that your real retirement begins, not in your sixties, but after you shed your flesh through death, and step into the new creation.
One final thought, and this is why I took the time to talk about money here:
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1Tim 6:9-10, HCSB)
So, it is clear to me that Paul is saying, “Look, your teachers and preachers should receive support from you. And to spend money for a spiritual purpose leads to a spiritual result, an eternal result. You store up treasure in heaven for yourself when you do that.”
Now, I do think Paul is also talking about more than money. I think when he talks about sowing and reaping, he means this: “You can invest in the flesh, or you can invest in the Spirit.” We can spend our time, money and energy on self-gratification (flesh-gratification) or on spiritual things. Another way to invest in spiritual things, according to these verses, is to “do good,” and “work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” The Christian church should be like a family, and we should consider it a priority to bless each other, and work for the good of each other. That’s a spiritual investment. Sometimes that may mean saying an uplifting word, or writing a note. It may mean helping someone fix their home or car. We could work for good for each other by staying in touch and encouraging each other, by sharing our time, knowledge and abilities with each other. There are many, many ways.
I’ve tried flesh-gratification from time to time. It never seems to last very long. It doesn’t produce any long term benefits even in this life, let alone for eternity. Paul says that investing in the spirit yields eternal life. I have noticed that when I invest in spiritual things, it begins to yield positive and lasting results, even now. Paul says, therefore:
we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. (Gal 6:6-10, HCSB)
Flesh-gratification is immediate. Sowing to the Spirit is a long-term proposition. Immediate results are fun, but we probably should not expect them. We shouldn’t expect the final and full results until after this mortal life is over. We Christians are a people of hope, and that means that our desires and investments come to fruition in the future, not now. As a friend of mine said on facebook this week:
Today let us live not as citizens of earth trying to make it to heaven, but like citizens of heaven sojourning on earth.
With that in mind, with our focus on the hope and life to come, we can ignore the call to self-gratification and seek instead, to bring good to others.