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Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible Barnes' Notes
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bnb/ 1-corinthians-9.html. 1870.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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The apostle had in 1 Corinthians 8:13, mentioned his willingness to deny himself if he might be the means of benefitting others. On this principle he had acted; and on this he purposed to act. The mention of this principle of action seems to have led him to a further illustration of it in his own case, and in the illustration to meet an objection that had been urged against him at Corinth; and the scope of this chapter seems to have been not only to give an “illustration” of this principle (see 1 Corinthians 9:27), but to show that this principle on which he acted would account for his conduct when with them, and would meet all the objections which had been made against his apostleship. These objections seem to have been:
(1) That he had not seen Jesus Christ; and therefore could not be an apostle; 1 Corinthians 9:1.
(2) That he did not live like the other apostles, that he was unmarried, was a solitary man, and a wanderer, and was unlike the other apostles in his mode of life, not indulging as apostles might do in the ordinary comforts of life; 1 Corinthians 9:4-5.
(3) That he and Barnabas were compelled to labor for their support, and were conscious, therefore, that they had no pretensions to the apostolic office; 1 Corinthians 9:6. And,
(4) That the fact that he was unsupplied; that he did not apply to Christians for his maintenance; that he did not urge this as a right, showed that he was conscious that he had no claims to the apostolic character and rank.
To all this he replies in this chapter, and the main drift and design of his reply is, to show that he acted on the principle suggested in 1 Corinthians 8:13, that of denying himself; and consequently, that though he had a right to maintenance, yet that the fact that he did not urge that right was no proof that he was not sent from God, but was rather a proof of his being actuated by the high and truly principles which ought to influence those who were called to this office. In urging this reply, he shows:
(1) That he had seen Jesus Christ, and had this qualification for the office of an apostle; 1 Corinthians 9:1.
(2) That he had the power like others to partake of the common enjoyments of life, and that his “not” doing it was no proof that he was not an apostle; 1 Corinthians 9:4.
(3) That he was not prohibited from entering the domestic relations as others had done, but had the right to enjoy the same privileges if he chose; and that his not doing it was no proof that he was not an apostle, but was an instance of his denying himself for the good of others; 1 Corinthians 9:5.
(4) That he was not under a necessity of laboring with his own hands, but that he might have required support as others did; that his laboring was only another instance of his readiness to deny himself to promote the welfare of others; 1 Corinthians 9:6.
This sentiment he illustrates through the remainder of the chapter by showing that he had a right to support in the work of the apostleship, and that his not insisting on it was an instance of his being willing to deny himself that he might do good to others; that he did not urge this right because to do that might injure the cause 1 Corinthians 9:19, 1 Corinthians 9:15; and that whether he received support or not, he was bound to preach the gospel. In this he shows:
Thus, the whole chapter is an incidental discussion of the subject of his apostleship, in illustration of the sentiment advanced in 1 Corinthians 8:13, that he was willing to practice self-denial for the good of others; and is one of the most elevated, heavenly, and beautiful discussions in the New Testament, and contains one of the most ennobling descriptions of the virtue of self-denial, and of the principles which should actuate the Christian ministry, anywhere to be found. All classic writings would be searched in vain, and all records of profane history, for an instance of such pure and elevated principle as is presented in this chapter.
Am I not an apostle? - This was the point to be settled; and it is probable that some at Corinth had denied that he could be an apostle, since it was requisite, in order to that, to have seen the Lord Jesus; and since it was supposed that Paul had not been a witness of his life, doctrines, and death.
Am I not free? - Am I not a free man; have I not the liberty which all Christians possess, and especially which all the apostles possess? The “liberty” referred to here is doubtless the privilege or right of abstaining from labor; of enjoying as others did the domestic relations of life; and of a support as a public minister and apostle. Probably some had objected to his claims of apostleship that he had not used this right, and that he was conscious that he had no claim to it. By this mode of interrogation, he strongly implies that he was a freeman, and that he had this right.
Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? - Here it is implied, and seems to be admitted by Paul, that in order to be an “apostle” it was necessary to have seen the Saviour. This is often declared expressly; see the note at Acts 1:21-22. The reason of this was, that the apostles were appointed to be witnesses of the life, doctrines, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and that in their “being witnesses” consisted the uniqueness of the apostolic office. That this was the case is abundantly manifest from Matthew 28:18-19; Luke 24:48; Acts 1:21-22; Acts 2:32; Acts 10:39-41. Hence, it was essential, in order that anyone should be such a witness, and an apostle, that he should have seen the Lord Jesus. In the case of Paul, therefore, who was called to this office after the death and resurrection of the Saviour, and who had not therefore had an opportunity of seeing and hearing him when living, this was provided for by the fact that the Lord Jesus showed himself to him after his death and ascension, in order that he might have this qualification for the apostolic office, Acts 9:3-5, Acts 9:17. To the fact of his having been thus in a miraculous manner qualified for the apostolic office, Paul frequently appeals, and always with the same view that it was necessary to have seen the Lord Jesus to qualify one for this office, Acts 22:14-15; Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 15:8. It follows from this, therefore, that no one was an apostle in the strict and proper sense who had not seen the Lord Jesus. And it follows, also, that the apostles could have no successors in that which constituted the uniqueness of their office; and that the office must have commenced and ended with them.
Are not ye my work in the Lord? - Have you not been converted by my labors, or under my ministry; and are you not a proof that the Lord, when I have been claiminG to be an apostle, has owned me “as an apostle,” and blessed me in this work? God would not give his sanction to an impostor, and a false pretender; and as Paul had labored there as an apostle, this was an argument that he had been truly commissioned of God. A minister may appeal to the blessing of God on his labors in proof that he is sent of Him. And one of the best of all arguments that a man is sent from God exists where multitudes of souls are converted from sin, and turned to holiness, by his labors. What better credentials than this can a man need that he is in the employ of God? What more consoling to his own mind? What more satisfactory to the world?
If I be not an apostle unto others - “If I have not given evidence to others of my apostolic mission; of my being sent by the Lord Jesus, yet I have to you. Assuredly you, among whom I have labored so long and so successfully, should not doubt that I am sent from the Lord. You have been well acquainted with me; you have witnessed my endowments, you have seen my success, and you have had abundant evidence that I have been sent on this great work. It is therefore strange in you to doubt my apostolic commission; and it is unkind in you so to construe my declining to accept your contributions and aid for my support, as if I were conscious that I was not entitled to that.”
For the seal of mine apostleship. - Your conversion is the demonstration that I am an apostle. Paul uses strong language. He does not mean to say that their conversion furnished some evidence that he was an apostle; but that it was absolute proof, and unbreakable demonstration, that he was an apostle. A “seal” is that which is affixed to a deed, or other instrument, to make it firm, secure, and indisputable. It is the proof or demonstration of the validity of the conveyance, or of the writing; see the notes at John 3:33; John 6:27. The sense here is, therefore, that the conversion of the Corinthians was a certain demonstration that he was an apostle, and should be so regarded by them, and treated by them. It was such a proof:
(3)They knew him, had seen him, heard him, were acquainted with his doctrines and manner of life, and could bear testimony to what he was, and what he taught.
We may remark, that the conversion of sinners is the best evidence to a minister that he is sent of God. The divine blessing on his labors should cheer his heart, and lead him to believe that God has sent and that he approves him. And every minister should so live and labor, should so deny himself, that he may be able to appeal to the people among whom he labors that he is a minister of the Lord Jesus.
Mine answer - Greek Ἡ ἐμὴ ἀπολογία Hē emē apologia. My “apology;” my defense. The same word occurs in Acts 22:1; Acts 25:16; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:16; 1 Peter 3:15; see the note at Acts 22:1. Here it means his answer, or defense against those who sat in judgment on his claims to be an apostle.
To them that do examine me. - To those who “inquire” of me; or who “censure” and condemn me as not having any claims to the apostolic office. The word used here ἀνακρίνω anakrinō is properly a forensic term, and is usually applied to judges in courts; to those who sit in judgment, and investigate and decide in litigated cases brought before them; Luke 23:14; Acts 4:9; Acts 12:19; Acts 24:8. The apostle here may possibly allude to the arrogance and pride of those who presumed to sit as judges on his qualification for the apostolic office. It is not meant that this answer had been given by Paul before this, but that this was the defense which he had to offer.
Is this - This which follows; the statements which are made in the following verses. In these statements (1 Corinthians 9:4-6, etc.) he seems to have designed to take up their objections to his apostolic claims one by one, and to show that they were of no force.
Have we not power - (ἐξουσίαν exousian) Have we not the “right.” The word “power” here is evidently used in the sense of “right” (compare John 1:12, “margin”); and the apostle means to say that though they had not exercised this “right by demanding” a maintenance, yet it was not because they were conscious that they had no such right, but because they chose to forego it for wise and important purposes.
To eat and to drink - To be maintained at the expense of those among whom we labor. Have we not a right to demand that they shall yield us a proper support? By the interrogative form of the statement, Paul intends more strongly to affirm that they had such a right. The interrogative mode is often adopted to express the strongest affirmation. The objection here urged seems to have been this, “You, Paul and Barnabas, labor with your own hands. Acts 18:3. Other religious teachers lay claim to maintenance, and are supported without personal labor. This is the case with pagan and Jewish priests, and with Christian teachers among us. You must be conscious, therefore, that you are not apostles, and that you have no claim or right to support.” To this the answer of Paul is, “We admit that we labor with our own hands. But your inference does not follow. It is not because we have not a right to such support, and it is not because we are conscious that we have no such claim, but it is for a higher purpose. It is because it will do good if we should not urge this right, and enforce this claim.” That they had such a right, Paul proves at length in the subsequent part of the chapter.
Have we not power? - Have we not a right? The objection here seems to have been, that Paul and Barnabas were unmarried, or at least that they traveled without wives. The objectors urged that others had wives, and that they took them with them, and expected provision to be made for them as well as for themselves. They therefore showed that they felt that they had a claim to support for their families, and that they were conscious that they were sent of God. But Paul and Barnabas had no families. And the objectors inferred that they were conscious that they had no claim to the apostleship, and no right to support. To this Paul replies as before, that they had a right to do as others did, but they chose not to do it for other reasons than that they were conscious that they had no such right.
To lead about - To have in attendance with us; to conduct from place to place; and to have them maintained at the expense of the churches amongst which we labor.
A sister, a wife - Margin, “or woman.” This phrase has much perplexed commentators. But the simple meaning seems to be, A wife who should be a Christian, and regarded as sustaining the relation of a Christian sister.” Probably Paul meant to advert to the fact that the wives of the apostles were and should be Christians; and that it was a matter of course, that if an apostle led about a wife she would be a Christian; or that he would marry no other; compare 1 Corinthians 3:11.
As well as other apostles - It is evident from this that the apostles generally were married. The phrase used here is οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι hoi loipoi apostoloi (“the remaining apostles,” or the other apostles). And if they were married, it is right and proper for ministers to marry now, whatever the papist may say to the contrary. It is safer to follow the example of the apostles than the opinions of the papal church. The reasons why the apostles had wives with them on their journeys may have been various. They may have been either to give instruction and counsel to those of their own sex to whom the apostles could not have access, or to minister to the needs of their husbands as they traveled. It is to be remembered that they traveled among pagans; they had no acquaintance and no friends there; they therefore took with them their female friends and wives to minister to them, and sustain them in sickness, trial, etc. Paul says that he and Barnabas had a right to do this; but they had not used this right because they chose rather to make the gospel without charge 1 Corinthians 9:18, and that thus they judged they could do more good. It follows from this:
(1) That it is right for ministers to marry, and that the papal doctrine of the celibacy of the clergy is contrary to apostolic example.
(2) It is right for missionaries to marry, and to take their wives with them to pagan lands. The apostles were missionaries, and spent their lives in pagan nations as missionaries do now, and there may be as good reasons for missionaries marrying now as there were then.
(3) Yet there are people, like Paul, who can do more good without being married. There are circumstances, like his, where it is not advisable that they should marry, and there can be no doubt that Paul regarded the unmarried state for a missionary as preferable and advisable. Probably the same is to be said of most missionaries at the present day, that they could do more good if unmarried, than they can if burdened with the cares of families.
And as the brethren of the Lord - The brothers of the Lord Jesus, James and Joses, and Simon and Judas, Matthew 13:55. It seems from this, that although at first they did not believe in him John 7:5, and had regarded him as disgraced Mark 3:21, yet that they had subsequently become converted, and were employed as ministers and evangelists. It is evident also from this statement that they were married, and were attended with their wives in their travels.
And Cephas - Peter; see the note at John 1:42. This proves:
(1) As well as the declaration in Matthew 8:14, that Peter had been married.
(2) That he had a wife after he became an apostle, and while engaged in the work of the ministry.
(3) That his wife accompanied him in his travels.
(4) That it is right and proper for ministers and missionaries to be married now.
Is it not strange that the pretended successor of Peter, the pope of Rome, should forbid marriage when Peter himself was married? Is it not a proof how little the papacy regards the Bible, and the example and authority of those from whom it pretends to derive its power? And is it not strange that this doctrine of the celibacy of the clergy, which has been the source of abomination, impurity, and licentiousness everywhere, should have been sustained and countenanced at all by the Christian world? And is it not strange that this, with all the other corrupt doctrines of the papacy, should be attempted to be imposed on the enlightened people of the United States, or of Great Britain, as a part of the religion of Christ?
Or I only and Barnabas - Paul and Barnabas had worked together as tent-makers at Corinth; Acts 18:3. From this fact it had been inferred that they “knew” that they had no claim to a support.
Power to forbear working - To abstain from labor, and to receive support as others do. The question implies a strong affirmation that they had such power. The sense is, ‘Why should I and Barnabas be regarded as having no right to support? Have we been less faithful than others? Have we done less? Have we given fewer evidences that we are sent by the Lord, or that God approves us in our work? Have we been less successful? Why then should we be singled out; and why should it be supposed that we are obliged to labor for our support? “Is there no other conceivable reason” why we should support ourselves than a consciousness that we have no right to support from the people with whom we labor?” It is evident from 1 Corinthians 9:12, that Barnabas as well as Paul relinquished his right to a support, and labored to maintain himself. And it is manifest from the whole passage, that there was some special “spleen” (“Doddridge”) against these two ministers of the gospel. What it was we know not. It might have arisen from the enmity and opposition of Judaizing teachers, who were offended at their zeal and success among the Gentiles, and who could find no other cause of complaint against them than that they chose to support themselves, and not live in idleness, or to tax the church for their support. That must have been a bad cause which was sustained by such an argument.
Who goeth a warfare ... - Paul now proceeds to illustrate the right which he knew ministers had to a support 1 Corinthians 9:7-14, and then to show the reason why he had not availed himself of that right; 1 Corinthians 9:15-23. The right he illustrates from the nature of the case 1 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 9:11; from the authority of Scripture 1 Corinthians 9:8-10; from the example of the priests under the Jewish law 1 Corinthians 9:18; and from the authority of Jesus Christ; 1 Corinthians 9:14. In this verse (7th) the right is enforced by the nature of the case, and by three illustrations. The first is, the right of a soldier or warrior to his wages. The Christian ministry is compared to a warfare, and the Christian minister to a soldier; compare 1 Timothy 1:18. The soldier had a right to receive pay from him who employed him. He did not go at his own expense. This was a matter of common equity; and on this principle all acted who enlisted as soldiers.
So Paul says it is but equitable also that the soldier of the Lord Jesus should be sustained, and should not be required to support himself. And why, we may ask, should he be, any more than the man who devotes his strength, and time, and talents to the defense of his country? The work of the ministry is as arduous, and as self-denying, and perhaps as dangerous, as the work of a soldier; and common justice, therefore, demands that he who devotes his youth, and health and life to it, for the benefit of others should have a competent support. Why should not he receive a competent support who seeks to save people, as well as he who lives to destroy them? Why not he who endeavors to recover them to God, and make them pure and happy, as well as he who lives to destroy life, and pour out human blood, and to fill the air with the shrieks of new made widows and orphans? Or why not he who seeks, though in another mode, to defend the great interests of his country, and to maintain the interests of justice, truth, and mercy, for the benefit of mankind, as well as he who is willing in the tented field to spend his time, or exhaust his health and life in protecting the rights of the nation?
At his own charges - His own expense. On the meaning of the word “charges” (ὀψωνίοις opsōniois) see the note at Luke 3:14; compare Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 11:8. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
Who planteth a vineyard ... - This is the second illustration from the nature of the case, to show that ministers of the gospel have a right to support. The argument is this: ‘It is reasonable that those who labor should have a fair compensation. A man who plants a vineyard does not expect to labor for nothing; he expects support from that labor, and looks for it from the vineyard. The vineyard owes its beauty, growth, and productiveness to him. It is reasonable, therefore, that from that vineyard he should receive a support, as a compensation for his toil. So we labor for your welfare. You derive advantage from our toil. We spend our time, and strength, and talent for your benefit; and it is reasonable that we should be supported while we thus labor for your good.” The church of God is often compared to “a vineyard;” and this adds to the beauty of this illustration; see Isaiah 5:1-4; see the notes at Luke 20:9-16.
Who feedeth a flock ... - This is the third illustration drawn from the nature of the case, to show that ministers have a right to support. The word “feedeth” (ποιμαίνει poimainei) denotes not only to “feed,” but to guard, protect, defend, as a shepherd does his flock; see the notes at John 21:15-17. “The wages of the shepherds in the East do not consist of ready money, but in a part of the milk of the flocks which they tend. Thus, Spon says of the shepherds in modern Greece, “These shepherds are poor Albanians, who feed the cattle, and live in huts built of rushes; they have a tenth part of the milk and of the lambs which is their whole wages; the cattle belong to the Turks.” The shepherds in Ethiopia, also, according to Alvarez, have no pay except the milk and butter which they obtain from the cows, and on which they and their families subsist” - Rosenmuller. The church is often compared to a flock; see the note at John 10:1 ff.
The argument here is this: “A shepherd spends his days and nights in guarding his folds. He leads his flock to green pastures, he conducts them to still waters (compare Psalms 23:2); he defends them from enemies; he guards the young, the sick, the feeble, etc. He spends his time in protecting it and providing for it. He expects support, when in the wilderness or in the pastures, mainly from the milk which the flock should furnish. He labors for their comfort; and it is proper that he should derive a maintenance from them, and he has a right to it. So the minister of the gospel watches for the good of souls. He devotes his time, strength, learning, talents, to their welfare. He instructs, guides, directs, defends; he endeavors to guard them against their spiritual enemies, and to lead them in the path of comfort and peace. He lives to instruct the ignorant; to warn and secure those who are in danger; to guide the perplexed; to reclaim the wandering; to comfort; the afflicted; to bind up the broken in heart; to attend on the sick; to be an example and an instructor to the young; and to be a counsellor and a pattern to all. As he labors for their good, it is no more than equal and right that they should minister to his temporal needs, and compensate him for his efforts to promote their happiness and salvation. And can anyone say that this is not right and just?
Say I these things as a man? - Do I speak this on my own authority, or without the sanction of God? Is not this, which appears to be so reasonable and equitable, also supported by the authority of God?
Or saith not the law the same also? - The Law of Moses, to which the “Jewish” part of the church at Corinth - which probably had mainly urged these objections - professed to bow with deference. Paul was accustomed, especially in arguing with the Jews, to derive his proofs from the Old Testament. In the previous verse he had shown that it was equitable that ministers of the gospel should be supported. In this and the following verses he shows that the same principle was recognized and acted on under the Jewish dispensation. He does not mean to say, by this example of the ox treading out the grain, that the law as given by Moses referred to the Christian ministry; but that the principle there was settled that the laborer should have a support, and that a suitable provision should not be withheld even from an ox; and if God so regarded the welfare of a brute when laboring, it was much more reasonable to suppose that he would require a suitable provision to be made for the ministers of religion.
For it is written - Deuteronomy 25:4.
In the law of Moses - See the note at Luke 24:44.
Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth ... - To muzzle means, “to bind the mouth; to fasten the mouth to prevent eating or biting” - Webster. This was done either by passing straps around the mouth, or by placing, as is now sometimes done, a small “basket” over the mouth, fastened by straps to the horns of the animal, so as to prevent its eating, but not to impede its breathing freely. This was an instance of the humanity of the laws of Moses. The idea is, that the ox should not be prevented from eating when it was in the midst of food; and that as it labored for its owner, it was entitled to support; and there was a propriety that it should be permitted to partake of the grain which it was threshing.
That treadeth ... - This was one of the common modes of threshing in the east, as it is with us; see the note and illustration on Matthew 3:12.
The corn - The “grain,” of any kind; wheat, rye, barley, etc. Maize, to which we apply the word “corn,” was then unknown; see the note at Matthew 12:1.
Doth God take care for oxen? - Doth God take care for oxen only? Or is not this rather “a principle” which shows God’s care for all that labor, and the humanity and equity of his laws? And if he is so solicitous about the welfare of brutes as to frame an express law in their behalf, is it not to be presumed that the same “principle” of humanity and equity will run through all his dealings and requirements? The apostle does not mean to deny that God does take care for oxen, for the very law was proof that he did; but he means to ask whether it is to be supposed that God would regard the comfort of oxen and not of people also? Whether we are not to suppose that the same principle would apply also to those who labor in the service of God? He uses this passage, therefore, not as originally having reference to people, or to ministers of the gospel, which cannot be; but as establishing a general “principle” in regard to the equity and humanity of the divine laws; and as thus showing that the spirit of the law of God would lead to the conclusion that God intended that the laborer everywhere should have a competent support.
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? - The word “altogether” (πάντως pantōs) cannot mean that this was the “sole” and “only” design of the law, to teach that ministers of the gospel were entitled to support; for:
(1) This would be directly contrary to the law itself, which had some direct and undoubted reference to oxen;
(2) The scope of the argument here does not require this interpretation, since the whole object will be met by supposing that this settled a “principle” of humanity and equity in the divine law, according to which it was “proper” that ministers should have a support; and,
(3) The word “altogether” (πάντως pantōs) does not of necessity require this interpretation. It may be rendered “chiefly, mainly, principally, or doubtless;” Luke 4:23, “Ye will ‘surely’ (πάντως pantōs certainly, surely, doubtless) say unto me this proverb,” etc.; Acts 18:21, “I must ‘by all means’ (πάντως pantōs, certainly, surely) keep this feast; Acts 21:22, “The multitude ‘must needs’ (πάντως pantōs, will certainly, surely, inevitably) come together,” etc.; Acts 28:4, “‘No doubt’ (πάντως pantōs) this man is a murderer,” etc. The word here, therefore, means that the “principle” stated in the law about the oxen was so broad and humane, that it might “certainly, surely, particularly” be regarded as applicable to the case under consideration. An important and material argument might be drawn from it; an argument from the less to the greater. The precept enjoined justice, equity, humanity; and that was more applicable to the case of the ministers of the gospel than to the case of oxen.
For our sakes ... - To show that the laws and requirements of God are humane, kind, and equitable; not that Moses had Paul or any other minister in his eye, but the “principle” was one that applied particularly to this case.
That he that ploweth ... - The Greek in this place would be more literally and more properly rendered, “For (ὅτι hoti) he that ploweth ought (ὀφείλει opheilei) to plow in hope;” that is, in hope of reaping a harvest, or of obtaining success in his labors; and the sense is, “The man who cultivates the earth, in order that he may be excited to industry and diligence, ought to have a reasonable prospect that he shall himself be permitted to enjoy the fruit of his labors. This is the case with those who do plow; and if this should be the case with those who cultivate the earth, it is as certainly reasonable that those who labor in God’s husbandry, and who devote their strength to his service, should be encouraged with a reasonable prospect of success and support.”
And that he that thresheth ... - This sentence, in the Greek, is very elliptical and obscure; but the sense is, evidently, “He that thresheth ‘ought’ to partake of his hope;” that is, of the fruits of his hope, or of the result of his labor. It is fair and right that he should enjoy the fruits of his toil. So in God’s husbandry; it is right and proper that they who toil for the advancement of his cause should be supported and rewarded.” The same sentiment is expressed in 2 Timothy 2:6, “The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits.”
If we have sown unto you spiritual things - If we have been the means of imparting to you the gospel, and bestowing upon you its high hopes and privileges; see the note at Romans 15:27. The figure of “sowing,” to denote the preaching of the gospel, is not unfrequently employed in the Scriptures; see John 4:37, and the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:3 ff.
Is it a great thing ... - See the note at Romans 15:27. Is it to be regarded as unequal, unjust, or burdensome? Is it to be supposed that we are receiving that for which we have not rendered a valuable consideration? The sense is, “We impart blessings of more value than we receive. We receive a supply of our temporal needs. We impart to you, under the divine blessing, the gospel, with all its hopes and consolations. We make you acquainted with God; with the plan of salvation; with the hope of heaven. We instruct your children; we guide you in the path of comfort and peace; we raise you from the degradations of idolatry and of sin; and we open before you the hope of the resurrection of the just, and of all the bliss of heaven; and to do this, we give ourselves to toil and peril by land and by sea. And can it be made a matter of question whether all these high and exalted hopes are of as much value to dying man as the small amount which shall be needful to minister to the needs of those who are the means of imparting these blessings?” Paul says this, therefore, from the reasonableness of the case. The propriety of support might be further urged:
(1) Because without it the ministry would be comparatively useless. Ministers, like physicians, lawyers, and farmers, should be allowed to attend mainly to the great business of their lives, and to their appropriate work. No physician, no farmer, no mechanic, could accomplish much, if his attention was constantly turned off from his appropriate business to engage in something else. And how can the minister of the gospel, if his time is nearly all taken up in laboring to provide for the needs of his family?
(2) The great mass of ministers spend their early days, and many of them all their property, in preparing to preach the gospel to others. And as the mechanic who has spent his early years in learning a trade, and the physician and lawyer in preparing for their profession, receive support in that calling, why should not the minister of the gospel?
(3) People in other things cheerfully pay those who labor for them. They compensate the schoolmaster, the physician, the lawyer; the merchant, the mechanic; and they do it cheerfully, because they suppose they receive a valuable consideration for their money. But is it not so with regard to ministers of the gospel? Is not a man’s family as certainly benefited by the labors of a faithful clergyman and pastor, as by the skill of a physician or a lawyer, or by the service of the schoolmaster? Are not the affairs of the soul and of eternity as important to a man’s family as those of time and the welfare of the body? So the music-master and the dancing master are paid, and paid cheerfully and liberally; and yet can there be any comparison between the value of their services and those of the minister of the gospel?
(4) It might be added, that society is benefited in a “pecuniary” way by the service of a faithful minister to a far greater extent than the amount of compensation which he receives. One drunkard, reformed under his labors, may earn and save to his family and to society as much as the whole salary of the pastor. The promotion of order, peace, sobriety, industry, education, and regularity in business, and honesty in contracting and in paying debts, saves much more to the community at large than the cost of the support of the gospel. In regard to this, any man may make the comparison at his leisure, between those places where the ministry is established, and where temperance, industry, and sober habits prevail, and those places where there is no ministry, and where gambling, idleness, and dissipation abound. It is always a matter of “economy” to a people, in the end, to support schoolmasters and ministers as they ought to be supported.
Reap your carnal things - Partake of those things which relate to the present life; the support of the body, that is, food and raiment.
If others - Other teachers living with you. There can be no doubt that the teachers in Corinth urged this right, and received a support.
Be partakers of this power - Of this right to a support and maintenance.
Are not we rather - We the apostles; we who have labored for your conversion; who have founded your church; who have been the first, and the most laborious in instructing you, and imparting to you spiritual blessings? Have not we a better claim than they?.
Nevertheless we have not used this power - We have not urged this claim; we have chosen to forego this right, and to labor for our own support. The reason why they had done this, he states in the subsequent part of the chapter; see 2Co 11:7-9; 2 Corinthians 12:14; compare Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34-35.
But suffer all things - Endure all privations and hardships; we subject ourselves to poverty, want, hunger, thirst, nakedness, rather than urge a “claim” on you, and thus leave the suspicion that we are actuated by mercenary motives. The word used here (στέγομεν stegomen suffer) means properly “to cover,” to keep off, as rain, etc., and then “to contain, to sustain, tolerate, endure.” Here it means to bear, or endure all hardships; compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 4:11-13.
Lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ - Paul here states the reason why he had not urged a claim to support in preaching the gospel. It was not because he was not entitled to a full support, but it was that by denying himself of this right he could do good, and avoid some evil consequences which would have resulted if he had strenuously urged it. His conduct therefore in this was just one illustration of the principle on which he said 1 Corinthians 8:13 he would always act; a readiness to deny himself of things lawful, if by that he could promote the welfare of others. The reasons why his urging this claim might have hindered the gospel may have been many:
(1) It might have exposed him and the ministry generally to the charge of being mercenary.
(2) It would have prevented his presenting in bold relief the fact that he was bound to preach the gospel at all events, and that he was actuated in it by a simple conviction of its truth.
(3) It might have alienated many minds who might otherwise have been led to embrace it.
(4) It would have prevented the exercise of self-denial in him, and the benefits which resulted from that self-denial, etc., 1 Corinthians 9:17-18, 1Co 9:23, 1 Corinthians 9:27.
Do ye not know ... - In this verse Paul illustrates the doctrine that the ministers of religion were, entitled to a support from the fact that those who were appointed to offer sacrifice receive a maintenance in their work.
They which minister about holy things - Probably the “Levites.” Their office was to render assistance to the priests, to keep guard around the tabernacle, and subsequently around the temple. It was also their duty to see that the temple was kept clean, and to prepare supplies for the sanctuary, such as oil, wine, incense, etc. They had the care of the revenues, and after the time of David were required to sing in the temple, and to play upon instruments. Numbers 3:1-36; Numbers 4:1, Numbers 4:30, Numbers 4:35, Numbers 4:42; Numbers 8:5-22; 1 Chronicles 23:3-5, 1 Chronicles 23:24, 1 Chronicles 23:27; 1 Chronicles 24:20-31.
Live of the things of the temple - Margin, “Feed;” that is, are supported in their work by the offerings of the people, and by the provisions which were made for the temple service; see Numbers 18:24-32.
And they which wait at the altar - Probably the priests who were employed in offering sacrifice.
Are partakers with the altar - That is, a part of the animal offered in sacrifice is burned as an offering to God, and a part becomes the property of the priest for his support; and thus the altar and the priest become joint participators of the sacrifice. From these offerings the priest derived their maintenance; see Numbers 18:8-19; Deuteronomy 18:1, etc. The argument of the apostle here is this: “As the ministers of religion under the Jewish dispensation were entitled to support by the authority and the law of God, that fact settles a general principle which is applicable also to the gospel, that he intends that the ministers of religion should derive their support in their work. If it was reasonable then, it is reasonable now. If God commanded it then, it is to be presumed that he intends to require it now.
Even so - In the same manner, and for the same reasons.
Hath the Lord ordained - Hath the Lord appointed, commanded, “arranged” that it should be so (διέταξε dietaxe). The word here means that he has made this a law, or has required it. The word “Lord” here doubtless refers to the Lord Jesus, who has sent forth his ministers to labor in the great harvest of the world.
That they which preach the gospel - They who are sent forth by him; who devote their lives to this work; who are called and employed by him in this service. This refers, therefore, not only to the apostles, but to all who are duly called to this work, and who are his ambassadors.
Should live of the gospel - Should be supported and maintained in this work. Paul here probably refers to the appointment of the Lord Jesus, when he sent forth his disciples to preach, Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:8; compare Galatians 6:6. The man may be said to “live in the gospel” who is supported while he preaches it, or wire derives his maintenance in that work. Here we may observe:
(1) That the command is that they shall “live” (ζῇν zēn) of the gospel. It is not that they should grow rich, or lay up treasures, or speculate in it, or become merchants, farmers, teachers, or bookmakers for a living; but it is that they should have such a maintenance as to constitute a livelihood. They should be made comfortable; not rich. They should receive so much as to keep their minds from being harassed with cares, and their families from want not so much as to lead them to forget their dependence on God, or on the people. Probably the true rule is, that they should be able to live as the mass of the people among whom they labor live; that they should be able to receive and entertain the poor, and be willing to do it; and so that the rich also may not despise them, or turn away from their dwelling.
(2) This is a command of the Lord Jesus; and if it is a command, it should be obeyed as much as any other law of the Redeemer. And if this is a command, then the minister is entitled to a support; and then also a people are not at liberty to withhold it. Further, there are as strong reasons why they should support him, as there are why they should pay a schoolmaster, a lawyer, a physician, or a day-laborer. The minister usually toils as hard as others; expends as much in preparing for his work; and does as much good. And there is even a higher claim in this case. God has given an express command in this case; he has not in the others.
(3) The salary of a minister should not be regarded as a “gift” merely, any more than the pay of a congressman, a physician, or a lawyer. He has a claim to it; and God has commanded that it should be paid. It is, moreover, a matter of stipulation and of compact, by which a people agree to compensate him for his services. And yet, is there anything in the shape of “debt” where there is so much looseness as in regard to this subject? Are people usually as conscientious in this as they are in paying a physician or a merchant? Are not ministers often in distress for that which has been promised them, and which they have a right to expect? And is not their usefulness, and the happiness of the people, and the honor of religion intimately connected with obeying the rule of the Lord Jesus in this respect?
But I have used none of these things - I have not urged and enforced this right. I have chosen to support myself by the labor of my own hands. This had been objected to him as a reason why he could not be an apostle. He here shows that that was not the reason why he had not; urged this claim; but that it was because in this way he could do most to honor the gospel and save the souls of people; compare Acts 20:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:8. The sense is, “Though my right to a support is established, in common with others, both by reason, the nature of the case, the examples in the law, and the command of the Lord Jesus, yet there are reasons why I have not chosen to avail myself of this right, and why I have not urged these claims.”
Neither have I written these things ... - “I have not presented this argument now in order to induce you to provide for me. I do not intend now to ask or receive a support from you. I urge it to show that I feel that I have a right to it; that my conduct is not an argument that I am conscious I am not an apostle; and that I might urge it were there not strong reasons which determine me not to do it. I neither ask you to send me now a support, nor, if I visit you again, do I expect you will contribute to my maintenance.”
For it were better for me to die ... - There are advantages growing out of my not urging this claim which are of more importance to me than life. Rather than forego these advantages, it would be better for me - it would be a thing which I would prefer - to pine in poverty and want; to be exposed to peril, and cold, and storms, until life should close. I esteem my “glorying,” the advantages of my course, to be of more value than life itself.
Than that any man should make my glorying void - His glorying, or boasting, or “joying,” as it may be more properly rendered τὸ καύχημά μου to kauchēma mou; compare Philippians 1:26; Hebrews 3:6), was:
(1) That he had preached the gospel without expense to anybody, and had thus prevented the charge of avarice 1 Corinthians 9:18; and,
(2) That he had been able to keep his body under, and pursue a course of self-denial that would result in his happiness and glory in heaven, 1 Corinthians 9:23-27. “Any man” would have made that “void,” if he had supported Paul; had prevented the necessity of his labor, and had thus exposed him to the charge of having preached the gospel for the sake of gain.
For though I preach the gospel ... - This, with the two following verses, is a very difficult passage, and has been very variously understood by interpreters. The general scope and purpose of the passage is to show what was the ground of his “glorying,” or of his hope of” reward” in preaching the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9:15. He had intimated that he had cause of” glorying,” and that that cause was one which he was determined no one should take away. In this passage 1 Corinthians 9:16-18. He states what that was. He says, it was not simply that he preached; for there was a necessity laid on him, and he could not help it; his call was such, the command was such, that his life would be miserable if he did not do it, But all idea of “glorying,” or of “reward,” must be connected with some voluntary service - something which would show the inclination, disposition, desire of the soul. And as that in his case could not be well shown where a “necessity” was laid on him, it could be shown only in his submitting voluntarily to trials; in denying himself; in being willing to forego comforts which he might lawfully enjoy; and in thus furnishing a full and complete test of his readiness to do anything to promote the gospel. The essential idea here is, therefore, that there was such a necessity laid on him in his call to preach the gospel, that his compliance with that call could not be regarded as appropriately connected with reward; and that in his case the circumstance which showed that reward would be proper, was, his denying himself, and making the gospel without charge. This would show that “his heart was in the thing;” that he was was not urged on by necessity; that he loved the work; and that it would be consistent for the Lord to reward him for his self-denials and toils in his service.
I have nothing to glory of - The force of this would be better seen by a more literal translation. “It is not to me glorying;” that is, this is not the cause of my glorying, or rejoicing οὐκ ἔστι μοι καύχημα ouk esti moi kauchēma. In 1 Corinthians 9:15 he had said that he had a cause of glorying, or of joy (καύχημα kauchēma). He here says that that joy or glorying did not consist in the simple fact that he preached the gospel; for necessity was laid on him; there was some other cause and source of his joy or glorying than that simple fact; 1 Corinthians 9:18. Others preached the gospel also in common with them, it might be a source of joy to him that he preached the gospel; but it was not the source of his special joy, for he had been called into the apostleship in such a manner as to render it inevitable that he should preach the gospel. his glorying was of another kind.
For necessity is laid upon me. - My preaching is in a manner inevitable, and cannot therefore be regarded as that in which I especially glory. I was called into the ministry in a miraculous manner; I was addressed personally by the Lord Jesus; I was arrested when I was a persecutor; I was commanded to go and preach; I had a direct commission from heaven. There was no room for hesitancy or debate on the subject Galatians 1:16, and I gave myself at once and entirely to the work; Acts 9:6. I have been urged to this by a direct call from heaven; and to yield obedience to this call cannot be regarded as evincing such an inclination to give myself to this work as if the call had been in the usual mode, and with less decided manifestations. We are not to suppose that Paul was compelled to preach, or that he was not voluntary in his work, or that he did not prefer it to any other employment, but he speaks in a popular sense, as saying that he “could not help it;” or that the evidence of his call was irresistible, and left no room for hesitation.
He was free; but there was not the slightest room for debate on the subject. The evidence of his call was so strong that he could not but yield. Probably none now have evidences of their call to the ministry as strong as this. But there are many, very many, who feel that a kind of necessity is laid on them to preach. Their consciences urge them to it. They would be miserable in any other employment. The course of Providence has shut them up to it. Like Saul of Tarsus, they may have been persecutors, or revilers, or “injurious,” or blasphemers 1 Timothy 1:13; or they may, like him, have commenced a career of ambition; or they may have been engaged in some scheme of money-making or of pleasure; and in an hour when they little expected it, they have been arrested by the truth of God, and their attention directed to the gospel ministry. Many a minister has, before entering the ministry, formed many other purposes of life; but the providence of God barred his way, hemmed in his goings, and constrained him to become an ambassador of the cross.
Yea, woe is unto me ... - I should be miserable and wretched if I did not preach. My preaching, therefore, in itself considered, cannot be a subject of glorying. I am shut up to it. I am urged to it in every way. I should be wretched were I not to do it, and were I to seek any other calling. My conscience would reproach me. My judgment would condemn me. My heart would pain me. I should have no comfort in any other calling; and God would frown upon me. Hence, learn:
(1) That Paul had been converted. Once he had no love for the ministry, but persecuted the Saviour. With the feelings which he then had, he would have been wretched in the ministry; with those which he now had, he would have been wretched out of it. His heart, therefore, had been wholly changed.
(2) All ministers who are duly called to the work can say the same thing. They would be wretched in any other calling. Their conscience would reproach them. They would have no interest in the plans of the world; in the schemes of wealth, and pleasure, and fame. Their heart is in This work, and in this alone. In this, though amidst circumstances of poverty, persecution, nakedness, cold, peril, sickness, they have comfort. In any other calling, though surrounded by affluence, friends, wealth, honors, pleasures, gaiety, fashion, they would be miserable.
(3) A man whose heart is not in the ministry, and who would be as happy in any other calling, is not fit to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ. Unless his heart is there, and he prefers that to any other calling, he should never think of preaching the gospel.
(4) People who leave the ministry, and voluntarily devote themselves to some other calling when they might preach, never had the proper spirit of an ambassador of Jesus. If for the sake of ease or gain; if to avoid the cares and anxieties of the life of a pastor; if to make money, or secure money when made; if to cultivate a farm, to teach a school, to write a book, to live upon an estate, or to “enjoy life,” they lay aside the ministry, it is proof that they never had a call to the work. So did not Paul; and so did not Paul’s Master and ours. They loved the work, and they left it not till death. Neither for ease, honor, nor wealth; neither to avoid care, toil, pain, or poverty, did they cease in their work, until the one could say, “I have fought a good fight, “I have finished my course,” I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7; and the other, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do;” John 17:4.
(5) We see the reason why people are sometimes “miserable” in other callings. They, should have entered the ministry. God called them to it; and they became hopefully pious. But they chose the law, or the practice of medicine, or chose to be farmers, merchants, teachers, professors, or statesmen. And God withers their piety, blights their happiness, follows them with the reproaches of conscience, makes them sad, melancholy, wretched. They do no good; and they have no comfort in life. Ever man should do the will of God, and then every man would be happy.
For if I do this thing willingly - If I preach so as to show that my heart is in it; that I am not compelled, If I pursue such a course as to show that I prefer it to all other employments. If Paul took a compensation for his services, he could not well do this; if he did not, he showed that his heart was in it, and that he preferred the work to all others. Even though he had been in a manner compelled to engage in that work, yet he so acted in the work as to show that it had his hearty preference. This was done by his submitting to voluntary self-denials and sacrifices in order to spread the Saviour’s name.
I have a reward - I shall meet with the approbation of my Lord, and shall obtain the reward in the world to come, which is promised to those who engage heartily, and laboriously, and successfully in turning sinners to God; Proverbs 11:30; Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 25:21-23; James 5:20.
But if against my will - (ἄκων akōn). “If under a necessity 1 Corinthians 9:16; if by the command of another” (Grotius); if I do it by the fear of punishment, or by any strong necessity which is laid on me.
A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me - I am entrusted with (πεπίστευμαι pepisteumai) this dispensation, office, economy (οἰκονομίαν oikonomian) of the gospel. It has been laid upon me; I have been called to it; I must engage in this work; and if I do it from mere compulsion or in such a way that my will shall not acquiesce in it, and concur with it, I shall have no distinguished reward. The work must be done; I must preach the gospel; and it becomes me so to do it as to show that my heart and will entirely concur; that it is not a matter of compulsion, but of choice. This he proposed to do by so denying himself, and so foregoing comforts which he might lawfully enjoy, and so subjecting himself to perils and toils in preaching the gospel, as to show that his heart was in the work, and that he truly loved it.
What is my reward then? - What is the source of my reward? or what is there in my conduct that will show that I am entitled to reward What is there that will demonstrate that my heart is in the work of the ministry; that I am free and voluntary, and that I am not urged by mere necessity? Though I have been called by miracle, and though necessity is laid upon me, so that I cannot but preach the gospel, yet how shall I so do it as to make it proper for God to reward me as a voluntary agent? Paul immediately states the circumstance that showed that he was entitled to the reward, and that was, that he denied himself, and was willing to forego his lawful enjoyments, and even his rights, that he might make the gospel without charge.
I may make the gospel of Christ without charge - Without expense to those who hear it. I will support myself by my own labor, and will thus show that I am not urged to preaching by mere “necessity,” but that I love it. Observe here:
(1) That Paul did not give up a support because he was not entitled to it.
(2) He does not say that it would be well or advisable for others to do it.
(3) It is right, and well for a man if he chooses and can do it, to make the gospel without charge, and to support himself.
(4) All that This case proves is, that it would be proper only where a “necessity” was laid on a man, as it was on Paul; when he could not otherwise show that his heart was in the work, and that he was voluntary and loved it.
(5) This passage cannot be urged “by a people” to prove that ministers ought not to have a support. Paul says they have a right to it. A man may forego a right if he pleases. He may choose not to urge it; but no one can demand of him that he should not urge it; much less have they a right to demand that he should give up his rights.
(6) It is best in general that those who hear the gospel should contribute to its support. It is not only equal and right, but it is best for them, We generally set very little value on that which costs us nothing; and the very way to make the gospel contemptible is, to have it preached by those who are supported by the state, or by their own labor in some other department; or by people who neither by their talents, their learning, nor their industry have any claim to a support. All ministers are not like Paul. They have neither been called as he was; nor have they his talent, his zeal, or his eloquence. Paul’s example then should not be urged as an authority for a people to withhold from their pastor what is his due; nor, because Paul chose to forego his rights, should people now demand that a minister should devote his time, and health, and life to their welfare for nothing.
That I abuse not my power in the gospel - Paul had a right to a support. This power he might urge. But to urge it in his circumstances would be a hinderance of the gospel. And to do that would be to abuse his power, or to pervert it to purposes for which it was never designed.
For though I be free - I am a freeman. I am under obligation to none. I am not bound to. give them my labors, and at the same time to toil for my own support. I have claims like others, and could urge them; and no man could demand that I should give myself to a life of servitude, and comply with their prejudices and wishes, as if I were a “slave,” in order to their conversion; compare 1 Corinthians 9:1; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 6:12.
From all men - (ἐκ πάντων ek pantōn). This may either refer to all “persons” or to all “things.” The word “men” is not in the original. The connection, however, seems to fix the signification to “persons.” “I am a freeman. And although I have conducted like a slave, yet it has been done voluntarily.”
I have made myself the servant of all - Greek, “I have ‘enslaved myself’ (ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα emauton edoulōsa) unto all.” That is:
(1) I labor for them, or in their service, and to promote their welfare.
(2) I do it, as the slave does, without reward or hire. I am not paid for it, but submit to the toil, and do it without receiving pay.
(3) Like the slave who wishes to gratify his master, or who is compelled from the necessity of the case, I comply with the prejudices, habits, customs, and opinions of others as far as I can with a good conscience. The “slave” is subject to the master’s will. That will must be obeyed. The whims, prejudices, caprices of the master must be submitted to, even if they are “mere” caprice, and wholly unreasonable. So Paul says that he had voluntarily put himself into this condition, a condition making it necessary for him to suit himself to the opinions, prejudices, caprices, and feelings of all people, so far as he could do it with a good conscience, in order that he might save them. We are not to understand here that Paul embraced any opinions which were false in order to do this, or that he submitted to anything which is morally wrong. But he complied with their customs, and habits, and feelings, as far as it could lawfully be done. He did not needlessly offend them, or run counter to their prejudices.
That I might gain the more - That I might gain more to Christ; that I might be the means of saving more souls. What a noble instance of self-denial and true greatness is here! How worthy of religion! How elevated the conduct! How magnanimous, and how benevolent! No man would do this who had not a greatness of intellect that would rise above narrow prejudices; and who had not a nobleness of heart that would seek at personal sacrifice the happiness of all people. It is said that not a few early Christians, in illustration of this principle of conduct, actually sold themselves into slavery in order that they might have access to and benefit slaves, an act to which nothing would prompt a man but the religion of the cross; compare the note at Romans 1:14.
And unto the Jews - In this verse, and the two following, Paul states more at length the conduct which he had exhibited, and to which he refers in 1 Corinthians 9:19. He had shown this conduct to all classes of people. He had preached much to his own countrymen, and had evinnced these principles there.
I became as a Jew - I complied with their rites, customs, prejudices, as far as I could with a good conscience. I did not needlessly offend them. I did not attack and oppose their views, when there was no danger that my conduct should be mistaken. For a full illustration of Paul’s conduct in this respect, and the principles which influenced him, see the notes on Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 21:21-27; Acts 23:1-6.
To those that are under the law - This I understand as another form of saying that he conformed to the rites, customs, and even prejudices of the Jews. The phrase “under the law” means undoubtedly the law of Moses; and probably he here refers particularly to those Jews who lived in the land of Judea, as being more “immediately and entirely” under the law of Moses, than those who lived among the Gentiles.
As under the law - That is, I conformed to their rites and customs as far as I could do it. I did not violate them unnecessarily. I did not disregard them for the purpose of offending them; nor refuse to observe them when it could be done with a good conscience. There can be no doubt that Paul, when he was in Judea, submitted himself to the laws, and lived in conformity with them.
That I might gain - That I might obtain their confidence and affection. That I might not outrage their feelings, excite their prejudices, and provoke them to anger; and that I might thus have access to their minds, and be the means of converting them to the Christian faith.
To them that are without law - To the Gentiles, who have not the law of Moses; see the note at Romans 2:12, note at Romans 2:14.
As without law - Not practicing the special rites and ceremonies enjoined in the law of Moses. Not insisting on them, or urging them, but showing that the obligation to those rites had been done away; and that they were not binding, though when among the Jews I might still continue to observe them; see the notes at Acts 15:0; and the argument of Paul in Galatians 2:11-18. I neglected the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic law, when I was with those who had not heard of the law of Moses, or those who did not observe them, because I knew that the binding obligation of these ceremonial precepts had ceased. I did not, therefore, press them upon the Gentiles, nor did I superstitiously and publicly practice them. In all this, Paul has reference only to those things which he regarded as in themselves indifferent, and not a matter of conscience; and his purpose was not; needlessly to excite the prejudice or the opposition of the world. Nothing is ever gained by provoking opposition for the mere sake of opposition. Nothing tends more to hinder the gospel than that. In all things of conscience and truth a man should be firm, and should lose his life rather than abandon either; in all things of indifference, of mere custom, of prejudice, he should yield, and accomodate himself to the modes of thinking among people, and adapt himself to their views, feelings, and habits of life, that he may win them to Christ.
Being not without law to God - Not regarding myself as being “absolutely” without law, or as being freed from obligation to obey God. Even in all this, I endeavored so to live as that it might be seen that I felt myself bound by law to God. I was not a despiser, and contemner, and neglector of “law as such,” but only regarded myself as not bound by the special ceremonial law of Moses. This is an instance of Paul’s conscientiousness. He would not leave room to have it supposed for a moment that he disregarded all law. He was bound to God by law; and in the conduct to which he was referring he felt that he was obeying him. He was bound by higher law than those ceremonial observances which were now to be done away. This passage would destroy all the refuges of the Antinomians. Whatever privileges the gospel has introduced, it has not set us free from the restraints and obligations of law. That is binding still; and no man is at liberty to disregard the moral law of God. Christ came to magnify, strengthen, and to honor the law, not to destroy it.
But under the law to Christ - Bound by the law enjoined by Christ; under the law of affectionate gratitude and duty to him. I obeyed his commands; followed his instructions; sought his honor; yielded to his will. In this he would violate none of the rules of the moral law. And he here intimates, that his grand object was to yield obedience to the law of the Saviour, and that this was the governing purpose of his life. And this would guide a man right. In doing this, he would never violate any of the precepts of the moral law, for Christ obeyed them, and enjoined their observance. He would never feel that he was without law to God, for Christ obeyed God, and enjoined it on all. He would never feel that religion came to set him free from law, or to authorize licentiousness; for its grand purpose and aim is to make people holy, and to bind them everywhere to the observance of the pure law of the Redeemer.
To the weak; - See the note at Romans 15:1. To those weak in faith; scrupulous in regard to certain observances; whose consciences were tender and unenlightened, and who would be offended even by things which might be in themselves lawful. He did not lacerate their feelings, and run counter to their prejudices, for the mere sake of doing it.
Became I as weak - I did not shock them. I complied with their customs. I conformed to them in my dress, habits, manner of life, and even in the services of religion. I abstained from food which they deemed it their duty to abstain from; and where, if I had partaken of it, I should have offended them. Paul did not do this to gratify himself, or them, but to do them good. And Paul’s example should teach us not to make it the main business of life to gratify ourselves, and it should teach us not to lacerate the feelings of others; not to excite their prejudices needlessly; not to offend them where it will do no good. If truth offends people, we cannot help it. But in matters of ceremony, and dress, and habits, and customs, and forms, we should be willing to conform to them, as far as can be done, and for the sole purpose of saving their souls.
I am made all things to all men - I become all things; that is, I accommodate myself to them in all things, so far as can be done with a good conscience. “That I might by all means” (πάντως pantōs). That I might use every possible endeavor that some at least might be saved. It is implied here that the opposition to the gospel was everywhere great; that people were reluctant to embrace it; that the great mass were going to ruin, and that Paul was willing to make the highest possible exertions, to deny himself, and practice every innocent art, that he might save “a few at least” out of the innumerable multitudes that were going to death and hell. It follows from this:
(1) That people are in danger of ruin.
(2) We should make an effort to save people. We should deny ourselves, and give ourselves to toil and privation, that we may save some at least from ruin.
(3) The doctrine of universal salvation is not true. If it were, what use or propriety would there have been in these efforts of Paul? If all were to be saved, why should he deny himself, and labor, and toil, to save “some?” Why should a man make a constant effort to save “a few at least,” if he well knew that all were to be saved? Assuredly Paul did not “know” or believe that all people would be saved; but if the doctrine is true, he would have been quite as likely to have known it as its modern advocates and defenders.
For the gospel’s sake - That it may be advanced, and may be successful.
That I might be partaker thereof with you - You hope to be saved. You regard yourselves as Christians; and I wish to give evidence also that “I” am a Christian, and that I shall be admitted to heaven to partake of the happiness of the redeemed. This he did, by so denying himself as to give evidence that he was truly actuated by Christian principles.
Know ye not ... - In the remainder of this chapter, Paul illustrates the general sentiment on which he had been dwelling - the duty of practicing self-denial for the salvation of others - by a reference to the well known games which were celebrated near Corinth. Throughout the chapter, his object had been to show that in declining to receive a support for preaching, he had done it, not because he was conscious that he had no claim to it, but because by doing it he could better advance the salvation of people, the furtherance of the gospel, and in his special case 1 Corinthians 9:16-17 could obtain better evidence, and furnish to others better evidence that he was actuated by a sincere desire to honor God in the gospel. He had denied himself. He had voluntarily submitted to great privations. He had had a great object in view in doing it. And he now says, that in the well known athletic games at Corinth, the same thing was done by the “racers” 1 Corinthians 9:24, and by “wrestlers, or boxers”; 1 Corinthians 9:25.
If they had done it, for objects so comparatively unimportant as the attainment of an “earthly” garland, assuredly it was proper for him to do it to obtain a crown which should never fade away. This is one of the most beautiful, appropriate, vigorous, and bold illustrations that can anywhere be found; and is a striking instance of the force with which the most vigorous and self-denying efforts of Christians can be vindicated, and can be urgeD by a reference to the conduct of people in the affairs of this life. By the phrase “know ye not,” Paul intimates that those games to which he alludes were well known to them, and that they must be famillar with their design, and with the manner in which they were conducted. The games to which the apostle alludes were celebrated with extraordinary pomp and splendor, every fourth year, on the isthmus which joined the Peloponnesus to the main land, and on a part of which the city of Corinth stood.
There were in Greece four species of games, the Pythian, or Delphic; the Isthmian, or Corinthian; the Nemean, and the Olympic. On these occasions persons were assembled from all parts of Greece, and the time during which they continued was devoted to extraordinary festivity and amusement. The Isthmian or Corinthian games were celebrated in the narrow part of the Isthmus of Corinth, to the north of the city, and were doubtless the games to which the apostle more particularly alluded, though the games in each of the places were substantially of the same nature, and the same illustration would in the main apply to all. The Nemean game were celebrated at “Nemaea,” a town of Argolis, and were instituted by the Argives in honor of Archemorus, who died by the bite of a serpent, but were renewed by Hercules, They consisted of horse races and foot races, of boxing, leaping, running, etc. The conqueror was at first rewarded with a crown of olive, afterward of green parsley.
They were celebrated every third, or, according to others, every fifth year. The “Pythian” games were celebrated every four years at Delphi, in Phocis, at the foot of Mount Parnassus, where was the seat of the celebrated Delphic oracle. These games were of the same character substantially as those celebrated in other places, and attracted persons not only from other parts of Greece, but from distant countries; see Travels of Anacharsis, vol. ii, pp. 375-418. The “Olympic” games were celebrated in Olympia, a town of Elis, on the southern bank of the Alphias river, on the western part of the Peloponnesus. They were on many accounts the most celebrated of any games in Greece. They were said to have been instituted by Hercules, who planted a grove called “Altis,” which he dedicated to Jupiter. They were attended not only from all parts of Greece, but, from the most distant countries. These were celebrated every fourth year; and hence, in Grecian chronology, a period of four years was called an Olympiad; see Anacharsis, vol. iii, p. 434ff. It thus happened that in one or more of these places there were games celebrated every year, to which no small part of the inhabitants of Greece were attracted. Though the apostle probably had particular reference to the “Isthmian” games celebrated in the vicinity of Corinth, yet his illustration is applicable to them all; for in all the exercises were nearly the same. They consisted chiefly in leaping, running, throwing the discus or quoit, boxing, wrestling, and were expressed in the following line:
Ἀλυά, ποδωκείην, δίσκον, ἀκοντα, τάλην Alua, podōkeiēn, diskon, akonta, talēn
, “Leaping, running, throwing the quoit, darting, wrestling.” Connected with these were also, sometimes, other exercises, as races of chariots, horses, etc. The apostle refers to but two of these exercises in his illustration.
They which run - This was one of the principal exercises at the games. Fleetness or swiftness was regarded as an extraordinary virtue; and great pains were taken in order to excel in this. Indeed they regarded it so highly that those who prepared themselves for it thought it worth while to use means to burn their spleen, because it was believed to be a hinderance to them, and to retard them in the race. Rob. Cal. Homer tells us that swiftness was one of the most excellent endowments with which a man can be blessed.
“No greater honor e’er has been attain’d,
Than what strong hands or nimble feet have gain’d.”
“One reason” why this was deemed so valuable an attainment among the Greeks, was, that it suited people eminently for war as it was then conducted. It enabled them to make a sudden and unexpected onset, or a rapid retreat. Hence, the character which Homer constantly gives of Achilles is that he was swift of foot. And thus David, in his poetical lamentations over Saul and Jonathan, takes special notice of this qualification of theirs, as preparing them for war.
“They were swifter than eagles,
Stronger than lions.” 2 Samuel 1:23.
For these races they prepared themselves by a long course of previous discipline and exercise; and nothing was left undone that might contribute to secure the victory.
In a race - (ἐν σταδίῳ en stadiō). In the “stadium.” The “stadium,” or running ground, or place in which the boxers contended, and where races were run. At Olympia the stadium was a causeway 604 feet in length, and of proportionable width. Herod. lib. 2. c. 149. It was surrounded by a terrace, and by the seats of the judges of the games. At one end was fixed the boundary or goal to which they ran.
Run all - All run who have entered the lists. Usually there were many racers who contended for the prize.
But one receiveth the prize - The victor, and he alone. The prize which was conferred was a wreath of olive at the Olympic games; a wreath of apple at Delphi; of pine at the Isthmian; and of parsley at the Nemean games - Addison. Whatever the prize was, it was conferred on the successful champion on the last day of the games, and with great solemnity, pomp, congratulation, and rejoicing, “Everyone thronged to see and congratulate them; their relations, friends, and countrymen, shedding tears of tenderness and joy, lifted them on their shoulders to show them to the crowd, and held them up to the applauses of the whole assembly, who strewed handfuls of flowers over them.” Anachar. iii, 448. Nay, at their return home, they rode in a triumphal chariot; the walls of the city were broken down to give them entrance; and in many cities a subsistence was given them out of the public treasury, and they were exempted from taxes. Cicero says that a victory at the Olympic games was not much less honorable than a triumph at Rome: see Anachar. iii, 469, and Rob. Cal. art. “Race.” When Paul says that the one receives the prize, he does not mean to say that there will be the same small proportion among those who shall enter into heaven, and among Christians. But his idea is, that as they make an effort to obtain the prize, so should we; as many who strive for it then lose it, it is possible that we may; and that therefore we should strive for the crown, and make an effort for it, as if but one out of many could obtain it. This, he says, was the course which he pursued; and it shows, in a most striking manner, the fact that an effort may be made, and should be made to enter into heaven.
So run, that ye may obtain - So run in the Christian race, that you may obtain the prize of glory, the crown incorruptible. So live; so deny yourselves; so make constant exertion, that you may not fail of that prize, the crown of glory, which awaits the righteous in heaven; compare Hebrews 12:1. Christians may do this when:
And every man that striveth for the mastery - (ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος ho agōnizomenos). That “agonizes;” that is, that is engaged in the exercise of “wrestling, boxing,” or pitching the bar or quoit; compare the note at Luke 13:24. The sense is, everyone who endeavors to obtain a victory in these athletic exercises.
Is temperate in all things - The word which is rendered “is temperate” (ἐγκρατευεται egkrateuetai) denotes “abstinence” from all that would excite, stimulate, and ultimately enfeeble; from wine, from exciting and luxurious living, and from licentious indulgences. It means that they did all they could to make the body vigorous, active, and supple. They pursued a course of entire temperate living; compare Acts 24:25; 1 Corinthians 7:9; Galatians 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6. It relates not only to indulgences unlawful in themselves, but to abstinence from many things that were regarded as “lawful,” but which were believed to render the body weak and effeminate. The phrase “in all things” means that this course of temperance or abstinence was not confined to one thing, or to one class of things, but to every kind of food and drink, and every indulgence that had a tendency to render the body weak and effeminate. The preparations which those who propose to contend in these games made is well known; and is often referred to by the Classic writers. Epictetus, as quoted by Grotius (in loco), thus speaks of these preparations. “Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? consider the requisite preparations and the consequence You must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which is unpleasant; must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the prescribed times in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cool (ψυχρὸν psuchron); must take no wine as usual; you must put yourself under a “pugilist,” as you would under a physician, and afterward enter the lists.” Epict. chapter 35: Horace has described the preparations necessary in the same way.
Qui studet optatam cursn contingere metam.
Multa tulit fecitque puer; sudavit, et alsit,
Abstinuit venere et Baccho.
De Arte Poet. 412
A youth who hopes the Olympic prize to gain,
All arts must try, and every toil sustain;
The extremes of heat and cold must often prove,
And shun the weakening joys of wine and love.
To obtain a corruptible crown - A garland, diadem, or civic wreath, that must soon fade away. The garland bestowed on the victor was made of olive, pine, apple, laurel, or parsley. That would soon lose its beauty and fade; of course, it could be of little value. Yet we see how eagerly they sought it; how much self-denial those who entered the lists would practice to obtain it; how long they would deny themselves of the common pleasures of life that they might be successful. So much “temperance” would pagans practice to obtain a fading wreath of laurel, pine, or parsley. Hence, learn:
(1) The duty of denying ourselves to obtain a far more valuable reward, the incorruptible crown of heaven.
(2) The duty of all Christians who strive for that crown to be temperate in all things. If the pagans practiced temperance to obtain a fading laurel, should not we to obtain one that never fades?
(3) How much their conduct puts to shame the conduct of many professing Christians and Christian ministers. they set such a value on a civic wreath of pine or laurel, that they were willing to deny themselves, and practice the most rigid abstinence. they knew that indulgence in wine and in luxurious living unsuited them for the struggle and for victory; they knew that it enfeebled their powers, and weakened their frame; and, like people intent on an object dear to them, they abstained wholly from these things, and embraced the principles of “total abstinence.” Yet how many professed Christians, and Christian ministers, though striving for the crown that fadeth not away, indulge in wine, and in the filthy, offensive, and disgusting use of tobacco; and in luxurious living, and in habits of indolence and sloth! How many there are that will not give up these habits, though they know that they are enfeebling, injurious, offensive, and destructive to religious comfort and usefulness. Can a man be truly in earnest in his professed religion; can he be a sincere Christian, who is not willing to abandon anything and everything that will tend to impair the vigor of his mind, and weaken his body, and make him a stumbling-block to others?
(4) The value of “temperance” is here presented in a very striking and impressive view. When even the pagans wished to accomplish anything that demanded skill, strength, power, vigor of body, they saw the necessity of being temperate, and they were so. And this proves what all experiment has proved, that if people wish to accomplish much, they must be temperate. It proves that people can do more without intoxicating drink than they can with it. The example of these Grecian athletes - their wrestlers, boxers, and racers, is “against” all the farmers, and mechanics, and seamen, and day-laborers, and “gentlemen,” and “clergymen,” and “lawyers,” who plead that stimulating drink is necessary to enable them to bear cold and heat, and toil and exposure. A little “experience” from men like the Grecian wrestlers, who had something that they wished to do, is much better than a great deal of philosophy and sophistical reasoning from people who wish to drink, and to find some argument for drinking that shalt be a salve to their consciences. Perhaps the world has furnished no stronger argument in favor of total abstinence than the example of the Grecian “Athletae.” It is certain that their example, the example of people who wished to accomplish much by bodily vigor and health, is an effectual and unbreakable argument against all those who plead that stimulating drinks are desirable or necessary in order to increase the vigor of the bodily frame.
But we - We Christians.
An incorruptible - An incorruptible, an unfading crown. The blessings of heaven that shall be bestowed on the righteous are often represented under the image of a crown or diadem; a crown that is unfading, and eternal; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4.Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 4:4. The doctrine here taught is, the necessity of making an effort to secure eternal life. The apostle never thought of entering heaven by indolence or by inactivity. He urged, by every possible argument, the necessity of making an exertion to secure the rewards of the just. His reasons for this effort are many. Let a few be pondered:
(1) The work of salvation is difficult. The thousand obstacles arising, the love of sin, and the opposition of Satan and of the world, are in the way.
(2) The danger of losing the crown of glory is great. Every moment exposes it to hazard, for at any moment we may die.
(3) The danger is not only great, but it is dreadful. If anything should arouse man, it should be the apprehension of eternal damnation and everlasting wrath.
(4) People in this life, in the games of Greece, in the career of ambition, in the pursuit of pleasure and wealth, make immense efforts to obtain the fading and perishing object of their desires. Why should not a man be willing to make as great efforts at least to secure eternal glory?
(5) The value of the interest at stake. Eternal happiness is before those who will embrace the offers of life. If a man should be influenced by anything to make an effort, should it not be by the prospect of eternal glory? what should influence him if this should not?
I therefore so run - In the Christian race; in my effort to obtain the prize, the crown of immortality. I exert myself to the utmost, that I may not fail of securing the crown.
Not as uncertainly - (οὐκ ἀδήλως ouk adēlōs). This word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It usually means, in the Classic writers, “obscurely.” Here it means that he did not run as not knowing to what object he aimed. “I do not run haphazardly; I do not exert myself for nothing; I know at what I aim, and I keep my eye fixed on the object; I have the goal and the crown in view.” Probably also the apostle intended to convey this idea, “I so live and act that I am “sure” of obtaining the crown. I make it a great and grand point of my life so to live that there may be no room for doubt or hesitancy about this rustler. I believe it may be obtained; and that by a proper course there may he a constant certainty of securing it; and I so live.” O how happy and blessed would it be if all Christians thus lived! How much doubt, and hesitancy, and despondency would it remove from many a Christian’s mind! And yet it is morally certain that if ever Christian were to be only as anxious and careful as were the ancient Grecian wrestlers and racers in the games, they would have the undoubted assurance of gaining the prize. Doddridge and Macknight, however, render this “as not out of view;” or as not distinguished; meaning that the apostle was not “unseen,” but that he regarded himself as constantly in the view of the judge, the Lord Jesus Christ. I prefer the other interpretation, however, as best according with the connection and with the proper meaning of the word.
So fight I - οὗτω πυκτεύω houtō pukteuō. This word is applied to the “boxers,” or the pugilists, in the Grecian games. The exercise of boxing, or “fighting” with the fist, was a part of the entertainment with which the “enlightened” nations of Greece delighted to amuse themselves.
Not as one that beateth the air - The “phrase” here is taken from the habits of the pugilists or boxers, who were accustomed, before entering the lists, to exercise their limbs with the gauntlet, in order to acquire greater skill and dexterity. There was also, before the real contest commenced, a play with their fists and weapons, by way of show or bravado, which was called σκιᾷμαχία skiamachia, a mock-battle, or a fighting the air. The phrase also is applicable to a “missing the aim,” when a blow was struck in a real struggle, and when the adversary would elude the blow, so that it would be spent in the empty air. This last the idea which Paul means to present. He did not miss his aim; he did not exert himself and spend his strength for nothing. Every blow that he struck told; and he did not waste his energies on that which would produce no result. He did not strive with rash, ill-advised, or uncertain blows; but all his efforts were directed, with good account, to the grand purpose or subjugating his enemy - sin - and the corrupt desires of the flesh - and bringing everything into captivity to God Much may be learned from this.
Many an effort of Christians is merely beating the air. The energy is expended for nothing. There is a lack of wisdom, or skill, or perseverance; there is a failure of plan; or there is a mistake in regard to what is to be done, and what should be done. There is often among Christians very little “aim” or object; there is no “plan;” and the efforts are wasted, scattered, inefficient efforts; so that, at the close of life, many a man may say that he has spent his ministry or his Christian course mainly, or entirely, “in beating the air.” Besides, many set up a man of straw and fight that. They fancy error and heresy in others and oppose that. They become a “heresy-hunters;” or they oppose some irregularity in religion that, if left alone, would die of itself; or they fix all their attention upon some minor evil, and they devote their lives to the destruction of that alone. When death comes, they may have never struck a blow at one of the real and dangerous enemies of the gospel; and the simple record on the tombstone of many ministers and many private Christians might he, “Here lies one who spent his life in beating the air.”
From the many remarks which might be made from this interesting chapter, we may select the following:
1. We see the great anxiety which Paul had to save souls. This was his grand purpose; and for this he was willing to deny himself and to bear any trial.
2. We should be kind to others; we should not needlessly offend them; we should conform to them, as far as it can be done consistently with Christian integrity.
3. We should make an effort to be saved. O if people made such exertions to obtain a corruptible crown, how much greater should we make to obtain one that fadeth not away!
4. Ministers, like others, are in danger of losing their souls. If Paul felt this danger, who is there among the ministers of the cross who should not feel it? If Paul was not safe, who is? (See the supplementary note on 1 Corinthians 9:27.)
5. The fact that a man has preached to many is no certain evidence that he will be saved, 1 Corinthians 9:27. Paul had preached to thousands, and yet he felt that after all this there was a possibility that be might be lost.
6. The fact that a man has been very successful in the ministry is no certain evidence that he will be saved. God converts people; and he may sometimes do it by the instrumentality of those who themselves are deceived, or are deceivers. They may preach much truth; and God may bless that truth, and make it the means of saving the soul. There is no conclusive evidence that a man is a Christian simply because he is a successful and laborious preacher, any more than there is that a man is a Christian because he is a good farmer, and because God sends down the rain and the sunshine on his fields. Paul felt that even his success was no certain evidence that he would be saved. And if Paul felt thus, who should not feel that after the most distinguished success, he may himself be at last a castaway?
7. It will be a solemn and awesome thing for a minister of the gospel, and a “successful” minister, to go down to hell. What more fearful doom can be conceived, than after having led others in the way to life; after having described to them the glories of heaven; after having conducted them to the “sweet fields beyond the swelling flood” of death, he should find himself shut out, rejected, and cast down to hell! What more terrible can be imagined in the world of perdition than the doom of one who was once a minister of God, and once esteemed as a light in the church and a guide of souls, now sentenced to inextinguishable fires, while multitudes saved by him shall have gone to heaven! How fearful is the condition and how solemn the vocation of a minister of the gospel!
8. Ministers should be solicitous about their personal piety. Paul, one might suppose, might have rested contented with the remarkable manner of his conversion. He might have supposed that that put the matter beyond all possible doubt. But be did no such thing. He felt that it was necessary to have evidence day by day that he was then a Christian. Of all people, Paul was perhaps Least disposed to live on past experience, and to trust to such experience. Of all people, he had perhaps most reason to trust to such experience; and yet how seldom does he refer to it, how little does he regard it! The great question with him was, “Am I now a Christian? am I living as a Christian should now? am I evincing to others, am I giving to myself daily, constant, growing evidence that I am actuated by the pure principles of the gospel, and that that gospel is the object of my highest preference, and my holiest and constant desire? O how holy would be the ministry, if all should endeavor every day to live and act for Christ and for souls with as much steadiness and fidelity as did the apostle Paul!