In 1Corinthians 9, Paul uses his own situation as an example of how the Corinthians ought to think about exercising their freedom. As an apostle, Paul has the right to receive financial support, but declined to take support from them. He wants the Corinthians to learn from his example and exercise their freedom the same way. In part 1 of his argument, Paul defends his right to accept support.
Since 1Corinthians 8:1, Paul has been addressing the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. We saw 3 themes in Paul’s answer so far:
- There is only one God and He is not concerned with religious restrictions on food. The meat-eating group is right that there are no idols and they can eat the meat sacrificed to idols.
- On the other hand, the meat-eating group has been exercising their freedom to eat this meat in an unloving manner.
- It’s not enough to know the truth, we must also use our knowledge in the context of loving our neighbors.
9:1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3My defense to those who examine me is this: 4Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? -1Corinthians 9:1-6 NASB
- Paul establishes that he has a right to support.
- Paul was called and commissioned by Jesus to be one of his apostles.
- The Corinthians have first-hand knowledge of Paul’s teaching, preaching and signs that verify his calling.
- Paul appeals to the example of the other apostles who receive support for both themselves and their wives.
9:7Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? 8I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. – 1Corinthians 9:7-10 NASB
- Next, Paul gives 3 analogies from experience: A soldier is fed and clothed while he is a soldier; The worker who plants a vineyard expects to share in the product or fruit of his labor; The shepherd expects to reap the rewards of having a flock.
- Whatever work you do, you receive the benefit of having done the work. We can see from the Law that God intends the world to work this way.
- The ox is yoked to a wheel that grinds grain while it is turning. As it turns, some of the grain falls at the the ox’s feet. God prohibits muzzling the ox to prevent him from eating the falling grain.
- God has a bigger concern than that we treat our oxen well. He’s teaching this principle that those who labor share in the fruit of their labor.
- It is appropriate for workers to expect to be compensated for their work.
11If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. -1Corinthians 9:11-14 NASB
- Just like a field worker sows physical seed in the field, Paul has sowed spiritual seed in Corinth.
- Paul gave them the knowledge of how to find eternal life, which is infinitely more important than baking them a loaf of bread. They pay their baker. How much more ought they to support Paul who brought them the bread of life?
- Yet Paul declined to take support so as not to hinder the gospel.
- Before explaining why he declined support, Paul adds one final argument from the temple practice: God instructed the Levites to live from a share of the temple offerings.
- Thus we can see that God intended those who proclaim the gospel to make their living from the gospel.
- Paul is a true apostle and he has the same right to same support that the other apostles have.
- It is wrong not to pay those who work on your behalf. Experience suggests this and the law of Moses confirms it.
- The temple shows that God intended those who proclaim the gospel to make their living from the gospel, and those who receive that instruction to support them.
Paul is not trying to convince the Corinthians to pay him. He’s making a point that even though he had the right to be paid, he didn’t ask for that support for a reason. That reason (which we’ll look at in part 2) is the lesson he wants them to learn.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
3:6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. 14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 NASB
- Paul gives three directives regarding work: 1) follow our example of work (3:6-9); 2) work for your own bread (10-12); and 3) mark those who won’t work (13-16).
- Paul wanted the Corinthians to learn something about his willingness to decline to exercise his rights. Paul wants the Thessalonians to learn something about his willingness to work.
- Paul argues everyone is called to be responsible for their own needs (If you don’t work, you don’t eat).
- Loving my neighbor requires me to not deliberately make myself a burden on someone else.
Putting Thessalonians and Corinthians together
- All of us are responsible before God to work and to provide for our own needs — no matter what kind of work we do.
- As a giver, it’s appropriate to support someone out of gratitude, patronage, or charity.
- If I have benefited from someone’s ministry, I ought to be willing to support them as I am able.
- As a full-time Christian worker, I have no reason to be ashamed for accepting gifts of gratitude or patronage but I ought not to put myself in a position where I require charity.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.