As someone serving in full-time ministry, my conscience was pricked early on to wrestle through this question. If you don’t serve in ministry vocationally, maybe you have wondered about this question as someone regularly receiving those financial requests from pastors and missionaries.
Where does this model come from? Are there New Testament examples? What does Jesus say about this? There are a lot of bible verses regarding money, so let’s dive right in.
Where did this model of support come from?
Early in the Old Testament we find this intriguing passage about an encounter between Abram (later Abraham) and Melchizedek:
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. – Genesis 14:17-20 NIV
While there is much to unpack in a passage like this, I want to bring our focus on the last sentence (verse 20). Here we see a minister of God being provided a tenth by Abram before the formal institution of the tithe under The Law. Later, under The Law, we see a direct command from God to the Israelites as it pertains to their care for the Levitical Priests:
“I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’” – Numbers 18:21-24 NIV
The Tent of Meeting was a transportable place of worship where the Ark of the Covenant was located and other holy items that the Israelites used in their worship of the Lord. God called the nation of Israel to give a tithe (tenth) to support their full-time spiritual leaders. There was no other inheritance for them, nor any other way for them to make a living, because they were called to be dedicated fully to serving at the Tent of Meeting.
Many years later, we can see that God never changed His design for provision of His laborers, but that the disobedience of His people is what led to this stern rebuke in Malachi:
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. – Malachi 3:8 NIV
From these Scriptures we can see that the idea that missionaries and pastors are to be supported by God’s people came directly from the Bible. Not only do we see godly people living this way in the Scriptures but direct commands from God Himself; He is not silent on this topic.
New Testament Examples
In Matthew chapter ten we see Jesus calling out the twelve disciples. They were sent out by Him to proclaim the message that “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”, to heal the sick, raise the dead, heal those with leprosy, and to drive out demons.
As we look at this New Testament example, note that the twelve Disciples were called and then sent out by direction of Jesus, not by their own choice, to minister. This matches the same situation the Levitical Priests were in, as they were also called and set aside by God for their work. As someone who financially supports full-time ministers, I think it’s important for you to learn if this is true about your spiritual leaders. Are they called and sent by the Lord? What’s their story? Do you see any spiritual fruit that would confirm this is the case?
What model of personal financial support did Jesus give them? We find this model later in verses nine through eleven. Notice that they were to give themselves fully to ministering and were not to be focused on earning a living. They were not allowed to take food or money for operating expenses, rather they were to depend on God’s supply and God’s plan for that provision was through His people.
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts–no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. – Matthew 10:9-11 NIV
Later in 1 Corinthians 9:14 (NIV), Paul once again affirms this model stating, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
We have already seen support from the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testament that full-time ministers are to receive their support from God’s people. Yet, when I stumbled onto Luke 8:1-3, it was a watershed moment for me personally and solidified that this model of providing for full-time vocational ministers was in line with His will and Word:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. – Luke 8:1-3 NIV
There is much we can glean from these three verses at the beginning of Luke 8, but I would like to draw your attention to the very last sentence. The last sentence states, “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
What the Lord is pointing out in the three verses above is that He and the twelve disciples were serving in full-time ministry, preaching the kingdom of God, and that they could continue each day because of a small group of faithful women who gave out of their own means to sustain them. Jesus allowed others to minister to him physically by providing what was needed and He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed to receive their support.
As a side note, I find it interesting that Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who owns everything and made everything, allows Himself to receive support from a small group of women to continue His earthly ministry.
Jesus’ example here supports the idea that ministers are to receive their provision from those they minister to. This verse also shows that the 12 apostles were with Him and were fully dedicating themselves to the work of the Gospel. They too were dependent upon the provision from the small group of women.
How about you?
So who ministers to you? How are you spiritually fed on a regular basis? Where do you find yourself able to exercise your gifts and abilities for ministry? Are you faithfully supporting those ministers and helping them to focus full-time to minister and to advance the Gospel?
Leave a comment! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.