This morning, people can many times generate an "us vs. them" mentality that is destructive to growth and development. Office environments where groups and clicks of people are at odds with each other keep the particular company from functioning at its optimal level. In the church, it can be exponentially worse. Whenever people or groups in a local body generate this mentality, proper growth and edification of the body is severely stunted. Now, to carry the church and business illustration one step further, it behooves us to mention that this area of thought and discussion does not pertain to proper discipline or even loss of fellowship. If someone in the body is guilty of public sin or doctrinal error, that is a matter of necessary discipline that does not pertain to an "us vs. them" scenario. Just like in the office analogy, an employee not doing their job needs correction and perhaps even job termination. Therefore, if we are talking about day-to-day fellowship, mutual encouragement, and abiding strength of one another's faith, we need to remember that the church exists as a singular body and not as groups of independent cells that are at odds with separate but similar groups.
From our study verse, we see that Paul is contextually speaking of a particular subject, but there is a thought nestled within this verse that can be broadened to more than the contextual subject matter. Therefore, let us examine this thought first in its contextual light, but then broaden it out – in a Biblically supported fashion – to show how deeply it touches the fabric of the New Testament church. Paul has just concluded a rather large point in the 8th chapter of being willing to suffer loss for other people's gain. Not only is Christ the supreme example in this, but Paul labours to show how we should be good examples of that as well to those around us. As the 9th chapter opens, Paul narrows the thought somewhat to discuss the helping of others through the act of parting with money or other goods. In the first verse, Paul actually commends the Corinthian church for this very thing. They have been good to relinquish money for the benefit and aid of those in need, and Paul will go further and talk about the church's responsibility in the care of the minister by the imparting of natural funds.
Notice what Paul includes in this discussion from our verse. In the parenthetical expression, he makes a specific point to show that the minister is every bit as involved and included in this discussion as anyone else. Paul says "we" not "ye" when it comes to this particular thought. There is perhaps not a more damaging "us vs. them" mindset in the church than the one where one of those groups is the preachers and the other being everyone else who is not a preacher. As a side note, I have noticed in my personal experience a broadening chasm in this during my lifetime. As a little boy in the church, it seemed from my observation that more people engaged the preachers outside of the assembly than they do today. I have also heard many today say they are just uncomfortable talking to preachers, and when asked why, they have given varied and wide reasons. Basically, though, most of them boil down to "well I'm not one of them." Friends, you do not have to be a preacher to sit down and talk with one. We are people with the same problems as anyone else.
On the flip side of that point, there have no doubt been preachers in time past to the present that consider themselves as some "elite class." My natural father called it the "big boy country club" mindset. Even though it is the opposite perspective, this thought is just as damaging to growth, edification, and well-being as the apprehension that some might feel to talk to a minister. Paul makes a specific point to show that what he is talking about is a matter of "we" not "ye." Paul is not talking to the church about their responsibility. Paul is talking with the church about "our" responsibility. So, having laid that groundwork, let us consider what our responsibility is both in the context and perhaps a bit broader.
As mentioned earlier, the context supports financial giving and obligation for the care of the saints. While the church is not a social welfare program, she does have financial obligations both to the ministers that serve her as well as poor widows indeed within her. Obviously, there is also natural care and keeping necessary if the church is blessed with natural grounds and a building. Does the minister have equal responsibility in this financial regard and obligation? Paul emphatically in this verse says that ministers do! While ministers receive natural gifts from the church, that does not relinquish the minister's obligation and love-bound duty to "do his part" in the giving of his goods for the welfare of the church. One of the deepest pits to fall into is for a minister to think the church "owes" him. Friends, we owe God, and God has commanded that all of us give of ourselves – even naturally by way of finances – to the good and welfare of the church kingdom here in this world.
Since Peter encourages the elders to be "ensamples" to the flock in I Peter 5:3, a minister should "lead the way" in regards to giving and church support. I remember after my father had first taken the care of a church that he pastored, he wrote a check on Sunday and placed it with all the other "moneys" that had been taken up that day. When the deacons saw it, they all approached him (and I just happened to be sitting near him) and said, "Brother John, why did you write this check to the church?" His response was, "As a member here, I have the same duty as anyone else." They said, "But if you write a check to the church, we're just going to be giving it back to you when we write you a check." His response was golden, "Then you take what money I give and put it somewhere that doesn't go to me. Whether it helps keep up the cemetery, pay the light bill, or something, don't rob my joy of helping the church in her needs." Brethren, the minister is not part of them. There is not an "us vs. them;" it is just us – or it should be.
Now that we have examined the contextual thought that Paul had, let us consider a broader thought. Paul ensures that the folks do not think he is talking to them but rather with them. Whenever I first tried to start speaking and preaching, I went through the laborious process of listening to recordings of my efforts to pick out problems with my delivery and attempt to fix them. More cruel torture there has never been! However, I am convinced that it helped me a lot in those early days. One of the things I noticed from my early efforts was a propensity to say "you" more than I said "we" or "our." After making that realization, I attempted to remedy the usage to include myself in whatever discussion I was bringing out that day. It is the same encouragement that I have tried to pass on to some others when I detect the same thing in their delivery. It is good and Biblically proper for the congregation to feel that the man sent to them to minister, preach, and labour is "one of them." He is not separate, but the concepts and subjects are for us, not you. Therefore, we should speak of it from that perspective.
Therefore, sermons on redemption are not expressed that "you are redeemed" but that "we are redeemed." Sermons on sin are not expressed as "you are sinners" but that "we are sinners." When the minister includes himself in the concepts that are being expressed, the result is two-fold. 1. The congregation loses the sense that the minister may be "talking down to them." 2. The minister speaks as one of the group rather than a casual or interested bystander. These two results bring the message home in ways it would not otherwise. When a boss addresses his company through some speech or lecture, the workers understand that he is there and we are here. However, when the minister addresses the body, the congregation should get the sense that we are all in this together. Whether in the depths of sin and blackness by nature or in the bliss of redemption, honour, and glory by grace, all of us are included. In this way (and definitely many others), preaching stands alone in its address. Most all addresses and speeches in the world are done to the people, but preaching is done with the people.
One last thought about the minister being included is the sense in which exhortation, reproof, and instruction comes. The Bible warns against undue judgments and Pharisaical mindsets. So, if the preacher is included in the thoughts espoused, how does he address needed matters though guilty of them himself? One of the primary complaints I hear from folks outside the church about folks in the church (and the preaching in particular) is this, "Those people are just as guilty of sin as I am. Why do I have to listen to someone tell me about sin when he is a sinner? God judges me, not him." While it is true that churches all over the world are occupied by sinners – preachers included – there is no reason why the preaching should be perceived in such a fashion: provided the preaching is done correctly. When the minister preaches or converses with others, the strength of our argument does not rest on our personal decorum. Far from it. The strength of it rests on the precepts of God in His word.
I will not lie; it is hard to preach on topics that I am flagrantly guilty of myself. However, my impression to preach about it does not come from some ideal or mindset that I have kept it. Rather, it comes from the deep conviction that God says it. It is therefore true, and therefore worthy of proclamation. When a minister proclaims something that he fails in, a good preacher worth his salt will freely confess to not measuring up to the standard. That is why the exhortation is made to "us" and not "you." Brethren, more than anything, the preacher should want unity of the body and harmony of the assembly. True harmony comes from above and that must encompass all of us and not just some of us. The next time you attend the house of God, look around. Do you consider every single person there "us?" May we not look at things in the church as "us" and "them." May it just be "us" with all the focus, attention, and adoration toward Him.