1 Corinthians 9
1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
2If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3My defense to those who examine me is this:
4Do we not have a right to eat and drink?
5Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
6Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?
Paul defends his freedom in Christ and his rights as an apostle, though he does not choose to use them (v. 12). He is an apostle because he had seen the risen Christ firsthand and had been commissioned by God to build the church and take the gospel to the Gentiles. Thus, as a minister of the gospel, he deserved to be financially supported. He had a right to have the means to eat and drink, to take a wife who would also be supported (as Peter and the other apostles did), and to refrain from working because his work was as a missionary and steward of the gospel. The Corinthians should know firsthand that Paul was an apostle because he went to them with the gospel before any others. In that sense, their conversion proves his commissioning and apostleship. Thus, of all people, they should understand that he would have some God-given rights as a minister of the gospel, namely to be financially supported.
7Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?
8I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?
9For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING " God is not concerned about oxen, is He?
10Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.
11If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
12If 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.
Soldiers get reimbursed for their service. They are fed, they have a place to sleep, and often times they are reimbursed financially so that their families can be supported back home. Those who plant a vineyard eat some of its produce as their reward for their labor. Those who tend a flock take of some of the milk for themselves. Even the secular world understands the idea of retribution for services rendered, and it is true that even the Law implies that those who work should be paid for their labor. God doesn’t want the apostles or any who serve Him as a full-time occupation to be “muzzled” by undue financial burden such that they are unable to do the ministry to which they have been called. It is very difficult to support oneself and do ministry full-time, and God doesn’t expect this of His servants. As an apostle, Paul had the right to hope for financial help from those for whom he labored for the sake of the gospel. He sowed spiritual things and had the right before God to reap financially or materially from them in order to have the basic needs of life met. It is possible that the Corinthians were supporting some of the leading brothers at their fellowship, and if so, certainly they should understand Paul’s right to be supported, given that he first took the gospel to them and continues to pray for them and serve them. Yet he explains that he has never used this right to take financial support from the Corinthians lest it become a hindrance to his ministry (he did take support from at least some other churches- Philippians 4:15-16). He didn’t want the Corinthians to say that Paul preached for the financial gain it brought him. Paul wanted no one to be able to bring a charge against him, albeit false, that he was doing what he was doing because of money. Thus he endured all things, working as a tentmaker in addition to doing ministry, so that none could give a credible accusation against him of exploiting his right in the gospel.
13Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?
14So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
15But I have used none of these things And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.
Those who performed the temple services in the Old Testament were supported by taking a portion of the sacrifices given. If the people stopped giving to the Lord, those in the service of the Lord suffered. Thus, in the New Testament, the Lord desires that those who proclaim the gospel get their living from the gospel. They should not have to labor in the gospel and still have to try to do something else to provide for themselves and their family. To have to do this is a great burden, and it detracts from the quality and quantity of ministry that a servant of God is able to do. A pastor should not feel guilty for taking of the tithes and offerings for himself or his family, but he should not take more than needed in addition to making sure that those in his care are getting their needs met first. Paul, however, decided not to take money, and this was his choice before God. It didn’t make him extra-righteous, but it merely served to keep him from being falsely judged. He explains that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to start giving him money, for that is not why he writes what he is writing. His purpose is simply so that his life does not bring a hindrance to the gospel of Christ (v. 12), and for him to start taking money now would be to undo something he has worked hard to accomplish. The Lord had enabled him to live this way, and there was no reason to change things now.
16For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.
17For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.
18What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Paul does not pat himself on the back for preaching the gospel because he is simply doing what is required of him and what God has called him to do. He does not gloat in his service for Christ as if he is doing something above and beyond the call, but he recognizes that as a believer, this is who he is and what he is expected to do. He knows that if he did not preach the gospel, he would be judged by God accordingly. Thus, there is a sense in which he was compelled to preach the gospel, and the same goes for us. Yet Paul is not saying that he preaches against his will, though if it came to it, he probably would. Paul preaches voluntarily, and a willing heart which is dedicated to serving God brings eternal rewards. To do it because he has to but not because he wants to would merely be a discharge of a stewardship. But to do it because he loves the Lord is worthy of a reward. Motives matter in kingdom service. Paul’s reward was not any money he would get from preaching the gospel. His reward was to be able to simply have the chance to preach the gospel and to do it free of charge. For him, being a preacher was a privilege and an honor, and he enjoyed the fact that he did not need to take up an offering for his service. This was a privilege Paul had, but it is not required of all ministers.
19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Paul takes no financial help not because he doesn’t have a right to it but because he doesn’t want to come across by those who might falsely judge him as having secondary motives or a hidden agenda of making money. He has chosen to be a slave to all people, even though he is free. In other words, he sacrifices some of his rights so that he can go above and beyond the call of duty to bring the gospel to those whom he loves. He doesn’t want to lose any potential converts simply because they see him take up an offering. Such he would be free to do, but he chooses rather to put the interests of the listeners ahead of his own. When he preached to the Jews, he acted as if he was under the Law, though he wasn’t under it. He didn’t have to keep the feasts or wear the garb and so on, but he would have done all that he could to not make an issue out of things that weren’t the primary issue. Surely, he wasn’t afraid to speak of the limitations of the Law and of Christ Who had fulfilled the Law. That is why the Jews tried to kill him on so many occasions. His message wasn’t easily received, but his lifestyle certainly wasn’t to blame for his rejection and persecution. He didn’t attack the Jews for being Jews, but he made the issue that of their rejecting the Messiah. To the Gentiles who didn’t have the Law, Paul didn’t try to force the Law upon them before he gave them the gospel. He still believed in the Law of God, and he practiced the law of Christ, loving God and others. Yet his purpose was to share the gospel and not get distracted by trying to change the Gentiles into Jews, for such was not the mission of the gospel. The issue was the state of the heart of the Gentiles, and they needed to come to know Christ first and foremost, not to become scholars of Old Testament Law. Never is Paul saying that he lived lawlessly or disobediently in order to better relate to the pagans. He never changed his theology or compromised his morals. His point is merely that he limited his freedom so that nothing he did became a hindrance to his reasoning for preaching, which was to win more as the gospel went forth. He became all things to all people to try to win some, and he did this for the sake of the gospel. Sin, Christ, and repentance unto salvation were the issues at hand for Paul, not other secondary cultural issues that could be reformed later if necessary or left alone if morally neutral anyway. Paul preached because he wanted to be part of God’s will at work in the world in bringing people to Himself. His fervency in preaching the gospel was also further evidence of his apostleship and having been changed by Christ.
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Paul was driven and passionate to see as many people saved as possible which requires him to preach the gospel boldly and to as many people as God gives him opportunity. Whether in jail, before a civil leader, in a synagogue, or on the streets, he preached because he ran the race of life in Christ to win. This is not to say that those who don’t preach as faithfully lose, but the point is that we are all to run as if we want to win. That is, we are to do all that we can according to our gifting and according to the opportunities God gives us to advance the kingdom. We will be held accountable for how we use what God entrusts to us, whether health, time, energy, money, opportunity, gifts, influence, etc. The Greeks held the Olympic games and the Isthmian games. The Isthmian games were held in Corinth, so this was a ready analogy for the spiritual life which the believers there would have understood. Those who train for such events have incredible willpower and self-control. Their discipline and training is very rigid, and this is what is required in order to compete and win at the highest level. The spiritual parallel is that we must be diligent and disciplined in our walk with Christ in order to win rewards in heaven. The athletes ran in order to receive a perishable wreath, whereas we run for the sake of the gospel for eternal rewards that never rust or die. Paul doesn’t live his life half-heartedly or carelessly but purposefully and with a clear aim. He is not like a runner confused as to where the finish line is or a boxer who throws punches that never land. He wants his punches to land, and he wants to be the first across the finish line. In order to do this, he disciplines his body (which is still vulnerable because of the sinful flesh) such that it is made subservient to the will of God. Paul is not speaking of some kind of self-abasement but of one who learns to present his members as members of righteousness (Romans 6:13, 19) as he walks by faith and lets God take control of his will and desires. He is not going to let his bodily impulses lead him into temptation, but he takes thoughts captive unto obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was tempted like we all are and certainly wasn’t without error, yet he steadfastly served Christ and lived victoriously because of the prize to come (Philippians 3:13-14). The last thing Paul wanted to do was to preach the gospel of confessing and repenting from sin (1 Corinthians 15:34) and then to sin himself. To live a double-life is to disqualify oneself from ministry because it renders one untrustworthy and hypocritical. Thus, Paul strove to live out what he preached so that he would not be disqualified from laboring for Christ and storing up eternal rewards. If we keep our eyes on the prize, we are much more likely to stay disciplined and not get disqualified by giving into temptation. But we must keep fighting and living by faith. We must also train ourselves in the Word so that we are adequate and equipped for every good (2 Timothy 3:16-17) work which God will give us opportunity to do (Ephesians 2:10).