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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 9

 

 

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Verse 1-2

'Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you, for the seal of my apostleship are you in the Lord.'

He begins by asserting his freedom. Support is something he has a right to and he would therefore be free to receive it if he wished. And the reason he has that right is because he is an Apostle, one sent forth and therefore dependent on such support (Matthew 10:9-15). But because he is wholly free he can choose what he will do, and he has the right to do either.

His evidence that he is an Apostle rests first on that he has seen 'Jesus our Lord'. He has seen Jesus, the One Who walked on earth as man, the resurrected Jesus, as now raised to Lordship. And the second that his Apostleship has been revealed by his success in establishing this new church. They are his work in the Lord. If they enjoy spiritual gifts let them remember who first brought the Spirit among them. They are the evidence, indeed the seal of his Apostleship. They are proof of his Apostolic power and authority, and therefore of his rights.


Verses 1-18

Paul Now Points Out That He Refuses To Use His Freedom In Any Way That Would Cause Young Christians To Be Led Astray. His Next Example Refers To His Not Receiving Gifts For His Ministry Among Them Which May Brand Him As Greedy, Mercenary or Merely A Paid Orator, and Thus Promote Difficulties and Tensions (9:1-18).

The last verse of the previous chapter leads on to this chapter in which Paul again refuses to use his freedom in such a way as to cause offence. This time it is with regard to his right to support. No doubt he had also been criticised about this. Once a person comes under criticism all kinds of things are dredged up so as to discredit the person being criticised. So he points out that he has a right to partake of such support, as have all the Apostles, but he refuses to use it because it might lead others to doubt him. First he asserts that he is free to do what he will in this regard, and then especially stresses his position as an Apostle, which gives him the right to support as expressed by Jesus, but then he declares that nevertheless he will not accept such support while working among them. He does not want to be seen as a chancer or as a paid professional orator.


Verses 3-6

'My defence to those who examine me is this. "Have we no right to eat and to drink? Have we no right to lead about a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?'

The word 'defence' is fairly strong. There were clearly those who were putting him in a position where he felt he had to make his defence and justify himself, so he asserts his rights as an Apostle. He illustrates his argument from what other Apostles do. They eat and drink at other's expense as provided by the Lord. So then could he. He has the right to do so as well. They take their wives with them who also receive support, for they too are believers. So then could he. He has the right to. Indeed the same is true of the rest of the Apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter). They all enjoy support from the churches they visit. Do he and Barnabas not then have the same rights? Do they not have a right to 'live by faith' rather than working for a living? Are they the only ones to be excepted?

This point may arise as a result of the fact that some were claiming that he worked to support himself precisely because he was not a true Apostle and was not recognised as having the right. Not so, he replies. He and Barnabas had a right to receive support, but they did not claim it lest it be misinterpreted. It was their choice, not the choice or will of the churches.

It is clear that at his stage Paul is well aware of the ministries of the other Apostles and that of Jesus' brothers. He knows that all are active in the field. Many consider that here he is including the brothers of the Lord as permanent ‘Apostles’. Certainly they had known the Lord in a unique way as an elder brother, so that being now converted they might well have been included in the number (James undoubtedly was). The matter is, however, disputed. But it is certainly clear that they were held in high esteem, almost on the level of Apostles if not actually so.

We in fact know little about the ministries of the other Apostles other than Cephas (Peter) and John, although fairly good tradition links Thomas with India. Otherwise most of what we ‘know’ is unreliable tradition, interesting but not necessarily true.


Verse 7

'What soldier ever serves paying his own costs? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat its fruit? Or who feeds a flock, and does not eat of the milk of the flock?'

This principle of having the right to be provided for in the light of his ministry can be evidenced from everyday life. Is a soldier expected to pay for his own keep? Of course not. Do not those who plant vineyards eat of their fruit? Of course. Do not those who feed flocks partake of the milk of the flock? Of course. Thus the soldier of Christ may expect to be fed, the worker in the vineyard to partake from the vines produced, the shepherd who raises a flock to participate of what the flock can provide. Those who serve expect to be provided for from what they serve. They have the right.


Verses 8-10

'Do I speak these things after the manner of men? Or does the law not also say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn. Is it for the oxen that God cares? Or does he say it assuredly for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because he who ploughs ought to plough in hope, and he who threshes, in hope of partaking.'

But it is not only that he can illustrate this from everyday life, it is also declared in the Scriptures. It is not only man who confirms such a situation, but God. For in the Law of Moses it says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn' (Deuteronomy 25:4 and see 1 Timothy 5:18). Surely the principle from that is clear. It is not just applicable to oxen, it applies to all who labour. Thus it applies to the labourers in the Gospel. The one who ploughs spiritually should plough in hope of provision, as does the literal ploughman, the one who threshes spiritually should thresh in the hope of partaking. He raises up seed, he should be able to benefit from the seed.

'Is it for the oxen that God cares?' This question is not suggesting that God does not care for the oxen. Various laws in the Law (the books of Moses, the Pentateuch) indicate that He does care for dumb animals. His idea expressed here is, 'Is it only for the oxen that God cares?' What Paul means is, does He in what He has saidonlycare for the oxen, or does His concern not reach to a wider field, even to human beings? Yes, assuredly so, for God cares even more for human beings than for oxen. Thus it is more necessary that they be provided for when they thresh the spiritual harvest.


Verse 11

'If we have sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your fleshly things?'

So the Scripture is here declaring that those who sow spiritual things should be able to reap from the 'fleshly' things that are possessed by those to whom they sow spiritual things, those who are blessed by the spiritual things. That should only be as expected.

Note the change to 'we'. This probably includes his fellow-workers who were with him in Corinth as 1 Corinthians 9:12 confirms.


Verse 12

'If others partake of this right over you, do we not yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.'

Indeed there are others whom they acknowledge do have the right to receive from them, and does not Paul then have an even better right as the one who originally brought them the message of salvation? And yet he and his fellow-workers do not claim that right. Rather he and his fellow-workers pay their own way totally, and bear all expenses, so that they might not be a hindrance to the Gospel of Christ by being open to the accusation of greed and lazy living and professionalism (see Acts 18:2-3). He will do anything and go without anything if it means that there is no hindrance to the Gospel as a result.

Paul was not averse to receiving support from those who would not misunderstand it. He reminds the Corinthians later that he was able to continue his ministry among them unhindered as a result of a gift from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:9). But he would never accept such support from Corinth because he knew how ultra-critical some of them were, always eager to seize any excuse to criticise him, and because he knew that their own greed made them sensitive to what they saw as 'greed' in others. Nevertheless he asserts his rights both in order to demonstrate that he is a true Apostle, and also because from them he wishes to bring home the lesson of being willing to do without one's rights for the sake of others.


Verse 13-14

'Do you not know that those who minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they who wait on the altar have their portion with the altar? Even so did the Lord ordain that those who proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.'

The argument continues. God ordained that the priests and Levites should receive their portion from the Temple, and those who waited at the altar received their portions. Thus God provided both a system of their receiving portions of sacrifices and also of their receiving a proportion of the fruitfulness of Israel by tithes and offerings. Even so did the Lord ordain that those who proclaimed the Gospel should live by the Gospel.

'Even so did the Lord ordain.' The reference here is to Matthew 10:9-15 where Jesus taught His disciples that they must look to God to provide for them through the godly, those who were true to God. Among the Jews this was the recognised and established custom. By it they demonstrated their acceptance of the teacher. Note here that the Lord's very words are seen as parallel with the Scriptures as the word of God (Mark 7:13).


Verse 15

'But I have used none of these things, and I do not write these things that it may be so done in my case, for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorifying void.'

But Paul himself has taken advantage of none of these things. Nor is he writing in order to do so. Indeed he would rather die than not to be able to say that he proclaims the Gospel freely and without charge. The last thing he wants is not to be able to glory in the successful preaching of the Gospel because by it he is seen as mercenary. He wants always to make it without hindrance (1 Corinthians 9:12) and without charge.


Verse 16

'For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid on me. For woe is to me, if I preach not the gospel.'

But that is not to suggest that he has anything to glory of in doing so. He will not even glory in the fact that he preaches the Gospel. He will not take any credit for it. For he has nothing to glory of, in respect of himself, when he preaches the Gospel. He has no reason to feel proud or pleased with himself. Rather it is to him a divine necessity. If he did not preach the Gospel continually it would be a woe to him, something which would cause him grief and make him deserving of judgment, for it is his destiny, the very purpose for which he was born, and to which he was called (Acts 9:15), and he probably felt as Jeremiah did when he spoke of his message as being like a fire within him (Jeremiah 20:9 compare Amos 3:8). Thus he preached the Gospel because he had to, under divine command, and as a result of divine urgency within.


Verse 17-18

'For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward. But if not of my own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.'

So he is bound to preach the Gospel. If he does it of his own will, as a free man, without receiving any payment for it, he has a reward. And that reward is that he can provide the Gospel without charge, not claiming his rights to support under the Gospel. On the other hand, if he does not do it of his own will (as he has just suggested), but as a slave, it is because the stewardship of the Gospel has been entrusted to him. But either way he is rewarded in that he can make the Gospel without charge, and thus not use to the full his right in the Gospel to claim maintenance.

Thus will all see that it is his very life, that he is genuine in what he is doing. They will see that he does not preach in order to earn a living, as did so many of the preachers, teachers and philosophers who went around teaching in order to do so. Rather they may know that he does it because it is his trust, his calling, his life work, a demand that God makes on him, for which he seeks nothing but the glory of God.


Verses 19-21

In Fact He Puts Everything Into His Work Of Winning Men For Christ (9:19-26)

'For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews. To them who are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law. To those who are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain those who are without law.'

For it is he who is the debtor (Romans 1:14). He is a debtor to all, a slave to all. He is a free man, indeed a Roman citizen, a man with great privileges, but he deliberately makes himself a slave and in bondage to all men. And he is ready to shape his life in any way necessary in order to gain as many as possible for Christ. That is all that matters to him. The fact that he is free from all because he earns his own way does not affect his dedication to his task. It rather accentuates it.

To the Jews he becomes as a Jew so as to win them for Christ. To those who are under the Law (here possibly widening the scope to include God-fearers who meticulously followed the Law, although not Jews) he becomes as under the Law, just as Jesus had done previously when He had observed all the tenets of the Pharisees, while not Himself being a Pharisee. Even though he is not actually under the Law, he will observe it scrupulously before them, and when he is with them. He will do anything not to put them off as long as it does not contradict the Gospel.

And to those not subject to the Law he becomes as one without law, as one who lives under the principles they live by, although he stresses that that does not mean that he becomes wild, or careless, or lawless. He is not without law to God. He recognises the inward law established by conscience (Romans 2:14-15). And he is under law to Christ. he acknowledges his responsibility to follow Christ's teachings and Christ's example. He would not, for example, eat things openly seen as sacrificed to idols in a pagan temple. He is still under God's general law as revealed by conscience, and under Christ's principles of life. But while remaining in line with Christ's teaching he abstains from involving himself while among them with those things that would put off those not under the law, the ritual teaching, the food laws, the washings, the laws on cleanness, and any other things that really only affect the Jews. And his purpose is so that he might gain those who are without the law for Christ.

The point here is about religious behaviour not moral behaviour. He does not mean that he will literally do anything, whether sinful or not, to win men. He means that he will not allow particular religious ordinances to get in the way of the acceptability of his message. If it will help he will perform them, if it will not help he will avoid them.


Verse 22-23

'To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker of it.'

'To the weak -.' This ties in with the subject of the previous chapter, the weak who can still be led astray by idols, but it also expands to all forms of weakness. Paul takes account of all men's weaknesses. He takes only into consideration what will enable the saving and strengthening of the weak, without a thought for his own desires. If they are weak he will be weak. He will recognise their prejudices (where it does not compromise the Gospel). Indeed he is totally committed to what is necessary in order to win the lost. He will become anything that is not ungodly if by it he can win some for Christ. So his own lifestyle enforces the fact that he does not consider his own will, but only what will be for the benefit of others, just as he has asked of the Corinthians in chapter 8.

He has become all things to all men, all that is that is best and necessary, all that will assist him in winning their confidence, that by all means he might save some. There is nothing that he will not do that is acceptable to God, in order to bring about their salvation (thus the 'all things' is consonant with that).

'And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker of it.' And he does it because he is not only a debtor to all men, he is a debtor to the Gospel and the One Who is the good news declared in it. What he does he does for the Gospel's sake so that he may partake in it along with all who do so. The Good News of Christ crucified and risen is his life and his destiny. It is his everything.


Verse 24

'Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Even so run; that you may attain.'

Then he applies his thoughts to the Corinthians. Like he does, they also should put every effort into the race. They should consider that many run in the race but only one receives the prize. So the point is that they should run their race in such a way as to be prizewinners. They should not be satisfied with anything less than being top man in this regard. They should earnestly desire to come first, and sacrifice anything to do so honestly.

This is not saying that spiritual prizes are limited so that only the best obtain one. God has prizes for all who earn them. It is looking at what the attitude of the athlete is. Determination to be the very best. And that should be the Christian’s aim. To be the very best for God.


Verse 25

'And every man who takes part ('strives') in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.'

Furthermore let them recognise that all runners or others who strive in the games exercise self-control. They discipline themselves in preparation for the games. They discipline themselves while partaking. They keep themselves under control and put everything into achieving their goal. And if people will do that in order to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more should those who seek an incorruptible.

The idea of self-control ties in with the previous ideas of being willing to abstain from things for the sake of the Gospel, even though they are 'legitimate', things such as eating in the temples meat sacrificed to idols, to which he will come again shortly. Or the participation in the pleasures of life. He is not a killjoy, but nor will he let anything unnecessary hinder his fully serving Christ. Time taken up in pleasure is not available for spiritual activity.

'Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.' What was the reason that these athletes in the Isthmian games, held biannually near Corinth, went to such extents and sacrificed so greatly? It was to win a fading crown. For a while they would be widely popular, but then they would be replaced by others, and forgotten by all except possibly those in their own neighbourhood. They would become has-beens. How much more then should the Christian be willing to go to extremes in order to win a crown that will never fade, that will never be forgotten, that will shine as the stars for ever.


Verse 26

'I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so do I fight, as not beating the air, but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected ('rejected after testing').'

Indeed they should be like Paul who puts everything into his effort. Not running aimlessly and half-heartedly, but intent on obtaining the prize. Not fighting wildly and beating the air, but instead fighting with control and picking off his opponent. He fights carefully and thoughtfully. Indeed he also buffets his own body, in order, as it were, to make it controlled. He had no doubt seen boxers pummelling their own bodies in order to harden them. So does he use every means to bring his own body, and his spirit, under control and make it strong. He will do anything to ensure that, having taught others to do it, he himself does not lose out, and fail to achieve the prize.

Some see the thought behind his fear of being 'rejected' as that of being rejected from receiving 'the prize for being top man', not of being rejected altogether. And that would fit the immediate context. However, the verses that follow may be seen as suggesting that he is talking of being rejected altogether. But either way we should note that it is theoretical as far as he is concerned. He is not fearful that he will fail, he only recognises that in order not to fail he has to put in full effort. And so must all. There is nothing more dangerous than complacency.

Paul's point is that while it is true that God is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure, this should not make us complacent. We must co-operate. We should work out what He has worked in, 'with fear and trembling', that is with the greatest of care and effort. The fact that it is God Who enables us to walk and live the holy life, that Christ lives and walks within us (Galatians 2:20), should not produce slackness. Rather it should result in total self-control and effort as we allow Him to live His life through us. he cannot live His life through us unless we are responsive to His will.

'I myself should be rejected (adokimos).' The word adokimos means 'not standing the test, unfit, disqualified'. This raises the question in many minds as to whether someone who has become a true Christian can ever be lost. On the one hand are those who see it as referring it to merely being disqualified from being the prizewinner even though being a genuine participant. Aiming to win the single prize is what the passage is all about. On the other are those who would argue that it means finally rejected and lost.

Our view on that will depend on our views on the faithfulness of God, our views on what exactly He has promised, and on the nature of salvation itself. Those who believe that we have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and have been personally foreknown ('related to beforehand') by God Himself (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4) will have no doubt that He will accomplish His purpose. Such people will point to 1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Philippians 1:6; Jude 1:24, John 10:28-29 emphasising that the saving work is in the hands of an unfailing Saviour. How then can it fail? But it should be noted that in both contexts there is the confirmation that such people will be made Christlike. There is no thought of salvation without eventual transformation, wrought by Christ.

However, others turn to this verse and the 'warning passages' in Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:26-31. In these the emphasis is on man's failure to persevere. And they feel that it suggests that it is possible for a saved man to be finally lost (even though it is a contradiction in terms). The question then is, do these verses point to true believers who are finally lost through falling short and turning from Christ, or do they refer to those who, although they may have made a strong profession, have a faith which is not really saving faith?

This last distinction is constantly made in Scripture. Jesus in the parable of the sower spoke of those who sprang up quickly but, because there was no depth of earth, withered away because they were not good ground (see Mark 4:16-19 in contrast with 1 Corinthians 9:20). Hebrews 6 also distinguishes between good and bad ground. It is those who are bad ground who fall away. John in his Gospel speaks clearly of two types of faith, outward and inward, faith in signs and personal faith in Jesus (see John 2:24-25). The thought would seem to be that they fell away because their hearts were not good ground, they had not been properly prepared by God, it was not the work of the Spirit.

The suggestion then is clearly that the final test of whether the ground is good is that they have true faith which results in perseverance, not just because the person perseveres, but because the Saviour perseveres in them. They are His sheep, secure in His keeping (John 10:28-29). If they stray He seeks them until he finds them (Luke 15:4). That being so they cannot finally remain lost. He has made them good ground, and will keep them so.

How then can I know that my faith is saving faith? Simply by asking myself what my true aim is. Have I come to Him because I want to be truly saved, because I have become aware of my own sinfulness and that Christ crucified is my only hope? Is it because I really want to be changed, because I really want to become like Him, even though I know that I cannot do it myself? I may feel inadequate. I may sometimes be almost in despair. But am I looking to Him to do that gradual transforming work within me? Do I really seek His Lordship? Do I genuinely want to please Him? Then I am truly saved, and He will not let me go simply because I am weak. It is not the weak who need to fear but the complacent. If my aim is simply to get to Heaven without my life being too much disturbed then I need to rethink my position. Salvation is not a fire insurance. I may end up being 'rejected after testing'. I may turn out to be a pretence, a counterfeit, a forgery.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-9.html. 2013.

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