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1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9

By Pastor Doug
A pattern of Self-denial; serving all men; striving for a crown.

Never again eat meat!!  That may well have been the response of some Corinthian Christians when they read the end of chapter eight.  After all, they had liberty; why should they do without?  Paul deals with self denial as part of the life of a Christian in this passage.

Chapter 8 dealt with the weak conscience as it pertained to the eating of meat offered to idols.  Corinth was full of temples to idols and false gods.  Sacrifices were made all the time at these temples.  So as a result there was meat and other things in the market place for sale that had been a sacrifice to a false god.

Paul's conclusion last week at the end of chapter 8 was, therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.  The conclusion was to just give it up if that's what must be done.  So, as a believer we are faced with this.  My actions, even though I have the Christian liberty to do them may not be in the best interest to others.  I can't stumble another believer.  .

Now, as we begin this chapter, Paul is speaking to the Corinthian Christians about this very thing.  What was their attitude at giving up some of their liberty in love for another?  It was probably very similar to ours.  We don't like giving up anything.

Paul uses his own life as an example of this Christian sacrifice.  There were at least a few leaders at Corinth that questioned Paul's authority as an apostle.  So he takes this opportunity to defend his position and authority as an apostle.  In doing so, he said he had rights that he had given up.

Just like he had asked them to give up meat sacrificed to idols, Paul had also given up a lot of his rights so he could be a good testimony.  He never wanted to cause anyone to stumble.  Because he was driven by love, he went to great lengths of sacrifice to make sure his life, his example, his teachings, his testimony and witness will never come between someone else and the Lord.  Wouldn't the world be a different place if we all had that attitude?


1 Corinthians 9:1-2

1 Am I not an apostle?

Of course Paul was an apostle but he starts building his case by establishing this fact.  The Greek word was Apostolos; it was a delegate, a messenger, or one sent forth with orders.  In this case it was one sent specifically by Christ with a purpose and a message.  Apostles received their ministry directly from Jesus.  The life of an apostle wasn't a life anyone would choose.  It was the kind of life you were called into.  No man would take the beating, abuse, stoning, jail time and threats on his life in order to be a fake apostle.

The second question:

Am I not free?

Of course Paul was free.  He wasn't under the authority of anyone other than Jesus Christ.

Third question:

Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?

Paul maintained that he saw the resurrected Jesus Christ.  We know from his testimony he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He may also have seen him in the Arabian desert.   See Galatians 1:17 to consider that.

Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

The church in Corinth was Paul's work in the Lord.  You couldn't look at the life Paul was living, the message he was preaching and the fruit of the ministry and conclude he wasn't an apostle.  He was walking the walk; talking it; living it and his ministry was bearing fruit.  The church of Corinth was just one example of that.

However there were some who refused to acknowledge the obvious.  They rejected Paul as an apostle and Paul is letting them know they shouldn't.  The presence of Christianity and a church in Corinth was a testimony to Paul's apostleship.  The people themselves were the seal of his apostleship.  This seal is a mark of authenticity.  It is the same word used for a signet ring that was pressed into wax to seal a scroll.  It is same word used of the seven seals on the seven scrolls in Revelation.  For us we might relate it to the seal on a hundred dollar bill. That seal is used to determine its authenticity.

Corinth authenticated the apostleship of Paul.  He spent a lot of time in Corinth and even when he wasn't there he was sending letters and sending people there.  They were always on his mind.

1 Corinthians 9:3-7

Paul must have felt a little like he was on trial.  He used words here that you have used in a Roman court.  'My defense' is the word apologia.  This is a verbal reasoning or argument.  Paul gave his defense to those who examined him.  "Those who examine' is one word and it means those who judge and interrogate; those who accuse.

Paul gave his reasons to those who judged him.  The apostles had a right to be supported by the churches they served.  It was the churches job to make sure they were fed and clothed.  And this responsibility was also extended to the wife of the apostle.  This is what was happening with the others.  The Apostle along with his wife was being supported by the churches.  It's interesting that Cephas, or Peter was mentioned by name here.  As a side note, that mention by name was another confirmation that Peter was married and that messes up the catholic principle that Peter was the first Pope and that the popes were mandated to be celibate. 

Paul mentioned he and Barnabas were the only ones working and it seems that the others had ceased from working a job and were being supported by the church.  It's almost as if they don't respect Paul because he is still making tents while doing the work of an apostle.  They apparently saw him as less legitimate because he wasn't being supported by the church.


1 Corinthians 9:7

7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense?

Soldiers are supported, clothed, fed and paid.  What soldier would go to war at his own expense?  Paul had gone to war when he entered the culture of Corinth and brought the gospel message there.  He compares the life of an apostle to a soldier.

Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?

Who would plant a vineyard and then not eat from the fruit?  It's a natural assumption that the one planting the vineyard would partake of the fruit.  The church of Corinth was a vineyard planted by Paul and he had the right to fruit from it.

Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?
And again this is the same thought; there is an inerrant right to some of the good things that come from the work.


1 Corinthians 9:8-11

These weren't just Paul's beliefs or feelings.  This was a biblical and God ordained principle and Paul goes back to the law to prove his point.  This is Paul using the scriptures to prove his point.  And in Deuteronomy 25:4, right between 40 lashes and levirate law, is this passage Paul quoted; You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.  In those days the ox was hitched to some poles and a large mill stone.  All day long the ox would tread out the grain and the mill stone would grind the grain.  Muzzling the ox would keep it from eating while it worked. 

To allow the ox to eat was just providing humane and reasonable treatment to this servant beast.  To deny the ox the grain was cruel.  In that verse Paul saw a principle of God applied to a servant.  He asked, is it oxen God is concerned about?  Warren Weirsbe quipped that since oxen can't read, this verse wasn't written for them.  Paul saw it applied to the apostle, to those whose life had a calling.  To deny that person support would be just as cruel as the ox treading out the grain while wearing a muzzle.

He who plows should plow in hope, Paul said.  And if you thresh in hope you should partake in that hope.  Imagine how disheartening and demoralizing it would be for the beast to tread the grain all day and never get a bite.  If you've put your hand to the plow then you plow in hope.  From that work done in hope the worker has a right to basic support.

Paul simply asks them if he and Barnabas had sown spiritual things for them.  Would they find it offensive or objectionable if they received food and clothing?  Others were receiving this support and if others received it then how much more Paul and Barnabas should also have right to that support. 


1 Corinthians 9:12-14

Others exercised their right to receive support and livelihood from the believers.  So it wasn't as if the Corinthian believers didn't support anyone.  They already knew how this worked and even though Paul proved that it was his right and their responsibility to support him, he didn't use that right.  He didn't ask for the believers to support him.

Paul compares his work to those who minster the holy things.  The priests in the temple ate of the temple offerings.  That was their portion and provision.  This was the Old Testament example.  And then Paul said the Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.  In Matthew 10 Jesus was sending the twelve out to the lost sheep of Israel.  They weren't to take anything with them, no money, no extra clothes, bag, staff or shoes.  Jesus said in verse 10 a worker is worthy of his food.  There was a clear expectation of this messenger receiving hospitality wherever he went.  And if they didn't, they were to shake the dust of the town off their sandals and move on.

Paul was an apostle and he could have brought more pressure to bear on these folks.  He could have used his authority to essentially force them to offer support.  Up until now the church in Corinth refused to support him and Paul wasn't going to press it.  His sole purpose of his ministry remained the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And he didn't want to demand his right to support for fear that it might damage the gospel message.  Paul's attitude was to 'endure all things' to keep from hurting his message.  If that meant he had to make tents so that he could eat then that was what he did.

This was the kind of sacrifice an apostle made.  It was the kind of sacrifice that mature Christians have to make.  We don't always get to demand and receive the things we deserve.  Sometimes we do without to further the gospel message to be a good witness with a good testimony.


1 Corinthians 9:15-18

Remember the context of this chapter.  Paul had just told the believers to give up meat if that's what it took to keep from being a stumbling block.  Your 'right' to a liberty didn't mean it was the prudent thing to do.  Paul wasn't' writing about this to convince them to start sending him money.  He is using it as an example of how a Christian sometimes has to give up what might be rightfully theirs for the kingdom message.  Paul made his case to prove that he deserved this support.  Now he is going to show them that he had given up his right to their support.  Even though it was his right, he didn't feel like it was worth causing a problem and damaging the gospel message.

Paul's 'boast' was that he preached the gospel message without the support of the people he preached to.  This might sound a little too proud to us.  But remember the Greek culture.  They looked down their nose at people who worked manual labor and got their hands dirty.  Paul wasn't afraid of that.  In fact he was proud of it.  That's his boast.  He was able to work manual labor and still preach the message.

He was quick to add that he had no boast in the preaching.  The preaching came out of necessity.  It was laid on him.  He was called to preach and if he didn't it was like an itch that he couldn't scratch.  He had to do it or it might drive him crazy.  It's what God called him to and made him for.  Paul said it was his calling and regardless of pay he had to preach. 

If Paul made the choice to preach and not receive support, he would receive a reward.  If Paul didn't get support when he wanted it then he was just trusted with a stewardship, just taking care of business.  And there was no reward in that.

The reward Paul was talking about was that when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.  Others were preaching religious messages and charging a price while others got regular support from a fellowship.

But Paul's reward was to deliver this message with no strings attached.  It was a message of forgiveness with no strings attached; from a God who gave grace beyond our imagination.  It was the free gift of salvation and Paul kept it that way so there was no appearance of that message being for sale.  We see examples in the New Testament where others were led to wrong thinking by the lure of money.  Simon the sorcerer tried to purchase the works of the spirit.  Even though you can see this same thing on "religious TV" nearly any evening, the works of the spirit aren't for sale.  Annania and Saphira loved money more than truth.  Our culture has proven that you can buy court decisions; you can buy opinions; elections; polls; public opinion and so on.  But you can never buy the truth, it's not for sale.

Paul wanted to distance himself from all others.  He wanted to be extra careful not to abuse his authority in the gospel.  He didn't want even a remote resemblance to the charlatans of his time.


1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Paul was free from all men.  In theory, he could have settled down in some remote town, started his own church, preached on Sunday to satisfy the preacher's itch and gone fishing the rest of the time.  Instead he willingly made himself a servant to all men.  He chose that life of traveling around and preaching; discipling other men and raising up other pastors along the way.  He chose the life that left scars from the beatings he took.  He was beaten, jailed, spit on, run out of town and who knows what else.

Paul became as a Jew to the Jews, not in phony way, not playing a role or a part but acting out of respect for what they believed.  When Paul went back to Jerusalem in Acts 21 he found that that some of the Jews were whispering about him.  His ministry was to the gentiles and he had been away on his missionary Journey.  So when he returned he brought the offering for the church and then took part in the Jewish purification ceremonies.  This wasn't something Paul had to do.  He chose to do it to connect with the Jews.

For those that were living under the law, Paul respected the law without being burdened by it.  He had Timothy circumcised in Acts 16, not because it was required for any reason but he did it out of respect for their beliefs, to make a cultural connection with them.

Paul was willing to be weak to connect to the weak and win them over.  He said, I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Paul went to great lengths to reach other men because he had a passion to offer this message of the good news to them.

Paul could have just have easily said I have my liberties and I'm not giving up any of them.  I have the right to eat what I want, when I want.  I can worship when I want, where I want.  And anyone that doesn't agree with me is a heretic and just needs to change their ways.  But that's not the heart of Paul.  His attitude is that of a grace and humility.  With that heart for the lost he says I'll give up whatever I need to so that I might reach others.  Again, all this, relates back to acting not eating meat offered to idols.  As a Christian we have to keep our eyes on Christ first and on other second, not on our selves and what we want.  Being a Christian, we can't blindly grab all the liberties available regardless of cost.

This verse is also one that gets a lot of abuse.  It's used as an excuse to go to inappropriate places in the name of becoming all things to all people, that I might save some.  It's not a ticket to compromise your principles or a free pass to sin.


1 Corinthians 9:24-25

We know that Greece has a long history of sporting events.  The Olympic Games were born there and in Paul's time they had the Isthmus games.  If you wanted to compete in these games you trained for months in advance.  You didn't enter just to compete.  You entered to win because only one received the prize.  So, Paul says, if you are going to run, run like you mean it.  Run the race like you are serious about it.  Run your race in such a way that you might win.

The words used refer to a specific race on an actual course used in those times.  It was 606 feet 9 inches long, exactly.  Everyone ran the same race, on the same course, on the same distance.  And if you were going to compete to win then you had to be temperate in all things.  This term 'temperate' was the manner in which the athletes trained for many months prior.  For the athletes in Corinth, their preparation for the games included not eating unwholesome food, drinking wine, or any sexual indulgence.  The temperate were self governed or self controlled.  Doing whatever they had to do to make sure they would compete at top performance.  All they did or didn't do was to benefit them in the race, so that they might win the prize.

And if, after all that training they won, they received a crown.  They stepped before the Herald or judge of the race and he announced their name and the town from which they came, much like the Olympics today.  They stepped forward to the podium to get their prize.  In celebration of their months of training and hard work, they were given a wreath or crown made of celery leaves.  An athlete's whole life was geared toward a race and when you win they gave you a wreath made of celery leaves?  It was a crown that would shrivel up and die in a few days.  They did all that work and discipline for a perishable crown.

Paul sees all the hard work and sacrifice as an analogy for us, except the race we run is for an imperishable crown.  This is a crown that will last an eternity.

The Greek Stoic Philosopher, Epictetus wrote about this temperence.  He said: 

"Would you be a victor in the Olympic games? so in good truth would I, for it is a glorious thing; but pray consider what must go before, and what may follow, and so proceed to the attempt. You must then live by rule, eat what will be disagreeable, refrain from delicacies; you must oblige yourself to constant exercises at the appointed hour, in heat and cold; you must abstain from wine and cold liquors; in a word, you must be as submissive to all direction of your master as to those of a physician."


1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Therefore I run, Paul said, not with any uncertainty; not running a race where one man wins a celery crown.  It's a race where you win a sure crown.  See Hebrews 12.  The uncertainty in this race isn't who will win.  Our uncertainty is the race itself.  In Corinth the race was marked out to 606 ft 9 inches.  It was 303 ft, 4 and a half inches down and then back.  In our race, the course is revealed to us a little at a time.  In our race, many times we take our next step in faith with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

We don't really know where our race will lead us.  We don't really know how long the race is but we can be sure where it will end up.  We end up standing before the Lord where he will declare us victorious and grant us an eternal crown.

Paul said he fights not as one who beats the air.  Boxing was part of the Isthmus games and Paul probably saw that kind of fight in his day.  However, Paul was fighting in a different way.  His fight was not physical.

The games in Paul's day celebrated the human body.  Runners ran naked, many times oiling their bodies to make them more appealing.  This is much like what you see in a body building contest.  The body was celebrated.  Famous athletes had statues made of them and poems were written about their victory, their form and bodies.  Paul said he disciplines his body.  He was not training the body to perform.  He was training the inner man to control the body so the flesh didn't rule him. 

Verse 27 said, when I have preached to others.  This word preached is the word for the herald of the race in Corinth.  He was the man who announced the contest, the rules, and he told who was running and what town they were from.  Then he started the race and made sure it was fair and then declared and crowned the victor.

Paul sees himself in that role as this herald in this world.  He is showing believers then and now that we are in a race.  There is a race to be run and a crown to be won.   Paul runs the race himself and he runs in a way that he wouldn't become disqualified by the rules of the race he had heralded.

To win the race you must train with discipline and diligence.  This whole chapter is Paul's way of saying, It's not about eating or not eating meat.  He answered their question last chapter about this meat offered to idols.  And it was a very important question.  But the answer is so much bigger than that.

We must live our live with our eyes on Christ first and then on our brother second. Not our self.  Paul said if you're worried about your right to meat offered to an idol or drinking wine, or buying a lottery ticket or in Paul's case support from the saints.  If you are worried about those things, then you're not running a race tempered to victory in Christ.  The tempered race is one of sacrifice.  It's letting go of some of the things we have liberty in, or right to, so that others might be won to Christ.

©2016 Doug Ford