Wages are not a small thing. There have been a number of studies that for the same position and experience women make less than men, and minorities make less than whites. The results of such studies can be quite disheartening.
Numbers can be deliberately misinterpreted or mishandled or presented in a deceiving fashion. Numbers don’t lie. People do.
If numbers were to portray the value of people, many of the remuneration studies would “say”: “white man” > “white woman” > “minority man” > “minority woman”. This is even the case in technical organizations that function in numbers and where skills and experience supposedly guide the way.
I have been in a position to know the pay of others. Some were paid more than others due to experience, skillset, and talent. Others were paid more than others because they came at a time where their skillset (even if normally inadequate) was needed (premium pay). To my knowledge, no one was paid differently because of their race or gender, but that part was never part of my purview.
Paul chided the Corinthians about their tight-fisted-ness. Based on previous verses, it is likely that people are maligning Paul either because he doesn’t take payment or because others were getting paid. As a bi-vocational pastor, I have been told I was (and have been treated as) not a “real” pastor because I wasn’t paid. I was also told that a “real” pastor wouldn’t be working a second job (even though that’s the one feeding my family).
To protect the innocent, I will say there once was a church with a pastor and his family (and this isn’t about me). They paid their pastor so poorly (and the church was in a wealthy community) that their pastor was on food stamps. In outrage, one of the board members successfully pushed a pay increase, putting the pastor over the food stamp eligibility. The only problem is that because of that, the pastor and his family went into a higher tax bracket, and he made less. The family was worse off. The board was fine with it, as the optics of their pastor on food stamps was removed.
These differences in the treatment of pastors (my experience and the innocent pastor) give me a good reason to look at Paul. This weird dichotomy of it’s bad that Paul isn’t paid to it’s bad these leaders are paid makes a person’s head hurt.
Paul’s biblically grounded response of, “Yes, I have earned the right to be paid; you have the obligation to pay me,” and then saying, “but I choose not to be paid so that I am not a burden to you,” is amazing. His defense of his fellow leaders, who were getting paid, displays a lack of jealousy or a sense of being where he belongs.
The whole situation might seem strange. However, as we look at our own society and culture, we can recognize similarities. “You get what you pay for,” would put Paul in question as he was “free”. “I can get a better orator or cheaper speaker here,” would put the other leaders’ wages in question. If we’re honest with ourselves, many businesses (we should that churches wouldn’t do this) can look at an employee and see which one costs more. If they have a family, they will naturally require a higher wage. A young unmarried person has nothing to tie them down (they might work more), so they can accept a lower wage.
We say that people are equal, but we often don’t treat them that way. Wages should not define a person, but we often treat them as the test of their worthiness. God forgive us.