I was recently reading a bit from an old David Wilkerson book, I’m Not Mad at God. Wilkerson is famous for his ministry in New York city which is immortalised in The Cross and the Switchblade book and movie.
David R. Wilkerson, I’m Not Mad at God. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1967. 0800780884.
His first chapter in I’m Not Mad at God deals with 1 Cor 9:9, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.” This is a very important verse to him as he makes clear: “The secret of success for every Christian worker is found hidden in this verse. I consider this one of the most important truths the Holy Spirit has opened to me in all my ministry. It revolutionized my life and ministry, and I will never be the same as a result” (11). Wow! That’s some serious language! What is so revolutionary about this verse?
He begins by explaining that “Paraphrased, this verse reads: ‘Thou shalt not bind the mouth of the worker who labors in the harvest.'” He then goes on to explain that this is more than a reminder that God cares for oxen. So far I’ll go along with that. From there he leaps tall buildings to arrive at the idea that “it is so very clear that the Holy Spirit seeks, through the word of wisdom, to lead Christian workers into a state of mind free from all bondage, full of faith and hope” (12). Okay, so where do we go from here? To the end result that, “Nothing is more tragic in my mind than to see a Christian worker who once had God’s hand on his life–to stumble around in fear and indecision because he allowed himself to become muzzled…. It is only a shortsighted view of this truth that suggests Paul is referring to better pay for those who live off the gospel. It is that, but so much more. It is in spiritual things we find the muzzle so devastating” (13). The implication of this, when taken in conjunction with Matthew 25, is that “if Bible statistics hold true, about one-third of God’s servants will stand before the judgment bound and gagged–with no fruit” (15).
Isn’t God saddened that something written so plainly by Paul regarding his personal situation and the opposition he faced has been spiritualised into being muzzled from producing fruit for the kingdom of God? There’s nothing heretical in what Wilkerson is suggesting but do we really need to go there from this verse? This book was published in 1967 but it sounds more like a postmodern reader’s commentary than a exegetically derived application of the text. Am I the only one who has a problem with seeing this as being what “I consider [to be] one of the most important truths the Holy Spirit has opened to me in all my ministry.”?
I have no problem with Holy Spirit informing a person about a problem in their lives using any scripture at all but when we make our interpretation normative for that text I have concerns. 1 Cor 9:11 seems to prevent Wilkerson’s interpretation: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” Paul’s conclusion must shape our conclusion if we are to be true to Scripture. He concludes this section with the statement, “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not misuse my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” Paul certainly won’t be muzzled in preaching the gospel – it is what he lives for! Even if he is a muzzled ox, not receiving any food and other material benefits from them, he will continue to preach the gospel because that in itself is his reward.