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

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

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I. In Defense of Being An Apostle: 9:1-3

II. In Defense of Being Financially Supported: 9:4-14

III. Defending His "Right" Not To Use His "Rights": 9:15-23

IV. Self-Control Is Also Demanded In the Realm of Personal Liberty: 9:24-27


'At first sight this chapter seems disconnected from what goes before but in point of fact it is not. The whole point of it lies in this--the Corinthians who considered themselves mature and advanced Christians have been claiming that they are in such a privileged position that they are free to eat meat offered to idols if they like..Paul's way of answering that argument is to set forth the many privileges which he himself had a perfect right to claim, but which he did not claim lest they should turn out to be stumbling-blocks to others and hindrances to the effectiveness of the gospel.' [Note: _ Barclay p. 86]

'The last thing which Paul said in 8:13 was, "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." This chapter contains a discussion which is designed to show that this had been Paul's own rule of life in his work as an evangelist. Thus, when Paul wrote what he wrote in 8:13, he was not citing a rule which he himself would not keep; he was citing his own rule of life.' [Note: _ Willis p. 277]

'The principle of self-denying love which Paul has just applied to the practice of eating idol meats is so important that he elaborates it by using himself as an example.' [Note: _ Lenski p. 350]

In addition:

'Morris is correct in saying that chapter 9 is not a change of topic. There were those at Corinth who disputed Paul's apostleship (9:1; 2 Corinth. 12:12; 13:3) and they used his refusal to accept wages of them as a sign of a guilty conscience (9:2ff; 11:5ff; 12:13-18). So he kills two birds with one stone. He claims apostleship and insists on his right to financial support...Then he explains why he didn't exercise that right (15-27).' [Note: _ McGuiggan p. 127]


Verse 1

1Co_9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not ye my work in the Lord?

'Am I not free? -having the same rights and liberties as any other Christian. Some might have been saying, 'If Paul really was an apostle, then he would "use" his rights, not forego them.' Paul responds, 'I am free, I do have rights.' He had every right which they had or any other apostle.

'Am I not an Apostle?' -evidently some would say no. Certain verses indicate a "crisis of authority" was happening in this congregation. Paul tackles this issue head on and with gusto. (4:1-5, 18-21; 14:36-37) 'There are some in the Corinthian church who deny it and by the tone of 2 Corinthians they are making ground in their influencing of others.' (McGuiggan p. 127)

At this point Paul offers two arguments that establish his apostleship.

'Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?' -one of the qualifications for being an Apostle was to have seen the resurrected Christ. ( Act_1:21-22 'a witness with us of His resurrection.'; 2:32; 3:15; 4:20,33; 5:32; 10:41; 22:14-15; 26:16) Incidently, that's why the Apostles were called "witnesses" ( Act_1:8 ), because they had "witnessed" the event that the whole of Christianity rested upon. ( 1Co_15:14-19 )

Points to Note:

1. Definite qualifications for Apostles existed. And seeing that Paul claimed that Jesus appeared to him "last of all" (15:8), the door on any further apostles has been closed for all time.

2. In the Second Corinthian letter, Paul gives another "proof"; 'the signs of a true apostle were performed among you' ( 2Co_12:12 ). Those signs being miracles. But since many Christians, who weren't apostles could work miracles ( 1Co_12:1-31 ), the 'signs' of an apostle must of included the ability to pass on the various spiritual gifts ( Act_8:18-19 ), a feat which none but apostles could perform. Therefore objective evidence for testing apostles existed and would be needed. ( Rev_2:2 ) In light of this we are forced to conclude that religious groups which claim modern day apostles find themselves in opposition to the Word of God.

Barclay makes a good observation here:

'Paul does not say, "I know what I have believed". He says, "I know whom I have believed." ( 2Ti_1:12 ) When Jesus called His disciples, He did not say to them, "I have a philosophy which I would like you to examine", or, "I have an ethical system which I would like you to consider," or, "I offer you a statement of belief which I would like you to discuss." He said, "Follow Me." All Christianity beings with this personal relationship with Jesus Christ.' [Note: _ Barclay p. 87]

'are not ye my work in the Lord?' -'Is it denied that you are the fruits of my labor in the Lord' (Con) 'This is Paul's second criterion for his apostleship, the establishing of churches in new areas. (cf. Rom_15:17-22 )' (Fee p. 395)

'In 2Co_13:3 they asked for a proof of Christ working in him and in 13:5 he points them to themselves. Examine yourselves, he tells them, if you're in the faith what does that say about me?' (McGuiggan p. 127)

Verse 2

1Co_9:2 If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

'If to others I am not an apostle' -others who had never met him or who were not the result of his labors.

'yet at least I am to you' -He had labored among them for at least 18 months, he had worked miracles in their midst. He might be able to understand why others, who had never met him questioned his qualifications, but they were without excuse.

'for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord' -'the "seal"..indicates ownership or authentication ..their very existence authenticates his apostleship..their existence "in the Lord" stamps Paul's ministry with the divine seal of authenticity.' (Fee pp. 396-397)

Their very existence as a congregation, especially one that possessed spiritual gifts (because he had imparted them-1:7), was living proof that he was an apostle.

Verse 3

1Co_9:3 My defence to them that examine me is this. 'This is my answer to those who question my authority.' (Con); 'That is how I vindicate myself to my critics' (Wey)

'is this' -referring back to verses 1-2. This is the standard answer that Paul would give to this critics. And evidently some existed in the congregation in Corinth. This should be a reminder to preachers, that even the best effort and work will probably have some critics. ( Luk_6:26 )


He will establish his right to be supported from four different angles: (1) The example of others who preach the word-9:4-6. (2) Common sense-9:7-8. (3) The Law-9:8-13. (4) Jesus Christ-9:14.

'Since this touchy issue is addressed again--in a similarly defensive way in 2 Corinthians (11:7-12; 12:13), it seems certain that they raised it. And since this occurs in the context of defending his apostleship (1-3), most likely his failure to take support has been used against him to call his apostolic authenticity into question.' (Fee pp. 398-399)

Some may have been arguing that Paul didn't accept support from the Corinthians, because he didn't deem himself worthy of such, i.e. his failure to accept support was the sign of a guilty conscience.

Point to Note:

Before we move on, we need to note that the Greeks had a certain attitude towards the payment of religious teachers.

'The Greeks despised manual labor; no free Greek would willingly work with his hands. Aristotle declared that all men were divided into two classes--the cultured, wise people and the hewers of wood and drawers of water who existed solely to perform the menial tasks for the others, and whom it was not only mistaken but actually wrong to seek to raise and educate. The enemies of Socrates and Plato had in fact taunted them because they took no money for teaching, and had hinted that they did so because their teaching was worth nothing. ' [Note: _ Barclay p. 88]

'Philosophers and wandering missionaries in the Greco-Roman world were "supported" by four means: fees, patronage, begging and working. Each of these had both proponents and detractors, who viewed rival forms as not worthy of philosophy.' (Fee p. 399)

Verse 4

1Co_9:4 Have we no right to eat and to drink?

This begins a series of questions, which are designed to force the Corinthians to acknowledge the fact that Paul has the same rights that any other apostle does.

'eat and drink' -i.e. be fed by the church. 'At the expense of the churches' (Vincent p. 228)

Verse 5

1Co_9:5 Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

'lead about a wife that is a believer' -Which infers: (1) The apostles had the right to marry. (2) Paul didn't even consider than an apostle would marry an unbelieving woman. (3) That such families of apostles and evangelists had the right to be supported also.

Point to Note:

To avoid the clear teaching of this passage, some have argued that what Paul is saying... is that the apostles had the right to have a Christian woman (not a wife) accompany them in their travels and minister to their needs, i.e. cook for them, do their laundry, etc.. And yet the clear meaning is "a sister as a wife." (Fee p. 403) For to translate the phrase, "a sister who is a woman", is silly. What other kind of "sister" is there? This interpretation makes nonsense out of the passage.

'even as the rest of the apostles' -'this passage creates a fair presumption that at least the majority of the apostles were married.' (McGarvey p. 89)

'and the brethren of the Lord' -'and the brothers of the Lord.' (NASV) Since Paul is arguing, and has already mentioned one prominent group of individuals, it seems that this phrase must refer to another, i.e. the actual physical brothers of Jesus. ( Mar_6:3 ; Mat_13:55 )

'This passage makes clear that even though they had questions during his earthly ministry ( Mar_3:31 ; Joh_7:3 ), they eventually came to believe in Jesus and were among his earliest followers after the Resurrection ( Act_1:14 ).' (Fee pp. 403-404)

This text also implies that the brothers of the Lord preached, traveled, had families and were supported by churches.

'The only reason that anyone doubted whether Jesus had brothers was in the interest of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.' (Willis p. 284)

'and Cephas?' -i.e. Peter (1:12) In the gospels we find that he had a mother-in-law ( Mar_1:30 ; Mat_8:14 ).

'It is rather disconcerting to the papacy that Peter, who is regarded as the first pope, is represented as a married man in the Scriptures.' (Lenski p. 356)

'Why is he (Peter) singled out by name? Perhaps because of his prominence and because of the use of his name in the divisions in Corinth (1:12)' (Robertson p. 143)

Verse 6

1Co_9:6 Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?

'and Barnabas' -another well known Christian evangelist who had also supported himself in a trade. 'The allusion implies wide-spread knowledge of the career of Barnabas.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 847)

'forbear working' -'to work, is the regular word for manual labor'. (Vincent p. 229) Working for their own support.

'The implication is that the problem for the Corinthians is not simply that he took no support from them..but that he supported himself in the demeaning fashion of working at a trade. What kind of activity is this for one who would be an "apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ"?' (Fee p. 404)

For Paul's earning a living by his own hands see (4:12; 1Th_2:9 ; 2Th_3:7 ; Act_18:3 ; Act_20:34 ).

Arguments From Commonplace Realities:

Verse 7

1Co_9:7 What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

'What soldier' -'Did you ever hear of a man serving in the army at his own expense..' (NEB)

This verse points out that wages for service is the rule in all employment.

Argument From the Law of Moses:

Verse 8

1Co_9:8 Do I speak these things after the manner of men? or saith not the law also the same?

'after the manner of men?' -'Human arguments, you say?' (Mof); 'This is, I know, an argument from everyday life, but it is a principle endorsed by the Law.' (Phi)

'Or, if one objects to these parallels as being merely secular and worldly, does not the sacred law of Moses teach the same?' (Erdman p. 94)

Verse 9

1Co_9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. Is it for the oxen that God careth,

'For it is written' - Deu_25:4

'Is it for the oxen that God careth' -'Do you think God was thinking only about oxen when He said this' (Tay). Now the Scriptures do teach that God 'cares' for the animal creation ( Mat_6:26 ff; Luk_12:22 ff; Mat_12:11-12 ). And yet Paul argues, as did Jesus, that if God cares even for animals, He cares for people more!

'The text reflects the ancient agricultural practice of driving an ox drawing a threshing-sledge over the grain to release the kernels from the stalk. Out of mercy for the laboring animal the Israelites were forbidden to muzzle the ox, so that he might have some "material benefit" from his labor.' (Fee pp. 406-407)

And if God doesn't want the labor of an ox to go unrewarded, how much more the labor of a man!

Verse 10

1Co_9:10 or saith he it assuredly for our sake? Yea, for our sake it was written: because he that ploweth ought to plow in hope, and he that thresheth, to thresh in hope of partaking.

'for our sake it was written' -'Surely we are included!' (Phi) 'Paul asserts that God does not legislate for oxen and forget men.' (McGarvey p. 91) 'Paul is saying that the law was written for man's benefit; after all, oxen cannot read .' (Willis p. 288)

And if this was the command given to Israelites concerning the "treatment" of their oxen, then how much more it applied to their treatment of their fellowman.

'he that ploweth..he that thresheth' -two specific groups of labors that this principle applies to.

'ought to plow..thresh..in hope' -i.e. of enjoying the fruits of their labors, share in the material benefits of their labors.

Verse 11

1Co_9:11 If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?

'If we sowed' -And if farmers had the right to share in the material benefits of their labors (i.e. they live off their land), how much more the laborers in God's field , men like Paul himself. (3:6-9 'I planted..')

'spiritual things' -in teaching them the gospel, giving them spiritual life (4:16) In addition, from Paul they had also received spiritual gifts. (See Rom_15:27 ; Gal_6:6 )

'is it a great matter' -'is it too much to expect from you' (NEB); 'it should be "no big thing" therefore, for him to reap a material harvest from them.' (Fee p. 409)

Willis adds, 'The word megas (great) emphasizes just how disportionate the work of sowing (what is given: the gospel) is to that which is reaped (what is received: financial support). There is really, therefore, no just compensation for the communication of the gospel to someone.' (p. 289)

'carnal things' -material support.

Verse 12

1Co_9:12 If others partake of this right over you, do not we yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right; but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

'If others partake of this right over you' -i.e. the right of financial support. Clearly, the Corinthians believed that evangelists had the right to be paid, for they had paid some "others"! Possibly Apollos and the "numberless guardians" of 4:15.

'do not we yet more?' -'have not we a stronger claim' (NEB) 'The concessions which you have made in supporting others having inferior claims debar you from thus denying apostolic claims.' (McGarvey p. 91)

At this point one might have expected Paul to say, "Therefore I will be looking for your check in the mail!" i.e. start supporting me. But he doesn't. Indicating that Paul isn't complaining about their lack of support. Rather the "support issue" has been all about "rights" and the proper use of them in certain situations. But before Paul could cite himself as an example of 8:13, he first had to establish that he had the "right", in which he is presenting forfeiting for the furtherance of the gospel.

'Nevertheless we did not use this right' -'Yet I have not used my right' (Con)

'but we bear all things' -( 1Co_13:7 ) 'Paul had decided that he would endure many things which he did not have to endure ( so far as his technical rights were concerned ) rather than to hinder the gospel.' (Willis p. 290)

'bear' -'present tense says: "We do so right along, even now."' (Lenski p. 365)

We bear all the things that come from having to support ourselves. 'It is no easy burden this to preach and to teach and at the same time to earn enough to live and to travel from place to place.' (Lenski p. 365)

And let's remember that it was no easier for Paul, than it would be for any of us! But there was a principle that Paul held to, regardless of the cost involved.

'that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.'

'hindrance' -'so that I may not in any way hinder the progress of Christ's gospel' (Mon)

What this hindrance may have been in Corinth, i.e. why Paul chose not to accept wages from the Corinthians, isn't revealed. Many assume that there existed an element in Corinth that would of accused Paul of preaching only for the money. Unfortunately, some of the Corinthians seem displeased with whatever Paul did. ( 2Co_11:7 ; 2Co_12:13 )

Point to Note:

1. Paul's personal example puts us to shame. He loved the gospel so much, he believed in the "cause" to the point, that he would rather suffer personal hardship than be guilty of impeding the progress of Christianity. Where has that spirit gone? Hindering the truth is a serious thing ( Rom_1:18 )

2. 'I cannot prevent my mind from thinking of all of the lukewarm Christians, hypocritical Christians, Christians involved in petty quarrels, etc..which have impeded the progress of God's word..' (Willis p. 291)

3. 'Paul is a man of a single passion, "the gospel of Christ". As he will explain in vv. 19-23, everything he is and does is "for the sake of the gospel". When it becomes a choice, therefore, between his "rights" and others' hearing the gospel, there is no choice at all ; anything that would get in the way of someone's hearing the gospel for what it is, the good news of God's pardoning grace, can be easily laid aside .' (Fee p. 411)

'Men always judge a message by the life and character of the man who brings it; and Paul was determined that his hands would be clean..Someone once said to a preacher, "I cannot hear what you say for listening to what you are." No one could ever say that to Paul.' (Barclay p. 90)

Verse 13

1Co_9:13 Know ye not that they that minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they that wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar?

'Know ye not' -yet another jab at their arrogance and "knowledge".

'they that minister about the sacred things' -i.e. the priests.

'eat of the things of the temple' -'get their living from the temple' (Wms) 'The priest who serves in the Temple receives his share of the offerings and lives by them.' (Barclay p. 88) This was true in the Jewish religion (Numb. 18:8-20; Neh_12:44 ff; Neh_13:10-14 ), as well as in the pagan religions. Both Jew and Gentile conceded this point.

Verse 14

1Co_9:14 Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.

'Even so' -'On the same principle' (Phi); 'In the same way' (RSV) 'Just as God gave orders about the priests in the temple, so did the Lord Jesus give orders for those who preach the gospel to live out of the gospel.' (Robertson pp. 145-146)

'Lord ordain' -Paul clinches the argument, with a command from the Lord Himself. Paul is here referring to the statement made by Jesus in Luk_10:7 "the laborer is worthy of his wages.") In Mat_10:10 , we find that this statement is used in connection with evangelizing. In 1Ti_5:18 , Paul refers to this statement as "Scripture", and places it alongside Deu_25:4 .

Verse 15

1Co_9:15 But I have used none of these things: and I write not these things that it may be so done in my case; for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorifying void.

'But I have used none of these things' -i.e. accepting support from you. 'He doesn't go into detail about why he didn't. He did take support from others ( Php_1:5 ; Php_4:10-20 ; 2Co_11:7 ff) so he wasn't opposed to doing so in all circumstances . Which is exactly to the point! Depending on the circumstances, he would either forfeit or exercise his liberty.' (McGuiggan p. 129)

'I' -'Notice the change from the plural to the singular pronoun ('we'-9:12); having discussed the right which he and his co-workers had to support, Paul explained why he personally refused to exercise his legitimate right.' (Willis p. 293)

'I write not these things that it may be so done in my case' -'deals a deathblow to the suspicion which someone might be low enough to entertain, namely that Paul's secret purpose in writing these things is, after all, to get support from the people.' (Lenski p. 368)

'for it were good for me rather to die' -'I would sooner die than' (Mof)

'that any man should make my glorying void' -'No one shall make my boast an empty boast' (NEB)

Points to Note:

1. Paul's boast, wasn't in preaching the gospel (9:16). Paul's "boast" appears to have been offering the gospel without charge (9:18); avoiding any hindrance to the gospel (9:12); which involved the "right" to forego his rights.

2. The language is strong and full of emotion here. Paul would rather die than live a selfish life. Paul would rather die, that force his "rights" upon others! To Paul (and all men and women of integrity), there is something worst that physical death, i.e. to bring discredit upon the cause of Christ, through one's own selfish choices.

Verse 16

1Co_9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.

'I have nothing to glory of' -'Proclaiming the gospel gives me no ground of boasting.' (Mon) Paul here explains what his boast does not consist in.

'for necessity is laid upon me' -'for I am under compulsion' (NASV) Jesus had ordered Paul to preach ( Act_9:6 ; Act_9:15 ; Act_22:14-15 ; Act_26:15-19 ***; Gal_1:15 f; Rom_1:14 ). 'He finds no such ground for boasting in the fact that he preaches the gospel, any more than a slave would boast of his obedience to his master's commands.' (F.F. Bruce p. 85)

'for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel' -The Divine judgement resulting from disobeying a direct command of God. ( Act_26:19 ) Not only did Paul not teach "once saved, always saved", he realized that he could forfeit his own salvation!

'he expresses his feeling on preaching. He doesn't do it so much because he wants to, he does it because he must! He has seen something (Someone). He has heard something (Someone). If his heart can't get out through his mouth it will explode. If he doesn't preach what he has heard, not only will God not be pleased, not only will Christ be disappointed and rejected, Paul will feel his own soul rot! ( Jer_20:9 )' (McGuiggan p. 129)

Verse 17

1Co_9:17 For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship intrusted to me.

'For if I do this of mine own will' -'For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward' (NASV)

'but if not of mine own will' -'but since I serve by compulsion' (Con)

'I have a stewardship intrusted to me' -'Stewards..were slaves, whose masters simply gave certain goods or property into their hands to be administered in trust. The entire decision rested on the decision of the master to whom the slave in question belonged. The master did not ask: "Will you take this stewardship?" He only gave the order: "Take it!" The slave took it--woe to him if he was obstinate and refused. (See the Parable of the Talents- Mat_25:14-30 ) But when a slave, who had nothing to say in the matter, was put in charge of such a trust he had no claim to wages for administering this trust.' (Lenski p. 371)

Paul's point in these verses seem to be: In contrast to others, Paul had not voluntarily begun to preach. Of his own volition he hadn't sought to be an evangelist, rather, God had chosen him, and commanded him, without consulting him first! ( Gal_1:15-16 ) And no matter how "willingly and joyfully" Paul would preach the gospel, the bottom line was, he had been commanded to do it, period! While freemen can demand or expect wages, in the area of preaching the gospel, Paul was a slave, a steward with a commission entrusted to him, and stewards don't expect or demand payment.

Verse 18

1Co_9:18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.

'What then is my reward?' -'he asks of one who is entitled to no reward. Since his apostolic ministry is his by divine appointment, given to him quite apart from his own choosing, his "pay" in such circumstances is to do something that was not imposed on him, namely, "that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge." In one sense his "pay" is in fact to receive "no pay"!' (Fee p. 420)

Paul's reward did not lie in doing what he was bound to do; rather it existed in a matter of choice which was left up to himself.

'Well, if he doesn't get paid "for preaching", what does he get? What money can't buy! The joyful sense of satisfaction which comes from knowing he has acted with integrity.' (McGuiggan p. 129)

'without charge..so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel' -I can accept wages or I can refrain. In this matter I am under no constraint or obligation one way or the other, and to you, I use my liberty of choice by preaching the gospel free of charge. And now Paul will draw the strings of this chapter and chapter 8 together. For his voluntary giving up his rights-for the advancement of the gospel IS ON A PAR with their liberty in the matter of food . In both cases the paramount consideration is what will best promote the spread of the gospel!

'Thus his "reward", as his "boast", is to be found in the "weakness" of working with his own hands so as not to hinder the forward progress of the gospel.' (Fee p. 421)

'to use to the full my right' -And this is precisely what the Corinthians were arguing for. They wanted to be able to use, when they wanted, "every right" that was coming to them.

'Thus Paul illustrates in part the great principle he is proclaiming, namely, that by insistence upon his rights one may possibly endanger his success. Indulgence in a practice which he regards as innocent may destroy a man's influence over others.' (Erdman pp. 95-96)

Verse 19

1Co_9:19 For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.

'free from all men' -Again he asserts his own liberty in Christ (9:1). Paul had the same "rights" as every other Christian. But instead of insisting on them, to the point of hindering the gospel, Paul enslaved himself to all men.

'I brought myself under bondage to all' -'Voluntary bondage' (Robertson p. 147); 'yet I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all' (Tay). That is, dedicated to the highest good of all. This is the language of Jesus. ( Mar_10:45 ; Luk_22:27 ; Mat_20:26 '..but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.')

'This utterly outstrips any freedom which the Corinthian disciples and protagonists might vauntingly claim. The pagan Stoics, too, had much to say about inner freedom which enabled a man by philosophy and by training to rise far above either pain or joy. Paul would stagger these pagans when he declares: "I have made mine own self a slave to all." No Stoic would understand that.' (Lenski p. 375)

'that' -the purpose.

'I might gain the more' -'So far from doing what he had the abstract right to do , he made every necessary concession wherever he saw a possibility of bring souls to Christ.' (Erdman p. 97)

'As Paul reflected on Corinth and the terrible need there he undoubtedly thought: "I must and I will." Now we hear: "I did!" (Whom do you know who fits this description? I genuinely hope you do know someone like that.) Stories circulate of people selling themselves into slavery just so they can get to preach. Stories of people, entering valleys of lepers, never to be seen again, just so they can "gain the more."' (McGuiggan p. 130)

Points to Note:

1. "Freedom/Rights" were not Paul's goal, rather it was the salvation of others.

2. Making oneself a servant of others, is following the example of Christ ( Php_2:5-8 ), who also became a "slave" in order to "save". Hence to become a slave to all is surely the ultimate expression of what is true Christianity, because it is truly Christlike behavior.

Paul now describes what being a slave to all men includes: Here are the various social settings in which he served others.

Verse 20

1Co_9:20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

'I became as a Jew' -'I lived like a Jew' (Knox) 'To put it in more contemporary terms, when he was among Jews he was kosher.' (Fee p. 427)

Points to Note:

1. Paul was of Jewish ancestry. And yet in another sense he wasn't Jewish. He had become a Christian and as such realized that Christ had set him free from the ceremonies, rituals and laws of the Jewish religion. ( Col_2:16 )

2. This isn't giving in because one is intimidated or ashamed of the gospel. ( Gal_2:11 ff) Neither is it following the path of less resistance (who could ever make such an accusation against Paul?) Rather, Paul without compromising the truth, accommodated himself to the customs and practices of the people to whom he preached to.

3. He tried to avoid needless offences. ( Act_16:3 ) When among Jews he would respect their food laws, feasts ( Act_20:16 ) and accommodate himself to practices which did not force him to violate Scripture. ( Act_21:26 ; Act_18:18 )

4. And yet Paul always drew the line when people were trying to make such practices "binding" upon Christians. ( Gal_2:1-4 ; Act_15:1 ff; Gal_5:1-4 )

'to them that are under the law' -which included Jews, but Paul also might be including those "religiously" under the law, i.e. Gentile converts to Judaism or those who held to a strict adherence of the law, i.e. the Pharisees.

'not being myself under the law' -i.e. under the law of Moses. Hence anytime that we find Paul observing "Jewish things", i.e. preaching in a synagogue, taking a vow, in the temple, circumcising someone..etc.. is it because he is accommodating himself to Jewish ways and in no way is any of this to be taken as meaning that Paul still thought that the Law of Moses was binding upon Christians. When people tried to teach that, Paul resisted them. ( Gal_2:1-4 )

Verse 21

1Co_9:21 to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.

'them that are without law' -i.e. the Gentiles who were never under the Law of Moses. And yet they were clearly accountable to God's laws. ( 1Co_6:9-11 ; Rom_1:18 ff; Rom_3:23 ; Lev_18:24 ) 'Without law' was a common designation among the Jews for non-Jews.

'as without law' -'When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can.' (Tay)

'He mingled freely with them and disregarded all Jewish observances which he followed at other times; he also, as for instance at Athens, formulated his teaching so that it might make the strongest appeal to the Gentile mind.' (Lenski p. 377)

Consider Act_14:15 ; Act_17:23 ; Act_24:25 on this point. In fact, Paul even quoted from heathen poets to try to open up Gentile hearts.

'not being without law of God' -a quick "check" so that nobody gets the wrong idea about what he has just said. He did not follow the Gentiles into their immorality.

'but under law to Christ' -

Points to Note:

1. While the Christian isn't under the Law of Moses (9:20); that doesn't mean that he isn't under any law. The will of Christ is a law also. ( Jam_1:25 ; Gal_6:2 ) Laws exist for the Christian to obey.

2. Two facts are obvious from Paul's comments: (1) There has been a change in laws-compare 9:20 and 9:21. (2) Grace and law are not incompatible. For both exist in a relationship with Christ.

Verse 22

1Co_9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.

'To weak I became weak' -note that Paul doesn't mention the "strong", that is what he already was. 'Among those with scruples' (F.F. Bruce p. 88)

'Why would he bother? In a society which cultivates the strong, why would he bother with the scrupulous? They're such a burden. They tire you out..But he who is willing to go beyond everything that people demand is a slave to nobody! He sat beside the weak who couldn't eat the meat for conscience sake and he too abstained...he bridled his power to eat and in doing so became lord of meat and slave to his weak companion. What a man! What a Lord who can make such a man!' (McGuiggan p. 131)

In this verse Paul has brought us back around to the issue in 8:13. For this principle in other passages see- Rom_14:13-23 ; Rom_15:1-3 ; 1Co_10:24 ; 1Co_10:31-33 .

'I am become all things to all men' -'Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him' (Tay) 'He is not approving the maxim: "When in Rome do as the Romans do." Paul is referring to matters of moral indifference..'(Erdman p. 98)

'that I may by all means' -'by any and by all means' (Mon); 'every possible means I might win some to God.' (Phi)

Points to Note:

1. Are "we" this dedicated to the winning of lost souls?

2. 'Save some'-Paul didn't believe that everyone would become a Christian, and yet that fact didn't deter his efforts.

3. 'Save'-when he accommodated himself, it was for the purpose of "saving souls". He never thought that such Jews or Gentiles could be saved without Christ. He always remembered that such people were lost and he never allowed himself to view them as "possibly right with God".

4. If Paul were on this earth today, he would adapt himself to the Buddhists, Moslems, Native American Indians, etc..and yet he would never give anyone the impression that he considered such people saved without obedience to Christ.

'What does, "that I may by all means save some" imply? Paul is aware that only the gospel saves men.' (McGuiggan p. 131)

Verse 23

1Co_9:23 And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.

'I do all things for the gospel's sake' -'But I do it all to advance the Gospel' (Ber) This is Paul's singular passion in life. (9:12, 15-18)

Everything that is done, is done in view of the advancement, spread and acceptance of the gospel message. Wow! Trying measuring your life by this standard. Do we treat our spouses, raise our children, interact with our brethren, neighbors and co-workers...all from the motive of, what can I do to spread the gospel, and remove unnecessary hindrances to it's being heard and embraced?

'that I may be a joint partaker thereof' -'Literally, that I may become co-partner with others in the gospel' (Robertson p. 148)

'I' -'Here a new thought is introduced. Up to this point he has been speaking of his self-denial for the sake of others; here he begins to speak of it as for his own sake..to extend our Christian liberty to the utmost verge , is dangerous not only for others, but for ourselves also.' (Willis p. 304)

'joint partaker' -Paul didn't believe that his own salvation was written in stone, i.e. that he could never fall away. In addition, Paul does not wish to enjoy the gospel just by himself.

This verse explains how Paul "worked out his own salvation". ( Php_2:12 ) All of this self-denial had the goal in mind of securing his own salvation and the salvation of all that he could influence. ( 1Ti_4:16 )


Paul did not change the "content" of the gospel message as he preached to various cultures and groups, rather it was his own behavior in matters of moral indifference.


'Paul was fond of picturing the Christian life under figures drawn from the Greek games. He refers here to these contests, in order to emphasize the need of self-control and self-denial even in matters morally indifferent ..Paul has been insisting upon the necessity of refraining from what is in itself innocent in case indulgence may interfere with Christian service .' (Erdman p. 99)

Verse 24

1Co_9:24 Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain.

'run in a race' -'Why does he go to all this trouble? Why is he so serious about his forfeiting of rights. He told us--to save some and enjoy the triumph of the gospel. Is that strange? he wants to know. Every two years here in Corinth, he'll remind them, the Isthmian games take place. The runners in those races strain to do their very best. They don't wish to deliver a poor performance. Should he (or they)?' (McGuiggan p. 131)

'but one receiveth the prize?' -no prizes were given for losers!

'Even so run; that ye may attain' -'Run in such a way that you may win.' (NASV); 'run, then, for victory.' (Knox) 'Paul writes, like these prize winners, that you may capture the prize.' (Lenski p. 383) 'Entering the race is not winning it; do not be satisfied with running, but make sure of winning.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 855)

Point to Note:

1. How the world often puts members of the Church to shame! People in the world will sacrifice all, for some temporary prize or honor. They will dedicate their whole lives to some transient goal. They will exercise, diet, etc..to obtain a fleeting reward. And some Christians, who are striving for an eternal reward seem to have a hard time just showing up, not to mention "running the race".

2. And then the accusation is made that the "Church demands too much of its members", especially in the realm of attendance. Listen: Our three times a week and what we expect from our members and their children in bible class, PALES in comparison with the dedication and involvement DEMANDED of us and our children in..secular education, after school sports, etc....

3. Right now, as I examine the level of my own dedication to Christ, 'am I running to win?' ( Luk_13:24 ; 2Pe_1:10 )

Verse 25

1Co_9:25 And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

'striveth in the games' -'competes in the games' (NASV)

'exerciseth self-control in all things' -we might add, they 'exercise self-control' in all things, including 'things lawful' and morally permissible.

'For ten months before the contest in the Great Games, the athletes were required, under oath, to follow a prescribed diet and regimen.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. pp. 855-856)

'..and was subject to disqualification if he failed to do so.' (Fee p. 436)

'Self-control is the expected thing of those who wish to do well in the games where today's champions are tomorrow's forgotten ones. Those who compete would think it madness for an athlete not to exercise self-control.' (McGuiggan pp. 131-132)

'Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown' -'As with modern athletes, the Grecian athlete thought there was no sacrifice too great for him to make it if gave him some advantage over the other competitors. His mental disposition was not that of one who desired to use every liberty which he possessed; rather, his attitude was that of a man who willingly sacrificed many rights in order to gain an advantage for the race.' (Willis p. 306)

'corruptible crown' -a perishable wreath, a mere withering wreath of olive or pine.

'but we an incorruptible' - 1Pe_1:4

Point to Note:

1. 'For this worthless, withering symbol of victory, men made measureless sacrifice.' (McGarvey p. 95)

2. And yet the Corinthians wouldn't even give up food for the soul of a brother and the progress of the gospel!

3. Why is it that people can be admired and praised for being "fanatical" when it comes to sports, a hobby, or some temporary goal. Yet the earnest Christian is ridiculed for taking God too seriously!

Verse 26

1Co_9:26 I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air:

'I therefore so run' -Paul reveals what on his part he is determined to do. Like Joshua of old. ( Jos_24:15 )

'as not uncertainly' -'So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.' (Tay); 'So I keep on running, but not aimlessly.' 'Without doubt or hesitation.' (McGarvey p. 95)

'Paul's actions, which are defended in the preceding paragraphs, are not those of an aimless runner. Everything is for the sake of the gospel , that he too might share in its blessings.' (Fee p. 438)

'so fight I, as not beating the air' -'to get in the ring with an opponent and only beat air is as useless--and absurd--as the runner who has no eye for the finish line..They are to understand his actions as those of one who has a clear vision of his goal; implied is his exercising self-control as part of that purposefulness.' (Fee p. 438)

Point to Note:

This verse gives us something to think about. Are we just "beating air" in our Christian lives? Are we accomplishing anything? Do we have a clear goal in mind? Do congregations bog down and get involved in strife because the members have lost sight of the goal?

Are we like the boxer that is throwing wild and uncontrolled punches?

Before you jump on a "cause", make sure that you are fighting against a real threat.

Verse 27

1Co_9:27 but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

'but I buffet my body' -'to beat black and blue' (Robertson p. 149)

'In dealing with his body, he doesn't deliver pats, he delivers hard stunning blows...He's talking here of being master over his body's lawful desires..he's urging them to so master themselves..that their rights and liberties will not become their lord.' (McGuiggan p. 132)

'and bring it into bondage' -'and make it my slave, i.e. make it serve my purposes in the gospel.' (Fee p. 439)

'I myself should be rejected' -i.e. disqualified because he broke the rules of the race. ( Mat_7:22 ) 'I myself should fail shamefully of the prize.' (Con)

Points to Note:

1. Paul believed that he could forfeit his own salvation, if he became a selfish and complacent man who demanded his rights in every circumstance.

2. 'Very certainly we cannot serve others until we have mastered ourselves; we cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot bring others to Christ until we ourselves have found Him..' (Barclay p. 96)

3. Col_2:23 informs us that we are not to literally beat ourselves.

4. 'He speaks about one who makes the correct announcement but fails to absorb a vital part of that announcement in his own life and actions.' (Lenski p. 387)

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/1-corinthians-9.html. 1999-2014.
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