Chapter 9

 

In the previous chapter, Paul told the Corinthians to forgo their "rights" and serve others in love. In this chapter, he shows that he is not a hypocrite - for a long time he has been practicing what he preaches, selflessly giving himself without claiming his rights as an apostle. It may be that some in Corinth cast doubt on Paul's apostolic authority. These hero worshippers looked down on Paul, for he did not fit into their idea of a "great man", as did some they admired. Not only is measuring one servant of Christ against another wrong, but so was putting Paul down at all. This chapter begins with a defense of Paul's apostolic ministry.

 

Paul Defends his Rights as an Apostle 

 

1. Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

 

Paul challenges the church to repudiate his claim to be an apostle, asserting that he had seen (in person, not in a vision) the risen Lord Jesus Christ, just as the original twelve apostles had done (Acts 22:14 ; 1 Cor. 15:8). Paul was "free" in that he was not the servant of any man, but of Christ Himself. Even those who wished to cast doubt on Paul's apostleship could not argue with the fact that the church at Corinth began as a result of his ministry.

 

2. If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you, for you are the confirming sign of my apostleship in the Lord.

 

Even if Paul were not regarded as an apostle by anyone else, he ought to be by the Corinthians, for he had led them to Christ. Their conversion was the seal of God's ownership and approval on Paul's ministry. In those days, a seal was put on letters to signify that they were genuine. The genuineness of Paul's ministry was apparent in the redeemed lives of his converts.

 

3. This is my defense to those who examine me.

 

Paul's opponents at Corinth were making certain accusations against him, and so Paul clears himself of their slander by answering their charges.  We all ought to be careful of slandering those in leadership (Heb. 13:17). Remember what happened to Miriam when she tried to make herself equal to Moses (Num. 12:1-10), and to Korah when he criticized Moses (Num. 16:1-3 ; Num.16:32-33).

 

4. Do we not have the right to financial support?

 

Can anyone, asks Paul, dispute the fact that he and Barnabus had the right to receive their maintenance (food, drink and lodgings) at the church's expense? It was well known practice in the early church, which Paul goes on to defend, that churches should financially support their ministers in return for their labour.

 

5. Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?

 

If the minister was married and responsible before God to provide for his wife, then the church would be obliged to provide financially for the needs of both, as well as for their children. Whilst this did not apply to the single Paul, it did apply to Peter, the other apostles and the Lord's brothers (Mary and Joseph's children) all of whom were married. Paul's point is that if he were married, it would not only be his right to expect financial help for himself, but also for his wife.

 

6. Or do only Barnabas and I lack the right not to work?

 

Although the church at Corinth supported other missionaries, such as Peter, they did not support Paul. They gave money so that others might devote themselves to the work of the gospel, but they were not prepared to pay their own pastor. That is why Paul asks "is it only I and Barnabus who must continue to work for our living?" It is not clear whether some in the church did not consider Paul worthy of their financial assistance, or whether they took his willingness to work for a living for granted. But possibly it was the case that their familiarity with Paul had bred contempt.Paul insists that he had more right to their financial support than any one else, but also points out that he has voluntarily refused it. He does not excuse the church for not being willing to give it. They were at fault, being so caught up with their "spiritual heroes" that they had no appreciation for Paul and what he had done for them.

 

7. Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Who tends a flock and does not consume its milk?

 

The minister's right to receive his living from the church is asserted by three illustrations. A soldier does not pay his own expenses to fight a war, that is the responsibility of his king or country. So the soldiers of Christ, who wield the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) should not concern themselves with their own keep; it is the responsibility of the Church.  Any man who plants a vineyard expects to eat its fruit. So the minister who tends the Lord's vineyard may expect a material reward for doing so. Would any shepherd feed a flock without himself feeding from the produce of that flock? The principle is a simple one. All those who work do so in the hope of receiving their wages; and when work is done, a wage is due, whether that wage is produced by nature or by trade. Christ does not call his ministers to serve for nothing.

 

8. Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well?

 

This principle was not laid down by Paul, for it is found in the law of God

 

9,10. For it is written in the law of Moses, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest.

 

Moses wrote "you must not muzzle the ox which treads out the grain" (Deut. 25:4). As the animal trampled the corn, thus shaking the grain loose from the husks, he was to be allowed to eat as much of the grain as he wanted from time to time, and was not to be prevented. Of course, God does take care for oxen, and all his creatures, but the principle was laid down for the benefit of God's servants. If it is not right to muzzle an ox, then it can't be right to muzzle a pastor!

 

11. If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you?

 

Since Paul and Barnabus had laboured among the Corinthians in a spiritual capacity, leading them to Christ and instructing them in the faith, was it such a great matter if in the church should in return give them enough to live on? Men pay their doctor and their accountant, and through taxes they pay the wage of the police and school teachers. The work of the pastor is infinitely more important than any of these.

 

Paul has not Fully Used his Rights.

 

12. If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving?But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

 

If the Corinthians paid others for their ministry, what about the one who founded and cared for the church? When it came to financial gifts, Paul should have been the first considered - but he never was. Yet Paul remained determined not to receive financial support from the churches, but to work for his living as he preached and taught among them. From time to time, especially when in prison,  Paul did accept gifts from some churches (especially Phillipi) when given in genuine love and concern. But he did not receive his living form any church - he worked for it.He did this to deprive anyone of grounds for accusing him of preaching only for money, an accusation which, if it could be demonstrated, would have hindered the spread of the gospel.Paul would rather "put up with anything" than hinder the gospel. These words imply that the Corinthians should have provided for Paul - which they did not. It was not the money, but the willingness to act in the right way that Paul looked for; this would have reflected a genuine love and concern for the apostle, which are Christian virtues (and this is the fruit spoken of in Phil. 4:15-17).

 

13. Don't you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings?

 

The ministers in the temple at Jerusalem lived off the sacrifices and the offerings which were made to God by the people (Num. 18:26-32 ; Deut. 14:28-29). These tithes were collected, in accordance with God's will, for the maintenance of the priests, so that they could continually serve Him. Otherwise, they would be forced to leave the priesthood and the worship of God in order to find enough to eat, as happened in the days of Nehemiah (Neh.13:10-12).

 

14. In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel.

 

In the same way, under the New Covenant, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should make their living from doing so (Luke 10:7).

 

15. But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing these things so that something will be done for me. In fact, it would be better for me to die than -- no one will deprive me of my reason for boasting!

 

Paul knew his rights, and has explained them, but he has used none of them. Nor did he write these things so that the Corinthians would begin to pay him. He would rather die than be deprived of his boast that he did not preach the gospel for reward. As he had told the Corinthians not to stand on their rights, he shows them that he has not stood on his.

 

Rewards for Willing Service.

 

16. For if I preach the gospel, I have no reason for boasting, because I am compelled to do this. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

 

Paul could not boast about preaching the gospel. Such was the revelation and the clear command from Christ for him to preach, and such was the divine anointing that enabled him to fulfill that command, that he had nothing to boast of. To preach the gospel was a responsibility laid on him by the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 12:48). Every believer has a similar responsibility. Those who know the grace of God which has brought us salvation through Jesus Christ have a debt to pay. We must let others know of this wonderful free salvation that we have received and which is available for them. Such was the awful responsibility laid on Paul that he shudders to think what would be the consequences of not doing so. Paul did not teach salvation by works, but he recognized the principle of responsibility. If the Lord has given us a work then we will answer to Him for how well we do it. Paul realized that Christ gave a dreadful warning against our being unfaithful servants (Luke 12:45-48).

 

17. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward. But if I do it unwillingly, I am entrusted with a responsibility.

 

A willing spirit brings reward. The Lord will have no half hearted officers in His army - it's all or nothing with Him. Such was the revelation and call given to Paul that even if he were unwilling to preach the gospel, he was still required to do so, and to fulfill the stewardship God had given him.

 

When we are entrusted with a task by Christ, we can get on with that it cheerfully and willingly and so receive a reward. But if we grumble and are unwilling, we will have no reward, but the Lord will not excuse us from our responsibility in completing the task. The Lord never trusts a man with anything else until he has done what God requires of him (Luke 16:10). It is not for us to direct our lives, but for God to tell us what to do, and for us to do it willingly (Ecc. 9:10).

 

18.  What then is my reward? That when I preach the gospel I may offer the gospel free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights in the gospel.

 

Morris says "Paul had to preach, but he did not have to preach without charge." This was his boast and his basis for expecting a reward. He did so out of love for Jesus. Although he had the right to make his living of it, he refused to use these rights to the full.

 

Reaching Out to All Men for Christ.

 

19. For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people.

 

Paul brings out the full extent to which he had abandoned his own rights in the interests of the gospel. Despite his status as a free man (as a Roman citizen he could not be a slave), he voluntarily became a "slave" to all so that he might win more people for Christ. The Living Bible makes the point that since no man paid Paul a salary, he could not be accused of being governed by any man.

 

20. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law.

 

Paul did not needlessly antagonize his own countrymen. He respected Jewish scruples. Whilst he did not consider himself bound by the law of Moses, and recognized the Jewish rituals to be of no value, yet as Morris says "he conformed to practices which would enable him to approach them that are under the law with greater acceptability." He did not make waves unnecessarily. In this sense, true Christianity is neither radical nor revolutionary.

 

21. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God's law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law.

 

Among the Gentiles, Paul did not behave as a Jew. He met the Gentiles on their own ground. By saying he was "without law", he does not mean that he was under no moral restraint, but that he lived without keeping the rituals of Jewish law. He goes on to clarify that at all times he remained under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and sought to please Him. But as far as this allowed, he conformed to the lifestyle of the Gentiles in order to win them.

 

22. To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.

 

We have already seen in our studies that Paul was concerned for the weak. He respected their scruples and if necessary conformed his behavior to theirs. By saying "I am made all things to all men" he does not mean that his conduct was unprincipled. On matters of principle Paul would be stubborn in the face of strong opposition. Yet if no principle were at stake, Paul was willing to go to extreme lengths to meet people where they were. His one aim was by all means to save some. I know a minister who had no interest in sport, who regularly read the sports page in the newspaper; for he knew that other men would be interested in last night's results, and would begin to discuss them on the way to work. Being able to discuss the sport often gave him an opportunity to turn a conversation to more spiritual matters, to good effect. Whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.  1 Cor. 9:22 (Livin

 

23. I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.

 

The gospel was of first importance in Paul's life, and the gospel itself is what motivated Paul to share the gospel with others. Self Discipline Required in those who Win the Prize.

 

24. Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win.

 

Athletic contests were common in first century Greece. Paul uses imagery from these contests to illustrate the need of self discipline in the believer's life. There is only one winner in a foot race. That is why all the runners put out so much effort, trying to win. The Christian should imitate this effort by "straining every nerve" to produce his finest work for the Lord.

 

25. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

 

No half hearted effort is enough to win in the Olympics; an agony of effort is expended. Every competitor goes into strict training, all year round, comprising a great deal of self discipline. Their aim is to be successful in the games and win the laurel or pine wreath - today's gold medal. They do all that in order to win a medal which shall not last, but Christians aim for a crown that will never pass away. So we should spend every effort in Christ's service. Morris says "the strenuous self denial of the athlete is a rebuke to all half hearted Christian service." The athlete denies himself things which would otherwise be perfectly OK for him to have, so that he may win the prize. The Christian must not only avoid deliberate sin, but reject anything which hinders his effectiveness in the gospel of Christ, or his walk with the Lord (Heb. 12:1).

 

26. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air.

 

Still using the illustration of the Olympics, Paul says that he is not like a runner who does not know where the finishing line is, or a boxer who wastes his punches. Paul has a definite aim in life, to put everything into his service for Christ.

 

Keep Your Testimony.

 

27. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

 

Paul describes how he disciplines himself and his natural desires. He does not allow himself to be led by them, nor does he give in to them. He beats them under (a verb from boxing), for he has his eyes on winning the prize from Jesus. Paul does not want to be disqualified from receiving his reward. Paul was not afraid of losing his salvation, but of ruining his testimony and spoil his chances of reward. This was why his self discipline was severe. It needs to be, for in one way or another (e.g. sexual sin, lust for money, or dishonesty) many have lost their testimony. They have ruined their effectiveness for Christ, and so disqualify themselves from a reward for their labours. If we want to stay effective in our witness for Christ, we must keep our testimony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 9 Bible study

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