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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-14

Supporting the ministry

1 Corinthians 9:1-14

In the greater part of this chapter Paul continues speaking on the subject of Christian liberty and its proper use. It is our duty to deny ourselves of even that which is lawful if it is genuinely offensive to our brother. He uses himself as an example, having denied himself in three things: eating and drinking at their expense, marriage and requiring financial support for his labour among them. All were lawful to him, but he denied himself for their sakes who were weak in the faith.

1 Corinthians 9:1-2 . Some denied that Paul was an apostle because he was not one of the original twelve. He refutes the charge saying, ‘I am free.’ No man had authority over him. He was chosen, ordained, taught and sent forth as an apostle by Christ (Galatians 1:11-12; Galatians 1:15-18). ‘I have seen the Lord.’ All apostles were eye-witnesses of his glory (Acts 10:39-42; 1 John 1:1-2). Paul saw Christ on the Damascus Road and when he was taken to the third heaven. ‘But’ he adds, ‘if others deny my apostleship, surely you Corinthians will not; for the effects of my ministry among you puts you past denial. You are living proof of God's hand on me.’

1 Corinthians 9:3 . This is his ground of defense, the vindication of his apostleship and himself to those who would criticize and question him: ‘I have authority directly from Christ. I am an eye-witness of his glory. The fruits of my ministry are proof of apostleship!’

1 Corinthians 9:4-5 . Having proved his apostleship, Paul proceeds to establish his right to support and maintenance as a gospel minister. ‘Do I not have the right to food and drink at the expense of those to whom I minister? Do I not have a right to take along with me a wife, as do the other apostles James, John, Peter and those who were near kinsmen to our Lord?’

1 Corinthians 9:6 . ‘Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from manual labour for a livelihood, in order to give our full time to the gospel ministry?’ Paul worked with his hands in his trade at Corinth (Acts 18:1-3; Acts 20:33-34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). While at many places he did not exercise his right of support, he nevertheless defended it.

1 Corinthians 9:7 . By three examples commonly known among men, Paul shows it to be reasonable that ministers of the gospel should be supported by the people to whom they minister.

1. What soldier serves in an army and goes to war for a nation at his own expense?

2. What man plants a vineyard and does not eat some of the fruit?

3. Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk and eat the meat?

1 Corinthians 9:8 . ‘Do I say this as a man reasons and only on human authority? Does not the word of God teach the same also?’

1 Corinthians 9:9 . ‘It is written in Deuteronomy 25:4: ‘You shall not put a muzzle on an ox when he treads out the corn, in order to keep him from eating of it.’ God looked upon this as an act of cruelty. Does God care more for oxen than he does for his ministers?

1 Corinthians 9:10 . It is true that Deuteronomy 25:4 mentions oxen in particular; but it is a principle that is to be applied to all our dealings with those who labour and serve us, especially those who minister the all-important word of God. He who ploughs for another ought to work with the hope of getting bread for himself, ‘and he who works in the threshing-floor ought to labour in the hope of being cared for by those for whom he labors’ (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

1 Corinthians 9:11 . ‘If we have studied, preached and taught you the doctrines of the word of God and you have profited spiritually through our constant labour, is it asking too much if we share in your material possessions, such as food, drink and clothing?’

1 Corinthians 9:12 . ‘Other preachers among you justly claim and enjoy your support. Do not Barnabas and I have an even greater claim, being the first ministers to preach the gospel to you, and I, being an apostle of Christ? Yet I did not exercise this privilege of support while I was laboring among you, lest someone charge me with covetousness and hinder the spread of the gospel.’

1 Corinthians 9:13 . ‘You can understand the mind and will of God under the New Testament by studying the mind and will of God under the Old Testament. God has a ministry under the Old Testament (the tribe of Levi), and he appointed a livelihood for them’ (Numbers 18:20-21; Deuteronomy 18:1).

1 Corinthians 9:14 . God's will for his ministers is the same under the New Testament. It is his will that those who have set aside worldly employment to spend their time in the study and preaching of the gospel should have a livelihood from their labour.

Verses 15-27

Total dedication to his gospel

1 Corinthians 9:15-27

In the preceding verses the apostle clearly shows from ‘the Scriptures that the Lord's apostles, ministers, evangelists and missionaries (who are engaged full time in the study and preaching of the gospel) should be supported and cared for by those to whom they minister.

1 Corinthians 9:15 . ‘Though I have the right to marry as well as others, to forego secular labour and to expect maintenance by those to whom I preach, yet I have not made use of these privileges; nor am I now writing and suggesting that these things be done for me.’ Evidently Paul had been accused of preaching for gain and for his own profit and advantage. He continually rejected and denied the charge! That is why he chose to work with his hands, providing his own upkeep and taking nothing from the Corinthians (Acts 20:33-34; 2 Corinthians 11:7-10; 2 Corinthians 12:17-18). Paul gloried and rejoiced in the fact that no one could accuse him of using the ministry to get gain, and now he had rather die than be deprived of this personal satisfaction.

1 Corinthians 9:16 . ‘Though I do preach the gospel of God's glory and grace, I have no room nor reason to glory, nor even to feel that I have done anything unusual or commendable; for I am a servant of God, under divine orders, and exposed to severe penalty and woe if I do not preach the gospel.’

1 Corinthians 9:17 . ‘If I preach this gospel and endure the trials and labour in the Word with a willing spirit and a cheerful heart, I have great satisfaction and compensation; but if I do so reluctantly and under compulsion, I am still a servant of Christ, entrusted with a sacred and holy commission, whether with pay or without pay, whether willingly or reluctantly. None of these things changes the fact that I am a servant of Christ with divine orders to preach the Word.’

1 Corinthians 9:18 . ‘What then is my present compensation and reward? just this: that I am so in love with Christ, so convinced of the truth of his gospel, so burdened for all men, that I surrender my rights and privileges as a preacher of the gospel and give my services free to all. I cannot be accused of profiting from the gospel or abusing my privileges.’

1 Corinthians 9:19 . Paul declared that he was free from all (the word ‘men’ is not in the original text), from the curse of the moral law, from the yoke of the ceremonial law and from the maintenance and support of believers. Yet he considered himself the willing servant of all, catering to them in every way that he could in order to endear himself to them and bring them to faith in Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:20-22 . The ceremonial law died with Christ (Ephesians 2:15-16). Believers are not bound by circumcision, Sabbaths and rituals prescribed under the law, but Paul observed some of these in order to have an open door to preach to the Jews (Acts 16:1-3; Acts 21:19-24). To the Gentiles, who were under no obligation to the ceremonial law, Paul could freely discourse and fellowship as one under the law of Christ. With the weak (those without discernment and maturity), who were troubled about meats, drinks and various forms of liberty, he identified, surrendered his liberty and played down his knowledge, that he might gain their confidence. In short, he became all things to all men that he might, at any cost to himself and in any way, bring them to a saving knowledge of Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:23 . Paul had two great ends at which he aimed in this denial of himself in these many points of liberty: chiefly, for the gospel's sake, that is, for the glory of God, for the spread of the gospel to the eternal glory of our Redeemer; second, that Jew and Gentile (men of all sorts) might share with him in the blessings of eternal life (2 Timothy 2:9-10).

1 Corinthians 9:24 . The reference in this and the following verses is to the Grecian games, such as running, wrestling and fighting. Many start the race, many run for a while, but the one who obtains the prize is the one who finishes the race first. The object of running is to gain the crown given to the victor. Believers are to run the Christian race, persevering with one object in view, and that is to reign with Christ and be made like him (Psalms 17:15). Nothing is to divert their attention or interest from this goal.

1 Corinthians 9:25 . Every athlete who competes in the games is mindful of need to discipline himself in food, drink, pleasures and idleness. He restricts himself to temperance and moderation in all things in order to win a temporary and corruptible crown. The believer's faith, dedication, temperance and sacrifice are for a higher and nobler purpose to gain an incorruptible Crown! (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 . ‘Therefore, I do not run as one who is out jogging with no goal or destination, but as one who strives to cross the finish line. I do not box as a man shadow-boxes, who has no opponent, but only strikes out at the air. I have a real enemy the flesh! So I discipline my flesh, my mind, my body and bring them into subjection to the Spirit of Christ. I subdue this flesh with its desires and infirmities, lest while preaching the gospel to others, I myself should fail the test and prove to be reprobate’ (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/1-corinthians-9.html. 2013.
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