Call it What You Will

… and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
~ Genesis 2:19

By any other name

So, you’re a square thinker. Not a creative.” He lifted the sleeved cup off the lunchette table and sipped. There it was. After a few minutes of conversation between sips of Starbucks, this manager had assessed and labeled me. As he savored his macchiato, or whatever the froofy drink was, his eyes barely concealed the calculations happening behind them. He was a manager. I was looking for a job. He sized me up and played mental Tetris to see if I fit in his organization.

Since I don’t know what a creative is, I’m not complaining about not being one. I’m not sure about the square thinking either, but it’s no big deal. I had assessed him in a few minutes as well. The way he carried himself, the sound of his voice, and some of the phrases he used fit with his graying temples, highwall haircut, and the fact his clothing was crisp even though he was dressed casually for the office. I guessed former military. Maybe in service he honed his skills for reading people and he pegged me quickly. I don’t know.

Don’t Put Me in a Box

Everyone chafes a bit at being labeled. Most everyone thinks they’re such special individuals they defy labels and social constructs. We are just like a group of so many teenagers who must express their unique individuality by all having pink hair and nose rings. I just gotta be me, man. We are like men without chests and with small souls, who think they can augment the inside by leasing space on the outside for expression from a creative. The dragon slithers down the arm, peeking out of the sleeve, and almost making a hiss. All the while, the real dragon remains unseen with his foot on the guy’s neck. Some prefer their labels applied directly to the forehead.

Labels are unavoidable and not all bad. Men have been categorizing and labeling things since the Garden of Eden, and since being kicked out of the garden, they’ve been getting a lot of it wrong. The act of naming is not sinful, but usurping authority to rename what God has already named, is. Maybe that is trying to be a creative. I don’t know.

Since the CBA has repackaged October as a pastor depreciation month, let’s consider the label of “pastor.” The term pastor is rarely found by itself these days. Since Senior Pastor is so 1980s, we have Lead Pastor, Pastor for Preaching, Teaching Pastor, Pastor of Vision Casting, and I don’t know what they’ll come up with next. The question I’m most often asked is, Are you a full-time pastor?

What Are My Options?

I want to respond to that question, “Is there any other kind?” I think I know what they mean by full-time, but I honestly don’t know how a man who is a pastor could be anything other than a pastor 24/7. They usually mean: Do you work some type of job to make a living while you pastor? Employment to support a preaching habit is a little long, so people usually say such a pastor is bi-vocational. Okay. if that’s what you want to call me, then, yes, I am bi-vocational and in that sense, not full-time.

I encounter romantic notions and expressions about bi-vocational ministry and, I must admit, they sound a lot like “be ye warmed and filled” (James 2:16). I’ve worked the old 40+ my entire ministry, and it’s nothing to boast about. Some say, “Well, Paul made tents.” Yes he did, or maybe he was a leather worker, but let’s not get off track. The fact is that Paul worked with his hands to meet his life necessities when he needed to (Acts 20:34). When he first came to Corinth, he worked during the week and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath days (Acts 18:3-4). When Silas and Timothy came to Corinth from Macedonia with support from other churches, he threw himself more into the ministry (Acts 18:5).

This is the more-to-the-story that many don’t think about. Pastors do not have the gift of making the sun stand still. They do not have 32 hours to every day. Though a pastor may be working full time to support his family, the church typically still expects the pastor to do the full-time work of pastoring. I would also add, the concept many have of the responsibilities of a pastor is extra-biblical. Too many birds and not enough stones.

More Than Crowding the Plate

I’m going to step in and take one for the team. Bi-vocational pastoring is always sub-standard and sometimes sinful. Paul wrote, “The Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). From the context, Paul means that pastors should receive a living from the church without having to work another job (1 Corinthians 9:4-6). What constitutes a living will vary by time and place, but that is why he writes in terms of a living and not some fixed amount. He taught the same elsewhere (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Follow Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9:4-14. The pastor’s living is not determined by what the church thinks he needs, or what they think he should live on. First, Paul makes a statement in question form that he has a right (exousia) to a sufficient living (1 Corinthians 9:4). Second, he defines a sufficient living relevant to the individual, because he may have a wife and children, and therefore his right to a living is a living for his entire family (1 Corinthians 9:5). Third, Paul further defines a living by being sufficient such that he would have no need to work to make money (1 Corinthians 9:6).

Paul illustrates with three familiar examples of making a living (1 Corinthians 9:7). A soldier who is conscripted into the army should not pay his own way, nor work a side job in order to live while he fights for the army. A soldier is given room, board, and equipment in addition to being compensated with pay. A farmer that works his fields doesn’t work another job to support his farming. He eats of the fruit produced by his fields. A shepherd does not work another job in order to take care of his flock. Rather, he makes his living from his flock.

Lest anyone want to quibble with him, Paul goes on to show the Scriptures teach the same (1 Corinthians 9:8-10). Jesus affirmed this principle, and even in reference to ministers (Luke 10:7). Paul states the direct and necessary consequence of Scripture teaching (1 Corinthians 9:11). Those who work at spiritual ministry should be supported by those who receive that ministry. The same principle applied to the priests in the temple (1 Corinthians 9:13). Paul reaches an emphatic conclusion that this is ordained by the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:14).

The pastor has a right to a living and he also has the right of refusal (1 Corinthians 9:15). He exercised this right in Corinth and Thessalonica (2 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). The whole thrust of this teaching is that the church has a responsibility and does not have a right of refusal.

Yeah, but …

This, that, and the other thing has been offered by churches as to why they are not meeting their biblical responsibility. I realize situations differ and I think that’s why Paul writes as he does, which makes the living relevant to the man and so on. I realize a lot of churches are small and cannot give a man a living. In those situations, we have to realize bi-vocational ministry is sub-standard, not ideal, but necessary. If, on the other hand, a church can, but is not giving their pastor a living, then bi-vocational ministry in this case is sinful, on the part of the church at least.

I don’t believe the Bible teaches a church should give an extravagant living to their pastor. Of course, I don’t know any churches or pastors where this is even possible. Most of the pastors I know work hard at pastoring and work other jobs in order to support their families. I can’t think of a single one I’ve heard complain that their church isn’t paying them enough. I realize you cannot give what you do not have, but churches do need to seriously consider whether they are doing all they can for their pastor to have a living without earning money in other ways.

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am:
and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain;
but I laboured more abundantly than they all:
yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

~ 1 Corinthians 15:10

A party spirit had developed in the church at Corinth that grieved Paul. “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). The church was divided into different factions that touted their favorite preacher. They cried up the passion of Paul, the eloquence of Apollos, or the boldness of Peter. They pitted Paul against Apollos and Peter against Paul. Paul wrote to rebuke them for their carnality. “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:4). None of these preachers strove for preeminence over the other, so why should the church argue over the greatest?

In our text, Paul speaks about his own case. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Paul readily owned that Apollos was a great preacher. Luke said of Apollos, “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:24-25). Apollos was a very able speaker. He had a great command of the scriptures. He was diligent and passionate in preaching. After Aquila and Priscilla helped to complete his knowledge, “he mightily convinced the Jews.” I believe that Paul rejoiced in Apollos and the fact that he used his great gifts in the service of the Lord.

However, Paul states, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Apollos was many things but Paul says, “I am not him.” Paul said, “My preaching was not with enticing words.” (1 Corinthians 2:4). He admits that his own speech was rough and plain. He was not the polished preacher that Apollos was, but his preaching was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It would be a mockery to try to imitate Apollos. Paul says, “I am what I am.”

No doubt, Paul would commend the ministry of Peter. Peter had companied with the Lord during His earthly ministry. He was drawn into an inner circle of fellowship with Jesus along with James and John. Peter could be fiery and wax bold in preaching. He possessed a great ability in the ministry. Paul would rejoice in these things and would not seek to copy Peter. Paul says, “I am what I am.”

Paul condemned the over-comparison that led to division. Each minister has his own work. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Often one man enters into the labors of another “reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed” (Matthew 25:24). It is foolish to heap praise on the laborers and set them up as some great one. “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Paul’s goal was to exalt Christ not Paul. All true preachers want Christ to be exalted and lament if they themselves are lifted up. They say with the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

As every one has his own work, every one has his own gifts to suit his work. “If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). Paul could not use the eloquence of Apollos or the boldness of Peter. He recognized “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Every one has their own gifts of the Lord. Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

In the last place, we see that Paul did not seek credit for all his labors. Paul states the facts saying, “I laboured more abundantly than they all.” He is not bragging, just stating the truth. However, Paul does not glory in himself. He says, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Paul rejoices in the grace of God.

But for the grace of God, where would you be today? You and I might be the worst lot of sinners the world has ever known, but for the grace of God. Instead of seeking to do His will and glorify Christ with our lives, we could be serving the flesh and wasting our substance with riotous living. Praise God! Who saved me and washed me from my sins in Jesus’ blood! What do you know of the grace of God at this hour? Flee from the wrath to come and seek to lay hold of Christ through faith!

2 Timothy 4:13

“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus,
when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books,
but especially the parchments.”

~ 2 Timothy 4:13

Upon first glance, this verse may seem of no great consequence. Paul is simply asking his young friend Timothy to come to him and bring some of his personal possessions with him. However, I believe “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). More than once, A. W. Pink wrote that the Bible was not written for a lazy man. The Word opens up its treasures only for those who “labour in the word and doctrine.” The Holy Spirit has not moved “holy men of God” to speak in vain and, therefore, nothing trivial is bound in “the volume of the book” that God has given. With this in mind, let us meditate upon God’s Word and receive profit thereby.

Paul the aged confesses that his days are ending writing, “the time of my departure is at hand.” Our text somewhat reveals the mind of a man facing the reality of his own death. He tells Timothy in verse 9, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me:” and in our text says, “when thou comest.”

One by one all of his companions had left him. They all had their reasons and maybe even plead their work as sufficient grounds. In verse 11, he says, “Only Luke is with me.” He is here urging Timothy to come with haste. Paul certainly had no time to waste and he longed for his truest friends to be with him.

He also told Timothy to “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” Paul had once called Mark “Apostate” (ref. Greek Acts 15:38) and refused to take him on a missionary journey. He was so strong in his conviction that it caused a sharp contention and separated his chief friend Barnabas from him. Now Paul considers him useful and wants his presence with his closest friends. Time and labor have a way of healing old wounds. Paul shows grace and wisdom is not holding on to an old grudge. He acknowledges that Mark has made good and overcome the defect that Paul early detected.

I was talking with a couple of older brethren once and the name of a certain man came up in conversation. The oldest fellow was asked if he knew this man. “Yeah, I know him” was his reply with obvious distaste. He proceeded to tell us that he “didn’t care anything for him.” He had said something nearly 20 years ago that upset this now elderly man. He could not remember what was said, or even what it was about, and he had not seen him in almost 20 years, but he was determined as ever to hold on to his grudge and dislike for the man.

What an amazing waste of energy, emotion, and time this is to remain angry over forgotten offenses. Paul had told the Philippians, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Part of reaching forth is forgetting what is behind. Furthermore, in an attitude of brotherly kindness let us be “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). In this Paul is a great example.

Paul furnishes us with another great example in his dwindling hours. Paul had requested Timothy to bring his coat and also “the books.” He desired to have another look at his old books. Almost every preacher realizes the value of good books and especially The Book. Paul is a bound prisoner and the sun is setting quickly on his life, what should he do? Maybe Paul should retire and rest. I mean, what can he do? His request for his books gives an insight into his mind in his waning hours. He told Timothy that God had put him “into the ministry.” I believe he is resolved that with whatever time, health, and strength he has, he is going to stay at it.

He took a great interest in young preachers and endeavored to encourage and help them along as he could. He told Timothy, “make full proof of thy ministry.” He sent word to Archippus to “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.” He had said of himself, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He is a tremendous example and testimony. Paul was faithful unto the end, faithful even unto death. His words carry a great weight when viewed in the light of his own steadfastness. Whatever time he had, he was going to improve it for the work of the Lord.

Paul here provides us with a key to a successful ministry and Christian life. We should forget and forgive past infractions. We cannot move forward always looking back. We also should stick to the work at all times, and in all places and conditions. If God has put us into the ministry, then He is also one day going to take us out. If we have done all to stand, we can one day reflect with joy that we have finished our course and fought a good fight.