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In 1Corinthians 9, Paul uses himself as an example of how the Corinthians should exercise their freedom. As an apostle, Paul has the right to receive financial support, but he declined to take any support from them. He wants the Corinthians to learn from his example and exercise their freedom the same way.
In part 2 of his argument, Paul explains why he declined to take support.
1Corinthians 9:15-27 is the second half of an argument that began in 1Corinthians 9:1.
1Corinthians 9 is part of an argument that started in 1Corinthians 8:1.
In this section of the letter, Paul is answering questions the Corinthians have asked him. In 1Corinthians 8-10, Paul answers the question or whether it is okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
In 1Corinthians 8 Paul said:
- 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.
In 1Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul said:
- He 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.
9:15But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. -1Corinthians 9:15-18
- Paul is not arguing for his right to take support in order to get a back paycheck. He did not take money from the Corinthians for a reason.
- The Greek word translated “boast” in 9:15 means something that is true about me that has value and worth. It is a good thing I point to with joy and satisfaction. In this context, reward and boast are synonyms.
- Paul’s boast is not the fact that he is an apostle. The fact that Paul is an apostle reveals nothing about him as a person because he was drafted into that job.
- The way he exercises his freedom while preaching the gospel says something about who he is and what he values and believes.
- Paul’s boast is the fact that he is a believer and his reward will be eternal life.
- His free choice to refuse support from the Corinthians reveals how important the gospel is to him and that he believes the gospel he preaches.
9:19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. – 1Corinthians 9:19-23
- Paul generalizes the argument beyond money.
- 9:19 “I am free from all men” – Paul has his own understanding and worldview. He knows what he is free to do and not do, yet he chooses to limit his freedom so as not to hinder the gospel.
- When he is in a group which follows a larger set of regulations than he does, he follows their rules so that they might more easily hear the gospel.
- When he is in a group that follows a larger range of freedom, he enjoys those freedoms with them so that they might hear the gospel.
- But he does not become lawless; he always follows what is right, good and true.
- “Weak” in 9:22 is weak in understanding; not weak-willed.
Paul argues: If I’m talking to someone who has been taught to believe that practice A is immoral, I avoid practice A when I’m with her. She believes that a person who does A is a person who does not believe in God. I want her to believe in God. Why do practice A in front of her? She’s likely to conclude that I don’t believe in God and believing in God is exactly what I want to persuade her to do. Why would I hinder the gospel that way?
9:24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. – 1Corinthians 9:24-27
- You don’t get the prize by signing up for a race. You get the prize when you finish the race.
- Athletes make disciplined choices because their goal is finishing the race (e.g. when to train, how to train, what to eat, how much to sleep, what shoes to invest in, how much water to drink, etc.)
- Their prize is a medal that will rust. Our “prize” is eternal life which cannot be broken, stolen, lost or destroyed.
- Paul’s goal is not just proclaiming the gospel to others; he wants to believe it himself. Like an athlete in training, his choices reflect that goal.
For Paul, how he exercises his freedom when he preaches the gospel is a test of whether or not his goal is mature faith in Christ. Likewise, for the Corinthians, this issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols is a test of whether their goal is faith in Christ.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
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Series: 1 Corinthians: Pride & Prejudice in the church
Study: 1Corinthians Resources
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