1 Corinthians 9 (New International Version)
Paul’s Rights as an Apostle
At first sight this chapter seems quite disconnected from what goes before but in point of fact it is not. The whole point of it lies in this—the Corinthians who considered themselves mature and advanced Christians have been claiming that they are in such a privileged position that they are free to eat meat offered to idols if they like. Their Christian freedom and their Christian privilege give them—as they think—a special position in which they could do things which might not be permissible to lesser men Paul’s way of answering that argument is to set forth the many privileges which he himself had a perfect right to claim, but which he did not claim lest they should turn out to be stumbling-blocks to others and hindrances to the effectiveness of the gospel.
– William Barclay
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
This blog, DWELLINGintheWord, offers the gospel free of charge to the world! And may the Lord bless all who are reading it!
Paul’s Use of His Freedom
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul is not saying that one should alter the message to suit the various people to whom one is speaking. No, he is saying he adjusts his approach, or even some of his habits, so as not to alienate anyone about some non-essential thing. Paul would not be interested in making the Word more politically correct, but he would be urging us to be more available, more helpful, more willing to listen to those around us who do not yet know Jesus as their Redeemer.
The Need for Self-Discipline
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Sporting events were big in Paul’s day, as they are in our own. This reference to sports 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. 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.
Paul is telling us to train to compete as athletes who really want to win. Without effort, nothing can be won in a sporting event.
25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
How can I talk about running and not think of one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire?
Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire is the internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning drama of two very different men who compete as runners in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a serious Christian Scotsman, believes that he has to succeed as a testament to his undying religious faith. Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), is a Jewish Englishman who wants desperately to be accepted and prove to the world that Jews are not inferior. But this is not a movie only about sports. It is about the human spirit and the many facts of God’s glory.
If you have never seen Chariots of Fire, give yourself that gift soon! Here is a bit of the opening sequence and the stirring theme song.