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1 Corinthians 9

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1 Corinthians 9:1-7… Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?


            The point of the limits of Christians freedom in chapter 8 is illustrated in chapter 9. Christians have great freedom, but their freedom can become a snare to others. In 9:1 Paul says that he himself is free. He’s an “apostle” – one “sent out,” and though it refers to all Christians sent out to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, technically it refers to those who have “seen Jesus our Lord.” Paul did just that in Acts 9:3-16, and he was an official “apostle.”

            In vv. 1d-2 Paul continues his defense of his freedom credentials in Christ. He points at the converted lives of the Corinthians as evidence of his apostleship. He led them to Jesus, and in his mind this was the “seal of [his] apostleship in the Lord” – the proof that he was genuine. He then makes a “defense” (Greek apologia) in light of his very high credentials to those who would “examine” him in v. 4. First, as an apostle – one of only a select group of people who have ever seen the Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead – he asks “does he not have the right to eat and drink?” The unspoken answer is “yes,” and this refers back to his point in chapter 8 where the Corinthians were eating anything they wanted at the expense of their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. So there they were expressing their freedoms, and now Paul shows his superiority as an  apostle but one who does not take advantage of his freedoms. Second, in v. 5, Paul asks, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife?” His point was that not only did he have the right to be married (which he wasn’t), he also had the right to take a wife and have her be financially supported too by those he ministered to. He also makes an interesting point here by stating that the Apostle Peter (Cephas) was apparently taking his wife on his missionary journeys and that Jesus’ blood brothers (other children of Joseph and Mary) were doing the same. It was their “right” to not only be financially supported by the churches but also their right to take their wives with them and have them be financially supported.

            Verse 6 is sarcasm. He asks, “Are Barnabas and myself the only ones that have to work for a living?” This is a reference to the fact that Paul and Barnabas were making their living on the side as opposed to receiving money from the people they ministered to. In other words, they weren’t taking advantage of their right to receive pay for preaching. In verse 7 he uses a soldier, a farmer, and a shepherd to illustrate how these professions make their living. They don’t have to find other jobs to support their labors. They are paid for doing what they do.

Food for Thought

            What “rights” do you deprive yourself of as a Christian, if any? Paul gave up a salary for his hard work, and he was severely beaten on five occasions and left for dead on another after being stoned by enemies. If anyone should have been paid for their evangelistic efforts it was Paul. But for the sake of those who would ridicule him for accepting money for evangelism, he gave up his right. He gave up a right he possessed so as not to invite an accusation against Christ’s church. What rights do you need to give up to maintain a pure witness for Jesus Christ?

1 Corinthians 9:8-12… I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.


            In verse 8 Paul basically says that his teaching isn’t coming from his own mind. In other words, he’s not the originator of the concept that ministers should be paid for their work as pastors. He refers to the Law of Moses as found in the first five books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Torah; Greek Pentateuch). In verse 9 he quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 which says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” What this refers to is God’s command to Israel that oxen, while threshing grain in the harvest fields, are not to be muzzled. They are commanded to allow the oxen to eat the very grain they’re threshing. Then in 9b Paul tells why God commanded Moses to write this, and it wasn’t because God was overly concerned with the oxen being able to eat while they worked. The passage refers to ministers – whether it be in the OT temple in Jerusalem or in the NT church – who should be able to partake of the financial blessings of their particular ministry. Paul also makes this clear in his teaching to Timothy about elders/pastors receiving “double honor” for their work in the church (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

            Verse 10 clearly teaches that ministers of the gospel are to be paid for their ministries. This passage teaches that those who preach Christ must be paid for their preaching in the same way that “plowmen” (farmers) and “threshers” reap the benefit of eating the crops they harvest. Now the apostle, in v. 11, takes the argument a step further. In keeping with the example of agriculture, he says that those who “sowed spiritual things” – referring to those who planted the seed of the good news of Jesus Christ through the preaching of Christ – should “reap” material rewards for doing so. Notice that it wasn’t Paul’s assumption that just because a man preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to a group of people that he would receive a spiritual reward from them by seeing his “seed” come to fruition through the salvation of all the people. Rather, he saw the principle that hard work in spiritual endeavors must at least be compensated materially. And apparently this was common knowledge to the Corinthians who were obviously paying others to be their pastors as v. 12 assumes (“if others share this right over you…”). Now if other Christian preachers were paid to teach in their assemblies Paul says, “Do we not more” have the right to be paid by you? Of course the rhetoric demands a positive answer, but the conclusion to the example here is that Paul and Barnabas did not accept their pay for delivering the gospel to them. Their goal was to deny themselves the right to be paid, “endure all things,” and give no one an opportunity to slander their ministries (“no cause of hindrance to the gospel of Christ”).

Food for Thought

            Though the example above concerns denying oneself certain freedoms so as to keep others from stumbling, it is a clear doctrine about compensating church leaders who spend their time preaching and teaching. These men labor night and day – studying God’s Word, praying for others, fighting a never-ending spiritual war, and lamenting the sins that keep they and the ones they love from reaching their full potential. They must be paid accordingly for their labors.

1 Corinthians 9:13-18… Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.


            Verses 13-14 summarize the former teaching in vv. 1-12. In the OT the priests and Levites received their food from the animals offered at sacrifices in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. In the NT those who preach God’s Word – those who proclaim the gospel – are to receive their living from that same gospel. They are to receive their salaries for being pastors.

            Verse 15 reveals why Paul has made such an example of the biblical mandate to pay preachers. Even though he himself was a preacher of the gospel – one who deserves to be paid for his labor – he laid aside this privilege. Why? It wasn’t a ploy he was using in order to get paid for his work, rather it was something he took great joy in. Paul says in v. 15 that he would rather have died than to be paid for his work. He apparently took great pride in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ without requiring any financial support. This “boast” of Paul’s might be seen as arrogance, but it’s likely that he was attempting to separate himself from the many in his day who required money for their preaching – even to the point of abusing the privilege. His focus, however, had more to do with his desire to keep the gospel message pure than to separate himself from those who were abusing their privilege of preaching for pay. He wanted to give no occasion for ridicule in his ministry, so he would not accept pay to preach the gospel. And this practice of his brought him a measure of great personal joy.

            In verse 16 it becomes evident why the great apostle preached as he did – he was “compelled” to do so, and knew that he was cursed if he didn’t – “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” By preaching it he felt he deserved no recognition because he was just doing what he was supposed to do. In v. 17 he says, in essence, that if he preaches God’s Word voluntarily he has a reward, but if he does so against his will then he’s only doing that which he’s supposed to do (the latter reminds one of Jonah who preached because he had to). Notice that when Paul says he has his reward for preaching the gospel voluntarily that his reward is in the present tense. He doesn’t preach for a future reward but a present one, and in v. 18 his reward is said to be a message of the cross of Christ (the gospel) that is offered without charge. In other words, Paul’s present reward for preaching the gospel was the joy he received for doing it without being paid to do it. He preached voluntarily and under a compelling influence, and it brought him joy that money couldn’t buy. Furthermore, he got the privilege of seeing others come to faith in Christ as a result of his preaching – a benefit that not all preachers often see for their hard labor.

Food for Thought

            Woe to all of us if we fail to preach Jesus Christ. Let God’s curse come down upon us if we fail to live out what we claim to believe about Christ. Let us lose all happiness if we give in to the temptations that put stumbling blocks in front of those who are watching us. Whether we live out our faith voluntarily or involuntarily let us do so faithfully today and everyday.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23… For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.


            One can almost feel Paul’s passion for winning souls to Christ in the above passage. His freedom in Christ is complete, but as a slave of Christ – one who will go to any length to worship Christ – he makes himself a “slave to all” that he might somehow bring more people to the saving power of Jesus Christ. He isn’t content with the churches he’s planted and the numbers he’s seen come to faith; he wants more, and he will go to all lengths to see this happen.

            In verses 20-22 Paul speaks of three different groups of people he ministers to. The first group, in v. 20, are Jews – those “under the Law.” Paul himself was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, but he had recognized the Savior promised to the Jews by Moses in the Law. His fellows Israelites had not. So, in order to help them see clearly their Savior he was willing to abide by their rituals, their holy days, and their diet in order to win them to Christ. It wasn’t a compromise to his freedom to do so, rather, it was his way of not offending them. If they were offended by someone who ate pork, Paul would refrain from eating pork while ministering to them. He knew that abiding by the Law of Moses didn’t save anyone because no one could fully abide by that Law. However, so as not to offend those that believed in the OT Law of “dos and don’ts” he was willing to stoop in order to have the opportunity to witness to them.

            The second group is in v. 21: those “who are without the Law.” Those without the Law are Gentiles – non-Jewish peoples who did not follow the teachings of Moses as found in the OT. To these people Paul was a true servant. He ate with them, mingled with them, and went where they went. He read their literature and their philosophies so as to understand them. He did not judge them for being Gentile or not following Jewish customs, but he befriended them and loved them. He got on their level and used his freedom in Christ (the “law of Christ”) to minister to them so as to bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation only he can provide.

            The third group is in v. 22, was the “weak.” These are folks who are offended at various behaviors, words, and the habits of others. It is this group that Christians must be very mindful of because they are offended at the drop of a hat. Paul would go to any legal length to win these to Christ. If they were offended at what he ate, he would abstain. If they were offended by words he used, he would cease from using such words. His goal was to win them to Jesus Christ, and without compromising the truth of the gospel he would restrict any and all liberties he had in Christ to win the weak to Christ. He was “all things to all people.”

Food for Thought

            Paul’s purpose for his actions are found in verse 23: “And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” All he wanted was others to participate with him in the benefits and blessings of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. His life centered around winning souls. Take heed, people will be offended by God’s words, but that’s their problem. Our problem, however, is making sure we don’t get in the way of God’s words.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27… Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.


            There were two major sports events in Paul’s day: the Olympic games and the Isthmian games. The latter were held in Corinth, so the Corinthians were quite familiar with Paul’s example in vv. 24-27 as he relates this to the Christian life. Those involved in the games had to complete a ten-month rigorous training program to compete. Only one would receive the prize.

            Paul relates these games and these races to the Christian life. In the same way that these athletes trained rigorously to win their prize, Christians must also train to win their prize. He tells the Corinthians, “Run in such a way that you may win.” The verb form of “run” is a present imperative signifying a command to continue to pursue something. Of course the Christian “race” isn’t against other Christians. The believer’s race is about overcoming worldly obstacles – obstacles that hinder our walk and keep us from bringing others to Jesus Christ for salvation. And Christians are to continually persevere through the difficult times of sharing the gospel and depriving themselves of their inherent liberties in Christ so as to win souls to Christ.

            Verse 25 speaks of an athlete’s commitment to training. They “exercise self-control in all things.” When they’re hungry they aren’t given to late-night snacks that hinder their training. In other words, they aren’t controlled by their stomachs. They go to bed early even when they’d rather stay up late, and they get out of bed before the sun comes up even though they’d rather hit the snooze button. They discipline themselves and deny themselves certain pleasures for what? They do it “to receive a perishable wreath.” Their prize was a pine wreath that signified their achievement and their victory, but for all the work they put into their prize it was “perishable.”

Now the Christian race is really no different in many respects. The similarity between it and the Christian race is that both take great discipline. However, as Dr. John MacArthur has said, “The athlete’s disciplined self-control is a rebuke of half-hearted, out-of-shape Christians who do almost nothing to prepare themselves to witness to the lost – and consequently seldom do.” And the kicker is that the Christian’s prize is imperishable. This was why Paul ran his race to save the lost in such a way that had an ultimate goal. He “boxed” not as one “beating the air” but as one fighting a real fight in a real battle. Because of this he said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave…” The word “buffet” means to “blacken one’s eye.” In this example Paul seems to be saying that he would go to great lengths to train his body to be a slave to God’s will.

            Paul’s goal was to train accordingly, for in the same way that an athlete would be disqualified for not meeting the training requirements, Paul did not want to spend his life preaching the requirements to others only to be disqualified for not meeting them himself.

Food for Thought

            Far too many Christians today take God’s grace for granted. They have no discipline and have become slaves to their own bodies and whims. Their minds and stomachs tell them what to do. If they feel like gluttony they indulge. If they feel like putting their Bible reading aside they do. If they don’t want to pray they won’t. Make your body a slave to God’s will, not yours. A day of fasting and prayer will go a long way to achieving that noble goal. Give it a try.

I)       Paul’s freedom in Christ and his claim as a true apostle reflecting on the Corinthians’ lives (1-2)

A)    By virtue of being a believer he is free

B)    Seen the Lord Jesus Christ after resurrection

C)    Has the Christian Corinthians as his proof of being a true apostle

II)    Paul’s defense to those who would scrutinize his ministry (3-7)

A)    He has the right to eat and drink

B)    He has the right to take a believing wife with him in his ministry

C)    Soldiers, farmers, and shepherds are taken care of within their respective jobs

III) An example of OT teaching regarding pay for ministry (8-15)

A)    Deut. 25:4 speaks of oxen as an example of ministers being paid to preach

B)    Those who sow spiritual seed ought to benefit w/material blessings

C)    Paul forfeiting his right to receive pay to keep from hindering his message

D)    OT priests received food from offering

E)     NT ministers are to receive pay for preaching

IV) The responsibility of preaching God’s word whether voluntarily or involuntarily (16-18)

A)    Paul had a compulsion to preach

B)    The reward for preaching voluntarily has a present benefit

C)    No reward for preaching involuntarily (cf. Jonah)

D)    Paul’s preaching from compulsion caused him to forfeit any pay he might have received

V)    All things to all men (19-23)

A)    To the Jews (those under the Law) he acts Jewish

B)    To the Gentiles he acts non-Jewish

C)    To the weak he stoops to their level so as not to offend

VI) The Great Christian race to be performed for excellence (24-27)

A)    Exercise self-control

B)    Run the race with aim and stamina

C)    Train the body to be disciplined so that disqualification does not hinder

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