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The Apostle pleads the Dignity of his Office, and therefrom sheweth his Liberty. Ministers have a just Claim, and from the Lord's Appointment, to be maintained in their Labors by the People. The Chapter is closed with comparing the Christian Life to a Race.
(1) Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (2) If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. (3) Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, (4) Have we not power to eat and to drink? (5) Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? (6) Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
It Both not appear upon what ground it was, that, Paul considered himself called upon to use this language. He had the humblest opinion of himself, and in another part of this Epistle, saith, that he was not meet to be called an Apostle, but was the least of all saints, 1 Corinthians 15:9. It is probable, that some had called in question his authority as an Apostle, and others had endeavored to lessen him in the eyes of the people, by making a comparison between him and Peter to Paul's prejudice. See 2 Corinthians 10:10. Alas! what is man in his highest attainment? To behold a Church of God made up of such members, who after a saving work of God hath been wrought upon the heart, yet from the remains of indwelling corruption, to be tempted to call in question the Apostolic, authority of Paul; yea, even the very man whom the Lord had given proofs of his being sent to them by the Lord, in making his ministry useful to them! Reader! pause over the account. And let not faithful ministers be discouraged, nor even grieved, if at any time their services are little valued, when they behold so eminent an Apostle of Christ disesteemed, and by the very Church where he had the highest claim to their love and affection! Blessed servant of Christ! it was thy high honor in this instance, as in many others, to be conformed to the image of thy Lord!
But it will be well to run over the ground, in a cursory manner, of Paul's pretensions to the Apostleship. One grand feature of character, as an indispensable part in the qualification of an Apostle, settled in the College of the Apostles, was, that he should be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus, Acts 1:22. Now, that Paul, who, as he saith himself, was like one born out of due time, might have this qualification; it is worthy our closest observation, that the Lord Jesus granted Paul this mercy; in appearing personally to him at his conversion, Acts 9:3-6. Add to this, Paul had another interview with Christ, when in a trance at Jerusalem, Acts 22:17-21. And a third when confined in the castle, Acts 23:10-11. And, fourthly, when he was caught up to the third heaven. It is not, indeed, expressly said that he then saw the Lord Jesus; but it is very highly probable (2 Corinthians 12:1-4), these fully qualified hint as a witness to the Resurrection for the Apostleship.
And it was a further confirmation of the character of an Apostle, his being called to the office by Christ himself. For at his conversion, Jesus declared concerning him to Ananias, that he was a chosen vessel unto him, to bear his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9:15. And Paul's account of himself, when writing to the Romans, was that he was called to be as Apostle, Romans 1:1.
And to add no more. The ordination of Paul by the Holy Ghost, Acts 13:2. and the success of his ministry to the Gentiles at large, and the Corinthians to whom he was now writing in particular; all these things carried, with them a decided testimony of his Apostleship. Reader! it would be well, if men, in modern times, could produce such credentials of their high calling. Alas! what multitudes, it is to be apprehended, by what we see and meet with in life, will be proved in the end of the day to have run unsent. Paul hath described them in his second Epistle to Corinth. The portrait is too striking to be mistaken, and too awful not to excite distress, 2 Corinthians 11:13.
(7) Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? (8) Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? (9) For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? (10) Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. (11) If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (12) If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. (13) Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? (14) Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
The Apostle possessed a great mind. He wrought at one time, and worked as a tent maker, that he might not be chargeable to any man for the mere common necessaries of life, Acts 18:3. He felt, as every generous mind cannot but feel, that it is painful to be beholden to be maintained by others, when the Lord hath enabled a man to get his own bread. But it might so happen, that Paul's trade of tent-making might not always be in request. And, if so, it was hard, when preaching was over, and hunger sharp, that no one would ask him to eat. The Apostle, therefore, reasons upon the subject, If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? Reader! what a wonderful subject will be opened at the last day, when it will be found, that some, truly sent, and truly ordained servants of Christ have labored in the word and doctrine, and been blest of God, and made blessed to the Lord's people, and yet wanted the daily supply of the bread that perished; while others, unordained of God, and sent only of men, have wallowed in all the indulgence of ease and affluence, and fed themselves, but not the flock. Ezekiel 34:8.
(15) But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. (16) For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (17) For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. (18) What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
The imagination cannot furnish to itself a more beautiful picture of disinterestedness, than is here set forth of the Apostle Paul. He was not arguing for himself, for he would rather have died, than that it should have been said, he preached for filthy lucre sake. But he was contending for others. He felt distress that any of God's faithful ministers should lack the bread that perisheth, while dispensing the bread that endureth to everlasting life. But, as to himself, he sought not profit, but usefulness to souls. Oh! what a contrast to those who receive, but not give; who mind earthly things, and not heavenly. Paul knew that he served a bountiful Master, and that his Lord would not suffer him to want, while giving out to his people. But he that looks at the profit, and regards not the fold, will have a woeful account to render in, when the Chief Shepherd appears!
(19) For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. (20) And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; (21) To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. (22) To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (23) And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
It must not be supposed, from these expressions of the Apostle that he was a time-serving man, for he had before declared, that it was the Gospel which he preached, and that a woe would be unto him, if he preached not the Gospel. But the sense is, that he explained the Gospel to the Jew upon Jewish principles, and to them that were without law as without law, the Gospel superseding the law by the finished salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ; meaning, that in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availed anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Paul preached wholly Christ, knowing, that if righteousness came by the law, then Christ was dead in vain, Galatians 2:21. So that this kind, accommodating spirit, never relinquished a single point of importance in the Gospel, but only enabled the Apostle to address himself to his several hearers, as might best come up to their apprehension of divine things, and to gain and gather out the Lord's people in every place, and among every class, wheresoever he found them. Sweet pattern for ministers, while studying to shew themselves approved of God!
(24) Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. (25) And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (26) I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: (27) But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
The figure which the Apostle hath here made use of, to draw a comparison by of the Christian warfare, is as beautiful as it is just, and as much suited to the present hour, as it was in the days of the Apostle. The ground and space of this life, in which the Christian race is ran, corresponds to what is marked out, both in the boundary and the time limited to the Grecian games, and have their determination alike to him that wins. But the pastimes of this world differ widely from the serious concerns of another. And, as in the things themselves, so in the issue. There was but one successful candidate in the earthly race. But in the heavenly, all that run in Christ, the Way, the truth, and the life, are alike successful. Moreover, he that ran in the earthly warfare, and came off victorious, soon yielded himself to the conqueror death. But he that wins Christ, and is found in him, subdues forever all that opposed him, and wears his crown forever. Hence, all the victors in Christ exalt in the same hymn of praise: blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, 1 Peter 1:3-4.
I beg the Reader to notice what the Apostle saith of himself, of keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection. By which he could not be supposed to mean the mere animal flesh, by fastings, and the punishment of stripes, and scourging, and penance, and the like, which tend more to create spiritual pride and peevishness, than induce any reformation of the heart. Paul knew too well human nature to recommend such things. Besides, it is the corruption of the heart he desired to bring under, and which no doubt he sought for to accomplish, in mortifying the deeds of the body by the Holy Ghost, as he recommended to others, Romans 8:13. And the motive Paul had in view, is a confirmation of his meaning, lest (said he) that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway; that is, lest from some corruption of his fallen nature, indulged, and rising up in rebellion to his renewed and better part; he should fall into some foul transgression, as David did; and, as this would tempt the enemy to blaspheme, as it did in the case of the Psalmist, the Lord should lay him aside from his public ministry, like a vessel in a family, which though once in continued use, was now no longer called for. Such a thought was dreadfully painful to the active and zealous mind of the Apostle, and, therefore, he desired eternal grace from the Spirit, to keep under the body of sin and death, which he well knew he carried about with him, and under which he groaned, being burdened. This appears to be the evident sense and meaning of the Apostle's words. Some, however, have ventured to give this passage a different construction, as if the Apostle feared, that, if falling into sin from the corruptions of the body, he might be cast out of God's presence forever. A thing totally foreign to all the Apostle's uniform doctrine, and daily profession of his everlasting safety in Christ, Jesus had declared him to have been a chosen vessel; and Paul had assured every Church of his interest in Christ, and union with Christ. Being confident of this very thing, (said he to the Church at Philippi,) that he which hath begun a good work will perform it unto the day of Christ, Philippians 1:6. I know, (said he to Timothy,) whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing, 2 Timothy 1:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8. Under such, well grounded and well formed assurances, it is impossible that the Apostle could have entertained the smallest apprehensions of being finally lost. And, as hath been shewn, the words could mean no other, than that he dreaded that from human infirmities, he might be laid aside from usefulness, to the very end of his life, in his Lord's service. And I hope the Reader will also here from learn, that such holy jealousies as Paul here expressed, and the Lord's people many of them know, are not at all inconsistent with the perfect safety at the same time; in which they are considered, according to the election of grace. It is the sweetest of all thoughts that as their original call to salvation resulted not from their own merit, so neither their final safety depends upon their improvement of grace. The Lord's everlasting love, and the consequent call which in time followed, was neither bestowed for human deserving, nor preserved for human improvements. everything in the Covenant flows from the Lord's purpose, will, and pleasure. What will exalt the divine glory in promoting the happiness of his people. And, as it is a Covenant ordered in all things and sure; so Jehovah undertakes the accomplishment of it, both for himself and them. I will not turn away from them to do them good: but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me, Jeremiah 32:40.
GREAT Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Church of God will hail thee, in all generations, as the faithful servant of the Lord. Truly thou didst see the Lord Jesus, and didst become a witness to his resurrection. Truly the seal of thine Apostleship, the Churches in Christ, are in the Lord. And all the Churches of the saints, in all ages, and generations, find cause to bless the Lord for thy ministry. Yea! we of the present hour, are reaping daily mercies, through the grace of God the Holy Ghost, for thy labors in the Church of Corinth.
Blessed Jesus! while running the race which is set before us, we would be everlastingly looking unto thee, the Author and Finisher of our faith. And, while the world is engaged in the empty and unsatisfying chase of life, may it be the portion of thy redeemed family, to be always following after thee, forgetting things which are behind, and reaching forth to those which are before, and thus to press towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And do thou, Lord, so bless thy people with the sweet influences of thine Holy Spirit, that we may mortify the deeds of the body and live. And Jesus himself will keep his redeemed from falling, and present them faultless in his own spotless righteousness before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/