A. Paul declares his rights as an apostle.
1. (1-2) Paul defends his status as an apostle.
Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
a. Remember the context: Paul is speaking to the Corinthian Christians about their “right” based on “knowledge” to eat meat sacrificed to idols in a temple restaurant.
i. Paul will ask them to let go of their “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, even as he has let go his own rights as an apostle. but Paul will also use the occasion to defend his apostolic position before the doubting Corinthian Christians.
b. Am I not an apostle? Such an obvious truth should hardly need stating. Of course Paul was an apostle! As obvious as this as this was, it was doubted and denied by some of the Corinthian Christians!
c. The evidence of Paul’s true status as an apostle is shown in the following statements: Am I not free? Paul was not “under authority” to anyone but Jesus Christ, were other Christians were under apostolic authority. Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Paul insists that he did not merely see a vision of Jesus, but an authentic appearance of the post-resurrection Jesus. Are you not my work in the Lord? The proof is in the pudding. The work of God among the Corinthian Christians was evidence enough of Paul’s apostolic credentials. In fact, they were the seal of [Paul’s] apostleship in the Lord.
i. Some today, because of visions or experiences they claim to have had, claim to be apostles on the level of Paul. But seeing the resurrected Jesus is not the only qualification of a true apostle; Paul was specifically commissioned as an apostle when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:12-18).
d. If I am not an apostle to other, yet doubtless I am to you: Although some among the Corinthian Christians did doubt Paul’s standing as an apostle, they shouldn’t have. The Corinthian Christians had more reason than most to know Paul was a genuine apostle, because they had seen his work up-close.
i. This makes the doubt among the Corinthian Christians all the more ironic – something Paul is trying to let the Corinthians know!
2. (3-6) Paul’s assertion of rights as an apostle.
My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?
a. My defense: Paul will now assert his rights as an apostle, as if he were a lawyer arguing a case. The words defense (apologia) and examine (anakrino) are both legal words, taken from the Roman law court. Paul feels like he’s on trial – or that he has already been condemned by the Corinthian Christians!
b. Paul, like all the apostles, had the right to eat and drink. It wasn’t that the Corinthian Christians questioned Paul’s right to eat, but Paul means that he has the right to eat and drink at the expense of the churches he served.
c. Paul, like all the apostles, had the right to take along a believing wife. Again, the Corinthian Christians would not mind him taking along a wife – as long as they did not have to support the apostle and his wife. But Paul is making it clear that he had the right to expect support for not only himself, but for his family also.
i. As do the other apostles: Apparently, most of the other apostles were married, and their wives traveled with them as they did ministry. This is especially interesting concerning Peter (Cephas), who was obviously married – yet still considered by the Roman Catholic church to be the first pope, in contradiction to the principle of mandatory celibacy!
d. Or is it only Barnabas and I: Most of the other apostles received support from the churches they ministered to. Paul and Barnabas were unique in this regard, choosing to work and support themselves, so no one could accuse them of preaching for a money motive.
i. We might think this would make Paul and Barnabas more respected in the sight of the Corinthian Christians. But curiously, it made them less respected. It was almost as if the Corinthian Christians would say, “if Paul and Barnabas were real apostles, we would support them, but since they are not supported, we suppose they aren’t real apostles.”
3. (7-14) Why Paul has the right to be supported by those he ministers to.
Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
a. In an army, the soldiers are supported (Who ever goes to war at his own expense?); the farmer is fed by the field he works in (Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?); the shepherd is supported by the sheep he cares for (who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?).
i. Therefore, it should not seem strange to the Corinthian Christians that Paul has the right to be supported by the people he ministers to.
b. Does not the law say the same also? Paul’s right is also stated in the Mosaic law; he isn’t merely using human illustrations (Do I say these things as a mere man?).
i. In Deuteronomy 25:4, God commanded You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain. This law simply commanded the humane treatment of a working animal. In those days, grain would be broken away from his husk by having an ox walk on it repeatedly (usually around a circle). It would be cruel for force the ox to walk on all the grain, yet to muzzle him so he couldn’t eat of it.
ii. Is it oxen God is concerned about? The principle of Deuteronomy 25:4 is much more important than providing for the needs of oxen. God is establishing the principle that a minister has the right to be supported by the people he is ministering to. As Wiersbe says, “Since oxen cannot read, this verse was not written for them.”
iii. The law about oxen stated a principle which had greater application. However, “We must not make the mistake of thinking that Paul means to explain that commandment allegorically; for some empty-headed creatures make this an excuse for turning everything into allegory, so that they change dogs into men, trees into angels, and convert the whole of Scripture into an amusing game.” (Calvin)
c. Why? That he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partakers of this hope. It would be cruel to starve those who are providing and preparing your food. To do so would take away all their hope. It makes them feel abused and unappreciated.
d. If we have sown spiritual things: Paul here makes it plain that it is right for the spiritual work of God’s ministers to be repaid with the material support of the people they minister unto.
e. If others are partakers of this right: It wasn’t that the Corinthian Christians refused to support anyone in ministry. No; others are partakers of this right. The problem with the Corinthian Christians was they refused to support Paul, and thought less of him because he did not receive it!
f. Nevertheless we have not used the right . . . lest we hinder the gospel of Christ: Just as strongly as Paul affirms his right to be supported by the people he ministers unto, he will also affirm his right to not use that right – if using it might hinder the gospel of Christ.
i. Here we see Paul’s real heart: paid or not paid, it did not matter to him. What mattered was the work of the gospel. Was it more effective for the gospel if Paul should receive support? Then he would receive it. Was it more effective for the gospel if Paul should work to support himself? Then he would do that. What mattered was that the gospel would in no way be hindered.
ii. If Paul was willing to deny himself such an important right, for the good of the gospel and the Corinthian Christians, then should not also the Corinthian Christians deny their “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, for the same good?
g. The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel: This summary statement is conclusive. Some might say, “yes, the apostles had the right to be paid, but no one today has that right.” But this command from the Lord means that anyone who preaches the gospel has the right to be supported by those he preaches to.
i. Should modern ministers assert or release their right to be supported? Whichever will serve the gospel and the church better! But if a minister does take money for support, he should work hard to earn that money.
ii. “If a man who does not labour takes his maintenance from the Church of God, it is not only a domestic theft but a sacrilege. He that gives up his time to this labour has a right to the support of himself and his family: he who takes more than is sufficient for this purpose is a covetous hireling. He who does nothing for the cause of God and religion, and yet obliges the Church to support him, and minister to his idleness, irregularities, luxury, avarice, and ambition, is a monster for whom human language has not yet got a name.” (Clarke)
h. Where has the Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel? In Matthew 10:10 (for a worker is worthy of his food); and in Luke 10:8 (Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you).
B. Paul’s desire to leave his rights unclaimed.
1. (15-18) Paul’s reward: to preach without relying on the support of any man.
But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.
a. I have used none of these things: Paul had the right to be supported, but he did not use that right.
b. Nor have I written these things: In writing this, Paul was not “hinting” for support by the Corinthian Christians. He is showing them the value, and the reasons, for giving up one’s own rights.
c. It would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void: Paul’s boasting wasn’t that he preached the gospel (he had to do that: for necessity is laid upon me), but that he was able to do it without asking his hearers for support.
i. Remember that Greek culture, which the Corinthian Christians were so approving of, looked its nose down upon all manual labor. Even though the Corinthian Christians seemed to think less of Paul because he worked with his own hands to support himself, Paul was not embarrassed by this at all. He will boast about it!
d. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! Paul’s ministry was not just a matter of choice or personal ambition. It was something he was called to do, something he had to do. He did not just have “preacher’s itch.” He was called to preach and felt compelled to fulfill that call.
e. If I do this willingly: Some are not supported by the ministry, but it has nothing to do with choice. It is just because of their circumstances. But if one does not receive support willingly, then they have a reward. However, if it is against my will that I am not supported, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
f. I may present the gospel of Christ without charge: In Paul’s day, there were a lot of religious entrepreneurs, who were out to preach some message to get money. Paul was happy to distance himself from such by never taking an offering, so no one would think he might abuse [his] authority in the gospel. This was Paul’s reward!
i. We may not ever be faced with the same decision Paul faced – to accept or deny support for the good of the gospel. But we each have a critical question to answer: what rights are you willing to sacrifice for the cause of Jesus?
2. (19-23) Paul’s flexibility in ministry.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
a. I am free from all men . . . that I might win the more: Paul was free to do what he wanted, but bringing people to Jesus was more important to him than using the freedom selfishly.
b. To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews: To outside observers, it might have looked like Paul’s life was inconsistent. But he consistently pursued one goal: to win people to Jesus.
i. In Acts 21:23-26, Paul participated in Jewish purification ceremonies, which he knew were not necessary for his own life, but he hoped would help build a bridge of ministry to the Jews. As well, in Acts 16:3, Paul had Timothy circumcised – again, not because it was necessary, but because it could be helpful in getting ministry done among the Jews.
ii. “To the Gentiles he behaved himself as if he himself had been a Gentile, that is, forbearing the observances of the Levitical law, to which the Gentiles had never any obligation at all.” (Poole)
iii. “Paul sought to win people to Jesus Christ by being sensitive to their needs and identifying with them. We should try to reach people where they are today and expect to see changes later.” (Smith)
c. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some: We should not think Paul changed his doctrine or message to appeal to different groups (he denies this in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23); but he would change his behavior and manner of approach.
i. “This passage has often been looked to for the idea of ‘accommodation’ in evangelism, that is, of adapting the message to the language and perspective of the recipients. Unfortunately, despite the need for that discussion to be carried on, this passage does not speak directly to it. This has to do with how one lives or behaves among those whom wishes to evangelize.” (Fee)
ii. “Let those who plead for the system of accommodation on the example of St. Paul, attend to the end he had in view, and the manner in which he pursued that end. It was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls! It was not to get ease but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls!” (Clarke)
d. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake: Paul was willing to offend people over the gospel; but wanted to offend them only over the gospel.
3. (24-27) Paul’s attitude: an athlete’s attitude.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
a. I run . . . I fight: Sporting events were big in Paul’s day as well as in our own. This would have been especially meaningful to the Corinthians, because their city was the center for the Isthmian Games, second in prestige to the ancient Olympics.
i. Paul often uses figures from arena competition (at least twelve different references in his letters), including examples of runners, boxers, gladiators, chariot racers, and trophies.
b. Run in such a way that you may obtain it: Paul is telling us to train the compete as athletes who really want to win. Without effort, nothing can be won in a sporting event.
c. To compete as an athlete, one must be temperate. This term refers to the manner in which Roman athletes had to train for ten months before being allowed in the games.
i. An athlete must refuse things that may be fine in themselves, but would hinder the pursuit of his goal. Even so, the Corinthians might have to refuse things that are fine in themselves (like meat sacrificed to idols), because having them might hinder the pursuit of the important goal: an imperishable crown, a heavenly reward that will never pass away.
d. I discipline my body: Discipline is a weak translation; the word means “to strike under the eye; to give a black eye.” Paul didn’t want his body to lord it over his being.
i. Bring it into subjection is literally to lead about as a slave. Paul was going to make sure that his body was the servant, and his inner man was the master. The desires of his body were not going to rule over himself!
ii. But Paul did not think the body evil; after all, it belongs to Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:20). Nor would he agree with later ascetics who punished their bodies in a quest for super-holiness. Through the centuries, there have been Christians known as flagellants, who would literally whip, beat, and torture themselves in a misguided attempt to fulfill this verse. Usually, these Christians thought they could pay for their sins through such self-torture, and they refused to recognize that Jesus paid all the penalty of their sin.
e. Lest when I have preached to others: Paul sees himself as both a herald of the games (who announced the rules), and as a participant. Paul told others the rules of the game, and he had to follow the rules himself.
i. Preached: “refers to the office of the . . . herald, at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contests, pronounce the names of the victors, and put the crown on their heads.” (Clarke)
f. Lest . . . I myself should become disqualified: In this context, disqualified probably doesn’t refer to the loss of salvation (no Greek’s citizenship was revoked upon losing), but the loss of reward.
i. Disqualified: “signifies such a person as the . . . judges of the games, reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God.” (Clarke)
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission