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6. Paul’s Gracious Example.
1. The Apostle’s rights. (1 Corinthians 9:1-14 ).
2. He waives his rights for the Gospel’s sake. (1 Corinthians 9:15-23 ).
3. The race-course and the crown. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ).
The great principle laid down in the previous chapter to forego one’s Christian liberty, the Apostle Paul enforced by his own example. He was an Apostle and had seen the Lord Jesus, from whom he had received his apostleship (Galatians 1:1 ). From the second verse we learn that some had not recognized him as an Apostle; these must have been false teachers. But the Corinthians knew he was an Apostle. Through his testimony they had been converted so that he could say “for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” As an Apostle he had certain rights, but he did not make use of them. All his rights and his privileges had been given up by him. The law also affirmed his claim, for it forbad the muzzling of the oxen that treadeth the corn. Those that sow spiritual things are perfectly entitled to reap carnal (material) things. Other teachers used this God-given right and accepted their material things; and he had a greater claim for this upon the Corinthians, for he taught them first. “Nevertheless we have not used this power, but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the Gospel of Christ.” The Lord certainly had ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel. All this he had not used; he had not made use of what was his right. Nor did he write these words that his claims might be satisfied. He did not want his glorying made void. What was his glory? Not the preaching of the Gospel in itself. Necessity was laid upon him and “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!” “For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward; but if not of mine own will, I am entrusted with a stewardship.” (The translation of (1 Corinthians 9:17 in the Authorized Version is faulty.)
What is his reward? In what does he glory? His answer is “that when I preach the gospel, I make the gospel without charge, so as not to use, as belonging to me, my right in the gospel.” In this way the gospel was not hindered; it was made more effective. For being free from all, free from the control of any person, he had made himself the servant of all, that he might win as many as he could. This was his reward, to preach the gospel gratuitously. Governed by love he had become a servant of all. His rights were given up, but he did not insist upon his Christian freedom, but gave up his liberty in order “that I might by all means save some.” He did not seek his own things but the things of Christ. The most blessed self-sacrifice on behalf of Christ and the Gospel of Christ marked his service. How few such servants, who give up, self-denying, self-sacrificing, waiving their rights for the Gospel sake, are found today in Christendom. But how many are seeking their own!
The concluding paragraph is fully in line with these statements of the Apostle. He uses as an illustration the Greek stadium, the race-course, well known to the Corinthians on account of the games on the isthmus of Corinth. In order to run successfully and obtain the prize, self-denial was necessary. There was a prize for him who won. Spiritually, not one, but all may obtain the prize, if all run well. And in the race every man that striveth for the mastery, to obtain the victory, is temperate in all things. They do it to obtain a fading crown, a wreath; but we have the promise of a crown that fadeth not away, an everlasting crown.
And if those who strive for earthly honor deny themselves, how much more should we practice self-denial in view of the crown of glory! “I therefore so run not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” What did the Apostle mean by the latter statement? The word “castaway” is found also in the following passages: Romans 1:28 ; 2Co 13:5-7 ; 2 Timothy 3:8 ; and Titus 1:16 . In these passages it is translated by “reprobate.” In Hebrews 6:8 it is translated “rejected.” Did he mean that he feared to be lost himself? Or did he only fear disapproval as a workman, whose service is rejected and to be counted unworthy of a crown? The statement does not clash with the teaching of the eternal security of the believer. The Apostle personally does not fear for himself, as no true believer needs to fear, but he applies an important principle to himself. Salvation and a holy walk are inseparably connected. Preaching alone will not do, but the truth must be lived.
“There would be difficulty indeed, if the apostle spoke of having been born again and afterwards becoming a castaway: in this case life would not be eternal. But he says nothing of the sort. He only shows the solemn danger and certain ruin of preaching without a practice according to it. This the Corinthians needed to hear. Preaching or teaching truth to men without reality, self-judgment and self-denial before God, is ruinous. It is to deceive ourselves, not Him who is not mocked. Nor do any Christians more deeply need to watch and pray than those who are much occupied with handling the word of God or guiding others in the ways of the Lord. How easy for such to forget that doing the truth is the common responsibility of all, and that speaking it to others ever so earnestly is no substitute for their own obeying it as in the sight of God!” (William Kelly)
It is a warning against an empty profession of Christianity without the manifestation of the power. Where there is true salvation and eternal life, it is proved by a godly walk. The Apostle in these personal statements shows that all the blessed knowledge he had and with it the most positive assurance of eternal glory, did not make him careless, but prompted him to still greater earnestness and continued self-denial. He knew nothing in his life of the self-indulgence which characterized so many in the Corinthian assembly; he kept his body under. But he also knew, as every Christian should know, that the grace which had saved him, which taught him to live soberly, righteously and godly, would also keep him and enable him to persevere through all hindrances.
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany