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1 Corinthians 9:1 . Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord? Having illustrated the legal customs of the jews respecting meats, he introduces another subject, his right to temporal support for his spiritual labours. Some jews, it would seem, ever hostile to Paul, had insinuated that because, for the most part, he had eaten his own bread at Corinth, he had no fair claims on the funds of churches. This point he argues with decision. He had seen the Lord in the way to Damascus, and in the temple. Acts 9:0, Acts 22:21. He was commissioned by the Lord, and the church of Corinth was the chief sphere of his labours in Greece, where he had many seals to his ministry.
1 Corinthians 9:5 . A sister, or a wife. The Greek word γυνη gyne, in this place is obscure. The Vulgate reads, a woman sister, and the papists avail themselves of it to prove the celibacy of the first preachers. Ambrose translates it in the plural, women, meaning wife, mother, or a young and unprotected sister. It designates a deaconess, as in Romans 16:1. The private duties of the synagogue were discharged by matrons, who alone could have access to their afflicted sisters.
1 Corinthians 9:13 . They that wait at the altar, whether priests, levites, or servants, are partakers with the altar of all the fruits, the vows, and offerings of Israel. They not only have support, but liberal support. In like manner, ministers serving churches which are poor, should not be burdensome to them; but when those churches become numerous and rich, the members should abound in liberality to their ministers as God has favoured them with success in commerce and wealth. The rich man who sees his minister unable to pursue his studies for want of books, and want of clothes, or to provide for his children trades, and does not assist him, must give account another day. Who can count the blessings which a congregation receive from an enlightened ministry, or estimate the debt they owe?
1 Corinthians 9:15 . It were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. Paul as a Hebrew scholar, and as a Roman gentleman, preserved his dignity in the church at Corinth, which at first was weak and poor, as was the case with most of the primitive churches. He assigns another reason for his disinterestedness; he would cut off occasion from the false apostles, who sought occasion. What can we say of a man so illustrious, but that he was covetous of the great reward in heaven.
1 Corinthians 9:18 . That I abuse not: καταχρησασθαι , I use not my power. That is, says Tirinus, minus bene uti; less or not fully use my power to live by the gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:26 . So fight I, not as one that beateth the air. St. Paul here refers to the Greek and Roman games, one part of which was the cestus, from the Greek word κεστος , belt. Montfaucon has given us a splendid engraving of the conflict. Because bruising with the fist maimed the hand, and often disjointed the thumbs of the combatants, they invented the “cest.” The two pugilists held a ball of leather in each hand, attached by a strap to the zone or belt, loaded with weighty matter, and in latter times with iron or lead. With these balls the combatants often gave each other fatal blows, to which the apostle alludes when he speaks of resisting unto blood. But the dexterous combatant often had the address to elude the blow of his antagonist, and then he only beat the air.
1 Corinthians 9:27 . Lest I myself should be a castaway. Saurin has a good thought here, that St. Paul’s having the full assurance of faith, had no fear of falling from God, and perishing at last. But yet, to touch the loose professors of the age, he, by a sort of abstraction of thought, supposes himself not only to be in very great danger of falling from God, but of falling into hell, and perishing at last. Therefore he would keep his body in all the habits of temperance and exercise. He would run the race with equal steps; he would fight the good fight of faith, that at last he might receive the crown. He speaks to others by word and deed: So run that ye may obtain. Let the professors of the present age, who dress and feast, and smoke and drink, and cannot lift up their little finger in the way of self-denial, think of this.
The arguments in this chapter turn on the purity of Paul as a minister, and purity surpassing that of all other ministers; so much so that some began to count him a fool for Christ’s sake. The studies and labours of the christian ministry are arduous. Who is sufficient for these things? Hence the people to whom ministers preach should relieve their minds of the solicitudes of acquiring food and raiment. It is a shame for rich men to realize fortunes, build villas, and aggrandize their houses, while their ministers are suffering many domestic privations. The right to maintenance is guaranteed to ministers by the law of nature and of nations. On this principle a thousand arguments arise. What general goes to war at his own charge? What man plants a vineyard, without expecting that the fruits will remunerate his toil? What shepherd attends his sheep and his goats, without a daily supply of milk? Where is the Hebrew or Grecian priest of the lowest order surrounding the altar, that is not a partaker of a joint with the altar? It is just the same with the ox that treadeth out the corn, and the husbandman who plows his field. And shall christianity, the most philanthropic religion on earth, be cold to its ministers? Shall families hear the language of heaven on earth, see vice repressed, morality and conversion enforced, and the dying comforted, and forget the man who sheds all these blessings on a whole district?
The working of Paul and Barnabas with their own hands was voluntary and partial. Paul gratefully acknowledges the present of the Grecian saints as a sweet odour unto God. Still to roll away the reproach of the jews, he gloried in labour, and no entreaty to desist could make his glorying void. But he blamed not the other apostles and ministers who did not labour. Besides, the fisher-men had not a trade as St. Paul had; they could not fish on the dry land. And we must allow to this day, that it is a privilege to those who have both the means and the heart to preach a free gospel. The purity of their motive adds lustre to their ministry, though the heart of a poor minister may be equally pure.
We must next admire the sincere prudence of St. Paul in his endeavours to become all things to all men, in observing or not observing indifferent customs. He well knew that the kingdom of God was not meats and drinks, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Let all ministers hence learn to aim at hallowed sociality. The shepherd must walk with his flock, and the physician converse with his patient. So must the servant of Christ visit and teach from house to house, and gain the affections of his people.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29