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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Corinthians 9

Verses 1-27

1 Corinthians 9:15

You find these heroic words in 1 Corinthians 9:15 . I purposely cut the text short here, and leave every man to fill up the concluding sentence for himself. Paul tells us the reason, but Paul's reason may not be ours. We have a great principle laid down here, and it is for each man in his own sphere and in his own way to apply that principle. I want every man who is here to take this as a motto, a living principle, a perpetual rule of life. 'It were better for me to die than that,' and let 'that' express every man's peculiar conviction and standard of integrity. Paul said, 'It were better for me to die than that any man should make my glorying void'. Then there are circumstances in which death is the preferable alternative. What are those circumstances? They must be very peculiar and very urgent. Yet here is the great principle laid down by the greatest man that ever lived as a servant of Jesus Christ, and that principle is that death is preferable to something else. 'It were better for me to die.' I wonder what the Apostle's point of glorying is. Well, he said, 'If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing that we shall reap your carnal things?' If we have given you ideas, is it a great thing that you should clothe us and feed us and give us a pillow to rest our aching head upon? Nevertheless we have not used this power but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the Gospel of Christ. We are perfectly well aware that we have a right to this compensation; the Lord hath ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel. I know that I do not modify my right or claim, but I use none of these things. I would not be a burden to any man. This is my glorying, that I have done all this for nothing, and so much do I glory in it according to the measure of the grace of Christ, that it were better for me to die than that I should lose my glorying. What we have to do with today is the principle or doctrine that there are circumstances in life in which death is the preferable alternative.

It would be difficult for me to get a hearer, I should almost have to beg for people to listen to me, if I preached this most monstrous doctrine that it is better to die than to do some things. The City says, No; let us fight now and conquer the god of this world in the spirit of the next.

I. It is better for me to die than to break my word That is right. Does some man say that? He is a wise man and a hero. Why, certainly your word is yourself. That is the great doctrine of the Gospel, nobody believes it. But Jesus said, 'Let your yea be yea and your nay nay; whatsoever more cometh cometh of evil'. That one text would, if received with the heart and applied all day long, make a new world. Let your yea be yea and your nay let it be nay. That one little line would convert the world. The whole Gospel is in that one expression the evangelical Gospel, all the blood which makes it evangelical, all the fire which makes it Divine. It were better for me to die than to break my word. I promised a dying friend that I would look after the boys, and he died in comfort when he received that assurance.

II. It were better for me to die than to deny the omnipotence of my Lord's grace. He said, 'My grace is sufficient for thee'. He said, 'I will be with thee in six troubles, and in seven I will not forsake thee'. Have I magnified this, and do men say, pointing to me, Behold what God's grace can do for the poorest creature? Or have I murmured and repined? have I rubbed off my baptismal seal, and am I now a Church-going Psalm-singing atheist? Oh, it were better for me to die.

III. 'It were better for Abraham to have died than to have told the king a lie.' He should have said, 'Yes, she is my wife'. 'But the king might have lifted a long sharp knife and taken my poor life away.' Well, it were better for you to have died than to have told that lie. But if so, who can live? Very few, but that is of no consequence. It is not necessary for any man to live, but it is necessary to have every man to tell the truth. Ah me! what wonder if the Church is empty and her altars are forsaken by all but the giddy and the vain and the frivolous, who think that by dressing they can accomplish the will of God? It were better that David should have died than that he had put Uriah in the forefront and heat of the battle. Suppose he had died, he would have been a hero, one of God's heroes; he would have magnified God's grace, he would have illustrated the greatness of the Christian call, he would have been received up into heaven. But he did put the man in the front of the battle. In a sense he won; in God's own sense, he lost.

What have ye done? Let that question be a sharp two-edged sword, though it cut the preacher in pieces and turn him into shed blood. What is this but saying in another form, 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?' It were better for him to die than that he should give his soul in exchange for the whole world, for all the worlds. That is the grand Christian doctrine, that is the tonic thought of the New Testament. We want enthusiasm for our faith, our love, our God, and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Joseph Parker

The Gospel of Christ As an Obligation

1 Corinthians 9:16

St. Paul often insists upon the fact that his main duty in life was to make known the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To save the souls of men was the one passion of his life. The obligation to preach the Gospel, and so to spread the kingdom, was enforced on Paul by several considerations, and as those ought to have weight with us also, I ask you to think of them.

I. This Divine impulse of his was partly due to the fact of his own redemption. You know how often reference is made in the New Testament to the sacrifice of Christ as the means of redemption, purchasing us, as it were, and giving God a new claim on our obedience. Thus Peter says: 'Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ'. Here lies a main distinction between the Christian and the unchristian man. The Bible proclaims that God is Lord over us; and this not merely because He has made us for Himself, enduing us, as our Creator, with powers and possibilities we could never have acquired, and crowning us with His lovingkindness, but because when we had ignored this and gone astray like lost sheep, He in the person of His Son came to redeem us again to Himself. This should strengthen His claim indefinitely for service and inward devotion.

II. But, besides the fact of his redemption, Paul was always conscious of his position as a steward, holding in trust for another what he possessed and controlled. This is exactly in accordance with the teaching of our Lord, who, in His parables, often alludes to us as having been put in trust by an unseen Master who will at last demand of us an account of our stewardship. If that view be taken by us, it will no longer seem a hardship to give to His cause, or to spend our best energies in helping on His work.

III. Finally, a sense of gratitude for the mercies received in and through Christ was an element in the constraining force to which Paul alludes. Now the secret of our difficulties in regard to home and foreign missions lies just here. We ourselves do not realise the blessings of the Gospel sufficiently to fill us with an enthusiastic desire to enrich the world with them. The kingdom of Christ must be intensified in our own hearts before it can be extended among the heathen here and elsewhere. We want also to Know more of the power of the Gospel in our own land in saving men from their sins and delivering us from the scandals which come from the unrighteousness and the unloveliness of those who profess to represent our Lord.

A. Rowland, Open Windows and other Sermons, p. 116.

1 Corinthians 9:16

Describing the prostration into which grief for his wife's death plunged Dr. Donne, Izaak Walton observes that, with sighs and cries, 'he ended the restless night and began the weary day in lamentation, and thus he continued, till a consideration of his new engagement to God, and St. Paul's "woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel," dispersed those sad clouds that had thus blighted his hopes, and now forced him to behold the light'.

References. IX. 16. E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 197. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 34. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 44. IX. 16, 17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 131. IX. 16, 26 and 27. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 177. IX. 17. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 207. IX. 19-21. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 235. IX. 19-23. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 142. IX. 20. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 114. IX. 20, 21. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 138. IX. 20-22. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 280. H. S. Holland, ibid. p. 65. IX. 21. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 347.

1 Corinthians 9:22

We have the old disciplina arcani among us in as full force as in the primitive Church, but with an all-important difference. The Christian Fathers practised reserve for the sake of leading the acolyte the more surely to the fulness of truth. The modern economiser keeps back his opinions, or dissembles the grounds of them, for the sake of leaving his neighbours the more at their ease in the peaceful sloughs of prejudice and superstition and low ideals. We quote St. Paul when he talked of making himself all things to all men, and of becoming to the Jews a Jew, and as without the Law to the heathen. But then we do so with a view to justifying ourselves for leaving the Jew to remain a Jew, and the heathen to remain heathen.

John Morley, Compromise (ch. III.).

'The general spirit of Doddridge's advice,' says Sir Leslie Stephen ( English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, ch. 11. p. 387), 'was that the dissenting minister should try to please everybody. Doddridge wished the minister to become "all things to all men". That was rather too markedly the leading principle of his own life. The eminent dissenter was on friendly terms with the established clergy, and corresponded with bishops; he had relations with Wesley and the Methodists; he was a spiritual adviser of Lyttelton, and of the converted rake, Colonel Gardiner. His life was honourable, independent and laborious; but we may perhaps surmise, without injustice to a good man, that his emotions were rather facile, and that his temptation was to err on the side of complacency. There is a want in his writings of that piousness which is produced by the bracing air of more vigorous times; they show a tendency to flabbiness, and the enthusiasm has a hollow ring.'

He prided himself upon his capacity for becoming all things to all men; but when he applied this maxim to his intercourse with the great, it always resulted in his becoming nothing but a flatterer or an obsequious adviser.... His employers never had any difficulty with him; they let him know their mind, and he went their way.

E. A. Abbott, Francis Bacon, pp. 327-328.

Even if Bacon had had the insight of a prophet, he could have done nothing with so pliant and self-seeking a nature. He wanted not only strength of convictions, but pertinacity in maintaining and imparting them. Like St. Paul if he could be all things to all men; but he had not the Pauline art of being instant in season and out of season for any policy except that which would commend him to the king.

E. A. Abbott, Francis Bacon, p. 151.

References. IX. 22. H. Arnold Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 308. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 100. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 317. H. P. Liddon, Sermons Preached on Special Occasions, p. 26. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 34. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1170, and vol. xxv. No. 1507. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 156.

Advice to Young Athletes

1 Corinthians 9:24

I. Always play the game.

II. Learn to lose sometimes and yet keep your temper.

III. Let England attend to the weak and train them gently and carefully, and not devote all her attention to the mighty and the strong. May I also remind you that there is a race for which you were entered at your baptism, that there is training provided for you, that you may 'run well,' that a reward is offered, an incorruptible crown, and that Jesus Christ, who called upon you to enrol yourself, is Himself the judge.

C. H. Grundy, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 672.

References. IX. 24. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 195. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 102. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 36. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 198. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 146.

How the Prize Was Won At an Old Athletic Festival

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Time has washed out much of the vivid colouring which these words had for those who first read them. The language and metaphors are borrowed from those ancient athletic festivals which date back from before the dawn of history, and which were counted among the chief glories of the Grecian people. The influence on Paul's thought of these great national gatherings is evident from all his writings. In the Epistle from which my text is taken, Paul is writing to Christians. They might be living amongst men who cared for nothing better than the poor perishing pine-wreaths of time, but their eyes were fixed upon 'the crown of glory which fadeth not away. That was their faith; then says Paul, Live up to it.

I. But I must begin with a question, Is that true of us which Paul assumed to be true of these Corinthian Christians? The question is vital. Just as the racer must know where the goal lies, so we must settle the question, What I am going to live for? Is it for the things that will last, or for the things that will wither and die? The perishable pine-wreath or the unfading crown? Which?

II. Note, further, that if the true end of life is to be attained, it must be kept before us by a distinct effort of the mind. 'I so run,' said Paul, 'as not uncertainly.' Have you 'chosen your path

Path to a clear-purposed goal,

Path of advance?'

For without that 'clear-purposed goal' life will end in failure.

III. But again to return to the metaphor of my text it is not enough even to keep the goal in view. To reach it there must be effort intense and prolonged, up to the very edge of our powers of endurance. If it is worth while to take pains to win a race, is it not to work out our own salvation? What makes your Samuel Budgetts, your 'successful merchants'? Tireless patience, unending toil; and do you think if getting 'on' is difficult, getting 'up' is easy? Like the racer that 'receiveth the prize,' so must we run if we would attain.

IV. Notice, in the last place, that 'every man that striveth in the games is temperate in all things'. Let no one mistake: this is no defence of asceticism as an end in itself, and for its own sake. It is only the affirmation of the great and true principle, that the lower must give way to the higher, wherever the two clash. 'If we would run well, we must run light.

Does anybody tell me I have forgotten the central truth of the Gospel? that I have been speaking of what man has to do for himself, and have said nothing of what God has done for him? There is no salvation by struggle, and there is none without it. Effort alone is vain, faith alone is equally vain.

G. Jackson, First Things First, p. 115.

Reference. IX. 24-27. G. Reith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 52.

1 Corinthians 9:25

'The question still recurs,' says Pater, in his Plato and Platonism (p. 233), when discussing the aims of Spartan education, ' To what purpose? Why, with no prospect of Israel's reward, are you as scrupulous, minute, and self-taxing, as he? A tincture of asceticism in the Lacedaemonian rule may remind us again of the monasticism of the Middle Ages. But then, monastic severity was for the purging of a troubled conscience, or for the hope of an immense prize, neither of which conditions is to be supposed here. In fact the surprise of St. Paul, as a practical man, at the slightness of the reward for which a Greek spent himself, natural as it is about pagan perfection, is especially applicable about these Lacedaemonians, who indeed had actually invented that so "corruptible" and essentially worthless parsley crown in place of the more tangible prizes of an earlier age. Strange people! Where, precisely, may be the spring of action in you, who are so serene to yourselves?'

References. IX. 25. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 136. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 202. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 153.

The Race and the Fight

1 Corinthians 9:26

We have here two topics first, the danger of running vaguely; and, secondly, of fighting ineffectively.

I. I so run, St. Paul says, as not vaguely. There is a danger, then, of running vaguely; and there are two modes of this error.

(1) We may fail to keep the goal in view. The Christian life is a precarious thing in each one of us on many accounts, especially because we are so apt to lose sight of our goal. If we do this we must run at hazard or go wrong. I greatly fear that many have (a) no definite goal at all. Every one, when asked, hopes to reach heaven. But what is heaven? And what is reaching it? Many of us have no real, no adequate notion, of heaven. A safe place, a place of rest, a place of meeting, a place of calm, a place where sorrow, and crying, and pain, and change will be no more. These are our more thoughtful ideas of heaven. I believe they are all true, but I am quite sure they do not make up, they scarcely touch, St. Paul's idea, for they are heaven without its foundation, heaven without its sun. St. Paul's heaven was briefly defined where Christ is: 'I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ'. It is impossible that we should desire this sort of heaven unless we know much of Christ here below. Many do without Him here; they set Him aside in their daily life. Such cannot have the world or the eternity where Christ is, except in a very feeble sense, for their desire, their goal. But even those who know Christ may run vaguely in the same sense. They often (6) lose sight of the goal. Which of us keeps the goal always in view? Be not hasty to answer. Think what it implies. How unworldly, how heavenly-minded, how charitable, unselfish, and pure that man must be who is running thus, with his goal full in view, and that goal a right one!

(2) We may run vaguely by failing to keep within the course. There were very strict rules on this point in the Grecian games every part was rigidly marked out; the course must be all fairly traversed; and there were perils awaiting the unskilful charioteer who took either a too circuitous or a too abrupt sweep at the turning-point. And a Christian in the spiritual race has not only to keep the goal in view, but he has also all along to keep within the course; and that means he must live exactly by Christ's rules throughout his life on earth.

II. There is a second danger that of fighting ineffectively. 'So fight I, as not beating the air.' This was an allusion to blows that fell short of the adversary by misdirection or by skilful evasion. Now we may beat the air in like manner that is, fight ineffectively in either of two ways:

(1) We may mistake our real enemy. We may direct our attacks upon a wrong point. We have an enemy, but we do not always know who that enemy is. For example, there are those who are spending much of their strength upon what they deem errors of opinion. It is the duty, indeed, of Christian teachers to see that the truths of Revelation and the doctrines of the Gospel are carefully set forth, lest they mar the beauty of 'the faith once delivered to the saints'. But how different is all this from the practice of those who make men offenders for a word; of hearers who sit in judgment on their teachers; of those who fasten on slips of expression, often arising out of candour or fervour! This is a mistaking of our adversary.

(2) We may mistake our adversary by a very common want of self-knowledge. We all take it for granted that we know our own faults. Where there is a very strong besetting sin in any of us, no doubt this is so; but where the life has been more carefully regulated, and kept pure from gross stain, and the supremacy of conscience obeyed, it often happens that there is an almost entire ignorance of faults of spirit and temper patent to others. How often has some particular virtue been magnified into the whole of duty, such as, e.g., the virtue of temperance or of purity, which has rendered us blind to other faults!

(3) We may 'beat the air' not by fighting with the wrong foe only, but by fighting with the real foe wrongly. Which of us has not done this? Which of us has not regretted, resolved, yes, and prayed against, his besetting sin, and yet fallen again before it when it has assailed him? This is sad indeed, and discouraging. We ought to have strength, considering the motive given us in Christ's death and the promised help of His Holy Spirit. It is all for want of faith, for want of accepting what is offered, for want of believing that there is a Holy Spirit given to all for the asking. If we did believe, we should use it; but for want of faith we fall, even when experience of, and sorrow for, and resolve against, sin, and even prayer for victory, has not been wholly wanting.

C. J. Vaughan.

A Castaway

1 Corinthians 9:27

Paul was too eager and too practical a man to dally with a bogy dread. After he had founded so many churches, written so many Epistles, and exercised so widespread an influence, in his quiet moments he was perpetually face to face with this awful nightmare, that the day might come when he would be a castaway; and the thought drove him almost to madness. Have you ever feared this? I am not sure that a man ever reaches his highest development without something of the element of fear.

I. Reverently, humbly, but most searchingly, I ask you whether it may not be possible that at this very moment you are already a castaway. 'A castaway' in what sense? You must know that Paul lived to save men. It was the passion of his life; but he feared that unless he took good care, the hour might come in his life when Christ would say: 'Thou hast served Me well, but thou shalt serve Me no more. Of late thou hast become indolent, and choked with pride, and I have not secured thy whole obedience. I am now compelled to call upon some soul more alert, more obedient than thee; and that man I will use to do the work that thou mightest have done, but which thou didst fail to accomplish.'

II. Look for a moment upon the pages of Scripture, and see how they are littered with castaways! Let us then understand why men are cast away. (1) I take the first case, that of Esau. Is there not here some Christian, who in the past has had some steaming mess of pottage appealing to the senses? (2) I turn the page of Scripture, and come to the first King of Israel, Saul. A noble man in many respects, he was sent by God to fulfil His mission, but he put a reserve upon his obedience, and told Samuel: 'Blessed be thou of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.' The old prophet at that moment detected the lowing of the herd and the bleating of the flock, and said very significantly: 'Performed the commandment of the Lord! What means then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?' I am not here to denounce special forms of sin. It is for you to determine if under the profession of obedience there are some flocks and herds that you are reserving for yourselves. Saul professed obedience, but kept back something for himself, and God rejected him.

III. This is very stern work. We must begin at the bottom; we must begin at the root of our self-confidence. The prime cause of all failure in private life as well as in public ministry is the assertion of self.

F. B. Meyer, The Soul's Ascent, p. 3.

References. IX. 27. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 526. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 99. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 15. S. M. Taylor, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 152. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 196; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 192. IX. 28. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 376. X. 1, 2. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 65. X. 1-4. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 99. X. 1-11. Ibid. vol. i. p. 214. X. 2. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 398; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 48; ibid. vol. vi. p. 252.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-9.html. 1910.