Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:14
Q: What does he mean here?
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Paul was probably referring to the words of the Lord Jesus found in Matthew 10:9-10 and Luke 10:7. “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7).
This was not man’s idea. The Lord is the one who instituted the practice of ministers having their needs met by those to whom they minister. The Lord could have arranged for ministers’ needs to be met some other way, but there are reasons for doing it this way. One of the most important reasons is that this way, those who support the Gospel get to partake of all the rewards that come to the minister (1 Samuel 30:24-25).
They become partners (Romans 10:14-15). Paul told the Philippians that he desired a gift from them because he wanted them to have “fruit that may abound to [their] account” (Philippians 4:17, brackets mine). Therefore, the people receiving ministry would miss a huge blessing if the Lord supplied ministers’ needs some other way.
You go on to comment, "I’m confused does Paul mean “if you preach the gospel you should get paid for it”? Or “If you preach the gospel you should live within intense study of the gospel”? Or “If you preach the gospel, you should show by example from the gospel via your life & conduct”?"
Nowhere in the new testament do we read of any exhortation that other members of the congregation must give preachers and teachers like Paul a living wage. On the contrary, Paul supported his personal financial needs by part-time tent-making:
"And because [Paul] was of the same craft [as Aquila and Priscilla], he abode with them, and worked; for by their occupation they were tentmakers." (Acts 18:1-3)
Such manual work was fitted in to Paul's preaching and teaching while at Corinth.
Although Paul said in that first letter to the Corinthians that they could rightly expect the congregation to cover their financial needs, they would not impose that on the congregations they visited, even when staying for many months, or even years. They were given a roof over their heads, voluntarily, by some in the congregations who could share their home, as on Paul's first visit. Aquila and Priscilla had Paul stay with them while they shared in tentmaking. They likely also received meals, hinted at by Paul's statements, verses 4-13. Here are some pertinent extracts:
"Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?... It is written in the law of Moses, 'Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn'... If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?... Nevertheless we have not used this power... Do ye not know that they which minister about the holy things live of the things of the temple?..."
Then comes the verse you quote. Context shows that although Paul had the right to expect material [carnal] support from the congregation for the spiritual work he and Barnabas were doing to help them spiritually, he would not demand that right.
So, does Paul mean “if you preach the gospel you should get paid for it”? You should get all necessary support you need from the congregation to preach the gospel, is what Paul is saying, yet he also worked part-time himself rather than be a burden on the congregation or to give others any chance of disparaging the gospel due to financial matters.
So, does Paul mean “If you preach the gospel you should live within intense study of the gospel”? No, that's not what he's referring to in that text, although without dispute it's true that all ministers of the gospel should intensely study the gospel of Christ so as to be able to preach it fully, in all its depth and intensity. A preacher who is not able to unpack the significance of the gospel of Christ to a congregation should not be allowed to preach or teach. It is a sacred task and calling, not a career.
So, does Paul mean “If you preach the gospel, you should show by example from the gospel via your life & conduct”?" Yes, he does allude to that in verses 4 to 13 though he would rather not receive all his rights as an apostle rather than risk stumbling anyone, and the rest of his epistles are full of exhortations for all Christians to live out the gospel in their lives, and by their conduct, which should harmonise perfectly with all that they speak about the gospel.
“Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?”
This fact was being used against Paul to support the claim that he was not an apostle. Since it was generally acknowledged that the apostles had the right to receive their support and upkeep from the Church, it was argued that since Paul did not do this at Corinth, he could not have been an apostle. What is more, the argument was that Paul knew he was not an apostle and knew he had no right to be supported and this was why he did not exorcise this right. Therefore, he must not be an apostle.
So, Paul is here demonstrating the absurdity of their argument. Their argument posed a double standard upon Paul and Barnabas as the word “only” implies. This seems to indicate that all the other apostles exorcised their rights to be fully supported by the Church. The point that had been missed by Paul's accusers was that the apostles also had the right to deny themselves the right of full support just as Paul had. All the apostles had the right to work and support themselves if they deemed it prudent, as did Paul.
Paul appeals to six examples to demonstrate the common logic of their right in this matter. These are all examples that everyone could easily understand and would not consider arguing against.
“Whoever goes to war at his own expense?”
As Bennson points out, the community was to furnish provisions for those who guard it and fight its battles. No one expects a soldier to pay for his own weapons or things necessary to engage the enemy. If the soldier who is engaged in the defense of his country deserves to be maintained by those whom he serves, how much more should it be expected by those who serve for the sake of the gospel? These have put their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel and should have the right to expect to have their needs met by the Church.
“Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?
Who could possibly deny the right of the planter to enjoy the produce of the vineyard?
“Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man?”
The word here for 'tend' is ποιμαίνει which includes guarding, guiding, and keeping the flock. Who could possibly deny the right of the shepherd to be supported by the fruits of his flock – wool, milk, meat?
I think Barnes illustrates the point very well saying,
“A shepherd spends his days and nights in guarding his folds. He leads his flock to green pastures, he conducts them to still waters (compare Psalm 23:2); he defends them from enemies; he guards the young, the sick, the feeble, etc. He spends his time in protecting it and providing for it. He expects support, when in the wilderness or in the pastures, mainly from the milk which the flock should furnish. He labors for their comfort; and it is proper that he should derive a maintenance from them, and he has a right to it.
So, [also], the minister of the gospel watches for the good of souls. He devotes his time, strength, learning, [and] talents, to their welfare. He instructs, guides, directs, defends; he endeavors to guard them against their spiritual enemies, and to lead them in the path of comfort and peace. He lives to instruct the ignorant; to warn and secure those who are in danger; to guide the perplexed; to reclaim the wandering; to comfort the afflicted; to bind up the broken in heart; to attend the sick; to be an example and an instructor to the young; and to be a counselor and a pattern to all. As he labors for their good, it is no more than equal and right that they should minister to his temporal needs and compensate him for his efforts to promote their happiness and salvation. And can anyone say that this is not right and just?” These all express the natural rights that belong to the ones who serve these functions and by simple common-sense logic, no one who has any sense could deny these rights to such a servant.”
“Or 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. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?”
“The plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.”
The Law of Moses established the principle by which these rights were confirmed in two examples.
“Or does not the law say the same also? For 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?
“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
Please notice: These were the Lord's provision for both the oxen and the priests, and neither the thresher nor the worshiper had the right to deny the Lord's provision to either the oxen or to the priest. By the same token, the Church does not have the right to deny provision to the one who serves them for the sake of the gospel.
This then is a divinely established principle that obligates the Church to provide for the upkeep of those who serve under both covenants.
“Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”