I Corinthians 9. The Practice of Christian Freedom.
Key Notes: Rights of Christian leaders. Arguments for financial support. Objective: spiritual mastery. Enjoying a diverse culture. Paying attention to the conscience.
This is the second lesson following the over-view of I Corinthians 8–10. It will cover chapter 9 in more detail.
Paul in chapter 8 defends the scruples of the weak believer against the superior wisdom of the mature Christian. He understands our immediate reaction. What about my rights? As he asks rhetorically, “For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples?” (ICor.10:29.) In chapter 9, Paul talks about his rights and his own exercise of Christian freedom with excitement, and I think, a deep joy.
Luther said “A Christian man is most free, lord of all, subject to none.” He must be kidding. For many, the Christian life and freedom are opposites.
9:1–14 Paul focusses on the right of Christian leaders to maintenance by their churches. That is probably not the kind of rights most of us would be thinking of. He is making his situation a special case. He will come back to our moral rights in chapter 10.
His rights are based on his credentials as a spiritual leader.
*He is an apostle, appointed by Jesus to “carry His Name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel”. (Acts. 9:15)
*He has seen Christ, (Acts 9:1–9) a criterion for the original twelve apostles.
*The Corinthian church is his work. Acts 18:1–17
The other apostles are maintained as couple, husband and wife. And he argues for their rights as well as his own with many examples.
*Soldiers are paid a salary. Paul is a soldier of the Cross. IITim.2:2
*The vineyard-owner gets the grapes. He works in the vineyard of God.
*A shepherd of sheep and goats gets some of the milk. He is an under-shepherd.
*The ox treading out the grain is not muzzled, but eats as he works. God cares more for people than oxen. He is a bond-servant of Christ. Rom.1:1
*The farm-hand hopes for a share of the crop. He is a farmer is God’s field. IITim.2:6
*The Levite is fed from the offerings. He is one of God’s servants.
*The priest is assigned a portion of the sacrifice. Paul is one of a kingdom of priests. IPet.2:9
*Jesus said the missionary preachers should get their living in the Gospel. Lk.10:7.
He does not make use of his rights because he does not want any hindrance to the Gospel.
While in Corinth he earned his living making tents, sewing and selling wool and leather in the shop of Aquila. (Acts 18:3). Whatever support he got in Corinth came from Macedonia. (IICor.11:9–10). He also worked when he was in Thessalonica (IThes.2:9; IIThes.3:7) so that he would not be a burden.
The question of compensation for spiritual service is a trilemma.
*If I accept money from them, and they are very poor, I am a burden. I cannot take food from a baby’s mouth.
*If I take money, they may say I am mercenary, just in it for the money. Or they may say I am their sesrvant and must do whatever they decide.
*If I don’t get paid, they may say I am good for nothing. I shouldn't get paid because I have nothing to show for my efforts.
Paul makes the third choice. He is not really worried about being considered worthless. His productivity is huge. But what of Samuel Zwemer, who labored among Muslims in North Africa for twenty years and no one responded to the Gospel?
9:15–23 He will not claim any compensation, but woe to him if he does not preach the Gospel. And he can claim the reward for doing it for nothing. He will do anything to further the Gospel. He adopts the culture of the people he is with, Jews or Gentiles or weak Christians. He can take a vow and participate in worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. (Acts 23:21–26). He can operate among Greeks without being lawless because he is under the Law of Christ. Christ’s love is his guiding principle. He does it all for the Gospel and its blessings.
9:24–27 Like an athlete, he has his eye on the prize. He disciplines his body. “I pommel my body” is literally “I punch myself in the face”. He does not want to be disqualified. (No steroids, no pain-killers, no stimulants, no doping. Just a lot of diet and conditioning.)
Paul has concluded his second large point. Think of the lost and do whatever it takes to win them.
Paul’s freedom is shown in three ways.
A. He is happy to work for nothing.
B. He has the prospect of winning.
C. He knows the delight of being all things to all men.
None of these is about the freedom of his salvation. He takes up that vital topic in Rom.7:21–8:4.
A. Paul is happy to do his ministry without pay. No one owns him. He is free from all men. (9:19). He can do what needs to be done for the Corinthian believers without fear of losing his livelihood. Many us who work for the Lord are also happy not to be subject to an administrative group for our salary. We are not under obligation. No one can say we are in it for the money. No one can say that we are taking from the poor. We answer to the Lord, although we listen to our fellow-believers very carefully. It is very freeing.
B. “Every athlete that strives for mastery is temperate in all things”. (9:25, KJV.) “Striving” comes from the Gr. word from which we get “agony”. It is commonly used of athletic contests.
“Strive to enter the narrow gate. …” (Lk.13:24)
“...with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel….” (Phil.1:27 KJV)
“and if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (IITim.2:5 KJV)
“I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily." (Col.1:29).
Striving for mastery is a preoccupation of athletes. Paul applies the concept of athletic mastery to his spiritual life: self-discipline, necessary training and devotion to winning. The athlete must achieve mastery over himself. Then he tells us to run to win the prize. “So run that you may obtain it.” He offers us both the joy of mastery and the hope of winning. We should find what we do best in the Christian community and go for it. If we are called to teach or witness or sing or minister to the poor, we should try to be the best. Consider yourself free to excel. Your Master did.
C. Third, Paul is cosmopolitan. He enjoys the company of all kinds of people. He was brought up in the strict, small and isolated society of orthodox Judaism. One could not eat the food or even get under the roof of a Gentile. Peter had a struggle to visit an Italian centurion (Acts 10:28). God had to bend him in new directions. Paul did not have such qualms.
When Paul is with the Jews, he goes by Jewish rules, within limits. (Gal.1–2). He has Timothy circumcised for the sake of the Jewish community. (Acts.16:30). At Cenchrea he cuts his hair and takes a vow. (Acts.18:18). In Jerusalem he sponsors the purification of four men to please the church. (Acts21:23–26) . On the other hand, in largely Greek Corinth, he stays for eighteen months and corresponds with them at length after he leaves. When he is in Athens, he speaks to the Athenians about their unknown god. Jesus is the best example: He could talk to an intellectual from the Jewish elite, or a peasant woman from Samaria, or a man born blind, addressing each one’s need in a different way.
We are free in our society to the extent that diversity is prized. We are encouraged to reach out to people of other cultures. One can put a little curiosity to good use. Learn who the person is by listening without interruption. Absorb the culture. Learn the person’s name and a few words of the language. Try the food. Listen to the music. Learn what the other person does. It is a pleasure and you will be enriched.
Try to understand the other person’s perspective and wait for a concern or problem to emerge. Try to address this person’s need instead of some generic idea of what “the non-Christian”, or the depressed, or the homesick student needs. Detach Moslems from the stigma of terrorism. There is a world and a millennium between the needs of Latinos and Hmong refugees. The needs of Hmong immigrants require a lot of listening—years of listening--- trying to understand an animist / spiritist religion, slash-and-burn agriculture, tight family structure and a tradition of fierce independence.
Learn to love all kinds of people so that some may be saved. Strive for excellence in your spiritual calling and do it for nothing. The rewards are great.
Since we are thinking about being all things to all people, in order to win some, we must think of their consciences as well.
“It is often said that we should address ourselves to people’s conscious needs and not try to induce in them feelings of guilt which they do not have. This is a misconception, however. Human beings are moral beings by creation. That is to say, not only do we experience an inner urge to do what we believe to be right, but we also have a sense of guilt and remorse when we have done what we know to be wrong. This is an essential feature of our humanness. There is of course such a thing as false guilt. But guilt feelings which are aroused by wrongdoing are healthy. They rebuke us for betraying our humanity and they impel us to seek forgiveness in Christ. Thus conscience is our ally. In all evangelism, I find it a constant encouragement to say to myself ‘The other person’s conscience is on my side.’” (Authentic Christianity. J.R.Stott; Edit T.dudley-Smith; IVP,1995; p. 335).