1 Corinthians 9
Paul preaches for free
Paul preaches for free1I’m a free citizen, right? And I’m an apostle, right? I’ve seen Jesus our leader, right? In fact, aren’t you the result of the work I’ve done for our leader? 2Even if other folks say I’m not an apostle, you know better. That’s because you’re the proof that I’m an apostle for our leader.
3I’m going to push back against my critics and defend the work I do. 4Don’t apostles, like everyone else, have a right to eat food and quench our thirst? 5Don’t we have the right to marry a fellow believer—just as other apostles have done, including our leader's brothers, along with Peter? 6Or are Barnabas and I the only ones who don’t have these rights and who have to work a second job to support ourselves? 7Think about it. Do you know any soldier who pays his own way to serve in the army? Do you know of any vineyard owner who doesn’t eat the fruit he grows? How about shepherds—do you know of any who doesn’t drink milk from their flock?
8Do you think I’m giving you my personal opinion? The law says the very same thing I’ve been talking about. 9You can read about it in the Law of Moses: “Don’t muzzle an ox while it’s doing the work of walking on grain. Let it eat.” Do you think God wrote that law for oxen? 10God wrote that law for us. No doubt about it. God wanted us to know that the farmer who plows the field has every right to hope for a payday. So does the thresher in charge of knocking kernels loose from the stalks.
Preachers deserve a paycheck11If we sow seeds that produce a spiritual harvest for you, don’t we have a right to get paid for our time? 12If other teachers are getting paid for what they’re doing for you, isn’t that all the more reason to pay us, too? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to pay me. I have every right to ask, but I’ve decided not to exercise that right. I’m afraid that asking for money might get in the way of spreading the Good News about the Messiah. I’ll put up with anything to avoid that. 13You do know that temple workers who help worshipers offer sacrifices get to eat some of that meat, right? You know that the people who work at the altar are paid by getting a share of the meat, right?
14It’s no different with us. When our leader sent people out to spread the Good News, he told them to live off of what people gave them. 15I have a right to get paid for the work I do. But I’m not exercising that right. Frankly, I’d rather die than give up my right to brag about preaching for free. 16I can’t brag about preaching the Good News, however. I have no choice but to preach it because God told me to. If I didn’t preach the Good News, I’d be headed for trouble. 17If I preached simply because I wanted to, I’d get paid for that. But God has ordered me to preach. It’s a sacred trust.
18So what do I get out of preaching the Good News? I get to preach it for free. I give up my right for a payday. But I keep my right to preach the Good News. 19I’m a free citizen, yet I’m a slave to everyone. I want to win over as many people as I can.
I adapt to the people around me20When I found myself among Jews, I acted like a Jew. I followed their traditions because I wanted to win them over. So, when I was with those folks who live by the Jewish law, I lived by the Jewish law, too, for their sake. I did that even though I’m no longer obligated to live by those laws.
21When I’m around non-Jews who don’t obey Jewish laws, I ignore the Jewish laws, too. I adapt to their culture because I want to win them over. I don’t ignore God’s law, however. I consider myself a servant to the law of Christ. 22When I’m around people who don’t know much about religion or faith, I start where they are because I want to win them over. I stay flexible when I’m around others. I adapt to their needs because I want to save some of them.
23I do everything I can to spread the Good News. It’s a message with lots of benefits, and I want people to get a chance to enjoy them.
Run to win24You do know, don’t you, that of all the people running a race in the stadium, only one wins? Run to win. 25Athletes discipline themselves in many ways. They do it for a wreath that they’ll eventually have to throw away. But we run for a prize that will last forever.
26I don’t run a halfhearted race. I don’t box like I’m throwing wild punches at the air. 27I’ve got my body under control. It’s the slave and I’m the master. After all the preaching I’ve done to cheer others on, I sure don’t want to find myself getting disqualified.
Paul used the Aramaic version of Peter’s name: Cephas. It’s a bit like calling a man named Stephen “Esteban” when addressing a Spanish-speaking audience.
Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4. Farmers used oxen to pull wooden sleds over harvested stalks of grain to knock the kernels loose.
Paul doesn’t back this up with a quote from Jesus. But three gospel writers do. “Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions….‘Don’t take any money….because those who work deserve to be fed’” (Matthew 10:9-10 New Living Translation). See also Mark 6:7-11; Luke 9:3.
Some Bible experts say Paul has slavery in mind, with slaves doing their work and not expecting any reward for it. Jesus: “Think of yourself as the slave. When you have done the work you are supposed to do, don’t get a big head about it. Say, ‘We’re just doing our job.’” (Luke 17:10).
“His [Jesus’] death also marks the end of Jewish Law. Rules the Jews observed are now obsolete” (Ephesians 2:15). See also Hebrews 8:13.
A more literal translation of what Paul says is “I became weak to the weak.” The question is what kind of weakness he is talking about. Some Bible experts say he is talking about Christians who are new to the faith. Others say that given the context, he is more likely talking about people outside the faith. That fits with the Jews and non-Jews he referred to in verses 20-21. Another possibility is that he’s referring to people at the bottom end of the social ladder: workaday grunts sweating every day to make a living.
This racing analogy works well for a Corinthian audience because Corinth sponsored the Isthmian Games every other year. This was an old Olympics-style competition that featured many of the same athletes competing in the ancient Olympian games.
One Greek traveler named Pausanius (about AD 110-180) wrote that athletes competing in the ancient Olympics took an oath “that for 10 consecutive months they have strictly followed the regulations for training.” A Christian writer, Tertullian (about AD 155-240) added that athletes “are kept from lavish living, from more tempting dishes, from more pleasurable drinks. They are urged on, they are subjected to torturous toils, they are worn out.”
Winners at the Isthmian Games were likely crowned with a garland that, in the early years of the Games, was made from pine leaves glued together. Wreaths were made of different material over the years, even celery at times.
For a preacher who refuses to accept donations from the Corinthian church, Paul sure talks a lot in this chapter about why preachers deserve to get paid: “If we sow seeds that produce a spiritual harvest for you, don’t we have a right to get paid for our time?” (9:11). What do you think it sounds like he’s doing?
- Trying to prove he is a genuine, selfless apostle.
- Bragging. He does that from time to time.
- Showing that he gives up his right for a payday, for the sake of others—just as the Corinthians should give up their right to eat food offered to idols, for the sake of weaker believers.
- Paving the way for preachers to get a salary in the years to come, as the church grows larger.
Paul sometimes had to deal with critics in local churches who argued that he was not a real apostle: “Even if other folks say I’m not an apostle, you know better” (9:2). “Apostle” means “official messenger,” such as a delegate or an ambassador sent to deliver a message. The title “apostle” came to mean disciples hand-picked by Jesus to tell his story and spread his teachings. Paul’s critics argued that he wasn’t an apostle because he wasn’t one of the Original Dozen who traveled with Jesus. If you were trying to defend Paul’s apostleship, how would you do it?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says he gave up his right to take a salary for preaching, because he didn’t want anything to get in the way of people becoming believers. Perhaps he figured some people would think he was in the ministry for the money. Paul has been asking the Corinthian Christians to do the same kind of thing—to give up their right to eat meat offered to idols even though they believe there’s nothing wrong with eating that meat. He asks them to give it up for the sake of weaker Christians or Christians who believe it’s wrong to eat meat. What do Christians today sometimes give up for the sake of others?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said that when he finds himself among tradition-observing Jews, he acts like a Jew. And when he is with people who aren’t Jews, he doesn’t act like a Jew at all. “I adapt to their culture because I want to win them over” (9:21). Which one of the following statements best reflects what you think about that?
- That sounds like many preachers I have known. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.
- The practice sounds deceptive and manipulative. Wherever Paul goes, he should take himself with him and leave fake Paul behind.
- What Paul is doing is common practice among leaders who need to maintain healthy social relationships with different kinds of people.
- His practice didn’t seem to work. In the end, Jews usually showed him the synagogue door and sometimes peppered him with stones (Acts 14:19).
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says, “When I’m around people who don’t know much about religion or faith, I start where they are because I want to win them over” (9:22). What do you think are some of the challenges Christians have when it comes to talking about their faith with people who are not Christians?