1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Chapter 8 CLOSES with Paul’s considerate willingness to forego his undoubted rights, if thereby he might save one of his weaker brethren from a spiritual disaster. Chapter 9 opens with a very forcible assertion of his apostolic position and its privileges. The two things are entirely consistent, but he knew only too well that the adversaries of himself and of his Lord would attempt to score a point off him in this matter. They would insinuate that this gracious consideration of his was merely a piece of camouflage, intended to disguise the fact that he was no real apostle at all, but just an unaccredited upstart. The Corinthians had evidently been impressed by the pretentious claims of the adversaries, and their minds somewhat warped as a consequence. Hence Paul had to speak plainly as to his divinely-given authority.
He was indeed an apostle; and he had full liberty as to the matters just discussed. He had not been with Christ in the days of His flesh, as had the twelve, but he had seen the Lord in His glory. Moreover the Corinthians themselves were the fruit of his apostolic labors. Verse 2 delivers a crushing answer to any among them who, influenced by the adversaries, were inclined to question his apostleship. Why, they were themselves the proof of the validity of his work! To throw doubt on the reality of his work was to throw doubt on the reality of their own conversion. At the end of his second epistle he reverts to this argument, and he amplifies it. See 13:3-5.
Hence, if any wished to cross-examine him on the point, he had an answer that could not be gainsaid. His adversaries thought any stick good enough to beat him with. Again and again he did not eat or drink this or that out of consideration for others. He did not, like other apostles, have a wife to help him and share his travels. He and Barnabas had traveled and labored unceasingly, without those breaks for rest which others enjoyed. And further, instead of being chargeable to others in respect of his bodily needs, he had labored with his own hands for a living and taken nothing from anybody at Corinth. Every one of these things was seized upon in the endeavor to discredit him. As a matter of fact they were heavily to his credit; for each was within his rights. He was foregoing things that were properly his, as a man and as a servant of the Lord, because of his utter devotion to his Master’s interests.
Paul was thus forced to speak of his own case. But the Holy Spirit who inspired him took occasion to lay down what is the Lord’s will and pleasure as regards those whose whole time, by His call, is devoted to the Gospel, and the service of God’s holy things. It is ordained that “they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (ch. 9:14). That evidently is the normal thing. If any who thus labor have means of their own and do not need such help, or if any are found who though needing it are great enough, like Paul, to do without it, that is another matter. Only there is just this difference, that there is no virtue in the declining of help by those who have enough: the virtue is when those who have nothing forego their rights.
The principle that the Apostle lays down is supported by spiritual reasoning in verse 7. But then it was not merely the word of a man—even of a spiritual man: the law spoke in exactly the same way. The little piece of legislation, which seems so strangely interjected, in Deut. 25:44Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. (Deuteronomy 25:4), established the principle in connection with a humble beast of burden. Moreover it was also enforced practically in connection with the temple service and Jewish altars. Finally, it was definitely so ordained by the Lord Himself for the present moment. Matt. 10:1010Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. (Matthew 10:10), and other passages in the Gospels show this. The principle then is overwhelmingly established. Let all who love the Lord be very careful not to neglect any true servant, called by Him to His service. If we do so we shall be flying in the face of His word, and consequently be great losers ourselves.
In passing, let us notice that the way in which Deut. 25 is quoted here leads us to expect that we shall find in the law, both enshrined and illustrated, many a principle of conduct which the New Testament enjoins upon us as well pleasing to God. There is nothing surprising in this for God Himself is ever the Same. We shall however find new principles of conduct in the New Testament which are not found in the Old. Just one word of caution is needful. Keep a tight rein on the imagination when thus searching the law. The dreamy mind can produce seeming analogies, which though piously intended, are nothing but fancy running riot!
The last clause of verse 10 is somewhat obscure. The New Translation runs, “and he that treads out corn, in hope of partaking of it,” (ch. 9:10) which makes it quite plain. Only the application is, that he who labors to share with us spiritual things must not be debarred from sharing in our carnal things—things that have to do with the needs of our flesh.
Has ever another lived during the church’s history like unto Paul-entitled to so much, yet claiming so little? His mind was to suffer all things rather than be the least hindrance to the progress of the Gospel. He would rather die than fail as to this. Blessed man! No wonder he could exhort the saints saying, “Be imitators of me” (Phil. 3:1717Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (Philippians 3:17)).
See, too, how tremendously real to him was the call of God to preach the Gospel. He knew that a “dispensation” (or an “administration”) was committed to him, and it was woe to him should he be wanting in it. It might have been displeasing to him and against his will, as it was against Jonah’s will to preach to Nineveh; but then necessity was laid upon him. He would have been compelled to serve through a good deal of woe, even as Jonah was. Of course it was not distasteful. He gloried in it, though in doing it he had nothing to glory of. And doing it willingly he knew that his reward was sure. It was part of his reward to be able to preach the Gospel without charge. How lovely to be able to declare the salvation which is “without money and without price,” (Isa. 55:11Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)) raising no questions as to money or price in return for preaching it!
But the Apostle’s zeal for the Gospel carried him further even than this. He was perfectly free. He lay under obligations to no man. Yet in calculating love he made himself servant to all that he might gain “the more,” or, “the most possible” (ch. 9:19). He was out to win as many as possible, so, within the limits of the will of God, he adapted himself to those he sought to win. He specifies four classes, the Jews, those under law, those without law and the weak. He accommodated himself to each class as he approached them, but of course without doing anything contrary to the revealed will of God. Testimony to this is found in the short parenthesis which occur in verses 20 and 21.
The parenthesis in verse 20 does not appear in our Authorized Version. But it should be there. “As under the law (not being myself under law) that I might gain them that are under the law” (ch. 9:20). In verse 21 The parenthesis is quite evident, being printed in brackets. In the New Translation it is rendered, “not as without law to God, but as legitimately subject to Christ” (ch. 9:21). This signifies that when Paul approached the man under law, he observed the conventions which the law imposed, so as not to offend their susceptibilities—everything in fact, so long as it did not deny the fact that he himself was not under the law. When he approached the man without law he did so on that basis. Only he was always careful to let it be seen that he himself was not a lawless man but rightly subject to the Lord. It is evident then that the Apostle really studied the people that he approached, and their idiosyncracies, so that he might avoid everything which would needlessly prejudice them against the Message that he brought. He was far removed from that mistaken spirit that would say, “God can save and take care of His own elect,” and as a result almost hurl the Gospel at people’s heads, without much care as to the result.
Fancy the Apostle becoming as weak to the weak—talking in very simple and elementary terms for people of small intellect! No easy task that for a man of giant intellect! Yet he did it. This is the holy art which every really devoted and efficient teacher in a Sunday School has to learn. They need to become as a child to gain the children. This does not mean that they become childish. No, but they should become child-like, and study the mind of a child. And the one end in view is, salvation.
When we come to verse 24 we can see how the Apostle’s thoughts began to expand and take in the whole spirit and character which should mark the servant of the Lord. We are viewed as athletes contending in the games, whether running or fighting. Hence we should be marked by zeal, directness of purpose, and a temperate, self-denying life in all things. The athlete, whether in the Grecian games of two thousand years ago, or in the contests today, is careful not to let his body get the mastery of him. The very opposite. He masters his body, brings it into subjection to a very strict regime even buffets it with continual exercises. And all this to the winning of a crown that quickly fades. Let us aim at the same things, only of a spiritual sort, that we may be invested in due season with a fadeless crown; for, alternatively, it is possible to ignore these things, and though a very eloquent preacher to others, to be rejected oneself.
Our chapter ends upon a very unpleasing word, “castaway,” or, rejected, or reprobate. A good deal of controversy has raged around it. Many have seized upon it to prove that the true believer may yet be rejected, and lost forever. Others realizing that other passages plainly negative this, have sought to explain it as simply signifying disapproved and rejected as to service, as to receiving a prize—disqualified, in fact.
We believe, however, that the true force of the expression is seen if we allow the word to have the full and weighty meaning which is proper to it, and read it in connection with the first twelve verses of chapter x. In our version the first word of the chapter is, “Moreover.” It appears however that really the word is simply, “For.” This indicated that what follows directly illustrates the point in question. “For... all our fathers were under the cloud... but with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” The great mass of Israel had the externals of their holy religion, yet they totally missed its vital power, having no faith. They did not keep under their bodies but gave themselves up to their lusts, and miserably perished. From this point of view they were types of people who, though well fortified in the profession of the Christian religion, are yet not true believers and perish.
The meaning of “castaway,” seems clearly fixed thus by the character of its context. But the difficulty remains—why did Paul speak of himself in this way? Why be so emphatic, “I MYSELF should be a castaway?” (ch. 9:27). The answer is, we believe, that in so writing Paul had in view not only the Corinthians, whom he had just been blaming for great laxity of life, but also—and perhaps mainly—the mischief-making adversaries who had been leading them astray. These adversaries were unquestionably men who were lax self-pleasers, the very opposite of such as keep under their body, though great preachers to others. Yet Paul did not name them directly, any more than he directly named the leaders of parties earlier in the epistle. Then he transferred the matter to himself and to Apollos. Here he does not even bring Apollos into the matter, but just transfers it to himself alone. It is after all a very common figure of speech. Many a preacher has said, “When I owe a year’s rent, and cannot pay a penny of it, then... so and so.” The good man never owed any rent in his life, but to illustrate his point he transfers the matter to himself. Delicacy forbids that he should transfer it to his hearers, and suggest that they had rent which they could not pay.
Paul had no doubt about himself. In just the verse before he had said, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly” (ch. 9:26). But he had many grave doubts about the adversaries, and some about the Corinthians. And he made his warning the more effective by applying it to himself. The mere fact that one is a preacher guarantees nothing.