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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
1 Corinthians 9

 

 

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Verses 1-7

Paul the Free Servant of Christ.

Defending his Christian liberty:

v. 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?

v. 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.

v. 3. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,

v. 4. Have we not power to eat and to drink?

v. 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?

v. 6. Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

v. 7. Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? Who plants a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

Paul had stated the guiding principle of his life to be: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient, chap. 6:12. In accordance with this principle he had been practicing self-denial out of love to the Lord and to his brethren, he had renounced his own rights and privileges for the sake of winning souls for Christ and spreading the Gospel. And therefore he now defends his position and his Christian liberty in one of the most elevated and beautiful passages in the entire New Testament. He has the same rights as other Christians, as other apostles, and if he chooses not to exercise these rights, this fact does not deprive him of his privileges, but should rather cause the Corinthian Christians to esteem him all the more highly for his self-denial in their behalf. These were his prerogatives: He was free, he had become a partaker of the liberty wherewith Christ had made him free, and in the exercise of this liberty was accountable to no man; he was an apostle, and this in spite of the fact that some deceivers were casting suspicions on the certainty of his call, 2Co_11:13. So far as the Corinthians are concerned, his apostleship is substantiated in two ways: He has, with the eyes of the body, seen the Lord, their common Lord, Jesus Christ, Act_9:1-43, when the Lord appeared to him on the way to Damascus; the Corinthians themselves are his work, the concrete evidence of his calling, through his work the Lord had created them to be new creatures, the preaching of the Gospel had been effective in their case, what they had received was the Lord's grace and blessing which is given through the word and work of His servants.

The apostle feels constrained to emphasize this point: If to others I am not an apostle, at any rate, most certainly, I am to you. In other congregations, where the Judaizing teachers were very strong, they might deny his apostleship, in their view or opinion his claims may not be well founded. But so far as the Corinthians were concerned, they surely cannot but acknowledge him, since the simple fact of their conversion was a constant confirmation of his contention: they were the seal of his apostleship in the Lord. The Lord affixed His seal to the work of His servant by making his words powerful for the conversion of the Corinthians. See Joh_3:33. Paul had been among the believers of Corinth with the signs of an apostle, 2Co_12:12, and the Lord had given the increase in such a signally wonderful manner as to confirm Paul's commission in the eyes of all men that were not blinded by prejudice. And this is the apology, the answer to his critics, to those that question his apostleship, that wish to investigate his claims; he simply points to the Corinthian congregation, as he needed no other defense.

Paul now vindicates other rights: Is it that we have not the right to eat and to drink? Does anyone question our claim to maintenance? Mar_6:10; Luk_10:7; Luk_22:30. He had the right to expect that the people whom he served should make proper provision for his support, that he might live at the expense of the congregation in whose interests he was laboring. Another right: Have we not power to take about with us a Christian sister as wife? He maintains his right to be married if he so chooses. It is not only a right of Christian ministers that they may enter holy wedlock, but the apostle even declares it to be a matter of Christian liberty for a traveling preacher, a missionary, to be married and to take his wife along to the various stations. For a congregation to prefer an unmarried pastor because his maintenance will not require such large amounts of money is to impose a condition which cannot be made to conform with Scriptures. The other apostles made use of their right, and their wives usually accompanied them. The brothers (step-brothers, cousins) of the Lord Jesus followed the custom of the Jews in being married, and of Peter it is expressly stated that he had a wife. Note: The expression, "brothers of the Lord," may be taken literally. For, as one commentator has it, "the statement, 'born of the Virgin Mary,' is an article of the Church's creed; but the question whether she bore children afterwards involves no point of Christian faith. " A final right: Is it that only I and Barnabas have not the power to stop working, to give up manual labor for our own support? Barnabas, who had been associated with Paul in the early labors in Asia Minor, Act_4:36; Act_11:22; Act_13:14, had disposed of his property in Jerusalem for the benefit of the congregation and had followed the example of Paul in supporting himself, even when on missionary trips, by the labor of his hands, a fact which Paul here openly acknowledges. Incidentally, this reference to his former colleague shows that their difference of opinion, Act_15:37-38, did not result in a lasting estrangement, but that the two leaders adjusted their difficulty, even though they continued to hold their individual opinion as to their preference in the matter. Paul insists that they were not under obligation to work for their livelihood while they preached, which implied that they should not misunderstand him, but should rather realize that his intention was not to burden them, 2Co_12:16. So the three rights which Paul argues for "in fact amount to the one which Paul contends for in the sequel: he might justly have imposed his personal support, and that in the more expensive character of a married man, upon the Christian communities for which he labored, thus sparing himself the disadvantages and hardships of manual toil."

With three parables the apostle illustrates his right and his power to receive maintenance at the expense of the congregation, the figures being taken from the camp, the vineyard, and the flock: Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Or who acts as a shepherd to a flock and does not eat of the milk of the flock? In case someone should serve as soldier at his own private charges, in case someone should go to the trouble of planting a vineyard and not use the fruit, in case a shepherd should have charge of a flock and not use the part of the milk which was his portion, he would be doing something out of the ordinary and could boast a goodness which no man demanded of him, for the rule was altogether the other way. Note that all three figures find their application in the work of a faithful minister: the valiant soldier, fighting the battles of the Lord; the indefatigable vine-dresser, busy with the plants of the Lord's vineyard; the faithful shepherd, feeling the responsibility for every sheep and lamb of the Lord's flock.


Verses 8-12

The Scriptural proof and its application:

v. 8. Say I these things as a man? Or saith not the Law the same also?

v. 9. For it is written in the Law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?

v. 10. Or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he that plows should plow in hope, and that he that threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.

v. 11. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

v. 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.

The apostle by a Scripture-passage here substantiates the principle that the servants of the Lord have a right to expect the material support of their congregations. For he expressly says that he is not arguing the matter as any man might do, in accordance with general human practice, and he adduces a positive divine ordinance. He thus obviates the argument that he is taking examples from daily life to support his claim for the support of pastors. It is written, and therefore stands for all times, in the Law of Moses, in the book which bore the name of Moses, Deu_25:4 : Thou shalt not muzzle a threshing ox. See 1Ti_5:18. In the Old Testament text this is one of the passages enjoining humane treatment of animals. Threshing was usually carried on either by having the oxen tread out the kernels from the hulls, Mic_4:12-13, or by hitching them to a heavy sledge which they dragged over the threshing-floor, 2Sa_24:22. The rule prohibited the muzzling of the oxen during this work, and they were thus left free to pick up stalks of grain whenever they became hungry. Paul defends his application of the Old Testament passage to the point in question by asking: Is it for oxen that God is concerned, or does He not by all means say it for our sakes? "It is a proverbial saying, which Paul explains at some length, so that he says: Does God care for the oxen? As though he would say: Though God takes care of the oxen, still He does not have this written for the sake of the oxen, since they cannot read; this is the meaning of Paul: This verse is to be understood not only of the oxen, but of workers in general that they should live of their work. " So Paul is right in making the application: For it is written for our sakes, on our account, namely, that it is necessary for the plower to plow in hope, and that the thresher do his work in the hope of partaking. Both plowing and threshing is laborious work, and therefore the picture fits into the context well; it exhibits typically the labors of Christian teachers in the language of the statute and under the forms of farm labor. The expectation of partaking of the fruit is due to the laborer, beast or man, and therefore the application is obvious. The hope of him that does his plowing and threshing in the spiritual world is indeed directed forward to a spiritual fruit, Joh_4:36, but since he employs the work of his body, of his physical life, in his calling, he has a right to expect, according to the rule of God, that the faith which follows preaching will also be active in love, and thus the physical needs of spiritual workers will be taken care of in the proper manner.

This deduction the apostle frankly makes: If we unto you sowed spiritual things, is it a great thing, is it too much, that we reap your carnal things? This question strikes the conceit of such Christians as place a high value upon the gifts which they communicate to their pastors, since they themselves place a low valuation upon that which they have received from them. For all the spiritual things that are to be found in the midst of a congregation: the gifts of the Spirit, faith, love, hope, knowledge, zeal, fervency in prayer, etc. , are all the fruit of the Gospel as it is sown by the teaching of the pastor, publicly and privately. Surely the Christian that realizes even faintly the inestimable value of these gifts will not hesitate about making at least an attempt to repay the spiritual blessings by offering the fruit of his hands, since to make a full return is impossible. Luther says: "I do not like to explain such texts as are on our side, as servants of the Word. It may seem, when such texts are properly expounded before the people, as if it were on account of greed. But it is necessary that the people be instructed in order that they may know what kind of honor and support they owe their teachers under obligation from God."

Paul now sets forth his own case in a still stronger light by comparing himself with other teachers who made use of the support of the congregations: If others be partakers of this power, make use of their right over you, why not we rather? Paul had a better claim to share in their domain, in a way to exercise dominion over them, as the first teacher of the Corinthian congregation, since he was the man who broke the ground and did the planting. But, he says, we did not make use of this right, not because he was too proud or because he did not dare, but because he wanted to bear everything in silence, he chose to endure without complaining, in order that he might not offer a hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. In the Gentile world the acceptance of pay by a wandering teacher was explained as avarice, a fact which naturally harmed the cause. Besides, Paul did not want to be tied to any certain congregation, since his call included the care of all the congregations founded by him and the establishing of others as occasion offered. Here was a fine proof of Paul's unselfishness, on account of which he even waived a right which was in his hands, lest he be misunderstood and the preaching of the Gospel suffer in consequence.


Verses 13-15

The duty of hearers:

v. 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?

v. 14. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.

v. 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.

Lest any member of the Corinthian congregation misunderstand him and make it a point to harp upon the necessity of unselfishness in preachers, Paul again refers them to the fundamental rule which should always be observed, namely, that under normal conditions the congregations should supply all the bodily needs of their pastors. He derives a further reason for his argument from the Temple service: Do you not know that those employed in the sacred offices, those that are busy with the holy things in the Temple, eat what comes from the sacred place? The apostle speaks of the Temple service, especially that connected with the offering of sacrifices. The men engaged in this work everywhere, not only among the Jews, but among the Gentiles as well, obtained their support from the temple, from the gifts and offerings of the people. See Num_18:8 ff. ; Deu_18:1 ff. And those that wait at the altar, that are actually engaged in performing the sacrificial rites, have their portion with the altar, a part of the sacrifice being reserved for the use of the priests, Lev_10:12-15. According to this precedent the rule holds true also in the New Testament: So also did the Lord determine for them that preach the Gospel that they should live of the Gospel. Mark: This is a command of the Lord, and may not be set aside with impunity. Since all things in the world are really His own, merely entrusted to the users for the time being, therefore it is His function and privilege to decide in what way the goods of this world should be used. The pastors being exclusively engaged in the business of preaching the Gospel, devoting all their time to the study of the glorious message of salvation and to the application of its comforting truths, the Lord wants their physical wants supplied by the people that are served with the Gospel; the means, not of a mere existence or subsistence, but of a decent livelihood, should be forthcoming from the rich store of God's blessings, as given to His children.

Paul hastens to add that his own case is an exception: But so far as I am concerned, I have not used any of these things. He had the right and authority to expect from the Corinthian congregation a maintenance in accordance with his outline above, vv. 4-6. These privileges he has deliberately foregone; he had settled upon this policy for some definite reasons of his own, chief of which was the desire to serve the Gospel all the more efficiently. And so he explains further: Not, however, have I written this that this should happen, should be done, in my case. He is not speaking for himself, in his own interest. He emphatically declares: For it is well, honorable, advantageous, for me rather to die than—my boasting shall no one make void! In his excitement the apostle forgets even the grammatical construction. Strong feeling, impatience, indignation, often influenced Paul in that way. He had set his heart upon preaching the Gospel without remuneration from the congregations, and his wish was rather to be dead than to have this glory taken from him. Any temporal loss or want he deemed unimportant beside the loss of his special boast, which he intended to take along beyond the grave. Not that Paul wanted to stand out prominently before the other apostles, but his humility was such that he would have called ingratitude in himself what he demanded for them as their right.


Verses 16-18

His boasting is not of his preaching:

v. 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!

v. 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.

v. 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.

Paul here again obviates a possible misunderstanding. He was far too humble to feel himself worthy of preaching the Gospel, much less would he have his preaching made a subject of boasting: For if I preach the Gospel, that is no reason for me to boast. His advantage lay in this, that he renounced his right to support and preached without remuneration. For in the matter of preaching necessity was laid upon him, he was pressed into the service of the Gospel, the sovereign will of God determined his apostle-ship and, in addition, he was under immeasurable obligations to the Lord for His pardoning grace. But if service is rendered under such conditions, there can be no question of boasting. And more: For woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel! He was bound in the spirit, he was pledged, as a servant of Christ, and to the limit of his powers and abilities, to praise God through the ministry of the Gospel. And he must expect the judgments of the Lord to fall upon him if he ventured to disobey the heavenly call. Paul's attitude was utterly unlike that of many preachers and teachers in our days that welcome every excuse to leave the service of the Lord.

The apostle explains his attitude: For if willingly I perform this, if I am engaged in this work of my own free will, I have reward. The very fact that a person is engaged in the glorious ministry of teaching and saving souls for Christ makes it worthwhile and constitutes a reward; but, in addition, there is the reward of grace, Mat_19:28-29, which the Lord has intended for them that abide faithful in the performance of their office to the end. But if, on the other hand, he does his work unwillingly, under constraint, he has yet been entrusted with the stewardship. The steward occupied a position of trust in the master's house; but no matter what his attitude toward his work was, it was chosen for him, and faithful obedience was expected of him. See 1Ti_1:12-13. He could expect no reward of merit for work faithfully performed, for that would never go beyond his duty, but he might look for punishment in case of failure. Incidentally, the thought seems included, as one commentator has it: "Christ's bondman, I claim no hire for my stewardship; God's trust is enough for me."

Paul explains wherein his reward consists: Since this is the situation, what is my reward, the reward of mercy, the reward that makes the work worthwhile at all times? And he answers: That, in preaching the Gospel, I may set the Gospel forth free of charge. The gratification which he feels at rendering a real service and the satisfaction of giving this service free of charge, of offering salvation without money and without price to all whom he addresses, that in itself is a reward. And he does this in order not to abuse his right in the Gospel, that right which is connected with proclaiming the Gospel. It was a matter of joy and honor to him, not only to be counted worthy of preaching the Gospel, but also to do this work free of charge. The Corinthians have spent nothing on him, but he spent everything, including himself, on them. Such an attitude of unselfish devotion to the cause of Christ may well inspire all pastors and all Christians at all times.


Verses 19-23

Devoted work for the sake of the Gospel:

v. 19. For though. I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all that I might gain the more.

v. 20. And unto the Jews I became 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;

v. 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.

v. 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.

v. 23. And this I do for the Gospel's sake that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Here Paul's policy of self-denial is explained in detail. Taking up the thought of 1Co_9:1 again, he states: For, while I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all men, in order that I might gain the more. A true servant of Christ uses his liberty in the Gospel in no other way but for the edification of his neighbor and for the praise of God. Paul was free, he was not bound to any man's arbitrary rule, but went his way independent of the judgment of men, actuated and controlled entirely by the Spirit of Christ that lived in him. But this liberty he asserted in a very peculiar way, from the standpoint of man, namely, in complete self-denial. Through love every Christian is the debtor of his neighbor, places himself at the service of his neighbor, has his true spiritual welfare in mind at all times, Rom_13:8. And Paul's sole aim was to gain all the more souls for Christ by this service. This was a seeking for gain which could not but win the approval even of those that were inclined always to suspect his motives. With characteristic energy and wisdom he applied himself to this task, by making a careful analysis of the situation and laying his plans accordingly. To the Jews he became as a Jew in order to win the Jews; without denying or setting aside one word of the eternal truth, he accommodated his methods to the circumstances, always with the intention of winning souls for Christ, Act_16:3; Act_18:18; Act_21:23 ff. To those under the Law, whether they belonged to the Jewish nation or to the Gentiles (mainly circumcised Gentiles), he became as one under the Law, in order to gain those under the Law; he was willing to conform to the customs, modes of life, and methods of instruction in vogue among them, so long as these matters were really things indifferent. To those without the Law, to the heathen in the strict sense of the word, he became as without the Law, although for his own person he was bound under the Law of Christ, in order to gain those without the Law; when in a heathen community, Paul did not practice the Jewish customs, a fact which would merely have antagonized the Gentiles; he omitted all reference to regulations of the Old Testament which were strictly Jewish in character. And this he did because he was in the Law of Christ, his Redeemer, the Fulfiller of the Law, being his life. The love of Christ was the motive for all his actions, a life implanted in Him and anxious to demonstrate itself in the service of the Gentiles; in the midst of the idolatry of heathenism, Paul found points of contact for the application of the Word of Grace. To the weak the apostle became weak in order to gain the weak; his loving insight enabled him to understand the scruples and weaknesses of those that had not made much headway in Christian knowledge. See 2Co_11:29. Every true servant of Christ must learn from the apostle not to despise any one, nor to permit disgust over foolish weaknesses to enter his heart. There may be much spiritual incapacity, but the ability to hear the story of the Gospel will remain in most cases; and the object is to gain the weak also. And therefore Paul summarizes: To all men I have become all things in order by all means to save some. In this way the practical wisdom of Paul's pastoral love and self-denial shone forth. It was not duplicity, as his enemies alleged, 2Co_1:12; 2Co_4:2; 2Co_12:16; Gal_1:10, but the expression of a heart which acted under the discipline of the sanctifying Spirit. And it was all done for the sake of the Gospel, in order that he might be a joint-partaker with it. Every new soul won for Christ exhibited to the apostle the glory of the Triune God and the beauty of the Redeemer, and in the communion of all these saints the blessings of the Gospel reacted upon him, permitted him to partake more fully of the Gospel's vitalizing effects. The faithful servant of the Gospel will himself reap the rich benefits of his work.


Verses 24-27

The need of self-discipline:

v. 24. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain.

v. 25. And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.

v. 26. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air;

v. 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.

An attitude and a habit of self-denial such as Paul practiced is not acquired with ease, but it demands the application of the sternest self-discipline, and he illustrates from his own case how a Christian may reach this stage and maintain it. In order to make his meaning clear to the Corinthians, Paul uses the figure of athletic games, with which they were familiar on account of the fact that the Isthmian games were held in the vicinity of their city every three years: Do you not know that they that run in the stadium, in the race-course, indeed all run, but one only receives the prize? So run that you may surely get it. The point of comparison is the assiduous application to the thought of winning, gaining, the prize. The prize at the Isthmian games was only a garland of the Grecian pine, but to the Greeks its value could not have been measured in terms of money. The prize for which the Christians should strive with every nerve and fiber of their being is wonderful beyond compare, and therefore they should remember that entering the race is not equivalent to winning it; they should not be satisfied with merely running, but they should make sure of winning the prize.

The foot-race teaches one lesson, the boxing contest another: Every combatant, every athlete, practices temperance in everything; they, indeed, in order to receive a perishing crown, but we an imperishable. All the athletes of the Greek games, no matter where they were, especially the boxers, indulged in nothing which might tend to weaken their muscles or their power of resistance; they practiced such stern severity that they abstained from even the slightest concession to food or drink that might set them back one day in their training. And all this for a garland that withered away in a short time, for the honor of having their names sung in the odes of the festivals. How much more, then, should the Christians, that have before their eyes the imperishable prize of their heavenly calling, strive with all the power of their sanctified hearts and minds to obtain that glorious reward! Blessedness and glory eternal is the reward of grace, 2Ti_4:8; Jam_1:12; 1Pe_5:4.

The apostle holds before the Corinthian Christians his own example: I for my person, therefore, so run, as in no uncertain way; so do I box, not like one that beats the air. As the racer has only one thing in mind, the winning of the race; as he keeps his eyes with unwavering steadiness upon the goal, so the apostle keeps his mind firmly directed to the prize that awaits the faithful Christian when his course is run. As the pugilist does not waste his strength in a futile beating of the air with his fists, but tries to make every blow count, so the apostle, in his battle with Satan, the world, and his own flesh, did not gently stroke the enemy with kid-gloves, but delivered telling blows, knowing that upon his winning the battle depended the certainty of his salvation. For that reason, also, Paul (literally) benumbed his body, he beat it black and blue, he subjected himself to the severest corporal discipline in the pursuit of his goal; he subdued his body to carry out the dictates of his will. That is one of the reasons why this apostle, whose physical constitution seems to have been anything but robust, was able to accomplish so much in the work of the Lord. But he did it lest in preaching to others he himself should prove reprobate, that is, be ruled out, rejected, according to the laws which governed the contest, or, in case he should be admitted to the competition, be unsuccessful in his attempt to gain the prize. "What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought that they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian that is always in doubt. " (Hodge.)

Summary.The apostle defends his apostle-ship and his right to maintenance by the congregations and shows that his case is an exceptional one for the sake of the Gospel-preaching; he holds before his readers the example of his own self-discipline for emulation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/1-corinthians-9.html. 1921-23.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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