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1 Corinthians 9:1-18 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 57 secs

Grace Provisions for the Pastor; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18


From 1 Corinthians 8 through 11 we are dealing with the general subject of doubtful things, i.e. how do we make decisions in areas where the Word of God does not directly give guidance? This may or not include an across-the-board rejection of a certain practice. It may involve not doing something at a particular time when a certain individual is present and it may be a lifetime decision. It may be a decision that one makes depending on the situation. This is what we see in the example that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians chapter nine. But the argument, the basic point that he makes in chapter eight is one of the most significant and profound arguments in Scripture and it has really had a profound impact on the way Christians since the reformation, and specifically in this nation, understood the significance of conscience. For what Paul's argument is here is that no authority, not even the highest authority in the church, which was himself, had the right to force someone to violate their conscience. Even if their conscience is wrong, even if they have false norms and standards, even if the norms and standards are contrary to Scripture, nevertheless no one has the right to force anyone to do something to violate their conscience, because the very act of violation of conscience was a sin.

What is significant about that is that when you apply that to liberty, to the understanding of freedom in a national entity, then it recognized that not even the government has the right to force anyone to violate their conscience. That is a principle that underlies all of the freedoms that are substantiated in the Bill of Rights.

The Corinthian reaction is typical of arrogance but it is also typical of the human viewpoint kind of thinking that characterized Greek culture and they are often characterized in our culture: "Do you mean that we with all our knowledge have to give up our legitimate rights to eat this meat. We know that it doesn't mean anything and it is our right to eat good steak, yet we have to give this up because of this wimpy little weeny believer over here who doesn't understand the truth yet, has a weak conscience, and hasn't learned enough doctrine yet? Why don't we just straighten him out instead of having to give up our rights." That is typical human viewpoint in Greek culture. The opposite of this comes from a Greek word, TAPEINOPHROSUNE [tapeinofrosunh] from the noun TAPEINOS [tapeinoj]. The idea here is the idea of being low, of having little esteem, and it originally related to someone's social status, that they were on the lowest rung in society. It came to eventually have the idea of humility, not asserting one's own position or one's own rights. This was considered a negative value in Greek culture where the idea was that one should assert himself. This word is used in a very crucial passage in Philippians chapter two, verses 5-10 where the emphasis is on Jesus Christ who is TAPEINOPHROSUN. We are to be humble as Jesus Christ is humble, demonstrating that attitude that he did not assert His own rights and privileges as deity to stay in heaven, to exercise His position as God, but nevertheless He gave that up, He willingly restricted the independent use of His attributes and took on the form of a servant, became a servant, a human being, in order to go to the cross. Even though this word is not mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter nine this is exactly what the issue is.

Structurally, Paul begins with four rhetorical questions in verse 1. He lays down the principle in vv. 2 and 3, and then starting in verse 4 he begins to lay down the issue again and uses twelve rhetorical questions.

1 Corinthians 9:1 NASB "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?" In this verse it seems at first glance that what Paul is trying to do is establish his credentials as an apostle. Although his apostolic authority has been challenged by the Corinthians and is challenged again as an issue in 2 Corinthians as well that is not exactly what Paul is doing in this verse, although that underlies and is part of the background for the verse. What he is doing in verse 1 is laying the foundation for what he is going to say. By reminding them that he is an apostle, that as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ in the church age he has just as much freedom as they do, he has just as many rights as they do, he has just as much liberty in Christ as they do, and if that is true then he is going to make his argument. He reminds them that as an apostle he has every right, every privilege, that any other believer has, and if that is true then he is going to have certain other things that are due him that the Corinthians completely ignored and were not even sensitive to. And he didn't even remind them of that because of their weaker brothers' status. That is the thrust of the argument.

He begins by reminding them of his apostleship and as such we should be reminded of the qualifications for an apostle. Remember, an apostle was a spiritual gift given to a few individuals and it was related to laying the foundation of the church—Ephesians 2:20. This was a gift that was limited to the church age and to only twelve individuals.

1)  They were appointed by the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. In Acts chapter one lots were drawn for a replacement for Judas Iscariot. So there were a body of men basically determining who has a spiritual gift. One argument against that is that the Holy Spirit refers to them as "the twelve" later on in Acts before Paul is saved, so the Holy Spirit wouldn't be making a mistake, if Matthias is included in the number there would be twelve, if he is not then there would only be eleven. However, the counter argument to that is in 1 Corinthians 15:5 NASB "and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." That is talking about Jesus' resurrection appearances between the resurrection and His ascension which is ten days before Pentecost, and it leaves two or three days before Peter gets his idea to pick a new apostle. But Paul says He appeared to the twelve during this period when there is only eleven. What had happened was that the disciples had become known as the twelve, it was the name of the group. They were called the twelve for three years and even when they lost one of them they still called them the twelve. So when they refer to the twelve in Acts chapters three and four it is not a term that recognizes the legitimacy of Matthias because the term was also used when there were only eleven.

2)  An apostle was an eye-witness of the resurrection or had seen the resurrected Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:8, 9; Acts 1:22. That means that there is nobody today who is an apostle.

3)  They were commissioned as an apostle directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:1. The Greek word for apostle is APOSTOLOS [a)postoloj] and it means someone who is commissioned, appointed, delegated a specific task and authority to fulfil that task. The important thing is to identify who does the commissioning and the task to which they are commissioned, because there are some other individuals in the New Testament to whom the word "apostle" is applied. But these are not apostles in the same sense that James and John and Paul were apostles. This is a secondary sense because the apostles, i.e. the twelve, were all commissioned by Jesus Christ and they received a spiritual gift of apostle. Others such as Barnabas and three or four others that are mentioned are commissioned by a local church to a particular task, usually in the realm of what we would call today missions. They were sent out and commissioned to take the gospel to a particular area. It is apostle in a non-technical sense.

4)  The apostles were also given the credentials of signs and wonders. Acts 5:15; 16:16-18; 2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles."

So here we have the greatest apostle of all time laying down this instruction: "Am I not an apostle?" The way this is constructed in the Greek it assumes a yes answer. Then he asks, "Are you not my work in the Lord?" So the first three questions focus on knowledge that is common to every believer and knowledge that they had from the time that Paul was in their midst.

1 Corinthians 9:2 NASB "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." Or, Even if I am not an apostle, even if others would not necessarily recognize my apostleship, "at least [without a doubt] I am to you." Why does he say that? He is reminding them of what occurred in their midst. Here he does not mention the miracles that he performed in their midst, he does that in 2 Corinthians 12:12 where he reminds them that he performed the signs of a true apostle. This is the seal that indicated his legitimacy. This is the apostle Paul speaking. If anyone has the right to assert their own privilege, their own position, it would be the apostle Paul. He is arguably the most significant theologian of all of history. The word "seal" is the Greek noun SPHRAGIS [sfragij] which is from the verb SPHRAGIZO [sfragizw], the word used for the sealing of the Spirit. He is saying, "You are my certificate of authentication for my apostolic ministry."

1 Corinthians 9:3 NASB "My defense to those who examine me is this:" That is not exactly how it reads in the Greek, the word order is reversed. It should actually read, This is my defense to those who examine me." What does the "this" refer to? Does it refer back to the seal of his apostleship? Or does it refer to what follows? It is not clear from the syntax or the grammar which way it goes previously or what happens after. To say it goes before means that he is saying, You are my defense. The word "defense" is the Greek word APOLOGIA [a)pologia] from which we get our word "apology" (admit you are wrong) and apologetic, which does not mean to apologize, it means to give a legal defense or answer for your position. It is what the defense attorney would give in order to prove the innocence of his client. It was an answer to the charge. The verse includes the previous but the previous two verses are the foundation for the following verses, so in a sense it applies to both.  Then he uses a second word, "examine," which is the Greek word ANAKRINO [a)nakrinw]—"those who wish to investigate me." Then he is going to build on that and he answers their objection:

1 Corinthians 9:4 NASB "Do we not have a right to eat and drink?" The implication is, yes, we do have a right to eat and drink. The word translated "right" is EXOUSIA [e)cousia] which means authority, right or entitlement. The eating and drinking of this verse is not to be identified with the eating of meat sacrifices to idols which is the general subject. The idea here is that the apostle has the right to live off the ministry and to be supported in a gracious manner. We can apply that today to the pastor-teacher.

1 Corinthians 9:5 NASB "Do 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?" It is an interesting structure here in the Greek. He doesn't use the word PISTOS [pistoj] for believing, he uses the word ADELPHEN [a)delfhn], sister and then in apposition there is the noun GUNAIKA [gunaika], from GUNE [gunh] meaning woman or wife. It is the combination of these two terms—and the term "sister" would refer to a believer, someone else in the body of Christ—that indicates that he is talking about a wife. Paul had not availed himself of that right. He was single and remained single for the rest of his life. Apparently all of the other apostles took their wives along with them.

1 Corinthians 9:6 NASB "Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?" He brings in Barnabas because he was from Cyprus, had been apparently wealthy but had sold of his land and given the proceeds to the church. Apparently Barnabas was a self-supporting missionary. Paul is saying that is an option that some pastors can choose. This is especially true in the area of church planting, when you have a new church, a young church, if the pastor has the ability to work and support himself without putting that additional obligation on the church he should do so. But, once again, that is a temporary situation and it should be up to the individual pastor and not something that should be imposed on him. As an example Paul gives three illustrations in verse 7.

1 Corinthians 9:7 NASB "Who 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?" It is interesting how he chooses these illustrations because they are taken from three different segments of society. The first is the soldier who represents the person on a fixed income where a salary is paid regularly by an employer. A soldier doesn't support himself, he is paid by the government. The second illustration represents the capitalist businessman, the vineyard owner. He puts his capital at work in the land and, of course, is at risk. The third category is the shepherd. In Greek culture at this time the shepherd was usually a slave. In any area of life, he says, you have the right to benefit and to live off the fruit of your labours. That is the thrust of his argument.

1 Corinthians 9:8 NASB "I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?" He says, no, he can back it up from exegesis form the Mosaic law also and he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, 9. [9] "For 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?" In other words, don't put a distraction on the ox. If he is hungry let him eat from the work that he is producing as he is treading out the grain. 

1 Corinthians 9:10 NASB "Or 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.}" In other words, you should benefit from your own work.