What does Luther say about giving and stewardship?
We are nearing the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, All Saints’ Eve, 1517, when Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. So, let’s hear from Luther himself on the topic of giving and stewardship.
In the Small Catechism under the Table of Duties, Martin Luther gives specific Bible passages to help Christians know their duty in their various vocations as members of their family, society at large, and in God’s family, the Church. Under the heading “What Hearers Owe Their Pastors,” Luther lists five passages from the Bible, three of which have to do with giving to your local congregation. They are these:
“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:6–7).
“The elders [presbyters, i.e., pastors] who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17–18).
Luther comments on these passages in his 1535 Lectures on Galatians. He wrote:
When Paul says “all good things,” this is not to be taken to mean that everyone should share all his possessions with his preacher. No, it means that he should provide for him liberally, giving him as much as is needed to support his life in comfort. . . . The apostle is so serious in advocating this topic of support for preachers that he adds a threat to his denunciation and exhortation, saying: “God is not mocked.”. . . All this pertains to the topic of support for ministers. I do not like to interpret such passages; for they seem to commend us, as in fact they do. In addition, it gives the appearance of greed if one emphasizes these things diligently to one’s hearers. Nevertheless, people should be taught also about this matter, in order that they may know that they owe both respect and support to their preachers. Christ teaches the same thing in Luke 10:7: “Eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages”; and Paul says elsewhere (1 Cor. 9:13–14): “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel.” It is important for us who are in the ministry to know this, so that we do not have a bad conscience about accepting for our work wages . . . it happens when those who proclaim the glory of God and faithfully instruct the youth derive their livelihood from them. It is impossible that one man should be devoted to household duties day and night for his support and at the same time pay attention to the study of Sacred Scripture, as the teaching ministry requires. Since God has commanded and instituted this, we should know that we may with a good conscience enjoy what is provided for the comfortable support of our lives from church properties to enable us to devote ourselves to our office. (LW 27:125–126).
In other words, pastors are not to suffer from low wages just because they are servants of Christ and the Word. They are to share in the livelihoods of all to whom they preach the gospel and instruct in the faith, so that the Word can be proclaimed and the faith carried from one generation to the next.