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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Corinthians 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-27

Apostolic Rights

1 Corinthians 9:15

We should have thought there was nothing worse than death. The Apostle Paul says in effect, It is not in the slightest degree necessary that any man should live, but it is infinitely needful that every man should be good, honest, upright, useful. How foolishly, then, we have reasoned upon this matter! We have gone so far sometimes as to say, My daily bread depends upon it! The Apostle Paul says, What do you want with daily bread? that is of no consequence; it is not at all necessary that you should live, in the body, live upon daily bread: it were better for you to die; better far, than that you should make a fool of yourself in the sight of God; than that you should kill your soul; than that you should be an empty heart, without moral riches, without spiritual confidence, without beneficent nobleness. This is quite a Christian tone; no one else ever used that argument with the same measure, direction, and purpose of force. Others have had their attention called to thoughts that lay in that direction, but it required a Christian, who had been a long time with Christ on the Cross, to say, that it is not at all necessary that any Prayer of Manasseh , how great soever, should merely live, breathe, eat daily bread. The necessity is that a man"s soul should live; his honour should be immortal; his beneficence as enduring as the love of God.

The Corinthians never used the Apostle Paul well. There was always a minority against him. That minority was obstinate, selfish, Judaic in thought and in inclination, and altogether wanting in that noble overwhelming enthusiasm which belongs to Christian faith and loyalty. There were men in Corinth who questioned whether Paul was an apostle at all. They were literalists, men who set up certain inch-high standards by which to measure apostleship. They were mere arithmeticians, with a semi-moral cast, somewhat inclined to be pious when piety required no sacrifice at their hands. They would set up their test, especially the test of having seen Christ in the flesh, and companied with him visibly, tangibly, and audibly for many days. The Apostle handled that objection with his usual masterliness. He was calm in all such argument; he had lived too long to permit himself to get into any tumult of debate with ignorant and retrogressive minds. He therefore said, "Am I not an apostle?" Instead of laying the emphasis upon the word "Apostle," and speaking the inquiry upon the rising inflection, put the emphasis upon the word "not," and let the inquiry rather go downward than upward. Thus: Am I not an apostle? are you quite sure about it? what are your signs of apostleship? If you make the visible manifestation of Christ an indispensable sign of apostleship, even to that I can submit as to a test: "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"—not perhaps in the same way other men saw him. There is a larger sight; Paul was always moving in the direction of larger spaces, larger interpretations, and larger uses of things. If it comes to seeing, said Hebrews , what do you mean by seeing? Do men only see with the eyes of the body? Do they only see the physical Christ? Is there not a larger seeing, a seeing of the very soul, and a seeing into the very soul of Christ himself? Then he turns upon a favourite method of his own—the argumenlum ad hominem; he turns right round upon these Corinthian sceptics as to. his apostleship, and says, "Are not ye my work in the Lord?"—when you run down my apostleship you run down your own Christian standing: you never would have been so far on as you are but for me:—"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"; it is not the very brightest seal an apostle might have, it is not a proof to be very proud of, you are not the richest and noblest specimens of Christian manhood that the Christian imagination could dream; but such as you are, poor enough in quality, stunted enough in growth, perverse, crooked, in mind, and altogether selfish in many of your thoughts, yet even yourselves would not have been so far on as you are but for me; and yet you turn round upon your very master and teacher and say, Thou art not an apostle. Paul did not give up his ministry on that account. It does not take a great mind to resign a ministry. Many men have thought they were acting quite a majestic part in human history when they resigned their work. It seemed to satisfy their vanity, to please their little fevered pride, to say that they had "resigned." The Apostle Paul did not resign, he still continued his ministry, his persuasion, and his prayer; he said, The Apostle must not give up, the Christian must not lose heart; these scholars are very wayward and obstinate, and their ignorance is almost invincible, I can hardly get another idea introduced into their brain; yet I must be the more patient in proportion to their obstinacy. When a man talks thus there is no need to question his Apostleship. He may not have a written paper to the effect that on a given day in a given year he was appointed an Apostle, but he turns round and says, Behold! let the work be the witness.

The Apostle would not take any money from the Corinthians because they did not know how to give it. They begrudged everything. Many men do give money—with an explanation. There are persons who have a genius for giving subscriptions, with a footnote. They do part with the money, but they would rather have kept it. The Apostle says to the Corinthians, Keep it, every whit; I will not touch it: I have a right to it; I have the right of reason; I have the right of the ancient law; I have the right of common habit; I have the right of the Lord"s own appointment in this matter. Jesus Christ himself entitled me to receive carnal things in exchange for spiritual; but when I have reference to your temper and disposition, your money is even worse than you are yourselves; I would not touch it; I will work an hour later every day, I will make an extra tent every week; I will have nothing to do with such a begrudging and reluctant remuneration. In this chapter the Apostle argues out the case well. He shows that as an Apostle he has certain rights and claims, that, like the other apostles, he could take with him a sister or a wife upon his missionary tours, and have a right to be maintained by the churches that he visited. He adopted this right on many occasions, he availed himself of the liberality of the people; but to these turbid spirits at Corinth he says, I will not touch anything that belongs to you. He could be very proud. It was not necessary for him to live, therefore his pride was not an ebullition of vanity but the assertion of a great sovereign ruling principle in life:—"It were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void" in this respect; death is preferable to the humiliation to which you in Corinth invite me. If this were a mere tiff between the Apostle and some of the libidinous and dissolute Corinthian souls, it would not be worth while to revive it, but it is in connection with such matters as these that the apostolic character is most graphically and vividly developed and brought before us.

Now the Apostle resorts, as he always does, to great principles. He is not acting passionately, petulantly; he is not doing something to-day which he will regret tomorrow, coming back and begging the Corinthians" pardon for having acted so impetuously and vehemently. He says, My principles are such that I can live upon them. These principles he indicates with startling distinctness:—"but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the Gospel of Christ." That is apostleship; the man who says this must have seen the Lord sometime, somewhere; he may not have seen him as other men have seen him, but he never could have said these words if he had not seen the Lord"s heart and held long converse with the Man of the Cross, and the Man on the Cross. It would have been an easy thing for the Apostle to grind his Corinthian opponents to powder and scatter them upon the sea; but, said Hebrews , I am not sent to destroy men"s lives but to save them, because I am sent in the Spirit and power of Christ; therefore, if I did certain things, the very course which I took would be misunderstood; it might be a right course, it might be a useful course, but because it would hinder the Gospel of Christ I will not take it; by-and-by my position will be made clear, in the meantime I will hold my tongue where I might righteously speak, I will make no claim where I might urge a reasonable demand; I will make the Gospel of Christ first, foremost, supremest; that that may proceed and conquer shall be my living and unchanging aim: and therefore I can suffer all things, and exceedingly rejoice in my gathering tribulations. You cannot get hold of a man of that soul, so as to punish him very much, by simply withholding your patronage from him. He feeds upon his hunger, his deprivation is one of his luxuries; he says, This, O Christ, is for thy sake, and therefore it is nothing; do not set it down in thy book as any virtue on my part; I feel now as if I want to do it; thou dost feed my soul so bountifully with the bread of heaven that I do not want any other bread, and even in this miserable Corinth I feel as if I had acre upon acre of fruitful garden and orchard: Lord, reckon it not as for me in the book of thine account. Why did he not leave the ministry altogether, and go forward with his tent-making? He gives the reason—"For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of"—it is no sacrifice on my part—"for necessity is laid upon me; yea"—not only is necessity laid upon me, but—"woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel,"—to be dumb would be to be punished; to hold my tongue would be to reverse the decree of heaven, and set my puny self against the predestination of God. A man like that does not wait until the church is built, he preaches at the street-corner; when he is tied by chains to some custodian, he preaches the Gospel to the one hearer, and thus sets a seed of truth even in Rome itself. "Necessity is laid upon me,"—I must preach, I feel I can do nothing else; whatever else I do, even tent-making, is a struggle, and is an indication that my work is larger, and when I am preaching there is no time, no space, no pain; I feel then as if I were under solar action, revolving with quick velocity and flaming glory around my central sun. When men have to lash themselves up to their work, they can never do it, whatever the work be. A man who has to scourge himself to poetry will never write poetry. The man who has to prick and puncture himself, in order that he may begin to paint something, will never paint anything the world will care to see. When Victor Hugo was asked whether making epic poetry was not very difficult, he said, "No: easy, or impossible." So it is with all great elections, to business, to literature, to statesmanship, to preaching, to every degree of status and every zone of vocation in life. If the necessity, the pressure, the touch eternal is not felt, then all your labour is a beating of the air. When some one told Melancthon the ministry was the art of arts, the science of sciences, the sweet-souled Philip said, "If he had added the misery of miseries, he would have struck the nail upon the head." The very misery is the beginning of the joy. Only a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief could reveal the joy of God: only on Golgotha do men get the right visions of the Holy One. A preacher who has not had his whole heart ploughed up, ripped up, as if by hot ploughshares, cannot talk to men to their edification. He may be a maker of sentences, and a manufacturer of small infidelities, but he cannot preach with the might of tenderest love to the wounds, the sorrows, and the necessities of the soul. This is the reason the Apostle Paul did not resign. He could not resign; he was the happy slave of a blessed compulsion, and this went through the whole line of his conduct. He could not be ignoble. If the Apostle Paul had tried to do a mean thing, he would have failed; if the Apostle had ever made up his mind to write an anonymous letter he never would have posted it, he would have broken down in the attempt to be a coward and a poltroon; he would have erected himself and said, No, it is better for me to die than to try the trick of meanness. He said, Yea, and meant yea; he said, Nay, and meant nay. He had not learnt the art of diplomacy, the art of courtly lying, the art of saying what you do not mean, the Talleyrand morality that says, "Language was given to a man to conceal his thoughts"; that was not the school in which the Apostle was trained. He may have been a fanatic, an enthusiast, an infatuated preacher, but he was an honest soul.

Another great principle he lays down in 1 Corinthians 9:19 :—"For though I be free from all men, yet I have made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more:" unless you make yourselves the servants of others you cannot help them. You cannot help the east end from the west end; you cannot be doing things from a fine sanctum of elegance, that shall tell upon the remotest fibres and trembling issues and agonies of downright necessity, poverty, or pain; you must go and be one of the people; you must live their life, and speak their language, not as an acquired dialect, but as your mother tongue. When the greatest of all slave missionaries went to preach the Gospel to bondsmen he sold himself as a slave. He became a slave that he might save the slaves. He did not preach during the dinner-hour outside the cotton plantation, he went into the plantation itself, stooped himself down to his work, and whispered his Gospel to anybody that would listen to him. Men who do this do not need to produce testimonials, certificates, reluctantly written by somebody who cannot be found. Let your work speak for you; let the miracles wrought by your own genius of love attest your heavenly descent: the palm be his who wins it. Do not ask where a man came from, or by what qualification or authority he ministers: ask, what is the harvest grown under his care? and if it be golden wheat, say, This only could come forth from him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.

Here, then, we have Paul"s way of treating death. He always despised it. When the people came to him upon one occasion and told him that if he went on a certain course bonds and imprisonment awaited him, he said, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." When the people said, They will bind thee, and the chains are heavy, and the dungeon is cold and dark, he said, "I am willing not to be bound only, but to die for the Lord Jesus." A man who talked so made noble history. He is not to be laughed down by persons who have never sacrificed one solitary enjoyment that they might help some other soul to live. This is the influence that tells upon society in the coming and going of the ages; and Paul would be the first to tell you that the influence was not his, it was an influence derived. He says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." In another prayer, he will exclaim, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." When you praise the Apostle Paul know ye that the anthem is due not to the servant but to the Lord, the living Eternal Christ.

Let young men adopt this as their motto:—It is better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorifying, in truth, and honour, and goodness, void. You may have a struggle, but you will have a great victory at the end. I have less and less faith in people who get up in the morning without having done anything, and begin to cut down what other men have sown. I like the man who has won every mouthful of bread he eats; I have confidence in the man who tackles life bravely, who had early and tremendous struggles, but who came up with Divine courage every time he was called for; I have faith in the men who have rich, large, noble experience of the realities of things. I know not that I could give to young men a motto nobler than this, when interpreted in the spirit of Christ:—It is better for me to die than that any man should make my glorying in Christ, truth, love, pureness, and beneficence, void. Hold your lives loosely, so far as your mere earthly enjoyment is concerned; look upon your present life as a mere puff of smoke blown away by the wind, so far as duty is implicated; and respond to the obligations of reason; and thus find your life, not in your meat, but in your Christian service. I have seen life in all its phases, I know it altogether; I know its deprivations and its enjoyments; I know its desolations and its popularity, I know what men are. Looking at life out of Christ, it is a mystery, a tragedy, a perplexity infinite: looking at life in Christ, it is a pain, a wonder, an apocalypse; but over it there steals, with the quietness of sunrise, the blessed assurance that to be in Christ and to do Christ"s work in Christ"s spirit makes life the seed, whose fruit is immortality.

Prayer

Almighty God, it hath pleased thee to make our days but a handful, may we know the number thereof, and turn our hearts unto wisdom. We arc to-day like grass in the field, and tomorrow we are cut down, and there is none abiding. The trees outlive us; we go to our own place, and are known no more upon the earth. What is there beyond? What is thy purpose concerning our life? Surely thou art training us for heaven, for larger service, for nobler stature and capacity of being. We believe this, because we have learned it in the school of Christ; this is the meaning of Bethlehem, and this is the meaning of Golgotha: we will not believe that thou dost crush us and extinguish us, we will believe in immortality. Lord, help us by the power of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit so to do. We love the Saviour, and where he is there we shall be also. Did he not say, If it were not so I would have told you? We live upon his word, we stand upon the rock of Christ"s assurance; we are confident that we shall say, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? and that by the power of the Cross, earth shall be but the beginning of heaven. In this confidence may we do our duty, and bear our burdens, and fulfil the responsibilities of the day; out of this will come patience, tender, considerate, and heroic; yea, out of this shall come such fulness and richness of manhood that we shall not only be without fear ourselves, we shall be the ministers of courage and hope unto others. We leave ourselves always wholly in thine hands, thou Father of us all. Thou knowest the way that we take, when thou hast tried us thou wilt bring us forth as gold. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, yea, he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, that his sonship may be decided and established. Help us to accept all the deprivations and enjoyments of life as specially sent of God for the training, the culture, and the immortality of blessing promised to our souls. We would not live incidentally, superficially, despairingly; we would live as those to whom heaven is a blessed, it may be an imminent, reality. Save us from all meanness, low-ness of thought, selfishness of motive and of purpose; and to this end may we know the power of the sufferings of Christ when he died upon the Cross. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-corinthians-9.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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