Wages, Evangelism, Food and Fellowship
Rabi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
I Corinthians 9 have needlessly carried some controversial confusion in Messianic and Natsari circles due to the goyish (gentile) anti-Nomian and anti-Semitic bias most of us have been raised and taught in. The key to shattering confusion is to shed the western Greek mindset and look at such writings with a Hebraic, eastern mindset; think like Jew in other words because these letters were written by a Jewish Rabbi.
This is not an exegesis of I Cor. 9-10, but a very brief overview of the chapters from a Natsari Jewish perspective.
By the time of this letter of Rav Sha’ul (Paul), the Pharisaical Synagogues and Houses of Study (Yeshiva’s) were seen as an extension of the Temple and the Priesthood and even at times a temporal replacement for it when it was discovered that the Sadducee run Temple system was in bed with Rome and therefore corrupted. This was but one reason for the desert Essene (Qumran) community in which some speculate Yochannon the Immerser (John the Baptist) may have been a part of. In this vein Rav Sha’ul opens I Corinthians chapter nine and establishes his status as a Sheliach (Apostle), a “sent out one” of Messiah Yeshua to the Gentile believers. He also equates his work and ministry as Sheliach as a type of holy priestly work, an extension of or at least a partnership with the Levitical Priesthood since synagogues were established with Ezra and Nehemiah.
He argues by right, just as the Levitical Priests get a portion of the sacrifices brought to them as their payment, the Rabbi’s and Sheliachim also have a right to be paid whether by monies or necessary provisions for the work they do in educating and ministering to the people. He points out that just as a Levitical Priest is a legitimate occupation with prescribed wages, so too is one of a Rabbi and Sheliach. He also points out according to the Torah, (Deut. 25:4, I Tim. 5:18) just as a farmer and his animals have right to eat of the soil in which they work, so to a Rabbi or Sheliach has the right to partake of the good of the people to whom they minister unto. That such is payment of the people for their labor among them but that he has not exploited this right so as not to put congregations and the communities in a disadvantageous financial predicament or to somehow draw attention to himself and take away from the Good News of the Torah and Messiah. After all, we see in his many letters that he only solicited funds or goods when he truly was in need, otherwise he was a tentmaker, a tallit maker and supported himself and his missionary endeavors whenever he could (v.1-18).
Rav Sha’ul says a greater reward than monetary provisions is seeing the spiritual fruit of his labor. He stresses that being a servant to all is greater than being a leader with powerful sway and influence over a mass of people.
Rav Sha’ul tells us that culturally, sociologically, intellectually and religiously in ministering to people he relates to them on their level and finds common ground in which to spring board his outreach from all the while not compromising his stance and observance of Torah in order to show Jew and Gentile alike are to, and can keep it. He finds cultural, sociological, intellectual and religious in roads in which to relate to whom he is ministering too in order to make Torah and Messiah accessible and applicable to everyone he comes in contact with. After all we can see due to his education, upbringing, training and background that he can relate to Gentiles whether rich, poor, or philosophers. He can also relate and minister to Jews and Hebrews no matter what their level of education of religious observance. Just as Yeshua ministered to the Pharisees and Sadducees, prostitutes, publicans and sinners, all the while bucking if needed the doctrines of men, but never compromising adherence to Torah, so did Rav Sha’ul. He lives, works, fights and ministers with calculated precision and divine purpose for the honor and glory of HaShem (v.19-27).
Rav Sha’ul goes on in chapter 10 of I Corinthians that though Israel was in the middle of Egyptian paganism that they were divinely protected as they walked through the land to get to Canaan and that even in obedience to Adonai and in ministry they were tempted and lured by the paganism around them but always had a Torah alternative to endure or escape. Rav Sha’ul said to the Jewish and Gentile believers that assimilation is a real danger and threat but it is resistible and conquerable. Let Torah be your manna and sustenance and not pagan philosophies. The key is to be obedient to Torah and Messiah with out question or complaint and do not make ones desires and temptations into an idol (v.1-14).
Spiritually speaking one cannot eat of Torah and pagan philosophies, the two do not mix. One is clean and the other unclean. Here Rav Sha’ul making his point applicable Spiritually and Physically he cautions that one must know where their food comes from and whose table they eat at. Just as one would not eat a lamb sacrificed to Ba’al, lets say, though a lamb is kosher, one would not spiritually partake of Greek Philosophy and try to make it jive with Torah. Though Gentile teachings may have applicable righteous parallels and agree with the Torah to immerse oneself in such would not be beneficial to do so because it would be so easy to get sucked in, influenced and assimilated by such pagan thought (v. 15- 23)
As Rav Sha’ul transitions from the spiritual to the physical he alludes to a Jewish custom of not eating with Gentiles and hints that if they are Torah Observant believers eat with them and trust their obedience and do not question where the food they provide comes from and thus insulting their hospitality and questioning the integrity of their Torah Observance (v.23-33).