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1 Corinthians 9 .
Having in the previous chapter maintained the liberty of the believer in the use of meats, and warned us against its abuse, the apostle in this chapter passes on to speak of the liberty and rights of the servants of the Lord, and again warns against any abuse of these privileges. But, while establishing the rights of the Lord's servants in such matters, he establishes the important principle that such rights are subservient to the interests of Christ and His people, and not for self-glorification or the indulgence of the body.
(Vv. 1, 2). We know from the Second Epistle that some were calling in question the apostleship of Paul, so he opens this portion of his letter by briefly asserting his apostleship, as well as his liberty. He had the outstanding mark of an apostle, for he had seen “Jesus Christ, our Lord”. Moreover, how could the Corinthians have any doubt as to his apostleship, for were they not the seal and proof of it, as their existence as an assembly was the outcome of his “work in the Lord”? There were those who, in their jealousy of the apostle, were ready to suggest that he preached from interested motives, seeking to make a gain out of his service ( 2Co_11:9-12 ). The apostle answers such suggestions, first, by asserting the rights of the servant (verses 3-14) and, secondly, by showing the way in which he had used these rights (verses 15-27).
(Vv. 3-7). As to the rights of the servant of the Lord, Paul, in common with other apostles, had a perfect right to partake of the ordinary mercies of the present life, a right to eat and drink, a right to lead about a sister as wife, a right to forbear working with his own hands. Moreover, he had a right to receive help in “carnal things” in return for his ministry in “spiritual things”. That this is so nature and common sense would show, for, asks the apostle, “Who ever carries on war at his own charges? who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? or who herds a flock, and does not eat of the milk of the flock?” (N.Tn.).
(Vv. 8-11). Further, not only nature but Scripture affirms these rights, “For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn”. In speaking thus God is not thinking only of the oxen. For our sakes it is written to teach us that, if the plougher and the thresher benefit by their labours, so the servants of the Lord, if they have sown “spiritual things”, have a perfect right to receive in return “carnal things”.
(V. 12). If others availed themselves of this right to take of their carnal things, how much more could the apostle, who had served them so faithfully? If he refrained from taking of their carnal things, it was no proof that he was not an apostle, nor that he had no right to receive from them, but rather that he judged, in their case, the interests of the gospel of Christ would best be served by his suffering “all things”, rather than by taking of their “carnal things”. In his service the apostle was not governed by the thought of gain, but by the interests of Christ and His gospel.
(Vv. 13, 14). Nevertheless, the rights of the servant remained, according to the typical teaching of the service in connection with the temple and its altar. Above all, the apostle asserts that these rights are according to that which the Lord has ordained, “that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”. Whether it was nature (verse 7), or Scripture (verses 9, 10), or the direct ordinance of the Lord (verses 13, 14), all concur in maintaining the rights of the one ministering in spiritual things to receive the carnal things of the saints.
(V. 15). Having carefully asserted the rights of the servant, the apostle, in the remaining verses of the chapter, shows how he personally had used his rights in the assembly at Corinth. He had turned them into an occasion for sacrificing himself in the interests of Christ and His gospel. As one has said, “This privilege is transformed in his hands into another kind of privilege altogether; that is the privilege of sacrificing himself for Christ and for His service”. He gave up one privilege to enjoy a higher privilege. He can thus say, “I have used none of these things”. Nor did he write this letter to seek from them any help in temporal things. He would not receive help from them and thus allow any man to make void his glorying in this respect.
(Vv. 16, 17). If, however, he speaks of glorying, he is at once careful to state that he was not seeking to glorify himself because he preached the gospel, but did so freely. An administration had been committed to him to preach, and, whether he did so willingly or not, he was responsible to carry out the work entrusted to him. His reward would not be for doing his appointed work, but for doing it willingly.
(V. 18). What, then, was his reward? This - that in preaching the gospel he gave up his rights, so that the gospel might be “without charge”. He did not use his rights as belonging to him, to be used according to his own will, without regard to the directions of the Lord. It may be well to note that the word “abuse”, used in this passage and also in 1Co_7:31 , has in neither case the meaning with which we generally use the word. The force of the word is “to use as one that has possession of a thing”, or a person “using it as he likes, as his own” (J.N.D.). The apostle was sent by the Lord to preach, and it was ordained by the Lord that he had a right to be supported. He did not, however, use this right as if it were a possession that he could use as he liked. He thought of Christ and His glory, and so used, or refrained from the use of, this right according as he judged he had the mind of the Lord in carrying out his service in a way that would be best for the glory of Christ.
(Vv. 19-23). Thus, entirely free from all, he used his freedom to become the servant of all. When preaching to the Jews he could meet them on their own ground, adapt himself to their modes of thought, and avoid wounding their scruples. With those under law he could appeal to them as entering into all their exercises as one under law, though he is careful to add, “not being myself under law” (N.Tn.). As to those without law, he could appeal to them on their ground, though again he guards himself by saying that he was “not as without law to God, but as legitimately subject to Christ” (N.Tn.). To the weak he could become as one weak. He was made all things to all men, that he might by all means save some. Moreover, he acted thus for the sake of the glad tidings, which he personifies when he says, “that I may be fellow-partaker with them” (N.Tn.).
(Vv. 24-27). In his thus speaking it must not be inferred that the apostle accommodated himself to the world in order to escape reproach and spare the flesh. To dispel any such misconception, the apostle shows in the closing verses that the path of service is one of self-denial. There is, indeed, a reward for service far better than the prize to be obtained in the world's games; there they run for a corruptible crown, but the Christian for an incorruptible. Nevertheless, if to obtain an earthly crown requires a temperate life, how much more necessary it is to be temperate in all things to obtain the incorruptible crown. The apostle ran with no uncertainty as to the glorious end of the path. The conflict for him was no mere trifling, like beating the air. He was careful not to indulge the body, but rather to keep it in subjection, that it might be no hindrance to him in his service. The saints at Corinth were boasting in their gifts and seeking their ease ( 1Co_4:6-8 ). Let us beware of preaching without practice, for the apostle warns us that it is possible to preach and yet be a castaway. We know that the believer will never perish, and the apostle does not say it is possible to be born again, or converted, and be a castaway. Preaching to others is not everything. First we must be a Christian and then a preacher, if called of the Lord.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29