Paul Surrenders His Rights
9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9 Commentary
by Hank Workman
You peel back more of the underlying issues of the Corinthian Believers and Paul’s defense here and realize he had his hands full. The letter hits issue after issue. Here, two more things are evident of which he addresses. They had marginalized Paul as some in the congregation were questioning his apostleship. In the early church being apostle meant you had seen Jesus. He had on the road to Damascus and yet this church had allowed seeds of doubt and division to crop into their thinking.
This, in turn, brought about their next behavior, which by all rights is atrocious. They were not supporting him financially. Expected from ancient times and God’s command in the Mosaic Law, people were to support the priests for what they did. Evidently, they were not doing this. Paul lays out clearly his mission despite their behavior but also must have felt as though he was on trial. The jury had already condemned him – which was the Corinthian Believers!
It’s crazy. And simply this aspect opens the chapter up to what all he is saying here.
Paul makes it clear regardless of this sinful behavior of the people benefiting from his leadership, that with or without pay or support, he would continue to preach and lead others. Money was not a motive for him. And yet he and Barnabas went without even some of the basics because they refused to give. It’s hard to imagine.
I used to serve under a pastor who said, “If God can get a hold of a man’s wallet, He has their heart.” There is such truth to this statement. People grasp so tightly to their money, refusing to give even a few bucks to the church; but expect and almost demand that the church and the pastor meet their needs. The church in Corinth benefited greatly from Paul and his teachings and yet refused to support him. In such black and white terms, it looks ridiculous, right? But this is going on today.
I’ve always said people’s giving of tithes and offerings is a heart issue. It always has been, always will be. But there is no doubt this affects the ability for ministry and reveals a heart issue that must sadden the heart of God.
There’s an old 1930’s movie called, “You Can’t Take It With You” of which was one of Jimmy Stewart’s first films. This screaming hilarious movie stands the test of time but has a deeper more penetrating point. When we die all we have is left behind. Everything we’ve lived for, invested in and so forth tangibly doesn’t go with us. If we can’t take it with us, we should live life in making a difference not clinging to something that will be burned up.
The burden this non-supporting church put Paul under is downright terrible. And yet what’s so admirable of Paul is with or without the support of the church; despite their questioning behavior and marginalization of him; regardless of the fact he had invested spiritual Kingdom matters – these things would never alter his calling or mission. The preaching of the gospel would not be hindered.
Digging into the issues of the church of Corinth (and there are plenty!) you come to realize how spiritually bankrupt these Believers were. The culture of Sin City had infiltrated the church on every perceivable level. Paul’s mission was to continue challenging and living before them in hopes they would recognize their sin and return to their first love of Jesus, even if it cost him everything.
1 Corinthians 9 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Paul was a man with his priorities straight. He was a man who had given up all his rights for the sake of Jesus. His life’s mission was to preach the Gospel and lead others to Jesus.
Paul made it clear that he was not in it for the money, as some are today. He didn’t parade around the name of Jesus in order to become wealthy and comfortable.
In the same way, the Lord has ordered that those who preach the gospel should get their living from it. 15 But I haven’t made use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this now in order to claim such rights for myself. I would rather die first! Nobody is going to turn my rightful boast into empty words!1 Corinthians 9:14-15 GNB
Paul also didn’t preach the Gospel out of selfish ambition. In fact, he was doing just the opposite before Christ called him. In this way, it was clear that his calling was from no one other than the Lord. It was not something he chose, but something God had prepared for him.
If I did my work as a matter of free choice, then I could expect to be paid; but I do it as a matter of duty, because God has entrusted me with this task.1 Corinthians 9:17 GNB
Finally, Paul illustrated his sacrifice. He was willing to become all things to all men. This doesn’t mean he sacrificed the Gospel; it means he sacrificed himself. He put his own desires second to the success of winning souls. He was careful not to allow his own behavior to be a stumbling block to others. By doing this, his obedience was more sincere than maintaining the Jewish customs he was raised with because he was following Jesus’ command to preach the Good News!
I am a free man, nobody’s slave; but I make myself everybody’s slave in order to win as many people as possible. 20 While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them.1 Corinthians 9:19-20 GNB
“Paul’s one aim was to gain men. He uses the words repeatedly. To gain one more for his Lord, he would forego comfort, emolument, and well-earned repose. He would allow no competitor for an earthly prize to supersede himself in his sacrifices for this crown of rejoicing. He points to the denials, the hard training, and the severe discipline to which men who took part in the games subjected themselves. No one thought it strange that they should sacrifice so much for the chance of winning; why, then, should he be counted eccentric, who sought the certain reward of gaining new lovers of his Master’s cross?”F.B. Meyer