1Co 9:5-7 “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?”
In the first verses of this chapter, Paul has established his seal as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He has further established that he is the apostle that was sent to the church at Corinth and therefore had both the right and responsibility to answer their questions with boldness in the Spirit. He continues by instructing the brethren concerning their ability and freedom (power) as apostles and ministers (his inclusion of Barnabas points to this).
It is not my intention to belittle the faith of those that hold that a minister (whether referred to as priest, bishop, or some other title) should not marry. However, Paul speaks quite plainly here on the matter. Even though Paul chose to remain unmarried, it was not due to there being any injunction against him being married because he was an apostle. By the use of “we” in verse five, it seems to indicate that Barnabas was included in his example of having a wife as well.
Paul clearly indicates that other apostles had wives, as well as those who were close to the Lord (brethren). He particularly names Peter (Cephas), who the scripture plainly tells us had a wife (Mat 8:14). At no time does he indicate that his choice to not have a wife made him more of an apostle and follower of Christ than the others.
I realize that this next question has been a matter of great debate over the years. Although Paul often labored with his own hands, just like he chose to not have a wife, this does not mean that Paul thought there was anything amiss with the brethren he served assisting in his physical upkeep. In the manner the question is posed here, it seems to indicate that others of the apostles and brethren of the Lord were supported by the brethren in their ministry.
Paul clearly indicates here that both he and Barnabas had that same liberty also, whether they chose to exercise it or not. He further points out that no soldier goes to war with the expectation of providing the necessities for himself. No husbandman plants without the anticipation of eating of the fruit of his labor, and no shepherd expects to tend a flock and not partake of the bounty of the flock.
I personally have never asked any congregation what they were going to provide me with to come and serve them. It has always been my desire and purpose to go as the Spirit has bidden me and to do whatever was necessary to serve the Lord where He has sent me. For most of my years in the ministry, that has meant working a full-time job, pastoring to the best of my ability with the time I had, and often helping with physical labor in the upkeep of the meeting place. I rejoice that God has blessed me with the strength and knowledge to do these things.
At the same time, I rejoice in the occasion to be at greater liberty to serve him when a congregation of His children has asked that I not take a job. It was more important to them for me to be available any time they needed me and otherwise to have the time to give myself to the study of His word. Scripturally, the support of the ministry is something that is plainly taught in God’s word. As His ministers, we need to be like Paul and stand ready to do whatever is necessary to serve wherever He sends us, whether working with our own hands or to forbear working as seems good to the Lord.
May we be willing to serve Him wherever He sends us regardless of the circumstance while always teaching the truth of God’s word!