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First Corinthians

If A Man's Principles ...

1 Corinthians 9:1-23

In reading this passage – which appears at first blush to be a defense of Paul’s apostleship – we must keep things in context. Paul has been pressing the Corinthians to refrain from doing things which they were permitted to do (in this instance, eating meat) for the sake of others. Paul now uses himself as an example of that. In this lesson we shall see three things, I trust:

· That Paul, as an apostle, had certain rights and privileges which came with that task.

· That Paul voluntarily gave up those rights and privileges for the sake of the Corinthian church.

· That as his example served for them, it should serve for us as well.

(1 Cor 9:1-23 NIV) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? {2} Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. {3} This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. {4} Don't we have the right to food and drink? {5} Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas ? {6} Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? {7} Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? {8} Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? {9} For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? {10} Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. {11} If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? {12} If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. {13} Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? {14} In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. {15} But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. {16} Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! {17} If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. {18} What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. {19} Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. {20} To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. {21} To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. {22} To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. {23} I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I Have a Right!

Paul begins the argument by establishing his rights.

The right to be called an apostle

Evidently there was some challenge to this; otherwise, Paul would not have taken such care in establishing it. He argues as follows:

· He has seen the risen Lord – who has given him the task. It was recognized in the early church that no man could claim to be an apostle unless he had seen the risen Lord. Not all those who had seen him could make that claim; only those whom the Lord had appointed. Paul argues here both the sight and the appointment.

· If further proof is needed, he submits to the Corinthians – themselves! If he is an apostle, then there is fruit to his work, and the Corinthians are just such fruit. If he were not an apostle, his work would have failed had he claimed such fraudulently.

· If this is not adequate for us, it should have been adequate for them, at least. This only shows that the argument is always there. “Why should I listen to you?” – the cry of those who want the appearance of righteousness on their own terms.

Is there a right to such support?

Just because you’re an apostle, are you entitled to support? In verse 14 Paul makes the explicit claim that the Lord has so commanded it. He cites these examples:

· First, the other apostles. They journey about; Peter takes his wife with him. They are supported by the churches. If Peter, why not Paul?

· Next, he cites the common example of agriculture of the time. The worker was paid, often, from the harvest directly. If this is so for the harvesting of crops, how much more so the harvesting of souls?

· Another example is the soldier. The soldier’s pay may not be much – I never thought it overly generous – but at least he gets it. If it is so with the wars of the earth, how much more so the war for the souls of men?

· Finally, there is the explicit example from the Old Testament. The priests who ministered in the temple were fed by the sacrifices.


I conclude the following (and not I alone):

· A minister of the Gospel is entitled to be supported by those to whom he ministers. God’s work; God’s charges.

· Such support is not just for the barest of necessities, but the normal conduct of life (for example, taking your wife along).

· But note: the work comes first, then the support. We are not called to support every person who thinks it might be a good idea to ask.

Giving up those rights

The next step in Paul’s argument is that he gave up those rights. Let us be clear as to what he has given up – and what he cannot give up.

Duty – preaching the Gospel

· As Paul’s description of the incident on the road to Damascus makes clear, he has no choice but to preach the Gospel. He is commanded to do so.

· So he claims no credit for preaching the Gospel to them. There is no extra credit on the exam for the mandatory questions.

We, as Christians, sometimes fail to understand this. We often believe that simply doing what we are commanded to do puts God greatly in our debt. This is a grave misunderstanding.

Above and beyond duty – not at their expense

What is above and beyond his duty is this: he did not preach to them and rely on them for support.

· How was he supported? Sometimes he worked as a tentmaker. Sometimes he was supported by other churches. He tells us that he “robbed other churches” for their sake. No doubt the other churches considered it a sacrifice of love – but see that in either case it was not a matter of commandment, but love exceeding the commandment.

· Why would they do such a thing? Is it not a sacrifice in imitation of their Lord? Consider the reward God gives to those who make sacrifices in his cause!

The extent of his sacrifice

Paul did not just sacrifice his right to be supported. He also adds these other sacrifices:

· His freedom to be “out from under” the Mosaic Law. When it was needed, he stayed under that law – for the sake of Christ.

· His comfort in being in the Law! Consider how it must have felt to have been raised in the Law, knowing its rules to be sufficient – and then to behave like a Gentile, for the sake of Christ.

· His strength – so that the weak would have someone like them.

All things to all men – for the sake of the Gospel. It is a challenge and inspiration to us yet today.

If a man’s principles don’t cost him anything – they aren’t worth very much.

That’s what my father taught me. Anyone can be high-principled as long as it’s cheap. So let me ask a few questions:

What does our Christianity cost us?

· Do we meet the minimum? Do we sacrifice those things we should just to obey the commands of Christ?

· Do we exceed that, for the love of our Lord? Do we sacrifice above and beyond what is commanded?

I have become all things

This too is a sacrifice. Consider, if you will, what it takes to become “all things to all men so that by all means I might win some..”

Sacrifice of who we are

· Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort level to bring the Gospel to others? Some go to the mission field; for some, it’s just associating with those they find undesirable.

· Are we willing to sacrifice our dreams and ambitions? Does the next career move come ahead of staying home for our children? Are our spare hours dedicated to God, or to moving up the corporate ladder?

· Are we willing to sacrifice our position? If you are in some sense a ruler over men – a manager, for example – are you willing to be the servant of all? Or does that sacrifice your “dignity?”

Sacrifice of what we have

· Some of us find it hard to part with money – and even harder to part with possessions. Will you sacrifice them for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Will you sacrifice them for your own sake?

· More than money and possessions, will you sacrifice your time? Or do you see God’s needs taken care of on Sunday morning only?

Sacrifice of what is ours by right

This may be the hardest of all, for we tell ourselves that we have earned it, it is ours by right, it is righteous that we should have it – and all this can be true. But are we willing to sacrifice even these things?

· Are we willing to sacrifice justice for ourselves for the sake of the unity of the church – as we saw a few weeks ago?

· Are we willing to sacrifice justice for ourselves so that we might be merciful?

· Are we willing to sacrifice what we know to be the treatment which is our due – as husband or wife, for example – so that the cause of Christ might triumph?

· Perhaps the greatest of all: when we know we have the “right answer” – to whatever the question – are we willing to let someone else’s wrong answer prevail – for the sake of Christ?


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