1 Corinthians 9
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 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.” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2)
Paul sometimes seems to teach with sarcasm. I don’t know that I had ever realized that before I started studying his letters this way. But here is an example of Paul’s sarcasm. When Paul starts asking questions that the answers should seem very obvious that, to me, seems to be when he is trying to make a very emphatic point. Some of the Corinthian Christians had begun to doubt Paul’s apostleship. But the answers to the questions in verse 1 are proof of his apostleship. Of course he was free, Paul was not teaching and writing letters and preaching under any authority than Jesus. He was an apostle because he was commissioned by Jesus himself on the road to Damascus. Paul knows that he had a true encounter with Jesus himself. And above all, he had done much work among the Corinthians that his credentials should have been enough evidence.
Neither Paul nor Barnabas received wages from the churches they served. But it appears that maybe they were the only ones who never received wages. According to commentary, this may be the reason the Corinthian Christians were beginning to doubt his apostleship. This seems ironic to me but it appears that is what was stirring among them. Paul is stating his rights here as an apostle. Not that he wants them to start paying him, but only that he should have the same rights as the other apostles, such as Peter. But it is his choice not to receive wages from them.
In verses 7 – 13 he is reiterating this point by stating the obvious things, even soldiers who go to war get paid, the farmer and the workers of the field get paid at least in the food they harvest. Even oxen treading grain, eat some of the grain that they tread. Those employed in the temple get their share of sacrificial offerings.
“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)
Paul did not want things to change so that he could start getting paid, what he wanted the Corinthians to realize was that it was within his rights to receive wages from them but that he chose not to receive these wages.
“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. (1 Corinthians 9:15)
Remember the Corinthians were an up and coming society. They may also have looked down on Paul because of the way that he made his living. He worked with his hands. Paul, however looked on that as his reason to boast. He wanted them to know that working for his own living and yet preaching and teaching was his way of laying down his life and his rights to them.
And this is where we finally get to our lesson in this passage. What are we laying down for Jesus? What sacrifices are we making to get the message out to the world? This is a time that is so hard because of this pandemic, we aren’t supposed to go out too much. But I’m not talking about setting ourselves up on a street corner to preach the gospel, but there are things each of us can do to live out the gospel right where we are. We can sacrifice our time, to our fellow man and neighbors, we can share good messages when we hear them. I am not talking about the “share if you love Jesus” messages on Facebook. I am the worst at those. But share what you are learning and what you are trying to internalize from His word. Ask Him where He wants you to serve. He will surely show you.
In verses 19 – 23 Paul is telling them that he tried to become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. When he is with the Jews he tried to become as a Jew, when he is with those lived under the law, he lived under the law, even though he didn’t have to. When he was with Gentiles he tried to identify as a Gentile. Paul’s life calling was to share the gospel and Paul did whatever he had to do in whatever circumstance to share the gospel.
“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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Athletics were a big part of the Corinthian culture, therefore Paul was speaking the language that they would understand. They knew the discipline of an athlete. Paul was letting them know that the self-control that he exercised in his own life was the same amount of self control that an athlete would have to exercise. The athlete does these things so he would not be disqualified by the judges from the games and that he would win the prize. Paul is just saying here he does what he does, so as not to be disqualified. Just because he doesn’t take pay from them is not grounds to disqualify him as an apostle. To Paul they are the prize.
Lord, help us to run our races the way You would have us to. Teach us to “stay in our lane” to the calling you lay on each of us. Give us the strength and courage we need to stay disciplined to what you lay on our hearts to do.
Please pray for the small business owners and service providers today.