1 Corinthians Chapter 9: Paul’s Apostleship and ExampleFeb 13th, 2010 | By admin | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)
1 Corinthians Chapter 9: Paul’s Apostleship and Example
1 Cor. 9:1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
Verse 1 is not an abrupt change of subject but a continuation of the same subject, as shown by 1 Corinthians 10:23-26, which talks about conscience and the eating of meat offered to idols from another standpoint. Therefore, chapter 9 is a parenthetical thought of the principle of not using our liberties indiscriminately. Paul was momentarily digressing on the importance of considering the conscience of others. Our liberties must be curbed at times if we would become members of the Little Flock.
Why did Paul ask, “Am I not an apostle? am I not [a] free [man]?” An apostle is “one sent forth,” that is, a special teacher. God gave Paul a commission, which he voluntarily accepted, to go all over the world preaching the gospel. In one sense, he went as a free man with certain liberties, but in another sense, he became a bondservant of Jesus Christ, forsaking his liberty to serve as an apostle. He voluntarily accepted this restriction. Verse 1 serves as a preface to Paul’s coming remarks on the principle of self-denial, which he practiced in various directions.
“Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” Paul asked these questions because some of the brethren were questioning his apostleship. Therefore, he had to remind them of his close affiliation with Jesus. In other words, “Doesn’t common sense tell you that I am an apostle?
Don’t you observe that I am going out of my way to travel to different places, risking my reputation and being rebuffed?” In weighing Paul’s ministry, they should have observed his deeds. He was a worker, and he had seen Jesus. Earlier he said, “Though you have many teachers in this ecclesia, yet you have only one father” (1 Cor. 4:15 paraphrase). Since many of the Corinthians were putting themselves on a par with him, or even above him, he had to remind them in different ways that they were not on his level.
Q: Were some of the Corinthians questioning Paul’s apostleship because he had not seen Jesus during his earthly ministry? Although Paul was not one of the original 12 apostles, he was specially chosen later, and he saw the risen and glorified Lord Jesus.
A: Yes. He also defended himself by saying, “I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5). Those who criticized Paul felt that a prerequisite for being an apostle was seeing and communicating with Jesus. However, Paul not only saw Jesus but saw him in a way no one else did—as one born before the due time (1 Cor. 15:8). Paul was on his way to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him. Although Paul was blinded by the experience, Jesus said Paul would be his representative to both Jews and Gentiles.
“Are not ye my work[manship] in the Lord?” (see the RSV). Since Paul had established the class in Corinth, the ecclesia was his “workmanship in the Lord.” Many well-known individuals in positions of authority had sacrificed their reputations to listen to Paul, consecrate, and accompany him on his journey, thus helping him in his ministry. Now Paul was reminding the brethren that he had been a “father” to them, a life-giver, as it were—that he was “one sent forth” to represent the Father and Jesus and to bring the gospel to them.
1 Cor. 9:2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
The Corinthians were the “seal” of Paul’s apostleship, the evidence that the Lord was dealing with him. Paul was responsible for the miraculous accomplishment of starting the first class of Christian believers in Corinth. Clearly, the Lord had used Paul as his minister to plant the seed there, and the seed produced results when they responded wholeheartedly.
1 Cor. 9:3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
“This is my defense to those who would examine me” (RSV). The Corinthians were examining the Apostle Paul. By questioning whether he really was an apostle, having apostolic authority, they were trying to lower Paul to their level and elevate themselves. How clever! (We are reminded of how Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses’ authority, trying to bring him down.) Paul would now elaborate and use logic.
1 Cor. 9:4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
Why did Paul ask this question? His personal sacrifice and behavior were another evidence of his faithfulness and apostleship. He curbed his personal liberties, even though he had “power to eat and to drink.” His behavior was obviously different from that of the others in that he greatly restricted himself. With regard to meat and drink, he was very careful not to offend anyone. If any of the Corinthians were awake, they should have noticed that Paul was sacrificing a lot in order to enhance his message. Even if they differed with him in doctrine, they should have respected his desire to serve and please God. As Jesus said, “If you cannot accept my teachings, at least appreciate the works that I am doing” (John 10:25,38; 14:11 paraphrase). If the Jews accepted Jesus’ works, then maybe later on, they would also accept his teachings. He was trying to reach through the barrier of Jewish prejudice and training. The Apostle Paul was speaking similarly here, and the Corinthians should have observed his deeds.
Q: Were some of the Corinthian brethren holding on to pagan philosophies?
A: The weak brethren still had pagan ideas, even though they had consecrated. Therefore, Paul said to them, “Some eat as a thing offered unto idols to this very day” (1 Cor. 8:7 paraphrase).
Because of this problem, Paul purposely restrained himself and did not eat in the temple. Those who examined Paul, questioning him repeatedly, were high-minded, considering themselves superior to him (1 Cor. 4:8). They were wise, but they wrongly reasoned from a philosophical standpoint.
Comment: Previously those individuals had pride in their positions, professions, and learning. When they consecrated, they just transferred that pride and ego into religion.
1 Cor. 9:5 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?
“Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter]?” (RSV). Paul could have had a wife had he so chosen, but his refraining from the privilege of marriage for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake was another evidence of his sincerity and his being used of the Lord. He was committed to full-time service for the Lord. Jesus said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head,” and this was also true with regard to the Apostle Paul in that he had no continuing residence (Matt. 8:20). Had Paul married, he no doubt would have had a home.
In observing a person, we should look for certain evidences of whether he really is being used of the Lord. Factors like popularity with the world, academic degrees, appearance and/or physique, and oratory are meaningless. The high-minded element in Corinth examined Paul hypocritically and did not observe his sacrifices for the Lord and the truth.
Comment: Jesus’ natural brothers married and had wives, as did Peter and other apostles.
Reply: Yes, the “brethren of the Lord” were children Mary had later, subsequent to the birth of Jesus through miraculous conception (Matt. 13:55). James and Judas (Jude) became apostles.
Some actually followed Peter. If a brother wanted to be outstanding in the class, he might use Peter for his own purposes, just as some today might excessively honor Pastor Russell when, in reality, they are promoting themselves. They raise up the Pastor and pat him on the back but with ulterior motives of self-advancement. In Paul’s day, the teaching element who said, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” etc., pretended to honor the individual, whereas they were really advancing themselves.
Comment: Verse 5 is very revealing, for Peter, supposedly the first pope, had a wife.
1 Cor. 9:6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
“Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” (RSV). At this time, Barnabas was not with Paul. He had accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey, but later they had a dispute about John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas. Paul then had Silas accompany him, and Timothy joined them at a later date. Therefore, the first missionary tour is the only one in which Barnabas accompanied the Apostle Paul. From then on, others went with Paul. In view of this background, Paul’s bringing Barnabas into this First Epistle to the Corinthians is interesting. In spite of their earlier dissension, Paul appreciated the fact that Barnabas also, for the furtherance of the gospel, had denied himself certain privileges and liberties. Thus verse 6 is more or less a commendation of Barnabas, who was still active and faithful in the service.
Later in life, Paul also commended John Mark. Paul and John Mark had gone on a missionary journey into Asia, but at a certain place, John Mark left Paul and returned to Jerusalem. Paul was disturbed by his departure, so when John Mark wanted to go on the next missionary journey, Paul refused to have him. As a result, there was a split, with Barnabas and John Mark going together, and Silas accompanying Paul.
Paul’s speaking favorably of Apollos and Barnabas in this epistle shows his nobility and grandeur of character. Apollos did not have the same level of knowledge, yet Paul highly regarded him.
Comment: The problem was that Paul and Barnabas were working for the Lord, but the Corinthians who were receiving financial support from the brethren were not doing gospel work. Paul was saying sarcastically, “Are we the only ones who have to work?”
Reply: Yes, and the sarcasm will be even more pronounced as the account proceeds. In asking these questions, Paul was building up to a particular point that should have brought his “examiners” to their senses to see how very faithful and real he was as an apostle.
1 Cor. 9:7 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?
These rhetorical questions were illustrations of warfare, a vineyard, and a shepherd. Paul asked questions that had built-in answers. Who goes to war as a soldier at his own expense? A soldier who is fighting is entitled to receive clothing, food, wages, and some measure of shelter. In other words, for a soldier to be expected to give up everything for the government he is fighting for would be unreasonable. A worker who plants a vineyard for someone else is expected to help himself to some of the grapes as he labors. And a shepherd who tends a flock, being out day and night for weeks, is allowed to partake of the milk. Paul used common-sense examples where the laborer was provided for.
These three types of work can be given a spiritual application. Thus the same principle applies to those who are engaged in Christian warfare, Christian vineyard planting, and Christian shepherding; that is, they have a right to partake of temporal benefits.
However, Paul was leading up to another point. At times, he partook of temporal benefaction, and at other times, he did not. The Corinthian brethren who criticized him for occasionally receiving temporal benefits failed to observe that most of the time, he worked with his own hands as a tent maker to support himself and faithfully preached the gospel. Meanwhile, the same individuals were living off other brethren as full-time spongers without preaching the gospel. How hypocritical! Paul did not say it was wrong to benefit temporally, for he had that right and so did the others, but what were the others doing with their time?
Comment: That is why Paul asked sarcastically, “Are Barnabas and I the only ones who have to keep working?”
Reply: The others felt they were above doing menial work. In fact, their attitude of expecting to be fully supported was the beginning of the clerical element.
1 Cor. 9:8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Paul was answering the charges of this group and reminding them of his apostleship. Then he said, “Do I say these things as a man [only]? Doesn’t common sense, even from a worldly standpoint, teach you that it is proper for a shepherd to partake of the milk?” Paul used human logic but then added that the reasoning was also scriptural. “Doesn’t the Law teach this also?”
1 Cor. 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
In principle, the Law teaches that the animal used for plowing (water buffalo, horse, cow, or whatever) is entitled to food—whether it gets food by turning its head and nibbling here and there or whether food is provided. Both humans and animals have the right to eat.
“Doth God take care for oxen?” The word “only” is implied, for Paul would draw a spiritual comparison. “Doth God take care for oxen [only]?”
1 Cor. 9:10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Verse 10 shows how deep the Apostle Paul was in his reasoning. He was head and shoulders over the others, and here he opened up a tremendous area of thought without elaborating; namely, when the Law of Moses tells about not muzzling the ox, the real emphasis is spiritual.
All the way through, the Law has both a natural and a spiritual application, but God instituted the Law for the spiritual application. In other words, the Law prefigures higher and nobler things pertaining to the Gospel and the Millennial ages. When people in future ages look back at the Law, they will see it as all spiritual, for the natural will be greatly inferior by comparison. “Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.“ The commandment about not muzzling the ox was written for the Christian in the Gospel Age.
God is considerate of the ox, saying that animal should have its meal, but the real lesson is for the Gospel Age. All Christians are being fed with the food of the gospel. Of course there are different gradations of development, capacity, and capability, but the gospel has everything for everyone. It is as if the table is groaning with the produce of the Lord’s Word. The Christian should “plow” and “thresh” in the hope of a share in the crop.
1 Cor. 9:11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
1 Cor. 9:12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
“Carnal things” would be material, temporal benefits. Paul was using sarcasm here in yet two more rhetorical questions. Starting with verse 9, he was saying that with regard to animals, the Law of Moses teaches common-sense principles that are practiced even by worldly people.
Certainly, therefore, shouldn’t those same principles be extended to hired laborers and servants? To provide board, food, a bed, wages, and other provisions according to the circumstance is fair and just. In other words, “If others, including animals, have the right to receive temporal benefits, don’t we have that right too?” yet Paul and those with him were curbing themselves.
Verses 11 and 12 read as follows in the RSV: “If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still 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.” Paul forwent the liberty he had a right to use, but the others in Corinth used it. From the standpoint of principle, it is permissible to accept material benefits as “payment” for spiritual services rendered, but a Christian should be esteemed more highly if he sacrifices that which he is entitled to. Paul was setting a good example, for it was better not to take advantage of the material benefits. In defending himself, he had to instruct the Corinthians—to lead them by the hand—to make them see his office of apostleship and his greatness in the Lord’s service.
“If others be partakers of this power [of receiving financial support] over you [Corinthians], are not we rather [also entitled to support, since we are laboring in the Lord]?” Paul worked preaching the gospel yet did not benefit financially from the Corinthians. Meanwhile, others who did not so work were receiving funds. Paul’s critique reflected on the Corinthians’ attitude toward him in how they were not thinking properly. Some were examining him as to whether or nor he was an apostle, yet he had initially brought the gospel to them. The same examiners were supporting, without thinking twice, some who were not laboring in the Lord. The implication is that Paul’s critics were not ordinary brothers and sisters in the class but some of the leadership who were reaping benefits. They should have hung their heads in shame for being critical of Paul when they themselves had shortcomings in not recognizing sacrifice for the Lord as a privilege.
“Nevertheless we have not used this power [the right to receive financial support].” A paid ministry is legitimate for those who are employed full-time in gospel work. However, Paul negated this right and did not take advantage of the power and authority he could have requested. Instead he chose to “suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.“
Comment: The following three paragraphs, partially paraphrased, are from Reprint No. 2118, “Christian Liberty and Self-restraint.”
“While we are granted liberties in Christ, nevertheless the essence of Christian teaching is to deny ourselves the use of those very liberties. As slaves of sin, we were set free in order that we might become the voluntary bond-servants of righteousness—serving with self-sacrifice ‘even unto death.’ The Jews … were bound as servants by rigorous laws, the meaning and object of which were not explained to them. But the house of sons, of which Christ is the Head, is left free from any law, except the one—to love God with every power of our being and our neighbor as ourself. But this very liberty … leaves with each of us the responsibility of proving our love to God and to His cause and to His people, and our sympathy for the world, by the extent to which we are willing to abandon our liberties for them.
“The Apostle illustrates this by the Olympic games of his day…. Just as foot racers were set free to run, so we are set free from the Law to run our race and win the great prize of the divine nature and joint-heirship with Jesus. We start on our race course not aimlessly, not hopelessly, not simply for the sake of denying ourselves or doing penance for sins … but our grand incentive for self-denial is the ‘crown of life’—immortality. Therefore, we do not run uncertainly.
“If we hope to be overcomers and approved of the Lord, we must be moderate, temperate, self-denying in all things. The flesh must be continually subject to the new mind…. If we permit the will of the flesh to gain control again, the race is terminated and we become ‘castaways,’ because the mind of the flesh leads to death.”
1 Cor. 9:13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
1 Cor. 9:14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Verse 13 is related to the previous lesson where Paul used common-sense reasoning, the reasoning of man. In review, he said, “Doth not Scripture say also that thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn?” Since Paul did not use with the Corinthian brethren the prerogative of living off the gospel based on his activity in its service, why did he bring up this Scripture? Not only were others receiving funds and being supported by the brethren, but also Paul was continuing to give his answer to those who were examining him and thus trying to put themselves on an equal, or even a superior, basis with him (verse 3).
Then Paul mentioned liberties that he had given up in the interest of the gospel (verses 4-6). His denial of these liberties enabled him to concentrate more fully on service of the truth.
Paul reasoned, “The ox has the right to eat when treading in the corn field, and the man who plants a vineyard can eat of the fruit of that vineyard.” Then he added, “Those who plow in hope in connection with the gospel service have this prerogative.” Pictures dealing with the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Old Testament show that the priesthood, who had no inheritance in the land, lived off the tithes of the people and also the various specific offerings that were brought. And with regard to the altar, those who dealt immediately with a particular offerer got an additional blessing of substance from him. Paul said that this practice was proper, that it was common sense as well as scriptural sense.
First, Paul started with the rights of animals. Next he showed that humans should expect some kind of wages or reward for their labor. After pointing out that the Law teaches this principle, he took the picture a step higher to Temple service. Of the sacrifices that were brought to the Tabernacle or the Temple, the high priest got a part of the animal. One part was consumed on the altar as a gift to God, and another part was given to the priesthood. However, the bulk of the animal was given to the offerer to eat during the feast, which was sometimes a week long.
Thus Paul was showing, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (verse 14).
1 Cor. 9:15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
“I [Paul] have used none of these things [the privileges that should have been mine].” Through self-denial, Paul did not take advantage of these privileges so that his ministry would have an even more profound effect. “Neither have I written these things [which he could have done in his earlier epistle to the Corinthians],” for “it were [would be] better for me to die,” than that any man should take away this privilege of self-denial. Paul would rather be hungry and die than to require support from those to whom he was ministering.
Paul was a most unusual personality, but of course Christ himself is our perfect example, for he who was rich became poor for our sakes. Jesus’ richness cannot be compared with the wealth of Paul or others. Moses gave up the throne of Egypt, for example, but Jesus left heaven and came down here to die on a cross, which is the most profound type of sacrifice that can be imagined. A whole philosophy behind this principle is embedded in the divine plan of the ages, and it takes time to grasp the full import, power, and significance.
It is hard to be fair. Paul could have been sarcastic toward those who opposed him and asked, “Do you notice how I sacrifice in the interest of the truth?” Instead he went to a higher level and said that the prerogative is correct, but nevertheless, he denied himself. Evidently, therefore, the others were taking advantage of the prerogative by loafing or sponging and not being employed in gospel service. God humbles Himself to come down and try to think along our plane of being. He, whose thoughts are higher than the heavens, brings Himself, His thinking, His actions, and His talking through His Word down to our level in order to acquaint us with certain truths. Jesus does the same thing, and so does the Apostle Paul at a lower level. It was embarrassing but necessary for Paul to speak along these lines, attracting attention to himself, in the hope of saving the Corinthian brethren. Whether they would make their calling and election sure or whether they would be failures in other respects, Paul humbled himself in the interest of their spiritual welfare. The approach he used would normally be repugnant and even manifest spiritual pride (“I do this,” “I do that,” “I sacrifice this way,” etc.) but not in this case. His calling attention to what he was doing was in their best interest, but it could have been misconstrued. And so sometimes the Lord’s people, in trying to wake up individuals to think, bring themselves down to an embarrassing level. Others who hear those words could misconstrue the motive and say, “He thinks a lot of himself.” Many would not realize when a person was trying to help them in their feeble reasoning to observe certain things.
In denying himself liberties, Paul not only concentrated his time more fully on preaching the gospel but was careful with regard to the conscience of the Corinthians. Those who compared themselves in any way to Paul or questioned his apostleship should have been ashamed to not realize these things. He had to call attention to himself in order to wake them up.
Verse 15 ends with, “For it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.” Paul considered denying himself certain liberties to be joy, happiness, and a privilege. He gloried in the denials—and also in persecutions—for he saw that they would benefit the brethren.
Earlier Paul reasoned, “Am I not an apostle? am I not free?… If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord” (verses 1 and 2).
He was saying that the “seal,” the proof, of his apostleship was that the Corinthians were in the Lord, but some might reason, “If we convert people to Christ and do great works, is that a proof we are apostles?” How would we refute that line of reasoning? From a scriptural standpoint, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, and Jerusalem were all important cities. The word “apostle” means “sent out one [in a specialized sense].” The seal of Paul’s apostleship was his introductory work for the initial conversion to truth in “virgin” territory; that is, the Lord used Paul in the beginning of the Gospel Age to establish the first Christian class in Corinth, one of the largest cities in the then-known world. He was a founding father to the Corinthians in bringing about this radical change. The apostles are the foundation of the temple of God, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Paul did not call attention to himself to boast how great he was but to make the Corinthian brethren see that the Lord was really using him—that he was a true messenger, not a false one.
Incidentally, people with spiritual pride tend to read wrong things into other people’s words and actions. Some incorrectly reason that there should be no emotional expression when problems occur. Here is an example showing that it is important to weigh a circumstance before applying Scripture. There are times to be angry, and there are times not to be angry. To please the Lord, we do not want to be angry at the wrong time, and we do not want to be placid and silent when we should manifest disapproval. The transcendent Word of God determines whether activity or inactivity is proper based on the circumstance.
Therefore, Paul’s boasting was evidence not of spiritual pride but of concern lest the brethren in Corinth be misled by the others. He would rather die than be deprived of privileges of selfdenial. The Pastor made a distinction between self-denial and cross bearing, a higher form of service. Self-denial is a duty, whereas cross bearing is, in addition, an activity willingly performed.
1 Cor. 9:16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Why did Paul use the word “necessity”? The thought is like the attitude of Jeremiah, who said, “God’s word was like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I was weary with forbearing and could not stay” (Jer. 20:9 paraphrase). Paul’s inner compulsion to preach the gospel was his “necessity.” He wanted to preach not from a duty standpoint but from a desire standpoint, which made his service more commendable in God’s sight. He would rather die than be denied that privilege.
If a work is to be done, it may be all right under certain circumstances to request donations for the Lord’s service, but not if some who respond are embarrassed into doing so. To the contrary, doing something voluntarily, that is, of one’s own free will, is a completely different slant. “God loveth a cheerful giver,” and the sacrifice is lost when something is done out of duty or obligation (2 Cor. 9:7).
Paul was practicing self-denial of his own volition. He wanted, and felt it a privilege, to deny himself. He was truly giving a voluntary, freewill offering to the Lord. Such an offering is not done grudgingly or from a sense of duty. As a Christian develops, especially one who would be of the Little Flock, he should go beyond duty love to cross bearing.
1 Cor. 9:17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
1 Cor. 9:18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
Paul said, “For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward.” Then he asked, “What is my reward then?” Of course ultimately he would receive the divine nature and be a partaker with Jesus of glory, but there was also a reward in the present life, as shown by the second half of verse 17, which is stated a little too strongly in the King James: “If against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.” The Amplified reads, “For if I do this work of my own free will, then I have my pay—my reward; but if it is not of my own will, but is done reluctantly and under compulsion, I am [still] entrusted with a [sacred] trusteeship and commission.” Paul was saying, “If I do not serve with joy and enthusiasm as a freewill offering, I will at least have to serve as a duty.” Thus doing something willingly is contrasted with doing something reluctantly, or even from a duty standpoint. It is one thing for a messenger to simply discharge a duty, but if he is happy and rejoicing and considers bringing a message to be a privilege, the service is meritorious and pleasing to God. The joy of the spirit shows that the activity is wholly voluntary and not just a commission. The apostles were commissioned to go out and preach the gospel—that was their duty—but if they went voluntarily and cheerfully as well, they had a “reward.” Paul did not want anything to bar him from the privilege and joy of preaching the gospel.
Comment: Paul was saying, “If I do not serve willingly and with voluntary self-denials, I am still required to serve, but the reward will be lower.” The point is that we have to pay our vows. Will we do so joyfully or grudgingly?
Paul added, “When I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” In order to be more successful in preaching the gospel, he denied himself certain things, and he esteemed the denials a privilege. And the denials were his reward, even in the present life. As Peter said, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory [God’s approval] at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). The Greek word rendered trial means “proof”; that is, the successful passing of a test is worth more than any silver or gold that one might acquire. Bro. Krebbs said that even the trial, or privilege of the test, is more precious than silver and gold, let alone our attitude with regard to it. In other words, the opportunity to suffer for Christ is more precious than silver and gold. Both are true: the trial itself and the successful passing of the test are worth more than silver and gold.
Paul gave a present-tense application in verse 18. He wanted the privilege of being able to present the truth without obligation or charge. He enjoyed preaching the gospel. The same principle is given in Peter’s instruction to elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Pet. 5:2). God desires elders to have a readiness of mind and a willingness of spirit, and not to feel constrained to accept eldership from a duty standpoint. Paul and Peter both had that driving spirit. “But if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.”
This portion of verse 17 describes a service that is merely the discharging of a duty instead of the feeling that it is a privilege to serve.
Paul’s “reward” was his ultimate reward in heaven, as well as the privilege of making more converts through self-sacrifice and not following the practices of the ordinary, regular ministry.
His self-denials broadened his influence in bringing others to the Lord.
1 Cor. 9:19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
1 Cor. 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
1 Cor. 9:21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
1 Cor. 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
1 Cor. 9:23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Verse 19 reminds us of Jesus. At the Last Supper, just prior to the Memorial, he washed the disciples’ feet and then drew a lesson about his being the servant of all. Another lesson was not to walk into a feast as a guest and take the best seat. One should sit at the far end of the table and wait for the host to issue an invitation to move to a more favorable seat.
Comment: Galatians 5:13 is a good cross-reference: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”
In witnessing, Paul tried to reason with people from all different backgrounds, being careful not to antagonize them. To the Jew, he was a Jew. To the Gentile (“to them that are without law”), he was a Gentile. In other words, he used tact in trying to curb himself and not put unnecessary stumbling blocks before others until they got a hearing ear and/or grew strong enough for stronger medicine. This method was particularly true with regard to introducing a new subject. With all of his denials—being single, restricting food and drink, forgoing financial support from the brethren—his attitude was one of pleasure rather than just mere duty. And he was patient in dealing with the Jew as a Jew, and the Gentile as a Gentile. He enumerated his self-denials in order to bring the Corinthians to their senses to see that he was superior to those who were examining him (verse 3). Verses 4-23 were his answers to the charges that were brought against him by some of the other brethren in Corinth.
It is interesting that Paul was weak to the weak, and he was strong to the strong. This principle should be observed in life. He was “weak” in the sense of curtailing his intake of food lest he stumble others. His desire was that, by this tactic, he might gain more Christians. The primary lesson is that he appreciated those who were doing certain things for conscience’ sake, and until their consciences were enlightened, he was careful not to stumble them. In addition, his tone of voice and manner of approach were also important.
If a person was self-deprecating and felt forsaken by God, Paul could say, “I am a sinner too. I have faults in the sense that I need the robe of Christ’s righteousness as much as you do.” But with the strong, he had to be strong in order to awaken them to see their wrongdoing. To give in to the strong would be justifying them, and they might be strong in error and improper understanding. If they were strong in the right, Paul was strong in the sense of rejoicing in their experiences. In other words, to the strong, we should be strong regardless. The unruly, for example, have to be warned. We should not try to reason with the unruly but should use a raised voice. Being meek and placid would not be effective in instructing and warning them. In fact, if we combat the unruly with weakness, they will walk all over us like a doormat.
As an example, the Apostle Peter was eating at the table with Gentiles, but he dissembled when some Jewish brethren came in (Gal. 2:11-14). He got up as if he were not eating with the Gentiles. Right then and there, before the others, Paul rebuked Peter. Normally, we would rebuke someone privately or in the manner of a son speaking to a father, but Paul had to speak strongly to staunch, outspoken Peter. He said in effect, “Do you want the Gentiles to get under the yoke of the Law, which you yourself were freed from?” Peter got the point and said, in humility, that Paul was wiser than he.
Paul also spoke strongly to Barnabas with regard to John Mark (Acts 15:36-40). As a result, John Mark changed, and Paul commended him subsequently.
Comment: Those who are unruly along moral lines need to be talked to strongly.
In this context, the weak, in the unfavorable sense, were those who could not eat meat offered to idols because their consciences were not properly regulated. For their sake, Paul sacrificed eating meat. The weak, in the favorable sense, were those who were prone to discouragement.
Paul encouraged them by saying we all have such experiences. Even Paul had a period of discouragement, and the brethren who came to visit him lifted his spirits (2 Cor. 1:8). A Christian law of action is that when brethren are low, we should deal with them accordingly.
One type of weakness is a weak faith. To be strong with individuals who are weak in faith might destroy them. For example, we would not scold a blind person and thus push him off the cliff, figuratively speaking. No, we would try to bring him closer so that he would not be in danger or peril. Faith comes by hearing, so Scripture has much to do with the development of faith. There is a difference between natural faith, which we are born with, and spiritual faith, which is developed. God calls those who are poor, uneducated, and sheeplike but who have natural faith. That type of faith, which is trust in God and in His providence based on His Word, will be especially operative in the Kingdom.
With regard to the weak, we cannot hurry a person who is feeble physically, for he will fall and break a leg or a hip. Therefore, we must slow down our own pace and gently lead the weak. Paul did not want to bring the Gentiles under the bondage of the Law, so he spoke to them of their liberty. They were not required to observe holy days, customs, the washing of hands before meals, and other ceremonial aspects of the Law, but the commandments such as “Thou shalt not murder ” and “Thou shalt not steal” are still operative. Therefore, Paul was “not without law to God”; that is, he was outside the Mosaic Law, but he was under the law to Christ. Hence Christians are no longer Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free, but are one in Christ (verse 21).
Paul was a tent maker by trade. Back in those days, all free men born of a noble family realized that not only does nature have seeming foibles and irregularities, but governments topple and fall. As a result, there are periods of famine, war, and deprivation, so the usual practice of nobility, even though they had a lot of money and their children were provided for in every way, was to learn a trade. Therefore, Paul learned to be a tent maker. This type of employment was useful and necessary because outside the cities, the lifestyle was agrarian. Paul supported himself in this manner and neither asked nor hinted for financial help from the brethren. The Philippian brethren did contribute to Paul’s needs, and their assistance was helpful because the type of persecution he received caused him, at times, to flee in haste from one place to another.
The Philippians sent money ahead until he got stabilized and could return to tent making. And Paul praised them because they contributed voluntarily.
But now Paul was talking to the Corinthians, explaining his self-denials. He contrasted his labors in the Lord with those brethren who were great talkers and not laboring in the Lord but were being supported financially.
1 Cor. 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
1 Cor. 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
In Corinth were games and contests similar to those in the Olympics, so Paul now used familiar illustrations: a runner in a race and boxing (physical combat). Paul did not approach the race from the standpoint that all who run diligently will receive a crown. Instead he said to run as if only one will get the prize. Of course all of the Little Flock will receive crowns, but in order to get a crown, one must run the race as if there will be only one winner. Paul was saying, “Do not merely run or merely be active, but run as if there is just one prize.” If we do not so run, we might obtain a consolation prize in the Great Company but not the prize of the high calling.
To gain the supremacy, to be a victor and more-than-overcomer, we must run as though everything is at stake.
Paul brought in an interesting factor. To achieve mastery in athletic contests, one must train diligently. Much discipline and regimentation are required with long hours of exercise, proper diet, sufficient sleep, etc. All that is done must be weighed in the light of achieving the victory.
To reason that all with present truth who are faithful will get crowns is Great Company thinking. The standard for the high calling is very high, and we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). A great deal of concentration and effort are required to become a member of the Little Flock—an all-out effort.
Of the 2 million Israelites in the wilderness, only two of that generation, Joshua and Caleb, entered the Promised Land. The expression “one in a million” expresses the probable ratio of the professed people of God who will make the Little Flock and thus enter the divine plane of glory. Of the Christian world down through history, the percentage of more than overcomers seems likely to be that small.
If one who diligently runs the race for the top crown falls short, he is more likely to receive a consolation prize in the Great Company than one who starts the race thinking he will be satisfied with the consolation prize.
Q: With regard to the word “temperate” in verse 25, is the thought correct in the RSV that “every athlete exercises self-control in all things”?
A: Yes. A trainer tells one how to win an event, but the nitty-gritty of the matter is that the one who is training has to diligently apply himself. The Christian’s “trainer,” the Lord Jesus Christ, gives us the necessary help and instruction.
In Paul’s day, those who won the athletic games got a corruptible laurel wreath. Not only did the garland decay, but when one received the wreath and walked around with it, he felt satisfied for all the effort he had expended. Honor and appreciation for the achievement brought satisfaction—but how puny was the reward compared to the divine glory, which is eternal, does not fade away, and is on the highest possible plane. It is interesting that even though the wreath decayed, it was a symbol of the crown that does not decay.
While Paul was suggesting that the Corinthian brethren follow his example, he was hinting particularly to the leadership—to those who were causing the problem. Of course it was humiliating for Paul to have to call attention to himself, but he reasoned that doing so would bring those brethren to their senses and help them see the principle. The Lord’s people are like sheep. Not many wise, noble, or rich are called but, rather, the poor of this world. In the Kingdom, the worldly wise will be ashamed for not having accepted the gospel and for being
satisfied with their own wisdom. Being full and in need of nothing, they did not search for God.
Paul would have preferred to practice his self-denials silently, keeping them between God (or Jesus) and himself, but for the sake of awakening others, and saving some of them, he humbled himself and revealed his self-denials. Even the questions of the Corinthians along this line were foolish. They needed development, so he talked common sense and Scripture sense to them, trying to prove that his consecration to God and to Jesus was very real with all the things he suffered. The others did not even begin to compare with Paul, yet they questioned his integrity and whether he was a Christian—which hurt. To know how to judge properly, they needed to exercise their mind on scriptural principles, which develop maturity not only of character but also of discernment between good and evil.
1 Cor. 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
“Beating the air” refers to shadow boxing, where the punches do not connect. A fighter may show his dexterity by beating the air with fast motions, but if he is in the ring and the other fellow lands one punch in the right place, the fight is over. What is the lesson? More substantial training is needed for the Christian. Dancing around and rapidly hitting a bag suspended from a ring may look impressive, but the victory will not be won that way because the blows have no substance. Serious boxers punch a heavy bag with all their might, one blow after another, until they perspire and are drained of energy. Making the heavy bag move even six inches builds tremendous strength. Therefore, one good blow is worth a thousand light punches.
The word “uncertainly” is translated “aimlessly” in the Revised Standard. Paul was saying that the Christian should run and fight with concentration and great determination. He himself ran with earnestness and definiteness of achievement; that is, his running was not aimless. “This one thing I do” was his attitude (Phil. 3:13).
Some include the thought of “judging” in verse 26—that the one who is giving the reward is watching. Who the victor is depends not only on the achievement of the individual but also on the discretion of the judge, who determines if the race was run properly. The Christian should run and fight with concentration and definiteness of purpose, realizing a judge is observing.
1 Cor. 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Verse 27 is much more powerful in the literal Greek. The Revised Standard reads, “But I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
The heavy bag that the Christian punches with all his might is his own body, the old man. A person drives blows into the dummy bag with all his strength so that in an actual fight, the real opponent will know he has been hit. The Christian pummels his own natural desires in the training period of the present life. Keeping the body “under” is like putting a foot on it (selfdenial), whereas the pummeling suggests more aggressive determination.
In spite of all that the Apostle Paul had done, he was not resting on his laurels. He was continuing to run so that he might gain the crown. Reviewing all of his self-denials and past achievements should have awakened the Corinthians to see his zeal and love for the Lord, and thus should have influenced their attitude toward him. And they should have seen his concern for them. However, past achievements notwithstanding, Paul had to keep running as if there were only one winner. He applied to himself the same rules that he was expounding to others lest he “be a castaway.” What a tremendous person the Apostle Paul was! Human beings like Moses and Paul, who had extraordinary determination, are examples for us to emulate. Later on, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ [in my attitude of desiring to serve the Lord with determination, purpose, and zeal]” (1 Cor. 11:1). Those who got the gist of what he was saying would not have been offended in the least, for he wanted the brethren to serve the Lord with the same wholeheartedness.
Comment: For Paul to make the statement of verse 27, where does it put us?
Reply: Yes, although he had done some marvelous things in the past, he was not resting on past accomplishments.
Comment: The Amplified reads, “But [like a boxer] I buffet my body—handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships—and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit—not stand the test and be unapproved—and rejected [as a counterfeit].” Focus of attention and stamina are necessary.
(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies)