In many sectors of the church, elders/pastors and financial benefits seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, until a few years ago, I had never heard of a church that did not fall into one of the following categories: 1) already employed one or more people as elders/pastors, 2) actively looking for one or more people to employ as elders/pastors, or 3) could not afford to hire someone as elder/pastor but was working toward that goal.
In this series, I am examining three passages (in four posts) in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are explicitly connected. Those three passages are Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2. I think it is important to analyze each passage to determine what it can or cannot mean before synthesizing the information together to help us understand what Scripture says about the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits.
In this post, I’m going to examine what Luke writes in Acts 20:33-35 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits.
At this point in the Book of Acts, Paul is making his way back to Jerusalem. He arrived at Miletus, a port city near Ephesus. But, he did not have time to travel to Ephesus, so he sent a message to the elders from that city and asked them to meet him in Miletus. (Acts 20:15-17) He reminded them how he had lived among them while he was in the city of Ephesus. (Acts 20:18-27; see also Acts 19)
Next, Paul exhorted them in a way that is often understood as being normative for all elders of all times in all places:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)
Paul warned them that dangers would arise from false teachers who would come in among the church. (Acts 20:29-32) This, then, leads to the passage of interest for this post:
I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35 ESV)
At the beginning of this section, Paul clearly spells out that he is talking about working in a such a way as to provide for himself (and others). Obviously, he also expects the elders to do the work of shepherding and overseeing, since he commanded this kind of work earlier in Acts 20:28. So, here, Paul is talking about another kind of work, the kind of work that Paul calls “working with your hands” in other places (connected with the terms “these hands” in this passage).
This passage also includes the second command in Paul’s exhortation to the elders from Ephesus: “…by working hard in this way we must help…” or “it is necessary to help the weak by working hard in this manner.” “In this way/manner” points back to Paul’s own example of working with his hands to support himself and others. Paul commanded (it is necessary) the elders to work in the same way that he hand worked so that they could support themselves, their families, and others who are in need/weak. (Paul often combines the concepts of spiritual weakness with physical need, as it probably the case here.)
It is perhaps most interesting to me that it is in this context that Paul quotes Jesus (and Luke records it) as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul is using that quotation to reinforce to the elders that they should work so that they can give to others (i.e., be a blessing to others).
According to Luke, Paul expected the elders to both work among the people by shepherding and overseeing, and he also expected them to work with their hands to support themselves and others. In this passage, there is no other indication of financial benefit from being an elder other than what the elder earns by working himself. This does not mean that other kinds of financial benefits were not available. Instead, it means that Paul expected them to work even if other financial benefits were present.