Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we’ll be looking at the ninth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth. In this chapter, Paul lays out the case for his Apostleship and the importance of self-sacrifice in our daily ministry.
Reading: I Corinthians 9
Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
This is an interesting question which the scholars of the Church have considered for years: is Paul an apostle? Generally, we think of the Apostles as those who were a) called for a specific purpose of leadership and evangelism by Christ Himself, and b) actually met Christ.
Paul met Jesus at least once on the road to Damascus, when he was still the zealous Pharisee known as Saul, and he was a dedicated evangelist and leader of the early Church. Based on verses like this and the histories recorded in Acts, we think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Here, Paul reminds the church of Corinth about his status, so that they may not question by whose authority he preaches.
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
What is the greatest mark of the Apostles? Surely it is the brethren to whom the brought the Gospel and who remained steadfast in the Faith.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
The Apostles broke bread with the brethren, and shared with them the story of the “Last Supper” (where our Lord Jesus Christ shared the cup of the New Testament with the Apostles).
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
As Peter was an authority of the early Church (though not the Pope, as the Catholics preach), so was Paul.
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
More than half of the book of Acts records the miracles which Paul was given to work.
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
In summary, Paul is reminding the Church at Corinth of how he “sowed churches” but did not profit from them nor demand anything of them but obedience to Christ.
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Paul calls to the Scriptures to verify that what he preaches is not merely his teaching, but matches what is revealed in the Scriptures. It is not merely Paul who preaches, but the Word of God.
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
While the oxen pull the plow or tread out the corn (that is, while work is being done), they will tire quickly if they are unable to feed or rest. In the same way, while Paul and the Apostles spread the Gospel and instruct the brethren, they must be able to sustain their lives.
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
Is Paul demanding all the wealth of the Church? God forbid! Instead, he asks that they support their brethren while they toil in service of our Lord.
This is the basis by which we ask for donations for ministry, and the reason why it is incumbent on us to provide for our toiling brethren.
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
While the Apostles surely would merit great generosity (as they shared with those yet unbelieving the Gospel of Life), they do not demand great wealth for their “services”. This puts them in stark contrast to the likes of Joyce Meyer, the Hillsong church, and their ilk, who demand heavy payment and thus both restrict their messages and undermine the public impression of the Church.
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Since time immemorial, priests have partaken of the offerings. Much of the Levitical law describes the offerings that will be offered to God, and the portions which the priests would be permitted to take. In this way, their focus could remain on things of God.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
If it were not for the Gospel, Paul would have nothing to show for his work. Indeed, the greatest value he received during his time as Apostle was fellowship with the expanding Church.
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
The Good News that we have in Jesus Christ is for all men, regardless of wealth or status (for God is no respecter of persons). In that spirit, Paul preached the word freely and without expectation of any worldly gains. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, which called for offerings to be given in secret and prayers to be offered humbly.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
The Gospel grants us great freedom, for we need no longer worry about the Law which condemns our sins nor fear death and the world to come. Even so, Paul humbled himself as Christ humbled himself – to willingly become a servant.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
He approaches the Jews as a Jew, in full willing submission to the Law which no longer binds him. This allows him to serve them more readily, that they might accept him and receive the teachings that he brings.
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
When he passes among the Gentiles, he does not keep Kosher, because they do not keep Kosher. He approaches them as a fellow Gentile, that he might be accepted and preach to them the good news of Christ.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
This is one of my favorite verses.
What’s the value of approaching atheists as though they both believed the Scriptures and understood the truths contained therein? Or what is the value of approaching Muslims with a BLT and a dog? They will repel you before you are able to share the truth with them.
Instead, approach them based on what they can already understand and receive, so that you might share with them the Truth.
This is one of the big reasons why I have read the Dao De Ching, the Sacred Havamal, and the Annalects of Confucius. If I can speak the Gospel using words and concepts that those around me can understand, then I can show them the greatness of our Lord.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
Mediocrity is not for the Church.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
People who master the guitar tend to apply great effort and focus toward the task, and as such learn a great deal about obtaining success. The same is true of those who study business, or art, or philosophy.
We obtain the same benefits, but we work to master something greater – an understanding and reliance on the Holy Spirit which is given us by Christ. The Donald Trumps and George Soros-es of the world will eventually die and lose access to what they have built, but we who are in Christ will gain everything. Thus, our determination should be even greater than theirs.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Godly living and wisdom is a struggle to obtain and a struggle to live out, but the value is immeasuable.
Let us Pray
I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He who fed the children of Israel manna and quail in the desert, he who brought forth water from the rock. Great is the Lord who Provides.
Teach us, mighty Lord, how we might be as Paul, “all things to all people”. This teaching can be difficult for us, because we are often taught to act and thing and speak and live a specific way. Make us ready to speak to anyone about the hope that we have in Christ.
Further, Lord, we know that You care for the sparrows of the air and the fish of the sea. They do not wonder where each day’s meal will come from, yet we live with such questions and their associated fears. Make us to understand and embrace the provision that You will provide to us, so that we may live without fear in the love which You have for us.
We ask all these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest who has made intercession between us and You.
Go in God’s peace, brethren, meditating day and night on the Word of Truth which has been revealed to us.