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1 Corinthians 9:1-18
Wednesday AM Bible Study
Septemer 5, 2007
Theme: Paul exemplifies—through his ministry to the Corinthians—the principle of placing love toward our brother over the exercise of our own rights.
In chapter eight, Paul had been dealing with the problem in the Corinthian church of the eating of meat that had been served to idols—and more specifically, of the way that the more "knowledgeable" Christians were exercising their right to eat to harm the weaker brother who did not feel such freedom. This morning's passage, in chapter nine, may seem out of place at first glance. In fact, some New Testament commentators have suggested it was inserted from another letter. But in actuality, it not only fits the context but powerfully exemplifies the lesson Paul sought to teach in the previous chapter.
There's a story in the background that may help us to appreciate what's being said in chapter nine. When Paul first came to the Corinthian's with the gospel, he had to deal with a two-fold problem: (1) his own apostolic authority was being challenged by false teachers, and (2) these false teachers were claiming to be sent by God with apostolic authority. To deal with this problem, Paul "cut off the opportunity" from these false teachers by preaching the gospel to the Corinthians and ministering to them without financial support from the Corinthian church (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-15). Acts 18:1-17 tells of how he labored with his own hands as a tent-maker in order to provide for his own needs—thus showing the false teachers to be insincere and only motivated by personal gain (1 Tim. 6:5). If they were sincere, as the argument would go, then let them do as Paul did—that is, minister the gospel to the Corinthians free of charge!
And this is what relatest this chapter to the previous one. Paul uses the example of the sacrifice of his own "rights" in order to teach the Corinthians how they should do the same toward one another with respect to their rights.
In other words, Paul, in this passage, practices what he preaches!
I. PAUL AFFIRMS HIS RIGHTS AS AN APOSTLE AND MINISTER TO THE CHURCH (vv. 1-11).
A. Paul asks, "Am I not an apostle? Am I not free?" (In some of the better manuscripts, the order of those questions is reversed—placing emphasis on the "freedom" that we have in Christ.) He affirmed that the signs of an apostle were on him (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33). Among the signs is that he had seen the Lord (see Acts 1:21-22). Even their own growth as believers is a sign; because it was he who had brought the gospel to them (vv. 1-2).
B. As an apostle, he asks if it isn't his right to be provided for by the church (vv. 3-7). He has a right to eat and drink (at the church's expense). He and Barnanbas have a right to bring along a wife at the church's expense. Even common sense shows that no one should have to work for the benefit of others at their own cost (v. 7; see 2 Tim. 2:6).
C. Even the Scriptures teach this (8-11). Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4; and shows that the principle of not muzzling an ox who treads out grain is meant to be a principle applied to those who should benefit materially from the work they perform. This is applied spiritually. Paul says that those who serve the gospel to others should expect to receive material support in their ministry (see Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17).
II. BUT PAUL REFRAINS FROM USING HIS RIGHTS IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THE CAUSE OF THE GOSPEL IN THE CASE OF THE CORINTHIANS (vv. 12-18).
A. If others had a right to this, surely Paul and Barnabas should expect to. But they have chosen not to use this right in order to avoid hindering the gospel-work among the Corinthians—no doubt because of the false teachers that were challenging Paul's ministry (v. 12).
B. Paul expands this idea. The Scriptures, in Leviticus 6, allows those who minister in the temple and at the altar to enjoy the food that is on the altar (v. 13). "Even so," Paul writes, "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (v. 14; see Matthew 10:10).
C. But Paul makes it his boast that he does not use this legitimate right in the preaching of the gospel; nor is he now writing that it be done so in his case. Rather, he would rather die (of starvation?) than allow anyone to take away his boast in preaching the gospel to them free of charge (v. 15). He argues that he is under compulsion to preach the gospel; and thus, the only reward he can claim is the boast that he preaches it to them for free (vv. 16-18).
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Verses 19-23 make it very clear that Paul's motivation in this is to remove any possible hindrance to the gospel. In like manner, he is calling us to be willing to set aside the use of our own legitimate "rights" and "liberties" in order to show love and care to our brother or sister and to avoid placing any stumbling block before someone who is weaker.
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