Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

[False or factional teachers coming to Corinth expected to be supported by the church according to the usual custom, but were hampered by the example of Paul, who had taken nothing for his services. To justify themselves and to discredit Paul, some of them appear to have gone so far as to deny Paul’s appointment as an apostle, and to use his failure to demand wages as an evidence of their assertion. They argued that he knew he was not an apostle, and so forbore through shame to ask an apostle’s pay. To settle this controversy, the Corinthians asked some such question as this: "Explain why, being an apostle, you did not take the wages due you as such." Paul begins his answer with four questions which show both surprise and indignation.] Am I not free? [All free men were entitled to wages for work done. Only slaves worked without compensation. See 1 Corinthians 9:19] Am I not an apostle? [and so more entitled to wages than an ordinary, less approved Christian teacher.] Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? [Apostles were to be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32; Acts 10:4), and so it was necessary that they should have seen the risen Christ. But Paul had seen more; on the way to Damascus, not only the risen, but the glorified, Christ had appeared to him. This was Paul’s first proof of apostleship.] Are not ye my work in the Lord? [The presence of a church in Corinth, having in it Christians converted by Paul and living in the Lord, was the second proof of his apostleship. Such work could not be done by impostors-- Matthew 7:15-20]

Verse 2

If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. [An argumentum ad hominem. Whatever Paul might be in the estimation of Judaizers and enemies, he must still be held as an apostle by those who owed their spiritual life to him, for if he were no apostle, they were no Christians, and vice versa. As the seal vouched for the genuineness and validity of the document to which it was attached, so these Corinthian converts by their existence vouched for Paul’s apostleship.]

Verse 3

My defence to them that examine me is this. [This verse refers to what precedes it. It means that when called to defend his apostleship, Paul would point to the presence of a church of his established in Corinth as his answer. A similar answer had satisfied the other apostles (Galatians 2:6-10) Thus having proved his apostleship, Paul proceeds to discuss the rights and privileges appurtenant to it.]

Verse 4

Have we no right to eat and to drink? [are we not entitled to be fed by the church?]

Verse 5

Have we no right to lead about [in our constant journeyings] a wife that is a believer [i. e., a lawful wife; it was unlawful to marry an unbeliever-- 2 Corinthians 6:14-16], even as the rest of the apostles [this passage creates a fair presumption that at least the majority of the apostles were married], and the brethren of the Lord [For their names see Matthew 13:55 . For their relation to Jesus, see "Fourfold Gospel," pp. 119, 224-226], and Cephas? [This apostle was married (Matthew 8:14); yet Catholics claim him as the first pope. If all these apostles were allowed maintenance for themselves and their wives, Paul had equal right to demand that the church support his wife had he chosen to marry.]

Verse 6

Or I only and Barnabas [Though not one of the twelve, he is called an apostle (Acts 14:14), for he was a messenger or apostle of the Holy Spirit, and of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:2) and was associated with Paul (Galatians 2:9). His name was illustrious enough at Corinth to give countenance to Paul’s course. If Barnabas and Paul wrought out their self-support to be nobly independent, did their voluntary sacrifice of rights abolish those rights, or prove that they never existed? This late reference to Barnabas is interesting, for it shows that he was still at work and was still loved of Paul despite their disagreement concerning John Mark. Having thus proved his right to maintenance by the example of other church leaders, Paul now goes on to give an argument in six heads showing that the practice of these leaders was wholly lawful and proper. First argument: Wages for service is the rule in all employment; in proof of this, three instances are cited, the soldier, the vine-dresser, the shepherd], have we not a right to forbear working?

Verse 7

What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? [In the East, vine-dressers and shepherds are still thus paid in kind. Work without wages would foster rascality, and it is therefore an unhealthy principle to use in church matters. Second argument: The law of Moses allowed wages for work.]

Verse 8

Do I speak these things after the manner of men? or saith not the law also the same? [Paul asks these two questions to show that while he has appealed to human authority, he has also divine authority for the principle which he asserts.]

Verse 9

For it is written in the law of Moses [Deuteronomy 25:4], Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. [Grain in the East has never been threshed by machinery. Though flails are used, it is usually threshed out by oxen. These are driven over it to tramp out the grain, and they sometimes draw a small sled or threshing instrument after them. The law forbade the muzzling of an ox thus employed, and in the East this law is still obeyed.] Is it for the oxen that God careth,

Verse 10

or saith he it assuredly for our sake? Yea, for our sake it was written: because he that ploweth ought to plow in hope, and he that thresheth, to thresh in hope of partaking. [Those fond of carping and caviling have attempted to use this passage to prove that Paul asserts that God does not care for animals. Such a view is abundantly contradicted by Scripture (Job 38:41; Psalms 147:9; Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:24). Paul’s meaning is clear. In giving the law, God’s proximate design was to care for oxen, but his ultimate design was to enforce the principle that labor should not go unrewarded; that each workman might discharge his task in cheerful expectation that he would receive wages for his employment. Paul asserts that God does not legislate for oxen and forget men. It is an argument a minori ad magnus, such as Christ himself employed (Matthew 6:26-30) Third argument: The law of exchange demands an equivalent for value received.]

Verse 11

If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things? [What was earthly support in comparison with the riches of the gospel? If Paul had demanded his full carnal recompense, it would have been a meager compensation for blessings and benefits which can never be weighed in dollars and cents. Fourth argument: The concessions which you have made in supporting others having inferior claims debar you from thus denying apostolic claims.]

Verse 12

If others partake of this right over you, do not we yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right; but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. [Since Paul had left Corinth, other teachers had been supported by the church, and this stopped them from denying Paul’s right to support. The apostle had not used this right, for to do so would have hindered him in planting the church. It would retard the progress of any movement to demand salaries under it before demonstrating that it was either beneficent or necessary. To have demanded maintenance subsequently would have given Paul’s enemies a chance to impugn his motives, and say that he labored for earthly gain. Fifth argument: Priests, whose office, like the apostolic, is purely sacred, are universally maintained by sharing in the sacrifices which they offer.]

Verse 13

Know ye not that they that minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple [the offerings, etc.], and they that wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar? [Numbers 18:8-13; Deuteronomy 8:1 . Sixth argument: Christ himself ordained that ministers should be supported by those whom they serve.]

Verse 14

Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel. [Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7 . This precept was all which Paul needed to urge. He no doubt elaborated this argument that the Corinthians might be fully convinced that he was perfectly aware of his rights at the time when he waived them. The apostle next sets forth more fully why he preferred to support himself rather than receive compensation from the churches.]

Verse 15

But I have used none of these things [i. e., these rights]: and I write not these things that it may be so done in my case [Paul had a right to receive wages for his labor, and this right was guaranteed both by the customs of the people and the law of Moses; he also had a right to some recompense as an equivalent for the blessings which he bestowed. Moreover, he had a right to receive as fair treatment as that bestowed upon others. Again, he had a right as a man engaged in sacred affairs to be paid by those who enjoyed his services, and lastly as a minister of Christ, the law of Christ, demanded that he be supported. Paul had urged none of these rights, nor did he now assert them that he might shame the Corinthians for their neglect or prepare them to change their conduct toward him when he visited them as he intended]; for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. [So far from desiring pay from the Corinthians, he preferred to die rather than receive it, for to do so would deprive him of the glory and joy of preaching the gospel without earthly reward. By denying himself wages, Paul obtained free access to all men, and could found new churches. He gloried in the salvation of souls and in the honoring of Christ.]

Verse 16

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.

Verse 17

For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship intrusted to me. [He was commanded to preach the gospel. He could not glory therefore in doing it, for he did not do it of his own free will or choice (however cheerfully and willingly he might do it), but because it was a stewardship which he was obliged to discharge (Luke 17:10). Had he been free to preach the gospel or not, he might have gloried in preaching it. But as it was, he had to seek glory elsewhere.]

Verse 18

What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel. [He found his reward in the happiness of preaching the gospel without charge, and in the feeling that as a steward he had not used his privileges to the full, and so was far from abusing them. Paul so loved those whom Christ called that he counted it a privilege to be permitted to serve them gratuitously. But such a course is not without danger to the church-- 2 Corinthians 12:13]

Verse 19

For though I was free from all men [and therefore had a right to demand wages of them and ignore their prejudices], I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. [Here was yet another joy which he found in preaching a free gospel. His spirit of self-sacrifice won the confidence of the people, and enabled him to make a larger number of converts. Though entitled to wages as a free man he preferred to work as a slave for nothing, accounting the additional disciples which he thus made as a more acceptable hire than his maintenance. Moreover, after the manner of a slave, he had adjusted himself to the prejudices and idiosyncrasies of each class which he served as far as he innocently could; that, by having a larger measure of their confidence and good-will, he might be able to win a larger number to Christ. He now describes this part of his service.]

Verse 20

And to the Jews I became as a Jew [not a Jew, but like one], that I might gain Jews [Paul observed the Jewish distinction as to meat (1 Corinthians 8:13); and performed their rites as to vows (Acts 21:26); and honored their feasts (Acts 20:16); and classed himself among their Pharisees (Acts 23:6); and even had circumcision administered (Acts 16:3), where it did not interfere with the liberty of Gentiles (Galatians 2:3-5). All these were innocent concessions to and harmless compliances with the law. Though Paul was under no obligation to conform his conduct to the prejudices of others, he waived his own predeliction in all matters that were indifferent; but his unbending, unyielding loyalty in all matters of principle was so well known that he does not deem it necessary to state that he never surrendered or sacrificed a single truth or right for any cause]; to them that are under the law [This expression includes proselytes as well as Jews. To these also Paul made harmless concessions], as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

Verse 21

to them that are without law [pagans and Gentiles-- Romans 2:12], as without law [Romans 6:14 . He did not seek to enforce the laws of Moses among the Gentiles, as did the Jews, and he refrained from insulting heathens in their beliefs (Acts 19:37), and dealt gently with their prejudices-- Acts 17:30], not being without law to God [for the Gentiles themselves were not wholly without such law-- Romans 2:14-15], but under law to Christ [Paul did not forget his obligations to the moral law, nor his duty to the will of Christ. Though behaving himself as a Jew in Jerusalem in things indifferent, he rebuked Peter openly for playing the Jew in Antioch in matters of principle (Galatians 2:11-21). Peter knew better-- Acts 15:10], that I might gain them that are without law.

Verse 22

To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak [The preceding chapter is the best comment on this passage. Paul was uniformly self-sacrificing and patient with those who were overscrupulous]: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. [With untiring zeal for the salvation of souls, Paul accommodated himself to all the shapes and forms of character which he met, if he could do so without sin-- 1 Corinthians 10:33; 2 Timothy 2:10]

Verse 23

And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof. [He made every sacrifice for the success of the gospel, that he might share with other successful apostles and evangelists in its triumphs and blessings (John 4:36). He recommends to others a like spirit of abstinence and sacrifice, and to illustrate the necessity and utility of such a course he draws some comparisons between those who run the Christian race, and the athletes who competed for the prizes in the Grecian games. The Corinthians were familiar with the ways and customs of these athletes, for one of the great race-courses lay in the immediate vicinity of Corinth, and at this time it was the most noted in Greece, having even surpassed the Olympic in its popularity. It was held triennially. Parts of its stadium are still seen as one goes from Corinth to Athens.]

Verse 24

Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? [Philippians 3:12-14] Even so run; that ye may attain. [In the Greek contests there was but one prize for each group of contestants, and that was awarded to the winner. But the Christian race is not competitive: each may win a prize, but he does so by contending with his own sinful nature. He must run faithfully, earnestly and continuously if he would win in the race against his lower self.]

Verse 25

And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. [As Paul denied himself that the gospel might not be hindered, so each athlete, whether he intended to run, wrestle or fight, pursued a course of training and abstinence that was painful, protracted and severe, in order that no fatty tissues or depleted muscles might hinder him in his struggle for victory.] Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. [For this worthless, withering symbol of victory, men made measureless sacrifice. For the incomparably better and fadeless crown of eternal life, how cheerfully Christians should deny and discipline themselves-- 1 Peter 5:4]

Verse 26

I therefore [realizing the value of that for which I contend] so run, as not uncertainly [without doubt or hesitation. Paul felt sure of the course which led to the goal, and certain as to the reward which he would attain when the race was over-- 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8]; so fight I, as not beating the air [The allusion here is to the boxer who, in blind confusion, strikes wide of the mark, and misses his antagonist. For an instance of vain effort similarly expressed, see 1 Corinthians 14:9; Virgil’s Æneid 5:446]:

Verse 27

but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage [The body, being, as it is in part, the seat and organ of sin, has become the Biblical term to express our whole sinful nature (Romans 8:13). Paul found in this old sinful man with its corrupt affections an ever-present antagonist. He ran no uncertain race with his body, realizing that God would give him the victory if he ran his best. He fought no uncertain fight with it, but so smote it as to bring it into subjection. By smiting he does not mean literal flagellation, self-torture or even fasting, but he means that he subdues his nature by denying its lusts (Colossians 3:5), and that he employed his body in noble labor, with all self-denial and self-sacrifice, for the good of others-- 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 11:23-33]: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. [The word translated "preached" means literally to "proclaim as a herald." It is the word used in the New Testament to describe the preaching of the gospel, and so the reader is at liberty to follow the English version, and drop the metaphor of which Paul has been making use. If he does this, then Paul tells him literally that even he had fears that he might fall from grace, and therefore daily worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) But if "preached" be translated "acted or proclaimed as herald," then Paul conveys to us the same thought metaphorically. It was the duty of the herald to move up and down the lists and proclaim aloud the laws of the contests, the names of the contestants, victors, etc. These laws said in brief that no slave, thief, or man of bad morals, would be admitted as a contestant. Thus construed, Paul expresses a fear lest having laid down the gospel terms of salvation to others, he himself should be rejected for having failed to comply with the very rules which his own mouth had proclaimed (Luke 19:22; Romans 2:1-3). While it was not customary for heralds to be contestants, such a thing was not impossible, for the emperor Nero once played both parts. He was combatant, victor, and herald to proclaim his own triumphs. The metaphors of Paul, like the parables of Jesus, caused the scenes of daily life to suggest great spiritual truths to those who beheld them.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.