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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 9


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 Chapter 9

1.     Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?
2.     If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3.     This is my defense to those who would examine me.
4.     Do we not have the right to eat and drink?
5.     Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
6.     Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
7.     Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8.     Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?
9.     For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?
10.  Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher threshing hope of sharing in the crop.
11.  If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
12.  If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul begins this chapter with four questions, which we will briefly consider, one by one. Each one presupposes a positive answer. First, he asks, am I not free?  Of course he is and in his epistle of Christian liberty to the Galatians, Paul wrote: “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother… so, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Gal.4:26,31). Every child, who is born from above, is born in the ambience of freedom. It allows us to function, without restraint, according to the new nature.

Secondly, he is without question a God-appointed apostle. God, the Father and the Son, absolutely affirm his apostleship. Again, I refer to his letter to the Galatians: “Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal.1:1). Thirdly, he had seen our Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus first called the apostles to Himself, he gave them authority, and then he sent them out. They were all witnesses of His resurrection (Ac.4:33). Likewise, Paul was called by the Lord Jesus and sent out with authority. As the believers, after Pentecost, learned from the apostles’ teaching, so Paul was given authority to teach new believers, and so he did and continues to do through his multiple letters (1).

Finally, the seal of his apostleship, meaning his confirmed personal signature in Christ, was upon the Corinthian church and they existed because of his apostolic work there. For that reason, Paul concludes, at least by them, he should be considered an apostle (2). There are people, who would attempt to bring his apostleship into question, and in answer to them, he would present these four proofs, and follow with other reasonable questions, that again assume a positive answer (3).

Do he and Barnabas have the right to receive material support (4)? Does his Christian liberty allow him to travel with a wife, assuming of course, that she should be a believer, as Peter and the blood brothers of Jesus did? Was it demeaning to his apostleship that he was not married (5)? Did he and Barnabas have the right to devote themselves to their apostleship without being distracted by manual labor? I will interject, parenthetically, that Barnabas was also considered an apostle… Ac.13:46; 14:4,14). Did the fact that they did manual labor subtract from their apostolic authority (6)? Does an apostle, any less than a soldier, serve without pay? Is the apostle not to receive from the fruit that he has planted? Does a shepherd not drink from the milk of the flock? (7)

Is it upon Paul’s authority that there is a positive answer to these reasonable questions, or are they covered in the law (8)?  He quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4, where the law commands that the oxen, who are treading on the grain, should not be muzzled. Paul correctly assumes that, if God takes care for the welfare of animals, He is much more concerned for those who labor in His harvest (9). There is a reasonable hope that laborers should receive support for their efforts (10). 

The impartation of spiritual benefits far outweigh the material response given by those, who have received heavenly, eternal blessings. There is no comparison between the two and the ones, who have truly experienced the gospel, do not need to be convinced of this fact (11). Paul draws two conclusions to everything that he has presented up to this point in the chapter: 1) All the privileges that he has presented are legitimate benefits to all who labor in God’s kingdom. As far as Paul and Barnabas are concerned, they particularly are entitled to enjoy them in Corinth. 2) The fact that they have not taken advantage of these rights does not take anything away from their apostolic dignity. They are no less than other apostles for not having done so.  They have abstained voluntarily and their reason for not enjoying these liberties is because they want nothing to stand in the way of the free flow of the good news that proclaims Christ (12).

13.  Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?
14.  In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
15.  But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
16.  For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
17.  For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
18.  What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Paul makes yet another point: The Levitical priesthood receives its livelihood from the sacrifices and offerings that the people brought to the temple. The Lord ordained it to be so, in order that the priests need not concern themselves with outside activities (13) and, Paul adds, in the New Testament economy, there is no change. The preaching of the gospel takes the place of the symbolic service and the Lord commands that the preachers should live from their calling (14).

Once again, Paul does not take advantage of his rights, nor is he hinting that the Corinthian church should begin to contribute to his cause. His motivation in writing to them is totally the opposite. Far from living according to his rights, he would rather die, because he had deprived himself of them, thereby giving himself grounds for which he could boast, if he so chose. He could be known as the apostle, who did not live according to his rights (15).

However, those grounds to boast were removed by the absolute necessity to fulfill his God-given calling. He meant that necessity replaced boasting. Who can ever put such inner, heaven-inspired grace into words? Jeremiah probably comes as close as possible: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer.20:9).  An overwhelming desire, coupled with his purpose for existence, determined his need to preach the gospel. To neglect it, would bring on the woes of Jonah, who sailed towards Tarshish, rather than obey God’s command to go to Nineveh. Different from fearing Jonah’s punishment, however, Paul’s obligation was linked to something still deeper. His new-born heart burned with compulsion that could not be denied (16).

Let every Christian soul know the source of calling into gospel service. One does not choose to be a missionary, pastor or teacher. Such a choice would bring on deserved praise, which Paul calls a reward. A divine calling is to stewardship, which involves trust. God calls and equips, so that a servant of God can be trusted as a steward. In chapter 4, verse 1, Paul said that ministers should be regarded as “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

I commented then: A steward to the church, in this context, must collect and distribute the mysteries of God. He does it under the direction of the Holy Spirit, who reveals these secrets to him, after which, the steward must distribute them for the benefit of the body of Christ. Once again, he is a servant to Christ and to the church. A steward must be faithful (2). He was in charge of the financial business and kept records. Jesus gave a parable of an unfaithful steward, who reduced the amount due to his master from his debtors (Lk.16:1-8). A steward of the things of God must never lessen the demands of Christ, in order to cheapen the cost of discipleship.

What satisfaction did Paul derive from his stewardship?  It was for the joy of giving the gospel, without profiting from it in any way. The recipient did not sense an obligation to repay him. Once again, he is denying himself his full rights (18). Warren Wiersbe comments: “No doubt there are religious ‘racketeers’ in the world today, people who ‘use’ religion to exploit others and control them. We would certainly not agree with their purposes or their practices… A wrong attitude toward money has hindered the Gospel from the earliest days of the church. Ananias and Sapphira loved money more than they loved the truth and God killed them (Ac.5:1-42). Simon the magician thought he could buy the gift of the Spirit with money (Ac.8:18-24). {His name is now in the dictionary. Simony is the practice of buying and selling religious offices and privileges.}

19.  For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
20.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
21.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
22.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
23.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

 As in the first verse, Paul refers again to the liberty of the sons of God, born from the heavenly Jerusalem, who are not under obligation to any man. By rights and by birth, he is free, but he voluntarily takes on servanthood, as did the bond slaves in the Old Testament (Ex.21:5-6; Dt.15:16-17):  By doing so, he puts into play another spiritual principle, which works toward the gaining of converts to Christ. Liberty might fail in this, but people may be won by the one, who makes himself a servant. Paul’s freedom extends thus far… he is free to be a slave. He does not show an attitude of superiority, but of humbly and genuinely putting himself at the disposal of others. Paul will say the same in the next chapter: “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (10:33). The true secret of success in this area is by having this attitude without making a special effort, but instead, by yielding to the nature of Christ (19).

In the next two verses, in stating himself a servant to the Jews, then a servant to the Gentiles, Paul states parenthetically, that 1) he is not himself under the law (20) and that 2) he is not outside the law of God (21). He does not compromise his Christian freedom from the law, nor his submission to God’s moral law, allowing himself no freedom to sin. Christians must be careful how they “become all things to all people”. There is a right way and a wrong way. Again, I quote Warren Wiersbe: “It is unfortunate that the phrase ‘all things to all men’ has been used and abused by the world and made to mean what Paul did not intend for it to mean. Paul was not a chameleon who changed his message and methods with each new situation. Nor was Paul a compromiser who adjusted his message to please his audience. He was an ambassador, not a politician!”

“Paul was a Jew who had a great burden for his own people… Whenever he went into a new city… he headed straight for the synagogue, if there was one, and boldly shared the Gospel. If he was rejected by the Jews, then he turned to the Gentiles… He did not parade his liberty before the Jews, nor did he impose the Law on the Gentiles… When he preached to Jews, he started with the Old Testament patriarchs; but when he preached to Gentiles, he began with the God of Creation… Jesus was flexible and adaptable, and Paul followed His example. Neither Jesus nor Paul had an inflexible ‘evangelistic formula’ that was used in every situation.” We have seen already, in the last chapter, that Paul stooped to help the weak and encouraged the stronger Christians to follow the “law of love”  (22). We will see more of this teaching, as we continue to study 1 Corinthians.

The reward of seeing sinners submit to the gospel and the joy of being able to share the life of Christ with them, made every effort and sacrifice worthwhile (23).

24.  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
25.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating air.
27.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In verse 24, we need to understand that Paul is not trying to promote competition between believers. He is showing the commitment and determination that produces winners. I do not believe that there is any such thing as a half-hearted Christian and it is true that every Christian can receive a first-place prize. Everyone should have the attitude of getting all that is available in Christ and he should have a desire to obtain all that was paid by His suffering on the cross. A nominal Christian is a spurious Christian. A true Christian, first of all, loves God, he finds joy and sustenance in His word, he spends time alone with God in prayer, he enjoys communion with other believers, and he joins in the great commission of spreading the gospel throughout the world. His prayer is that of Robert Murray MacCheyne; “God, make me as holy as it is possible for a saved sinner to be.”

The athlete trains and runs with commitment and determination. Paul continues his comparison with athleticism by stating that every athlete needs self-control. Self-control means abstaining from things that he would enjoy, in order to perform at his best. This is really what Paul has been teaching throughout this chapter. He is yielding his rights and privileges, in order to remove obstacles from the racecourse. He wants the gospel to win the prize, so that Christ may receive the reward of His suffering. “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (He.12:1). The Christian runner is on a course that stretches into eternity, giving him the most serious motivation. He is not only worried about sin, but he wants to remove every weight that might slow him (25).

The next comparison involves an economy of effort and time. The runner will take the inside lane, as soon as possible, control his stride, and govern his speed to the best performance throughout the contest. The Christian is not only in the race, but he must run in the best way possible. We are concerned with quality over quantity, an exhibition of precision, rather than a whirlwind of activity, a production of fruit, rather than a display of works. He extends the comparison to include boxing. It is the boxer, who scores the most blows, who wins, not the one, who takes the most swings. In the things of God, we are considering a pure dependence on the Holy Spirit, rather than an exertion of human energy (26). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zec.4:6).

The physical body, obviously, is crucial in sports and, even though the Christian life is basically spiritual, the physical body also plays a part. We should not allow ourselves to be physically lazy and inactive. On the negative side, we need to deny our bodies too much comfort or enjoyment. Paul said that he disciplined his body and kept it under control. He ought to love the Lord with all his soul, mind, heart and strength. God created the body and its strength is to be used for Christ’s service.

A Christian does not run, in order to be saved and go to heaven; that would indicate salvation by works. Salvation was gained for us wholly by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, as we look to the God/Man and trust Him and His work on our behalf. A Christian runs to receive the highest reward possible at the Judgment Seat of Christ. I hope that I have already shown that we are after quality and precision, rather than mere activity. This comes through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, through works of faith, and through the excellencies of the life of Christ being seen through our lives. These are the rules of the race and breaking them will end in disqualification. We have observed these sad endings. James gives the examples of Abraham offering up Isaac and Rahab hiding the spies. These incidents did not happen as forced efforts, but were the result of occasions, which were set before this man and this woman, in which they acted appropriately.

Some have had to leave the race of ministry because of a lack of physical discipline. Paul has been called to preach the gospel and he has already stated in verse 16 that this is his reason for existence. God has entrusted him with the stewardship of imparting the gospel and he has not chosen this by his own will. It is by far, the prime necessity of his life, therefore above all else, he must not lose his calling by disqualification. All else is meaningless, if he cannot preach to others (27).  


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