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Paul's Defense of His Apostleship
Apparently false teachers had come to Corinth. It seems they were trying to discredit Paul as an apostle. First, they wanted to know why he refused pay, perhaps asserting it was because he knew he was not an apostle and did not deserve an apostle's pay. All freed men are entitled to wages for work. Apostles would have been entitled to more pay as more qualified teachers.
One qualification of an apostle was seeing Jesus. So, second, someone questioned whether Paul had seen Jesus. Of course he had ( Act_1:22 ; Act_26:15-18 ; 1Co_15:5-8 ). The Corinthians were further proof of Paul's apostleship since they were the fruits of his labors. A seal vouches for the validity of a document. In the same way, the Corinthian church's existence vouched for Paul's validity as an apostle. If he was a fake, so were they. Paul's defense of his apostleship was, as above, that he had seen Jesus and his labors were being rewarded with a fruitful return. This argument had satisfied the apostles ( 1Co_4:15 ; 1Co_9:1-3 ; Gal_2:6-10 ).
Paul's Rights As An Apostle
The church should feed its workers. As an apostle, Paul claimed the right to receive food and drink for his labors. It would seem most of the apostles were married. Paul and Barnabas had a right to support for themselves and a family as much as any other apostle, or one sent by the Lord. Of course, if they had a wife, she must be a believer ( 2Co_6:14-16 ). Even the Lord's brethren were married ( Mat_8:14 ; Mar_1:30 ; Luk_4:38 .) Paul called Barnabas an apostle because he was "one sent" ( 1Co_9:4-6 ; Act_14:1-4 ; Act_13:2 ; Gal_2:9 ).
Wages are the incentive to faithful workers in any line of work. This was God's opinion as well as man's. The apostle quoted Deu_25:4 to show that God even wants working animals to be treated fairly (compare Psa_104:21 ; Psa_27:1-14 ; Psa_28:1-9 ; Psa_29:1-11 ; Psa_30:1-12 ; Psa_147:9 ; Job_38:41 ; Mat_6:26-30 ; Luk_12:24 ). If God cares for animals, he would certainly care for men. Paul used the principle to show that man should pay a fair wage to the laborer for his work. Again, the laborer's incentive is his reward ( 1Co_9:7-10 ).
Physical Rewards for Spiritual Service
Spiritual blessings are beyond value, so paying the laborer who brought such was a good exchange. Other cases of spiritual debt being repaid with material goods could have been listed by the apostle ( Rom_15:25-31 ; Php_4:15-17 ; Act_11:27-30 ). Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had supported others. Certainly he and Barnabas deserved the same. Paul had not asked for wages so he could not be accused of seeking personal gain ( 1Co_9:11-12 ).
As the apostle went on to note, those working in the temple sacrificing ate of those sacrifices ( Num_18:8-13 ; Deu_18:1 ). Also, the Lord established a principle that would require pay for spiritual labor ( Mat_10:10 ; Luk_10:7 ). Paul did not exercise his right to receive pay. Neither did he write to start doing so. Paul would rather have died than receive earthly reward since he received great spiritual joy from sacrifice for the gospel's sake. By not receiving pay, he was able to reach many more people with the gospel, which gave him joy ( 1Co_9:13-15 ).
Paul Sacrificed To Serve
Paul was commanded to preach the gospel ( Act_26:16-20 ). As one who had obtained mercy, he had to proclaim mercy. He was not able to glory in simply being a faithful steward. Since he was commanded to preach the gospel, there was no reward in being simply faithful in keeping that command. If he had done it without being commanded, he might have had reason to glory. Paul did not want to misuse his right, so he did not accept any money. This gave him a reward for his labors. Later Paul apologized because this seemed to have hurt the church ( 1Co_9:16-18 ; 2Co_12:13 ).
Paul gladly gave up his right to support so that he might convert more. In fact, he was willing to give up anything so long as it was not sinful. McGarvey says, "Paul observed the Jewish distinction as to meat ( 1Co_8:13 ); and honored their feasts ( Act_20:16 ); and classed himself among their Pharisees ( Act_23:6 ); and even had circumcision administered ( Act_16:3 ), where it did not interfere with the liberty of Gentiles. ( Gal_2:3-5 .) All of these were innocent concessions to and harmless compliance with the law." He was unbending in his strict compliance with gospel requirements, however.
Next, Paul explained that he could live as one outside the law of Moses, or a Gentile, in order to win Gentiles to the Lord Jesus ( Rom_2:12-16 ). He did not force the law of Moses upon them. Lipscomb writes, "Paul adapted himself to the habits and modes of thought of the Gentiles; quoted their poets ( Act_17:23 ) and did not urge on them the ceremonies and 'works of the law' but 'by the hearing of faith' ( Gal_3:9 )." He goes on to explain the sense in which Paul was without law, stating, "The death of Jesus on the cross had made him free from the law of Moses ( Colossians 2:24 ), and brought him under the 'law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus' ( Rom_8:2 .)" The previous chapter explained how he avoided hurting the weak. Paul would have yielded to anyone's wishes, so long as they were not sinful, in order to gain the hearing of another soul ( 1Co_10:33 ; 2Ti_2:10 ). He sacrificed all this to save others and himself ( 1Co_9:19-23 ; 1Ti_4:16 ).
Controlling Self To Receive The Prize
All the talk about sacrifice reminded Paul of the sacrifice and self-control necessary to reach the heavenly goal. He used the illustration of runners who sacrifice many hard hours of training devoting themselves to the single purpose of winning. Likewise, Christians should devote their whole being to their purpose of reaching heaven ( Php_3:12-14 ; Rom_12:12 ; Heb_12:12 ). Athletes give up much, through self-control, to attain a perishable crown, but Christians strive to reach an imperishable crown ( 1Co_9:24-25 ; 1Pe_5:4 ).
Knowing the value of the prize, Paul said he ran without hesitation. He was not practicing but running the actual race. Like an Olympic boxer in the ring for competition, the apostle sent his punches straight to their mark. Paul fought the desires of his flesh to control them. McGarvey suggests that Paul had been like a herald telling the rules of the game. It would be tragic for the announcer not to meet the announced requirements ( 1Co_9:26-27 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent