The labourer is worthy of his hire

1 Timothy 5:18, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

Our family Bible reading a few nights back included the verse quoted above. Paul was writing to his son in the faith, and was speaking about the special honour due to elders who labour in the word. He reinforced this by referring to scriptural authority.

‘For the scripture says, Don’t muzzle the ox while it threshes, and, The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

While I believe a church must provide a suitable income for its teaching elder(s), that is not what caught my attention on this occasion.What stuck me, for the first time, was the fact that Paul refers to the words, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’ as scripture.

These Bible-words are found, not in the Old Testament, but only in the new testament Gospels and in 1 Timothy where it is quoted as scripture. It is, apart from the word ‘for’ (‘gar’ in Greek), precisely the words from Luke 10:7. Matthew 10:10 uses a different word; ‘food or keep’ rather than ‘hire or wages’.

A number of things presented themselves to my mind at this observation.

The word scripture used here is the same as that used by Paul in that famous passage from 2 Timothy 3:16. By it Paul and the Holy Spirit mean ‘Word of God written’. The Gospel of Luke is regarded by Paul as Scripture.

For this reason I do not think these words of Jesus came to Paul directly from an oral tradition. It came by a written text, and by a text, furthermore, that was already known to Paul’s readers. Luke’s gospel is the obvious source, as Paul and Luke were co-workers.

Luke probably researched and wrote his Gospel, beginning around AD 53, in and around Jerusalem perhaps, while Paul was held for two years in prison by Felix and Festus. Luke had certainly completed it well before Paul wrote 1 Timothy, which means both were written before AD 70. Paul’s death has been placed sometime around AD 64 during Nero’s reign (AD 54-68)

If all this is so, then the Gospel of Luke has an early date, and Luke’s record of Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem was indeed prophecy and not history when the words were first written down.

I think that’s worth thinking about.

The rich young ruler and the apostle Paul – a supposal

It occurred to me a while back that the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’, has remarkable parallels with the apostle Paul.

At the time, both men were young. In the seventh chapter of Acts, maybe a couple of years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul (Saul then) is described as a ‘young man’.

Again, at this time in their lives, both thought that they had their lives in order. They both thought that they were ok as far as keeping the law of God was concerned.

At this time, too, they both had reasons to be angry with Jesus.  Jesus had told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and to follow Him; the young man turned his back and went away grieved because he had many possessions. Paul’s anger is not explained, but it is revealed in his agreement with the stoning of Stephen and his subsequent persecution of Jesus through his people.

Now, the converted Saul (Paul) tells us some things about his life.

Paul tells us that the commandment which made him realise he was a sinner and needed saving was the tenth: ‘You shall not covert’. This is the command that deals with our heart attitude to possessions.

Paul had known what it is like to be rich, but happily suffered the loss of all things when he came to faith in Jesus.

When he was asked by the other apostles to remember the poor, his reply was that it was the very thing that he was eager to do. I think it also significant that it is Paul alone of all the New Testament writers who records the words of Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive’. Just before saying this, Paul had urged the elders at Ephesus to support the weak.

I have no direct proof, but I think there is a case for considering, at least, whether or not the apostle Paul might have been the rich young ruler of the gospel accounts. If not, at least Paul has some strong links with him in his past attitudes, and he shows the fruit of having repented of those sins that he once shared with the rich young ruler.

Some… will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God

Luke 9: 27

‘ I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (coming in power).’

 This verse is much debated. Some think that ‘the kingdom of God’ is a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which Peter James and John were to witness. Others understand it as foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Again, some say it refers to the second coming of Christ. But, along with some other commentators, I believe Jesus is referring here to regeneration.  In other words, he is saying that some of the people there would become Christians.

 I think this is the best explanation because of what came before this statement.

 Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter’s answer, ‘The Christ of God’, was the trigger for Jesus explaining what his mission was – that the ‘Christ must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and high priests and scribes, and be killed, then rise on the third day.’

 All this talk of Jesus dying was too much for Peter. He thought to snap Jesus out of this morbid state of mind by a few strong words. By this reaction, Peter showed that he was not yet thinking about his relationship with Jesus in the right way. Peter thought that he was fine as he was. There was no need for Jesus to die in Peter’s opinion. Besides, it seems that the disciples at that time were looking for some kind of nationalistic salvation, and thought that Jesus would be a king like David who would deal with the Roman oppressors. This thinking had to change.

 Our Lord Jesus knew far better than Peter what was needed for Peter, and any one else, to be reconciled to God. Sin had to be dealt with. Later, in a garden, Jesus prayed that a cup might pass from him. It was the cup of God’s anger and judgment against sin. But Jesus knew that he must take that  cup in the place of his sinful people, if they were ever to be saved from the condemnation due to their sin.

 Jesus knew that his death and resurrection were necessary so that the Holy Spirit could apply the benefits of His finished work to people like Peter. Peter needed to be born again, to use the language of John chapter 3 and I Peter chapter 1, or he would never understand or enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord implied as much in his address to the crowd (Luke 9: 23 – 26).

 Jesus started his talk with the word ‘if’.

 ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.’

 He was talking to a mixed crowd of people, and his message is one of repentance. His words declare that their lives are wrong, and they need to admit it to themselves. This sort of confession, if it is to be real and permanent, has to be the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning from death to life. If left to ourselves, we would continue to have an all-too-good opinion of ourselves. Such a change as Jesus describes is effected only by regeneration or the new birth.

 At the new birth, a person abandons their old Christ-less way of life. They then realise that, if they were to reject Christ, they would lose everything on the day of judgment and receive a well-deserved condemnation. They see that in losing their old way of life they gain instead eternal life in Jesus. Their former attitude to Jesus Christ  and his words is fundamentally changed. They begin to see him as the one who has the words of eternal life. They will follow him.

 Jesus implies that this change is for sinners; for people who in the past had been ashamed of Jesus’ words, as Peter had been. Jesus told the crowd that some of them would see the kingdom of God before they died. Some, like Peter, would be born again. They would take up the cross (the gospel) and follow Jesus.

The Rev. Fredrick William Robertson

Fredrick William Robertson (1816-1853) was a famous preacher in England during the nineteenth century. The people of Brighton flocked to his Sunday services. He was very popular, but his message was not the Gospel of Jesus. His whole aim in life seemed to be to subvert the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

 Why do I bother with this long dead enemy of the cross? Because a biography and appreciation appears in a modern collection entitled, Fifty People every Christian should know. He is represented in this well-meaning volume as a faithful Christian and an encouragement to those who want to follow Jesus. l have nothing to say against the author of the book, except that he took too much at face value from a nineteenth-century biography – the only contemporary biography – which was written by a person who seems to have had the same unhappy disposition as the Rev. F. W. Robertson.

 One good thing that this book, Fifty People, does is to urge us to read Robertson’s sermons carefully. A good sermon to start with, in my opinion, would be one entitled,  ‘Caiaphas’s view of Vicarious Suffering‘. Here, very clearly, Robertson reveals his hatred for the Gospel that Jesus and his apostles preached.

 I mean ‘hatred’. Robertson went to considerable trouble to misrepresent the Gospel as it really is, and to substitute a non-Gospel of his own creating. The teaching that our Lord Jesus Christ took on humanity (became a man) in order to take responsibility for the sins of his people – to die in their place, taking the punishment for their sins – was for Roberson the evil teaching of Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the high Priest in the year Jesus was arrested and killed. He had suggested that it would be better to kill Jesus than for the Romans to destroy the nation of Israel. For Robertson, the message about Christ’s deliberate act of mercy in dying on the cross for his people was a selfish message like the one that Caiaphas promoted.

So what did Robertson substitute for the gospel? His idea of Jesus dying for sinners was this: Jesus suffered – bore the sins of people – only in the sense that he was treated badly by bad people. Their bad  attitude and actions toward this good man caused him to suffer. Jesus’ death was represented as an accident. Robertson imagined Jesus went to his death in the same way as an innocent person might walk absent-mindedly into the spinning wheel of steam machinery. Jesus dared to be good in a bad world and met with unintended consequences, his death on a cross.

 How does this help sinners like us? Robertson implied that this example of innocent suffering would inspire us to live good lives too. And as we meet with suffering as a result, that suffering would be the means of purifying us even as Jesus was pure. In this view, Jesus is no Saviour. He is merely an example to follow. Sinners like us would be left to do the impossible; to meet the high standard set by Jesus through our own efforts.

Even a superficial reading of Luke 9, or its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, will show how deliberate our Lord Jesus was in foretelling his future rejection and death, and how insistent he was in  asserting its absolute necessity. Again, in that garden on the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed that, if possible, the ‘cup’ might pass from him. The cup was the cup of God’s anger at our sin. The Old Testament spoke of the cup of God’s wrath which the wicked must drink in judgment. Jesus knew that if sinners like us were to be saved, he would have to drink this cup of judgment for his people. He had come to save them in this way, and he did it willingly and deliberately. This is the message of God’s mercy and love given in the Bible, yet it was the message that the Rev. F. W. Robertson hated. I’d  rather believe Jesus than the Rev. F. W. Robertson.