Laborers Worthy of Their Wages
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Tim 5:17-18
Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, twice in the New Testament invokes this Old Testament quote from Deuteronomy 25:4. “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” (NAS) Here in his first letter to Timothy concerning elders, and in 1 Corinthians 9:9 to the Corinthian church concerning himself and his work of evangelist.
In our selected text, what is often overlooked, is the latter part of the apostle’s statement averring that the Scripture says “the laborer is worthy of his wages”. Type that into your electronic concordance and see what pops up. You won’t find that statement in the Old Testament, brethren. Paul isn’t wrong; he’s alluding to a scriptural principle found in the Law as a whole, and particularly, in the context preceding his quote from Deuteronomy 25:4.
Just treatment of the laborer in the field
The book of Deuteronomy as a whole deals with the giving of the Law for the second time to the second generation that came out of the Exodus about to enter the Promised Land. The direct quote that Paul makes from the book of Deuteronomy is found in a section of the book (Deut. 24:8-25:4) which deals with the laws to be observed by God’s people in the Promised Land in relation to honorable, impartial actions among the people as well as acts of compassion towards the needy. Yet, this section closes with the statement concerning not muzzling an oz while He’s threshing out the grain. Why? God is a God of justice, and His concern is for all of His creation, including the lowly and helpless, those dependent upon others. This includes the alien, the widow and the fatherless, along with beasts of burden, all to receive just treatment. Moses was simply retelling what he had extolled previously to the first generation that came out of Egypt as recorded in Exodus 23:5, 11 and Leviticus 25:7 concerning care of animals.
Concerning a laborer being worthy of his wages (read, ‘paid his wages’), this too was required by the Law. They were to be paid daily so that it could not be withheld by the employer as a means to afflict or oppress the worker. “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.” (Lev. 19:13) And again in Deut. 24:14 & 15, “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it…”
Just treatment of God’s laborers in the spiritual field
In case you might have forgotten it, missed it, or not read it recently, the church is God’s field. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9) Paul is referencing his earlier statement that whether it was himself, Apollos, or Cephas (and later in chapter nine, Barnabas) all are fellow workers in the local spiritual field of God known as the Corinthian church. The apostle Paul was the one who founded this body, i. e. began the sowing of the spiritual seed of the gospel, thus planting the congregation. However he was quick to acknowledge that Apollos (Acts 19:1) and Cephas (Peter) had a hand at some point in sowing spiritual things among some of those in the congregation.
Let’s turn our attention back to the example of the ox threshing in the field. What exactly was he accomplishing in his labor of threshing? The separation of the chaff from the grain as he moved back and forth over the threshing floor. In so doing, he helped to draw out that which was useful to his master, the produce of his work then used to feed the master’s household. While doing this, the ox was to be able to eat from the fruits of his labor. What is the function of preaching the Gospel? The same, it first removes the grain from the chaff. Those who evangelize, isn’t that what they are doing? Shouldn’t they be allowed to eat from the fruit of their labors? The principle clearly states yes, they should (C. f. Luke 10:7). How about those who “work hard at preaching and teaching”? Hey, they’re threshing the field too. Through the application of the apostles doctrine, they’re removing the chaff (carnal habits) from among the grain. Paul in the spirit makes it clear that this labor produces vessels “useful to their master for every good work. ” (2 Tim. 2:21) The problem in Corinth was carnal habits that had to be threshed out. Those that engage in spiritual threshing should be fed from the fruit of their labors.
All those Old Testament laws were designed to teach us principles for our understanding and application in things of the spiritual realm. God understood there could be the tendency for masters to take advantage of their servants, thus the directive by the LORD in dealing with those issues. Hey church, no taking advantage of those who labor among you. Forget not this admonition from the Lord. These are laborers doubly worthy of their wages while they thresh among us. These hard working farmers ought to be the first to receive their share from the crops (2 Tim. 2:6), Amen?