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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 9

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Verse 1

1Co 9:1

1 Corinthians 9:1

Am I not free?—He had just said that those who had “knowledge” should be ready to surrender their rights for the good of the “weak.” He now shows them that in matters which affected his whole life he had himself been governed by this rule. He was free and could have claimed that those to whom he preached should support him, but he deemed it wise to waive that right, and in so doing he subjected himself to great hardships and privations. (See Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9).

am I not an apostle?—Some one had gained an influence in the church at Corinth, who, in seeking to destroy Paul’s influ­ence, denied that he was an apostle. As he had refused to re­ceive help of the church at Corinth while among them, this question indicates that they had made the facts—that he was not married and would not receive support—reasons for say­ing he was not an apostle. He had performed works in their midst which none but the apostles did. He says: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Corinthians 12:12). These signs have been wrought in their midst and he refers to them as evidence of his claims.

An idea has prevailed that Apollos was at the head of the opposition to Paul; that some of the parties at Corinth claimed to be “of Apollos” is made the ground of this conclu­sion. But this is incorrect, for the relations between Paul and Apollos were cordial. (1 Corinthians 16:12).

have I not seen Jesus our Lord?—Paul had not seen and learned of Jesus when in the flesh as the other apostles had. This difference he himself recognized and made mention of it on several occasions. But he had seen Jesus even as he ap­peared to the twelve after his resurrection. After having recounted these appearances, he specifies with solemn emphasis, “And last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). [This manifestation of the risen and glorified Lord, which was vouchsafed to him on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:17), placed him on a level, in regard to this important particular, with the twelve.]

are not ye my work in the Lord?—He had been instrumen­tal in converting them to Christ. He says: “For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fa­thers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15).

Verses 1-3

1Co 9:1-3


1 Corinthians 9:1-3

1 Corinthians 9:1 This verse is made up of four rhetorical questions, each demanding an affirmative answer. Am I not an apostle? - Yes. He had opened the letter with the claim that he was a called apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1) writing to called saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). While his apostleship had evidently been questioned, and while he was not one ofthe original 12, he had been divinely called (Acts 9:15-17; Acts 9:27; Acts 22:14-15; 2 Corinthians 12:12), or as he put it, "as of one born out of due season" (1 Corinthians 15:8). am I not free? - Yes. Free as opposed to slavery. As a free man he had the right to de­ mand wages. But he was also free from sin and thus free to preach the gospel to others at his own expense if he so desired. This was a matter of personal choice. While he could rightly lay claim to support from the church, he also had the liberty to earn his livelihood by working with his own hands. have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Yes. To be an apostle and a witness of the resurrection it was necessary for him to have seen the Lord after He arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:8; Acts 1:22). Paul may have seen Jesus while He lived in the flesh and walked among men, but if so, this has no reference to such. This means that he had seen the risen Christ. It thus has reference to the Damascus road experience (Acts 9:22; Acts 9:26) and perhaps to subsequent appearances. are not ye my work in the Lord? - Yes. The fact that they were Christians was the result of his work. That is, they were the spiritual workmanship of his apos­ tolic commission. He had preached to them (Acts 18) the gospel he had received from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23). They had been converted by his preaching. This meant that if he were a false apostle then they were false Christians. The truth of the message they had believed and obeyed depended upon the genuineness of his apostleship.

1 Corinthians 9:2 If I be not an apostle unto others, - If I am not an apostle to other people (Goodspeed). He was an apostle, and how others felt about it did not change the fact. But there were those who did not recognize his apostleship. His thought is that even if others did not recognize him as an apostle, the Corinthians should. yet doubtless I am to you: - I certainly am to you (Williams). There was no logical way they could question his apostleship and still maintain the genuineness of their Christian faith. for the seal of mine apostleship - You are my certificate of apostleship (BV). They were living proof, authentication, of his apostolic preaching, just as circumcision was the seal of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:11). He did the work of an apostle among them (2 Corinthians 12:12; d. Romans 15:18-19). As a consequence they were in Christ through obedience to his message. This means essentially the same as them being his work in the Lord (v. 1). are ye in the Lord. - His apostleship was the means by which they were permitted to hear, believe, and obey the truth ­ that is, their being in the Lord, their spiritual standing before Him, depended upon Paul’s apostolic commission.

1 Corinthians 9:3 Mine answer to them that do examine me - My defense to those who examine me (NASV). This is the argument by which he vindicated himself before those who sat in judgment of his apostleship. That is, he pointed to the church as his proof (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). If it was a true church then he was truly an apostle. Their spirituality was derived from and depended upon his apostolic office. is this, - The argument which precedes or that which follows. It may refer to either one. The KJV ties it to what follows. But it seems more likely to me that it ties to vv. 1-2, as Beck translates it, "That’s how I defend myself toward those who examine me."

Verse 2

1Co 9:2

1 Corinthians 9:2

If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; If others should reject him as an apostle, how could they, since they were the fruit of his labor as an apostle? They were the seal of his apostleship. “He dwelt there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11), and he built a larger church there than he had built at any other place. His claims to be an apostle had been accompanied by miracles, and they had believed on the evidence given through these of God’s presence with him. Now to deny that he was an apostle would be to say that God had en­abled one to work miracles and wonders who made false claims, or to admit that the miracles and wonders on which their faith rested had not been performed. They above all others could not question his apostleship.

for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.— [A seal is that which is affixed to a deed, or other instrument to make it sure and indisputable. The Corinthian church itself is rep­resented as such a seal of his apostleship. After their conver­sion he had bestowed on many of them gifts of the Holy Spirit in such abundance that they were inferior to no church whatever. (1 Corinthians 1:5-7; 2 Corinthians 12:13).]

Verse 3

1Co 9:3

1 Corinthians 9:3

My defence to them that examine me is this.—When any of his opponents undertook to question him as to his apostle­ship, he answered that he had seen the Lord Jesus, and that he had set his seal upon his commission by the success which had crowned his labors. This answer satisfied Peter, James, and John, who gave to him the right hands of fellowship, seeing to him had been committed the apostleship to the Gen­tiles. (Galatians 2:8-9).

Verse 4

1Co 9:4

1 Corinthians 9:4

Have we no right to eat and to drink?—[Having proved his apostleship, he now proves his right to be maintained by those among whom he labored.]

Verses 4-6

1Co 9:4-6


1 Corinthians 9:4-6

1 Corinthians 9:4 Have we not power to eat and to drink? - The first of three questions in this section which, as rendered by the KJV, demand an affirmative response. However, they may be translated (as Lenski does) so as to require a negative answer_ But regardless of how they are worded, the point is clear that the Corinthians must concede that Paul had a lawful right to eat and drink, to lead about a wife, and to forbear working. To eat and drink here is not the food of chapter 8, but rather the right to have his livelihood supplied by the church or those who benefited from his preaching - the right to live at the church’s expense (1 Corinthians 9:7-14). It seems that the objectors had argued that Paul could not be an apostle because he did not take support as did other apostles.

1 Corinthians 9:5 Have we not power -Do not we have the right (BV). to lead about To take along (NASV). He not only had the right to support for himself, it was a right to sufficient support for a wife and family who might accompany him in his work. a sister, - A believer; a Christian. a wife, - Wife is in apposition to sister, hence, a believer who is a wife. This establishes the fact beyond question that an apostle, or any other worker in the church, had a divine right to marry and a divine obligation to supply the needs of his family. One may choose not to exercise this right, as did Paul, but it is presumption of the highest sort for others, whether it be man or church, to bind celebacy on an apostle, preacher, missionary, or anyone else. It is one thing for one to choose the single life (ct. chapter 7), but something entirely different for man or church to bind it on him as a human law necessary to be obeyed in order to please God. One of the marks of apostasy is forbidding of marriage (1 Timothy 4:1-3). I doubt that Paul meant to say that an apostle (and consequently anyone else who spends his time in service to the church) would not have a right to take along a wife who was an unbeliever, providing he had married her before he became an apostle. It seems to me that an unbeliever might receive indirect support through her husband, who is supported by the church, but she could not be supported directly in the work (which she would not be involved in anyway). But surely no apostle, preacher, missionary, or others who devote their full time to the Lord’s work would consider marrying an unbeliever or a non-Christian. Paul’s point is simply that he had the right to take a believing wife with him with the full expectation that she would be supported by what he received from the church, since she would be a partner in the work. as well as other apostles, Other apostles were supported by the church who had wives. and as the brethren of the Lord, - The four fleshly brothers (actually half-brothers) of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56). At first they did not believe in Him (John 7:5), but now they were active leaders in the church (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). and to forbear working? A right to refrain from working (NASV). To rephrase the question to comform with the previous ones (vv. 4-5): Do we, Barnabas and I, not have the right to forbear or refrain from working? Yes. They, as fully devoted workers, did have that right. Because they had chosen to earn their own livelihood (Acts 18:3), because they exercised a right that was theirs Cephas? Peter. But why single out Peter? Perhaps the HS looked down through time and saw the human and false system of Roman Catholicism which claims Peter as its first pope and yet denies marriage to all its clergy, including the pope. He made certain that none could deny that Peter was married. He had both a wife and a mother-in-law during the time of Christ (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31). Here he is still leading her about. Thus Peter could not be a pope now and he certainly was not one then.

1 Corinthians 9:6 Or I only and Barnabas, Or is it Barnabas and I alone (Williams)? That is, were Paul and Barnabas the only ones who, as Robertson (WP) puts it, "Do not have ... the right not ... to do manual labor." have not we power (vv. 4-5 and the notes there), did not in any way argue against Paul’s apostleship. He had a right to be supported by the church, but he had opted to forego that right and to exercise another right - the right to support himself. This whole section (vv. 4-6) strongly implies that the other apostles were being fully supported by the church.

Verse 5

1Co 9:5

1 Corinthians 9:5

Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, [He answered those who called in question his apostleship, on the ground that he had no wife neither did he receive a support from those among whom he labored, by informing them that, while he and Barnabas had the right to do so, they did not avail themselves of these privileges as a matter of choice.]

even as the rest of the apostles,—These had wives who ac­companied them in their work, and he and Barnabas had the same right. [This passage certainly leads to the conclusion that most of the apostles, if not all, were married men; that all had the privilege of having themselves and their wives main­tained by the churches.]

and the brethren of the Lord,— [The brethren of the Lord were “James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas.” (Matthew 13:55). Various and ingenious suppositions have been made as to who these were. Some have endeavored to prove that they were the cousins of Jesus; others that they were the sons of Joseph by a former marriage. These views have been fos­tered by those who have endeavored to establish the perpetual virginity of Mary. But the natural conclusion from a study of what is said in the Gospels, without preconceived prejudice, would be that Joseph and Mary lived together as husband and wife after the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus, and that these sons were born unto them. This conclusion is sup­ported by the use of the words: “She brought forth her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7); “And knew her not till she had brought forth a son” (Matthew 1:25); “before they came to­gether” (Matthew 1:18); and the repeated mention of them in connection with his mother Mary (Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).]

and Cephas?—[This statement and the account of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38) is conclusive proof that he was a married man.]

Verse 6

1Co 9:6

1 Corinthians 9:6

Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?—Not only had they the right to marry if they saw fit, but they had a right to forbear laboring with their hands for support and to call on the brethren to support them in the work to which they were called. [The word “only” here im­plies that the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord ex­ercised their right to be maintained by the church.]

Verse 7

1Co 9:7

1 Corinthians 9:7

What soldier ever serveth at his own charges?—The sol­dier had a right to receive support from those whom he served. This was a matter of common equity; and on this principle all acted who enlisted as soldiers. So then any man who goes into the world to fight for Jesus is entitled to his support from those to whom he renders service.

who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? Any man that plants a vineyard is entitled to the fruit of the vineyard he planted.

or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?—Any man that feeds a flock is entitled to the milk of that flock. In all this he asserts the right of those who labor for the church of God to live by that labor. He is entitled to a living for the work he does. If he does not labor in his call­ing, he is not entitled to it, for “if any will not work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Verses 7-14

1Co 9:7-14


1 Corinthians 9:7-13

1 Corinthians 9:7 This verse contains three more rhetorical questions, each demanding the answer, none. Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? That is, who serves in the armed forces of his country at his own expense? None. who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof?--Who dresses and keeps a vineyard without eating of its fruit? None. or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk (NIV)? None. No soldier serves without pay. No farmer grows a crop without eating from it, either directly or by ex­ change. A shepherd does not tend the flock without partaking of the product of the flock. The workman is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:8). If a job done is not worth the workman’s compensation, it is a job not worth doing. But preaching the gospel is the most vital, the most important, work in the world. No one should therefore conclude that a preacher worthy of his vocation, who devotes himself to the up-building of God’s kingdom, should not be supported by the church.

1 Corinthians 9:8 Say I these things as a man? - Am I stating only a human rule (Beck)? Do I have no higher authority for saying this than my own judgment? No. This concept (the support of a preacher) has its origin with God and His divine law (v. 9). or saith not the law the same also? The law says it ­ that is, the principle is found in the law of Moses (v. 9). This may imply that some Jewish Christians were objecting to the support of workers from the church treasury.

1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, - Deuteronomy 25:4; d. 1 Timothy 5:18 where the same passage is applied to the support of elders who rule well. Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn--Oxen were used in various ways to tread or thresh out the grain, so that this expression undoubtedly became a picturesque proverb. Because the ox toiled hour after hour in the threshing process, it would be brutal to muzzle him and thus prevent him from eating of the product as he worked. Thomson observed when he wrote his book, "The command of Moses not to muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn is literally obeyed to this day by most farmers, and you often see the oxen eating from the floor as they go round. There are niggardly peasants, however, who do muzzle the ox - enough to show the need of the command; and Paul intimates that there were some such in the Church in his day" (The Land and the Book, VoL 1, pp. 153-154). This principle was taught to me as a boy. My dad was a tenant farmer. Our only means of livelihood was our share of the crops (which at times were extremely small) and a small amount derived from work on days when we were not tending the crops. Some of those working on the same farm would muzzle the horses to prevent them from eating the young tender corn. But Dad rarely did. And he quoted this v. as his reason for not doing so. Doth God take care for oxen? Is God thinking in terms of oxen alone? Did He speak this through Moses for the benefit of oxen alone or was it given for man’s benefit also? Of course, the principle involved was for man as well as for beast.

1 Corinthians 9:10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? Does he not speak en­ tirely for our sake? (RSV). What was the real reason for this law? Was it for the oxen alone or was it chiefly for man’s benefit? Obviously for man as well as for the oxen. We can therefore look for the principle involved and apply it to man. If an oxen is not to be banned from eating from its labor, how much more a worker in spiritual things? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written:--That is, the principle underlying the law is there mainly for our benefit. that he that ploweth should plow in hope; He ought to plow in the hope of partaking of the fruit of his labor. Who would plow if there was no hope of reap­ ing? and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. - And the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crop (NASV). As with planting, one must reap in hope of receiving from the product of his work. It is no different with apostles and preachers: they sow spiritual seed and it is natural, right, and Scriptural for them to live from the service they render (v. 11). While one has a personal right to forego this right, as Paul did, I doubt that the church, under ordinary circumstances, has a right to withhold his salary without his consent. If a man works for the church, the church is obligated to share its material things with him. But, of course, no one who does not work should be paid (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, That is, things pertaining to the Spirit. He had preached the gospel to them (sown the spiritual seed, the word of God, Luke 8:11) and thus enabled them to reap spiritual rewards, the salvation of their souls (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? Earthly or material things. The contrast is not between spiritual and sinful things but between the spiritual (which Paul had sown) and the material (support which he had a right to reap). Both reason and Scripture (1 Corinthians 9:7-10) taught that devoted workers had a right to receive material support from those who benefited spiritually from their sowing - from those who received the blessings of salvation as a result of their work. This was God’s will then; it is no different now.

1 Corinthians 9:12 If others be partakers of this power over you, - If others who have a lesser claim than Paul exercise this right of support. are not we rather? - Do not we yet more (ASV)? That is, do we not have a stronger claim on this right than they (v. 2)? Nevertheless we have not used this power; Paul had exercised his right not to be supported by the church. but suffer all things, We keep on bearing everything (Wiiliams). He bore the loss of not exercising his right plus the burden of supplying his own needs. lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. - Rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ (RSV). Rather than taking the support to which he was entitled and thus lay himself open to the charge of being a mercenary, a charge which would place a hindrance in the path of preaching the gospel, he had foregone his right to receive from them. In this, his motives were admirable (1 Corinthians 9:18) and the work he did was unsurpassed. Every preacher should mold his attitude after him. However, we should not use him as an example to keep from sustaining preachers who spend their time in promoting spiritual things. If a preacher wishes to support himself, that is his choice, and it is commendable, providing it does not hinder him in the work of reaching the lost. But his choice should by no means establish a precedent for all preachers to follow. Were this the case, preachers would deprive the churches from the great blessing of fellowship with them in the Lord’s work. When Ed Sewell was planning to go to Ecuador as the first missionary from churches of Christ from North America, he approached the church for which I was preaching and asked for financial help. I laid the plea before the leaders with my recommendation. They decided, however, to use the resources of the church closer to home. He raised the support from elsewhere and went on his journey. In a short while he had established 50 or 60 churches and baptized hundreds of people. I often reminded the church that we lost our chance to have fellowship in that great work and that others would receive the rewards that could have been ours. Every church should be, needs to be, and must be, if it pleases God, engaged in the support of preaching the gospel to the lost world. It is the right of the preacher (who does the work) to receive support; it is the obligation of the church to supply it.

1 Corinthians 9:13 Do ye not know - This introduces something they should know; it is public knowledge. that they which minister about holy things ­ Those (the priest and Levites) who worked in the temple under the OT system. live of the things of the temple? Eat the food of the temple (NASV). The Lord made provisions for those (and their families) who devoted their full time to service in the temple to eat of the things offered (Numbers 18:8-32; Deuteronomy 18:1-2). and they which wait at the altar - The priests who were constantly at­ tending the altar service. That is, those who were always there to make the sacrificial offerings. are partakers with the altar? - Share in the altar gifts (BV). Only a part of the sacrifice was burned; the remainder of it went to the priest and Levites for their support, to provide them food for themselves and their families (Numbers 18:8-32; Deuteronomy 18:1-2). Paul had shown that a soldier, farmer, and shepherd (v. 7) all lived from the product of their work. He now shows that, under the OT administration, those devoted to religious work also lived by the service they rendered. With all these illustrations before his readers, he is ready to state his indisputable conclusion (v. 14).

1 Corinthians 9:14 Even so - In the same way (RSV) or by the same rule. The same principle by which the priest ate from the gifts of the altar (v. 13), ministers of the gospel are to receive their livelihood from those who benefit from the preaching (the church). hath the Lord ordained Ordered (Beck), directed (BV), appointed (MacKnight), or commanded (NIV). Christ Himself appointed this as a principle that applied to His disciples when He sent them out on the limited commission (Matthew 10:9-14; Luke 10:5-10). No one who has submitted himself to the Lordship of Jesus could deny a principle taught by Him. Thus for Christians what follows is absolutely certain: that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. That is, wages should be supplied to them (by the church) just as wages are supplied to workers in other occupations by those who benefit from their labor (cf. Galatians 6:6).

1 Corinthians 9:7-14 Additional note:

McGarvey and Pendleton see this section as comprising six arguments why ministers should be supported by the church. They are: (1) Wages for services is the rule of all employment (1 Corinthians 9:7). (2) The law of Moses allowed wages for work (1 Corinthians 9:8-10). (3) The law of exchange demands an equivalent for value received (1 Corinthians 9:11). (4) The concessions which they had made in supporting others with inferior claims debarred them from denying apostolic claims (1 Corinthians 9:12). (5) Priests, whose office, like the apostolic, is purely sacred, are universally maintained by sharing in the sacrifice which they offer (1 Corinthians 9:13). (6) Christ Himself ordained that ministers should be supported by those whom they serve (1 Corinthians 9:14).

Verse 8

1Co 9:8

1 Corinthians 9:8

Do I speak these things after the manner of men? or saith not the law also the same?—It is not merely in accord­ance with human judgment of what is fitting that he lays down the principle that the laborer has a right to a living wage. There is a higher authority than that, for God had or­dained it in the law.

Verse 9

1Co 9:9

1 Corinthians 9:9

For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muz­zle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.—The ox when treading out the grain was allowed to eat what he needed while so doing.

Is it for the oxen that God careth,—[Certainly God cares for the ox. He had commanded the Israelites that when the harvest came, the ox, while treading out the corn which it had contributed to produce by the painful labor of plowing, should not be muzzled, and thereby prevented from enjoying, con­jointly with man, the fruit of its toil. God’s object in acting thus was evidently to cultivate in the hearts of his people feel­ings of justice and equity. This moral object appears not only from the prohibition itself, but also from all the other injunctions which accompany it—pay to the poor laborer his wages on the same evening; not to put the child to death with the guilty father; always to leave, when gathering the har­vest, a gleaning for widows and strangers; not to subject the criminal to more than forty stripes. (Deuteronomy 24:10 to Deuteronomy 25:4). This whole context shows clearly enough what the object of the prohibition was. It was not from solicitude for the ox that God made this prohibition; there were other ways for providing for his nourishment. By calling on the Israelites to exercise gentleness and gratitude, even to a poor animal, it is clear that God desired to impress on them, with stronger rea­son, the same way of acting toward the human workmen whose help they engaged in their labor. It was the duties of moral beings to one another that God wished to impress by this precept.]

Verse 10

1Co 9:10

1 Corinthians 9:10

or saith he it assuredly for your 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.—This was written to teach that those laboring in the service of the Lord were entitled to a living from those for whom they labored, whatever their labor might be. [So the good which such a provision as the law achieved for the oxen was nothing compared to the good which it accomplished for man. God did not do this simply as a provision for the ox, but to teach us that it is a divine principle that the laborer should have his reward.]

Verse 11

1Co 9:11

1 Corinthians 9:11

If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great mat­ter if we shall reap your carnal things?—If Paul and Barnabas had preached to them, fed their souls with spiritual food, it was not unreasonable that they should minister to their fleshly necessities.

Verse 12

1Co 9:12

1 Corinthians 9:12

If others partake of this right over you, do not we yet more?—These opponents of Paul had received support from them. Certainly if any one had the right to receive their support, Paul, who had labored to support himself and suffered to plan and build up the church in its weakness, was entitled to it.

Nevertheless we did not use this right;—He had not de­manded this of them, preferring to hold himself above suspi­cion as to his motives. It is common even yet that an earnest, faithful worker denies himself, plants the truth through self­denial, builds up a church, and then the church wishes a popu­lar man to entertain them, and they forget the self-sacrificing father, wound his feelings, and support in abundance a popu­lar young man, who perverts the truth their father in the gos­pel taught. Paul’s rebuke here applies to all such churches; but the men who allow themselves to be so used ought to be regarded as unworthy of countenance or support. Many young men ought to drink into Paul’s spirit—that he would not build on another man’s foundation—and seek destitute fields in which they can plant vineyards and live of their own planting, drink the milk of the flock they themselves have wa­tered and cared for.

but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.—While Paul had the right to this sup­port, he refused to accept it lest he should be suspected of seeking gain. He preferred to suffer and labor with his own hands, lest the gospel should be hindered by such suspicions against his character. [From this we should learn that our right to anything is of itself no sufficient reason for claiming it. We are bound by our relation to Christ to consider whether we shall most advance his cause by claiming or waiv­ing our rights.]

Verse 13

1Co 9:13

1 Corinthians 9:13

Know ye not that they that minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple,—God ordained in the temple service that those who administered in the temple should live from the offerings in the temple.

and they that wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar?—-Of the offerings and sacrifices brought to the tem­ple, certain portions were set apart for the priests and their helpers around the altar, and for their families. While serv­ing at the altar they must live of the offerings made.

Verse 14

1Co 9:14

1 Corinthians 9:14

Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.—As the priests who minis­tered about the holy things lived of the gifts made at the altar, so those who preach the gospel should receive their support out of the offerings made by the church, not of special dona­tions made to them while other work of the church suffers, as God ordained it. A failure to support the work of the church left the teacher to suffer.

Verse 15

1Co 9:15

1 Corinthians 9:15

But I have used none of these things:—Paul chose to use none of these privileges of a support to which he was entitled, lest by it he should hinder the gospel of Christ.

and I write not these things that it may be so done in my case;—-Neither did he write this to them that they should do so to him.

for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.—His glorying was that he might preach the gospel without receiving help from those to whom he preached.

Verses 15-18

1Co 9:15-18



1 Corinthians 9:15-18

1 Corinthians 9:15 But I - He speaks now of himself alone. have used none of these things: - Never used any of these rights (Williams). That is, he had not taken the assistance that would have supplied him with the necessary things of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter (see v. 12). neither have I written these things, The arguments in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 proving that the church was under obligation to support workers in the kingdom, including himself (had he not chosen to forego it). that it should be so done unto me: - This was not written in an effort to raise support for himself. It would have been easy for his enemies to use this to impugn his pure motives by saying that it was a strong hint for them to take up his financial support. (How many preachers have felt the force of this as they have taught the church its duty along these lines?) But not so. He was simply setting forth the truth on the matter and he would still forego his rights. for it were better for me to die, Death was preferable to the loss of his right of choice. (In the Greek the sentence is broken off here unfinished, which has led some to connect it to that which precedes rather than that which follows. If this is correct, it means that he would rather die (for lack of assistance) than to write for his own benefit. Goodspeed brings this out by rendering it, "And I am not writing this that I may become an illustration of this; I had rather die than do that." than that any man should make my glorying void. - Than let anyone deprive me of this, my source of pride (Moffett). The source or grounds of his glorying was that he had preached the gospel without charge (v. 18). He would rather die than to have the grounds of this honor taken away.

1 Corinthians 9:16 For - This connects what follows to 1 Corinthians 9:15. though I preach the gospel, - If I preach the gospel (ASV) as others do, receiving financial sup­ port for that service. While many others understand this differently, it seems to me that this best fits the context as well as Paul’s overall purpose. I have nothing to glory of: - If he had taken support for his preaching, as others had, he would have lost his grounds of glorying (see v. 15), a thing that was dearer to him than life itself. for necessity is laid upon me; - He did not preach for money, that is, for the financial benefits he had a right to receive, but because of an internal compulsion (d. Acts 26:16-19; Romans 1:14-16). This necessity should be pressed upon every preacher who occupies the pulpit. A man who will not preach without the assurance of financial remuneration is not fit to preach with it. God’s messenger must be so pressed upon him that he will preach when he is not paid as well as when he is ... and if necessary he will pay to preach. This does not mean that preachers should not be paid. Indeed not: for one would have to deny this whole chapter to deny them that right. But it does mean that their motives should be higher than the material things they have a right to expect from their work. yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! - Woe unto him if he did not preach ... and he could preach no message with heaven’s approval but the gospel, the glad tidings of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 2:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). What he is saying here is that he is constrained (both by his commission and his devotion to it) to preach the gospel and heaven’s curse, as well as that of his own conscience, will rest upon him if he does not.

1 Corinthians 9:17 For if I do this thing willingly, For if I do this of my own will (RSV). That is, if he had relinquished financial support voluntarily and thus accepted freely the hardships imposed thereby. In my judgment, this has no reference to preaching per se (as many commentators think) but rather to the motives back of surrendering his right to assistance. He surrendered that of his own will. I have a reward: - I have my pay (Goodspeed). His reward for preaching the truth without charge was the grounds of his glory (1 Corinthians 9:15), which was very dear to him and a great source of personal pride. Service pays its own rewards, and there are compensations worth far more than money. but if But if compulsory (BV). If the hardships imposed upon him by his choice had been forced upon him: a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. - I have a stewardship entrusted to me (ASV). If he had surrendered his support involuntarily - done it because duty demanded it he was still under obligation to discharge the trust committed to him as an apostle of Christ. Or as Beck renders it, "But if I don’t want to do it, I still have this work intrusted to me." So regardless of his motive for foregoing his support, whether voluntary or compulsory, his obligation to preach remained the same.

1 Corinthians 9:18 What is my reward then? - Having surrendered his right to sup­ port, what did he receive as compensation? Verily that, Just this (RSV). when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, - Preach the glad tidings of salvation without cost to those who heard it. The right to forego support was the source of his personal pride (1 Corinthians 9:15), and this conclusion (a conclusion stating, in my judgment, precisely what the whole section, 1 Corinthians 9:16-18, is teaching) makes it all but certain that my exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:16-17, admittedly difficult passages, is the correct one, even though 1 Corinthians 9:17 is incomplete in most texts of the original. that I abuse not my power in the gospel. That is, he refrained from (at least as far as the Corinthians were concerned) taking advantage of his right to be supported by the church. While no one should use Paul’s example to insist that preachers today forego their right to be supported, many who serve churches need to ask themselves if they are abusing (taking more than full advantage) this God-given right. We fear that many do by draining the brethren for every penny they can wring out of them, by earning large sums on the side, by demanding luxuries beyond reason, etc. It seems that some are more interested in salary than in opportunities to preach the soul-saving truth of the gospel. This is exactly opposite the disposition of the apostle, whose greatest concern was to reach the lost, and in order not to hinder his progress in preaching he was willing to forego all financial dues. Today it is different. The greatest concern of many modern preachers is that they fall short in nothing, as far as salary and benefits are concerned. They are willing to forego preaching to the lost in order to guarantee their creature comforts.

Verse 16

1Co 9:16

1 Corinthians 9:16

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me;—He had been a sinner in persecut­ing the church. God chooses men to do work because of their fitness to do it. Paul’s persecution of the church continually reminded him how he should as much as he could compensate for the injury he had done to it. So he felt in preaching and suffering all he could preach and suffer only what he ought to do to undo the former evil work. As he had made others suf­fer for it, he felt that he ought to bear and suffer to convert the world. Paul’s conscience was always tender, quick, alert to lead him to suffer as he had made others suffer.

for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.—As he had received mercy from God, he must proclaim the terms of mercy to others; hence he felt that woe would be unto him, if, after receiving so great mercy, he did not preach the mercy to others.

Verse 17

1Co 9:17

1 Corinthians 9:17

For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward:—If he preached cheerfully and willingly without support, a reward would be given him.

but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.—The stewardship was the responsibility of being an apostle to the Gentiles. And if he should fail to fill it, the re­sponsibility of the Gentiles dying without having the gospel preached to them would be his. And what a woe would have rested upon him had he failed in the discharge of his duty, [Since a steward was a slave, there is a great difference be­tween what he did in obedience to a command and what a man volunteers to do of his own accord. And this is the dif­ference to which Paul refers. The slave may feel honored by the command of his master, and obey him gladly, still it is but service. So “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1), was commanded to preach the gospel (Acts 26:16-21), and he did it with his whole heart; but he was not commanded to re­fuse support from those to whom he ministered while so doing.]

Verse 18

1Co 9:18

1 Corinthians 9:18

What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gos­pel, I may make the gospel without charge,—His reward or that which brought the reward was that he should preach the gospel without charge.

so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.—He was sensitive lest he should transcend and abuse his right of sup­port while preaching. So he refused it from those to whom he preached. His own persecution of the church in days past no doubt wrought upon his conscience and demanded that he should suffer for the gospel.

Verse 19

1Co 9:19

1 Corinthians 9:19

For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.—-[None had any claim on him because they maintained him; yet he re­duced himself to the condition of a servant, both by serving all men without requiring even maintenance from them and by complying with their prejudices in all cases where he could without violating God’s will. How he did this is explained in the following verses.]

Verses 19-23

1Co 9:19-23


1 Corinthians 9:19-23

1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I be free from all men, - He was not dependent upon anyone for his financial subsistence and no one could, therefore, control him. But this is not the whole story: yet have I made myself servant unto all, - I have enslaved myself to all (BV). This was a voluntary act on his part, not something that had been forced upon him (Mark 10:43-45). He had brought himself under bondage to preach the gospel to all, both high and low, bond and free, Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:14). And in doing so, he conformed (when he could do so without violating or compromising the truth) to them in their social customs, peculiar characteristics, and personal sentiments (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). His point is that he is bound to none as a result of financial support, but he is in voluntary bondage (a slave) to all by his indebtedness to preach glad tidings to them. that I might gain the more. - He became one with them in their customs, characteristics, and sentiments, thereby gaining their sympathy and confidence, that their hearts might be more readily receptive to the gospel he preached. Or as Vincent (WS) quotes Edwards as saying, "He refuses payment in money that he might make the greater gain in souls." That is, he became a slave to all that he might convert more than he could otherwise convert.

1 Corinthians 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, - The first of four ex­ amples of how he became all things to all men (v. 22). He was himself a Jew (Acts 22:3; Acts 26:5; Galatians 2:15; Philippians 3:3-6), but he had renounced the Jews’ religion for Christianity (Galatians 1:13-16; Acts 9:2-18). What he here says is that when he was among the Jews he followed their fashions, habits, and customs insofar as it involved indifferent matters. As examples, when among them he would not eat meat prohibited by the law (1 Corinthians 8:13); he circumcised Timothy so as not to offend them (Acts 16:3), and performed purifying rites in the temple (Acts 21:18-32). However, he could do this only as social or national customs, not as divine law. And when the two were confused, he drew the line, as in the case of Titus, whom he refused to circumcise because to do so would have been to compromise with those who were trying to bind the law on Christians (Galatians 2:2-5). Or as Lipscomb and Shepherd correctly observes: "Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess, he circumcised, because it was regarded as a concession. Titus he refused to circumcise, because it was demanded as a matter of obedience to the Mosaic law." There were many things Paul could do as social customs (e.g., washing the hands before eating, Matthew 15:2-9) or national law (e.g., observing the passover, Acts 20:16) that he could not do as a religious service to God. When Hudson Taylor, the world renowned missionary, went to China, he soon decided, as a matter of expediency in reaching the Chinese, to abandon his western style of dress. He thus cut his hair in their style, darkened it, put on satin shoes, and adopted the loose garments of their choosing as his wardrobe. His son and daughter-in-law, in writing his biography says, "Everything opened up after that in a new way." He had become all things to them that he might win the more (1 Corinthians 9:19). Paul could clearly distinguish between that which was custom and that which was rendered as a divine service to God; many moderns, including many Christians, cannot. that I might gain the Jews; He did not agitate their prejudices so as to close their minds against the truth of the gospel. to them that are under the law, The law of Moses. The second of four illustrations of how he became all things to all men. Although the law had been abolished as a religious code (2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-16), it still served as a civil law to the Christian Jews living in their homeland, and the non-Christians still considered it the law of both God and the land. Those who lived elsewhere were not under the law in any sense (although unbelieving Jews still considered it the law of God for them). as under the law, - When he was in Palestine he kept the law as a citizen of that country would keep it. Note: some texts add here: "Not being myself under the law" (ASV). That he was not bound by its religious codes. He did not live as under the law because the law was bound on him by God but as a voluntary act in concession to those who did live under it. that I might gain His stated purpose again: he did not need-

1 Corinthians 9:21 To those that are without law, The third illustration of how he became all things to all men. Those without law are the Gentiles (Romans 2:14), and he may include the Jews who are citizens of other countries who are not under the Mosaic law as a civil code no one, Jew or Gentile, is under the law religiously. as without law, - Without the law of Moses. That he did not observe it as a civil code when he was among the Gentiles. (being not without law to God, - He was not lawless. The law of Moses is not the only law God ever had. His moral law is always in effect and he revealed His will (His law to them) to Adam, Noah, and Abraham long before the law of Moses was given. but under the law to Christ,) - The new covenant law (Hebrews 8:6-13). While we ordinarily have little or no problem in seeing the law of Christ (the gospel or NT system) in contradistinction to the law of Moses (the OT system), the religious world around us cannot or does not make this distinction, and even those of us who do are as likely as not to see both systems as law systems, only the new as a superior one. Many deal with this dilemma by deny­ ing that the gospel is a law. But this will not do in view of Paul’s plain statement here and elsewhere (Romans 8:2; Galatians 6:2). The gospel is a law - it commands, prohibits, promises blessings, and imposes penalties. Those who violate it sin (1 John 3:4). We thus need to ask, "In what sense is the OT a system of law while the NT is a system of grace and when both are laws?" One way to illustrate this is by the means of justification. The OT is a system of law per se, a system by which no one can be justified (Romans 3:20); the NT is a system of grace, that is, it offers justification by means other than by law keeping per se. One can be justified by law only by never violating it or by paying the penalty in full. But no responsible person can live without violating the law. All have sinned (Romans 3:9; Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12). Thus all must pay the penalty. But the penalty is death, eternal death. No one can therefore pay the penalty and live. Thus it is impossible for one to be justified under a system of law. But the gospel offers a third means of justification, namely, the death of a substitute. Under the gospel all still sin, the penalty of sin is still death, and the penalty must be paid. But it is paid by another, the death of Christ on the cross. By this means the gospel offers forgiveness or justification without the violator personally paying the penalty (this the law could not do per se). The penalty is paid by the death of the only begotten Son of God. He died in the sinner’s stead. So when one sins under the gospel he has a propitiation for his sins (1 John 2:2). He can live because the price of sin, the penalty of death, has been paid by another, Jesus Christ the Lord. One appropriates that death to himself by obedience to the gospel (Romans 6:16-18; Hebrews 5:8-9; 1 Peter 1:22). Thus under the NT system one cannot be justified without obeying the gospel (God’s will or law for man in the Christian age). While it is true that we are not justified by obedience per se, there can be no justification without obedience. A failure to obey is to disobey. And certainly no law (not even the law of Christ) can view one justified who stands in open rebellion to it. Such is unthinkable. The death of Christ is the cause of justification; obedience is the means of it. Both are necessary. And one is not efficacious without the other. Thus the difference in the OT law and the NT law is the difference in having no means of pardon and in having the demands of law fully satisfied in the penalty being paid by another. that I might gain them that are without law. - His purpose: that he might give them no occasion to close their minds against his message.

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak - To the over scrupulous (Williams). For example, the Jews who had become Christians, no longer bound by the law, but whose con­ science still restricted them from eating meats prohibited by the law (see Romans 14 and my notes there) and those discussed in chapter 8 who could not eat meats sacrificed to idols, even when bought in the open market. This is the fourth and final illustration as to how he became all things to all men. became I as weak, - Among the weak, he became as over scrupulous himself. As in the case of meats, he would not eat out of respect for the conscience of those who could not eat (1 Corinthians 8:13). that I might gain the weak: - That he might gain them from their weak condition and put no stumbling block (d. 10:32) in their path of growth and acceptable service. I am made all things to all men, ­ As the four illustrations just given (1 Corinthians 9:20-22) demonstrates. See note on v. 19. that I might by all means save some. - See note on v. 19. His greatest desire was to win souls for the Lord. This meant more to him than to exercise his liberty in the trifling concessions he made in order to assure the gospel-free course to their hearts and thus to reach his ultimate goal of gaining them for Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, - I do it all for the sake of the gospel (RSV). He had surrendered his personal liberty in many things, had become all things to all men (v. 22), that the gospel might have free course. It was more important to him for the gospel to be preached than for his self­ interest to be maintained. He lived for Christ (Galatians 2:20) and that meant his whole being was devoted to the proclamation of the divine message, God’s power to save (Romans 1:16). that I might be partaker thereof with you.­ So that I may share in its blessings along with the rest (Goodspeed). He did all that he did, not only to save others, but also to save himself and to secure the blessings of the gospel in his own behalf along with others. That is, he did so in order to become a joint partaker with them in the gospel’s reward, salvation both now and in eternity (cf. Philippians 2:12).

Verse 20

1Co 9:20

1 Corinthians 9:20

And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews;—To the Jews when he circumcised Timothy, for it is expressly said: “Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those parts.” (Acts 16:3). Also when he consented to purify himself and to be at charges with the four men who had a vow (Acts 21:20-26); and when he said: “I am a Phari­see, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6-7). He conformed to their usages, observed the law, avowing at the same time that he did it as a matter of conciliation. But whenever the fair inference from his course would have been that he regarded the Mosaic law and observances as binding on the Christian he strenuously refused compliance.

His action in relation to Timothy and Titus shows the prin­ciple which governed him. Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess, he circumcised, because it was regarded as a conces­sion. Titus he refused to circumcise, because it was demanded as a matter of obedience to the Mosaic law. (Galatians 2:3-5). Two things are, therefore, to be considered in all cases in the opinions and practices of others: (1) That the point conceded be a matter of indifference; for Paul never yielded to anything which was in itself wrong. In this respect his con­duct was directly opposite to that of those who accommodate themselves to the sins of men or to the religious errors of oth­ers. (2) That the concession does not involve any admission other than what is, in fact, indifferent in a matter of moral or spiritual obligation.

to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;—[Expositors generally take the position that this clause is only explanatory of the expression, “to the Jews,” that is, to those under the law, I became a Jew, that is, as one under the law.]

Verse 21

1Co 9:21

1 Corinthians 9:21

to them that are without law,—All peoples and things in the universe are under the general government and rule of God. God gives men the privilege of obeying him and being saved, or of rejecting him as ruler and being condemned and punished for rebelling against him. If they were not under the dominion and rule of God, he could not punish them. Satan himself is under the dominion of God. God is the sole ruler of the universe. He permits men to rebel, to refuse to submit, for a time; but if they do not repent, God, as the ruler of all, will punish them. All men now living ought to be under “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The rea­son they are not is because they are unwilling to obey him. God allows them to live a while in the state of rebellion; then if they refuse to repent and obey him, in the execution of the laws of the universe, he will punish them in hell. God for­bears with them for a time, giving them time and opportunity to repent. He gives laws only to those willing to obey him. Those unwilling to serve him he leaves without law, not that they are not accountable, but because they reject him as ruler. God gave laws to the Israelites because they were willing at times to obey and serve him. The Gentiles were not willing to serve him, and he left them without law. When any Gen­tile was willing to obey God, he entered into the Jewish fam­ily and came under the Mosaic law. Just so now; any soul that is willing to obey God comes into the church of God and under his law. If a man is not under law it is because he is not willing to obey God. The Gentiles, who were without law in the days of Judaism, became willing to obey God under Christ; hence they were said to be without law, were not under the law of Moses.

as without law,—[Paul adapted himself to the habits and modes of thought of the Gentiles; quoted their poets (Acts 17:23); ate with them, and rebuked Peter when he ceased to do so (Galatians 2:11-16); based an argument on the inscriptions on their altars (Acts 17:23); and did not urge on them the ceremonies and “works of the law”; but “by the hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:9).]

not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.—This parenthesis ex­plains in what sense only Paul was “without law.” The death of Jesus on the cross had made him free from the law of Moses (Colossians 2:14), and brought him under the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).

Verse 22

1Co 9:22

1 Corinthians 9:22

To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.—Paul’s own example is instructive, as showing how far this method of action may be rightly carried. He ac­commodated himself to the prejudices and preferences of men so far as he could without sacrificing truth and righteousness, in order to win them to Christ. In other words, he sacrificed personal rights and personal liberty of action rather than to insist upon them when they stood in the way of winning any man, or set of men, to the Lord. As an example he earnestly contended that the law of Moses was no longer binding; yet he observed it as fully as he could, consistently with the law of Christ, for the purpose of conciliating the Jews and obtain­ing from them a favorable hearing of the gospel. He did this not that he might be personally popular with any man, but that by doing so he might throw no obstacle in the way of their giving the gospel a favorable hearing.

Verse 23

1Co 9:23

1 Corinthians 9:23

And I do all things for the gospels sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.— [Hitherto Paul has dwelt on the duty of self-denial for the good of others; now, however, he rises higher—to the absolute necessity of it to eternal salvation even of himself, as an indispensable feature of Christian char­acter. So we see that in work for the good of others we must not be unmindful of our own good; and there is nothing more conducive to our spiritual benefit than faithful, self-denying service for Christ. “Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:16).]

Verse 24

1Co 9:24

1 Corinthians 9:24

Know ye not that they that run in a race run all,—There is here an allusion to the Isthmian games, which took place every second year, at a place on the seacoast about nine miles from Corinth. These games had been one of the chief means of fostering the feeling of brotherhood in the Hellenic race. They were the greatest of the national gatherings; and even when one State was at war with another, hostilities were sus­pended during the celebration of the games. All competitors in the games had ten months’ training, under the directions of competent teachers and under various restrictions of diet. For thirty days previous to the contest the candidates had to attend the exercises at the gymnasium. At the beginning of the festival, they were required to prove to the judges that they were of pure Greek blood, and had not forfeited by misconduct the right of citizenship, and had undergone the neces­sary training.

Only after the fulfillment of these conditions were they al­lowed, and when the time arrived, to contend in the sight of assembled Greece. The race was not merely an exhibition of bodily strength, but solemn trials of the excellence of the com­petitors in the gymnastic art, and was to the Greeks one-half of the human education. Proclamation was made of the name of each competitor by a herald.

but one receiveth the prize?—Of the multitude of competi­tors one only received the prize. They ran with all their might—each exerted himself to the utmost. The desire to succeed was so intense that the contestants suffered great agony. The issue of the contest was watched by his relatives and friends with breathless interest. His success depended on his passing all rivals, so thy cheered him to greater exertion.

[The prize was a wreath of pine leaves, conferred on the successful contestant on the last day of the games. “Every one thronged to see and congratulate him; his relatives, friends, and countrymen shedding tears of tenderness and joy, lifted him on their shoulders to show him to the crowd, and held him up to the applause of the whole assembly, who strewed handfuls of flowers over him.” His family was greatly honored by his victory, and when he returned to his home, he rode in a triumphal chariot through a breach in the wall which enclosed the city, the object of this being to sym­bolize that for a city which was honored by such a citizen no walls of defense were needful. His name was sung in trium­phal odes and his likeness was placed in the long line of stat­ues which formed the approach to the adjacent temple. Such was the imagery before Paul’s mind when he wrote these words.]

Even so run; that ye may attain.—That is, run as the victor runs, in order to attain. We have seen that the victor’s suc­cess depended on great self-denial in preparation, and the greatest possible effort in the contest. In the Christian race he who crowns is willing to crown not the first only but the last. Yet all must run in a certain way. What this so running is, we learn from the following. “Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of wit­nesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so eas­ily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2). This gives special prominence to the immense concourse which the Greek spec­tacle called together, as well as the necessity of being free from every hindrance and of straining to the utmost every nerve, in order to attain the heavenly runner’s prize.

Verses 24-27

1Co 9:24-27


1 Corinthians 9:24-27

1 Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not - See note on v. 13. that they which run in a race run all, - That in a race the runners all run (Williams). As he does here, Paul often uses the Greek games as a metaphor for the Christian life (1 Corinthians 9:26-27; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:7-8). All Greeks were familiar with these games and nearly every city had its own racecourse or stadium. Besides the lesser ones, there were four great games: (1) The pythian at Delphic, celebrated every four years; (2) the Isthmain, at Corinth every two years; (3) the Nemean in Angolis, every three or five years; and the most famous of all, (4) the Olympic, which were held in Olympia of Elis every four years. Paul is probably thinking here of the Isthmain since it was celebrated at the Isthmus of Corinth. Everyone who entered the races entered to exert his whole being to win. but one receiveth the prize? - Although everyone gave it his best shot, only one could win. The prize was not money, but honor. In the Isthmain games the winner received only a ;"Wreath of pine leaves, but that wreath symbolized the great honor bestowed upon him by his nation, city, and family. The prize was to be crowned victor. So run, - Like them (Beck). As they run the physical races, so must we as Christians run the spiritual, exerting every effort to faithfully cross the finish line (2 Timothy 4:6-8; Hebrews 12:1-2). that ye may obtain. - That you may take the prize, which is eternal life, the incorruptible crown (1 Peter 1:4; Philippians 3:14). In the games only one could win, but in the Christian race everyone wins who finishes the course.

1 Corinthians 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery - But whoever enters the contest (BV) or competes in the games. is temperate in all things. - Exerciseth self-control (ASV) or practices self-restraint (Moffett). The contestants in the games spent ten months in rigid and strict training and during that period scrupulously denied themselves of any indulgence that might lessen their chances of winning. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; A wreath of leaves that soon withered away and even the glory it represented soon faded. but we an incorruptible. - Our race is for an eternal crown that never withers a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), of life (James 1:12; Revelation 1:10), and of glory (1 Peter 5:4). The crown is not just for one, the first to cross the finish line, but for all who fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), keep the faith, and finish the course (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The argument here is from the less to the greater: since they undergo excessive physical and mental discipline and long months of self-denial and training for a temporal crown, how much more we should be willing to endure for the eternal. It should be noted here that we are now in the race; the crown remains yet to be won. The focus here is on the dedication and discipline it takes to persevere unto the end (Revelation 2:10). Those who think the crown is received at the time the Christian race begins and can never be lost (sometimes called eternal security) take no account of athletic contest and thus miss Paul’s point absolutely. If Christians do not strive for the mastery (that is, run the race to its final end), cannot be crowned victors. The crown is reserved (1 Peter 1:4) for those who finish the race. It is therefore ruinous, consequence of eternal magnitude, for Christians to be soft (unable to endure hardships) and self-indulgent (slaves to desire, appetite, and habit).

1 Corinthians 9:26 I - He changes from Christians in general (v. 25) to his own personal race and battle. therefore so run, not as uncertainly; - Not aimlessly, but with a straight course toward the goal (eternal life). That is, he runs with complete certainty, full exertion, and absolute purpose. He knows his goal and he runs straight for it. so fight I, That is the way I box (Williams). The metaphor is now changed from the runner to the pugilist. not as one that beateth the air: He did not fight as an unskilled boxer whose blows missed the opponent and struck nothing but the air. He made every blow count. He was engaged in the fight to win, and one cannot win in the pugilistic game without delivering telling blows to the opposition.

1 Corinthians 9:27 But I keep under my body, - No, I maul and master my body (Moffett). The figure is not changed from v. 26, as the KJV implies. He is still the boxer and his body is his antagonist. Vincent (WS) says the word (from which "keep under" comes) means, "To strike under the eye; to give one a black eye." Thus his own body is the object of the beating he administers he mauls it until the victory is his. We are not to understand that Paul literally beat his body but rather that he is using a strong metaphor to show how he kept it in subjection to his will (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). and bring it into subjection: And bring it into bondage (ASV) or subdue it (RSV). That is, he did battle with it until it was brought under his control, until he is its master and the contest is won-lest that by any means, -So that (BV). See v. 22. when I have preached to others, - His fear was that after he had been the herald of eternal salvation to others, he himself would be rejected. Was his fear vain? Or was it possible for him to fail to reach the goal and thus lose the crown? The whole section (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) shows that to win the prize one must cross the finish line, and the finish line is not crossed until one runs faithfully to the end (2 Peter 1:5-11). Paul knew, and all others should know, that a Christian may fall short of the final goal ... and thus lose his souL I myself should be a castaway. I myself may become disapproved (Young’s). That is, that he himself should be rejected or judged unqualified to receive the prize (eternal Barnes says it well: "The simple idea of Paul is, that he was afraid that he should be disapproved, rejected, cast off; that it would appear, after all, that he had no religion, and would then be cast away as unfit to enter into heaven." Anyone who explains this otherwise must ignore the context and distort the truth.

Verse 25

1Co 9:25

1 Corinthians 9:25

And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things.—Contentedly and without a murmur he submits himself to the rules and restrictions of his ten months’ training, without which he may as well not compete. The indulgences which other men allow themselves he must forego. Not once will he break the trainer’s rules, for he knows that some competitor will refrain even from that once and gain the strength while he is losing it. He glories in his hardships and fatigues and privation, and counts it a point of honor scrupulously to abstain from anything which might in the slightest degree diminish his chance of success, because his heart is set on the prize, and severe training is indispensable. He knows that his chances are gone if in any point or on any occasion he relaxes the rigor of the discipline.

Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown;—A crown of pine leaves. The victor, it is true, won a crown of glory; but the glory faded almost as fast as the wreath. No permanent satisfaction could result from being victorious in a contest of physical strength, activity, and skill.

but we an incorruptible.—-An incorruptible, an unfading, and eternal crown. It is called “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8); “the crown of life” (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10); and “the crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). It is possible for every one who runs the Christian race to receive this crown, which shall forever be unto him a joy as thrilling as at the moment of receiving it. [It is worthy of the determined and sustained effort of a lifetime. As victory in the games was the actual incentive which stimulated the Grecian youth to strive for the physical strength and development, so there is laid before the Christian an incentive which, when fully appre­hended, is sufficient to carry him to great spiritual attain­ments. To have righteousness and life in perfection is his true glory, and this is the very crown of his being. And such a crown cannot fade away.]

Verse 26

1Co 9:26

1 Corinthians 9:26

I therefore so run, as not uncertainly;—Here Paul ap­peals to his own conduct as an illustration of the lesson which he is teaching, and by means of it reminds the reader that the whole of this chapter has been a vindication of his own self­denial, and that he has a clear and definite object in view. No man can run as Paul did who has no definite object to be gained. [We must be resolved to win and have no thought of defeat, of failure, or of doing something better. It is the ab­sence of deliberate choice and a strong determination which causes such uncertain running on the part of many who claim to be in the race. Their faces are as often turned from the goals as towards it. They fail to understand that all strength spent in any other direction than towards the goal is lost. They act as though they do not know what they wish to make of life.]

so fight I, as not beating the air:—The illustration is changed from running to fighting, both being included in “striveth.” He had an adversary to contend against, and did not strive with uncertain blows; but all his efforts were di­rected, with good account, to the great purpose of subjecting his enemy, and bringing every thought into captivity to God.

Verse 27

1Co 9:27

1 Corinthians 9:27

but I buffet my body,—By this he plainly means his whole embodied self, as acting and acting on through the body. So viewed he expressed his determination to beat down relentlessly all those unholy inclinations of which the body is the essential organ. [Every man’s body is his enemy when, instead of being his servant, it becomes his master. The proper function of the body is to serve the will, to bring the inner man into contact with the outer world and enable him to influence it. When the body refuses to obey the will, when it usurps the authority and compels the man to do its bidding, it becomes his dangerous enemy.]

and bring it into bondage:—He brought all its desires under subjection, that it might serve, not rule, the spirit. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other” (Galatians 5:17), “because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). God is Spirit; so the flesh opposes God. Paul kept under his body, and brought it, with all its lusts and desires, into subjection to the Spirit. He also says: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

[It is difficult to control the thoughts. Evil thoughts will rise in the mind, excited by fleshly lusts. To bring into sub­jection to the will of God is the triumph of the Spirit, yet by constant prayer and watchfulness it can be done. By devo­tion to the Lord and persevering effort the thoughts that spring from the heart can be brought into subjection to the will of Christ. The heart can be so trained that the thoughts that arise will be of God, of our duties, and obligations to him, and of the high and exalted privileges and blessings that are bestowed on us as his children. This state is gained only by the constant study of God’s word, a drinking into the Spirit, a cultivation of the devotional feelings, and a constant effort to conform the life to the will of God. This is the only way to fit the soul for companionship with God and “the spirits of just men made perfect.” The church is the training school to fit man for the eternal home, and the will of Christ is for disci­plining and training for the blessed companionship with the redeemed in the heavenly home.]

lest by any means, after that I have preached to others,— [The image is carried on, and Paul says that he has a further motive to live a life of self-denial—that having acted as a her­ald, proclaiming the conditions of the contest, and the requi­site preliminaries for it, should not be found to have himself fulfilled them. It is the same image kept up still of this race, and of the herald who announced the name of the victor, and the fact that he had fulfilled the necessary conditions. It was not the custom for the herald to join in the contest, but the apostle was himself both a runner in the Christian race and a herald of the conditions of that race to others. Hence, natu­rally, he speaks of the two characters, which in the actual il­lustration would be distinct, as united in one when applied spiritually to himself.]

I myself should be rejected.—[Lest he should fail utterly of the prize. If such earnest, self-denying watchfulness was needed on the part of Paul, with all his labors for others, to make his own calling and election sure, we should 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. In seeking to save others, we are working out our own salvation.]

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/1-corinthians-9.html.
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