1 CORINTHIANS - CHAPTER 9
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“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?”
were those, his enemies, who refused to acknowledge that Paul was an Apostle at all,
and he now proceeds to answer their charge, not for self-vindication, but for the
sake of the Gospel and the good of the saints, for if he was not an Apostle then his
word was not that of the Lord Whose spokesman he claimed to be, nor had it any more
authority than that of any other man.
this point it might be well to pause and note that the word “apostle”, meaning
“messenger,” applies to anyone acting in the capacity of a messenger, but as
applied to the twelve and to Paul (who certainly were messengers in that same general
sense), the meaning was much more
restricted, and applies to those thirteen only. The special qualification of an Apostle is found in Ac 1:21-22: he
had to be one who had witnessed the events of the Lord’s life from His baptism till
His ascension, and his work was to be that of witnessing to His resurrection.
Clearly this rules out the idea of Apostolic succession.
met these qualifications, for there can be no question that as a strict Pharisee he
was well acquainted with the life of the Lord Jesus; and as to the Lord’s
resurrection, Paul, at the time of his conversion, had seen and talked with the
to his being “free,” the reference is to his being free from the authority of
men. It was the Lord, not man, Who had
commissioned Paul and Who directed his service. Every believer enjoys that same freedom, and we are to be careful
that we don’t surrender it to men, as we are warned in 7:23, “Ye are bought with
a price; be not ye the servants of men.” This
pernicious evil has vitiated the life of the church since earliest days, and is an
inherent part of the clerical system which holds the church in its iron grip.
No man, not even an elder, has the authority to direct the service of any
other believer. That is the exclusive
prerogative of the Holy Spirit.
I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” The
reference is obviously to his having seen the resurrected Lord, for multitudes
had seen Him in the course of His life; but only believers had seen Him in
are not ye my work in the Lord?” If
any further proof were needed, they themselves constituted that proof.
Their converted state testified to the power in which Paul had ministered the
Gospel, and clearly God would not have endowed an imposter with such power.
“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.”
might deny Paul’s claim to the apostolic office, but the Corinthian saints
couldn’t, for they themselves were the living proof of his claim.
It was by his preaching of the Gospel that they had been saved and brought
together as an assembly of redeemed ones. As
noted already, God would not have blessed the work of an imposter.
“Mine answer to them that do examine me is this:”
“Have we not power (right) to eat and to drink?”
established the fact that he was indeed and Apostle, he now proceeds to deal with the
rights of an Apostle, and first on the list is that of support.
He had clearly been called to a full-time ministry and was not to be
encumbered with the need to spend his
time earning the necessities of life. It
was not only the responsibility, but also the privilege of those to whom he
ministered spiritually, to reciprocate by supplying his temporal needs.
They were to furnish his food and drink, clothing and lodging, etc., so that
he, without distraction, could give himself to the work of the Gospel.
The fact that he didn’t avail himself of that ministry to his temporal needs
was so that no one would be able to say he was preaching the Gospel for monetary
“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?”
regard to those of the Apostles who were married (and most appear to have been), he
points out that where their wives were free to accompany them as they travelled in
the Lord’s service, the assemblies were responsible to provide also for the needs
of those spouses. (The “brethren of
the Lord” were those children born to Joseph and Mary after the birth of the Lord
of this, and particularly the inclusion of Peter amongst those who had wives,
refutes the erroneous teaching of Rome that her so-called “priests” are to remain
“Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?”
clear implication is that the Corinthian assembly was supplying the needs of others
of the Lord’s servants, but Paul’s critics were refusing to concede that he and
Barnabas were also entitled to that same temporal ministry.
“Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard
and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the
milk of the flock?”
aptness of his illustrations is apparent when we remember that the work of the Gospel
involves warfare with Satan and all his demonic hosts; it involves planting the good
seed of the Gospel, those who believe becoming living branches engrafted into Christ
the Vine (Jn 15:5); and it involves the care of those who through faith become the
sheep of His pasture, the flock of which He is the chief Shepherd.
he points out, however, the soldier doesn’t go to war at his own expense.
He is paid by those for whom he fights. The
planter of a vineyard is justified in expecting to be able to eat the grapes and
drink the wine, and he who shepherds sheep has a perfect right to expect to drink the
milk, and use the wool produced by that flock. So
in the spiritual realm: he who has been gifted and called by God to minister to
others in spiritual things, is to have his temporal needs met by those to whom he
ministers, once they become believers.
“Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?”
the rebuttal likely to be offered by his critics that his illustrations have no
spiritual application, he next proceeds to show that Scripture uses similar
illustrations to declare the very same principle.
“For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of
the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth
God take care for oxen?”
reminds us that God has woven into the fabric of the literal language of Scripture, a
transcendent spiritual message, discernible only to obedient believers through the
revelation of the Holy Spirit. I say to obedient believers, for disobedience quenches and
grieves the Holy Spirit and cuts off His ministry of enlightenment, so that the
disobedient believer remains in this respect little different from the unbeliever.
Such illustrations as this teach us that our reading of Scripture should never
stop at the mere literal. We should read
with that inquisitive spirit that will be continually searching for a higher truth
than is declared in the literal language. It
is failure to read with such an inquiring spirit that has cut multitudes of believers
off from the full riches of God’s Word. Care
must be taken, however, to ensure that imagination is not allowed to fill in what God
has not written, for that is an evil which has tended to discredit the
legitimate study of Biblical typology, and promote error.
ox here is clearly a figure or type of those who give themselves to the work of the
Gospel, either in bringing God’s Word to the unconverted, or in teaching the
saints, and the truth being declared is that all such workers are to be supported by
those who benefit from their ministry. Other Scriptures, however, make it clear that that support is to
come from believers only, and not from the unconverted to whom the Gospel is
“Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?
For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in
hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”
command relative to the treatment of oxen, is obviously the symbolic announcement of
the principle He would have us follow in relation to the needs of those who serve in
the work of the Gospel.
appears to refer to the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved, the evangelist being
the principle worker; while threshing seems to relate more to the teaching given to
believers, the principle workers being the elders and the teachers, though as noted
already, the nature of the elders’ work usually leaves them free to engage in
occupations which provide for their temporal needs, the elder needing to be supported
by the gifts of the Lord’s people being the exception rather than the rule.
“If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall
reap your carnal things?”
the Apostle draws attention to the relative values of spiritual and temporal things,
and without question the spiritual is infinitely superior to the temporal, for that
which is sown spiritually will produce fruit for eternity, whereas that which relates
to mere physical need is temporary, and related to earth.
It is to be recognized, however, that that ministry to the temporal needs of
others is also invested with an eternal character, for it is the Lord Himself Who
assures us that not even a cup of cold water given another for His sake will go
unrewarded (Mt 10:42).
“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.”
they, the Corinthian saints, acknowledged the right of God’s servants to live off
the Gospel (which they did by meeting the temporal needs of some), then, Paul argues,
Barnabas and he had a stronger claim based on the fact that it was they who had been
responsible for the founding of the Corinthian assembly.
They, however, had foregone that right lest it might contribute in any way to
aspersions being made against the Gospel, or to the impugning of the motives of him
willingness to forego the temporal support to which they were entitled, is a
practical demonstration of the truth Paul had been emphasizing relative to the need
of all believers to be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others.
He practiced what he preached.
“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
who were of the tribe of Levi, and therefore responsible to serve in connection with
the temple ritual, had been given no inheritance with the other tribes when Moses
assigned each his portion in the land of Canaan.
The Levites were to live off what the other tribes brought to God, first in
the Tabernacle, and then later in the Temple. Each
of the other tribes was commanded to provide a specified number of cities for the
Levites to dwell in, and in addition, God had designated certain parts of the
animals, meal, etc., offered in sacrifice, to be the portion of the Levites as their
“Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should
live of the gospel.”
we learn the higher spiritual significance of the Levitical ritual, and learn that
the literal language of the OT is invested with a higher spiritual meaning than is
conveyed in the actual words. Careful
study of Scripture, in fact, makes it clear that the seeming paucity of specific
instruction in the NT for the life of the Church, is not because God has left to
every man’s imagination the right to decide how to worship and work, but because
specific instruction has been given: it has been woven into the literal
language which specified with such minuteness every detail of the Levitical ritual.
It is failure to discern that spiritual meaning that has resulted in the
present, and escalating, anarchy within the professing church.
assemblies flourished when that truth was recognized, faithfully taught, and obeyed,
nor will there be recovery from the present ruin unless that truth is again discerned
present hierarchical system that guarantees its hireling and humanly-appointed
clerics a salary, is totally opposed to all that is taught in Scripture.
“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 should
make my glorying void.”
though Paul had a perfect right to this maintenance, he had not claimed it from the
Corinthians, nor would he accept it even if offered.
His purpose in writing to inform them of God’s order for the care of His
servants was not so that he might become the beneficiary, but so that they might
learn truth and walk in it, and be blessed. It
wasn’t pride that impelled the Apostle to refuse such ministry from the
Corinthians: it was simply that he knew how much improvement was needed in their
spiritual state before they could have any part in the work of the Gospel.
One thing taught clearly in Scripture is that God will not use an unclean
vessel. The disobedient believer can
render no acceptable service to the God Who demands holiness of His people.
to Paul’s “glorying,” it is necessary to note that this wasn’t mere human
pride which would maintain independence of others, and refuse to accept God’s
appointment for meeting the needs of His servants. The Apostle had a far more worthy motive, for he had willingly and
gratefully accepted ministry from others, who humanly speaking, were far less able
than the rich Corinthians, to supply such things as he needed.
His only motive was that no one in Corinth should ever be able to associate
the Gospel of God’s free grace with the financial enrichment of those who preached
it. He would rather die than enable
anyone to associate that Gospel with mere money-making.
is to the disgrace of professing Christendom that so many today are able to make that
charge against many of those who profess to be serving God in the Gospel.
“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!”
refute the charges of some who apparently accused Paul of seeking glory for himself
through the preaching of the Gospel, he hastened to remind them that this wasn’t a
work he himself had chosen, but rather, one to which he had been ordained by the Lord
Who had called him on the Damascus road. There
was little earthly glory for those who preached the Gospel then, nor is it different
today. Mockery, opposition, persecution, ridicule, and a host of other
evils have always been the lot of the faithful Gospel preacher.
Paul, in fact, had enjoyed the approval and glory of men when he was the
antagonist of the Christ to Whose service he was now bound by no other compulsion
than that of a grateful redeemed heart. To
refuse to serve that Master would bring upon him woe far worse than anything man
could inflict, for it would result in the loss of eternal reward at the judgment seat
would all do well to ponder the extent to which the desire for earthly glory has
resulted in our failure to preach that same Gospel for which Paul was willing to die.
“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.”
Paul is saying is that if he preaches the Gospel voluntarily, or by his own choice,
then he should certainly expect to be paid for his work, but the fact is that he has
no choice in the matter. He has been
commissioned by Christ to do this work, so that he is in the position of a bondslave
who has been entrusted with this work as a steward who must render an account to his
believer is in the same position. We too
are the Lord’s bondslaves (He has bought us), and we too have been commissioned to
preach the Gospel (Mk 16:15), we too are stewards who must one day stand at the
judgment seat of Christ to render an account of our stewardship (Ro 14:10).
In view of this we would do well to review how we spend our time, remembering
that every minute will have to be accounted for, that which was used in the service
of Christ bringing eternal reward; that which wasn’t, bringing eternal loss.
time that might have been invested profitably for eternity has instead been
squandered because some believers have heeded the vain philosophy of men that
“everyone should have a hobby.” No
more insidious advice could be given. It
has resulted in the distraction of multitudes of believers from their God-appointed
work, and unfortunately many, deluded by its seeming plausibility, won’t discover
its nefarious character until they stand at the Bema, when it will be too late to
remedy. We find no such advice in
Scripture, but rather the assurance concerning the Lord’s service, “Take my yoke
upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest
unto your souls. For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light” (Mt 11:29-30). It
is to be noted that the yoke was placed upon the ox when it was to work, yet the Lord
here presents a seeming contradiction: His yoke is associated with rest. There is no contradiction. I
have yet to meet a believer, no matter how busy in the Lord’s service, who has ever
complained of being overworked or overtired. He
who appoints our work has His own mysterious way of providing for our needs,
world’s evil advice takes also another subtle form, “You’ll experience
burn-out.” Only two classes of people
suffer burn-out: those in the rat-race of today’s business world, and those who
have undertaken spiritual work for which they have not been given the necessary
spiritual gift, or to which God has not called them. No believer, doing the work to which God has called him, will ever
“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.”
reward here has reference to the temporal, not to the eternal recompense that will be
given at the Bema; and Paul counted it sufficient reward that he could have the joy
of being able to preach the Gospel without charge to anyone, and refrain from
claiming the temporal support that is the God-ordained right of all who give
themselves to the work of the Gospel.
may not be taken to imply that Paul was motivated by a spirit of pride and
independence. He wasn’t, for clearly
he gladly accepted the ministry of others relative to his temporal needs.
But the situation at Corinth was that there were those who said he was simply
doing this work for financial gain, and his joy was that he was able to refute their
charges by refusing to accept even what was his by right, i.e., his support.
The cause of Christ would be better served if all who preach the Gospel were
equally careful not to furnish any opportunity for others to say that financial gain
was the motive for their service.
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all,
that I might gain the more.”
thus freed himself from any obligation to any man (he took no man’s money), yet he
gladly made himself the servant of all, so that he might win as many as possible to
the Savior. We should note that God has
not given to any man, not even the elders, the right to direct the service of any
believer. That is the exclusive
prerogative of the Holy Spirit.
“And unto the Jews I became as 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
he could accommodate himself to Jewish customs, he did, but obviously not to the
extent of violating his position as an heir of grace.
It should be noted, incidentally, that the second part of this verse is not
just a repetition of the first. The
first appears to relate to those who were Jews by birth; the second, perhaps, to
Gentiles who had converted to the Jews’ religion.
“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.
referred to here are Gentiles, who, as such, felt under no obligation to obey the
Mosaic law, and again Paul would accommodate himself to their beliefs, but without
making himself disobedient to God.
“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.”
“weak” here seem to be, not the weak believers mentioned in chapter 8, but
rather unconverted Jews and Gentiles who may have had personal scruples about many
things. Paul, where possible, would
respect such scruples as though they were his own.
In a word, he would make every effort to find common ground with all men if it
would help win them to Christ.
are many today, who under the pretext of encouraging believers to emulate Paul,
ignore the constraints the Apostle applied, and would have us do what God forbids:
carry accommodation all the way to compromise. We
need to be very careful not to allow zeal to carry us across that line.
Even an objective as worthy as the winning of souls, doesn’t justify the use
of unscriptural methods.
“And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof
points out that a better rendering of this verse is “And I do all things because of
the gospel, that I might be partaker thereof.”
It wasn’t just that Paul tried to accommodate himself to others so that he
might win them to Christ. The fact being
declared is that he did all things because of the Gospel.
It was all he cared about. It was
his very life. We should note too that
the thought is not of his being partaker with the Corinthian saints in this great
work. It was that he might be a partaker
of the eternal reward promised every believer who gives himself to the work of the
Gospel. We have a right concept of
things when we too recognize that the Gospel is to be our life work.
doesn’t mean that every believer is called upon to give up secular employment, but
it does mean that, whatever our occupations, all things are to be secondary to this
great work of spreading the Gospel. It
was that same spirit that imbued the believers of the early apostolic days, and that
resulted in such phenomenal blessing upon their efforts to spread the Gospel.
That blessing will be seen again only when the same spirit impels us.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the
prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”
way of encouraging the Corinthian saints to give themselves also wholeheartedly to
this great work, Paul refers to the athletic contests with which they were all very
familiar, and draws an analogy between those contests and the work of the Gospel.
The contestant in the games couldn’t live as did others.
He must deny himself the ease they enjoyed, while devoting himself without
distraction to the most rigorous training; and so with the believer who would hope to
win the Lord’s commendation on that day when we shall all stand at His judgment
is a difference, however. In the games
only one could win the prize; but in the work of the Gospel, every man can be a
victor, for in that great work believers are not in competition with other saints,
but are rather contestants against Satan and his demon hordes, who by means of every
imaginable artifice would distract us from the race set before us.
He who would win the prize of the Lord’s commendation, and an eternal
reward, must resist every enticement that would hinder him from doing the work of the
Gospel. Nor should we forget the subtlety of the enemy.
We are warned to lay aside, not only the sins which so easily beset us, but
also the “weights” (Heb 12:1), and it is in that very area of the “weights”
that we are so often distracted. They
come in multitudinous forms: hobbies, reading, education, art, music, sport, civic
and social work ... giving to families, homes, jobs, etc., time that belongs to God.
The fact that these things in themselves aren’t sins, blinds us to the truth
that they are nonetheless weights which will hold us back in that heavenly race.
“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an
with being temperate is the thought of rigid self-control or self-restraint; and as
the contestant in the games must thus discipline himself, so must the believer who
would be a victor in the heavenly race. The ease and pleasure others may grant themselves, the
contestant in the heavenly race must deny himself if he would stand approved at the
end of the race. This requires a careful
examination of all that occupies our time, and a pruning away of everything that
fails to meet the criterion, Does this advance the cause of Christ, and make me a
the quickly withering laurel crowns won by the victors in the games, the reward given
the victors in the heavenly race will last for ever (1 Pe 1:4; 5:4).
“I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth
running wasn’t the aimless activity of one without an objective, as is made clear
in Php 3:13-14 “... this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for
the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
reference to fighting assures us that service for Christ involves fighting with the
enemy - Satan and all his evil hordes - as we are further reminded in Eph 6:10-18,
particularly verse 12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
against spiritual wickedness in high (heavenly) places.”
is this warfare confined to the activity of Satan in attempting to prevent us from
leading men out from under his captivity, though that is perhaps the most obvious
aspect of it. The prince of darkness
isn’t satisfied simply to remain on the defensive.
He also takes the initiative. He
attacks us. He will use every means in his power to keep us from prayer,
study, worship, etc., but with such subtlety that we don’t even recognize it as his
activity, much less his attack.
for example, prayer and study. Have you
ever noticed how difficult it is just to find the time for these absolutely essential
activities? There are somehow so many
other things demanding our attention that prayer and study are either neglected
altogether, or given so little time as to make them virtually impossible.
But we must note what Paul says about his fighting.
There is no uncertainty about it. He
isn’t just like a boxer at the games “beating the air,” “throwing wild
punches,” aiming blows that miss their mark. Paul
didn’t permit Satan to keep him from anything that would advance the cause
may we, like him, direct our blows against the enemy so as to be also overcomers?
Take the matter of securing time for prayer and study.
The way to defeat Satan here is not to be continually trying to find
the necessary time. That’s just
“beating the air.” Make time!
Just as we have regular hours for our jobs, for sleep, for eating, etc., so
must we also have regular hours for our spiritual activities, remembering that in the
final analysis those spiritual activities are the most important of our lives as far
as eternity is concerned.
“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.”
words “keep under” point to that control of the body which will deny it
gratification of its lusts; but they fall short of conveying the extent or degree of
that control, for the thought is of painful buffeting or beating, Vine, in fact,
pointing out that the statement is literally “to strike under the eye, and hence to
beat the face black and blue.” That is very significant, for it points to a control of the body
that will be apparent. A bruise under my
clothing won’t be seen, but one on my face, right under my eye, can’t easily be
hidden. The lesson being taught is that
his control of his body is to be evident in the believer’s life.
reminds us that the denial or cutting off of the deeds of the flesh involves pain.
The body doesn’t like being compelled to give up the slothful ease which
hinders effective service; nor does it like to be called from its busy activity with
earthly things in order to wait quietly upon God or do His work.
It doesn’t like being forced to set aside its use of reason, human wisdom,
the world’s business methods, etc., and to act instead simply in faith.
But its submission must be compelled if we are to live the victorious
Christian life set before us in Scripture as God’s ideal for all who belong to
are some of the ways in which that control will be seen?
His knowledge of Scripture will reveal the extent to which the believer
studies it. His ability to pray publicly
will disclose how much, or how little, he prays in private.
The time given to spreading the Gospel is another indicator, as is also the
time spent in ministering to the household of faith.
There are many ways in which we display whether we do “keep under” our
lest ... I myself should be a castaway.” Few
parts of Scripture have been more misunderstood than this, many taking it to mean
that there was the possibility that Paul could lose his salvation.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, for the impossibility of such a thing
is declared clearly in other Scriptures. The
subject being discussed here is not salvation, but service, the possible loss being,
not of salvation, but of reward, two very different things. The believer can never lose his salvation, but many a believer
will learn with sorrow at the Bema what loss of reward has been incurred just through
failure to “keep under (his) body.”