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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

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Verse 1

1.Am I not free? He confirms by facts what he had stated immediately before, — that he would rather never taste of flesh during his whole life, than give occasion of stumbling to a brother, and, at the same time, he shows that he requires nothing more from them than what he had himself practiced. And, assuredly, natural equity requires that whatever law is imposed by any one upon others, should be submitted to by himself. More especially a Christian teacher should impose upon himself this necessity, that he may have it always in his power to confirm his doctrine by an exemplary life. We know by experience, that it is a very unpleasant thing that Paul required from the Corinthians — to refrain, for the sake of their brethren, from making use of the liberty that was allowed them. He could scarcely have demanded this, if he had not taken the lead and shown them the way. And he had, it is true, promised that he would do this, but, as he might not be believed by all on his simply promising for the future, he makes mention of what he had already done. He brings forward a remarkable instance, in respect of his having denied himself the liberty which he might otherwise have used, purely in order that he might give the false Apostles no occasion for calumniating. He had preferred to earn his food with his own hands, rather than be supported at the expense of the Corinthians, to whom he administered the Gospel.

He treats, however, at great length of the right of the Apostles to receive food and clothing. This he does, partly for the purpose of stirring them up the more to forego many things for the sake of their brethren after his example, because they were unduly tenacious in the retaining of their own rights, and partly for the purpose of exposing more fully in view the unreasonableness of calumniators, who took occasion for reviling from what was anything but blameworthy. He speaks, also, interrogatively, in order to press the matter home more closely. The question — Am I not free? is of a general nature. When he adds — Am I not an Apostle ? he specifies a particular kind of liberty. “If I am an Apostle of Christ, why should my condition be worse than that of others?” Hence he proves his liberty on the ground of his being an Apostle.

Have I not seen Jesus Christ ? He expressly adds this, in order that he may not be reckoned inferior in any respect, to the other Apostles, for this one thing the malevolent and envious bawled out on all occasions — that he had received from the hands of men whatever he had of the gospel, inasmuch as he had never seen Christ. And, certainly, he had not had converse with Christ while he was in the world, but Christ had appeared to him after his resurrection. It was not a smaller privilege, however, to have seen Christ in his immortal glory, than to have seen him in the abasement of mortal flesh. He makes mention, also, afterwards of this vision, (1 Corinthians 15:8,) and mention is made of it twice in the Acts, (Acts 9:3, and Acts 22:6.) Hence this passage tends to establish his call, because, although he had not been set apart as one of the twelve, there was no less authority in the appointment which Christ published from heaven.

Are not ye my work ? He now, in the second place, establishes his Apostleship from the effect of it, because he had gained over the Corinthians to the Lord by the gospel. Now this is a great thing that Paul claims for himself, when he calls their conversion his work, for it is in a manner a new creation of the soul. But how will this correspond with what we had above — that

he that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing?
(1 Corinthians 3:7.)

I answer, that as God is the efficient cause, while man, with his preaching, is an instrument that can do nothing of itself, we must always speak of the efficacy of the ministry in such a manner that the entire praise of the work may be reserved for God alone. But in some cases, when the ministry is spoken of, man is compared with God, and then that statement holds good — He that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing; for what can be left to a man if he is brought into competition with God? Hence Scripture represents ministers as nothing in comparison with God; but when the ministry is simply treated of without any comparison with God, then, as in this passage, its efficacy is honorably made mention of, with signal encomiums. For, in that case, the question is not, what man can do of himself without God, but, on the contrary, God himself, who is the author, is conjoined with the instrument, and the Spirit’s influence with man’s labor. In other words, the question is not, what man himself accomplishes by his own power, but what God effects through his hands.

Verse 2

2.If I am not an Apostle to others The sum of this tends to the establishing of his authority among the Corinthians, so as to place it beyond all dispute. “If there are those,” says he, “who have doubts as to my Apostleship, to you, at least, it ought to be beyond all doubt, for, as I planted your Church by my ministry, you are either not believers, or you must necessarily recognize me as an Apostle. And that he may not seem to rest in mere words, he states that the reality itself was to be seen, (479) because God had sealed his Apostleship by the faith of the Corinthians. Should any one, however, object, that this suits the false Apostles too, who gather disciples to themselves, I answer, that pure doctrine is above all things required, in order that any one may have a confirmation of his ministry in the sight of God from its effect. There is nothing, therefore, here to furnish impostors with matter of congratulation, if they have deceived any of the populace, nay, even nations and kingdoms, by their falsehoods. Although in some cases persons are the occasion of spreading the kingdom of Christ, who, nevertheless, do not preach the gospel sincerely, as is said in Philippians 1:16, it is not without good reason that Paul infers from the fruit of his labor, that he is divinely commissioned: for the structure of the Corinthian Church was such, that the blessing of God could easily be seen shining forth in it, which ought to have served as a confirmation of Paul’s office.

(479)La verite et l’effet le demonstre;” — “Truth and reality demonstrate it.”

Verse 3

3.My defense. Apart from the principal matter that he has at present in hand, it appears also to have been his intention to beat down, in passing, the calumnies of those who clamored against his call, as if he had been one of the ordinary class of ministers. “I am accustomed,” says he, “to put you forward as my shield, in the event of any one detracting from the honor of my Apostleship.” Hence it follows, that the Corinthians are injurious and inimical to themselves, if they do not acknowledge him as such, for if their faith was a solemn attestation of Paul’s Apostleship, and his defense, against slanderers, the one could not be invalidated without the other falling along with it.

Where others read — those who interrogate me, I have rendered it — those that examine me — for he refers to those who raised a dispute as to his Apostleship. (480) Latin writers, I confess, speak of a criminal being interrogated (481) according to the laws, but the meaning of the word ἀνακρίνειν which Paul makes use of, seemed to me to be brought out better in this way.

(480)Ceux qui vouloyent mettre en debat son Apostolat, et le contreroller, comme on dit;” — “Those who were desirous to bring his Apostleship into dispute, and overhale it, as they say.”

(481) The expression is made use of by Suetonius. (Aug. 33.) Reum ita fertur interrogasse . He is said to have interrogated the criminal in such a manner.) — Ed.

Verse 4

4.Have we not power ? He concludes from what has been already said, that he had a right to receive food and clothing from them, (482) for Paul ate and drank, but not at the expense of the Church. This, then, was one liberty that he dispensed with. The other was, that he had not a wife — to be maintained, also, at the public expense. Eusebius infers from these words that Paul was married, but had left his wife somewhere, that she might not be a burden to the Churches, but there is no foundation for this, for he might bring forward this, even though unmarried. In honoring a Christian wife with the name of sister, he intimates, first of all, by this, how firm and lovely ought to be the connection between a pious pair, being held by a double tie. Farther he hints at the same time what modesty and honorable conduct ought to subsist between them. Hence, too, we may infer, how very far marriage is from being unsuitable to the ministers of the Church. I pass over the fact, that the Apostles made use of it, as to whose example we shall have occasion to speak ere long, but Paul here teaches, in general terms, what is allowable for all.

(482)Combion qu’il n’en air pus use;” — “Though he had not made use of it.”

Verse 5

5.Even as the other Apostles. In addition to the Lord’s permission, he mentions the common practice of others. And with the view of bringing out more fully the waiving of his right, he proceeds step by step. In the first place, he brings forward the Apostles He then adds, “Nay, even the brethren of the Lord themselves also make use of it without hesitation — nay more, Peter himself, to whom the first place is assigned by consent of all, allows himself the same liberty.” By the brethren of the Lord, he means John and James, who were accounted pillars, as he states elsewhere. (Galatians 2:9.) And, agreeably to what is customary in Scripture, he gives the name of brethren to those who were connected with Him by relationship.

Now, if any one should think to establish Popery from this, he would act a ridiculous part. We confess that Peter was acknowledged as first among the Apostles, as it is necessary that in every society there should always be some one to preside over the others, and they were of their own accord prepared to respect Peter for the eminent endowments by which he was distinguished, as it is proper to esteem and honor all that excel in the gifts of God’s grace. That preeminence, however, was not lordship — nay more, it had nothing resembling lordship. For while he was eminent among the others, still he was subject to them as his colleagues. Farther, it is one thing to have pre-eminence in one Church, and quite another, to claim for one’s self a kingdom or dominion over the whole world. But indeed, even though we should concede everything as to Peter, what has this to do with the Pope? For as Matthias succeeded Judas, (Acts 1:26,) so some Judas might succeed Peter. Nay more, we see that during a period of more than nine hundred years among his successors, or at least among those who boast that they are his successors, there has not been one who was one whit better than Judas. This, however, is not the place to treat of these points. Consult my Institutes. (Volume 3.)

One thing farther must here be noticed, that the Apostles had no horror of marriage, which the Papal clergy so much abominate, as unbecoming the sanctity of their order. But it was after their time that that admirable discovery was made, that the priests of the Lord are polluted if they have intercourse with their lawful wives; and, at length matters came to such a pitch, that Pope Syricius did not hesitate to call marriage “a pollution of the flesh, in which no one can please God.” What then must become of the poor Apostles, who continued in that pollution until death? Here, however, they have contrived a refined subtilty to effect their escape; for they say that the Apostles gave up the use of the marriage bed, but led about their wives with them, that they might receive the fruits of the gospel, or, in other words, support at the public expense. As if they could not have been maintained by the Churches, unless they wandered about from place to place; and farther, as if it were a likely thing that they would run hither and thither of their own accord, and without any necessity, in order that they might live in idleness at the public expense! For as to the explanation given by Ambrose, as referring to other persons’ wives, who followed the Apostles for the purpose of hearing their doctrine, it is exceedingly forced.

Verse 7

7.Who hath gone a warfare at his own charges? It is the present tense that is used (483) as meaning — is accustomed to go a warfare. I have, however, with the view of taking off somewhat of the harshness, rendered it in the preterite. Now, by three comparisons, and these, too, taken from common life, he makes it out that it was allowable for him to live, if he chose, at the public expense of the Church, to show that he assumes nothing to himself but what human nature itself teaches us is reasonable. The first is taken from military law, for soldiers are wont to have their provisions furnished to them at the public expense. The second is taken from vine-dressers, for the husbandman plants a vine — not to throw away his pains, but to gather the fruit. The third is taken from keepers of cattle, for the shepherd does not lay out his labor for nothing, but eats of the milk of the flock — that is, he is supported from the produce. As natural equity points out this as reasonable, who will be so unjust as to refuse sustenance to the pastors of the Church? While it may happen, that some serve as soldiers at their own expense, as, for example, the Romans in ancient times, when no tribute was as yet paid, and there were no taxes, (484) this does not militate against Paul’s statement, for he simply takes his argument from common and everywhere received practice.

(483) The verb is στρατεύεται, goeth a warfare, or serves as a soldier. — Ed

(484) The Roman soldiers received no pay (stipendium ) from the public expense until 347 years after the founding of Rome. (See Liv. 4. 59 and 5. 7.) — Ed.

Verse 8

8.Say I these things as a man ? Lest any one should cavil, and say that in the things of the Lord the case is different, and therefore that he had to no purpose brought forward so many comparisons, he now adds, that the very same thing is commanded by the Lord. To speak as a man sometimes means — speaking according to the perverse judgment of the flesh, (as in Romans 3:5.) Here, however, it means — bringing forward only those things that are in common use among men, and are merely current (as they speak) in a human court. Now, that God himself designed that the labors of men should be remunerated by wages, he proves from this, that he prohibits the muzzling of the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn; and with the view of applying it to the subject in hand, he says, that God was not concerned as to oxen, but rather had regard to men.

In the first place, it may be asked, Why has he more particularly selected this proof, while he had in the law passages that were much clearer? as for example, Deuteronomy 24:15,

The wages of the hireling shall not remain with thee over night.

If any one, however, will take a nearer view, he will acknowledge that there is more force in this quotation, in which the Lord requires cattle to be taken care of, for from this it is inferred, from the less to the greater, how much equity he requires among men, when he wishes that it should be shown to brute animals. When he says, that God does not take care for oxen, you are not to understand him as meaning to exclude oxen from the care of God’s Providence, inasmuch as he does not overlook even the least sparrow. (Matthew 6:26, and Matthew 10:29.) Nor is it as if he meant to expound that precept allegorically, as some hair-brained spirits take occasion from this to turn everything into allegories. Thus they turn dogs into men, trees into angels, and turn all scripture into a laughing-stock.

Paul’s meaning is simple — that, when the Lord enjoins humanity to oxen, he does not do it for the sake of oxen, but rather from a regard to men, on whose account, too, the very oxen were created. That compassion, therefore, towards oxen should be a stimulus to us to stir up to the exercise of humanity among us, as Solomon says, (Proverbs 12:10,)

The righteous man hath a care over his beast,
but the bowels of the wicked are cruel.

Let it then be understood by you, that God is not so concerned for oxen, as to have had merely a regard to oxen in making that law, for he had mankind in view, and wished to accustom them to equity, that they might not defraud the workman of his hire. For it is not the ox that has the principal part in plowing or treading out the corn, but man, by whose industry the ox himself is set to work. Hence, what he immediately adds — He that ploweth, should plow in hope, etc. is an exposition of the precept, as if he had said, that it extends generally to any kind of recompense for labor.

Verse 10

10.Because he that ploweth ought to plow in hope. There is a twofold reading in this passage, even in the Greek manuscripts, but the one that is more generally received is — He that thrasheth, in hope of partaking of his hope At the same time, the one that does not repeat the term hope twice in the second clause appears simpler, and more natural. (485) Hence, if I were at liberty to choose, I would prefer to read it thus: He that ploweth should plow in hope, and he that thrasheth in hope of participating As, however, the most of the Greek manuscripts agree in the former reading, and as the meaning remains the same, I have not ventured to make change upon it. Now he expounds the preceding injunction, and hence he says, that it is an unjust thing that the husbandman should lay out his pains to no purpose in plowing and thrashing, but that the end of his labor is the hope of receiving the fruits. As it is so, we may infer, that this belongs to oxen also, but Paul’s intention was to extend it farther, and apply it principally to men. Now, the husbandman is said to be a partaker of his hope, when he enjoys the produce which he has obtained when reaping, but hoped for when plowing.

(485) The common reading is — καὶ ὁ ἀλοῶν τὢς ἐνπίδος αὐτοῦ μετέχειν επ ᾿ ελπίδι,and he that thrasheth in hope should be a partaker of his hope In the other reading, the επ ᾿ ἐλπίδι (in hope) are omitted. The latter is the reading in five ancient and three later MSS. The common reading is construed by Bloomfield as follows — καὶ ὁ ἀλοῶν (ὀφείλει ἀλοᾷν) επ ᾿ ἐλπίδι (τοῦ)μετέχειν τὢς ελπίδος αὐτοῦ “And he that thrasheth ought to thrash in hope to partake of (the fruits of) his hope.” — Ed

Verse 11

11.If we have sown unto you spiritual things There was one cavil remaining — for it might be objected, that labors connected with this life should without doubt have food and clothing as their reward; and that plowing and thrashing yield fruit, of which those that labor in these things are partakers; but that it is otherwise with the gospel, because its fruit is spiritual; and hence the minister of the word, if he would receive fruit corresponding to his labor, ought to demand nothing that is carnal. Lest any one, therefore, should cavil in this manner, he argues from the greater to the less. “Though food and clothing are not of the same nature with a minister’s labors, what injury do you sustain, if you recompense what is inestimable with a thing that is small and contemptible? For in proportion to the superiority of the soul above the body, does the word of the Lord excel outward sustenance, (486) inasmuch as it is the food of the soul.”

(486)Et le vestement;” — “And clothing.”

Verse 12

12.If others assume this power over you Again he establishes his own right from the example of others. For why should he alone be denied what others assumed as their due? For as no one labored more than he among the Corinthians, no one was more deserving of a reward. He does not, however, make mention of what he has done, but of what he would have done in accordance with his right, if he had not of his own accord refrained from using it.

But we have not used this power. He returns now to the point on which the matter hinges — that he had of his own accord given up that power which no one could refuse him, and that he was prepared rather to suffer all things, than by the use of his liberty throw any impediment in the way of the progress of the gospel. He wishes, therefore, that the Corinthians should, after his example, keep this end in view — to do nothing that would hinder or retard the progress of the gospel; for what he declares respecting himself it was their duty to perform according to their station; and he confirms here what he had said previously — that we must consider what is expedient (1 Corinthians 6:12.)

Verse 13

13.Know ye not, Apart from the question that he discusses, he appears to have dwelt the longer in taking notice of this point, with the view of reproaching the Corinthians indirectly for their malignity in allowing the ministers of Christ to be reviled in a matter that was so justifiable. For if Paul had not of his own accord refrained from using his liberty, there was a risk of the progress of the gospel being obstructed. Never would the false Apostles have gained that point, had not ingratitude, to which the Corinthians were already prone, opened up the way for their calumnies. For they ought to have repelled them sharply; but instead of this they showed themselves excessively credulous, so that they would have been prepared to reject the gospel, if Paul had used his right. Such contempt of the gospel, and such cruelty towards their Apostle, deserved to be more severely reproved; but Paul, having found another occasion, touches upon it indirectly and mildly, with his usual modesty, that he may admonish them without affronting them.

Again he makes use of a new comparison, to prove that he had not used the power that he had from the Lord. Nor does he any longer borrow examples from any other source, but shows that this has been appointed by the Lord — that the Churches should provide for the support of their ministers. There are some that think that there are two comparisons in this passage, and they refer theformer to the Lord’s priests, and the latter to those that acted as priests to the heathen gods. I am, however, rather of opinion that Paul expresses, as he is accustomed, the same thing by different terms. And, truly, it would have been a weak argument that was derived from the practice of the heathens, among whom the revenues of the priesthood were not devoted to food and clothing, but to magnificent dresses, royal splendor, and profuse luxury. These would, therefore, have been things too remote. I do not call it in question, however, that he has pointed out different kinds of ministerial offices; for there were priests of a higher order, and there were afterwards Levites, who were inferior to them, as is well known; but that is not much to the point.

The sum is this — “The Levitical priests were ministers of the Israelitish Church; the Lord appointed them sustenance from their ministry; hence in ministers of the Christian Church the same equity must be observed at the present day. Now the ministers of the Christian Church are those that preach the gospel.” This passage is quoted by Canonists, when they wish to prove that idle bellies must be fattened up, in order that they may perform their masses; (488) but how absurdly, I leave it to children themselves to judge. Whatever is stated in the Scriptures as to the support to be given to ministers, or the honor that is to be put upon them, they immediately seize hold of it, and twist it to their own advantage. For my part, however, I simply admonish my readers to consider attentively Paul’s words. He argues that pastors, who labor in the preaching of the gospel, ought to be supported, because the Lord in ancient times appointed sustenance for the priests, on the ground of their serving the Church. Hence a distinction must be made between the ancient priesthood and that of the present day. Priests under the law were set apart to preside over the sacrifices, to serve the altar, and to take care of the tabernacle and temple. Those at the present day are set apart to preach the word and to dispense the sacraments. The Lord has appointed no sacrifices for his sacred ministers to be engaged in; (489) there are no altars for them to stand at to offer sacrifices.

Hence appears the absurdity of those who apply this comparison, taken from sacrifices, to anything else than to the preaching of the gospel. Nay farther, it may be readily inferred from this passage, that all Popish priests, from the head himself to the lowest member, are guilty of sacrilege, who devour the revenues appointed for true ministers, while they do not in any way discharge their duty. For what ministers does the Apostle order to be maintained? Those that apply themselves to the preaching of the gospel. What right then have they to claim for themselves the revenues of the priesthood? (490) “Because they hum a tune and perform mass.” (491) But God has enjoined upon them nothing of that sort. Hence it is evident that they seize upon the reward due to others. When, however, he says that the Levitical priests were partakers with the altar, and that they ate of the things of the Temple, he marks out (μετωνυμικῶς) by metonymy, the offerings that were presented to God. For they claimed to themselves the sacred victims entire, and of smaller animals they took the right shoulder, and kidneys and tail, and, besides this, tithes, oblations, and first-fruits. The word ἱερόν, therefore, in the second instance, (492) is taken to mean the Temple.

(488)Et autres brimborioas;” — “And other baubles.”

(489)Auiourd’huy;” — “At the present day.”

(490)De quel droict s’usurpent ces ventres paresseux le reuenu des benefices, qu’ils appelent ?” — “By what right do these lazy bellies claim to themselves the revenue of the benefices, as they call it?”

(491)Pource qu’ils gringotent des messes et anniuersaires;” — “Because they hum a tune at masses and anniversaries.”

(492) In the original, the words τα ἱερὰ and τοῦ ἱεροῦ, occur in the same clause, and our Author’s meaning is, that in the second instance the noun ἱερον, denotes the temple. — Ed

Verse 15

15.Nor have I written these things As he might seem to be making it his aim, that in future a remuneration should be given him by the Corinthians, he removes that suspicion, and declares that, so far from this being his desire, he would rather die than give occasion for his being deprived of this ground of glorying — that he bestowed labor upon the Corinthians without any reward. Nor is it to be wondered that he set so high a value upon this glorying, inasmuch as he saw that the authority of the gospel in some degree depended upon it. For he would in this way have given a handle to the false apostles to triumph over him. Hencethere was a danger, lest the Corinthians, despising him, should receive them with great applause. So much did he prefer, even before his own life, the power of advancing the gospel.

Verse 16

16.For if I preach the gospel. To show how very important it was not to deprive himself of that ground of glorying, he intimates what would have happened, if he had simply discharged his ministry — that he would in this way have done nothing else than what the Lord had enjoined upon him by a strict necessity By doing that, he says, he would have had no occasion for glorying, as it was not in his power to avoid doing it. (493) It is asked, however, what glorying he here refers to, for he glories elsewhere in his exercising himself in the office of teaching with a pure conscience (Titus 1:3.) I answer, that he speaks of a glorying that he could bring forward in opposition to the false apostles, when they endeavored to find a pretext for reviling, as will appear more fully from what follows.

This is a remarkable statement, from which we learn, in the first place, what, as to ministers, is the nature, and what the closeness of the tie that is involved in their calling, and farther, what the pastoral office imports and includes. Let not the man, then, who has been once called to it, imagine that he is any longer at liberty to withdraw when he chooses, if, perhaps, he is harassed with vexatious occurrences, or weighed down with misfortunes, for he is devoted to the Lord and to the Church, and bound by a sacred tie, which it were criminal to break asunder. As to the second point, (494) he says that a curse was ready to fall upon him, if he did not preach the gospel Why? Because he has been called to it, and therefore is constrained by necessity How, therefore, will any one who succeeds to his office avoid this necessity ? What sort of successors, then, have the Apostles in the Pope and the other mitred bishops, who think that there is nothing that is more unbecoming their station, than the duty of teaching!

(493)Veu qu’il y estoit contraint, et ne pouuoit euiter telle necessite;” — “Inasmuch as he was constrained to it, and could not avoid such a necessity.”

(494) That is, the duty which the pastoral office involves. — Ed.

Verse 17

17.For if I do this thing willingly By reward here is meant what the Latins term operae pretium , recompense for labor, (495) and what he had previously termed glorying Others, however, interpret it otherwise — as meaning that a reward is set before all who discharge their duty faithfully and heartily. But, for my part, I understand the man who does this thing willingly, to be the man who acts with such cheerfulness, that, being intent upon edifying, as his one object of desire, he declines nothing that he knows will be profitable to the Church; as, on the other hand, he terms those unwilling, who in their actings submit, indeed, to necessity, but act grudgingly, because it is not from inclination. For it always happens that the man who undertakes any business with zeal, is also prepared of his own accord to submit to everything, which, if left undone, would hinder the accomplishment of the work. Thus Paul, being one that acted willingly, did not teach in a mere perfunctory manner, but left nothing undone that he knew to be fitted to promote and further his doctrine. This then was his recompense for labor, (496) and this his ground of glorying — that he did with readiness of mind forego his right in respect of his applying himself to the discharge of his office willingly and with fervent zeal.

But if unwillingly, a dispensation is committed to me. In whatever way others explain these words, the natural meaning, in my opinion, is this — that God does not by any means approve of the service done by the man who performs it grudgingly, and, as it were, with a reluctant mind. Whenever, therefore, God has enjoined anything upon us, we are mistaken, if we think that we have discharged it aright, when we perform it grudgingly; for the Lord requires that his servants be cheerful, (2 Corinthians 9:7,) so as to delight in obeying him, and manifest their cheerfulness by the promptitude with which they act. In short, Paul means, that he would act in accordance with his calling, only in the event of his performing his duty willingly and cheerfully.

(495)Ce que nous appelons chef-d’oeuvre;” — “What we call a masterpiece.” The idiomatic phrase, operae pretium , is ordinarily employed by the classical writers to mean — something of importance, or worthwhile. Thus Livy, in his Preface, says: “facturusne operae pretium sim;” — “whether I am about to do a work of importance,” and Cicero (Cat. 4. 8) says: “Operae pretium est;” — “It is worth while. ” Calvin, however, seems to make use of the phrase here in a sense more nearly akin to its original and literal signification — recompense for laborwhat amply rewarded the self-denial that he had exercised — consisting in the peculiar satisfaction afforded to his mind in reflecting on the part that he had acted. The term made use of by him in his French Translation — chef-d oeuure (masterpiece) corresponds with the Latin phrase operae pretium in this respect, that amasterpiece is a work, which the successful artist, or workman, sets a value upon, and in which he feels satisfaction, as amply recompensing the pains bestowed. — Ed.

(496)Son chef-d’oeuure;” — “His masterpiece.”

Verse 18

18.What then is my reward? He infers from what goes before, that he has a ground of glorying; in this, that he labored gratuitously in behalf of the Corinthians, because it appears from this, that he applied himself willingly to the office of teaching, inasmuch as he vigorously set himself to obviate all the hindrances in the way of the gospel; and not satisfied with merely teaching, endeavored to further the doctrine of it by every method. This then is the sum. “I am under the necessity of preaching the gospel: if I do it not, wo is unto me, for I resist God’s calling. But it is not enough to preach, unless I do it willingly; for he who fulfils the commandment of God unwillingly, does not act, as becomes him, suitably to his office. But if I obey God willingly, it will in that case be allowable for me to glory. Hence it was necessary for me to make the gospel without charge, that I might glory on good ground.”

Papists endeavor from this passage to establish their contrivance as to works of supererogation. (497) “Paul,” they say, “would have fulfilled the duties of his office by preaching the gospel, but he adds something farther over and above. Hence he does something beyond what he is bound to do, for he distinguishes between what is done willingly and what is done from necessity.” I answer, that Paul, it is true, went a greater length than the ordinary calling of pastors required, because he refrained from taking pay, which the Lord allows pastors to take. But as it was a part of his duty to provide against every occasion of offense that he foresaw, and as he saw, that the course of the gospel would be impeded, if he made use of his liberty, though that was out of the ordinary course, yet I maintain that even in that case he rendered to God nothing more than was due. For I ask: “Is it not the part of a good pastor to remove occasions of offense, so far as it is in his power to do so?” I ask again, “Did Paul do anything else than this?” There is no ground, therefore, for imagining that he rendered to God anything that he did not owe to him, inasmuch as he did nothing but what the necessity of his office (though it was an extraordinary necessity) demanded. Away, then, with that wicked imagination, (498) that we compensate for our faults in the sight of God by works of supererogation. (499) Nay more, away with the very term, which is replete with diabolical pride. (500) This passage, assuredly, is mistakenly perverted to bear that meaning.

The error of Papists is refuted in a general way in this manner: Whatever works are comprehended under the law, are falsely termed works of supererogation, as is manifest from the words of Christ. (Luke 17:10.)

When ye have done all things that are commanded you, say,
We are unprofitable servants: we have done what we were bound to do.

Now we acknowledge that no work is good and acceptable to God, that is not included in God’s law. This second statement I prove in this way: There are two classes of good works; for they are all reducible either to the service of God or to love. Now nothing belongs to the service of God that is not included in this summary: Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength There is also no duty of love that is not required in that precept — Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:30.) But as to the objection that is brought forward by Papists, that it is possible for one to be acceptable, if he devotes the tenth part of his income, and infer from this, that if he goes so far as to devote the fifth part, he does a work of supererogation, it is easy to remove away this subtilty. For that the deeds of the pious are approved, is not by any means owing to their perfection, but it is because the imperfection and deficiency are not reckoned to their account. Hence even if they were doing an hundred-fold more than they do, they would not, even in that case, exceed the limits of the duty that they owe.

That I may not abuse my power. From this it appears, that such a use of our liberty as gives occasion of offense, is an uncontrolled liberty and abuse. We must keep, therefore, within bounds, that we may not give occasion of offense. This passage also confirms more fully what I just now touched upon, that Paul did nothing beyond what the duty of his office required, because it was not proper that the liberty, that was allowed him by God, should be in any way abused.

(497)C’est a dire, d’abondant;” — “That is to say, over and above.”

(498)Ceste perverse et mal-heureuse imagination;” — “That perverse and miserable fancy.”

(499)C’est a dire, lesquelles nous faisons de superabondant;” — “That is to say, what we do over and above.”

(500) Our Author expresses himself in similar terms elsewhere as to the word merit. See Harmony, vol. 2, p. 197. — Ed.

Verse 19

19.Though I was free from all. Εκ πάντων, that is, from all, may be taken either in the neuter gender or in the masculine. If in the neuter, it will refer to things; if in the masculine, to persons I prefer the second He has as yet shown only by one particular instance how carefully he had accommodated himself to the weak. Now he subjoins a general statement, and afterwards enumerates several instances. The general observation is this — that while he was not under the power of any one, he lived as if he had been subject to the inclination of all, and of his own accord subjected himself to the weak, to whom he was under no subjection. The particular instances are these — that among the Gentiles he lived as if he were a Gentile, and among the Jews he acted as a Jew: that is, while among Jews he carefully observed the ceremonies of the law, he was no less careful not to give occasion of offense to the Gentiles by the observance of them.

He adds the particle as, to intimate that his liberty was not at all impaired on that account, for, however he might accommodate himself to men, he nevertheless remained always like himself inwardly in the sight of God. To become all things is to assume all appearances, as the case may require, or to put on different characters, according to the diversity among individuals. As to what he says respecting his being without law and under the law, you must understand it simply in reference to the ceremonial department; for the department connected with morals was common to Jews and Gentiles alike, and it would not have been allowable for Paul to gratify men to that extent. For this doctrine holds good only as to things indifferent, as has been previously remarked.

Verse 21

21.Though not without law to God. He wished by this parenthesis to soften the harshness of the expression, for it might. have seemed harsh at first view to have it said, that he had come to be without law. Hence in order that this might not be taken in a wrong sense, he had added, by way of correction, that he had always kept in view one law — that of subjection to Christ. By this too he hints that odium was excited against him groundlessly and unreasonably, as if he called men to an unbridled licentiousness, while he taught exemption from the bondage of the Mosaic law. Now he calls it expressly the law of Christ, in order to wipe away the groundless reproach, with which the false apostles branded the gospel, for he means, that in the doctrine of Christ nothing is omitted, that might serve to give us a perfect rule of upright. living.

Verse 22

22.To the weak I became as weak Now again he employs a general statement, in which he shows to what sort of persons he accomodated himself, and with what design. He judaized in the presence of the Jews, but not before them all, for there were many headstrong persons, who, under the influence of Pharisaical pride or malice, would have wished that Christian liberty were altogether taken away. To those persons he would never have been so accommodating, for Christ would not have us care for persons of that sort.

Let them alone, (says he,) they are blind, and leaders of the blind. (Matthew 15:14.)

Hence we must accommodate ourselves to the weak, not to the obstinate. (501)

Now his design was, that he might bring them to Christ — not that he might promote his own advantage, or retain their good will. To these things a third must be added — that it was only in things indifferent, that are otherwise in our choice, that he accommodated himself to the weak. Now, if we consider how great a man Paul was, who stooped thus far, ought we not to feel ashamed — we who are next to nothing in comparison with him — if, bound up in self, we look with disdain upon the weak, and do not deign to yield up a single point to them? But while it is proper that we should accommodate ourselves to the weak, according to the Apostle’s injunction, and that, in things indifferent, and with a view to their edification, those act an improper part, who, with the view of consulting their own ease, avoid those things that would offend men, and the wicked, too, rather than the weak. Those, however, commit a two-fold error, who do not distinguish between things indifferent and things unlawful, and accordingly do not hesitate, for the sake of pleasing men, to engage in things that the Lord has prohibited. The crowning point, however, of the evil is this — that they abuse this statement of Paul to excuse their wicked dissimulation. But if any one will keep in view these three things that I have briefly pointed out, he will have it easily in his power to refute those persons.

We must observe, also, the word that he makes use of in the concluding clause; (502) for he shows for what purpose he endeavors to gain all — with a view to their salvation. At the same time, he here at length modifies the general statement, unless perhaps you prefer the rendering of the old translation, which is found even at this day in some Greek manuscripts. (503) For in this place, too, he repeats it — that I may by all means save some (504) But as the indulgent temper, that Paul speaks of, has sometimes no good effect, this limitation is very suitable — that, although he might not do good to all, he, nevertheless, had never left off consulting the advantage of at least a few. (505)

(501) The reader will find this sentiment more fully brought out in the Harmony, volume 2, p. 258. — Ed.

(502)Afin que totalement i en sauue quelques uns ;” — “That I may by all means save some. ”

(503) The rendering of the Vulgate, referred to by Calvin, isUt omnes servarem , (That I might save all.) Four ancient Greek MSS. have παντας σώσω,that I might save all The same rendering is given in the Syriac version, and is embraced by Mill, Benzelius, and Bp. Pearce. In Wiclif’s version, (1380,) the rendering is — “To alle men I am made alle things to make alle saaf.” In the Rheims version, (1582,) it is rendered — “That I might saue al.” — Ed

(504)Afin queie sauue tous;” — “That I may save all.”

(505)Le profit et salut pour le moths de quelques uns;” — “The profit and welfare of at least some individuals.”

Verse 23

23.That I may become a partaker of it. As the Corinthians might think with themselves, that this was a peculiarity in Paul’s case on the ground of his office, he argues, from the very design of it, that this is common to all Christians. For when he declares, that his aim had been, that he might become a partaker of the gospel, he indirectly intimates, that all who do not act the same part with him are unworthy of the fellowship of the gospel. To become a partaker of the gospel is to receive the fruit of it.

Verse 24

24.Know ye not, that they who run in a race. He has laid down the doctrine, and now, with the view of impressing it upon the minds of the Corinthians, he adds an exhortation. He states briefly, that what they had hitherto attained was nothing, unless they steadfastly persevered, inasmuch as it is not enough to have once entered on the Lord’s way, if they do not strive until they reach the goal, agreeably to that declaration of Christ — He that shall endure unto the end, etc. (Matthew 10:22.) Now he borrows a similitude from the race-course. (508) For as in that case many descend into the arena, but he alone is crowned who has first reached the goal, so there is no reason why any one should feel satisfied with himself on the ground of his having once entered upon the race prescribed in the gospel, unless he persevere in it until death. There is, however, this difference between our contest and theirs, that among them only one is victorious, and obtains the palm — the man who has got before all the others; (509) but our condition is superior in this respect, that there may be many at the same time. (510) For God requires from us nothing more than that we press on vigorously until we reach the goal. (511) Thus one does not hinder another: nay more, those who run in the Christian race are mutually helpful to each other. He expresses the same sentiment in another form in 2 Timothy 2:5,

If any one striveth, he is not crowned, unless he strives lawfully.

So run. Here we have the application of the similitude — that it is not enough to have set out, if we do not continue to run during our whole life. For our life is like a race-course. We must not therefore become wearied after a short time, like one that stops short in the middle of the race-course, but instead of this, death alone must put a period to our running. The particle ὅυτω, (so,) may be taken in two ways. Chrysostom connects it with what goes before, in this manner: as those who run do not stop running until they have reached the goal, so do ye also persevere, and do not stop running so long as you live. It will, however, correspond not inaptly with what follows. “You must not run so as to stop short in the middle of the race-course, but so as to obtain the prize.” As to the term stadium, (race-course,) and the different kinds of races, (512) I say nothing, as these things may be obtained from grammarians, and it is generally known that there were some races on horseback, and others on foot. Nor are these things particularly needed for understanding Paul’s meaning.

(508)De ceux qui conrent a la lice pour quelque pris;” — “From those who run in the race-course for some prize.”

(509)Qui a mieux couru que los antres, et est le premier venu au but;” — “Who has run better than the others, and has come first to the goal.”

(510)I1 yen pent auoir plusieurs de nons qui soyent couronnez;” — “There may be many of us that are crowned.”

(511)Que nons ne perdions point courage, mais que perscuerions constamment jusques a la fin;” — “That we do not lose heart, but persevere steadfastly unto the end.”

(512)Qui estoyent anciennement en vsage;” — “Which were anciently in use.”

Verse 25

25.Now every one that striveth. As he had exhorted to perseverance, it remained to state in what way they must persevere. This second thing he now sets before them by a comparison taken from pugilists; not indeed in every particular, (513) but in so far as was required by the subject in hand, within which he confines himself — how far they ought to yield to the weakness of the brethren. Now he argues from the less to the greater, that it is an unseemly thing if we grudge to give up our right, inasmuch as the pugilists eating their coliphium, (514) and that sparingly and not to the full, voluntarily deny themselves every delicacy, in order that they may have more agility for the combat, and they do this, too, for the sake of a corruptible crown But if they value so highly a crown of leaves that quickly fades, what value ought we to set upon a crown of immortality? Let us not, therefore, think it hard to give up a little of our right. It is well known that wrestlers were contented with the most frugal diet, so that their simple fare has become proverbial.

(513)Non pas qu’il vucille appliquer la similitude en tout et par tout;” — “Not that he meant to apply the similitude out and out.”

(514)C’estoit vnc sorte de pain propre pour entretenir et augmenter la force, duquel vsoyent ordinairement les lutteurs et telles gens. Les Grecs le nonmoyent coliphium;” — “This was a kind of bread that was fitted to maintain and increase strength, which was commonly made use of by wrestlers, and persons of that sort. The Greeks call it coliphium.” The term coliphium is supposed to be compounded of κῶλον, a limb, and ιφ, strongly — a means of strengthening the limbs It is defined by Tymme, in his Translation of Calvin on the Corinthians, to be “a kinde of breade whereof the Wrastelers did use in tyme past to eate, to be more strong. ” It is made mention of by Juvenal (2. 53.) — Ed

Verse 26

26.I therefore so run He returns to speak of himself, that his doctrine may have the more weight, on his setting himself forward by way of pattern. What. he says here some refer to assurance of hope — (Hebrews 6:11) — “I do not run in vain, nor do I run the risk of losing my labor, for I have the Lord’s promise, which never deceives.” It rather appears to me, however, that his object is to direct the course of believers straight forward toward the goal, that it may not be wavering and devious. “The Lord exercises us here in the way of running and wrestling, but he sets before us the object at which we ought to aim, and prescribes a sure rule for our wrestling, that we may not weary ourselves in vain.” Now he takes in both the similitudes that he had employed. “I know,” says he, “whither I am running, and, like a skillful wrestler, I am anxious that I may not miss my aim.” Those things ought to kindle up and confirm the Christian breast, so as to devote itself with greater alacrity to all the duties of piety; (515) for it is a great matter not to wander in ignorance through uncertain windings.

(515)Toutes choses concenantes la piete et crainte de Dieu;” — “All things that relate to piety and the fear of God.”

Verse 27

27.But I keep under my body (516) Budaeus reads Observo ; (I keep a watch over;) but in my opinion the Apostle has employed the word ὑπωπιάζειν (517) here, to mean treating in a servile manner (518) For he declares that he does not indulge self, but restrains his inclinations — which cannot be accomplished unless the body is tamed, and, by being held back from its inclinations, is habituated to subjection, like a wild and refractory steed. The ancient monks, with a view to yield obedience to this precept contrived many exercises of discipline, for they slept on benches, they forced themselves to long watchings, and shunned delicacies. The main thing, however, was wanting in them, for they did not apprehend why it was that the Apostle enjoins this, because they lost sight of another injunction —

to take no concern for our flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.
(Romans 13:14.)

For what he says elsewhere (1 Timothy 4:8) always holds good — that bodily exercise profiteth little. Let us, however, treat the body so as to make a slave of it, (519) that it may not, by its wantonness, keep us back from the duties of piety; and farther, that we may not indulge it, so as to occasion injury, or offense, to others.

That, when I have preached to others Some explain these words in this way — “Lest, after having taught others with propriety and faithfulness, I should incur the judgment of condemnation in the sight of God by a wicked life.” But it will suit better to view this expression as referring to men, in this way — “My life ought to be a kind of rule to others. Accordingly, I strive to conduct myself in such a manner, that my character and conduct may not be inconsistent with my doctrine, and that thus I may not, with great disgrace to myself, and a grievous occasion of offense to my brethren, neglect those things which I require from others.” It may also be taken in connection with a preceding statement, (1 Corinthians 9:23,) in this way — “Lest I should be defrauded of the gospel, of which others are partakers through means of my labors.”

(516)Mais ie matte et reduy en seruitude mort corps;” — “But I mortify my body, and bring it into servitude.”

(517) Its original meaning is to strike under the eye, being compounded of ὑπό, (under,) and ὤψ, (the eye,) to beat black and blue, as the wrestlers were accustomed to do with the cestus (See Arist. Pac. 541.) — Ed

(518)Manier rudement et d’une faqon seruile;” — “To handle roughly, and in a servile manner.”

(519) Our author has evidently in view the literal meaning of the original word here used δουλαγωγῶ, I reduce to slavery It is used in this sense by Diodorus Siculus. (12. 24.) — Ed

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/1-corinthians-9.html. 1840-57.
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