Text: 1Corinthians 9
In the first eight chapters, Paul, who loves the church with God’s own love, has reprimanded, beseeched and instructed the troubled church in Corinth. All of what he wrote, and all that they said and did, reflected their lack of understanding that Christianity is not about outward works, but an inward work in their hearts.
If I were going to give this a title, it would be, “Who and What Are You Judging?”
Verses 1-2 —
Now Paul directly responds to those who judge him, questioning his apostleship, with three rhetorical questions. Here are the answers: 1) Paul is free; 2) he has seen Jesus; and 3) the Corinthians are his work in the Lord.
He certainly has been freed from the penalty and bondage of sin. The proof of that is the power in which he speaks and the signs and wonders that follow. God will not work through sinners, nor hear their prayers, per the testimony of the man born blind who now sees —
John 9:31 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.”
In addition, he has seen (stared at, discerned clearly) Jesus our Lord. Because many came to Christ in Corinth through Paul’s missionary work, they themselves are the seal (the mark of genuineness) of his apostleship.
It is likely that among those who judge Paul, questioning his apostleship, are the so-called “super-apostles,” the “most eminent apostles” —
2Corinthians 11:5 For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.
2Corinthians 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
2Corinthians 12:11 I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.
He may not be an apostle in the eyes of the “super-apostles,” but the believers in Corinth should know better; they have been with Paul, and have watched the Lord work through him in miraculous and life-changing ways! They are his work in the Lord!
But some are listening to the super-apostles, and heeding their false words. And some judge him simply because they resent his reprimands. It is the same in today’s church.
Verses 3-6 —
Paul is being examined (scrutinized, investigated, discerned and judged) by some of the Corinthian believers. So now, he turns the tables on them, and questions them! It is not out of anger, but out of love, to bring them to their senses.
As an apostle, why shouldn’t the church at Corinth provide him with food and drink? Shouldn’t that be true in today’s church, too?
Why should anyone look askance at him if he wants to marry and bring along a wife to co-minister with him (that is the meaning of “take along a believing wife,” per The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), and for both him and her to receive provision from the believers?
All others who are serving as apostles, even the Lord’s half-brothers, receive some compensation. But Paul and Barnabas are forced to work at secular jobs and provide for themselves, with Paul working at tentmaking (see Acts 18:1-3).
Verses 7-10 —
Paul exhorts them for not financially supporting Barnabas and him, with rhetorical questions —
They are soldiers for Christ, sent to do battle for souls. Don’t soldiers receive pay? Of course they do!
They have planted the good Word of God at Corinth. Should they not have a portion of the produce? Of course they should!
They have tended and fed the flock spiritually. Shouldn’t the flock give them something in return? Of course they should!
Paul is applying God’s standards here, not human standards. God’s standards are revealed in the Law of Moses (see Deuteronomy 25:40) —
If you muzzle an ox, it will be unable to eat the grain it’s threshing. As a result, it will either: 1) protest by stopping its work when it becomes hungry, or 2) continue to thresh until it becomes weak and no longer able to thresh because of lack of nourishment.
If you want your grain threshed, you allow the ox to eat as it works. If you want to be fed the word of God, you provide sustenance for those who provide it, while they work.
You might argue, “The Law of Moses doesn’t pertain to Christians.” But God does not change. If He saw to it that the people provided for the priests in the Old Testament (OT), why would He change His mind and not require the same for the New Testament apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers?
Indeed, God speaks to us even today, for our sake. Why is it “for our sake?” So that we do not disobey God! And to refrain from providing for those who minister to us, we disobey Him. Everyone who works for the Lord should receive some provision from the ones whom he or she serves.
What, then, do we say about the vast number of “bi-vocational” pastors these days? It may be a matter of lifestyle choice for some (because some want a higher standard of living, above and beyond the norm). But the church must examine her ways carefully, to be sure that she does not sin against God by withholding provision from His servants.
Verses 11-14 —
Paul and Barnabas sowed spiritual things into the Corinthians, things which gave them great benefit –– the salvation of their souls. Why, then, do they resist providing material things to them?
Apparently other workers (perhaps the super-apostles) have received provision from the Corinthians (see v. 12 “if others share the right with you”). Why not Paul and Barnabas even more, since they first carried the gospel to Corinth?
But Paul and Barnabas refuse to hinder the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ by making such demands. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says the word “hinder” means literally to cut into a road to hinder others from using it.
Paul and Barnabas will not hinder, but rather, they will endure (patiently suffer) all things — even lack of compensation to help them pay for the expenses of simple sustenance, which is the meaning of “food and drink.”
Paul goes back to the OT once again, describing provision for the priests in the temple. Even the pagan priests receive such provision! So the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get support (food, clothing, shelter) from the gospel. Here are Jesus’ instructions, as He sent them out —
Matthew 10:9 “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.”
Verses 15-16 —
Paul has not taken advantage of any of the principles he’s just described. He isn’t even asking for them to provide for him now.
He preaches the gospel free of charge. He’d rather die than receive money and have some say he preaches the gospel for personal gain.
But Paul preaches the gospel under compulsion — he is pressed upon and compressed, pressed tightly. What compels him? Not his own ambition, but the love of Christ —
2Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls (compels) us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died (that is, all are dead until they come to Him);
Again, it is not his own love FOR God that compels him, but God’s actual love that has been poured out in his heart to overflowing, by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
He cries out, calling for woe to descend upon him if he does not preach the gospel. Why? By not preaching this great gospel, Paul would be a rejecting the call and the love and power that Christ has given him!
Verses 17-18 —
Paul has a reward if he preaches the gospel voluntarily. But some who preach the gospel are hired hands (John 10:12-13), and are not true shepherds of the household of God.
Paul’s reward is that he may offer the gospel without charge (as do Jeff and I), even though he has a right to receive provision so he doesn’t have to work at anything else. But is that all he means by “the reward?” Look ahead to Verse 19, and you will see that by making himself an unpaid slave, he wins more to Christ!
Paul is absolutely driven to share the gospel, at any cost to himself. His is selfless love, the mark of being filled with God’s love! He does not consider his own needs, but has made himself (in a once-and-for-all, moment-in-time decision) a slave to all, so he may win more. He goes on to expand upon this idea.
Verses 19-22 —
If he wants to win a Jew to Christ, the Holy Spirit shows him how to speak to the Jew from a Jewish perspective to show him Jesus is the Christ. If he is speaking to Jews under the Law, he’ll use the Law to show them Jesus is the Christ.
Paul makes it clear that he is not under the Law of Moses, now that he is in Christ. But he will express the gospel in the Holy Spirit’s power and wisdom, in a way that will show Jews under the Law that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.
For those who do not have the Law (Gentiles, who are non-Jews), Paul will show them that they can be set free from the power of sin, just as he is directed by the Holy Spirit. For those who are weak (strengthless), Paul will relate the gospel to them so that they see Christ’s strength. He will do it in the Spirit’s power.
Do not misinterpret the last verse, as some have. They say Paul is saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
But Paul simply is speaking of the different methods the Holy Spirit shows him, in order to most effectively proclaim the gospel. His ability to minister Christ is always by the Holy Spirit, and never out of his own thinking, beloved!
And know this — we are not asked to join the world to save it! On the contrary, Christ has chosen us out of the world, which makes the world hate us (John 15:19).
But we must ask the Holy Spirit to give us His words when we speak to people. Paul and I are not at all saying you must “make the gospel relevant.” It already is, for all have sinned and lack the glory of God (Romans 3:23)!
Verses 23-25 —
Everything that Paul does is for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is his purpose and his calling from Jesus Christ (Acts 9:15-16). He does this so he may become a partaker of it.
What? Isn’t Paul saved and filled with the Holy Spirit? The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says this: Paul wants to be a co-sharer (having communion, fellowship) in the gospel, sharing in its blessings personally, including the blessing of seeing others come to Christ. But I believe he is also speaking of the full redemption yet to come, because of the verses that follow.
In a natural race, many run, but only one receives the prize at the finish line. Paul wants the believers at Corinth to run their spiritual race well, so that they all can share in the prize at the end. Ask Christ to make you like Him, and you will win souls. Run so you will win souls, and you will win the ultimate reward, too.
Paul specifies that those who have self-control (exercise self-restraint) in all things are able to compete in the natural games. It takes practice and hard work to compete in natural games, like the Olympics of today, and the Corinthian version of them at the time of Paul’s writing.
In natural games, he winner receives a perishable wreath. But for those who ask their Father in heaven to fill them with the Holy Spirit, and thus are controlled by the Holy Spirit, there is an imperishable reward! The sin nature is dead in such ones, and Christ reigns in them. And so they are able to run freely, as the writer of Hebrews exhorts the Hebrews who have been scattered because of persecution —
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside (cast off, throw off, renounce) every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . .
And what is the prize for such ones, who run freely and are Spirit controlled? The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)!
AND . . .
2 Timothy 4:8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
1Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
AND . . .
Revelation 4:10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Glory to God!
I want to say something more about our spiritual race. It is the responsibility of every Christian to share the gospel —
Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
If you are filled with the love of God, you can’t help but share it! If the gospel is real to you and you believe you have been saved from a real hell so you may have life in a real heaven and truly share in Christ’s riches (even now), and if you are His witnesses here (Acts 1:8), filled with His Spirit, you cannot stop speaking about what you have seen and heard (Acts 4:20)!
But if you really don’t believe all of it, you won’t be interested in helping anyone else come to know Jesus. And for you, James has these words —
James 2:20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
James 2:26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The works he speaks of are more than feeding and clothing people — they are the very works of God that He will work through those who go forth and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit! These works are not done in order to achieve your own salvation. They are done BECAUSE you are saved, and they are the evidence of your salvation.
Verses 26-27 —
So Paul runs with purpose. He doesn’t box like he’s beating the air. He disciplines his body (striking under the eye), bringing it under his control.
The commentator for this portion of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary is a Presbyterian professor who does not believe it is possible to die to sin. So he writes that we have dominion over sin, but we must still battle it, or it can still beat us and disqualify us. His comments directly contradict Paul’s words —
Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (carnal nature, sinful nature) with its passions and desires.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
So, I believe and have experienced what John Wesley believed and experienced. Temptations will come, even to the Spirit-filled. Even Jesus was tempted, in Matthew 4! But those who are filled with the Spirit are able to discern temptations and respond to them as Jesus did. Why? Because such ones are dead to sin and filled with God’s holiness, they do not succumb to temptations, and do not willfully disobey God. Jesus has set them free from slavery to sin (John 8:31-36)! Hallelujah!
The final verse of this chapter has caused controversy and misinterpretation. Some have become ascetics — physically abusing their bodies in order to “keep down” the sin nature in them! That will never work. The sin nature must be crucified!
In the New International Commentary on the New Testament, Gordon Fee has the best interpretation of Paul’s statement, “I discipline my body and make it my slave” —
Such ‘bruising of the body’ probably refers to hardships to which he voluntarily subjected himself for the sake of the gospel, so that he, along with them, might share in its promises. (The proof) that this is Paul’s intent is to be found in the final words of this sentence — “so that when I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize.”
Far be it from Paul — or us — to flinch at or run from hardships, as we go about proclaiming the gospel! We expect persecution, and gladly endure it, just as the Twelve did, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit —
Acts 5:41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Lord Jesus, may your church have ears to hear this teaching. Amen! So be it.