But ministry still costs money and you’ve gotta pay the bills.
This objection stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are saying and what Scripture teaches. No one has ever denied that money is necessary to live and pay the bills so that ministry can be done. The question is, “Where should that money come from?” The answer is simple: from the free generosity of God’s people. In other words, we should not sell Jesus so that we can pay the bills. Turning truth, spiritual things, and the sacred into products that are blocked by a paywall does not please God, and is certainly not the only way Christian ministry can be funded. Local churches all around us operate just fine and pay the bills without charging entrance fees, and instead rely solely on God’s provision through the offerings of his people. Ministry should be supported, but never sold.
But you shouldn’t muzzle the ox, and a worker deserves his wages
This common objection makes several false assumptions:
- Oxen and workers can only survive if they sell something sacred.
- They have no Master who will provide for them, so they must find worldly ways of making a living.
- Wages only come as a result of selling something.
First, no one has ever denied that oxen and workers deserve to eat. This is common sense. But the question is, where should their food come from? The Bible is clear: those who do ministry as servants of God should get their food from the free generosity of fellow believers. This is often called support. God provides for different kinds of ministry work through freely given support, and he condemns the sale of ministry (Micah 3:11). Labor in spiritual things should be supported, but never sold.
Second, the ox and the worker have masters who provide for them. The master owns everything, and he will let them share in that as he sees fit (1 Cor 9:9-14). They do not have the right to sell their master’s property to get the money they need to live on. In the same way, those who labor in the service of Christ, doing spiritual work, should trust their Master to provide for them through the free generosity of the Body of Christ. They do not have the right to sell ministry to others simply because they fail to trust their Master to faithfully provide the money they need to live.
But Jesus’ command to freely give doesn’t apply today.
The command in Matthew 10:8 applied not just to the first disciples but continues to regulate ministry today.
First, the motivation to “freely give” is eternal and applies to all biblical wisdom. Consider the words of 1 Corinthians 2:12-13:
We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
Is this not the understanding we are trying to impart? It is not an understanding that is taught naturally, but one that must be taught by the Spirit.
This observation of motivation explains why we are willing to apply other parts of Matthew 10 to Christians today. Why be wise as serpents and innocent as doves? Because we are still sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16). Why should we anticipate persecution? Because a disciple is still not above his teacher (Matt. 10:24). Why should we not fear man? Because man still cannot destroy the soul and we are still of more value than sparrows (Matt. 10:28-31). Likewise, why should we freely give?
Second: The rest of the New Testament confirms that we ministers must “freely give.” One of the best pieces of evidence that the command to “freely give” applies broadly to biblical instruction, even in our era, is its confirmation elsewhere in Scripture. These are numerous, and it is beyond the scope of this article to go into all of them, but it is worth listing several here.
- What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not use up my rights in preaching it. (1 Cor. 9:18)
- Was it a sin for me to humble myself in order to exalt you, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? (2 Cor. 11:7)
- For we are not like so many others, who peddle the word of God. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as men sent from God. (2 Cor. 2:17)
- For they went out on behalf of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 7-8)
Third, history confirms that “freely give” was not a temporary ethic. The early disciples affirmed the command to freely give as a continuing injunction. The Didache is the oldest known extrabiblical Christian writing in existence, being authored in the first century. As far as the New Testament goes, it likely only incorporates Matthew. It even uses the phrase from Matthew 10:10, “worthy of his food” (Didache 13.1). Chapter 11 of the Didache says “Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet. … And whosoever shall say in the Spirit, Give me silver or anything else, ye shall not listen to him;” (Didache 11.4–6, 12a).
Fourth, the nature of the Christian message requires us to “freely give.” Isaiah summarizes what we find all through the very heart of God’s revealed character:
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you without money,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost! (Isa. 55:1)
The Bible itself even ends on this same note:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who hears say, “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come, and the one who desires the water of life drink freely. (Rev. 22:17)
In Matthew 10:8, the disciples offer a message of free grace, and so they offer it freely. We likewise offer a message of free grace, so we should offer it freely as well.
For more depth, nuance, and scriptural support, please read:
In biblical interpretation, context is key, and so does the context really indicate that this command applies to Christians today?
So ministers shouldn’t be paid for what they do? That can’t be right.
This is simply a misunderstanding of what we’re saying.
The Bible prohibits selling ministry yet supports providing for ministers. This allows for vocational ministry.
The Bible also permits honorariums. If a church’s purpose is preaching the Word and the preacher aids this, supporting him is appropriate, whether he is their own or a guest preacher (1 Cor 9:5).
We must be careful not to sell ministry, but refusing to support ministers as the Bible permits is legalistic, harming ministers and ministry. Support should be provided without strings attached. The key is ensuring that the minister doesn’t sell the message, not whether he is vocational, salaried, or receives honorariums.
Should Preachers be Paid?
Jesus was clear that the preached word should be freely given, so is it right for preachers of God's Word to be paid? Yes. As this article explains.
But people don’t value what they don’t pay for.
This is a purely pragmatic argument born out of marketing manipulation psychology that actually doesn’t work and has no basis in Scripture. This reasoning assumes that modern conventional wisdom allows us to disobey Scripture (Matt 10:8). Paul’s policy was to do ministry free of charge (1 Corinthians 9:18 and 2 Corinthians 11:7).
This objection fails to account for many facts and realities that exist all around us. The Google search engine is free to us, yet we value it supremely. The same can be said for libraries, friendship, parks, fresh air, sunshine, rain, the beauty of creation in general.
This objection fails to explain why conventional wisdom also says that “the best things in life are free” along with “the best things in life aren’t things.” If the best things in life are free, then why do we value them?
This objection also fails to understand that valuing things mainly because of their association with money is a heart problem. For example, if a man says, “I really want to divorce my wife, but I spent so much money on the wedding that I guess I won’t”—that’s the wrong reason to stay with his wife, and makes him a servant of money rather than a servant of God.
True virtue involves appreciating and valuing wonderful things that we receive for free. For example, the prodigal son did not value his inheritance, and wasted it, because he was rebellious and sinful, not because he received the inheritance for free. If he had received that gift and treated it with wisdom and care, he would rightly be held up as an example of a virtuous son. We’ve all heard of the proverbial, spoiled kid whose parents pay for his college education and he squanders it, frittering away his time, making bad grades, and eventually never finishing his degree. In contrast, I know people who received higher education as a gift, and because of that they felt all the more grateful and wanted to show that gratitude and honor the giver by making the best grades possible.
If I value a sermon only because I paid for it, what does that say about the preacher and the content? Is it not an insult to the preacher to say that his message has no inherent value? Is it not an insult to God to say that his Word has no inherent value, and thus must be “made valuable” by paying for it?
The mindset of this objection also fails to be consistent. If it were true, then Jesus would have charged for his teaching, we should charge for the gospel, and every other ministry and means of grace such as the Lord’s supper, baptism, and prayer.
Finally, from a purely secular, scientific perspective, check out this Ted Talk that includes an experiment to test whether people valued and used mosquito nets more if they paid for them or received them for free. And for further reading, this objection has been disproved by Mohamed Nagy in his book Predictably Irrational as well as by Chris Anderson in Free: The Future of a Radical Price.