Read 1 Corinthians 9
Paul’s Rights as an Apostle
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? 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.
3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 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? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 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? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 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.
13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
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, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
Paul’s Use of His Freedom
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 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. 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
The Need for Self-Discipline
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. 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 forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
This chapter begins with Paul talking about the ways he has forfeited his rights for the sake of furthering the Kingdom. He is saying that it is would not be wrong for him to be supported financially as he travels from place to place, but that he has opted not to as another way to sacrifice himself. He also talks about how he has become all things to all people (v. 22) so that others may come to know Jesus. Paul isn’t hung up on labels or status; he’ll do anything he can to see the lost be found.
In a lot of ways, this flies in the face of what the culture around us would suggest. If you watch carefully enough, you’ll realize that many advertisements today are aimed at one human desire. We’re so desperate to achieve this one thing that it can break us down if we don’t get it. Want to guess what it is? Importance. We have such a thirst for importance that we will go to great lengths to make others feel like we’re significant. We want others to notice us, celebrate us, and quite frankly, want to be us. We want to feel successful because that’s where we find our worth. But in this race for importance, our culture has burned out badly, and many people feel less important and more empty than ever before. When everyone is trying to broadcast their own importance, we’ve found that nobody ends up feeling significant.
But in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul presents another way. He dares us not to search for significance, but rather to play the role of a servant. He even claims that if we do that, if we put ourselves second, we’ll actually come out as winners. It’s only those who are willing to put their desires to the side who get to share in the blessings of the gospel and celebrate a race well run. Instead of announcing our presence to the world, Paul says we should meet others where they are.
When we put their needs and their desires first, we’ll get to see God use us in a profound way. Today, if you are looking for importance, you can be reminded that you don’t have to live for approval, but rather from it. God has already deemed you worthy, so that you are freed from finding your worth in your worldly significance.
What do you notice about Paul’s demeanor in this chapter?
What keeps you from putting others first?
What in your life right now is keeping you from running your race well?
Did You Know?
As part of their pay, priests in the temple would receive a portion of the offerings as their food (see Numbers 18:8-24). Paul is reminding the church in Corinth that while he isn’t in ministry to make money, he does need to be supported in order to continue on his journey.