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1 Corinthians 9

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4063. A.D. 59.

With a view to illustrate his condescension to the weak by his declining to accept of a maintenance from the Corinthians, the apostle,

(1,) Vindicates his apostolic authority against his opposers, from his success at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 9:1 , 1 Corinthians 9:2 .

(2,) Asserts his right to be maintained by his hearers from the reason of things, the law of Moses, and the appointment of Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:3-14 .

(3,) That he had honourably forborne to demand his due right, with a view thereby to promote their edification, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18 ; as he had willingly abridged himself of his rights and privileges in other places, in order to gain men to Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 .

(4,) He shows that he had herein acted with all care and diligence, in expectation of an eternal gracious reward, and to set them an example, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 .

Verses 1-2

1 Corinthians 9:1-2. Am I not, &c. It appears from this, and several other passages of the epistles to the Corinthians, that some of them, influenced probably by false teachers, who had crept in among them, objected to St. Paul’s being an apostle, because he had not asserted his privilege in demanding and receiving such maintenance from the churches as was due to that office, inferring from this circumstance that he did not judge himself entitled to any such privilege, and therefore had wrought at a trade, to support himself thereby. Hence, after deciding some very difficult questions, which the Corinthians had proposed to him, and particularly after affirming, in the end of chap. 7., that he had decided these questions by the inspiration of the Spirit; and after showing himself a faithful apostle of Christ, by declaring, in the end of the last chapter, his resolution on all occasions to abstain from things indifferent, rather than, by using his liberty respecting them, to lead his fellow-Christians into sin; he with great propriety introduces the proof of his apostleship, and answers all the objections and calumnies whereby his enemies endeavoured to discredit him in the eyes of the Corinthians. Am I not As truly as any man living; an apostle? Divinely appointed and commissioned by the Lord Jesus? Am I not free To act as I think best, with regard to receiving a maintenance from those to whom I minister or not? Have I not the liberty of a common Christian, yea, and that of an apostle, so as to have a right to preach the gospel without reward, if I think fit so to do? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord After his resurrection, so as to be able to bear witness to that important fact on my own knowledge, as confidently as those who saw him before I did? Unless he had seen Christ, he could not have been one of his first grand witnesses, could not have borne testimony to his resurrection on his own knowledge thereof. Are not you In respect of your conversion, gifts, graces, privileges; my work in the Lord The fruit of my ministry as an apostle among you, by means of God’s grace and power working with me? If I be not an apostle to others So visibly and demonstratively; yet doubtless I am to you Who, of all people in the world, can show the least excuse for questioning my mission; for the seal of my apostleship The certain evidence of my divine call; are ye in the Lord Who have not only received faith by my mouth, but all the gifts of the Spirit by my hands.

Verses 3-5

1 Corinthians 9:3-5. Mine answer My apology; to them that examine and censure me As to this part of my conduct, is this which follows. Have we not power I and my fellow-labourers; to eat and to drink At the expense of those among whom we labour? Does our declining the use of a privilege prove that we have it not? Have we not power to lead about with us In our apostolical travels; a sister, a wife That is, a wife who is a sister in Christ, a believer in him, and truly pious; and to demand sustenance for her also? as well as other apostles Who therefore, it is plain, did this: and Peter? Hence we learn, 1st, That Peter continued to live with his wife after he became an apostle; 2d, That he had no rights, as an apostle, which were not common to Paul. “In the eastern countries, when people of condition travelled, they either lodged with their acquaintance, or carried servants with them, who provided such things as were necessary for their accommodation in the public lodging-houses. In the Gentile countries, where the apostles preached, they had no acquaintance or friends with whom they could lodge, and therefore some of them, particularly the brethren of the Lord, and Peter, found it necessary to carry about with them wives to make provision for them, at the expense of those to whom they preached. This right, Paul told the Corinthians, belonged as much to him and to Barnabas as to the other apostles. But to render the gospel free of charge, he neither had used this right, 1 Corinthians 9:12, nor ever would use it, 1 Corinthians 9:15. Wherever he came he maintained himself by his own labour.” Macknight.

Verses 6-7

1 Corinthians 9:6-7 . Or I only and Barnabas Of all the preachers of the gospel; have not we power to forbear working With our hands? “From this it appears that Barnabas, as well as Paul, preached the gospel without demanding a maintenance from his disciples; and that, like Paul, he was hated for his doctrine by the Judaizers. The honourable mention which Paul makes of Barnabas in this passage deserves notice, as it shows that these good men, notwithstanding their sharp contention about John Mark, Acts 15:13, entertained no resentment against each other on that account, but mutually esteemed each other: and perhaps, on some occasions after that, preached the gospel together, as before.” Who goeth a warfare Serveth in the war; at any time, at his own charges Does not the community furnish provisions for those who guard it, and fight its battles? And if the services of a soldier, engaged in the defence of his country, deserve a maintenance, how much more may it be expected by us, who daily hazard our lives, as well as wear them out, for men’s everlasting happiness? Who planteth a vineyard, and doth not think himself entitled to eat of the fruit of it? or who feedeth a flock, and doth not think he hath a right to eat of the milk of the flock? And if it be judged reasonable that men should have an equivalent for their labours about natural things, and the accommodations of the body, is it not more evidently so when the felicity of immortal souls is concerned?

Verses 8-10

1 Corinthians 9:8-10. Say I these things as a man Have I only human authority and reasons for what I say? or saith not the law The revealed will of God; the same? For it is written Deuteronomy 25:4, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox, &c. But shalt allow the poor animal to feed while it is labouring for thee, in the midst of food; a circumstance in which its hunger would be peculiarly painful. It is well known, that the people of the East did not thresh their corn as we do; but they pressed out the grain, by causing oxen to tread on the ears, a custom which is still retained in several of the eastern nations. “And, at this day,” as Bengelius observes, “horses tread out the corn in some parts of Germany.” Doth God take care for oxen Was this precept given merely for their sakes? had he not a further meaning in it? did he not intend to show hereby what equity should be used in rewarding those that labour for us? For our sakes no doubt this is written Not to oblige us to obey those laws, but to teach us to exercise humanity and equity toward those we employ or deal with. This precept, concerning oxen, being introduced in the law, immediately after precepts enjoining justice and mercy in punishments, it was certainly intended to impress the Israelites with a sense of the obligations of justice and humanity toward rational creatures, as the apostle here affirms. That he that plougheth should plough in hope Of reaping; and he that thresheth in hope Should not be disappointed of the fruit of his labour; that is, any one that is employed to work for us, should do it in hope of receiving a meet reward for his pains, whereby he may be encouraged in his work, and should be partaker of his hope Should afterward receive the reward hoped for. And so ought they who labour faithfully in God’s husbandry.

Verses 11-12

1 Corinthians 9:11-12. If we have sown unto you spiritual things By our incessant diligence in preaching to you the gospel of the blessed God; is it a great thing More than we have a right to expect; if we shall reap your carnal things Namely, as much as is needful for our sustenance? Do you give us things of greater value than those you receive from us? If others Whether true or false apostles or ministers; be partakers of this power over you Have a right to be maintained by you; are not we rather Entitled to it, having first preached the gospel among you, and brought you to the knowledge of the truth, and having laboured much more among you? Nevertheless we have not used this power Though founded in such evident and various principles of equity; but suffer all things Every kind of hardship, particularly the fatigues of labour, and the want of needful or convenient support, 1 Corinthians 4:11-12; lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ By giving an occasion of cavil or reproach to those who are watchful for opportunities to misrepresent and censure our conduct. “By preaching the gospel free of expense, the apostle rendered it the more acceptable to the Gentiles, and drew them the more readily to hear him. There was another reason also for his demanding no reward for preaching, namely, that in future ages mankind might be sensible that in preaching the gospel, he was not animated by any worldly motive, but merely by a full persuasion of its truth. Foreseeing, therefore, that his disinterestedness would, in all ages, be a strong proof of the truth of the gospel, the apostle gloried in preaching it to all men, without fee or reward.” Macknight.

Verses 13-14

1 Corinthians 9:13-14. Do ye not know, &c. In further support of the justice of the claim in question, I might remind you of the provision which God made for the priests and Levites under the Mosaic law; that they which minister about holy things As, 1st, the Levites, who perform the various servile offices relating to the temple service; live Are supported by; the things of the temple Have their maintenance, in a great measure, from the offerings, tithes, &c., brought thither; And, 2d, they which wait at the altar The priests, who are chiefly employed in offering the sacrifices at the altar; are partakers with the altar Have a portion allotted them of the sacrifices offered upon it. Even so According to the equity of that law; hath the Lord Christ ordained Namely, Luke 10:7-8; Matthew 10:11; that they which preach the gospel should live by the gospel Should be supported by those to whom they preach it.

Verses 15-18

1 Corinthians 9:15-18. But Though my right to a maintenance, as an apostle, be established by the precepts both of the law and of the gospel; I have used none of those things During my abode among you, as you well know; neither have I written these things that If, according to my purpose, I should ever visit you again; it should be so done unto me But only to teach you how to use your Christian liberty. For it were better for me to die To suffer the greatest want, even to starving; than that any man should make my glorying That I have preached the gospel freely; void By drawing me to require a maintenance. In other words, to give occasion to them that seek occasion against me. For, though I preach the gospel And that ever so clearly and fully, faithfully and diligently; I have nothing to glory of Being, after all, but an unprofitable servant, and having done no more than was my duty to do, Luke 17:10; for necessity is laid upon me By Christ’s appearing to me, and commanding me to preach, and I must either preach it or perish: and to preach it merely to escape damnation, is surely not matter of glorying. Yea, wo is unto me if I preach not the gospel For me to decline a work assigned me by so condescending an appearance of Christ, when, with the most malicious rage, I was persecuting and endeavouring to destroy his church, would be an instance of ingratitude and obstinacy deserving the most dreadful and insupportable punishment. For if Or rather, if indeed, I do this thing Namely, preach the gospel; willingly Without reluctance, and from an obedient mind. In preaching the gospel willingly, the apostle evidently included his preaching it from such a conviction of its truth and importance, and from such a principle of love to God and regard for his glory, and love to mankind and concern for their salvation, as enabled him to do it with cheerfulness, alacrity, and joy. I have a reward Prepared for me according to my labour; that is, I shall obtain that distinguished reward, which, in the life to come, will be bestowed on them who turn many to righteousness, and who in that work undergo great hardships. This was Paul’s case, who, in his voyages and journeys among the Jews and Gentiles, exposed himself to innumerable dangers and sufferings, with much bodily fatigue. But if against my will As I said before; a dispensation is committed unto me And I must of necessity fulfil it. What then is my reward What is that circumstance in my conduct for which I expect a peculiar reward from my great Master? Verily Surely this; that when I preach I may make the gospel without charge May communicate it to my hearers free of expense; that I abuse not To any low and secular purpose; my power in the gospel Or carry it beyond its due bounds.

Verse 19

1 Corinthians 9:19. For though I be free from all men Not bound to do that which seems unlawful, inconvenient, or disadvantageous to myself, to please any man; yet have I made myself a servant unto all Addicting myself to the most fatiguing duties, that I might advance their happiness; or complying with the persuasions and inclinations of others in things indifferent. The original expression, εμαυτον εδουλωσα , is literally, I have enslaved myself to all; an expression peculiarly beautiful and proper as used here by the apostle. “Slaves wrought for their masters without hire, and were careful to comply with their humours. And the apostle, while preaching the gospel, reduced himself to the condition of a slave, both by serving all men without hire, nay, without requiring a maintenance from them, and by complying with their prejudices in all cases wherein he could do it without sin.” In other words, he acted with as self-denying a regard to their interests, and as much caution not to offend them, as if he had been absolutely in their power, as a slave is in that of his master. Where is the preacher of the gospel who treads in the same steps? That I might gain the more To true religion and salvation; in which, as he might have added, I have found a noble equivalent for all I could do or bear. By the word κερδησω , translated I might gain, the apostle intimates, that his converting men to Christ was a part of the gain or hire, which he proposed to obtain by preaching the gospel.

Verses 20-23

1 Corinthians 9:20-23. To the Jews I became as a Jew Conforming myself in all things to their manner of living, so far as I could with innocence. And, inasmuch as in the preceding chapter the apostle directed the Corinthians to comply with the prejudices of their weak brethren, in the affair of meats sacrificed to idols, and declared his own resolution, that if his eating meat occasioned others to sin, he would not eat flesh while he lived; it is therefore probable that his becoming to the Jews as a Jew, implied especially that he observed the distinction of meats enjoined by Moses, while he lived with the Jews in the heathen countries. It may refer also to his circumcising Timothy, to render his preaching acceptable to the Jews. This compliance with the prejudices of the weak he showed only to gain their good-will, and thereby remove their prejudices against himself, and the cause in which he was engaged. For when the Judaizing teachers insisted on the observance of any of the rites of the law, as necessary to salvation, he always resolutely withstood them, as in the case of Titus, Galatians 2:3; Galatians 2:5; Galatians 2:14. To them that are under the law Who apprehend themselves to be still bound by the Mosaic law; as under the law Observing it myself while I am among them. As, however, he did not believe the observance of it to be necessary under the gospel, so he did not refuse to converse with those who omitted to observe it; the very thing which he condemned in Peter, Galatians 2:14. To them that are without law The Gentiles, who did not hold themselves bound to observe Moses’s law; as without law Neglecting its ceremonies; being not without law to God But as much as ever obliged to obey its moral precepts; and under the law to Christ Under an indispensable obligation in duty and gratitude to obey his will in all things, imitate his example, and live to his glory: and in this sense all Christians will be under the law for ever. That I might gain them that are without the law Might make my ministry more agreeable and useful to such as were Gentiles by birth and education. To the weak In knowledge, grace, or abilities, or to those whose consciences were uninformed, and therefore scrupulous; I became as weak I condescended to their weakness by teaching them according to their capacity, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; bearing with their infirmities, and complying with them in forbearing the use of those things which they, through weakness, scrupled to use. I am made I became; all things to all men I accommodated myself to all persons in all indifferent things, as far as I could consistently with truth and sincerity; that I might by all means Or, if possible; save some How few soever the number might be. And this I do for the gospel’s sake To promote its success to the utmost of my ability; that I might be partaker thereof with you That in consequence of the faithful discharge of my office, I might retain the divine favour and approbation, and be a sharer with you in all its privileges and blessings, in time and in eternity.

Verses 24-25

1 Corinthians 9:24-25. Know ye not that In those famous games, which are kept in the isthmus, near your city; they who run in a race Εν σταδιω , in the stadium, (so the place was called where the athletes contended,) run indeed all And contend one with another; but one Only of them all; receiveth the prize Whereas in the Christian race, the success of one is no hinderance to that of others. How much greater encouragement then have you to run, since you may all receive the prize of your high calling. And every man that striveth for the mastery That there contendeth; is temperate in all things To an almost incredible degree; using the most rigorous self-denial in food, sleep, and every other sensual indulgence. It may not be improper to observe here, that “those who taught the gymnastic art, prescribed to their disciples the kind of meat that was proper, the quantity they were to eat, and the hours at which they were to eat: they prescribed to them likewise the hours of their exercise and rest: they forbade them the use of wine and women. So Horace tells us, Article Poetry, line 412:

Qui studet optatam cursu contingere metam, Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit, Abstinuit Venere et Baccho.

A youth who hopes the Olympic prize to gain, All arts must try, and every toil sustain; The extremes of heat and cold must often prove, And shun the weakening joys of wine and love. FRANCIS.

This whole course, which lasted for many years, was called ασκεσις , exercise. Hence the ancient monks, who imitated, and even outstripped, the athletics in their rules of temperance, and in the laboriousness of their exercises, were called ασκηται , ascetics.” Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown “The crowns for which the Greeks contended in their games, were, for the most part, of the leaves of trees, which, though evergreens, soon withered. In the Olympic games, sacred to Jupiter, the crowns were of the wild olive; in the Pythian, sacred to Apollo, they were of laurel; in the Isthmian, of pines; and in the Nemæan, of smallage, or parsley. The honours, likewise, of which these crowns were the pledges, by length of time lost their agreeableness, and at last perished, being all confined to the present life.” But we are animated by the view of an incorruptible crown; termed a crown of righteousness, 2 Timothy 4:8; and a crown of life, James 1:12; and Revelation 2:10. A crown this which never fades, as the word αφθαρτος , here used, implies: that is, there never shall be any period put to the honours and advantages of it. As a reason for what the apostle here says, Dr. Macknight thinks that his enemies, (who, from his not taking a maintenance, inferred that he was no apostle,) “affirmed, that whatever disinterestedness he might pretend, it was not credible that he would undergo such continued labour in preaching, and in complying with the humours of mankind, unless he had reaped some present advantage from his labours. But to show them the futility of their reasoning, he desired them to consider the long course of laborious discipline and exercise which the contenders in the Grecian games submitted to, for so small a prize as a crown of leaves; which, after their utmost pains, they were not sure of obtaining, and which, when obtained, would soon fade, with all its honours and advantages. Whereas, by the labours and sufferings which he underwent as an apostle, he was sure of obtaining an infinitely better crown, which would never fade.”

Verses 26-27

1 Corinthians 9:26-27. I therefore The reward being so great; so run, not as uncertainly For I see the goal I am to run to, I keep it continually in view, and run straight to it, casting off every weight, and not regarding any that stand by, so as to be prevented from, or hindered in running, by looking at them. Or, I run not as one that is to pass unnoticed, or undistinguished: as αδηλως seems here to imply; and not without attending to the marks and lines which determine the path in which I am to run. In other words, I run according to all the rules prescribed, and with the greatest activity; knowing that in no part of the course I am out of the view of my Judge, and of a great concourse of spectators. Consider, reader, Christ, the Judge of the world, observes how every man behaves in the station assigned to him, and that with infinitely greater attention than the judge and spectators observed the manner in which the athletes contended. So fight I, not as one that beateth the air This is a proverbial expression for a man’s missing his blow, and spending his strength, not on the enemy, but on the empty air. But I keep under my body By all kinds of self-denial and mortification. The word υπωπιαζω , here used, properly signifies to beat and bruise the face with the fist, or the cestus, as the boxers did in those games; and particularly on the υπωπιον , the part under the eyes, at which they especially aimed. By the body here the apostle means his old man, or corrupt appetites and passions. And bring it into subjection To my spirit, and to God. The words are strongly figurative, and signify the mortification of the whole body of sin, by an allusion to the natural bodies of those who were bruised or subdued in combat. Lest, by any means, when I have preached Greek, κηρυξας , having discharged the office of a herald to others; (still carrying on the allusion to the Grecian games, in which a herald was employed, whose office it was to proclaim the conditions, and to display the prizes;) I myself should become a castaway Greek, αδοκιμος , disapproved by the judge, and so fall short of the prize. Here also, as well as in the term last mentioned, the apostle alludes to the same games; and the import of his expressions will more fully appear if we observe, that “at the opening of those exercises, a herald, or crier, publicly proclaimed the names of the combatants, and the combat in which they were to engage, agreeably to a register kept for the purpose by the judges. When their names were published, the combatants appeared, and were examined whether they were free men, and Grecians, and of an unspotted character. Then the crier, commanding silence, laid his hand on the head of the combatant, and led him in that manner along the stadium, demanding with a loud voice of all the assembly, ‘Is there any one who can accuse this man of any crime? Is he a robber, or a slave, or wicked and depraved in his life and manners?’ Having passed through this public inquiry into their life and character with honour, the combatants were led to the altar of Jupiter, and there, with their relations, sware they would not be guilty of any fraud or action tending to the breach of the laws of the sacred games. And to excite the ardour of the combatants, the crowns, the rewards of victory, lay, during the contest, full in their view, on a tripod or table, placed in the stadium. There were also branches of palms exposed, which the victors were to receive along with the crowns, and which they carried in their hands as emblems (says Plutarch) of the insuppressible vigour of their body and mind.”

After the contentions were finished, the conquerors, being summoned by proclamation, marched to the tribunal of the judges, who examined their conduct during the combat. “Then a herald, taking the chaplets from the tripod, placed them on the heads of such of the conquerors as were approved by the judges; and putting into their hands the palms, they led them, thus equipped, through the stadium, preceded by a trumpeter, who, during the procession, proclaimed with a loud voice their names, the names of their fathers, and of their countries, and specified the particular combat in which they were conquerors. And as they passed along, they were saluted with the acclamations of the spectators, accompanied with showers of herbs and flowers, thrown upon them from every side. Such was the office of the herald, or crier, in these games. In allusion to that office, the apostle calls himself κηρυξ , the herald, in the combat for immortality; because he was one of the chief of those who were employed by Christ to introduce into the stadium such as contended for the incorruptible crown. He called them to the combat; he declared the kind of combat in which they were to engage; he proclaimed the qualifications necessary in the combatants, and the laws of the battle. Withal, he encouraged the combatants, by placing the crowns and palms full in their view.”

The expression, αυτος αδοκιμος γενωμαι , rendered, I myself should be a cast-away, or disapproved, signifies one, who, when tried in the manner described above, was found not to be of the character and station required by the established regulations. “Besides the previous trial, the judges, after the combat was over, made a most accurate and impartial scrutiny into the manner in which the victors had contended, in order to find whether they had contended νομιμως , (2 Timothy 2:5,) according to the laws of the combat. And if, on trial, it appeared that they had failed in the least particular, they were cast. In consequence of this sentence, they were denied the crown, and sometimes beat out of the stadium with disgrace. Such contenders, whether they were cast before or after the combat, were αδοκιμοι , persons not approved. Wherefore, to avoid that disgrace, the apostle, who was a combatant in the Christian race, as well as a herald, was careful to qualify himself for the combat; and in combating, to observe all the laws of the combat, lest, having proclaimed these laws, he should be found not approved himself. This the apostle said to stir up all, but especially the ministers of the gospel, to the greatest diligence in acquiring habits of self-government and purity, not only that they might secure to themselves the crown of righteousness, but that they might be patterns to their people.” See Macknight, and West’s Pindar.

It is justly observed here by a late writer, that this single passage may give us a just notion of the Scriptural doctrine of election and reprobation; and clearly shows us, that particular persons are not in Holy Writ represented as elected, absolutely and unconditionally, to eternal life; or predestinated, absolutely and unconditionally, to eternal death: but that believers in general are elected to enjoy the Christian privileges on earth, which, if they abuse, those very elect persons will become reprobate. St. Paul was certainly an elect person, if ever there was one: and yet he declares it was possible he himself might become a reprobate. Nay, he would actually have become such, if he had not thus kept his body under, even though he had been so long an elect person, a Christian, and an apostle.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-corinthians-9.html. 1857.
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