For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

9:1.  “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?”

There 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.

At 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.

Paul 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 resurrected Christ.

As 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.

“Have 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 resurrection.

“... 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.

9:2.  “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.”

Others 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.

9:3.  “Mine answer to them that do examine me is this:”

9:4.  “Have we not power (right) to eat and to drink?”

Having 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 gain.

9:5.  “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?”

In 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 Jesus Christ).

All 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 unmarried.

9:6.  “Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?”

The 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.

9:7.  “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?”

The 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.

As 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.

9:8.  “Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?”

Anticipating 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.

9:9.  “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?”

This 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.

The 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 preached.

9:10.  “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.”

God’s 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. 

Plowing 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.

9:11.  “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?”

Here 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).

9:12.  “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.”

If 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 and Barnabas.

This 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.

9:13.  “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 altar?”

Those 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 livelihood.

9:14.  “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

Again 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.

The 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 and obeyed.

The present hierarchical system that guarantees its hireling and humanly-appointed clerics a salary, is totally opposed to all that is taught in Scripture.

9:15. “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.”

Even 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.

Relative 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.

It 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.

9:16.  “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!”

To 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 of Christ.

We 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.

9:17.  “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.”

What 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 Master.

Every 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.

Much 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, including rest.

The 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 suffer burn-out.

9:18.  “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.”

The 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. 

This 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.

9:19.  “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.”

Having 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.

9:20.  “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 law;”

Where 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.

9:21.  “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.

Those 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.

9:22.  “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.”

The “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.

There 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.

9:23.  “And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

Vine 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.

This 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.

9:24.  “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?  So run, that ye may obtain.”

By 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 seat.

There 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.

9:25.  “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 incorruptible.”

Connected 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 better servant?

Unlike 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).

9:26.  “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:”

Paul’s 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.”

The 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.” 

Nor 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. 

Consider, 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 of Christ. 

How 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.

9:27.  “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.”

The 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. 

This 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 Christ.

What 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 bodies.

“... 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.”

[1 Corinthians 10]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough