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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Corinthians 9

Verses 1-7

Am I Not Free?

You shouldn’t delude yourself that Paul just only preached some theory in the previous chapter. In this chapter, it will become apparent that he has lived accordingly. In his whole ministry among the Corinthians that has become clear. He showed that he had voluntarily abandoned things to which he was entitled as a servant and an apostle and of which he could have had expected from the Corinthians. They had to become aware of that. That’s why he asked some questions. Not difficult questions which you have to think through. The answer, actually, is already embedded in the question.

1 Corinthians 9:1. He starts with the question: “Am I not free?” Of course he was free. The law had no say over him anymore. He was not responsible to anyone, for Jesus Christ was his Lord.

The next question is: “Am I not an apostle?” In the salutation of this letter he calls himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. The word apostle means: messenger. Such a person has to carry out the order of his sender.

Could Paul call himself an apostle just like that? There was bad talk of Paul going on among the Corinthians that he pretended to be an apostle. To be an apostle someone should fulfill the condition that he had seen the Lord Jesus, after His resurrection. In Acts 1 you read about choosing another apostle to replace Judas. Peter speaks there about someone who “[must] become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Paul fulfilled this condition. Therefore his third question: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” It is not that he was one the twelve apostles who travelled through Israel with the Lord Jesus, but he saw the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus when he persecuted the church. In Acts 9 you find this history (Acts 9:1-Judges :). So he really was an apostle.

The people who contradicted that, wanted to limit his influence among the Corinthians. Those were people who wanted to take advantage of the Corinthians themselves and therefore they laid this blame with Paul. It is remarkable how quick they (and we too) are inclined to believe such gossip.

Paul can refute these accusations very easily. He just points at them and asks the Corinthians: “Are you not my work in the Lord?” He says, as it were: ‘Just look at yourselves. How have you become converted?’ Therein lies the gentle reproach that they should have known better.

1 Corinthians 9:2. They even should have been aware that they were “the seal”, that is the confirmation, of his apostleship. Certainly they in particular, should not have doubted his apostleship. Do you see how he justifies himself to the Corinthians? He asked his questions in such a way, that there was only one possible answer to them. Obviously no multiple choice questions.

The Bible is a book in which many questions are being asked. The questions are often not that difficult. Also the answer is often simple. Yet, we may want to avoid the good answer, because we sense that otherwise something has to be changed in our lives. We see a very striking example of that in Matthew 21 (Matthew 21:24-Daniel :). When the chief priests and the elders had given the right answer (and they knew the good answer!), they also had to accept the Lord Jesus, but they didn’t want that. Here you see that the answer to a question depends on the condition of your heart. The point is if you are willing to accept the consequences of your answer.

1 Corinthians 9:3. The next questions of Paul are addressed to the people who wanted to show Paul in a bad light to the Corinthians. But the Corinthians (and you) hear these questions too. Those are the questions that indicate how Paul had behaved himself among the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 9:4-Joshua :. In the first place he asks questions that are connected to the rights he had. He assuredly had the right to get food and drink from the Corinthians, had he not? Wasn’t he allowed to live from the gifts that the churches sent him? And in case he had been married, wouldn’t he then be allowed, like many others, to take along his wife on his journeys? His wife would then also have had the right to get a loving care from the church. And concerning his social occupations (he was a tentmaker by profession; that is said in Acts 18:3), he was, just like Barnabas, certainly not obliged to work to earn his own living, was he? They were entitled to be supported by the churches for their living.

1 Corinthians 9:7. Later, in 1 Corinthians 9:12, he clarifies why he did not make use of this right. Here he only points out his right to be provided by the church with food and drink.

To reinforce this right, he gives three examples from daily life, which confirm what he said. To the commander of an army this is not a question, but a clear case. Just take a soldier as an example. The only thing he has to focus on is the war. That is the reason he is employed for (2 Timothy 2:4). He has to fight, he has to win. Nothing of that would have happened, if he also had had to care for his food. Somebody had to bring him that food, even if he is engaged in the fiercest battle. In this way the soldier gets power to continue the battle.

The two other examples come from agriculture and cattle farming. He who has a vineyard, wants it to bear much fruit, for the more fruit, the more wine to be sold and the bigger the returns and profits. Does that mean that he who has worked in the vineyard for another person, he himself will not profit from the fruit? Of course he himself will also make use of it. The same goes for watching over a flock. He who is occupied with that flock the whole day and takes care of it, is also allowed to take some of the milk of that flock for his own use.

In many companies it does work the same. The products they deliver are allowed to be taken home by the employees, for free or for a low price.

Why has Paul chosen these three examples of a soldier, a vine dresser and a shepherd? It is because these examples are also meaningful to you. You could recognize yourself in these examples. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul calls Timothy “a soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). You must have experienced that you find yourself on a hostile territory. You are surrounded by many enemies. But the Lord Jesus is your Commander in the battle. He assures you that you’re able to withstand as long as you trust in Him.

The second example also applies to you. In Matthew 20 the Lord Jesus uses a parable about workers who are sent into a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-Nehemiah :). You also are such a worker who is allowed to work in the vineyard. You can be sure that the Lord Jesus shall give you a reward for your work “whatever is right” (Matthew 20:4). But isn’t it the case that you already enjoy now the things you can do for Him?

The third example, from the flock, has to do with taking care of believers. In John 10 the Lord Jesus talks about the one flock of which He is the one Shepherd (John 10:16). That flock consists of all sheep that belong to Him and which He calls “My sheep” (John 10:27). You belong to those sheep too.

Therefore when you see a believer going astray, you might pay him a visit. You can try to bring him back to the flock on the basis of the Bible. Try to feed him from the Bible and by that way have him get the taste for the Bible again. In 1 Peter 2 the Bible is called “the pure milk” (1 Peter 2:2). When you let your brother get the taste of it, you yourself will also be strengthened.

In this way you see how you are provided by God Himself with everything you need in the ministry of God, and every believer has received a ministry from God.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:1-7 again.

Reflection: What is the connection between chapter 8 and chapter 9?

Verses 8-14

God’s Concern for His Servants

1 Corinthians 9:8. Paul is still busy to prove his right to support by the churches. In 1 Corinthians 9:7 he has given three examples from daily living. By doing so he had, as he says here, spoken “according to human judgment”, thus according to what was common in society.

1 Corinthians 9:9. He doesn’t stop there. He even goes a step higher and quotes something from “the Law of Moses”. He uses an example from the Word of God and of course that is more powerful than what is common with people in society.

The instruction he quotes, regards “the ox while he is threshing”. An ox that was threshing the grain was not to be muzzled. That was an instruction from God, because He knows the heart of man. A relentless and greedy boss could have muzzled such an animal to prevent it from eating the grain. He would then have had more grain to sell on the market and therefore earn more money. Nevertheless, God had determined that an ox was allowed to eat from the grain he was threshing.

So God cares for the oxen. God is concerned about the well-being of all animals (Psalms 104:27-Hosea :). In Jonah 4 God also considers the cattle when He decides to spare Nineveh (Jonah 4:11).

1 Corinthians 9:10. Behind this instruction of God’s concern for the oxen, a higher instruction is hidden, which is God’s concern for His servants. It has been written for them in the first place. Very directly Paul wants to say here that he, as a sower and plowman – thus as an evangelist – and as the one who is permitted to see the fruit of this work, certainly can expect that food is given to him. Whether a servant is plowing or treading, he can be sure that his work will be fruitful.

The plowman is preparing the soil so that the seed can be sown on that soil. The thresher processes the harvest after the seed has grown and has ripened. A person may be standing at the beginning of the work of God, when he, for example, preaches the gospel to another person. Even so a person may also be standing at the end of that work when he, for example, can bring another person to the Lord Jesus. In both cases he is sowing something spiritual.

1 Corinthians 9:11. God shall provide for the means that are needed for the work. You can also provide other servants who have served you spiritually, with something material. Actually it is something you ought to do. Yet it is more beautiful to look at it as a privilege. When brothers have to travel often, you might provide them with money for those journeys. Or others who distribute much literature, you can provide those with money for literature. But even if they don’t have that much expense, you might also support them financially, so that they are able to buy food and drink and pay their housing costs.

Here it is about people who have resigned from their job in society in order to spend their time henceforth on spiritual sowing-work. They are entitled to be provided by us in their living. This is how God has ordained it.

1 Corinthians 9:12. Paul presents once more that he is a partaker of this right over the Corinthians in this respect. He says that if others were partakers of this right, he was even more. After all, they owed to nobody as much as to him, did they? Nevertheless he had not used this right. To him the gospel of Christ was more important than all the rights he owned. He would have abandoned anything that would have been a hindrance for preaching the gospel.

He preferred the endurance of being falsely accused by other people rather than that the progress of the gospel would be stopped. Imagine what would have had happened if he had insisted on his rights towards the Corinthians. Then they would have provided him with money and goods, but at the same time they would have boasted about that, as if the great apostle owed it to them that he could do his work. They could have even thought that they had bought the gospel. Paul made every effort to prevent that.

1 Corinthians 9:13. Before he goes further, he remembers something else. There is one more example in the Old Testament from which it appears that a person who is in the service for God, receives something through that same service to support his life. It is about the priests and Levites. In the Old Testament the priests and Levites were a special class of people among Israel. They had to do tasks in the tabernacle (when the people were still in the desert) and later in the temple (when the people lived in the promised land).

When an Israelite wanted or had to bring an offering, he gave that to the priest. The latter slaughtered it and put it as an offering on the altar. But God had ordained that the priest was allowed to keep a part of some offerings for himself to eat. In Leviticus 6 for example you read that the priest received a portion of the meat offering (Leviticus 6:16). In the same chapter it is written that the priest who brought the sin offering had to eat of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:26). The priests put the offerings on the altar and the Levites helped them thereby. In Numbers 18 you find something like that. The priests receive the breast and the right thigh as food (Numbers 18:18). With the Levites it was something different. Also in Numbers 18 the Israelite received the order to donate their tithes to the Levites as an inheritance in return for the work which they performed (Numbers 18:21).

In Deuteronomy 18 you read once more the way God had ordained how the tribe of Levi had to be provided for. The whole tribe of Levi, so all priests and Levites, had no inheritance in the land like all the other tribes. The other tribes were able to farm on the land they received as an inheritance and provide themselves with the crop of their land. But the tribe of Levi had no piece of land to receive an income from. Concerning them, the Lord was their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:2). Therefore the Lord ensured them – through the means of instructions to the people – that the tribe of Levi would receive what they were entitled to.

1 Corinthians 9:14. The conclusion Paul draws from this, is as follows: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Therefore do not shirk your responsibility to support brothers and sisters who go forth for the work of the Lord without receiving a permanent salary.

In the third letter of John you find a nice example of someone who acted that way. Gaius supported brothers – whom he didn’t even know – because they “went forth for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (3 John 1:7).

If you would look at your involvement, concerning the work for the Lord in that way, you will also be fully blessed. Just read what is written in Malachi 3 (Malachi 3:10). If you start to give for the work of the Lord, God will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings abundantly over you. Herein lies, as it were, a real challenge from God’s side. Do you dare to accept this challenge?

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:8-14 again.

Reflection: The law says that you should give your tithes. What do you think ‘mercy’ says?

Verses 15-21

Win More

1 Corinthians 9:15. Paul has proven his right for support by believers clearly and extensively. Now he senses the danger that the Corinthians would be thinking that he had written all those things to get money from them. That was certainly not his intention! In the past he never accepted anything from the Corinthians and that was still the case.

Some of the Corinthians thought that Paul only preached for his own benefit. To nip this thought in the bud, he says that he would rather die than that he created that impression. He would very much want to have glory, not for himself, but for the gospel. He didn’t want to be obstructed by anything at preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12). The gospel had to be brought in all its clearness and without any restriction.

Money can play an obstructing role at preaching the Word. There is a saying that sounds: ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune.’ That indicates that you are inclined to say what people like to hear who give you a lot of money. You might become fully dependent on them. It is a danger that threatens each preacher who preaches on demand to people who also pay him. You may think on what is written in 2 Timothy 4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3). But a servant of the Lord must speak the Word of the Lord, without having thoughts about whether or not he will receive a reward from anyone.

1 Corinthians 9:16. When Paul was preaching the gospel, it wasn’t something he could boast of in terms of: ‘I’m doing a pretty good job, aren’t I?’ He owed that to the Lord, for He was the One Who commanded him to do it. He talks about the necessity that was laid upon him, not by people or by an organization, but by the Lord. He even speaks “woe” about himself if he doesn’t preach the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:17. To him preaching the gospel was not a kind of voluntary work. In general voluntary work is being appreciated well in our society. Such an appreciation would also be his reward, in case he worked as a volunteer for the Lord. But Paul was not willingly or voluntarily a preacher of the gospel. “A stewardship” was “entrusted” to him by the Lord. Paul was aware of his responsibility. Therefore he did not want to connect the gospel with money nor goods anyhow.

1 Corinthians 9:18. His “reward” consisted of the assurance that his Master approved what he was doing. That ‘reward’ was sufficient for him. He didn’t need a reward from the Corinthians. He wanted to preach the gospel for free and did not want to make use of his right for support. In that way he remained free from all men.

1 Corinthians 9:19. That freedom concerned only his work. Concerning himself, he wanted to be a servant to all men, in order to win through the gospel as many men as he possibly could for the Lord Jesus. How much, in that respect, does he resemble the Lord Jesus Himself, Who also did everything without asserting His right for compensation. Who was as free as He was? He did not allow anyone to tell Him what He should do. Though, who was a servant like Him? He came, not to do His own will, but the will of His Father.

1 Corinthians 9:20. Paul made himself a servant to all men willingly. His desire was to serve every man with the gospel. He adjusted himself as much as he possibly could to meet his listeners. When he was preaching to the Jews, he adjusted himself to the habits of the Jews. That implies that he wouldn’t eat pork when having a meal with a Jew. He wanted to use every opportunity to win the heart of the Jew by fulfilling, as much as possible, all external demands that were of importance to the Jews. He considered the commandments from the law if he could win the heart of a Jew for the gospel.

That didn’t mean, however, that he intended to preach the law again. He himself was free from the law and he wouldn’t permit to be brought back under the yoke of the law again. Only if the situation demanded that it would serve the advancement of the gospel, he adjusted himself to it.

When he preached the gospel to the Gentiles, thus to people to whom God had not given the law, he operated differently. Then he descended to their level of thinking. In Acts 17 you read about a speech of Paul that hooks up to the thinking of the people from Athens (Acts 17:22-Nahum :).

In our days other ways of adjustment are also possible. Just think about the missionaries who go to the inlands of Africa or who travel to other countries with totally different cultures to preach the gospel. The best way for them to introduce the gospel is to live among these native people by adjusting themselves to the same habits and ways they do.

1 Corinthians 9:21. The fact that he was “without law” did not mean that he behaved himself lawlessly. At approaching the Gentiles he stayed subject to Christ. He would have never acted in a way that was not in accordance with his Commander.

Some nice examples of the way to approach people, you find in John 3 and 4. In John 3 the Lord Jesus speaks with a high-placed spiritual leader of Israel. In John 4 He speaks with a woman who was through and through sinful. It is wonderful to see how the approach of the Lord is adjusted exactly for each person (John 3:1-2 Kings :; John 4:7-Ezekiel :).

The lesson is clear. Adjust yourself as much as possible to your conversation partner, whom you want to win for the gospel’s sake, but keep your eye fixed on the purpose. Towards somebody who has placed himself under the law, as many reformed Christians do, admit the good things of the law. In that way you can keep the conversation going on with them. Try to demonstrate what effect the law has had (death and judgment, 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:9) and what God’s solution is for this problem (Christ, Who suffered the curse of the law, Galatians 3:13). Stay conscious of being free from the law during the conversation and do not give the other person any room to bring you under the influence of the law.

In your conversations with worldly people, who have nothing to do with religion and who waste their lives with hunting for money, drink, drugs and sex, you act differently. Stand beside them and tell them that you can understand them in their desire for happiness. Make yourself a friend of them; the Lord Jesus is called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). You can tell them about the happiness you have found in the Lord Jesus. During the conversation stay conscious of being legally subjected to Christ and don’t let yourself be tempted to a worldly way of thinking and living.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:15-21 again.

Reflection: Do you also have the desire to win people for Christ?

Verses 22-27

All Things for the Sake of the Gospel

1 Corinthians 9:22. You understand now that Paul’s life was fully dedicated to the gospel. He subordinated everything to it. In order to succeed he was willing to serve all men. There was one person whom he did not serve and that was himself. Additionally he considered every man as a creature that has a soul to lose and who has to be won for Christ. He responded to the other person as far as he could in the situation this one found himself. Even so he approached the weak as if he himself was weak. He considered the conscience of the weak and was careful not to do anything that might cause the weak to turn away from the message of the gospel.

You would venture to say that he wriggled every which way to win one person. He did that, because every man is invaluable to God. The more you are aware of that, the more you will be engaged with preaching the gospel to your fellow men. “Save some”, that’s what it was all about to Paul. An important condition to do that is self-denial, not to think of your own concern or to be occupied with yourself.

1 Corinthians 9:23. Paul made every effort for the gospel’s sake, in order to be a partaker of it. He presented the gospel as a person whom you know. When someone is important to you, you would do everything for him or her. The gospel was such an important ‘person’ to him, for whom he did everything.

1 Corinthians 9:24-Lamentations :. To illustrate that, Paul uses some examples from the world of sports. He more often uses examples from the world of sports, because they are very suitable to make a clear comparison with the life of a Christian. Some matters that are at issue with both the sportsman/-woman and the Christian, are:
1. the training,
2. the competition and
3. the prize.

To be able to participate in the competition, you first need to train. The more important the competition is, the more intensive the training will be. The more intensive the training is, the better the preparation. There are societies of all kinds of sports where the only important thing is recreation. Especially older people are trying to stay in good health in this way. Then the training is very sociable and is not focused on achievements. The competition is also for fun and it is very nice when the game is won. There is nothing wrong with this, but Paul is not looking at the race of the Christian in this way.

The picture Paul has in his mind here and what he also presents to you, is the picture of an athlete who is fully in control of his body. The athletes, who in his time, participated with the Istmian games (later called the Olympic Games) that were regularly held in all big cities of Asia Minor, needed a period of ten months for preparation. During this time of preparation the athlete freely subjected himself to a hard training. Great trainers from that time always taught their pupils: ‘You need to have an orderly life; with little food and the abstention of sweets; training on a steady time, whether it is hot or ice cold weather’.

Horatius has said: ‘The youngster who wins the race has suffered a lot and has done a lot. He has had an awful sweat and suffered cold. He had abstained from love and wine.’ The period of training was for the Greek athlete a time of living in isolation. It was a time of abstention from things that were good in themselves, but would be a hindrance for him to achieve optimal results. He abstained from everything that could be harmful for his achievements.

When Tertullian applies the example of the athletes to the persecuted Christians, he says: ‘They are tormented, exhausted, worn-out.’ Would you be able to apply this picture to nowadays Christians? I venture to say that we as Christians in the western world live a flabby and easy-going life.

Just take a careful look at such a Greek athlete (and at many of the nowadays top athletes): a long period of intensive training, a great deal of self-denial and suffering much inconvenience for a competition that will last for only some minutes or even seconds to a couple of hours (dependent on which kind of sports) with as the highest result a perishable wreath.

Ask yourself now: if they could yield to that, shouldn’t I submit myself freely to such a similar severe discipline and self-denial to serve the Lord Jesus in a way He is worthy of? When we Christians would surrender ourselves with as many efforts as the Greek athlete, to a life of isolation, how much power and blessing would our life reflect to the honor and glory of God?

A competition also clarifies that there are competitors. Paul was very aware of the opposition in his race. In his letter to the Philippians he also writes about that (Philippians 3:14) you can picture it before you: Paul flashes through the race-track. He forgets everything behind him, because looking back for a moment, can be fatal. In that way he runs off to the purpose.

Paul doesn’t mean here that we should not think about the sins we committed formerly, although they are forgiven now. The sins from the past have to keep us humble. He thinks here about his service for Christ. Therefore he certainly does not lean back complacently in an easy chair and glorify himself for everything he has done. He hasn’t reached the goal yet and therefore he runs off to it.

The first verses of Hebrews 12 shows the same picture (Hebrews 12:1-Exodus :). Paul sees the mobs that populate the stadium, while the athletes prepare themselves for the race. Everything that could be of hindrance to devote maximum effort has to be put aside. The Christian also has to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin”. You still might have things in your life of which you know that you should settle. They trouble your conscience like a burden. Make sure that you get rid of this burden. You should confess certain sins you might still have in your life and which you haven’t abandoned yet. Confess them! Then you will be able to continue the race unhindered. And thereby look unto Jesus continuously.

1 Corinthians 9:26. The latter brings you back to this verse in 1 Corinthians 9. What is mentioned there is also important to bear in mind. I hope the final goal of the race is clear to you. You know, to speak once again in terms of Philippians 3, in which direction you walk (Philippians 3:14). Otherwise you look like a racing cyclist who got disjoined from the platoon and because of that lost his way. He cycles as fast he could to join the platoon again, but in the wrong direction. That is a waste of energy!

Like the one who is boxing Paul talks about, who beats in the air. He pulls out to deal a hard blow, but the opponent avoids him nimbly. The blow becomes a wasted effort and the power behind it dissolves in the void without any effect on the opponent. A Christian should be directed on his target and should be conscious of that target.

Finally the prize, because that is what it is all about. The Lord Jesus has put crowns ready for Christians who have dedicated themselves fully to Him. He will dispense those crowns when we will be with Him. Can you imagine a more precious reward than that He would say to us: “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21)?

1 Corinthians 9:27. There is another thing why Paul is that fully committed to preaching the gospel: he doesn’t want to be disqualified himself, after having preached to others. He would have become disqualified if he would have only preached, without having lived a life accordingly. He didn’t want to be someone who could just tell a nice story with a message for others to sacrifice everything, while he himself lives an easy-going life. Therefore he applies to himself what he just said about the athletes.

Literally it says that he beats his body. With that he refers to the heavy training as a preparation for the Games. Paul submitted himself to a tremendous self-discipline. The word ‘disqualified’ doesn’t mean that Paul could perish. It indicates that a person, who truly loves the Lord Jesus and sincerely wants to live for his Lord, is aware of his responsibility. Such a person would do everything to reflect in his life Whom he lives for. A person who is only a Christian by name, or formally, will not be able to do that. That will be paid attention to in the first part of the next chapter.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:22-27 again.

Reflection: How is your training schedule?

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Corinthians 9". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-corinthians-9.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.