The Rights of an Apostle, 1-27

1 Cor 9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?

1 Cor 9:2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

1 Cor 9:3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.

1 Cor 9:4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink?

1 Cor 9:5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas ?

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us? – The Gk. verb periagein, ‘to lead about’, may be weaker than the NIV translation suggests, and simply refer to Peter’s married state, rather to his wife’s movements.

‘This verse does not assert the right of apostles to marry. Nobody in the apostolic age would have queried this. It affirms rather the right “to lead about a wife”. It was accepted that an apostle ought to be maintained by those to whom he ministered. Paul asserts here the right of an apostle, if married, to take his wife with him, the implication being that she, too, would be supported by the church.’ (Leon Morris)

and Cephas – No wonder Peter’s wife was a believer: Jesus had healed her mother, Mk 1:30!  Taking these two verses together, we have another example of an undesigned coincidence.

‘The fact that Cephas was married is attested also by Mark 1:30, where the evangelist refers to the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law. The historic Roman Catholic position that the apostle Peter and his later successors as popes were not married had great difficulty with the content of this verse. Calvin’s commentary testifies to the intensity of this debate during the period of the early Protestant reformation. Calvin notes, but here the papists evade the issue by a fine piece of cunning reason, of their own devising. For they say that the apostles refrained from intercourse, but took their wives about with them, so that they might get the fruits of the gospel, in other words their maintenance at other people’s expense. As if, indeed, they could not be supported by the churches unless they wandered from place to place! And, also as if one could believe that those wives ran all over the place of their own free will, and when there was no need to do so, simply to live in idleness at public expense! Ambrose’s explanation that the reference is to other men’s wives, who were eagerly following the apostles to hear what they had to teach, is far-fetched indeed.’ (College Press)

1 Cor 9:6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

1 Cor 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?

Paul’s right to adequate support

‘This right to adequate support he proves,

  • From the principle which lies at the foundation of society, that the labourer is worthy of his reward, v7.
  • From the fact that this principle is recognised in the Old Testament, even in its application to brutes, vv8-10.
  • From the principle of cummutative justice, v11.
  • From the fact that the Corinthians recognised this right in the case of other teachers, v12.
  • From the universal recognition of the principle among all nations. Those who served in the temple were supported from the temple, v13.
  • From the express ordinance of Christ, who had ordained that those who preached the gospel should live by the gospel, v14.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘From three diverse human activities Paul shows his right to be maintained. The soldier, the man who plants a vineyard, and the shepherd all draw their sustenance from their occupation. The inference is that Christian apostles are entitled to do the same. Notice the differing status of the three Paul selects. The soldier was commonly paid wages, the man who plants a vineyard here seems to be the owner…,whilst the shepherd, more often than not, was a slave. Yet all were fed from their occupation.’ (Leon Morris)

1 Cor 9:8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?

1 Cor 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned?

‘Paul quotes from Deut 25:4 the prohibition to muzzle the ox when engaged in treading out the corn fro threshing. The animal trampled the corn, thus shaking the grain loose from the husks. The mixture was then tossed up in a breeze, and the wind blew the chaff away, while the heavier grain fell straight down. While the ox trod the grain he was not to be muzzled, which meant that he could take some mouthfuls of grain.’ (Leon Morris)

1 Cor 9:10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.

1 Cor 9:12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Hinder ‘is a graphic and somewhat unusual word (only here in the New Testament). It means literally “a cutting into,” and was used of breaking up a road to prevent the enemy’s advance. Paul had avoided doing anything which might prevent a clear road for the gospel advance.’ (Leon Morris)

‘Others, it would appear, had in fact exercised the right Paul speaks of. It It may be that Peter or Apollos and others had received gifts from the Corinthians. Paul did not, and some of them evidently regarded this as proof of Paul’s inferiority. Perhaps they said that Paul implicitly recognised his inferiority by not attempting to obtain sustenance. Paul maintains that the founder of the church at Corinth had far more right to this sort of thing than anyone else.’ (Leon Morris)

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

1 Cor 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!

‘In these days we are not good at emphasising duty, and we do not like the thought of punishment. But Paul clearly gives expression to both.’ (Leon Morris)

1 Cor 9:17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.

‘That Paul preached the gospel willingly, that he esteemed it his highest joy and glory, is abundantly evident frm his history and his writings. Rom 1:5; 11:13; 15:15-16; 1 Cor 15:9-10; Gal 1:15-16; Eph 3:8. The difference, therefore, here expressed between…”willing” and “unwilling,” is not the difference between cheerfully and reluctantly, but between optional and obligatory. He says that he had a dispensation or stewardship (oikonomoi) committed to him. These stewards (oiknonomoi) were commonly slaves. There is a great difference between what a slave does in obedience to a command, and what a man volunteers to do of his own accord…The slave may feel honoured by the command of his master, and obey him gladly, still it is but a service. So Paul was commanded to preach the gospel, and he did it with his whole heart; but he was not commanded to refuse to receive a support from the churches. The former, therefore, was not a ground of boasting…; the latter was.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘A physician may attend the sick from the highest motives, thou he receives a remuneration for his services. But when he attends the poor gratuitously, though the motives may be no higher, the evidence of their purity is placed beyond question. Paul’s ground of glorying therefore, was not preaching, for that was a matter of obligation; but his preaching gratuitously, which was altogether optional.’ (Charles Hodge)

1 Cor 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

‘There are two things…to be carefully observed in all cases of concession to the opinions and practices of others: first, that the point conceded be a matter of indifference; for Paul never yielded in the smallest measure to any thing which was in itself wrong. In this his conduct was directly the opposite to that of those who accommodate themselves to the sins of men, or to the superstitious observances of false religions. And secondly, that the concession does not involve any admission that what is in fact indifferent is a matter of moral obligation. The extent to which Paul went to conciliate the Jews may be learnt from what is recorded in Acts 21:18-27.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘To the Jews he “became as a Jew.” The sort of thing that is in mind is his conduct in circumcising Timothy. He would not needlessly antagonise his own nation. He respected Jewish scruples. “The law” is the law of Moses. Paul was not himself bound to that law…The Christian is “not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:14) Yet Paul conformed to practices which would enable him to approach “them that are under the law” with greater acceptability.’ (Leon Morris)

1 Cor 9:21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

I…am under Christ’s law – See also Gal 6:2.  New Covenant Theology teaches that the Old Testament law has been abrogated by Christ.  However, the underlying and abiding moral demands of that law have been re-articulated in New Testament, and it is only to the teaching of Christ and the apostles that the Christian is now subject.  As Moses went up a mountain to receive the old law, so Christ ascended the mount of transfiguration to receive the new law (Mt 5-7; cf. 2 Cor 3).

‘Standard’ Reformed theology would agree with Samuel Bolton, when he says that grace does not free the believer ‘from the requirement of exact obedience, but from that rigour of obedience which the law required as a condition of salvation.’  But if the law has changed only in its purpose, and not in its content, it is difficult to see why Paul now refers to it as ‘Christ’s law’.

‘This does not mean that in Christ a new set of laws has taken the place of the old, although in terms of specifics it would certainly refer to those kinds of ethical demands given, for example, in Rom. 12 and Gal. 5–6, so many of which do reflect the teaching of Jesus. Given the frequency of “lawlessness” among the Corinthians who opposed him, it is not difficult to understand the reason for this significant qualification!’ (Fee)

Ciampa and Rosner: ‘The translation suggested by BDAG helpfully clarifies the significance of all the legal language in this verse: “I identified as one outside Mosaic jurisdiction with those outside it; not, of course, being outside God’s jurisdiction, but inside Christ’s.” He is not bound by the law of Moses but is bound to obey God as one living under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Marion Soards thinks that Paul is referring to the law of love as set out in 1 Cor 13.  So also Barrett, more fully: ‘Paul is not related to God by legal observance, but by grace and faith, and in Christ, only; but precisely in this non-legal relationship he is Christ’s slave, who owes absolute obedience not to t a code (though on occasion,k and with due caution, he can give precepts to his converts) but to Christ as a person, and to the absolute principle of universal love, which Christ both taught and exemplified.’

1 Cor 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

‘As in the preceding chapter “the weak” means weak Christians, men who were not clear and decided in their views, and as the very design of the whole discussion was to induce the more enlightened Corinthian Christians to accomodate themselves to those weaker brethren, it is…natural to understand it in the same way here. Paul holds himself up as an example. To the weak he became as weak; he accomodated himself to their prejudices that he might win them over to better views.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘This does not, of course, mean that his conduct was unprincipled. On occasion Paul could be very stubborn in following courses of action in the teeth of strong opposition. But where no principle was at stake he was prepared to go to extreme lengths to meet people. Personal considerations are totally submerged in the great aim of by all means saving some.’ (Leon Morris)

‘Paul consciously contextualized the Jewish-Christian gospel of the primitive church for his Gentile mission on the basis of his principle of “all things to all people.” (1 Cor 9:23) The gospel content was inviolate, but the form that it took in Gentile circles varied. This often caused problems, exemplified in the Jerusalem decree of Acts 15 and the issue of the strong versus the weak in 1 Cor 8-10. (DPL)

1 Cor 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Paul is about to return (10:1-22) to his discussion of eating food that had been offered to idols. (cf. 1 Cor 8:1 ff)

A race – Athletic contests were common in the Greek world, and the Isthmian Games (second only to the Olympic games) were held every two years some 14 kilometres from Corinth. The place where the races were run can still be seen today, including the starting blocks which are embedded in stone.

Only one gets the prize – ‘He does not mean that in the Christian race only one wins the prize, but exhorts all to run as the one victor ran in the Greek games.’ (Wilson) ‘In the Christian race there are many victors; but the point of the exhortation is, that all should run as the one victor ran in the Grecian games.’ (Hodge) ‘When Paul told the believers to be like those athletes, he did not mean that the believers were all running against each other with only one actually winning. Instead, he wanted every believer to run in such a way that you will win. In other words, every believer should be putting out the kind of effort for the reward of God’s kingdom that an athlete puts out to merely win a wreath.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Run in such a way as to get the prize – This is the key statement of the present paragraph (vv24-27). As Fee points out, there is both exhortation and warning here: exhortation to run with self-control; warning about the consequences of failing to run properly and so forfeiting the prize.

1 Cor 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.

Competes in the games = agonizomai.

Goes into strict training – lit. ‘exercises self-control in all things.’ ”Every candidate had to swear that he had been ten months in training, and that he would not violate the regulations 2 Tim 2:5; cf. 4:7,8. He lived on a strict diet, refraining from wine and pleasant foods, and enduring cold and heat and laborious discipline.’ (JFB) Cf. Heb 12:1,2.

‘Every competitor had to undergo strict training for ten months. He was “temperate in all things.” Yet his reward, if successful, was “a corruptible crown” (in the Isthmian Games this was a pine wreath). The Christian has before him a much more worthwhile crown, namely an “incorruptible” one. (cf. 2 Tim 4:8) The strenuous self-denial of the athlete in training for his reward is a rebuke to all half-hearted, flabby Christian service. Notice that the athlete denies himself many lawful pleasures. The Christian must avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders his complete effectiveness.’ (Leon Morris)

Self-control for the Corinthinans would include denying themselves some rights for the sake of others, 1 Cor 8:7-13, and also denying themselves some things altogether because of their incompatibility with the Christian race, 1 Cor 10:14-22.

A crown – The prize in the Isthmian Games was a pine wreath. The Christian prize is much more worthwhile and lasting, cf. 2 Tim 4:8 1 Pet 5:4. How much more, then, should the Christian engage in strict training and self-discipline. ‘If the heathen submitted to such severe discipline to gain a wreath of olive or garland of pine leaves, shall not Christians do as much for a crown of righteousness which fadeth not away?’ (Hodge)

1 Cor 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.

Paul applies the preceding to his own life. This is in part a continuation of his self-defence in 1 Cor 9:3,15-18,19-23, and in part an extension of his appeal that they should follow his own example, 1 Cor 8:7-13 11:1.

There are two images here: the first is of running without any direction of goal; the second is of boxing without ever hitting the opponent. Both are equally ludicrous: imagine a running race which begins by everyone rushing off in different directions! Imagine a boxing contest in which the two opponents never actually come to blows!

As we might put it today: Paul’s actions were always goal-directed. Are ours?

1 Cor 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I beat my body – a term from boxing, meaning ‘give a black eye to’. Paul is continuing his metaphor: ‘he is not providing a proof text for flagellants.’ (Wilson) But because Paul is also continuing his emphasis on self-control, his opponent now becomes himself.

And make it my slave – There is a further switch of metaphors here. Accordingly, we should not over-emphasise the reference to the physical body here. True, Paul had endured phsical hardship for the sake of the gospel. But ‘his point…is the need for self-restraint, not asceticism (which he thoroughly rejects)’. (Fee) The picture of ‘making my body my slave’ stands for the total self-control which is a leading theme of the present passage. There is much talk nowadays about self-fulfilment and self-awareness. We might well wonder what happened to self-control and discipline. Such things do not come easily or quickly; they take patience and hard work.

Not be disqualified – This is a final reference to the athletic metaphors. Morris says: ‘Paul’s fear was not that he might lose his salvation, but that he might lose his crown through failing to satisfy his Lord, cf. 1 Cor 3:15.’ This, however, is to put a way of thinking into Paul’s head which the text does not warrant. Paul holds, and we should hold, in tension the stern warnings about failing to win the prize (cf. Hebrews) and the powerful reassurances concerning God’s power to keep us till the end. (1 Cor 10:13)

‘Paul is deeply conscious of the need to subdue his appetites, lest having fulfilled his preaching ministry, he yield to sexual and other temptations. These were a constant problem then and are also a danger among evangelists and Christian leaders in today’s church.’ (NBC)

‘What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth or hell could ever separate him from the love of God. Rom 8:38,39. The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, “Oh wretched man that I am;” and, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” Rom 7:24,25. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian who is always in doubt.’ (Hodge)