First Corinthians: Chapter 9, Paul’s Rights

January 23, 2008

In chapter 8, Paul had appealed to the church to be considerate of others, and therefore to refrain from eating meat whenever it might cause a brother or sister to stumble:

1Co 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

Paul had been setting a tremendous example of sacrificing his own rights for the benefit of others. In chapter 9, he held up himself as an example to inspire the Corinthians to give up their rights out of concern for the needs of others.

In the first 18 verses, he reminded them that he had given up his right to financial support as he preached the gospel to them. As an apostle of Christ, he certainly had the right to be supported financially by those who received his message. Not only that, but he also had the right to bring along a wife, and the right to support for her as well.

1Co 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Note that it was not the congregation’s option whether to provide his support. The congregation was obligated to offer support, because the Lord commanded it. Likewise, churches today have the obligation, by command of the Lord, to support financially those who preach the gospel.

However, Paul did have the option to decline financial support. And he elected to give up his right to their support, so that he could receive the reward for preaching voluntarily.

1Co 9:15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.
1Co 9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
1Co 9:17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
1Co 9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

Paul gave up other rights as well. Although he was free, he made himself a slave to all — not for his own benefit, but so that they could be saved. Although he was free from the Jewish Law, he became as one under the Law so that he could save some. He accommodated those under the law, and those not under the law, the weak, and the strong. He did all this so that some of them could be saved. Rather than clinging to his own rights and his own personal interests, he gave those things up for the benefit of others.

Paul did not view the Christian life as an easy road. Instead, to him it was like training for a strenuous competition. He did it “for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings.” He did it “so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize.” Paul didn’t just see this as a good idea. He believed that if he were not willing to push himself like that, he just might be disqualified.

Contrast Paul’s attitude to that of these Corinthians. They were clinging to their right to eat meat, even though by doing so they were causing others to sin. They had been unwilling to give it up. In fact it seems they loved eating meat more than they loved their brothers and sisters. Pride, comfort, and pleasure were their top priorities. Paul was setting a much different example.

Which example most resembles us today? Do we readily give up our own rights and convenience for the benefit of others? Or do our lives basically revolve around our own personal needs and comforts?

Having pointed to himself as a positive role model, Paul turned in chapter 10 to a negative example from the Old Testament. The resemblance between these Corinthians and those Israelites would be a wake-up call, driving Paul’s message home. The gospel calls for a response — one much different from the way these Corinthians were living.

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