Published: 12 February 2024

Navigating Paul’s Support Paradox

Support Paradox

“Steve is a biblical counselor. He believes that God has called him to minister to the broken in spirit, and he sincerely wants to help people be healed and whole, walking in victory over sin through the power of the gospel. But he’s concerned that if he charges the same rates for counseling sessions as other prominent biblical counselors in his area, he’ll end up alienating the poor. During times of prayer he believes that God has placed a desire within him to simply give counsel for free, but older, more experienced counselors have talked him out of it.

Although Steve believes that the Bible is sufficient for godly wisdom, he has failed to turn to it for answers to the simple question as to whether he should require payment for “speaking truth in love” to broken people. He has failed to heed Jesus’ command to give freely (Matt 10:8), and allowed the conventional, worldly wisdom of his superiors to eclipse the sincere desire God has placed on his heart. 

Steve is a tragic example of someone with an honest desire to honor God, but who was derailed by the blindness, complacency, and carnal pragmatism around him. He’s trapped in a fog of confusion. In the end, biblical counselors are offering to lead people to Jesus through the Scriptures, with wisdom, truth, and sincere friendship–things that cannot and should never be sold. But Steve is unable to see this fact.” –Adapted from SellingJesus.org

Navigating Paul’s Support Paradox

In the previous article we noted that Paul asserted his right to receive co-labor support from Corinth. However, he simultaneously refused to accept it from them. What are we to make of this apparent support paradox? There was a problem in the Corinthian church. Paul concluded that if he accepted support from them, it would be detrimental to their spiritual growth. They had failed to understand that the ancient custom of paying teachers for their services (as an act of reciprocity) was not in alignment with God’s way of doing things. 

According to 2 Corinthians 11:12, Paul refused their support because they couldn’t tell the difference between reciprocity and co-labor. By refusing to take co-labor from the Corinthians, he is showing them that his motives for ministering to them are above reproach. He is not doing anything for personal gain. Simply put, the Corinthians were not mature enough to engage in co-labor with Paul. 

Paul did not completely reject support from Corinth

Even though Paul would not accept financial support from Corinth for his ministry to them, he was willing to accept their co-labor from them for other ministry efforts. Conley Owens explains:

“[Paul] speaks of his intentions to come to Corinth in order to be sent by them to Macedonia. 

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. (1 Cor. 16:5–6) 

I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. (2 Cor. 1:16) 

The word for ‘help’ and ‘send’ in these verses is the Greek word propempo, a term with financial overtones, meaning ‘to assist someone in making a journey, send on one’s way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.’ For example, when Paul commands Titus to propempo Zenas and Apollos, he is to do so ‘seeing that they lack nothing’ (Titus 3:13).”1

Propempo

According to BDAG, propempo has two definitions:

  1. to conduct someone who has a destination in mind, accompany, escort.
  2. to assist someone in making a journey, send on one’s way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.2 

Clearly it was the second definition Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 16:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 1:16. Why would Paul accept propempo co-labor from the Corinthians when he deemed it unwise to accept support for ministering to the Corinthians?

Perception of propempo support as co-labor

It stands to reason that the Corinthians comprehended their propempo support of Paul as an act of co-labor. In the context of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Corinthians viewed him as a fellow laborer who served the same God. They had no difficulty recognizing that funding Paul’s journeys was an expression of obligation to their common Master. 

Conversely, their understanding had not matured sufficiently to recognize that supporting Paul for the ministry he rendered to them was also co-labor. They still perceived it as a form of reciprocity, wherein they were compensating Paul for a product or service.

“So is propempo support colabor? Plainly. By sending Paul on his way, the Corinthians would assist him in proclaiming the gospel in Macedonia or any other destination. In fact, in the very same context, he calls himself a colaborer (2 Cor. 1:24).”3

“Thus, Paul can say that he does not write to receive ‘any such provision’ (i.e., reciprocity) in 1 Corinthians 9:15, while also writing to receive some provision as he is sent out on his way (i.e., colabor) in 1 Corinthians 16:5–6.”4

There is no support paradox

The apparent paradox dissolves when we grasp the guiding force behind Paul’s actions: the dorean principle. Understanding this principle sheds light on why he embraced support in one scenario and declined it in another.

Paul’s choice to turn down support from Corinth for his ministry to them stemmed from a genuine concern for their spiritual growth, illustrating his unwavering commitment to selfless service. Simultaneously, his willingness to accept co-labor support for other ministry endeavors unveils a nuanced and purposeful strategy.

In our present-day ministry pursuits, embracing Paul’s attitude of prioritizing the greater good of the kingdom over personal ease and convenience becomes a valuable lesson. Paul’s example encourages us to reflect on the timeless relevance of the dorean principle in shaping the course of our own ministries.

References

  1. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (pp. 28-29). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, eds. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d, Accordance electronic ed., version 2.8. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. BDAG, s.v. “προπέμπω,” 873
  3. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (pp. 30-31). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.
  4. Owens, Conley. The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity (p. 31). FirstLove Publications. Kindle Edition.