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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-27

Paul’s Good Example (9:1-27)

Paul now points to his own example, not about this particular problem—he seems to feel enough has been said about it already —but about a larger problem, showing how this principle works out in a more important matter than beefsteaks. As we would put it today, this is the question of the minister’s salary. Those were early days when precedents were being made. The economic side of the New Testament story is one we overlook because it is so seldom mentioned. But all these saints, apostles, and martyrs had to live. Somehow they had to have money for groceries. Where did it come from? Few if any of the apostles were well-to-do. From all the hints we have in the New Testament, it would appear that the traveling apostles lived by freewill offerings from the people in the various churches. Paul defends this practice in 9:1-12a. He has not changed the subject; he is still on the basic issue: Can a "right"—that is to say, a permissible, approved, correct, harmless act—still be wrong? Is a Christian sometimes obliged, for the sake of others, to refrain from doing what would be, for him, a good act? Paul has shown that the Christian is al­ways bound to think of the effect of his act on others, and has applied this principle to the problem of the dubious beefsteaks. Now he takes an example from his own practice as a traveling preacher. He has a perfect right, he says, to do what the other missionaries do. Cephas (Peter) and others accept money not only for their own expenses but for their wives as well (9:3-6). He draws a parallel from other fields of work: the worker can expect to be paid from the business itself (9:7-12). He points out especially that the priests of the Temple get their living from the Temple offerings (9:13). Finally he brings up a directive from the Lord Jesus himself, who when sending out the Twelve told them to expect that the places where they would stay would sup­ply food and lodging (9:14; see Luke 10:7-8).

And yet, though to accept his support from the Church would be right, and in fact just what Christ commanded, Paul will not use his right. He wants to "make the gospel free of charge" (9:18). Paul no doubt knew, what many ministers since his time have discovered, that there are people both outside and inside the Church who have a suspicion that the minister has to say what he says because he is paid to say it. Paul would rather be in a position where everyone would know that he never received a penny from any man. "Whose bread I eat, his song I sing," runs an old proverb that Corinth would have understood. Paul wanted to make it very clear, by supporting himself with his own hands (by tentmaking, as is well known), that the bread he ate was his own, and his song was his own. To be sure, he did feel a strong obligation to preach (9:16), but it was a different kind of ne­cessity from a bread-and-butter one. His main driving interest was to "persuade men," as he put it elsewhere. "I do it all for the sake of the gospel" (9:23).

Some modern writer has said that the minute a man insists on comfort he has given up his independence. Paul renounced com­fort for the sake of independence. He does not claim it was easy. The language he uses in 9:25-27 shows that it has been a fight.

All the pictures of early Christians make them look thin. Well, they were thin. Paul’s body no doubt cried out for food and rest that were not possible. But Paul said, "I pommel my body and subdue it"; he would treat it as his slave rather than be himself his body’s slave.

Paul says in 9:27 that he pommels (beats on) and subdues his body lest he himself "should be disqualified." Does he mean he does not feel assured of his own salvation? The Greek word which is translated "disqualified" means literally "rejected," "dis­approved." It does not mean eternally lost. Paul wanted to be more than barely saved; he wanted the "Well done!" of the Mas­ter. The whole sweep and swing of Paul’s letter shows that he really had no doubt of his own salvation. Christ had died for him, he was sure. What he does at times feel anxious about is whether God approves him, whether he is one of God’s honored servants or only a tolerated one. Paul wants not only personal approval, he wants also God’s high rating for his work. A person may be a true Christian by intention and yet do mighty sloppy work for the Lord. Paul did not want to be one of those people.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-corinthians-9.html.
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