“Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.”
That’s an interesting passage that St. Paul has chosen to use. But he is doing what we all must do: take the Holy Scriptures and apply them to our lives. Along the way, before we get started, Paul has also incidentally given us a lesson in biblical interpretation. Knowing that the Old Testament (which was all Paul had at the time, even though he had other revelations from God) was the inspired Word of God, Paul understands that everything that was taught in the Law of the Old Testament had a spiritual application to Christians. The early Church Fathers understood this principle as well.
So why in the world would God command that you shouldn’t muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain? Because it is right or just to feed an animal that you are asking to work for you. Now if God so cares about the dumb ox who is created to be a beast of burden, then does He not care much more about you? If even the ox are to be nourished out of love so that they are equipped to do the work to which they have been called, then shouldn’t those who labor in the field for God be fed all the much more?
Paul applies Deuteronomy 25:4 especially to himself. The apostles, though they were especially appointed by Jesus Christ Himself to be sent to be His messengers to the world, were often neglected. We might stand, at the comfortable distance of 2000 years, and marvel at how anyone could neglect St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, St. Timothy, and all the rest. And yet it happened. Paul was often scorned or even abused, rejected as his Master was, and asked to do the work of an apostle without pay. Though Paul gladly suffered all things, he was rightly concerned with the matter of justice and with the progress of the gospel.
“Do not muzzle an apostle when he is spreading the gospel.” Paul knows that to the degree that his material needs are not provided for by the church, he will have to work making tents. While such work is honorable, it is not the primary work to which God had called Paul. It was the churches’ responsibility to provide for the apostles so that they could serve as apostles.
What application does this have to your life? You, too, have a shepherd or shepherds that God has given you: the pastor or pastors of your church. How well are you supporting them? Do they have to work a second job to provide for their needs and the needs of their families? Such work is honorable, but it does keep them from their primary calling.Just as importantly, are you providing for their other needs? Sometimes we think that if we just pay our pastor’s enough that all will be well. And actually, often pastors are underpaid to the point that it is a distraction from their special God-ordained ministry. But pastors have many other needs. We need your prayers to support us in our ministry, and since we are always supposed to work towards whatever it is we are praying for, we need your gifts and talents. We need Timothys and Tituses and Epaphrodituses; we need Priscillas and Aquillas; and we need the unnamed saints of the churches of Corinth, Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, and Thessalonica.
We cannot do our work without you doing your work as well. Our ministry is only as strong as the support – financial, prayerful, practical, and spiritual – that you give us.
And what about you? You, too, are a minister of Christ. You are expected to labor on His behalf as well. Have you been feeding yourself so that you are strong enough to do what God has asked you to do? You know where to get your daily bread that will sustain and nourish you: it is Jesus Christ, and He offers Himself to you through prayer, reading of and meditation on His word, faithful obedience, fasting, His Supper, and fellowship with the saints in your church.
You’ve probably heard your shepherd (pastor) calling you to where he knows you will be able to find food for your soul. Have you been listening and following? Have you been seeking the spiritual food that will equip you to work in God’s kingdom?
“Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” We’re all oxen, treading the grain in God’s kingdom. We all need to be adequately fed.
Pass the grass, please.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for caring about my great spiritual hunger and for choosing to feed me with the Body and Blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I ask that you would help me to seek Him daily in all ways possible so that I may have the strength to do the work you have asked me to do and so that I may have the strength to help feed others. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Find one way to help feed your pastor this week.
2. Use your Lenten fast and the hunger it creates to remind you that you need to seek God’s spiritual food, which is Jesus Christ.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today that I can help feed another Christian or lead them to Christ, their daily bread.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson