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(b) Food offered to Idols
(ii) St. Paul’s own Example
St. Paul has appealed to the ’enlightened’ converts at Corinth to give up for the sake of others a practice which they might otherwise have had no hesitation in indulging. He now strengthens this appeal by pointing to his own example of self-denial. As an Apostle he had the right to maintenance from the Church, but had refrained from exercising it, lest he might be suspected of preaching for gain.
Since his opponents declared that he maintained himself by his own work simply because he knew he was no true Apostle, he begins by proving (1 Corinthians 9:1-3) his claim to the Apostleship, and so (1 Corinthians 9:4-6) to the rights enjoyed by other Apostles. He defends this right (1 Corinthians 9:7-14) by a number of arguments. Then he gives (1 Corinthians 9:15-22) his reasons for not exercising it. His whole conduct has been influenced by the aim of causing no hindrance to the gospel, but of commending it to every man:
1-6. His claim to Apostleship, and consequent right to maintenance.
Paraphrase. ’(1) Am not I myself free from outward authority? For am I not an Apostle, having seen Jesus our Lord? (2, 3) Why, your very existence as a Christian Church should be to you a sufficient proof of my Apostleship. (4-6) Now other Apostles, the Lord’s brethren, and Peter himself, are supported as well as their wives, by the Churches they visit; have not Barnabas and myself this same right?’
1. Am I not free] (RV puts this question first) i.e. being an Apostle, I am free from man’s authority, and could do many things I abstain from doing for your sakes: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19.
Have I not seen Jesus] An Apostle’s work was to be a witness of the Resurrection (Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32); therefore he must have seen the risen Lord. This St. Paul had done at his conversion (Acts 22:14; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9).
2. Unto others] in their opinion. The seal] That which authenticates, or proves true. The existence of the Corinthian Church was a proof of St. Paul’s apostolic power. 1 Corinthians 9:3 probably refers to this, not to what follows, ’If you want a proof of my apostleship, look around you!’
4. Power] RV ’right.’ To eat and to drink] as guests of the Church.
5. To lead about a sister, a wife] RV ’a wife that is a believer’; i.e. to claim support on his journeys for his wife as well as himself. It is implied that the Apostles were mostly married; Peter’s wife’s mother is mentioned Matthew 8:14. No doubt their wives were of great service in getting access to the women of Eastern cities. Lead] as the companion of his travels. He asserts that he could reasonably claim not only support for a wife, but also payment of her travelling expenses as well as his own. The brethren of the Lord] cp. Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55. They seem here included among the Apostles; but the title of Apostle was not limited to the Twelve.
6. Barnabas] was like St. Paul, an Apostle (Acts 14:14), and like him, but unlike the rest, he maintained himself by his own labour. They may have jointly adopted this course on their missionary journeys (Acts 13, 14). We see that Barnabas was known to the Corinthians, and still working as a missionary. For St. Paul’s self-support see on 1 Corinthians 4:12.
7-14. Proof of this right. This right is proved (1 Corinthians 9:7) from the analogy of soldiers, husbandmen, shepherds; (1 Corinthians 9:8-10) from the direction in the Law that the ox should not be muzzled (1 Corinthians 9:11-12) on grounds of common fairness and gratitude; (1 Corinthians 9:13-14) from the example of the Jewish priesthood.
7. Who goeth a warfare] The Apostles were spiritual soldiers, husbandmen, shepherds.
8. As a man] RV ’after the manner of men’; i.e. reasoning only from analogies of common life.
9. For it is written in the law] RV ’Is it not also written in the law?’ Thou shalt not muzzle the.. ox] Deuteronomy 25:4. The ox threshed out the corn either by simply walking upon it, or by dragging a heavy sledge over it.
Doth God take care for oxen?] RV ’Is it for the oxen that God careth?’ i.e. He did not make this law merely for their sake; He meant the principle to go much further, to be applied to men. This is an instance of St. Paul’s use of the allegorical method of interpretation: cp. 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:22.
10. Altogether] or, ’really,’ ’certainly.’ He that thresheth in hope, etc.] RV ’He that thresheth to thresh in hope of partaking.’ The same principle which applies to oxen holds good of human labourers, and so of spiritual labourers.
11. Carnal things] i.e. earthly material support: cp. Romans 15:27.
12. If others be partakers] This shows that there were some persons receiving support from the Corinthian Church: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:20.
Power] RV ’right.’ Rather] RV’ yet more’; i.e. as the instruments of your conversion.
Suffer] RV ’bear.’ Hinder the gospel] by being suspected of self-interest.
13. Live (RV ’eat’) of the things of the temple] i.e. its tithes and offerings. Partakers with the altar] Part of the offering was burnt on the altar; part fell to the priest: cp. Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 18:1-3.
14. Hath the Lord ordained] Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7.
15-23. His own reason for not exercising this right.
Paraphrase. ’(15) But I am resolved to maintain my independence. (16-18) It is the one thing I can boast of. I cannot boast of my preaching the gospel, for I am compelled to preach the gospel; I have no choice in the matter; but this self-support is of my own free will, and I find its reward in increased opportunities and success. (19-23) To obtain such, I have also been in the habit of adapting myself to the position and circumstances of every class of men in turn.’
15. I have used none of these things] The Apostle was the more free to advocate the principle ’that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel,’ because his own refusal of support kept him free from personal bias. These things] i.e. these rights. Make my glorying void] deprive me (by supporting me) of my boast of preaching the gospel freely.
17. Willingly.. against my will] RV ’of mine own will.. not of mine own will.’ He preached under the constraining influence of the love of Christ. Reward] answers to ’glorying’: cp. Romans 4:2-5. A voluntary action admits of ’glorying,’ and calls for ’reward.’ So it was with St. Paul’s self-support; not with his gospel-preaching. Dispensation] RV ’stewardship.’
18. That I abuse not my power] RV ’so as not to use to the full my rights’; viz. of claiming maintenance from his people.
19. Free from all men] Under authority or obligation to no man. Servant unto all] Accommodating myself to their desires and prejudices as far as possible.
20. I became as a Jew] preaching first in their synagogues; appealing to their Scriptures, e.g. Acts 13:14, etc. As under the law] e.g. circumcising Timothy, who was half a Jew (Acts 16:1-3); helping the men who had taken the Nazirite vow (Acts 21:23-26); keeping the feasts (Acts 20:16). RV inserts, ’not being myself under the law’: cp. Galatians 2:11-19.
21. To them that are without law] i.e. Gentiles: cp. Romans 2:12-19. To them he became as without law e.g. refusing to have Titus, a Gentile, circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5); mixing freely with Gentiles; using arguments from natural religion and from Greek literature and philosophy, as at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17) and Athens (Acts 17:22-31). Being not without law to God] Liberty did not mean licence; though free from bondage to the Law of Moses, he yielded obedience to the moral law of God as revealed in Christ.
22. The weak] cp. 1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 14, 15. By all means] some in one way, some in another.
23. Partaker thereof with you] RV ’joint partaker thereof,’ i.e. share with my converts in its blessings and salvation. This v. forms the transition to the next paragraph. St. Paul practised self-denial for his own sake also.
24-27. The importance of self-discipline. St. Paul illustrates the need of this self-denial which he has been inculcating from the Greek games or athletic sports, some of the most noted of which (the Isthmian) were held near Corinth every two years. The prize was a mere wreath (at Corinth, formed of parsley, afterwards of pine), but the winner was welcomed home to his native city with the honours of a victorious general; his statue was erected; his victory was celebrated by a leading poet; a front seat was assigned him at all festivals and spectacles; he was frequently relieved from taxation. St. Paul draws lessons for his converts from the earnestness and self-discipline needed in these contests: cp. Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1.
24. Not all who start in a race, win; only the best. In the Christian race there is a crown for all who run their best, but only for such.
25. Striveth for the mastery] RV ’striveth in the games.’ Temperate in all things] i.e. under strict ’training’ as to food, drink, and exercise. An incorruptible] ’a crown of glory that f adeth not away’ (1 Peter 5:4).
26. Not as uncertainly] not hesitating, looking back. Not as one that beateth the air] but aiming my blows well. The metaphor changes from running to boxing.
27. Keep under, etc.] RV’ I buffet my body and bring it into bondage.’ The body is the seat of temptation to self-indulgence. One great object of fasting and abstinence is to secure this control over our bodies, so that ’the flesh may be subdued to the spirit.’ The illness to which St. Paul was subject, his ’thorn in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7), must have tempted him often to seek his own ease and comfort and to live a more self-indulgent and less laborious life; and this temptation he fought against unceasingly. Preached to others] like the herald who proclaimed the conditions of the contest and its prizes, and summoned the competitors. A castaway] RV ’rejected’; disqualified. ’No amount of usefulness to others will save us if we ourselves live not the life of God’ (Woodford).
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany