First Corinthians 8-10 is one continuous unit of teaching. Even though we have multiple chapter breaks we must keep the flow of the message together so that we can properly understand what Paul is teaching. Before we can begin chapter 9, we need to recall the message of chapter 8. In 1 Corinthians 8 we see that the Corinthians are declaring that they have knowledge about idols. They know that idols are nothing and therefore they can go into the pagan temples and eat in those places because of their knowledge. The apostle Paul agrees with their knowledge but they are failing to have love for others. The big message is that we cannot use our spiritual knowledge it such a way to cause the shipwreck of faith in others. We cannot use our knowledge so that people sin or fall away. It is important that we keep this in mind also. Paul is talking about causing people to sin, not about people who just do not like it or have a bothered conscience. The problem is the destruction of people’s faith in the name of knowledge. We mentioned last time how sad it is that this has happened so often in history where people who have knowledge have destroyed churches and destroyed the faith of people all for what they wanted to promote or emphasize. We do not want to do anything that would cause a person to stumble and fall from the Lord (8:13). Now we can consider the ninth chapter.
We Have Freedoms (9:1-11)
In this paragraph as marked off by the ninth chapter division, the apostle Paul speaks to all the rights he has as an apostle. Paul is free and not a slave (9:1). As an apostle, Paul certainly enjoys all kinds of rights. He has the right to eat and drink as others do. He has the right to a wife as others do. He has the right to be compensated for his work and to refrain from working for a living. Paul is using himself as an example of freedoms that he possesses as a Christian and as an apostle. He further illustrates these rights by logic and by the scriptures.
In verse 7 Paul argues from logic by considering soldiers, planters, and shepherds who all are compensated for their work. A soldier does not fight at his own expense. A planter eats from his own vineyard. A shepherd gets milk from his own flock. Further, in verses 8-9 Paul shows that the Law of Moses also taught this truth. The ox was not to be muzzled when working by treading out the grain but was allowed to eat as it worked. In verse 10 Paul says that God was not merely concerned about the ox but was making a point for all humanity. All who work hope to share in the crop. Everyone who works ought to be compensated for the work they do. It is their right by logic and by the scriptures. Thus Paul declares in verses 11-12 that he and his fellow workers have a right to reap material things from these Corinthians for the work they were doing among them.
Forfeiting Rights (9:12-18)
But verse 12 is the key point he now makes to the Corinthians.
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV)
Paul tells the Corinthians that he had all kinds of rights and freedoms as an apostle. But Paul chose to do what was in the best interests of their faith rather than his own interests and desires. He relinquished his right to receive support at a great cost to himself so as to avoid impeding others from coming to the faith. When we read these two letters we see that Paul did not want to show himself to be a peddler of the gospel like so many others who had come to them. Paul uses himself as an example to show that he is not telling the Corinthians to do something that he has not done himself. This is not a defense of his apostleship. No one is challenging his right to these things, as the text is sometimes read to mean. Paul could not ask the rhetorical question in verse 1, “Am I not an apostle” if the answer from the Corinthians could have been “no.” Paul is not defending his actions but illustrating how we do what is in the best interests of the faith of others.
The problem today is we want to claim that we have a right. But Paul teaches that we are able to and must subjugate our rights. Demanding our rights and using our rights can cause the spiritual shipwreck of others and ourselves. This is a grave warning for us with our culture of American rights. Paul spends time proving how he did not use certain rights afforded to him for the sake of the gospel. As verse 12 says, we are to endure everything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. We endure rather than creating obstacles for others. So that means that we watch what we say about people, values, culture, and political groups. We are careful about how we handle each other because we are working to not hinder the gospel, even though we may have a right.
Paul emphasizes this truth even further in verses 13-18. Those who work in the temple also take a share from the sacrificial offerings. Verse 14 is important: the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. Paul says that the Lord commanded this right. But look at verse 15. But for the sake of the Corinthians he is not make use of any of these rights. Listen to the heart of Paul in verses 16-17. Paul says that a necessity is laid on him to preach the gospel. Paul often spoke about how the love of Christ compels him to preach the gospel message. He does this work from necessity. The work of preaching is not a job. Preaching is not something you do for the money but out of a burning desire to reach people with the gospel. You do not want someone who thinks they can be a preacher. You want someone who wants to do nothing else but be a preacher of the gospel. This is what Paul is expressing. He is not doing this for the money. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Too many do not have this heart for the gospel and for the work. They see preaching as sermon delivery or as something that can be done if all else fails. The goal is not making money. The goal is to present the gospel to as many as possible. For Paul, money was clearly not a factor. Anyone who preaches for the money is wrong. Anyone who makes decisions about the preaching of the gospel based on their pay is wrong. That is not the heart of the gospel teacher. If it matters how much they get paid, then they are not in the right place. I love the heart of Paul here as he reveals his burning desire for the gospel. So what is the principle? Look at verses 19-23.
Servant of All (9:19-23)
Paul says that he is free. He is not a slave and he has freedoms. But listen to verse 19. He makes himself a slave to everyone in order to win more people. I have freedoms but I do not use them for the sake of the gospel. To the Jews and to the Gentiles I understand where they are coming from in order to win them. I become all things to all people so that by all means possible I might save some. This is the heart of the gospel: IT IS NOT ABOUT ME! Everything is for the sake of the gospel, not me. Think about the gospel. When we talk to each other, think about what we are saying for the sake of the gospel. Are we trying to understand where a person is coming from and truly helping them see the glory of Jesus, or are we just coming from our knowledge and our superior position and going to tell them what they should think, say, or do? Consider their background and reach them with the gospel where they are. Do not be a stumbling block in their path to Jesus. We must think this way with unbelievers, weaker Christians, and stronger Christians.
Think about what Paul says in verse 19. We make ourselves a servant of all. We are to give ourselves away to others. The goal is not ourselves and not our rights and freedoms. The goal is the gospel. Listen to verse 23.
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV)
Watch For Disqualification (9:24-27)
This leads to Paul’s next thought: we do not want to be disqualified. We want to share with others in the blessings of the gospel, not be disqualified from those blessings. The last thing I want to do is disqualify myself by insisting on my own freedom. We run to receive the prize. We exercise self-control and discipline to ensure that we will receive the imperishable crown. We must live disciplined, controlled, directed, intentional, thoughtful, and watchful lives so that we are not disqualified. The reward is so great but we must live with intentional care for the faith of other people.
This thinking should help us follow through with things that we sometimes neglect. For example, we should not consider what our Bible studies and neighborhood studies do for us. Rather, we must think about how we can help the faith of others by attending the ladies study, the Wednesday night study, the Friday studies, the gospel meetings, and such. I am just as tired as you all on Friday but when there is an area gospel meeting think about how your attendance helps encourage so many of them. We can say that we have rights and freedoms. We do. No one can challenge that thinking. But what Paul challenges is that though we have freedom, we give ourselves away for the faith of others. We make our decisions for the sake of the gospel and the good of others so that we are not disqualified. So we reach out to our guests even if we are uncomfortable in doing so. We stick around and talk to each other and get to know each other so that we can encourage each other. This is why we arrive early and stay late. We spend time together outside of our assemblies so that we can truly help each other. Do we see how this thinking changes everything? We must think with gospel intention. We do not let our weak flesh dictate these decisions. We give too much weight to how we feel and not enough consideration for the gospel and its effect on others. Demanding our rights and thinking about our rights will cause us to be disqualified. The gospel of Christ must take priority in the lives of all believers, especially in how we deal with other people.