Pay the Ox

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

In verse 18, Paul quotes a law from Deuteronomy: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Even today, oxen will be yoked together and led over corn that is scattered on the floor. Their hooves stomp and kick-out the grains. If you muzzle an ox while he does this, then the ox cannot eat. God forbid Israel from doing this. He said that an ox who treads out the grain deserves to eat some of the grain while he is working.

Paul gave the Corinthians a more detailed interpretation of this law. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:

Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? 8Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?

vv.7-11

Paul asks a good question in verse 9: “Is it oxen God is concerned about?” The implied answer is, “No.” When God gave the law of muzzling oxen, He was not primarily concerned with the animals. He was concerned with the people. So in 1 Timothy, Paul says plainly that the human laborer is worthy of his wages. That’s the point of the law of muzzling oxen. That’s the heart of this law. If God wants us to pay oxen what they are due, then surely He wants us to pay His image-bearers what they are due.

Double Honor in Ministry

Specifically, Paul applies this principle to pastors. A church ought to pay her pastors. Pastors sow spiritual things in the congregation, and they should receive back from the congregation material sustenance. If a church does not pay her shepherd, then the shepherd is muzzled, and that is a sin.

Look at verse 17. “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” The word “honor” implies both respect and payment, what is commonly called an “honorarium.” There are three requirements for a pastor to “be counted worthy of double honor.” First, he must “rule well.” Second, he must be a teacher by trade. Third, he must be a faithful teacher. This is implied from the ruling “well.” Part of how a teaching pastor rules is through his teaching, and so, to be worthy of double honor, he must teach well.

If a pastor meets these three qualifications, then Paul says he is to “be counted worthy of double honor.” He should receive an extra measure of respect from his congregation, and he should be fairly compensated. So, there is a difference between qualified and exceptional pastors. You can be a qualified, faithful, obedient pastor, but not be an exceptional pastor worthy of double honor. A faithful pastor is worthy of honor, but an exceptional pastor is worthy of double honor.

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