1 Corinthians 9:17
For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed to me.
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(17) For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward.—The previous words, “Yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” are a parenthesis; and now the writer proves the truth of his assertion—that the necessity of preaching the gospel deprives the mere act itself of any grounds of boasting—by showing that if there were no necessity there would be a ground of boasting. The argument is this:—Suppose it to be otherwise, and that there is no such necessity, then, by voluntarily undertaking it, I have a reward. The undertaking it of my own free will would entitle me to a reward. But if (as is the case) not of my free will, but of necessity, then I am merely a steward—a slave doing his duty (1Corinthians 4:1; Luke 17:7-10).

A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.—Better, I am entrusted with a stewardship.

9:15-23 It is the glory of a minister to deny himself, that he may serve Christ and save souls. But when a minister gives up his right for the sake of the gospel, he does more than his charge and office demands. By preaching the gospel, freely, the apostle showed that he acted from principles of zeal and love, and thus enjoyed much comfort and hope in his soul. And though he looked on the ceremonial law as a yoke taken off by Christ, yet he submitted to it, that he might work upon the Jews, do away their prejudices, prevail with them to hear the gospel, and win them over to Christ. Though he would transgress no laws of Christ, to please any man, yet he would accommodate himself to all men, where he might do it lawfully, to gain some. Doing good was the study and business of his life; and, that he might reach this end, he did not stand on privileges. We must carefully watch against extremes, and against relying on any thing but trust in Christ alone. We must not allow errors or faults, so as to hurt others, or disgrace the gospel.For if I do this thing willingly - If I preach so as to show that my heart is in it; that I am not compelled, If I pursue such a course as to show that I prefer it to all other employments. If Paul took a compensation for his services, he could not well do this; if he did not, he showed that his heart was in it, and that he preferred the work to all others. Even though he had been in a manner compelled to engage in that work, yet he so acted in the work as to show that it had his hearty preference. This was done by his submitting to voluntary self-denials and sacrifices in order to spread the Saviour's name.

I have a reward - I shall meet with the approbation of my Lord, and shall obtain the reward in the world to come, which is promised to those who engage heartily, and laboriously, and successfully in turning sinners to God; Proverbs 11:30; Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 25:21-23; James 5:20.

But if against my will - (ἄκων akōn). "If under a necessity 1 Corinthians 9:16; if by the command of another" (Grotius); if I do it by the fear of punishment, or by any strong necessity which is laid on me.

A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me - I am entrusted with (πεπίστευμαι pepisteumai) this dispensation, office, economy (οἰκονομίαν oikonomian) of the gospel. It has been laid upon me; I have been called to it; I must engage in this work; and if I do it from mere compulsion or in such a way that my will shall not acquiesce in it, and concur with it, I shall have no distinguished reward. The work must be done; I must preach the gospel; and it becomes me so to do it as to show that my heart and will entirely concur; that it is not a matter of compulsion, but of choice. This he proposed to do by so denying himself, and so foregoing comforts which he might lawfully enjoy, and so subjecting himself to perils and toils in preaching the gospel, as to show that his heart was in the work, and that he truly loved it.

17. Translate, "If I be doing this (that is, preaching) of my own accord (which I am not, for the 'necessity' is laid on me which binds a servant to obey his master), I have a reward; but if (as is the case) involuntarily (Ac 9:15; 22:15; 26:16); not of my own natural will, but by the constraining grace of God; (Ro 9:16; 1Ti 1:13-16), I have had a dispensation (of the Gospel) entrusted to me" (and so can claim no "reward," seeing that I only "have done that which was my duty to do," Lu 17:10, but incur the "woe," 1Co 9:16, if I fail in it). For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; if I who have a liberty to take a maintenance for my labour in the gospel, yet notwithstanding preach it freely, out of a free and cheerful mind, desirous to promote the honour and glory of Christ, I then may expect a reward:

but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me; but if I only preach the gospel because there is a necessity laid upon me, all that can be said of me is, that there is such a dispensation committed to me. The strength of the apostle’s argument seems to lie here: That no man can reasonably expect thanks, or any extraordinary reward, for doing what he is obliged by his snperior’s command under a great penalty to do. The apostle was obliged by such a precept, and under such penalties, to preach the gospel; therefore he desired not only to do it, but to do it willingly and readily, a greater testimony of which could not be, than for him to do it without desiring or expecting any reward for his pains, but what God of his free grace should give him; this made this matter of glorying to him, which he desired might not be in vain. So that though the word ekwn here be truly translated

willingly, and opposed to akwn, which is as truly translated unwillingly, yet it seems to comprehend without charge, and taking nothing for his pains, as a demonstration of his willingness to and cheerful performance of his work; which being a thing as to which God had laid him under no necessity by any precept, was matter of glorying to him against the false apostles, who did otherwise; and also a ground for him to expect a greater reward from God, than those who, though they did the same work, yet did it not from the like free and cheerful spirit. For if I do this thing willingly,.... That is, not freely and without receiving anything for preaching, without seeking any temporal profits and advantages; nor in pure love to Christ, and the good of souls, without any fear of punishment, or hope of reward; but the apostle supposes a case which was not, and his sense is, that supposing no necessity had been laid upon him, or any injunction or command given him to preach the Gospel, but he had entered on it without any obligation upon him, then, says he,

I have a reward; or should have one, or might expect one; so the Jews (q) say, that a reward is given to him, who does anything unbidden:

but if against my will, or unwillingly,

a dispensation of the Gospel is committed to me; which was his case; the Gospel was committed to his trust, as anything is to the trust and charge of a steward by his lord, who is obliged to take care of it, and is accountable for it, and of whom faithfulness is required; he did not undertake this economy, or dispensation of the Gospel of himself, of his own mind and will, but it was enjoined him by one that had the command over him, and could and did oblige him to take the charge of it; though he made him willing, as well as able to do it: and therefore since this was the case, that it was not at his own option whether he would preach the Gospel or not, but he was obliged to it by one, that had a superior power and influence over him; hence, though he performed it ever so well, and with never so much faithfulness and integrity, he asks in the following verse,

(q) Maimon. apud Hammond in loc.

For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
1 Corinthians 9:17 f. The sentence immediately preceding this verse, οὐαὶ γὰρεὐαγγ., was merely a thought interposed, a logical parenthesis, to the contents of which Paul does not again refer in what follows. In 1 Corinthians 9:17 f., accordingly, with its γάρ, the reference is not to this preceding sentence οὐαὶ κ.τ.λ[1473], so as to establish it by way of dilemma (which was my former interpretation), but to ἈΝΆΓΚΗ ΜΟΙ ἘΠΊΚΕΙΤΑΙ, 1 Corinthians 9:16 (comp de Wette, Osiander, Hofmann), and that indeed in so far as these latter words were set down to confirm the previous assertion, ἐὰν εὐαγγελίζωμαι, οὐκ ἐστί μοι καύχημα. The correctnesss of this reference of the ΓΆΡ which introduces 1 Corinthians 9:17 f., is confirmed by the fact that the leading conceptions in the argument of 1 Corinthians 9:17 f., to wit, ἙΚΏΝ and ἌΚΩΝ, are correlative to the conception of ἈΝΆΓΚΗ in 1 Corinthians 9:16. The ΓΆΡ in 1 Corinthians 9:17 thus serves to justify the second ΓΆΡ in 1 Corinthians 9:16, as we often find, both in Greek writers and in the N. T., ΓΆΡ repeated in such a significant correlation as we find here (see Fritzsche, a[1475] Rom. II. p. 110 f.). In order to prove that he has rightly established his previous statement ἐὰνκαύχημα by adding ἈΝΆΓΚΗ ΓΆΡ ΜΟΙ ἘΠΊΚΕΙΤΑΙ, the apostle argues, starting now from the opposite of that ἈΝΆΓΚΗ, and therefore e contrario, as follows: “For supposing that I carry on my preaching (τοῦτο πράσσω) of free self-determination, then I have a reward, of which, consequently, I can glory; but if I do it not of my own free will (and this, in point of fact, was the case with the apostle), then it is a stewardship with which I am entrusted, which therefore (this is the purport of the interrogatory clause whitch follows, τίς οὖν Κ.Τ.Λ[1476]) involves no reward for me.”

From this simple course of thought—in which the μισθὸν ἔχω refers to the certain possession hereafter of the Messianic reward,[1477] and is conceived as the more specially defined contents of the καύχημα in 1 Corinthians 9:16,—it will be seen that the apodosis of the second half of 1 Corinthians 9:17 is ΟἸΚΟΝΟΜΊΑΝ ΠΕΠΊΣΤΕΥΜΑΙ, that these words, consequently, should neither be put in a parenthesis nor attached to the protasis (so Knatchbull, Semler, Hofmann—comp also his Schriftbeweis, II. 2, p. 332) by reading εἰ δὲ ἄκων οἰκον. πεπίστευμαι together, to which ΤΊς ΟὖΝ Κ.Τ.Λ[1479] would then become the apodosis;[1480]—a view under which the significant bearing of the purposely chosen phrase οἰκον. πεπίστευμαι is entirely lost sight of. Billroth, failing to recognise how essential εἰ δὲ ἄκων, οἰκ. πεπίστ. is to the argument, makes it parenthetical, and understands ἄκων (with Bengel, Zachariae, and Schulz) as meaning non gratis, which is contrary to the signification of the word. Many expositors render ἑκών and ἄκων by “with joy and gladness” and “with reluctance” (so Calovius, Piscator, Estius, Kypke, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Pott, al[1481]; comp also Ewald); but this runs counter to the fact that, as τίς οὖνμισθός shows, the apostle’s own case is not the first, but the last of the two cases supposed by him, and that he found himself indeed in the official position of a preacher without having chosen it of his own free will,—being rather apprehended (Php 2:12), and, through his call (Acts 9:22; Acts 9:26), as it were constrained by Christ (ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἄκων, Plato, Legg. v. 734 B),—but, notwithstanding, pursued his work with heart and hand.

οἰκονομίαν πεπίστ.] οἰκον. has significant emphasis; as to the construction, comp Romans 3:2; Galatians 2:7. If I preach ἄκων, so Paul holds, then the apostleship, with which I am put in trust, stands in the relation of the stewardship of a household (1 Corinthians 4:1); for that, too, a man receives not from his own free choice, but by the master’s will, which he has to obey; and hence it follows (οὖν) that no reward awaits me (this being the negative sense of τίςμισθός; comp Matthew 5:46; Romans 6:21; 1 Corinthians 15:32); for a steward—conceived of as a slave[1485]—can but do his duty (Luke 17:10), whereas one who works of his own free will does more than he is bound to do, and so labours in a sense worthy of reward. The meanings which some expositors find in ΟἸΚ. ΠΕΠ. are inserted by themselves; thus Pott explains, “nihilosecius peragendum est,” comp Schulz, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Schrader, Neander, and older interpreters; while Grotius makes it, “ratio mihi reddenda est impositi muneris.” The words convey nothing more than just their simple literal meaning. What, again, is inferred from them, Paul himself tells us by beginning a new sentence with τίς οὖν. To suppose a middle clause omitted before this sentence (with Neander, who would insert, “How am I now to prove that I do it of my own free will?”) is to make a purely arbitrary interruption in the passage.

Ὁ ΜΙΣΘΌς] the befitting reward. Neither here nor in the first clause is μισθός the same as ΚΑΎΧΗΜΑ (Pott, Rückert, Ewald, al[1487]); but it is viewed as standing in the relation of the inducing cause to that ἐστί μοι καύχημα, supposing the latter to take place. This also applies against Baur in the theol. Jahrb. 1852, p. 541 ff., who, moreover, pronounces the apostle’s argument an unsound one. The distinction which Paul here makes is, in his opinion, at variance with the absolute ground of obligation in the moral consciousness, and is either purely a piece of dialectics, or has for its real basis the idea of the opera supererogationis. In point of fact, neither the one nor the other is the case; but Paul is speaking of the apostolic reward hereafter, concerning which he was persuaded that it was not to be procured for him by his apostolic labour in itself, seeing that he had not, in truth, come to the apostleship of his own free will; rather, in his case, must the element of free self-determination come in in another way, namely, by his labouring without receiving anything in return. In so far, accordingly, he must do something more than the other apostles in order that he might receive the reward. He had recognised this to be his peculiar duty of love, incumbent upon him also with a view to avert all ground of offence, but not as implying surplus merit. The latter notion is discovered in the text by Cornelius a Lapide and others.

[1473] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1475] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1476] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1477] On μισθὸν ἔχειν, comp. Matthew 6:1. It is the opposite of οὐαί μοι ἐστίν, and hence μισθός cannot mean the reward which lies in the very action itself, namely, the self-satisfaction to which it gives rise (Hofmann).

[1479] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1480] As regards the σὖν of the apodosis, see on Romans 2:17-24. It would have been exceedingly uncalled for after such a short and perfectly simple protasis as that in the text. In Herodotus ix. 48, which Hofmann adduces (also Hartung, Partik. II. p. 22), it is otherwise (οἱ δʼ ὦν κ.τ.λ.). Moreover, it is a special peculiarity of Herodotus to put οὖν before the apodosis; whereas, with Paul, it occurs only in Romans loc. cit., where it comes in after an accumulated series of protases and, as an epanalepsis, was quite appropriate.

[1481] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[1485] This is not an arbitrary assumption (as Hofmann objects), since it is well enough known that the οἰκονόμοι were, as a rule, slaves.

[1487] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.1 Corinthians 9:17 completes a chain of four explanatory γάρ s (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-21). To make his position clearer, P. puts two further contrasted hypotheses, the former imaginary, the latter suggesting the fact: (a) “For if I am engaged on this (work) of my own free will (ἑκών), I have reward (mercedem habeo)”—sc. the supposed καύχημα of 1 Corinthians 9:16, the right to credit his work to himself (cf. Romans 4:2; Romans 4:4); not the future Messianic reward (so Mr[1360] and others), for ἔχω implies attained possession (see parls.), much as ἀπέχω) in Matthew 6:2, etc. For πράσσω, see note on 1 Corinthians 9:2. (b). “But”—the contrasted matter of fact—“if against my will (ἄκων = ἀνάγκῃ, 1 Corinthians 9:16), with a stewardship I have been entrusted”; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1 f., 1 Timothy 1:12, etc.—The οἰκονόμος (see note, 1 Corinthians 4:1), however highly placed, is a slave whose work is chosen for him and whose one merit is faithful obedience. In Paul’s consciousness of stewardship there mingled submission to God, gratitude for the trust bestowed, and independence of human control (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19, 1 Corinthians 4:3 f).—The use πιστεύω in pass[1361] with personal subject and acc[1362] of thing (imitating vbs. of double acc.), is confined to Paul in N.T.; see Wr[1363], pp. 287, 326. To οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι one tacitly adds, from the contrasted clause, καὶ μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχω: “Christ’s bondman, I claim no hire for my stewardship; God’s truth is enough for me”.

[1360] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[1361] passive voice.

[1362] accusative case.

[1363] Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).17. For if I do this thing willingly] Whether St Paul did his work willingly or unwillingly, he could not escape his responsibility. He had been chosen (Acts 9:15; Acts 13:2; Romans 1:5; Romans 15:16; Galatians 1:15-16; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:2) to bear the good tidings to the Gentiles, and ho man can disobey God and be guiltless. If he willingly obeyed God, he had a reward in the consciousness of having done his duty (1 Corinthians 9:18); if not, he still had been entrusted with the task. Cf. St Luke 17:10.

reward] Rather, wages. Cf. St John 4:36; St Matthew 20:8, and St Luke 10:7, where the same word is used.

dispensation] Literally, stewardship, the work of one who has to dispense provisions or stores. The original meaning of the word dispensation, which is akin to spend, is the giving forth, as out of a store. So Dr Woodward, in his Natural Philosophy, writes, “This perpetual circulation is constantly promoted by a dispensation of water promiscuously to all parts of the earth.” And Latimer writes, “I pray you, what is to be looked for in a dispensour? This, surely; that he be found faithful, and that he truly dispense and lay out the goods of the Lord.” Sermon on the Unjust Steward, preached before Convocation, June 6th, 1536. Hence it came to have the meaning of a course, or order, of God’s providence, distributed or appointed by Him to man. But this is not the meaning here. Wiclif renders dispending is bitaken to me. Tyndale, office.1 Corinthians 9:17. Ἑκὼν, willingly) This is here used instead of gratuitously, whence I have a reward makes an oxymoron;[76] moreover he defines the reward and gain in the following verses. Paul often, when speaking of his own affairs, uses increase and diminution [αὔξησις and ΜΕΊΩΣΙς], not unlike a catachresis, and suitable to express his self-abnegation. He might have willingly preached the Gospel, and yet have received a reward from the Corinthians; but if he should receive a reward, he considers that as equivalent to his preaching unwillingly; so in the following verse the use of his legitimate ‘power’ might be without abuse; but he considers in his case the former in the light of the latter;[77] comp. Romans 15:15; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 7:2-3.—οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed to me) I cannot withdraw myself, although I should fail of my reward. Again, the language is exclusive, as in 1 Corinthians 9:16.

[76] See Appendix. The pointed combination of contraries. “Gratuitously, yet I have a reward.”—ED.

[77] i.e. He would regard his using his power as if it were an abuse.—ED.Verse 17. - If I do this thing willingly. The word rather means "spontaneously;" "without compulsion." He was preaching willingly, but still it was in obedience to an irresistible behest (Acts 9:6, 15). I have a reward. The reward (or rather, "wage ") of such self chosen work would be the power to fulfil it (comp. Matthew 6:1). Against my will; rather, involuntarily, "under Divine constraint." A dispensation. He was appointed a "steward" or "dispenser" of the gospel, and could only regard himself at the best as "an unprofitable slave," who had done merely what it was his bare duty to do (Luke 17:10). There is no merit in yielding to a must. For if I do this thing willingly, etc.

The exact line of Paul's thought is a matter of much discussion, and must be determined if we are to understand the force of the several words. It appears to be as follows: He has been speaking of the fact that he preaches at his own cost. He so glories in this that he would rather die than surrender this ground of boasting Compare 2 Corinthians 11:7-12; 2 Corinthians 12:13-16. For it is the only ground of boasting that is possible to him. The preaching of the Gospel in itself furnishes no such ground, for one cannot boast of what he needs must do; and the necessity to preach the Gospel is laid on him under penalty of a "woe" if he refuse. He goes on to show, in two propositions, why and how there is no cause for boasting in preaching under necessity. 1. Supposing there were no necessity, but that he preached of free will, like the twelve who freely accepted the apostleship at Christ's call, then he would rightfully have a reward, as a free man entering freely upon service; and so would have some ground of glorying. 2. But supposing I became an apostle under constraint, as was the fact, then I am not in the position of a free man who chooses at will, but of a slave who is made household steward by his master's will, without his own choice, and consequently I have no claim for reward and no ground of boasting. What, then, is my reward? What ground of boasting have I? Only this: to make the Gospel without charge. In this I may glory.

Willingly - against my will (ἑκὼν - ἄκων)

These words are not to be explained of the spirit in which Paul fulfilled his ministry; but of his attitude toward the apostolic charge when it was committed to him. He was seized upon by Christ (Philippians 2:12); constrained by His call on the way to Damascus. Rev., of mine own will - not of mine own will.


Correlative with the second καύχημα something to glory of, in 1 Corinthians 9:16.

A dispensation is committed unto me (οἰκονομίαν πεπίστυμαι)

Lit., I am entrusted with a stewardship. For a similar construction see Romans 3:2. Stewards belonged to the class of slaves. See Luke 12:42, Luke 12:43, and note οἰκονόμος steward in Luke 12:42, and δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος that bond-servant in Luke 12:43. Paul is not degrading the gospel ministry to a servile office. He is only using the word to illustrate a single point - the manner of his appointment.

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