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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

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Verses 1-3


Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Jesus our Lord, have I not seen? My work, are not you, in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least to you I am. For my seal of the apostleship you are in the Lord. My defence to those who examine me is this.

Have we not a right* (*Or, authority) to eat and drink? Have we not a right* (*Or, authority) to lead about a sister as wife, as do also the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or, I only and Barnabas, have we no right* (*Or, authority) not to work?

Who serves as soldier ever with his own rations? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or, who shepherds a flock and does not eat from the milk of the flock? Is it as a man that I speak these things? Or, the Law also, does it not say these things? For, in the Law of Moses it is written “Thou shalt not muzzle an ox while thrashing.” (Deuteronomy 25:4.) Is it for the oxen that God cares? Or, because of us altogether does He say it? For, because of us it was written; because in hope he who ploughs ought to plough, and he who thrashes, in hope of partaking “If we for you have sown spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your fleshly things? If others partake the authority** (**Or, right) over you, do not we more? But we have not made use of this right; (Or, authority) but we bear all things, that we may not cause any hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. Do you not know that they who perform the sacred things eat the things from the sanctuary? that they who give attendance at the altar receive a portion together with the altar? In this way, also the Lord ordained for those who announce the Gospel that they should live from the Gospel.

At the end of § 14 Paul supported his warning to beware lest by eating idol-sacrifices those who have knowledge injure the weaker ones, by the example of his own firm purpose to abstain from all meat rather than ensnare a brother. The force of this example he will not increase by expounding the principles of his own entire conduct, and specially his reasons for refusing to be maintained by the church. For this exposition, which occupies § 16, he prepares the way by asserting and proving, in §15, his right to maintenance.

1 Corinthians 9:1-3. Free: further expounded in 1 Corinthians 9:19. In view of his purpose to lay a restriction on his own food because of the weaker brethren, Paul asserts virtually in this question his full liberty to eat what he likes.

An apostle: the first rank (1 Corinthians 12:28) in the church, and therefore least likely to be under restrictions. See note, Romans 1:1.

Seen Jesus our Lord; supports the assertion implied in Am I not an apostle? Doubtless it refers specially, though perhaps not exclusively, (cp. Acts 22:18-21,) to the appearance of Christ on the way to Damascus. Then (Acts 26:16 ff) or shortly afterwards (Acts 22:14) he received his commission to the Gentiles. Cp. Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:16. This question suggests that they only were apostles who received a commission immediately from the lips of Christ.

Are not you etc.; proof, from evident matter-of-fact, that Paul was indeed an apostle.

In the Lord: objectively and subjectively; as in 1 Corinthians 1:2. The historic facts of Christ were the basis upon which, and the living presence of Christ was the spiritual element in which, were wrought the results attained by Paul at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 9:2 Develops the proof implied in the foregoing question.

Others may doubt my claims: you cannot. Of this, 1 Corinthians 9:2 b is proof.

Seal: a visible, solemn, authoritative attestation. See Romans 4:11. The church at Corinth being evidently God’s work, was a conspicuous and divine attestation of Paul’s often repeated claim that by the immediate voice of Christ he had been called to be an apostle. For, no impostor or fanatic could produce the abiding and blessed results which had followed Paul’s preaching. Similar argument in 1 Corinthians 15:15.

To those who examine (same word as in 1 Corinthians 4:3 f) me. The present tense suggests that Paul’s apostleship was frequently called in question. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:22.

Is this; refers probably to 1 Corinthians 9:1-3, in which Paul has given complete proof of an important point, viz. his apostleship, rather than to 1 Corinthians 9:4 ff, where Paul, on the ground of the proof given in 1 Corinthians 9:1-3, merely claims equal rights with the other apostles.

Verses 4-6

1 Corinthians 9:4-6. After proving his apostleship, Paul now begins to prove (1 Corinthians 9:4-14) his claim to be supported by the church. He thus introduces the specific matter of 1 Corinthians 9.

Eat and drink: at the cost of the church. For God to give Paul a work which so occupied him that he could not earn (2 Corinthians 11:8) sufficient food, and yet to forbid him to be supported by his converts, would be practically to forbid him to eat and drink. Contrast Luke 10:7.

We; includes (1 Corinthians 9:6) Barnabas, and perhaps others. Contrast 1 Corinthians 9:1-3. The mention of eating, in a matter quite different recalls 1 Corinthians 8:13.

As wife: see 1 Corinthians 7:2 : to be maintained by the church. To refuse this, would be practically to forbid the apostles to marry.

Lead about: as companion of their apostolic journeys. These words seem to imply that at least Paul was not married: so 1 Corinthians 7:8. And the words following imply clearly that most of the apostles and certainly Cephas (cp. Matthew 8:14) and the brothers of the Lord were, when Paul wrote, living in married life. The mention here of the brothers of the Lord reveals their important position among the early Christians. Cp. Acts 1:14. The mention of Cephas suggests that opponents are referred to here belonging to the Cephas-party. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:22. If so, these words betray their inconsistency. The mention of Barnabas implies that he, Paul’s earliest missionary companion and originally a man of property, (Acts 4:37; Acts 13:2,) shared the resolve to labor at a trade rather than be maintained by his converts. To refuse Paul’s claim to maintenance, is to make “him and Barnabas” exceptions to the other apostles. “Am I forbidden to eat and drink? To forbid me to be maintained by the church, amounts to this. Do not the other apostles, whose equal I have proved to be, and even Cephas, whose disciples my opponents profess to be, claim maintenance not only for themselves but for their wives? Have I and Barnabas been specially forbidden to desist, even while preaching the Gospel, from manual toil?” Estius, (who, however, honestly corrects the order of the words in the papal Vulgate,) following Tertullian, On Monogamy ch. 8, Jerome, Against Jovinian bk. i. 26, Augustine, The work of monks chs. 4, 5, supposes that Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 9:5 to Christian ladies who accompanied the apostles in their journeys, and at the cost of themselves or others supplied their wants; and compares Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:2 f. But this supposition has no historic ground whatever except this verse. For the explanations of this verse by Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine, cannot be accepted as such. The suggested practice would lie open to grave suspicion; especially as Paul speaks of leading about one sister. The entire context shuts out all thought of a lady who at her own cost supplied the apostle’s need. And the added word wife cannot be accounted for except as indicating that the sister in Christ was also a wife.

Acts 22:1, a rhetorical appeal with different order of words, is no parallel to the plain language of this verse. That some of the apostles were married, Estius admits.

The brothers of the Lord, will be discussed under Galatians 1:19.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 9:7. His claim to maintenance, Paul has supported by an appeal to the example of the other apostles, whose equal he has proved himself to be. He now further supports it by appealing to his readers’ sense of justice.

His own rations: at his own expense. It includes both food and pay. Same word in Romans 6:23. These words remind us of the mercenary service so common at one time among the Greeks. This first comparison suggests that in the following comparisons Paul refers to those who plant and shepherd not as owners but as servants. Such expect naturally to be maintained out of the produce of their own toil.

The fruit: not “all the fruit.” He who produces may fairly claim to eat.

From the milk; including both the butter and cheese made from, and the money derived from sale of, the milk. The man who tends the flock has food from its produce. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:14, “live from the Gospel”; 1 Corinthians 10:4. Each of the above occupations Paul uses elsewhere (2 Corinthians 10:3; 1 Corinthians 3:6; Acts 20:28: cp. 1 Peter 5:2 f) as metaphors of himself or of Christian teachers generally. It is evident that one who devotes himself to the care of others, and who by his own toil produces for them food and nourishing drink, has a right to be maintained by them.

Verses 8-10

1 Corinthians 9:8-10. These things: about the shepherd and the vinedresser. Not as a man, i.e. merely asserting a principle current among men, (cp 1 Corinthians 15:32; Galatians 3:15,) does Paul speak; but says that which the Law also says.

Moses: an appeal to the authority of the great Lawgiver; to whose lips the following injunction, taken word for word from Deuteronomy 25:4, LXX., is expressly (Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 27:1) attributed. It is quoted also, in a similar connection, in 1 Timothy 5:18. It refers to oxen treading out grain with their feet, or dragging over it a threshing machine. Both modes are still common in the east: and the injunction of Moses is observed by both Christians and Mohammedans. See Thompson, Land and Book ch. xxxv.

Is it for the oxen etc.; must be interpreted to mean, not, “does God care for oxen?” but, “was it His care for them that prompted these words.”

Altogether: not, “for us only;” but that every letter of Deuteronomy 25:4 was written because of us, viz. for those who labor to provide spiritual food for others. Paul then justifies the question of 1 Corinthians 9:10 a, by asserting, and giving the Divine motive for, that which the question clearly implies.

Because in hope etc.: a broad principle which moved God to have Deuteronomy 25:4 written one applicable both to gospel workers and to all who labor to provide food of any kind for others. Hence the change from the first person, because of us, to the third, he who ploughs.

Ought: an obligation resting on those for whom he works. It is right that a ploughman’s toil be lightened by a prospect of reward.

He who thrashes; ought to do so in hope.

Of partaking: sharing the grain he thrashes out, according to the custom, everywhere prevalent in the early stages of civilization, of payment in kind.

But the ploughman ought not to have to wait for this. Hence, of him, the word partake is not used.

Deuteronomy 25:4 is very conspicuous for its unexpected, sudden, and momentary reference to cattle, amid matter quite different. For this there must be some reason more important than the mere well-being of cattle. Indeed, all injunctions of kindness to animals are more for our good than theirs. For he who needlessly hurts them inflicts by doing so a far deeper wound in his own moral nature. Moreover, the very insignificance of a mouthful of corn reveals some deeper motive for these words. The open mouths of the cattle treading out the grain proclaim in plain language the great principle that they who by their toil obtain food for others ought themselves to share it. And, of this principle, the gospel laborer is a special and very conspicuous case. For his remuneration is voluntary; and therefore needs to be supported by some great principle. Therefore, if, as Paul and his readers believed the words of Moses are the voice of God, since whatever God says He says in view of all its future applications, we cannot doubt that He moved Moses to write these words with a definite reference to laborers like Paul.

Notice carefully that these words, spoken and written (Deuteronomy 27:1; Deuteronomy 31:9) by Moses, are assumed by Paul, as a matter not open to doubt, to be the voice of God, and to have been written because of us, a purpose far above Moses’ thought. This implies that through the lips and pen of Moses’ God spoke. See my Romans, Dissertation iii.

Verses 11-12

1 Corinthians 9:11-12 a. Two more arguments in support of Paul’s claim to maintenance.

We: Paul and others such as Timothy and Silvanus, (2 Corinthians 1:1; Acts 18:5,) his fellow-workers at Corinth.

Spiritual, fleshly: same thought in Romans 15:27.

A great thing: 2 Corinthians 11:15. The word preached by Paul at Corinth was a seed (Luke 8:11) from which his hearers had reaped a spiritual harvest. Was it then a great recompense if he received from them things needful for the body, which were a far less valuable product of their bodily labor?

Sow, reap: keeping up the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 9:10, and specially appropriate for results corresponding to the organic laws of bodily and spiritual life. Cp. 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 5:22; Galatians 6:7 ff.

If others etc.: another argument, similar to, but more pointed than, 1 Corinthians 9:6. “Others are already exercising the right (or, authority) over you, the right to maintenance, 1 Corinthians 9:4; 1 Corinthians 9:6,) which I claim.” This question reminds us irresistibly of the hostile and false teachers of 2 Corinthians 11:12; with which passage it is an important coincidence. But, to whomever Paul refers, his claim was infinitely superior to theirs.

1 Corinthians 9:12 b. A forerunner of § 16: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Corinthians 9:18. Paul has proved his apostleship, and therefore his right to the maintenance enjoyed by other apostles for themselves and their wives. This claim he has supported by an appeal to the common practice of men, to a remarkable passage in the Mosaic Law, to the greater value of the spiritual good his readers have received as compared with any material gifts from them to him, and to the fact that they concede to others what he claims for himself. All this is but a background designed to throw into bold relief his own refusal to use his claim. This refusal he now begins to expound.

This right: as in 1 Corinthians 9:12 a.

All things: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:7 ff; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Acts 20:34. These words raise the case in point into a universal principle with Paul. He makes it his constant practice to submit to every kind of hardship rather than in any way hinder the Gospel. The progress (2 Thessalonians 3:1) of the Gospel depends very much upon the impression made upon the hearers by the character of the preacher. Now, if Paul had been maintained by his converts, he might have seemed to be merely making a living by his teaching as others did. Whereas his refusal to be paid for teaching claimed attention for the gospel as something new and disinterested. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:7-12. Therefore, had Paul used his right to maintenance, the Word he preached would have lost this moral advantage and would so far have been hindered.

We: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:6. He does not wish us to think that he is alone in this forbearance.

The Gospel of Christ: full emphatic title. He is careful not to hinder the spread of the good news about the long-expected Anointed One. This verse warns us that the life-giving Gospel may be hindered, even by an Apostle, claiming his rights. Therefore, our right to anything is in itself no sufficient reason for claiming it. We are bound by our loyalty to Christ to consider whether we shall most advance His kingdom by claiming or waiving our right.

Verses 13-14

1 Corinthians 9:13-14. Two more arguments supporting Paul’s claim to maintenance. That they are separated from the former arguments by 1 Corinthians 9:12 b and are introduced by the emphatic words do you not know, gives them great prominence.

The sacred-things: the various rites of the temple.

Eat from the sanctuary, or sacred-place: receive maintenance from the temple. A part of most sacrifices was given to the priests for food: Leviticus 6:16; Leviticus 6:26; Numbers 18:8-19.

Give attendance at the altar: present themselves to offer sacrifice.

Receive portions with etc.: Of peace offerings, a part was consumed on the altar, and a part by the priest. In 1 Corinthians 9:13 a we have the priest’s work generally; in 1 Corinthians 9:13 b, that part of it in which the principle before us is most conspicuous.

In this way also: not only adds to the ordinances of Moses an ordinance of Christ, but strengthens the authority of each by showing that they embody the same principle.

The Lord, Master of His church, ordained: in Matthew 10:9 f; Luke 10:7; another mark of agreement of or Gospels with the words of Christ as reported to Paul. Cp. 1 Corinthians 7:10.

Live from the Gospel: obtain by preaching it the things needful for bodily life.

This section was primarily designed to be merely a background throwing into bold relief Paul’s refusal to be maintained by the church. But the earnestness of his tone, the accumulation of arguments, and hints in 1 Corinthians 9:3; 1 Corinthians 9:13, betray the presence of opponents whom Paul wished to confute and abash. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:12. And the general applicability of his many arguments, and especially of 1 Corinthians 9:14, have evident reference to the necessity, foreseen by Paul though possibly not then existing, for paid workers in the church. And doubtless, with a view to this, as well as to the preachers sent forth by Himself personally, the words of Matthew 10:9 f; Luke 10:7 were spoken and recorded. Probably the conspicuous feature of the Mosaic ritual mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:13 was designed with the same purpose. That each church has a right to decide which of its members shall be thus maintained, Paul admits, by presenting in 1 Corinthians 9:1-3 his own credentials. And, by waiving his right to maintenance in order thus more effectively to do Christ’s work, Paul set an example of that gratuitous service of the church which is not only a beautiful expression of unselfish devotion but is also one of the most important factors in the progress of Christianity.

Verse 15


But, for my part, I have not used any of these. And I have not written these things that it may be so with me. For it were good for me rather to die, or no one shall make vain my ground of exultation. For, if I be preaching the Gospel, it is not to me a ground of exultation. For necessity lies upon me. For woe is there for me if I do not preach the Gospel. For, if of my own will I am doing this, I have a reward: but, if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That when preaching the Gospel I may make the Gospel without cost, in order not to use to the full my right in the Gospel.

For, being free from all, to all I made myself a servant,* (*Or, brought myself under bondage.) that I may gain the more part of them. And I became to the Jews as a Jew, that I may gain Jews; to those under law as under law, (not being myself under law,) that I may gain those under law; to those without law as without law, (not being without law to God but in law to Christ,) that I may gain those without law. I became weak to the weak ones that the weak ones I may gain. To all I am become all things, that in all ways I may save some.

And all things I do because of the Gospel that I may become a sharer of it with others. Do you not know that they who run in a racecourse, all indeed run, but one receives the prize? In this way you are running, that you may obtain. And every one that contends at the festal games in all things is self-controlled. They indeed that they may receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable. I then in this way am running, as not without a definite goal: in this way I box, not as striking air. But I bruise my body, and lead it about as a slave; lest in any way having acted as herald to others, myself be rejected.

Paul will now reassert and explain his refusal (1 Corinthians 9:12) to receive a livelihood from the Gospel. He persists in his refusal, as being his only ground of exultation, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18; that he may save others, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; and thus himself obtain the victor’s crown, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

1 Corinthians 9:15. After arguments of general application. Paul turns now to his own conduct.

Not used; takes up the same words in 1 Corinthians 9:12.

Any of these: the various advantages implied in “living from the Gospel;” according to the use of the Greek plural.

That thus etc.: that I may receive maintenance from the Gospel.

For it were good etc.: reason for I have not written etc.

Or no one etc.: the only alternative. Either he will retain in its fullness his ground-of-exultation (see under 1 Corinthians 1:29) or he prefers to die. His refusal to receive a livelihood from the Gospel was to him a source of joy and of spiritual elevation: and he is resolved that this source of joy no one shall reduce to an empty thing by persuading him to be paid for his work. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:10.

Verses 16-17

1 Corinthians 9:16-17. Reason for this steadfast purpose, viz. that this is Paul’s only ground of exultation. For, that he merely preached the Gospel is no ground of special inward elevation and joy.

For necessity etc.: proof of this.

For woe etc.; explains the necessity which compels him to preach.

Woe: calamity, in this case, eternal death. So explicit and solemn was Christ’s commission that Paul could not retain His favor if he refused to obey it. 1 Corinthians 9:17 shows how this impending woe, and the necessity it laid on Paul, make the mere fact of his preaching no ground of exultation.

Reward: as in 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:14 : not necessarily eternal life (which is God’s free gift to all who believe,) but the special reward to be given to all who have done work for Christ.

Have a reward: Matthew 6:1; Luke 6:23.

Stewardship: cp. 1 Corinthians 4:1. If in preaching the Gospel Paul had acted of his own prompting, and without the necessity of 1

Corinthians 9:16, his preaching would have moral worth, (a worth, however, wrought in him by God’s free undeserved favor,) and would be followed by reward in the great Day. But the compulsion under which he preaches, i.e. the woe which awaits him if he do not preach, deprives it of moral worth, and places him in the position of one (with the Greeks, usually a slave) to whom his master has entrusted the oversight of an establishment, and who under pain of punishment disposes properly of goods committed to his charge. Cp. Luke 17:10. Consequently, Paul’s preaching is to him no ground of exultation, whereas it would be if it had the moral worth which God will reward.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 9:18. What then etc.? “Since the threatened woe deprives the mere fact of my preaching of all merit, what service remains to me which God will reward? Am I shut out from the reward of 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:14?” This question must have a positive answer. For, evidently, Paul is not shut out from such reward. And the answer must be sought for, and is found, in that when preaching etc. That Paul of his own prompting refuses to use the privilege of maintenance given to him by Christ, is meritorious and will receive reward. His refusal to use-to-the-full, while preaching-the-Gospel, the right to maintenance, involving as it did much extra toil and prompted by a belief (1 Corinthians 9:12) that he would thus help forward the Gospel, was acceptable to God and will be followed by reward. This answer to the question is put in the form of a purpose: because the conduct which God will reward is a steadfast purpose directing Paul’s conduct.

This verse implies that to preach the Gospel without pay was Paul’s usual practice. Cp. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 f; Acts 20:34. And the wisdom of it is evident. He wished to make church finances as simple as possible, and to discourage the idle people (cp. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ff) who are ever ready to make gain of the piety of others. But Paul accepted (2 Corinthians 11:8 f: Philippians 4:16) gifts from churches at a distance. For such offerings were a noble mark of Christian character, were little liable to abuse and to accept them had no appearance of self-seeking.

Notice that certain actions will receive reward because of their spontaneousness; and that this is evidently looked upon here as meriting reward. But all our good actions are God’s work in us and gift to us. Even when they spring from our own free choice they are really a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) given to us by God. But they are none the less good actions: and God graciously recognizes His work in us as meriting reward.

Notice Paul’s wish to do something beyond that made almost compulsory by his circumstances and by Christ’s definite command. Much that is right loses its value and moral influence because other reasons besides loyalty to Christ move us to do it. The true test of fidelity is our conduct when we have no definite command and when we can do otherwise without serious and evident consequences. We may well be eager to do that for which there can be no conceivable motive except devotion to our Master.

We learn here that our own actions may be a ground of spiritual exultation. When we find ourselves actuated by motives which once were foreign to us but which our best judgment commends, and doing work which is evidently Christ’s work in us and a precursor of eternal reward, we are filled with a gratitude, joy, and confidence, which are truly an “exultation in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 1:31.

Verse 19

1 Corinthians 9:19. Reason, in addition to those of 1 Corinthians 9:15 ff, for the conduct described in 1 Corinthians 9:18.

Free; takes up 1 Corinthians 9:1, and thus marks a transition from Paul’s specific refusal of maintenance to his conduct generally.

Free from all: from any one who can compel him to do this or that.

Servant: or slave: see Romans 1:1.

Made myself servant: cp. Galatians 5:13. He submitted to restriction, toil, privation, for their benefit.

May gain: explained in 1 Corinthians 9:22. To “save” his soul, is to gain him as an eternal Crown of rejoicing: 1 Thessalonians 2:19 f; Philippians 4:1. Cp. Matthew 18:15, Philemon 1:15. Paul reminds us that he will gain by his voluntary service.

The more part: as in 1 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Acts 19:32; Acts 27:12. It suggests a sad conviction that in some cases Paul’s self-denial would be in vain.

Verses 20-22

1 Corinthians 9:20-22 a. Expounds in detail “I made myself to all:” 1 Corinthians 9:22 b restates Paul’s purpose, “that I may gain the more part.”

As a Jew: observing among Jews the Mosaic ordinances of food and feasts. An important coincidence with Acts 21:26; Acts 16:3. But Galatians 2:14 proves that even among Jews he did not pretend to share Jewish repugnance to Gentiles.

I became: by my own purpose and conduct. For, though born a Jew he had, by his conversion, been set free (Galatians 3:28; Galatians 5:1) from Jewish restrictions.

Those under law: Romans 6:14 f; Galatians 4:4 f, 21; 5:18: Jews, looked at from an inward and spiritual, not an outward and national, point of view. The Law is, to those who accept it as the only way to God, a ruling power under which they lie powerless and condemned. And by submitting to the restrictions of the Law Paul put himself in some measure by their side.

Not under law: no longer looking up to it as a master: cp. Romans 6:14, explained Romans 7:1-6; Galatians 5:18. For he knows that, instead of God’s gifts being obtained by obedience to law, both obedience and its rewards are God’s free gifts to those who believe.

To those without-law: as in Romans 2:12; Romans 2:14.

As without-law: not observing, among Gentiles, Mosaic restrictions. Not without-law of God: not without commands of God which I obey.

In-the-law of Christ; expounds the foregoing. Although the commands of God are no longer a rule and a burden under which he lies, yet the commands of Christ (Galatians 6:2, cp. Matthew 22:37 ff) are a directing element in which he walks. Cp. Romans 8:2; Hebrews 8:10. These words remind us that Christian liberty is ours only so long as we abide in the will of Christ.

I became weak: 2 Corinthians 11:29; see Romans 15:1. Because they were unable to grasp the full practical bearing of the Gospel, and lest his example should lead them to do that which would injure them Paul imposed limitations (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:13) upon himself; and thus, in sympathy and practice, shared their weakness. This last detail of conduct brings before us 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, the specific matter of DIV. IV. It refers to believers: 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 include, and refer chiefly to, unbelievers. These latter Paul sought to gain by leading them to Christ and thus to heaven; those of 1 Corinthians 9:22, by saving them from falling, and thus saving them for ever.

To all: broad statement of principle, parallel with 1 Corinthians 9:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:12 b.

1 Corinthians 9:22 b. All things: limited by the word save to things not actually sinful. To do wrong can save no one.

In-all-ways: leaving untried no method likely to win.

Save: see note, Romans 11:14.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 lies an important principle, viz. that, other things being equal, our spiritual influence over others is in proportion to our nearness to them in the various circumstances and habits of life. In harmony with this principle, the Son of God clothed Himself in human flesh that He might speak to us through human lips and stretch out for our salvation a human hand. Cp. Galatians 4:4. And Paul was accustomed to diminish as far as practicable, by conforming to their habits and practice, the distance between himself and those he sought to save. To the Athenians he spoke as a philosopher, Acts 17:22-31; among Jews, he acted as a Jew, Acts 21:26; but always without surrendering principle, Galatians 2:5. For, to do this, would benefit no one. We shall do well to imitate him. Whatever reminds our hearers that our circumstances and endowments differ from theirs, will lessen the force of our words.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 9:23. All things; takes up the same words in 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 9:12.

Because of the Gospel etc.: 3rd reason, in addition to those of 1 Corinthians 9:15-22 for the conduct stated in 1 Corinthians 9:12 b and reasserted in 1 Corinthians 9:22 b.

That I may become etc.; expounds because of the Gospel Sharer with others: “by obtaining, in company with those whom I hope to save, the blessings promised in the Gospel.” The good news he announces moves Paul to use all means to save men, because by doing so he will (1 Timothy 4:16) save himself and those who hear him.

Verses 24-27

1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Justifies 1 Corinthians 9:23 by the analogy of the athletic festivals so well known at Corinth. See note below.

Racecourse: the oldest and most popular kind of contest.

The prize: same word and thought in Philippians 3:14 : the crown (1 Corinthians 9:25) or garland of leaves given to the winner.

But one receives etc.: so that it can be obtained only by surpassing all rivals. This thought nerved the athlete to intense exertion. These words are no part of the comparison; (for they are not true of the Christian race;) but are added to depict the intense effort required to gain the prize.

In-this-way: like racers.

You are running; asserts that the racer is a pattern of tie Christian. These words remind the readers that, although this metaphor is introduced professedly to expound Paul’s own conduct, it is really an example for them.

That you may obtain: expounds in this way, and directs attention to the one essential point of comparison. Like a racer you are aiming at a prize to be obtained only by victory. 1 Corinthians 9:25 brings the comparison of 1 Corinthians 9:24 to bear on the matter of 1 Corinthians 9:23.

Contends-in-the-athletic-festivals: includes racing boxing, and all kinds of athletic contests. Same word in Luke 13:24; John 18:36; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7.

In all things is self-controlled; refers not to the actual race, but to the ten months’ preparation. Indeed this preparation was in some sense a part of the contest: for upon it very much depended success or failure. During these ten months, the athlete, not only submitted to the prescribed limitations of food, drink, and the entire mode of life, but without asking whether it was specially enjoined, did whatever would strengthen him for the decisive day and thus increase his chance of victory, and avoided whatever would weaken him.

In all things: emphatic. Every detail of his life was controlled by his earnest purpose to gain the prize.

Crown: not a mark of royalty, (different word in Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 19:12,) but a wreath of leaves (or sometimes a golden imitation of such, Revelation 4:4; Revelation 9:7; Revelation 14:14) given as (2 Timothy 4:8) a reward, or worn (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19) in token of joy. A garland of pine or olive leaves, fit symbol of transitory human glory, was the prize at the Isthmian festival. With this fading wreath Paul contrasts the imperishable reward awaiting the Christian; thus increasing the force of the example in 1 Corinthians 9:25 a.

1 Corinthians 9:26. After calling (“you,” 1 Corinthians 9:24) his readers athletes, then placing himself (“we,” 1 Corinthians 9:25) among them, Paul now speaks of himself alone; thus bringing 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 to bear upon 1 Corinthians 9:23.

Then: since Christians are athletes striving for an unfading crown.

In this way, in this way: viz. as athletes run and box.

Am running: The Christian life is both a preparation for contest and an actual contest. For each day we make ourselves stronger or weaker for the conflict of tomorrow: and each day we are in actual contact with our adversary, and are or ought to be actually pressing towards the goal. Though the Christian has no rival, a race fitly symbolizes his life. For even the athletic racer forgets his rivals, and simply presses forward with all his powers.

As not without-a-definite-goal; expounds in this way. In his self-denial and efforts Paul, like a racer, has a definite aim in view.

I box: another common mode of contest. “Like an athlete, I am not fighting a shadow, but have a real antagonist.” And the visible goal and the real antagonist prompt the self-denial of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

1 Corinthians 9:27. Bruise: as boxers do. So far is Paul from fighting a mere shadow that his own body is his adversary whom he must conquer if he is to win the crown. For, through the body sin seeks to conquer him and rob him of the prize. See Romans 8:13. These words reveal the great influence of the body, in Paul’s view, upon the Christian life. But the figurative nature of the passage forbids us to infer that Paul inflicted upon his body pain or injury as a spiritual exercise.

Lead-as-a-slave: he not only conquers it and robs it of power, by refusing to indulge its desires and dislikes, but compels it to work out his own purposes. And he presents (Romans 12:1; Romans 6:19) the captive as a sacrifice to God. Paul’s refusal of maintenance, and the bodily toil resulting therefrom, and his refusal to eat meat which might injure a weak brother, were blows against the spiritual power of his own body, and tended to make the body more and more a servant of the spirit within. He inflicts these blows lest his body gain the upper hand, and thus ruin him.

Herald: see Romans 2:21. At the festival he summoned the athletes to the contest.

Rejected: as unworthy of the prize. i.e. lose his soul. For the prize is eternal life, James 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:12. Hence the solemn examples in 1 Corinthians 10. It is the opposite of “become sharer of the Gospel,” 1 Corinthians 9:23. By divine appointment Paul calls men to contend for an unfading crown. But, like all preachers of the Gospel, he is himself an athlete as well as a herald. And he is careful lest, after summoning others to contend, himself fall short of the prize.

In-any-way: for in many ways we may fall.

From 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 we learn that not to do our utmost to save, at any personal sacrifice, the souls of others, is to imperil our own salvation. For such effort and sacrifice strengthen the spiritual life. And so serious is our conflict and so tremendous are its issues that we dare not leave unused any means of spiritual strength. Therefore, in seeking to save others we are working out our own salvation.

SECTION 16 reasserts 1 Corinthians 9:12 b, and gives three reasons for it. To refuse maintenance in order not to hinder the Gospel, is an outgrowth of spiritual life, and is therefore to Paul a ground of present inward joy and confidence, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18. To save others, Jews or Gentiles, is itself a “gain” worthy of pursuit, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Moreover, Paul is an athlete, contending for an eternal prize: and therefore, even to save his own soul, he uses all possible means to save others, 1 Corinthians 9:23-27.

Of the GREEK ATHLETIC FESTIVALS, the most famous was that held every fourth year at Olympia in the west of the Peloponnese. Very famous and ancient also was the Isthmian festival held every two years at the Isthmus, about eight miles from, and in full sight of, the city of Corinth. Similar festivals were held at Nemea and Delphi. But in these the athletic element was less conspicuous. All these were instituted before the dawn of history. Other festivals in imitation of them, were held in Paul’s day in many cities of Asia e.g. at Tarsus, and notably at Antioch in Syria.

All athletes, i.e. competitors for prizes, had ten months’ training under the direction of appointed teachers and under various restrictions of diet. At the beginning of the festival they were required to prove to the judges that they were of pure Greek blood, had not forfeited by misconduct the right of citizenship, and had undergone the necessary training. Then began the various contests, in an appointed order. Of these, the oldest and most famous was the footrace. Others were wrestling, boxing, chariot and horse racing. The prize was a wreath (or crown) of olive at Olympia, and of pine leaves (at one time of olive) at the Isthmus. The giving of the prizes was followed by processions and sacrifices, and by a public banquet to the conquerors. The whole festival at Olympia lasted five days.

The importance of these athletic festivals in the eyes of the ancient Greeks is difficult to appreciate now. They were the great family gatherings of the nation, held under the auspices, and under the shadow of the temples, of their gods. The laws regulating them were held as binding by the various independent states of Greece. The month in which they were held was called the sacred month, and was solemnly announced. And all war between Greek states ceased, under pain of the displeasure of their gods, while the festival lasted. The festivals were attended by immense crowds from all the Greek states and from even the most distant colonies. The various states sent embassies, and vied with each other in the splendor of them and of the gifts they brought. The greatest cities thought themselves honored by the victory of a citizen. The victor was received home with a triumphal procession, entered the city by a new opening broken for him through the walls, was taken in a chariot to the temple of its guardian deity, and welcomed with songs. In some cases a reward in money was given, and release from taxation. In honor of the successful athlete poems were written; of which we have specimens in the poems of Pindar. A statue of the victor was permitted to be placed, and in many places was placed, by townsmen or friends, in the sacred grove of the presiding deity. An avenue of these statues, shadowed by an avenue of pine trees, leading up to the temple of Poseidon, which stood within 200 yards of the race-course at the Isthmus of Corinth, is mentioned by Pausanias, bk. ii. 1. 7. Close by this temple with its avenue of statues Paul probably passed on his way from Athens to Corinth.

The Olympic festival, which survived the longest, was abolished in A.D. 394, four years after the public suppression of paganism in the Roman Empire.

The Greek Athletic Festivals must be carefully distinguished from the bloody Roman Gladiatorial Combats.

That these athletic festivals permeated and molded the thought both of classic writers and of the Apostle to the Gentiles, we have abundant proof. Eternal life is to be obtained only by contest and victory: 1 Corinthians 9:24 ff; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:7 f: cp. Luke 13:24; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11. The Christian life is both a preparation for conflict, 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:5; a race, 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12; Acts 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:7; a boxing, 1 Corinthians 9:27, and a wrestling, Ephesians 6:12. Paul’s converts will be his crown in the great day: 1 Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 4:1. And, just as the athlete, victorious but not yet crowned, lay down to rest on the evening after conflict, waiting for the glories of the morrow, so Paul: 2 Timothy 4:7 f.

This metaphor presents an important view of the Christian life a needful complement of Paul’s doctrine of justification by grace and through faith. Though eternal life is altogether a free gift of God, it is given only to those who strive for it with all their powers. Therefore we must ever ask, not only whether an action open to us is lawful, but whether it will increase or lessen our spiritual strength. Just so, an athlete would forego many things otherwise harmless, and some not even forbidden by the laws for athletes, simply because he was striving for a prize.

Again, this metaphor receives in turn its needful complement in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Had we to contend for life in our own strength, we might be doubtful of the result, as was many a resolute athlete on the morning of the contest. But in us is the might of God crushing (Romans 16:20; 1 John 4:4) our adversary under our feet, and carrying us (1 Kings 18:46) forward to the goal. Therefore, day by day we go down into the arena to fight with foes infinitely stronger than we, knowing that “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”

That the crowded Isthmian Festival was held each alternate year at the very gates of Corinth and almost under the shadow of its Acropolis, must have given to the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 9:24 ff special force in the minds of the Corinthians. And, possibly, Paul was himself present at a festival during (Acts 18:11) his eighteen months’ sojourn at Corinth, using perhaps the opportunity to summon the assembled strangers to a nobler contest.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/1-corinthians-9.html. 1877-90.
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