Friday, January 22, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 6

Galatians 6:6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

This verse seems odd at first blush. Paul is reaching the end of his letter to the Galatians. The remaining verses of Chapter 6 (vv 7-18) are like a summary of the concepts he’s been arguing/presenting in the whole letter. This seems almost out of place.

What exactly does he mean here? What is he driving at? Is Paul fishing for financial support? Are there issues with the Galatians failing to provide for Paul?

I have always viewed Paul as an example for the modern church as a leader, minister, even as an Apostle who worked to support himself rather than be a burden to the churches he served. In Acts 18, Paul worked as a tent-maker while ministering in Corinth, evangelizing the residents of the city on the weekends. He worked at what would be the equivalent of a “nine to five” job in today’s world and supported himself. In my own experience, I have come to see the concept of the full-time pastor, especially for local congregations, as a tradition that has come to be counter-productive. While there is plenty of scriptural evidence for viewing the ministry of teachers/pastors as a full time job (see, e.g., Acts 6), the modern American concept of the paid pastor often leads to too much dependence on that one person as the focal point for all the activity within a church, and a culture of performance rather than community. This is an over-generalization, to be sure, but when the local Pastor or Minister is paid by the congregation to do “just that,” there is an expectation that he will “meet their needs” – and there is more of a culture of entertainment, where the congregation will come each Sunday morning to watch the minister “perform,” rather then develop a church culture where they participate themselves, because, after all, that’s the minister’s “job.” There is a greater tendency to separate the clergy from the laity, and a dependence on the minster to do it all, and the congregation to serve as spectators. By his own example, Paul refused to succumb to that and gladly worked for a living, toiling at a regular, manual labor type job.

On the other hand (to be fair), there is evidence to show that tent making or some other form of basic work wasn’t Paul’s usual method of supporting himself, or at least not the exclusive method. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 and Philippians 4:10-16 show that Paul was supported in his ministry by the sacrificial giving of the churches he had planted. This is not to say he didn’t also work to support himself as well, but it appears the congregations he served often helped him financially. So while my own personal experiences in my own church shows how doing without a paid Pastor works (and works extremely well, I might add) and helps to free the congregation to be more participatory and helps encourage the average person “in the pews” to come forth in the gifts God has given them, the concept of a full time paid Pastor (or at least a Pastor that is given a stipend or salary for his work in the church while also working to support himself) has its place. Like Paul, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit to know when each of these models is appropriate. My reaction as I meditate on this particular passage is Christians in America – indeed all over the world – have fallen into a traditional view of church structure that is often counter-productive and stifling to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t make the concept of a full time paid pastor wrong – but I think the weaknesses and abuses that have developed in this tradition need to be examined and even prayed through. Indeed, the theme of the book of Galatians demands that we consider this. The Judiazers of Paul’s day insisted on circumcision in order to be acceptable to God. It was “the way we do things.” To change that tradition meant a radical shift in the way people thought, in the way they “did church.” But in order to see God’s will accomplished, in order to realize the essence and truth of the Gospel, in order to “stay in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), they had to be willing to give up that tradition. We need to look at our modern church traditions, our expectations, our practices, our prejudices, and be willing to go in a different direction if the Holy Spirit is telling us to do so.

There is another aspect to verse 6 that is brought to the fore by looking at Paul’s defense of himself in 2 Corinthians 11. There, in verse 7, Paul sarcastically argues that he might have been wrong for preaching the Gospel for free. In verse 8 he muses that he “robbed” the support of other churches in order to serve at Corinth. His audience would have understood this, because in ancient times, even more so than today, the expectation was that religious and spiritual “professionals” must be paid for their services, and if they did not charge for it, the implication was “you get what you pay for.” So if the spiritual “product” was free, it must not be worth much – it must not have any relevance. In addition, Greek tradition had the great philosophers and teachers in their culture bring in a sort of “communistic” ideal, insisting that people share all things in common. In pagan religions, people were expected to pay a fee just to walk into a temple or shrine. Here, Paul seems to be suggesting that the Galatians “pony up” in a similar way for all those who provide sound, authentic teaching (implying the inclusion of himself), as opposed to providing support for those opposed to such concepts (implying the Judiazers). Some scripture scholars suggest something different altogether, and believe this is connected with special collection for the Jerusalem believers spoken of in 1 Corinthians 16:1 (although the chronology makes this hard to reconcile).

In the end, the spirit of this verse fits in with the overall themes of unified community and interpersonal relationships found throughout the book of Galatians. A congregation or local church should certainly do all it can to support (financially or otherwise) those who lead and instruct them.

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