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Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verse 1



Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:5-16; Acts 26:12-20; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7-10; Romans 7:7-25.

In commencing this chapter, I call attention to my address called, "The Greatest Man in History," which you will find in The Southwestern Theological Review, Vol. I, No. II. There are ten special scriptures which bear upon the conversion of Saul, and most of them upon his call to the apostleship. The accounts given are as follows: (1) By Luke, Acts 9:1-9, A.D. 36; (2) by Barnabas, Acts 9:26-28, A.D. 39; (3) by Paul at Corinth, Galatians 1:15-16, A.D. 57; (4) by Paul at Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, A.D. 57; (5) by Paul at Corinth, Romans 7:7-25, A.D. 58; (6) by Paul at Jerusalem, Acts 22:1-16, A.D. 59; (7) by Paul at Caesarea, Acts 26:1-19, A.D. 60; (8) by Paul at Rome, Philippians 3:4-14, A.D. 62; (9) by Paul in Macedonia, 1 Timothy 1:12-16, A.D. 67; (10) by Paul at Rome, 2 Timothy 1:9-12, A.D. 68. In order to understand the conversion of Saul of Tarsus we must be able to interpret these ten scriptures.

To prove that Paul was under conviction before his conversion I submit two scriptures: (1) The words that Jesus said to him when he met him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goads." (2) What he says about his experience in Romans 7:7-25, that he was alive without the law until the commandment came, when sin revived and he died.

As to the time and place of Paul’s conversion, the argument is overwhelming that he was converted outside Damascus. In the first place, the humility with which he asked the question, "Who art thou, Lord?" Second, the spirit of obedience which instantly followed: "Whereupon, O King Agrippa, Is was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." Again he says, "When God called me by his grace, he revealed Christ in me." So we may count it a settled question that Paul was converted out there on the road, when the light above the brightness of the midday sun shone about him, and he fell to the ground.

The proof that his vision of Jesus was real, and not a mere mental state, is found in 1 Corinthians 9:1, and also 1 Corinthians 15:8, in which he expressly affirms that he had seen Jesus, and puts it in the same class with the appearances of Jesus to the other disciples, after his resurrection from the dead. It was not simply an ecstasy, nor a trance, nor a mere mental state, but he actually met Jesus, and saw him. Jesus appeared to him, not in the flesh, as on earth before his death, but in the glory of his risen body. He and Paul actually met. There was a necessity for his actually seeing the Lord. He could not otherwise have been an apostle, for one of the main functions of the apostolic office was to be an "eyewitness" that Jesus had risen from the dead. So Peter announces when Matthias was chosen to fill the place of Judas that he must be one who had continued with them from the time of the baptism of John until the Lord was taken up into the heavens, and that he must be one eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ. Other passages also bearing on his apostolic call, are, one particularly, 1 Corinthians 9:1-9, and then what he says in the beginning of his letters: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, not of man." I need not cite all of these beginnings. You can trace these out yourself. The second particular passage that I cite, to be put by the side of 1 Corinthians 9:1-9, is Galatians 1:15-16.

Let us distinguish clearly between his conversion and his apostolic call, and show what part of this point experience may not be expected in conversions today, and was not a part of his Christian experience, and what the elements of his Christian experience. When I was interested in the subject of my salvation, to me, a sinner and an outsider, the distinction between Saul’s conversion and his call to the apostleship was very clear. You must understand that the light above the brightness of the midday sun was the glory of the appearance of the risen Lord to Saul, in order that he might see him to become an apostle, and the shock which Paul experienced by thus seeing the risen Lord was the shock that knocked him down, but it was not a part of his Christian experience – it was a part of his call to the apostleship. You must not expect anything of that kind in order to your conversion, nor must you teach other people to expect it. But the elements of his Christian experience were these: (1) He was convicted that he was a sinner; (2) Christ was revealed to him; (3) he did believe on the Christ thus revealed as his Saviour; (4) he did then and there receive the remission of his sins, which remission was pictorially set forth in his baptism three days later.

Here it is well for us to define a Christian experience. I was once present when a man came to unite with the church, and the first question propounded to him was, "Please tell us in your own way why you think you are a Christian." "Well," he commenced in a sort of "sing-song" manner, "one day – ah, about five o’clock – ah, I just took a notion to walk around the work-fence – ah, and I thought maybe I’d better take my rifle along – ah, for I might see a squirrel – ah," and he went on just that way. I myself have heard, in a Negro protracted meeting on the Brazos, about eight miles below Waco, candidate after candidate tell their experiences. They commenced this way: "Well, about last Sunday night – ah," following the same "sing-song" manner, "something seemed to drop down on me like a falling star – ah, and I heard the angel Gabriel toot his horn – ah; I went down in the valley to pray – ah," and so on.

Therefore, I say that we ought to define accurately the Christian experience. This is a Christian experience: All those convictions, emotions, and determinations of the soul wrought by the Spirit of God in one’s passage from death unto life. That may sound like a strange definition of a Christian experience. It has in it a conviction and certain emotions, also certain determinations, or choices, and those convictions and emotions are not excited by seeing a squirrel, not in imagining that you heard Gabriel blow his horn, for it is not Gabriel that is going to blow the horn. Michael is the horn-blower. But this conviction, this emotion and the determinations of the will, are all Spirit-wrought. And a Christian experience covers every one of those in the passage from death unto life.

There are varied uses which the New Testament makes of Paul’s experience:

1. As soon as he was converted, and yet outside Damascus or at least as soon as he had entered Damascus, the Lord tells Paul’s Christian experience to Ananias in order to induce that disciple to go to him. That disciple says, "Lord, I know this man. Why, he is a holy terror! He just kills us wherever he finds us." But the Lord says, "I tell you he is a chosen vessel unto me, and you go to him." So the Lord made use of Paul’s experience to prepare Ananias to accept Paul, and to minister to him what ought to be ministered to him, just as God made use of the experience of Cornelius related by himself to Peter in order to prepare Peter to perceive that God was no respecter of persons.

2. The second use made is by Barnabas in Acts 9:26-28. Paul came to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, and essayed to join himself to the disciples, but they would not receive him: "You? Take you? Accept you? Why, this whole city is full of the memories of your persecutions." But Barnabas took up for him, and related how this Saul had met Jesus, and how he was a believer in this gospel, and a preacher. And the relating of Saul’s experience to the Jerusalem church removed all of their objections to him, and prepared them to receive him among them, so the record says, "he went in and out among them."

It is for such objects that the Christian experience should be related to the church. God requires it as the second ceremonial act – that the man shall publicly confess the change that has taken place in him before he can be received into the church, and I will be sorry whenever, if ever, the Baptists leave that out. A man must not only be converted inside, but in order to join the church there must be a confession of that conversion.

In this particular case it was exceedingly appropriate for Barnabas to relate it, as they would not be disposed to believe Paul. The general rule should be that each candidate tell his own experience. It is better to let the candidate just get up and tell the church why he thinks he is a Christian, in his own way. Some people object to it. They say it is too embarrassing to the women. I have never found it so, but Is have seen men so "shaky" when they went to get married that they answered so low I could hardly hear them. But women are always assertive. A woman knows she loves him. She knows what she is doing, and she doesn’t mind saying so.

I remember a Christian experience related to our old First Church at Waco. A Mrs. Warren gave it. I talked with her privately, saying, "When you come before the church, don’t let anybody suggest to you what you are to say, and don’t you say anything because somebody else has said it; you just simply say what has happened to you." When I put the question to her, she opened her Bible and put her finger on the passage from which she heard a sermon, and showed how that sermon took hold of her; told how it led her to pray; she then turned to another passage, showing that through faith she believed in Jesus Christ; and she thus turned from passage to passage. I considered her’s the most intelligent and the most impressive Christian experience I had ever heard. That kind of testimony does a world of good.

3. The third use of it Paul himself makes in his letter to the Galatians. He says, "God, who separated me even from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me." Thus he goes on to make use of his Christian experience. He says, "Therefore, now first I was converted, and then called as an independent apostle. That is why I do not go to Jerusalem to submit my experience to Peter or John, having derived this direct authority from God, from Christ, who alone can call an apostle. That is why I did not submit to the instruction of man."

4. The next use he makes of it is what is told in Romans 7, and he there tells his experience in order to show the use of the law in the conversion of a man – that the law does not convert the man; that it discovers sin to him: "I had not known sin except the law said, Thou shall and shalt not do this or that. I was not even conscious that I was a sinner until the law showed me I was a sinner. Apart from the law I felt all right, about as good as anybody, but when the law came, sin revived and I died." And then he goes on to show that this mere sight of sin through the law cannot put one at peace with God, neither can it deliver one; it does not enable one to follow the right that he sees in order to evade the wrong that he would not; that it leads one to cry out, "Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" But when he says, "I thank God through Christ Jesus our Lord," he then shows how his conversion, through faith in Jesus Christ was led up to by the law: the law was a schoolmaster to lead him to Christ.

5. In the letter to the Corinthians he makes another use of it. He explains that he is so different from what he was, saying, "By the grace of God I am what I am." In other words, "You need not come to me and say, ‘Why, Paul, when did you commence to do better, to work out your own righteousness? You are so different from what you were when I first heard of you; you then were breathing out threatenings,’ for I say to you, By the grace of God I am what I am."

6. We see another when he stands on the stairway in Jerusalem, giving an explanation as to why he quit one crowd and then went to another crowd. They were howling against him for going over to the Christians after being so zealous as a Jew, and he asked the brethren to hear him. He admits all that they said as to what he had been, and to justify his occupying the position he now occupies, he says, "I will tell you my Christian experience," and he proceeds to do it. If a leader of wild young men, up to all sorts of mischief and devilment, should go off for a few days, and come back changed, and the boys say, "Come down to the saloon tonight, and let us have a good time," and he would then say, "No," they would wonder what had come to him and would ask, "What has come over you lately? Come and let us have a game of cards." But, "No," he says, "boys, I will tell you why I cannot do that." Then he explains why, and he leaves that crowd because he can’t stay with it any more. So Paul explained why he left the persecuting crowd, and could not go with them any more. He had had a Christian experience.

7. In Acts 26 there is another instance recorded in which he made use of it. He was at Caesarea, arraigned on trial for his life, before Festus and King Agrippa. He is asked to speak in his own defense. In defending himself against the accusations of his enemies he relates his Christian experience.

8. In the letter to the Philippians he relates his Christian experience in order to show the impossibility of any man’s becoming righteous through his own righteousness, and to show that Christ laid hold of him. He uses his own experience now to show that his righteousness can never save him, and that though regenerate, he cannot claim to be perfectly holy and sinless.

9. In 1 Timothy 1:12-16 he relates his Christian experience in order to explain two poles of those who are salvable: (a) "God forgave me because I did it through ignorance," and (b) to show that any man who has not committed the unpardonable sin, may be saved, since he, the chief of sinners, was saved.

10. Then, in the last letter to Timothy, and just before he died, he recites his Christian experience. He says, "I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day," i.e., "I committed my soul to him on that day when he came to me and met me; I knew him before I committed it to him, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep it." He made that use of his Christian experience because he was under the sentence of death, expecting in a few hours to be executed. This is his farewell to earth and to time, so he closes his letter with the statement that the time of his exodus is at hand; that he is ready to be poured out as a libation; that he has fought a good fight, has kept the faith, and that he feels sure that there is laid up for him a crown which God the righteous Judge will give to him at his appearing, i.e., the appearing of Jesus. The relating of that experience came from the lips of a dying man, showing that the ground of his assurance gives calmness – the calmness of God’s peace.

A startling fact confronts us in these many uses of his experience. We do not find many uses of Peter’s experience, or John’s, or Matthew’s, or Mark’s, or Luke’s. Paul is the only man in the New Testament whose experience is held up before us in ten distinct passages of scripture. To account for the fact, let us expound the two reasons for this particular man’s conversion (1 Timothy 1:13-16), in which he says, "Howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief . . . howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as the chief [of sinners] might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample, . . ." the conclusion of which is this: All these uses are made of Paul’s experience because as Abraham had the model faith, which is the pattern for all generations, so Paul is a model in Christian experience – he is the pattern. If you preach on the faith of Abraham you have the model faith of the world; if you preach on the experience of Saul of Tarsus you have the model experience of the world.

The principal lesson to us is that as it was in the particular case of Paul, so it is in our case, that the most stupendous fact in our history is not when we were born according to the flesh, but when we were born according to the Spirit. That is our real birthday. It is the most significant and the most far-reaching fact of anybody’s lifetime and an abundant use may be made of it.

For instance, John Jasper, the Negro preacher, with his Christian experience could always reply to any atheist – even to President Eliot, of Harvard, about a new religion. He would say to President Eliot, "When you say there is no such thing as the religion that has been preached, you ought to say, ’Not as you knows of.’ I have it, and since I have got it and you haven’t, I am higher authority on that than you."

In Edward Eggleston’s Circuit Rider is the story of a fighting preacher, who was going to his appointment, and certain rough men stopped him on the way and told him that he must turn round and go home, and not fill that appointment. "No," he said, "I am going to fill it; I’m not going home." "Well, then, we will take you down from your horse and give you such a beating that you will not feel like preaching." "Well, you ought not to do that," he said. "You get down," they said. He got down and whipped both of them outrageously, but in the fight he got his jaw badly bruised and marred, and when he got to where he was to preach he could not preach. There was a big crowd, and no preacher who could preach. So he looked around and took a poor, thin, long-haired, black-eyed young fellow who had been very wild, but who had just been converted – just a boy. The preacher said, "Ralph, get up here and preach." "Why," he says, "I am no preacher; I have not been a Christian long; I have not been licensed, nor ordained." "But," said the preacher, "get up here and preach." "Why," said the boy, "I do not know any sermons." "Well, if you try to make a sermon and fail, then throw your sermon down, and tell your Christian experience before this crowd." So that boy got up and made a failure of trying to preach a sermon like preachers preach. Then, weeping, he said, "Brethren, I can tell you how God for Christ’s sake forgave my sins," and he became more eloquent in telling his experience than Demosthenes or Cicero, and that whole crowd was weeping under the power of the boy’s simple recounting of the salvation of his soul. He could not possibly have done any better than just what he did that day.

There is a myth that when Jupiter made a man he put a pair of saddlebags on his shoulders. In one of the saddlebags was the man’s own sins and in the other were the sins of his neighbors, and when the man threw the saddlebags on his shoulder the sins of his neighbors were in front of him and the other saddlebag with his own sins was behind him so that he could not see them, but his eyes were always on the sins of his neighbors. But when conversion comes God reverses the saddlebags, and putting the man’s own sins in front, he places the sins of his neighbors behind him, so that he never thinks about what a sinner A, B or C is, but, "Oh," he says, "what a sinner I am!" That is the way of it in the Christian experience. Some think that it was the thought underlying this myth which caused Paul to call himself the chief of sinners, i.e., that it was because he saw his own sins, but not the sins of other people. My belief is that all of us feel that way the first time we quit looking at our neighbors’ sins and begin looking at our own sins, but it is not the explanation of Paul’s statement, because that does not make a pattern of the case. He says, "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his long-suffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life." Note that his case was a pattern to them that should thereafter believe. That was the reason, and not simply that of looking at his own sins instead of his neighbors.

What particular act, or series of acts, or state of mind constituted him the chief of sinners, is e., was it because he was a persecutor, blasphemer, or injurious? No. I have showed in a previous chapter that Louis XIV and Alva in the lowlands persecuted worse than all. Others have gone before him in blaspheming, and there have been more injurious men than he. The answer is this: He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees," that is, he was an extremist, going to the fine points of Pharisaism, the acme, the pinnacle, the apex of Pharisaism, which is self-righteousness, and Paul was the most self-righteous man in the world. What is the sin of self-righteousness? It says, "I am not depraved by nature; I do not need the new birth, the re-birth of the Holy Spirit; I need no atonement; I am the ’pink of perfection.’ " That is the greatest sin that man ever committed, because it rejects the Father’s love. It rejects the Saviour’s expiatory death, and his priesthood. It rejects the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. Hence it is the culmination of sin. While other people are self-righteous, Paul was the outside man, which means that if all the sinners from Adam to the end of the world were put in a row and graded according to their heinousness, this one a sinner) this one more a sinner, that one even more, and to the outside man, the worst, the one next to hell, that man was Saul of Tarsus. That is what is meant by being the outside man as a pattern. He topped them all, to be held up before other sinners, so as to say, "If the outside man was saved, you need not despair." The value of this man’s conversion to the church and to the world is very great. It marked the turning point in the direction of the labors of the church in a worldwide way, and it established forever the foundations of the new covenant as against the old covenant.

His apostolic call and independent gospel knocks the foundation out from under the Romanist claim that Peter was the first Pope, because it shows that he did not derive from Peter his apostolic authority; that he did not even go to see Peter before he commenced exercising his call; that he did not get from Peter one syllable of his gospel; and whenever an issue came up between him and Peter the latter went down and not Paul. That one fact destroys the entire claim of the papacy that Peter was the first Pope.

There are some things in this connection that need explanation. First, the falling of the scales from his eyes. Literally, there was no falling of the scales from his eyes, but the glory of Christ blinded him. His physical eyes could not see. It was not his soul that was blinded, but his physical eyes; and "the scales" that fell from his eyes was this temporary suspension of sight caused by this glory of the Lord. If you hold your eye open a little and let me put a red hot iron, not against your eye, but close to it, it will make you as blind as a bat, but if you shut your eye it won’t do it, because the tears in your eyes will break the conduction of the heat. Paul’s case is just as when you are standing out of doors on a dark night and there comes an intense flash of lightning. When it is gone you cannot see for a moment. That is the scales.

Second, Paul was unable to eat and drink for three days. The experience that had come to him was turning the world upside down. He had meat to eat that the ordinary man knows not of. The disciples were astonished that Jesus, sitting at the well of Sychar, was not hungry. He says, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." Hundreds of times I have been in that condition, after a great illumination in God’s work, and some powerful demonstration in a meeting, that I could not eat anything. The things of heaven tasted so much better than the things of earth. No man eats for a while in the shock of such tremendous experience as that Paul passed through.

Third, the Lord said to Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth." The question arises, What was he praying for? What do you pray for? You are converted. The Lord said to Ananias, "Paul prayeth." It was used as a proof that he was converted, and, "therefore Ananias, you may go to him." Ananias was afraid to go. So the Lord said, "Why, you need not be afraid to go; he is not persecuting now, he is praying; there has a change come over him." I do more praying and quicker praying after an extraordinary visitation of God’s grace than at any other time.


1. What address commended for study in connection with this chapter, and have you read it?

2. What the scriptures bearing on the theme, and what the corresponding date of each?

3 Prove that Paul was under conviction before his conversion?

4. Through whose ministry was Paul convicted?

5. At what point in the story was he converted – when he met Jesus outside Damascus, at the end of three days in Damascus, or at his baptism?

6. What the proof that his vision of Jesus was real, and not a mere mental state?

7. What was the necessity for his actually seeing the Lord?

8. Cite other passages also bearing on his apostolic call.

9. Distinguish clearly between his conversion and his apostolic call, and show what part of this joint experience may not be expected in conversions today, and was not a part of his Christian experience.

10. Define a Christian experience.

11. What varied uses does the New Testament make of Paul’s experience?

12. What startling fact confronts us in these many uses of his experience?

13. To account for the fact expound the two reasons for this particular man’s conversion (1 Timothy 1:13-16) in which be says, "Howbeit Is obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; . . . howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as the chief of sinners] might Jesus Christ show forth all his long-suffering, for an ensample, etc."

14. What the lessons to us of the use to be made of our experience, and what illustration of it?

15. Cite the myth of Jupiter concerning the man and the saddlebags.

16. Was it the thought underlying this myth which caused Paul to call himself the chief of sinners, i.e., was it because he saw his own sins, but not the sins of other people? Explain fully.

17. What particular act, or series of acts, or state of mind constituted him the chief of sinners, i.e., was it because he was a persecutor, blasphemer, or injurious?

18. What is the value of this man’s conversion to the church and the world?

19. What is the bearing of his apostolic call and his independent gospel on the Romanist claim that Peter was the first Pope?

20. Explain the falling of the scales from his eyes.

21. Explain his not eating and drinking for three days.

22. The Lord said to Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth." What was he waiting for?

Verses 1-27



1 Corinthians 4:8-21; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27.

In the last chapter this question was asked, "Who questioned Paul’s authority?" And our answer was, "Visiting brethren from Jerusalem," and we discussed the various grounds upon which they based their questionings. Paul’s reply is found in 1 Corinthians 4:8-21; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27; and three or four verses in 1 Corinthians 15. We take two sections somewhat distant apart and put them together in order to put everything together that bears upon the discussion.

The first charge was that he was not one of the original twelve. He admits the allegation, but denies the deduction. Jesus Christ had as much right to appoint an apostle after his resurrection as he had while in the flesh. It will be remembered that in Acts I, through the Spirit, Matthias, not one of the original twelve, was numbered with the twelve, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and became in every way a qualified apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul was as truly appointed an apostle by the will of God as Peter was. There never was any more definite or important a transaction than his meeting the Lord on the way to Damascus at which time he was not only converted, but was specially called into the apostolic office. Over and over again in his letters and in his life are evidences that the Lord not only originally called him, but appeared to him many times in confirmation of that call. So he well says in commencing this letter, "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God."

Then they charged that he had not seen Jesus in the flesh. He admits the fact, but he says it is altogether unimportant whether he had seen Jesus in the flesh or not. He had seen him after he rose from the dead, and that was the point upon which the apostleship rested. That he had seen the risen Lord constituted his qualification to be a witness as an apostle. They charged that he had not exercised his apostolic authority in vindicating himself by punitive judgments on those that questioned him. Peter had Ananias and Sapphira struck dead for telling a lie. It is said that Paul talked big enough, but did not act. To that Paul replies that on account of mercy he had refrained from vindicating, by punitive right, his power, but that he had a right and could exercise it, and when he got among them he would do it unless they repented of the wrongs that they had done.

They charged that he had not exacted apostolic support for himself and wife. They argued that he, in his own conscience, did not feel entitled to it. His reply to that is superb, and is completely unanswerable. He commences with 1 Corinthians 9:1, which is the chapter of the Bible on the scriptural grounds for ministerial support, by saying, "Am I not free?" This matter of support is a right, not a duty. "May I not waive the right ’if I choose?" There are some things we can waive if we choose to do so.

A certain man whom I knew, an exceedingly eccentric man, was, as a widower, paying his addresses to a widow. The lady said when he asked her to marry him, "I have some objections to marrying you." He said, "I have a great many objections to marrying you, but I waive them."

Next, Paul gives the reasons why he waived the right. They were missionary reasons. If he had come there and made his first speech on their paying him a salary, nobody would have listened to him. It was not after the plan of God’s gospel that a missionary, reaching territory that had never been occupied, should lay great stress on the people’s paying him to preach to them. The next is, that his desires were for them, not for their money: "I coveted you for Christ, and not anything that you had." Third, as a matter of fact it was not true, since in part he bad been supported while among them, through a contribution of the church. Next, that he labored with his own hands, not because an apostle had to do that, but because it was a necessity for an important lesson to them in that community. Tens of thousands of Corinthians were loafers. Paul wanted to be able to say, "You remember – you people who won’t work – that when I was among you I worked by night and preached to you by day. These hands ministered unto my support in order that you might understand that he who won’t work should not eat." There is no sentimentality about Paul on the beggar question. They charged that he had exacted no pay for his preaching. He replied that that did not make him inferior, but made them inferior: "For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the rest of the churches, except it be that ye were brought to Christ and established and built up by my ministry, and ye did not pay me a cent?" Then he said, "Forgive me this wrong. It was wrong for me to waive my right to a support that you should not be instructed to minister to those who minister to you." Then he goes on to prove his right.

To the end of time, 1 Corinthians 9, will be the chapter in the New Testament on the subject of ministerial support. I once took as a text this scripture: "My defense to them that examine me is this." They put him upon examination. He bases his answer, first, upon analogy from human conduct in other things, and cites three things: First, the soldier: "Who goeth forth to warfare at his own charges?" They objected to a preacher being supported for his ministry. On all sides these people could see soldiers. "Do they pay for their rations, their uniforms, their weapons, their hospital in which they stay, and the medicine which they take?" It would be impossible to have an army permanently without setting aside from some source adequate support for them. So applying that analogy to the preacher, why may he not have a right to a support? Paul might have gone further: Officers in the army are not merely provided for the field, but are educated at national expense, like Army cadets at West Point, or Naval cadets at Annapolis.

My wife’s brother, Willie Harrison, is in the Navy. I remember well when he was just a boy he entered Annapolis as a cadet. He knew no more about a ship than he did about a balloon. He is now lieutenant on one of the great battleships, and has charge of a most responsible position in its navigation. I went to see him a few years ago and went all over the yards at Annapolis, Washington, and Baltimore. It became perfectly evident to me that no untrained man could be a naval officer. His training must commence very early. As protected those enormous guns, I realized that one slight mishap in the process of making defensive armor that take and the whole ship would blow up, and that the keenest, highest education was necessary in order to know how to handle those ships in time of war.

Then he cites the case of the vine-dresser: "Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not the fruit thereof?" One cannot drag a man to a piece of ground, make him clear it, cultivate and gather the grapes, and not pay him anything. He asks: "Who feedeth the flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock." Will a Texas cowboy take charge of a herd of cattle, watch by day and night, nearly kill himself avoiding a stampede, be burned in the sun, and do all for nothing? Hasn’t he a right to a piece of beef, to milk and butter? Or if it be sheep, to a piece of mutton, or to woolen clothes? That argument is perfectly unanswerable.

Second, he appeals to the law of Moses. The Jews were questioning his right. He refers to their law, "Say I these things as a man? It is written in the law of Moses. Does the Mosaic law forbid a man to muzzle his ox that is threshing the grain?" In those days they threshed the grain by oxen treading on it continuously. That was their primitive way of threshing. "Now would you begrudge an ox his food if he stooped to get a bite of grain? The Mosaic law forbids you to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. If it be a sin to muzzle an ox, is it not a greater sin to muzzle a man that brings the message of eternal life to the people? He brings not the bread of earth, but the bread of heaven. Certainly it applies more to men than to oxen." He says, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? The preacher finds you in darkness under the power of Satan, lost; and in tears and love he pleads with you and you are led to Christ and find eternal life. The spiritual things to which he leads you are worth more than all the world. Is it then unreasonable that he should reap your carnal things?" In other words, a man who by the grace of God and through the ministry of a faithful preacher has been led to eternal life and made a partaker of the inheritance of the saints, who would grudge help in a carnal way to the one who had been the means of his salvation, would certainly throw a question over his salvation.

Notice his next argument, viz.: their own conduct: "If there be those who are partakers of this power over you, are not we rather?" In other words, "The preachers you have had, you have paid for their services. You concede the right to Peter and others, and if this support is for them, why not Paul? Ask yourselves which one of these led you to salvation. Paul is the one that found you and led you out of darkness into light." Then he passes to his next argument, still on the law of Moses, the Levites, and the priests: "Do you know that they who minister about the holy things of life, of the things in the Temple, and they which wait at the altar are partakers of the altar? The tribe of Levi, which had no territory given to them, had become the Lord’s servants to do the Lord’s work and minister to the Lord’s sanctuary, and the Lord provides for their support."

He thus makes the application of these five distinct arguments: "Even so did the Lord ordain that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel." It certainly is an important declaration. As a government maintains its soldiers, and when they get old and feeble, it provides hospitals and infirmaries, and when officers are retired they receive half pay, so "God hath ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel."

When Christ sent out his apostles he commanded them to take no means of support, saying, "The laborer is worthy of his meat and his hire." In other words, "I would be a very poor employer if I sent you out to confine your attention strictly to my work, and make you hustle to get your living from other things." Wherever there is no adequate provision for ministerial support, and the preacher must do things for his living, run a farm or practice medicine, we may rest assured that he cannot give his undivided attention to the ministry, and that churches that receive that kind of ministry do not receive the full work of the ministry. The calamity in that case is on the church. Oftentimes it is downright covetousness that is the cause of it. Churches think we can get Brother So-and-so for fifty dollars a year, and we can just have preaching once a month. Can a church prosper on once a month’s preaching?

I have always taken this position: If any preacher, truly called of God to preach, will implicitly trust, not the churches, but the Lord Jesus Christ to take care of him, and will consecrate his entire time to the work of the ministry, verily he shall be clothed and fed, or else the heavens will fall, and God’s word will not be so.

I made that statement once and some of the brethren questioned it. I still stand on it.

If I were a young man again, I would do just as I did then, burn all the bridges behind and push out on the promises of God, that perhaps not in my way, not in the church’s way, but in some way the Lord Jesus Christ would take care of my wife and children.

I would say in my heart, "I am God’s man; I am to go out as his minister, to do his work, to do no other business; and sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I will trust the Lord and stick to my work." I have tried trusting Jesus and he has never failed; I have had men to lie to me straight-out; I have had 1,000 promises to fail, coming from men, but never has any promise of God failed that he has ever made.

An illustration on this point occurred at an early day in Waco. We had a very skeptical man there, Mr. Berry, whom Dr. Burleson invited to attend an association. He had no buggy, and so Dr. Burleson said, "You may ride with me." When he saw Dr. Burleson’s shabby old buggy and rattletrap harness and lean, raw-boned horse, he said, "Dr. Burleson, you have faith that you will get there in that buggy, but I have not; I am going to get a buggy from the livery stable." But Dr. Burleson beat him there just the same. I have known preachers to get there in ramshackle buggies and pieced-out harness, tied with shoe-strings. Once I saw a collar on a horse tied with a necktie, and the preacher had to preach without one, but "he got there just the same."

When Jesus gave the commission he said, "These things shall follow: If a serpent bite you, or you drink deadly poison, it will not hurt you." They applied that to Paul and said, "We infer from your extraordinary afflictions – the Roman lictors, the stripes and scourges of the Jews, and the thorn in your flesh, and that bad eyesight, that if you were an apostle of the Lord he would take care of you." His reply to that is certainly great. It is in 1 Corinthians 4:9: "I think God hath set us, the apostles, last of all, as men doomed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world (kosmos), both to angels and men. . . . Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked." In other words, "You bring up that charge against me and I accent the facts, but it is worse than you know. You are rich from our labors; you are kings through our labors. We are weak and poor and suffering." Just as Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, was made perfect through suffering, these apostolic leaders were to share his suffering and fill up what remained, and to bear all things.

A demonstration was needed upon this subject, and therefore he says, "I glory in it." The word "spectacle" was taken from the custom of the amphitheater where from 50,000-200,000 people were gathered – as many as could be gathered in the great Roman amphitheater – and down below a gladiator was to fight a Numidian lion or a Bengal tiger. High upon the platform was the emperor and his suite, and all around in this semicircle thousands of the people were gathered, and that man was the spectacle. He fights the wild beast, and as his blood gushes out of his wounds he salutes the emperor and says, "Caesar, I salute thee," and so Paul, about to make his exodus, ready to have his blood poured out as a libation, salutes the Emperor and says, "I have fought the good fight – I have kept the faith; henceforth there ’is laid up for me the crown of righteousness."

Again he says, not to some Roman, Corinthian, or Athenian amphitheater, but to the kosmos – to the universe of angels and men, that all the galleries of heaven are filled with the onlooking angels, and all the population of the earth have their eyes fixed upon these apostles, and they are in the arena appointed unto death. This is proof of their apostleship, as Jesus told him when he called him.

If a man is going to turn his back on the ministry on account of the suffering, the sooner the ministry is rid of him the better. If he is only going to be a sunshine, fair-weather, daylight man, who, because the darkness comes, the march is long, or the battle is terrible, or the cold severe, or the watching is trying, or the wounds are painful – if he is going to turn away from the ministry of Jesus Christ on that account – let him go.

His reply to their charges that he could not be an apostle because he was not exempt from suffering is one of the finest arguments in literature. Jesus Christ could not be Saviour according to that argument, for it was by his suffering he became Saviour.

NOTE. – The other charges given in James 2:1-26 are answered in 2 Corinthians 10:13.


1. What the second ecclesiastical disorder, who raised the question, and what the scriptures containing his masterful reply?

2. What Paul’s reply to the charge that he was not one of the original twelve, and had not seen Jesus in the flesh?

3. What his reply to the charge that he bad not exercised his apostolic authority in punitive judgments?

4. What his reply to the charge that he did not exact support for himself and wife?

5. What the condition at Corinth that made it necessary for him to waive this right?

6. What reflection on them does Paul show in his second letter that they had allowed him to waive his right in the matter of support?

7. What good text on ministerial support cited?

8. What three instances of human conduct does he cite in defense of ministerial support?

9. What his argument from the law of Moses relating to the ox?

10, What his argument from the benefit they received?

11. What his argument from their own conduct?

12. What his argument based on the support of the priests and Levites?

13. What the general application of the five preceding distinctive arguments?

14. What the teaching of Christ on this same line?

15. What the result generally of a poorly paid ministry?

16. What the author’s position with regard to the preacher and his support?

17. What Paul’s reply to the charge that he had extraordinary afflictions?

18. What the origin and application of the word "spectacle" as used here?

19 What Paul’s reply to the charge that his was not the true gospel?

20. What Paul’s reply to the charge that he did a great many foolish things?

21. What Paul’s reply to the charge that he had bodily infirmities and weaknesses?

22. What his reply to the charge that he was against the law of Moses?

23. What his reply to the charge that he was a preacher to the Gentiles?

NOTE: For answer to questions 19-23, study carefully the scriptures cited, and for continuation of the discussion of this subject see last chapter in this book.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-corinthians-9.html.
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