1Corinthians 9 - Outline of 1Corinthians (MENU page)
In the previous chapter, Paul briefly addressed the question about whether it is acceptable to eat meats offered to idols. In summary, he said: We know that idols are really nothing. There is only one true God, who has extended grace to us in Christ. Therefore, it does not matter whether I eat or abstain. But a 'weaker' believer, who lacks that conviction, would sin, in following me by doing what his conscience does not allow. Therefore, I ought to set aside my liberty, in love which seeks the brother's well-being, rather than my own privilege. 1Cor 8:9-13
     Now, Paul provides himself as a positive example, of denying one's rights, to serve others according to the law of love.
1. Am I not an apostle? {1Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1} am I not free? {Joh 8:36; Gal 5:1}
have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?
{Acts 9:3-6; 23:11; 1Cor 15:8}
are not ye my work in the Lord?
{1Cor 3:6; 4:14,15}
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.
{2Cor 3:1-3}
Am I not free?
In the Greek text, Paul asks this question first. Whereas some in the Corinthian church claimed the liberty {GK=exousia, authority} to eat meat offered to idols (1Cor 8:9), Paul was also free {GK=eleutheros, unrestrained, without obligation} to do as he pleased.
Am I not an apostle?...
Each of the questions, in v.1, are answered 'Yes,' as shown by the references above.
  • As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul had received his authority {GK=exousia} directly from the Lord. 2Cor 10:8; 13:10
  • Having been set free from the Law, he actively taught others about freedom in Christ.
  • He had seen the resurrected Lord (a required qualification for apostleship, Acts 1:22).
  • He had planted the Corinthian church, and had personally led many of its people into the new-birth, through faith in Christ.
Yet, some Corinthian church leaders, seeking to promote themselves, challenged Paul's position.
3. Mine answer to them that do examine {ie., judge, scrutinize} me is this,
4 Have we not power
{ie., authority} to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power
{ie., authority} to lead about a sister, a wife,
as well as other apostles, and [as] the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power
{ie., authority} to forbear working?
Have we not power {GK=exousia, authority, the right}...
Although his critics questioned Paul's apostolic authority, they could not deny that he was free to claim these basic privileges. Other apostles and ministers were accompanied by their wives in their itinerant ministries. (Among these were James and Jude, who were half-brothers of the Lord. Mat 13:55) Paul chose to remain unmarried (1Cor 7:7-8,32-33).
     Other ministers were supported by gifts from churches, while Paul and Barnabas labored with their own hands (eg., Acts 18:1-3; 2The 3:8,9). It would have been right for them to expect such support, but they chose not to seek it.
7 Who goeth a warfare {serves as a soldier} any time at his own charges {expense}?
who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof?
{cp. 1Cor 3:6-8}
or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
{cp. 1Pet 5:2}
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
9 For it is written in the law of Moses,
{Deu 25:4}
Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.
Doth God take care for oxen?
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
{ie., expectation};
and that he that thresheth in hope
{expectation} should be partaker of his hope {expectation}.
A soldier is supplied with provisions, at the expense of his king and nation.
A farmer labors in expectation that he will eat of the fruit of his labors. cp. 1Cor 3:9
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things,
[is it] a great thing if we shall reap your carnal
{fleshly, material} things?
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,
{cp. 1Cor 4:11-13}
lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
{cp. Acts 20:33-35}
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things
live [of the things] of the temple?
{eg., Lev 7:6-8; 1Cor 10:18}
and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that
they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
{eg., Mat 10:9,10}
It is a biblical principle that those who serve the Lord, in spiritual ministry to others, should be supported materially by those who are benefited by their service (eg., Rom 15:27).
     Apparently, other Christian workers had claimed the power {GK=exousia, authority} to receive financial support from the church (v.12). Assuming that their ministry was pleasing to the Lord, the church would do well to support them (Gal 6:6; 1Tim 5:17).
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
{ie., should empty (or falsify) my boast}.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of:
for necessity
{constraint, obligation} is laid upon me;
yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward:
{cp. 1Cor 3:8,14}
but if against my will, a dispensation
[of the gospel] is committed
{entrusted} unto me. {1Cor 4:1,2}
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
{authority} in the gospel.
Paul chose not to ask churches for support. However, he did accept what they sent freely, as the Lord moved them (eg., Php 4:10-17).
     Having been commissioned by the Lord to preach the Gospel, Paul could do no less than fulfill his obligation (eg., Acts 26:14-19). But if he merely fulfilled the Lord's command, would he not be an unprofitable servant? (Luk 17:10) What more might he do, to demonstrate his love for the Lord?
     Therefore, he was determined not to 'abuse' {use to the full} his 'authority' as an apostle, in order to preach the Gospel freely, without cost or price to all who would hear. cp. Isa 55:1-3; Mat 10:8
19. For though I be free from all [men] {ie., without obligation to anyone, v.1},
yet have I made myself servant
{GK=douloo, bondslave} unto all,
that I might gain the more.
{Rom 1:14-17}
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews;
{eg., Acts 17:1-3}
to them that are under the law, as under the law,
that I might gain them that are under the law;
{eg., Gal 4:4-5,21}
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.
{eg., Rom 2:11-16}
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:
{eg., Rom 15:1-3; 1Cor 8:13}
I am made all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.
{1Cor 10:33}
23 And this I do for the gospel's sake,
{2Tim 2:10}
that I might be partaker thereof with [you].
In giving himself freely to the service of Christ, Paul set aside his privileges and rights, not only to gain a hearing for the Gospel, but to gain fellow believers as co-participants in right relationship to the Lord and His salvation. cp. Heb 3:1,14; 1Joh 1:3,4
     Through Paul's self-sacrificial ministry, the Corinthian believers had become partakers in the Gospel. Now, it was up to them to follow Paul's example.
24. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery
{ie., contends (to win)}
is temperate
{exercises self-restraint} in all things.
Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly;
so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under
{ie., discipline} my body, and bring [it] into subjection {servitude}:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others,
I myself should be a castaway
{ie., be disapproved, be disqualified}.
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?" [v.24 in NASV]
Paul frequently uses athletic metaphors (eg., running a race, wrestling against enemies, etc.) in describing the Christian's life of service for the Lord (eg., Php 2:16; 3:14; Heb 12:1).
     If an athlete earnestly seeks to win the prize, he must apply himself diligently toward that goal. It is not easy to 'strive for the mastery.' This phrase is from one word: GK=agonizomai, lit., to agonize (toward the goal). This striving is not limited to the day of competition, for it includes months of preparation involving self-discipline and self-restraint in 'all things' (eg., regimented exercise, restricted diet, controlled body weight, etc.).
     Athletes, participating in the olympic games, subjected their bodies to these rigors, in order to win a 'crown' consisting of a braided wreath of flowers, which would soon perish. In contrast, believers, who run well in the service of Christ, will receive an imperishable crown (like that which Paul was expecting as he neared the end of his life course; 2Tim 4:7,8). The unprepared, unfit, unmotivated athlete has no chance of winning, and could be disqualified for any reward, long before approaching the finish line. (Compare the loss of reward in 1Cor 3:11-15.)
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air...
Paul's eye was on a definite goal. He conducted himself with purpose toward that goal.
     He did not allow himself to be distracted, by bodily discomforts or personal sacrifice (eg., of rights and privileges, v.19).
     If the great apostle (v.1,2) lived a life, of self-denying love and service for the benefit of others, shouldn't his spiritual children follow his example? His great desire was that they (we) would run as well as he (v.23; cp. 1Cor 8:9,13).

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