Let this same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
I read daily the German Losungen, a series of brief scriptures given daily, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Today’s reading was sent by God, for the timing of it and what was troubling my heart could be no mere coincidences. The German reads, “Er, der in goettlicher Gestalt sein, hielt es nicht fuer einen Raub, Gott gleich zu sein, sondern entaeusserte sich selbst und nahm Knecktsgestalt an.” I have found that reading familiar passages in other languages often opens up the meaning to me, and sparks my imagination. If I may do a literal translation of the German into English, it would be something like this: “He, who exists in godly form, held it not as a theft to be like God, rather he emptied himself of himself and took the form of a common servant.”
Two words grabbed my attention. First, the concept of “Entaeusserung.” (Not every computer will handle the umlaut or the German double s, but it is normally spelled, Entäußerung). This word has a theological meaning, often described as the “Kenosis,” or the “emptying,” from the Greek word in this passage, “kenoo,” to empty. But Entäußerung can also be translated “alientation” or “relinquishing” or “abandonment” – ideas that help us to grasp what Christ put aside for our salvation. He became something very much unlike Himself – not in nature or values or holiness, but in appearance. Christ abandoned His first nature and took the form of a servant.
The word was used elsewhere in the Bible. For example, when Paul wrote that he preached the cross of Christ, “Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). Literally it says, “Less the cross be emptied of its power.” So it has the idea to vacate, to void, or to remove. Christ emptied out Himself of the glory of heaven to come to earth and be our Savior. So this becomes the standard and the calling of each of us, to die to self and live to God, to put aside selfish agendas and live for God’s glory.
Second, the word “Kneckt” in German has the idea of a farmhand, a common laborer, or a slave. Historically, farmhands, those who work the land with minimal skills, have honest but hard work to perform, out in the elements, whether hot or cold, windy and wet or dry as a bone. It is the image of the greatest imaginable humility of Christ, who though equal with God came to earth in the guise of a servant – like the son of the king working the land like a poor tenant farmer. This picture is a moving image, but the scripture goes further and says that Christ was obedient even to death on the cross. And He did all of this for the sake of God without complaint. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth” (Isa 53:7).
The attitude of Christ is the ideal attitude for all Christians, not only pastors, but, since pastors are also Christians it applies to us. And since pastors are entrusted with the modeling and teaching of Christian doctrine and Christian ethics, it especially applies to us. If the people of God will be taught and led on this earth, it is the design of God that pastors do it – serving as examples of the flock (1 Peter 5:3). The pastor must trust the Lord, trust the people, and place himself under the hand of God, and be grateful for all that God provides. As Peter wrote, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
So from the pastor’s perspective, as we preach and teach, we are also privileged to be allowed to give an example to the people of God by faithfully trusting in the Lord, emptying ourselves of pride, greed, lust, and desire, while accepting injustice, disrespect, hardness, and even apathy, and to do so gratefully without complaint. And Christ said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'” (Luke 17:10). And we should be careful not to serve the Lord for money. We are warned to disassociate from the “constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).
Most Christians I know want to support their pastors well. They love them and have it in their heart by the Holy Spirit and by the Word of God to pay their pastors well and to encourage and support them. Most, but not all.
There are competing ideas that also come along into the argument, ideas that come from the devil, and ideas the masquerade as good, Christian thoughts. But these that I mention next are demonic in their nature and the sooner they are identified and rooted out, the better. I have an obligation to not only set the right example in Christian behavior and attitude, but also to preach the Word!
I have heard these ideas repeated among Christians long enough, as though it was some kind of special virtue for a Christian church to impoverish their pastor. I teach this as an obligation to teach the truth, and to expose the lie, but not out of any sense of anger on my part – except the righteous indignation that every Christian should feel toward lies of the devil – nor to express any disgruntled feelings or dissatisfaction. As Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content” (Phil. 4:11).
The church is commanded to pay its ministers well. The pastor and the church staff earn a salary, they do not receive charity. People are to give to the support of the ministry out of love for the Lord and our of respect for the position and the work that the pastor and church staff perform.
1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'”
1 Corinthians 9:14: “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
Galatians 6:6: “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.”
These commands are for the people of God to hear and to heed, and not for the pastor to take and campaign for an increase in his salary. But let’s examine them. It places the emphasis on understanding the financial reality that those in ministry face. They must eat, dress, have shelter, provide for their families, in fact they must do everything that everyone else does. A pastor’s digestive track does not change when he is called to serve. It remains the same.
Furthermore, Paul introduced this section in 1 Timothy 5 by speaking of family obligations:
1 Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The pastor has an obligation to provide for his family. He cannot renounce this obligation, rather he must be an example to the church in this area. Looking back at my life and the lives of many pastors I have known, I have learned that this is a matter of the pastor’s and his wife’s conscience. When have they provided enough for their children? There is no easy way to answer this except to say that this is between them and the Lord. But a pastor cannot use the excuse that he has willfully subjected his family to misery and poverty because of his calling. If he is not supported by the church, he should take another job, as the Apostle Paul did.
I have known some so-called Christians – at least they said they were – who thought it was a good idea to keep their pastor poor. The same men who brag about what they have, deprive the men who preach the word of God to them of receiving any decent salary whatsoever. One such man a few years ago bragged to me about how little his pastor made. My first thought was that the poor salary may say something good about the pastor, but it says something terrible about the church. But then I thought that I was unsure if it really said very much good about the pastor, either. Had he willingly subjected his family to poverty? Had he failed to teach the church the word of God in this area, to respect and pay the pastor?
Parents who allow their children to disrespect them, to mistreat them, and to abuse them have not done their children any service. And a pastor who has neglected to teach the people of God to financially support those who serve the Lord has not done a good deed by his silence on this biblical topic. He has failed to teach the whole counsel of Scripture. The Bible is given to us, “That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). And it should be taught. The people of God must hear the Word in order to obey the Word.
So I have taught the Word in this brief study. I pray that for those of us who serve the Lord, we would have no greater desire than to serve the Lord and to be content and grateful with how the Lord manages to provide for us. I pray that we pastors would have the wisdom to know when we should seek outside income, when the provision of the church is not enough. I pray that pastors would have the wisdom from God to know that we are not asking for charity, rather we are serving the Lord and we are workers earning a salary from our work for the Lord, so we should not be ashamed to receive a salary in our service. If we have discharged the duties of our office, like every other worker, we deserve our salary.
And for all of us as followers of Christ, I pray that we would heed the Scripture and generously support those who serve the Lord. We should agree in principle with the Word of God that the worker deserves his wages, and that there is nothing wrong with someone supporting his family from his earnings in ministry. It is earned. It is not charity. And we should trust the Lord to give us good, sanctified common sense, and to lead us to set salaries for our staff that honor the Lord.