Sunday December 15th
1 Corinthians 9
Isn’t freedom a wonderful thing?
I heard about one time when the Fourth of July was coming around, and this nursery school teacher decided to use that holiday as an opportunity to tell the children in her class about patriotism and freedom.
"Boys and girls, we live in a great country," she said.
"One of the things we should all be very happy about is that, in this country, we are all free."
But one little boy stood up in the back of the room and yelled out, “NO”.
The teacher was surprised, and she asked him, “Why did you say that Johnny?”
He shook his head from side to side, put his hands on his hips and said,
"I am not free. I'm four."
So maybe we’re NOT all free! But the Apostle Paul was!
He begins the ninth chapter of 1st Corinthians with these four questions:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
Keep in mind that often times in Paul’s letters to the churches, he was responding to people who had come to target those churches after he had left, and were spreading lies and criticisms about Paul.
In that first verse he is defending four truths, which I will list here in reverse order:
4. That the Corinthian church was a work that he had established for God
3. That Paul had literally seen the risen Jesus
2. That he was an apostle
1. That he was free
The rest of this chapter focuses mostly on the aspects of Paul’s apostleship and his freedom, starting with this in verse 2:
2 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.
That’s probably a combination response to both #2 and #4, his apostleship and his role in starting that church.
Since Paul had established the church in Corinth, he is essentially saying to them, “Other people might not recognize me as an apostle, but you folks surely should.
If I wasn’t sent by God to reach you with the gospel, you wouldn’t even know who Jesus was.”
The word apostle means “one who is sent” and Paul had clearly been sent by God to bring the gospel to Corinth.
In the next section, Paul is going to defend himself against another false accusation. As we saw when we studied the letters to the Thessalonians, there were people trying to accuse Paul of being a con man, or a snake oil salesman, who was making a profit from the church.
Here’s how he answers that accusation:
3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink?
That’s a pretty basic statement. As we will find out as we continue reading, Paul never took any money from the Corinthians. But he probably was treated to some free meals at the homes of some church members. So he argues that there is nothing wrong with receiving hospitality from brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, we all have to eat and drink don’t we?
The next thing that he mentions is quite interesting for several reasons:
5 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?
We know from chapter 7 verse 7 that Paul wasn’t married. And Bible scholars seem to believe that Barnabas was also unmarried at the time of their missionary work. What Paul seems to be saying is that if Peter, or James the Lord’s brother, or any other married apostle came for a visit, wouldn’t you feed their wives too? Isn’t that just a basic courtesy?
Then he addresses head on the accusation that he and Barnabas were freeloaders:
6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 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?
The key point here is this “What would be wrong if Barnabas and I decided not to work, but instead allowed the church to support us while we focused on preaching?”
Don’t soldiers and farmers and shepherds earn their meals by doing their jobs? Why should it be any different for preachers?
Then Paul takes it to another level. He shows why it’s actually scriptural for the church to support preachers:
8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 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? 10 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. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4, which says that an ox who is helping with the crops should get to eat some of the crops under his feet. That sounds fair, doesn’t it?
Then Paul says, “Don’t you think that verse also applies to the guy who is doing the plowing and the guy who is doing the harvesting, and to anyone else who is helping with the farming?”
And if that’s true about people who are planting and watering physical seeds, shouldn’t it also be true of those who are planting and watering spiritual seeds?!
Then Paul hits his accusers with the ultimate bombshell:
12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
Say what? We could have used that right but we DIDN’T!
Before driving that point home, Paul shows one more biblical example of why paying preachers isn’t wrong:
13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
Think about this: the entire Old Testament system at the temple involved sacrificing lots of animals, over and over, day after day. What do think happened to all of those animals after they were sacrificed?
I’ll tell you. The priests in the temple ATE THEM! And it was their perfect right to do so, according to the Law of Moses. They were serving God, and so they were being fed by God. And Paul says those who are serving God by preaching the gospel are also allowed to make their living from their preaching.
Then hit hits them with that same bombshell one more time:
15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.
After making point after point about why it would have been okay for him and Barnabas to get paid for preaching-
Paul undermines all of his accusers by simply saying, “It would have been perfectly fine for us to take an offering but we DIDN’T!”
He says that the points that he has been making all this time aren’t even about him, they are to show the church that they should take care of their leaders. Paul says that he would rather die than allow someone to weaken the gospel message because of anything that he did.
We saw the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–9 where Paul reminded them that he had worked as a tentmaker when he was with them, rather than relying on the church for offerings. In fact, Paul told the Philippian church in Philippians 4:15-16 that they were the only church that he ever took money from. And even then, he hadn’t asked them for any money, it was simply a gift that they wanted to bless him with.
Then in the next few verses Paul emphasizes that he gets a greater reward from preaching than any monetary gift could ever match:
16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Paul is kind of putting it this way: “Why would I expect you to pay me for something that I am going to do whether I get paid or not? And my reward from God is that I can do it purely as an offering unto Him, even though I have a total right to receive money for it.”
Then Paul goes on to say that not only is he choosing to relinquish his right to get paid, he is relinquishing ALL of his rights:
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Remember that the opening words of this chapter were “Am I not free?”
Here Paul says, “Yes, I am totally free in Christ but I will set aside my freedom and become a slave to others for the sake of the gospel!
I am free from the Law, but I will obey laws and customs that I don’t have to obey in order to reach the people who follow those customs!
One commentary says that “When ministering to Jews, Paul conformed to the Old Testament ceremonial regulations even though he knew that these matters were not essential. When ministering to Gentiles, Paul was willing to live like them.”
In many ways, this is what was driving Paul’s discussion at the beginning of chapter 11, when he spends so much time talking about head coverings and hair length for men and women in church. Does that stuff really matter in and of itself? Absolutely not.
But did it matter in the culture of the Corinthian church, in a city where temple prostitutes shaved their heads?
Certainly it had more meaning then, for that group of people, as they were needing to establish their own identity in Christ. In chapter 11, verse 2, Paul tells them to “hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.”
As we saw in Chapter 7, some of these things were suggestions by Paul, not commandments from God, designed to help them navigate through their culture.
Paul was also saying this:
I am free from weakness, but I will share in the weaknesses of others so that I might have an opportunity to share Jesus with them!
All things to all men. Whatever it takes. And for one purpose only – for the sake of the gospel – so that souls might be saved!
And in the final verses of this chapter, Paul uses examples from running and boxing to emphasize his dedication, and I think this is not just for him, but maybe as a reminder to us as well:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
When Paul says, “I discipline my body” he is also reminding his readers that they must discipline their bodies if they expect to win. As Christians, we must be willing to set aside our selfish, fleshly interests for the sake of serving God.
To emphasize the point of all of this talk about freedom and discipline, I want to look at two verses from this first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 6:12
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
Do you see a pattern here? What is lawful for me? What do I have the freedom to do if I want to?
Say that again:
I have a LOT of freedom as a follower of Jesus…but…
But…not everything I am free to do is profitable.
But…not everything I am free to do is edifying.
But…some things that I am free to do might turn into habits that will master me, or rule my life, and I refuse to be mastered by anything other than Jesus Himself!
Do you understand the difference that is being shown here?
Let’s just use this simple example: Am I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, free to go to the casinos?
Yes, I definitely am. But will it be PROFITABLE? Most likely not! Will it be edifying? Quite possibly not. And could it possibly become a habit that could gain mastery over my life? That’s certain a potential danger, isn’t it?
And could it become a stumbling block for another believer? It might.
That’s simply one example of why I might decide to lay aside my freedom, choosing to forgo an opportunity that I’m FREE to do, but maybe I shouldn’t do.
I think a lot of this kind of decision making falls under that title of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional,
“My Utmost for His Highest”
Why would I want to use my freedom as an excuse to participate in behavior that is far less than my best, my utmost? Didn’t Jesus give me His best, His utmost?
Shouldn’t my goal always be to reach for God’s highest, even though I’m free to choose things at a much lower level?
Let’s be mindful, as we move forward together, that if each one of us is reaching for God’s highest, then imagine how high we can go with the things of God’s Kingdom together?