Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
1Co 9:1-27. He Confirms His Teaching as to Not Putting a Stumbling-block in a Brother's Way (1Co 8:13) BY His Own Example in Not Using His Undoubted Rights as an Apostle, so as to Win Men to Christ.
1. Am I not an apostle? am I not free?—The oldest manuscripts read the order thus, "Am I not free? am I not an apostle?" He alludes to 1Co 8:9, "this liberty of yours": If you claim it, I appeal to yourselves as the witnesses, have not I also it? "Am I not free?" If you be so, much more I. For "am I not an apostle?" so that I can claim not only Christian, but also apostolic, liberty.
have I not seen Jesus—corporeally, not in a mere vision: compare 1Co 15:8, where the fact of the resurrection, which he wishes to prove, could only be established by an actual bodily appearance, such as was vouchsafed to Peter and the other apostles. In Ac 9:7, 17 the contrast between "the men with him seeing no man," and "Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way," shows that Jesus actually appeared to him in going to Damascus. His vision of Christ in the temple (Ac 22:17) was "in a trance." To be a witness of Christ's resurrection was a leading function of an apostle (Ac 1:22). The best manuscripts omit "Christ."
ye my work in the Lord—Your conversion is His workmanship (Eph 2:10) through my instrumentality: the "seal of mine apostleship" (1Co 9:2).
If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
2. yet doubtless—yet at least I am such to you.
seal of mine apostleship—Your conversion by my preaching, accompanied with miracles ("the signs of an apostle," Ro 15:18, 19; 2Co 12:12), and your gifts conferred by me (1Co 1:7), vouch for the reality of my apostleship, just as a seal set to a document attests its genuineness (Joh 3:33; Ro 4:11).
Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
3. to them that … examine me—that is, who call in question mine apostleship.
is this—namely, that you are the seal of mine apostleship.
Have we not power to eat and to drink?
4. Have we not power—Greek, "right," or lawful power, equivalent to "liberty" claimed by the Corinthians (1Co 8:9). The "we" includes with himself his colleagues in the apostleship. The Greek interrogative expresses, "You surely won't say (will you?) that we have not the power or right," &c.
eat and drink—without laboring with our hands (1Co 9:11, 13, 14). Paul's not exercising this right was made a plea by his opponents for insinuating that he was himself conscious he was no true apostle (2Co 12:13-16).
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
5. lead about a sister, a wife—that is, "a sister as a wife"; "a sister" by faith, which makes all believers brethren and sisters in the one family of God: "a wife" by marriage covenant. Paul implies he did not exercise his undoubted right to marry and "lead about" a believer, for the sake of Christian expediency, as well to save the Church the expense of maintaining her in his wide circuits, as also that he might give himself more undistractedly to building up the Church of Christ (1Co 7:26, 32, 35). Contrast the Corinthians' want of self-sacrifice in the exercise of their "liberty" at the cost of destroying, instead of edifying, the Church (1Co 8:9, Margin; 1Co 8:10-13).
as other apostles—implying that some of them had availed themselves of the power which they all had, of marrying. We know from Mt 8:14, that Cephas (Peter) was a married man. A confutation of Peter's self-styled followers, the Romanists, who exclude the clergy from marriage. Clement of Alexandria [Miscellanies, 7.63] records a tradition that he encouraged his wife when being led to death by saying, "Remember, my dear one, the Lord." Compare Eusebius [Eccleiastical History, 3.30].
brethren of the Lord—held in especial esteem on account of their relationship to Jesus (Ac 1:14; Ga 1:9). James, Joses, Simon, and Judas. Probably cousins of Jesus: as cousins were termed by the Jews "brethren." Alford makes them literally brothers of Jesus by Joseph and Mary.
Cephas—probably singled out as being a name carrying weight with one partisan section at Corinth. "If your favorite leader does so, surely so may I" (1Co 1:12; 3:22).
Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
6. Barnabas—long the associate of Paul, and, like him, in the habit of self-denyingly forbearing to claim the maintenance which is a minister's right. So Paul supported himself by tent-making (Ac 18:3; 20:34; 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8).
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
7. The minister is spiritually a soldier (2Ti 2:3), a vine-dresser (1Co 3:6-8; So 1:6), and a shepherd (1Pe 5:2, 4).
of the fruit—The oldest manuscripts omit "of."
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
8. as a man—I speak thus not merely according to human judgment, but with the sanction of the divine law also.
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
9. ox … treadeth … corn—(De 25:4). In the East to the present day they do not after reaping carry the sheaves home to barns as we do, but take them to an area under the open air to be threshed by the oxen treading them with their feet, or else drawing a threshing instrument over them (compare Mic 4:13).
Doth God … care for oxen?—rather, "Is it for the oxen that God careth?" Is the animal the ultimate object for whose sake this law was given? No. God does care for the lower animal (Ps 36:6; Mt 10:29), but it is with the ultimate aim of the welfare of man, the head of animal creation. In the humane consideration shown for the lower animal, we are to learn that still more ought it to be exercised in the case of man, the ultimate object of the law; and that the human (spiritual as well as temporal) laborer is worthy of his hire.
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
10. altogether—Join this with "saith." "Does he (the divine lawgiver) by all means say it for our sakes?" It would be untrue, that God saith it altogether (in the sense of solely) for our sakes. But it is true, that He by all means saith it for our sakes as the ultimate object in the lower world. Grotius, however, translates, "mainly" or "especially," instead of altogether.
that—"meaning that" [Alford]; literally, "because."
should plough—ought to plough in hope. The obligation rests with the people not to let their minister labor without remuneration.
he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope—The oldest manuscript versions and Fathers read, "He that thresheth (should or ought to thresh) in the hope of partaking" (namely, of the fruit of his threshing). "He that plougheth," spiritually, is the first planter of a church in a place (compare 1Co 3:6, 9); "he that thresheth," the minister who tends a church already planted.
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
11. we … we—emphatical in the Greek. We, the same persons who have sown to you the infinitely more precious treasures of the Spirit, may at least claim in return what is the only thing you have to give, namely, the goods that nourish the flesh ("your carnal things").
If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
12. others—whether true apostles (1Co 9:5) or false ones (2Co 11:20).
we rather—considering our greater labors for you (2Co 11:23).
suffer all things—without complaining of it. We desire to conceal (literally, "hold as a water-tight vessel") any distress we suffer from straitened circumstances. The same Greek is in 1Co 13:7.
lest we … hinder … gospel—not to cause a hindrance to its progress by giving a handle for the imputation of self-seeking, if we received support from our flock. The less of incumbrance and expense caused to the Church, and the more of work done, the better for the cause of the Gospel (2Ti 2:4).
Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
13. minister about holy things—the Jewish priests and Levites. The Greek especially applies to the former, the priests offering sacrifices.
partakers with the altar—a part of the victims going to the service of the altar, and the rest being shared by the priests (Le 7:6; Nu 18:6, &c.; De 18:1, &c.).
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
14. Even so—The only inference to be drawn from this passage is, not that the Christian ministry is of a sacrificial character as the Jewish priesthood, but simply, that as the latter was supported by the contributions of the people, so should the former. The stipends of the clergy were at first from voluntary offerings at the Lord's Supper. At the love-feast preceding it every believer, according to his ability, offered a gift; and when the expense of the table had been defrayed, the bishop laid aside a portion for himself, the presbyters, and deacons; and with the rest relieved widows, orphans, confessors, and the poor generally [Tertullian, Apology, 39]. The stipend was in proportion to the dignity and merits of the several bishops, presbyters, and deacons [Cyprian, c. 4, ep. 6].
preach … gospel—plainly marked as the duty of the Christian minister, in contrast to the ministering about sacrifices (Greek) and waiting at the altar of the Jewish priesthood and Levites (1Co 9:13). If the Lord's Supper were a sacrifice (as the Mass is supposed to be), this fourteenth verse would certainly have been worded so, to answer to 1Co 9:13. Note the same Lord Christ "ordains" the ordinances in the Old and in the New Testaments (Mt 10:10; Lu 10:7).
But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
15. Paul's special gift of continency, which enabled him to abstain from marriage, and his ability to maintain himself without interrupting seriously his ministry, made that expedient to him which is ordinarily inexpedient; namely, that the ministry should not be supported by the people. What to him was a duty, would be the opposite to one, for instance, to whom God had committed a family, without other means of support.
I have used none of these things—none of these "powers" or rights which I might have used (1Co 9:4-6, 12).
neither—rather, "Yet I have not written."
so done unto me—literally, "in my case": as is done in the case of a soldier, a planter, a shepherd, a ploughman, and a sacrificing priest (1Co 9:7, 10, 13).
make my glorying void—deprive me of my privilege of preaching the Gospel without remuneration (2Co 11:7-10). Rather than hinder the progress of the Gospel by giving any pretext for a charge of interested motives (2Co 12:17, 18), Paul would "die" of hunger. Compare Abraham's similar disinterestedness (Ge 14:22, 23).
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
16. though I preach … I have nothing to glory of—that is, If I preach the Gospel, and do so not gratuitously, I have no matter for "glorying." For the "necessity" that is laid on me to preach (compare Jer 20:9, and the case of Jonah) does away with ground for "glorying." The sole ground for the latter that I have, is my preaching without charge (1Co 9:18): since there is no necessity laid on me as to the latter, it is my voluntary act for the Gospel's sake.
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.
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).
What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
18. What is my reward?—The answer is in 1Co 9:19; namely, that by making the Gospel without charge, where I might have rightfully claimed maintenance, I might "win the more."
of Christ—The oldest manuscripts and versions omit these words.
abuse—rather "that I use not to the full my power." This is his matter for "glorying"; the "reward" ultimately aimed at is the gaining of the more (1Co 9:19). The former, as involving the latter, is verbally made the answer to the question, "What is my reward?" But really the "reward" is that which is the ultimate aim of his preaching without charge, namely, that he may gain the more; it was for this end, not to have matter of glorying, that he did so.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
19. free from all men—that is, from the power of all men.
gain the more—that is, as many of them ("all men") as possible. "Gain" is an appropriate expression in relation to a "reward" (1Th 2:19, 20); he therefore repeats it frequently (1Co 9:20-22).
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
20. I became as a Jew—in things not defined by the law, but by Jewish usage. Not Judaizing in essentials, but in matters where there was no compromise of principle (compare Ac 16:3; 21:20-26); an undesigned coincidence between the history and the Epistle, and so a sure proof of genuineness.
to them that are under the law, as under the law—in things defined by the law; such as ceremonies not then repugnant to Christianity. Perhaps the reason for distinguishing this class from the former is that Paul himself belonged nationally to "the Jews," but did not in creed belong to the class of "them that are under the law." This view is confirmed by the reading inserted here by the oldest manuscripts, versions, and Fathers, "not being (that is, parenthetically, 'not that I am') myself under the law."
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
21. To them … without law—that is, without revealed law: the heathen (compare Ro 2:12 with 1Co 9:15).
as without law—not urging on them the ceremonies and "works of the law," but "the hearing of faith" (Ga 3:2). Also discoursing in their own manner, as at Athens, with arguments from their own poets (Ac 17:28).
being not without law to God—"While thus conforming to others in matters indifferent, taking care not to be without law in relation to God, but responsible to law (literally, "IN LAW") in relation to Christ." This is the Christian's true position in relation to the world, to himself, and to God. Everything develops itself according to its proper law. So the Christian, though no longer subject to the literal law as constraining him from without, is subject to an inward principle or law, the spirit of faith in Christ acting from within as the germ of a new life. He does not in the Greek (as in English Version) say "under the law (as he does in 1Co 9:20) to Christ"; but uses the milder term, "in … law," responsible to law. Christ was responsible to the law for us, so that we are no longer responsible to it (Ga 3:13, 24), but to Him, as the members to the Head (1Co 7:22; Ro 8:1-4; 1Pe 2:16). Christians serve Christ in newness of spirit, no longer in oldness of the letter (that is, the old external law as such), Ro 7:4-6. To Christ, as man's Head, the Father has properly delegated His authority (Joh 5:22, 27); whence here he substitutes "Christ" for "God" in the second clause, "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ." The law of Christ is the law of love (Ga 6:2; compare Ga 5:13).
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
22. gain the weak—that is, establish, instead of being a stumbling-block to inexperienced Christians (1Co 8:7) Ro 14:1, "Weak in the faith." Alford thinks the "weak" are not Christians at all, for these have been already "won"; but those outside the Church, who are yet "without strength" to believe (Ro 5:6). But when "weak" Christians are by the condescending love of stronger brethren kept from falling from faith, they are well said to be "gained" or won.
by all means … some—The gain of even "some" is worth the expenditure of "all means." He conformed himself to the feelings of each in the several classes, that out of them all he might gain some.
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
23. partaker thereof—Greek, "fellow partaker": of the Gospel blessings promised at Christ's coming: "with" (not as English Version, "you": but) them, namely, with those thus "gained" by me to the Gospel.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
24. Know ye not—The Isthmian games, in which the foot race was a leading one, were of course well known, and a subject of patriotic pride to the Corinthians, who lived in the immediate neighborhood. These periodical games were to the Greeks rather a passion than a mere amusement: hence their suitableness as an image of Christian earnestness.
in a race—Greek, "in a race course."
all … one—Although we knew that one alone could be saved, still it Would be well worth our while to run [Bengel]. Even in the Christian race not "all" who enter on the race win (1Co 10:1-5).
So run, that ye may obtain—said parenthetically. These are the words in which the instructors of the young in the exercise schools (gymnasia) and the spectators on the race course exhorted their pupils to stimulate them to put forth all exertions. The gymnasium was a prominent feature in every Greek city. Every candidate had to take an oath that he had been ten months in training, and that he would violate none of the regulations (2Ti 2:5; compare 1Ti 4:7, 8). He lived on a strict self-denying diet, refraining from wine and pleasant foods, and enduring cold and heat and most laborious discipline. The "prize" awarded by the judge or umpire was a chaplet of green leaves; at the Isthmus, those of the indigenous pine, for which parsley leaves were temporarily substituted (1Co 9:25). The Greek for "obtain" is fully obtain. It is in vain to begin, unless we persevere to the end (Mt 10:22; 24:13; Re 2:10). The "so" expresses, Run with such perseverance in the heavenly course, as "all" the runners exhibit in the earthly "race" just spoken of: to the end that ye may attain the prize.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
25. striveth—in wrestling: a still more severe contest than the foot race.
is temperate—So Paul exercised self-denial, abstaining from claiming sustenance for the sake of the "reward," namely, to "gain the more" (1Co 9:18, 19).
corruptible—soon withering, as being only of fir leaves taken from the fir groves which surrounded the Isthmian race course or stadium.
incorruptible—(1Pe 1:4; 5:4; Re 2:10). "Crown" here is not that of a king (which is expressed by a different Greek word, namely, "diadem"), but a wreath or garland.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
26. I—Paul returns to his main subject, his own self-denial, and his motive in it.
run, not as uncertainly—not as a runner uncertain of the goal. Ye Corinthians gain no end in your entering idol temples or eating idol meats. But I, for my part, in all my acts, whether in my becoming "all things to all men," or in receiving no sustenance from my converts, have a definite end in view, namely, to "gain the more." I know what 1 aim at, and how to aim at it. He who runs with a clear aim, looks straightforward to the goal, makes it his sole aim, casts away every encumbrance (Heb 12:1, 2), is indifferent to what the by-standers say, and sometimes even a fall only serves to rouse him the more [Bengel].
not as one that beateth the air—instead of beating the adversary. Alluding to the sciamachia or sparring in the school in sham-fight (compare 1Co 14:9), wherein they struck out into the air as if at an imaginary adversary. The real adversary is Satan acting on us through the flesh.
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
27. keep under—literally, "bruise the face under the eyes," so as to render it black and blue; so, to chastise in the most sensitive part. Compare "mortify the deeds of the body," Ro 8:13; also 1Pe 2:11. It is not ascetic fasts or macerations of the body which are here recommended, but the keeping under of our natural self-seeking, so as, like Paul, to lay ourselves out entirely for the great work.
my body—the old man and the remainders of lust in my flesh. "My body," so far as by the flesh it opposes the spirit [Estius] (Ga 5:17). Men may be severe to their bodies and yet indulge their lust. Ascetic "neglect of the body" may be all the while a more subtile "satisfying of the flesh" (Col 2:23). Unless the soul keep the body under, the body will get above the soul. The body may be made a good servant, but is a bad master.
bring it into subjection—or bondage, as a slave or servant led away captive; so the Greek.
preached—literally, "heralded." He keeps up the image from the races. The heralds summoned the candidates for the foot race into the race course [Plato, Laws, 8.833], and placed the crowns on the brows of the conquerors, announcing their names [Bengel]. They probably proclaimed also the laws of the combat; answering to the preaching of the apostles [Alford]. The The Christian herald is also a combatant, in which respect he is distinguished from the herald at the games.
a castaway—failing shamefully of the prize myself, after I have called others to the contest. Rejected by God, the Judge of the Christian race, notwithstanding my having, by my preaching, led others to be accepted. Compare the equivalent term, "reprobate," Jer 6:30; 2Co 13:6. Paul implies, if such earnest, self-denying watchfulness over himself be needed still, with all his labors for others, to make his own calling sure, much more is the same needed by the Corinthians, instead of their going, as they do, to the extreme limit of Christian liberty.