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1 Corinthians 9

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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That sounds strange to us nineteen hundred years down the ages; but it was by no means paradoxical at that time. Dr. Dowie does not believe Paul became an apostle until he was consecrated along with Barnabas to the evangelistic work at Antioch, about fourteen years after he was converted. How natural for those Jewish preachers, who had been with Jesus from John’s baptism, and knew Paul was not one of the original twelve, to call in question his apostleship. All this did not in the least impeach his right to preach the gospel.

Verses 1-10

1-10. Though he had never seen Jesus during His earthly ministry, having completed his education at Jerusalem and returned to Cilicia before our Lord began His public ministry, and coming into Judea soon after Pentecost, yet he had seen Him on the Damascus road and in the temple at Jerusalem. Hence here he boldly claims to have seen Him. The literal meaning of apostle is “one sent forth”; i. e., the pioneer into any field. Hence as Paul well says, he was an apostle to them if not to others, as he was the pioneer who came first of all and preached eighteen months in the Providence of God, becoming their spiritual father. He proceeds to vindicate his rights, though he had not availed himself of them all, e. g., to lead about with him a sister (in the Lord, not a sinner) or a wife, like Peter, who had been there and preached to them, all recognizing him as an apostle, because of the original twelve, and “the brothers of the Lord,” i. e., James, the Jerusalem pastor, and the author of the epistle, and Jude his brother. Though Paul lived and died in celibacy, he here boldly claims his right to holy wedlock. He now proceeds to boldly advocate his right to temporal support, though he did not avail himself of it, but made tents at Corinth. Good reason for this; where he began there was no church to support him till God raised it up through his instrumentality. He shows plainly that God’s command “not to muzzle the ox that treadeth out the wheat” means ministerial support. When I was in Palestine it was harvest time, and I everywhere saw the oxen treading out the wheat, barley and other cereal grains. Why do they continue thus since the steam engine has come to that country? It is a verification of the Scriptures.

Verse 11

11. If we have shown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” This is clear on temporal support.

Verse 12

12. Yet he proceeds to say that he has not availed himself of his rights and privileges in this regard and that now, as his enemies are disposed to impute to him sinister motives for his arduous toil, he is glad that he has preached the gospel gratuitously, because they cannot now charge him with seeking temporal emolument.

Verse 13

13. Do you not know that those who work in sacrifices eat of the temple?” The very fact that the Levitical priests serving in the temple subsisted on the sacrifices brought thither, is an irrefutable argument in favor of temporal support. “ Do not those ministering at the altar partake of the altar?” These arguments are clear, explicit and unanswerable in favor of ministerial support.

Verse 14

14. Thus truly the Lord has commanded that those preaching the gospel shall live from the gospel.” While these Scriptures are so clear and unmistakable in favor of the temporal support of the gospel ministry, we must remember that our Savior scathingly condemns “the hireling shepherd,” certifying that he can not be relied on, but will play the coward in time of danger. Great mistakes are made by little financial institutions in the churches, bringing the people into bondage, abstracting their faith from God and centralizing it upon their own efforts. We would do well to commit the temporal support to God, as we do the spiritual interest, feeling assured that He will verify His promise and see that those who preach the gospel “ do live on the gospel.” God feeds his preachers like He feeds the birds, in a mysterious way to them and to others. This great salvation breaks every yoke from the neck of God’s people, and gives perfect spiritual liberty on all lines, emancipating us not only from burdens, but even from solicitude, commanding us to “be careful for nothing. “

Verse 15

15. Here the apostle certifies that he has not availed himself of his rights and privileges to receive temporal support; of course the non-existence and the infancy of the church at Corinth at the time of his ministry constituted an apology for their delinquency in temporal support.

Verse 16

16. In this verse he certifies that he deserves no credit simply for preaching the gospel, because he does it under a woe, involving the forfeiture of his salvation in case of delinquency; but he does deserve especial credit for supporting himself by tent-making while preaching the gospel, in consideration of the fact that he has a right to his material support, as he has so clearly above shown from the Word of God.

Verse 17

17. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if involuntarily, I am entrusted with a dispensation.” This verse settles the problem of gospel preaching. It is no human enterprise, to be taken up as a desirable and lucrative employment. It is not a profession, it is a calling. We have no right to enter upon it, pursuant to our own choice or volition. If God does not call us, and put us in the work, we have no right to embark in evangelistic enterprises. The present condition of a hireling ministry presents a wide- open door of temptation to young men, to enterprise the pulpit precisely as they would the bar, or the medical profession. This is all out of harmony with the Divine economy. God distinctly calls the true preacher of the gospel, causing him to realize, “Woe is unto me if I preach not.”

Verse 18

18. Then what is my reward?” It is not simply for preaching the gospel, for no one deserves a reward for doing his duty, the reward being in the duty itself. “ In order that preaching the gospel, I shall render it free from charge, so as not to use my privilege in the gospel.” You see here that there is a great premium in Heaven for those who preach the gospel without temporal support, on the Pauline plan of self-support. We are gratified to see hundreds and thousands in the present Holiness movement, preaching on the streets, in the missions and slums in the evening after their regular day’s work in their respective temporal employments, where God gives them their necessary material support and enables them to preach the gospel gratuitously, as Paul here certifies that he did. This is one of the most encouraging phenomena at the present day.

Verse 19

19. Being free from all, I rendered myself a slave unto all that I may gain the more.” This glorious spiritual freedom, which we enjoy in the Omnipotent Sanctifier, delights to condescend for Jesus’ sake, become servant to all, that we may win the more to shine in our crown of rejoicing in the coming eternity.

Verse 20


20. To the Jews I became as a Jew that I may gain the Jews.” The Jews were exceedingly punctilious and stickleristic in their observance of the Mosaic law and the Levitical ritual, practicing circumcision, bloody sacrifices, watery catharisms and Nazaritic vows. See how Paul acquiesced in all these rites and ceremonies, though he knew that they were effete, having been verified in Christ. See him at Lystra circumcising Timothy to please the Jews, and at Cenchrea and Jerusalem observing Nazaritic vows and offering sacrifices, all to please the Jews that they might not break with him and reject his Christ. “To those who were under the law as under the law, not being under the law, in order that I may gain those who are under the law.” Among the Jews he acquiesced in the Mosaic legalisms to which they still adhered, lest he might alienate them from the Christ he preached, at the same time knowing well that there was no salvation in all these legal rites and ceremonies, even in the palmy days of the Mosaic dispensation; and in Paul’s day they were even bereft of symbolic value because they had all been verified in Christ. Though null and void, yet they were harmless and could be practiced with impunity. Consequently, while with the Jews, he showed himself loyal to their ritual, that nothing might get in the way of his constant efforts to get them to take his Christ.

Verse 21

21. To those who were without law as without law, not being without the law of God, but with the law of Christ, that I might gain those without the law.” The Gentiles knew nothing about the law of Moses, cared nothing about it, and looked upon the Jewish rites and ceremonies as silly superstition. If Paul as a Jew had undertaken to prevail on the Gentiles to Judaize, he would simply have assumed the attitude of a mere Jewish proselyter, thus eclipsing the glory of Christ in what the Gentiles regarded as Jewish superstition. Now what a contrast. With the Jews he is a ritualized disciple of Moses, meek and lowly at the feet of the patriarchs and prophets, that he may win them to Christ. With the Gentiles he says not a word about all the vast routine of Jewish rites and ceremonies, but simply preaches Christ like a messenger from Heaven.

Verse 22

22. Unto the weak I became weak, in order that I may gain the weak.” When he was with illiterate, ignorant, superstitious people, he forbore the use of all his vast learning, coming down to the most consummate simplicity, adapting himself to all the limitations of their ignorance and superstition that he may achieve the one end in view, i. e., win them for Christ. When I was presiding elder, twenty-five years ago, I preached nine hundred sermons a year, constantly in the saddle or the pulpit, the Lord rolling a Pentecostal flood over my whole district, wrapping every pastoral charge in a revival flame, and sweeping out into the missionary fields within our boundary like a Pentecostal avalanche during my quadrennium, doubling the entire membership of the district, and raising up platoons of preachers on all sides. Frequently between Sundays I have gone away into some poor destitute field amid the mountains and preached to the ignorant peasantry, laying aside my laundered shirt and black clothing, and dressing in rural costume, eating and sleeping in their cabins, and thus making myself socially and fraternally one of them, that I might win them for my Savior, God invariably coming in a cyclone of conviction and giving us a sweeping revival, so that at the close of my quadrennium I had twice as many members and preachers in my district as I began with. “I became all things to all men that I may indeed save some.” Lord, help us to walk in the footprints of sanctified Paul. Twenty years ago, while at home resting a little from evangelistic labor, a venerable and godly Baptist pastor sent a man to my house with conveyance and orders not to return without me. So I accompanied him ten miles to a country Baptist church with four hundred members. On arrival, good pastor B met me with glad salutations and hearty welcome. “Oh! Brother Godbey, I am so glad you have come; Brother S and myself have been preaching our best ten days and crying to God for a revival, but it seems without effect, and all hope has fled. I know you have revivals everywhere you go, therefore I sent for you; and praise the Lord you have come! Now take this meeting into hand, and be as free as the Lord can make you, and I will say’ amen’ to everything you say and do, and help you with all my might; anything, Brother Godbey, for a revival! My church is ruined if God don’t revive His work!” Leaving the two Baptist pastors in the pulpit, walking out in front I preached to the crowded house as best I could. I know there was already much conviction, though the brethren did not recognize it. During my first sermon the Holy Spirit “fell on all who heard,” turning the sanctuary into a Bochim of weeping. Responsive to the altar call about fifty rushed forward, apparently tumbling over one another. Soon the sacred walls around are reverberating the shouts of new-born souls, which have come like a swelling flood. I can remain but five days; meanwhile the mighty work sweeps on with accumulating momentum, forty grown up people having been gloriously converted and added to the Baptist church, the membership wonderfully revived, and not a few entering Beulah land. On my departure, some of the leading members, perhaps official, take me aside and beg me to accept the pastoral charge of their church, stating that they believe it will be for the glory of God, as their good and venerable pastor has been with them long enough. I respond, “Brethren, do you not know that I am a Methodist preacher, and if you were to give me the pastorate of your church you would be excommunicated from the Baptist denomination?” “Oh! we know you are a Methodist preacher, but we know another thing, you have preached the Baptist doctrine better than we ever heard it, and we want you to become our regular preacher.” Why was that? Because, while I preached the gospel as freely as if I had been in a Methodist church, I said nothing about Methodism nor John Wesley, but much about John the Baptist and the mighty men of their denomination as John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire.” So I preached to them the whole gospel, and they received it gladly, and mighty works were wrought. Since the Lord sanctified me thirty years ago, I have found it exceedingly refreshing to go away from my Methodist people and see the mighty works of God, enjoy glorious revivals with other denominations, spiritually recuperated by the variety I enjoyed in adapting myself to them in their religious and social peculiarities, at the same time preaching the whole gospel with the utmost freedom, and the people receiving it joyfully and appreciatively. Only two years ago I had a delightful and exceedingly profitable time preaching twenty-eight days with the Baptists in Tacoma, Washington, having been called thither by the pastor of the First Baptist Church in the city. There is no reason why trine immersion, foot-washing Tunkers and non-ritualistic Quakers should not hold membership together in the same church, worshipping and laboring in perfect harmony and Christian affection. God made religion, and it is the same regardless of race, sect, color or nationality. Hence all Christians, like Paul, should be all things to all men, with a single eye to their salvation.

The devil made sectarianism for a greased plank on which to slide people into Hell. Consequently he is perfectly willing that they shall all have their own way, Pagan, Moslem, Catholic or Protestant. All he asks of them is to slide on the plank, as he knows they will drop into the bottomless pit. All the religious denominations have been built on some non-essential human dogmatism. The union of God’s people is in Christ, there being no reason why all denominations should not worship together in perfect harmony in the same organizations throughout the whole earth, simultaneously and universally identifying in Christ, ever ready to waive their local, social, national and educational peculiarities in the interest of spirituality and salvation. Paul had but one theme, and that was Christ and Him crucified. The Holy Ghost is the Revelator of Christ. We ought to preach Christ, the Holy Ghost, salvation, sanctification, and glorification so importunately and absorbingly that the people will lose sight of everything else.

Verse 23

23. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, in order that I may be its fellow-partaker.” Paul defines the gospel (Romans 1:16)

“the dynamite of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”

This is our only theme, Christ, the Holy Ghost, the dynamite which blows all sin and devils out of soul, mind, body, life, and influence. The reason why Christendom is divided up into six thousand sects is because they preach their sectarian differentia, which is really humanism, and as inappropriate and effete as the Jewish rites and ceremonies in Paul’s day. While Paul winked at them for Christ’s sake, that he might win the Jews, he never preached them. If all the preachers, like Paul, would preach nothing but the gospel, and at the same time be all things to all men, eliminating in this way all the barriers which intervene between the sects of Christendom, these partition walls would soon dilapidate and tumble down.

Verse 24


When I was at Athens I visited the Olympic racecourse, which was a universal sensation a solid thousand years, beginning twenty-five hundred years ago, and discontinued fifteen hundred years ago. When I was there three years ago they were busy rebuilding the amphitheater, and reopened those games and races the following April, after an interregnum of fifteen hundred years. The Isthmian games were at Corinth, so named from the isthmus connecting the Achaia, i. e., Southern Greece, with the mainland and separating the Aegean and Ionian Seas. These races and pugilistic games in their day became the absorbing interest, not only of Greece, but of all nations, who resorted to them from all parts of the earth that they might witness these grand quadrennial celebrations of Grecian heroism, genius, poetry, oratory, philosophy, and the fine arts. In the Pauline epistles we have frequent allusions to these races and games.

24. Know you not that in the stadium those running indeed all run, but one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain.” While in those Grecian races only one could obtain the prize, and in our case there is a gracious possibility of every one receiving the boon, yet the sedulous warning of the apostle, “so run that you may obtain,” is demonstrative proof of our liability to fail. Such a failure does not here mean the forfeiture of Heaven, such a conclusion being out of harmony with the metaphor, from the simple fact that it was an especial privilege for Greeks only, and under the most rigid restrictions, to become runners in the stadium and contestants for the prizes in the amphitheater. Hebrews 12:0:

“Laying aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, ever looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

That race-course is not in the world, but in the kingdom of God, which is entered by regeneration. You see in this Scripture that after they have been received as bona fide contestants, having undergone years of preparatory discipline before the judges will receive them; then, laying aside every weight (which they had carried during their discipline to make them light when divested of it), and the besetting sin, i. e., inbred sin, thus getting sanctified wholly, they enter upon the race to run for the prize awaiting for them at the end. Hence none but regenerated people are candidates for the races, and they must be sanctified wholly in order to run the race. Now you see that these runners do not all receive the prize, there being but one for all the group in any one race. In our case, however, there is a gracious possibility of every one winning the prize, yet you see a fearful liability that we may all fail; hence the admonition, “So run that you may obtain.” What is the obtainment? Only Christ, the author of our faith in conversion, the finisher of our faith in sanctification, and now returning to the earth for His Bride, and the question is, “Who shall have a place in the Bridehood?” the climax of our achievement in Christ, and the voucher of our glorification, whether by translation or resurrection when He comes.

Philippians 3:11:

“In order that I may obtain unto the resurrection which is out from the dead,”

i. e., an especial and extraordinary resurrection, peculiar to the Bridehood of Christ, as in the Philippian letter we see, as in Corinthians and Hebrews and other epistles, running with all his might for the prize set before him.

Verse 25

25. And every one striving is temperate as to all things, they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, and we an incorruptible one.” All the contestants in the Olympic and Isthmian races and games spent the preceding four years in the most hygienic living and discipline, necessarily preparatory for the momentous responsibilities awaiting them. Oh, how Christendom needs light and reformation at this point! Millions are failing because they are not “temperate in all things,” which means total abstinence from everything pernicious, and moderate, judicious use of the edibles, potables, et cetera, which are appropriate. Americans, as a rule, are gormandizers, as well as drunkards in many cases. If you would be ready for translation when the Lord appears, which is really the goal in view, you must subordinate the physical to the spiritual, wearing the world as a loose garment and ready to drop it off at a moment’s warning. Abstinence and prayer are the two ropes dropped down from Heaven by which we pull up and get our feet on believing ground, for justification, sanctification and glorification when our Lord appears.

Verse 26

26. Indeed I so run not as uncertainly, I so fight not as one beating the air.” Paul here testifies to his own successful running on the race-course, and fighting for the prize in the arena. The gladiator forfeited the prize if he did not conquer and slay his antagonist.

Verse 27

27. But I keep my body under and subjugate it lest having preached the gospel to others I myself may be disapproved,” i. e., rejected. Many have misapprehended the conclusion here involved, thinking that Paul was contemplating his own forfeiture of salvation in case of failure. This is out of harmony with the facts in the case, as the question of salvation is not under consideration, but the obtainment of that prize set before them which is translation or glorification when the Lord comes. The race-course and the arena are only for the select few who have met the conditions and become contestants. Hence the justification of these contestants is not involved, that being settled as a matter of necessity before they are admitted into the stadium, or the arena. But the prize at the end of the race is involved in ambiguity and depending on the fleetness of the runner and the dexterity of the prize-fighter. Hence the great importance that you judiciously manage your body, “keeping it under and subjugating it” to the dominion of your illuminated spirit and sanctified intellect, making your body, which in itself is but an animal, the mere servitor of your spiritual and intellectual being, now filled and utilized by the Holy Ghost. This is necessary to prepare this mortal to put on immortality, and thus get this material body ready for spiritualization when the Lord comes and translates His saints, of which there is constant liability. If He does not soon appear, we must evacuate these bodies and go away to meet Him, leaving mortality in the dust, awaiting spiritualization. Now, conceive a summary of this grand truth. Regeneration makes you a candidate for the Olympic race, admitting you into the kingdom where the stadium for the runner and the arena for the prize-fighter are located. Then, complete divestiture of every weight and besetting sin constitutes your sanctification for the race or the combat. Then the question still pends, “Shall I run the race successfully and fight the battle courageously so as to be ‘approved’ by my Lord when He comes for His Bride?” As Paul claims to be a perfect runner and heroic prize-fighter, we see him in constant and glowing anticipation of his Lord’s approval in the end. Yet he says that if he is not careful to keep his body under, and subordinate it to the spiritual and intellectual, there is a probability of his rejection at the end of the race, just like many of the Olympic racers failed to win the prize. In that case he does not forfeit a place in the kingdom of God, as that is not in the contest, but was settled before he became a bona fide contestant. But this final disapproval simply means the forfeiture of the prize, i. e., a place in the Bridehood, corroborating innumerable other Scriptures warranting the conclusion that multiplied millions will be saved who are not identified with the Bridehood, but friends of the Bridegroom and children of the kingdom; e. g., all infants, idiots, saved heathens, and innumerable Christians who are “scarcely saved” (1 Peter 4:18), whereas all the members of the Bridehood will have an “abundant entrance” (2

Peter 1 Corinthians 1:11). Many a loyal citizen who voted for President McKinley has no qualification for an office in his Cabinet. So the Bridehood of Christ involves official qualification as subordinates in the Divine administration in this world, and doubtless many others.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/1-corinthians-9.html.
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