I was asked whether I thought Paul’s discourse in Acts 20 contain anything normative for the church — in particular, does Paul’s closing require a pastor to not take a salary. These are very brief notes for use and development later.
18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
This initial discourse feature is Paul giving the ground for his appeal. He will close with a very similar discourse feature. He is establishing (1) his ethical standing to make demands upon the men present: I am not asking you to do something I would not do; (2) the importance of the work: his life was wholly consistent with this appeal. This is such an important charge, that I took every effort to do. By giving his own example in the concrete: public and house to house, night and day, one would abstract – especially in light of the emphatic imperative in the center of the text – the principle that this work entails constant dedication.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul counts his life as of value only insofar as it supports the ministry given to him. Particulars:
Testify to the gospel.
These are elements being held up as exemplary. These continue the ethical emphasis: I am going to make a demand upon you which I have made upon myself.
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
This is a biographical statement with temporal and person markers which no one else can replicate: none of us can possibly be Paul prior to the discourse (“whom I have gone about”), nor can we be those who will not again see these men who are now dead. Thus, we know that cannot be normative.
There is an exemplary, repeatable behavior: “proclaiming the kingdom”. This will become part of the core of Paul’s emphasis.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
This is exemplary – but also contains an implicit warning: If I did not proclaim the whole counsel of God, then I would be guilty of blood.
The example coupled with the warning makes this an emphatic imperative for those in ministry. This is followed by a second related demand: protect the flock. Proclaiming the Gospel and driving off wolves.
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
Second person imperative, couple with emphatic clauses & warnings – followed by a warning and imperative.
This is unquestionably a normative imperative for the church, even though spoken in a particular locale. The basis for the normative duty is that the basis for the duty: it is to care for the church purchased by the blood of Christ. The entire church is in view.
The biographical flourish “three years” and “night or day” are not imperatives. However, they are exemplary. The detail drives home the importance of the normative imperative. Again, this closing is consistent with Paul’s ethical standing to make the demand, and his personal example consistent with the demand.
32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
This final example merely demonstrates that Paul was doing the work not for some temporal gain. Paul shows himself ethically proper by referencing the 10th Commandment (cf. Rom. 7). Paul makes a personal application which is presented as evidence of the prior point: I did not covet. I can prove it: I didn’t even take a salary.
No pastor may do the work for sinful motivation (coveting another’s property). The question you are concerned about is whether Paul’s personal proof of not coveting, i.e., working to support himself in ministry, is normative (mandatory in all circumstances at all times for all pastors): Of course not. Paul isn’t saying that – and the structure of the discourse makes that plain.
However, not coveting is necessary for all Christians (not just all pastors). That is easily provable from Paul’s corpus alone. The actions which are necessary to prove that one is not covetous will be context-dependent (we know this because in other biographical instances, we know that Paul took a salary. Paul also instructed Timothy that is not wrong to take a salary).
This is made emphatic by the imperative to help the weak and the aphorism from Jesus.
The only normative command we can take from this passage concerning ministry and salary is that a pastor could be in a circumstance where he should not take a salary – if that salary would hinder the work by making the pastor appear to be covetous.
But there is nothing in this brief passage which in by means indicates that Paul is prohibiting a pastor’s salary – he doesn’t say that. In fact, the argument only works if taking a salary is permissible. (Saying I didn’t do something I wasn’t allowed to do, or was unable to do, proves very little. I cannot prove my selflessness by pointing to the fact that I allowed the President to live in the Whitehouse.)
And finally, this has nothing to do with the normative determinations one would take from a narrative passage.