1 Corinthians 9:1-22
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not you my work in the Lord?…
In the preceding chapter Paul has disposed of the question as to meats offered in sacrifice to idols. He has inculcated the duty of accommodating ourselves to the consciences of others, and is prepared to abridge his own Christian liberty. But keeping pace, as he always does, with the thought of his readers, it at once occurs to him that his opponents will declare that his apostleship stands on so insecure a basis that he has no option in the matter, but must curry favour with all parties. The original apostles may reasonably claim exemption from manual labour, and demand maintenance both for themselves and their wives; but Paul has no such claim to maintenance, and is aware that his apostleship is doubtful. He therefore —
I. ASSERTS HIS RIGHT TO THE SAME PRIVILEGES AND MAINTENANCE AS THE OTHER APOSTLES (1-14). He rests his claim on —
1. His apostleship (vers. 1-6). No one could be an apostle who had not seen Christ after His resurrection. Paul therefore, both in his speeches and in his letters, insists that on the way to Damascus he had seen the risen Lord. But an apostle was also one who was commissioned to bear witness to this fact; and that Paul had been thus commissioned he thinks the Corinthians may conclude from the results among themselves of his preaching. In presence of the finished structure that draws the world to gaze, it is too late to ask if he who built it is an architect.
2. The principle of remuneration everywhere observed in human affairs (ver. 7). However difficult it is to lay down an absolute law of wages, it may be affirmed as a natural principle that labour must be so paid
as to maintain the labourer in life and efficiency; as to enable him to bring up a family which shall be useful and not burdensome to society, and as to secure for him some reserve of leisure for his own enjoyment and advantage. Paul anticipates the objection that these secular principles have no application to sacred things (vers. 8, 9). But this law is two-edged. If a man produce what the community needs, he should himself profit by. the production; but, on the other hand, if a man will not work, neither should he eat.
3. Ordinary gratitude (ver. 11). And some of the Churches founded by Paul felt that the benefit they had derived from him could not be stated in terms of money; but prompted by irrepressible gratitude, they could not but seek to relieve him from manual labour and set him free for higher work. The method of gauging the amount of spiritual benefit absorbed, by its overflow in material aid given to the propagation of the gospel would, I daresay, scarcely be relished by that monstrous development the niggardly Christian.
4. The Levitical usage (vers. 13, 14). That evils may result from the existence of a paid ministry no one will be disposed to deny. But if the work of the ministry is to be thoroughly done, men must give their whole time to it; and therefore must be paid for it; a circumstance which is not likely to lead to much evil while the great mass of ministers are paid as they are.
II. GIVES THE TRUE SEASON FOR FOREGOING HIS LAWFUL CLAIM. Paul felt the more free to urge them because his custom was to forego them (ver. 15). How apt are self-denying men to spoil their self-denial by dropping a sneer at the weaker souls that cannot follow their heroic example. Not so Paul. He first fights the battle of the weak for them, and then disclaims all participation in the spoils. Nor does he consider that his self-denial is at all meritorious. On the contrary, he makes it appear as if no choice were left to him. His fear was that if he took remuneration, he "should hinder the gospel of Christ." Some of the best incomes in Greece were made by clever lecturers; Paul was resolved he should never be mistaken for one of these. And no doubt his success was partly due to the fact that men recognised that his teaching was a labour of love, Every man finds an audience who speaks, not because he is paid for doing so, but because there is that in him which must find utterance. Paul felt that on him lay the gravest responsibilities. Had he complained of bad usage, and stipulated for higher terms, and withdrawn, who could have taken up the task he laid down? But while Paul could not but be conscious of his importance, he would arrogate to himself no credit. Whether he does his work willingly or unwillingly, still he must do it. If he does it willingly, he has a reward; if he does it unwillingly, still he is entrusted with a stewardship he dare not neglect. What, then, is the reward? The satisfaction of knowing that, having freely received, he had freely given (ver. 18).
III. REAFFIRMS THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH HE HAS UNIFORMLY ACTED. It was from Paul (ver. 19) that Luther derived the keynote of his blast "on Christian Liberty" with which he stirred Europe into new life: "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one." But Paul was no mere latitudinarian. While accommodating himself to the practice of those around him in all matters (vers. 20-23) in all matters of mere outward observance, he held very definite opinions on the chief articles of the Christian creed. No liberality can ever induce a thoughtful man to discourage the formation of opinion on all matters of importance. No doubt righteousness of life is better than soundness of creed. But is it not possible to have both? Again, Paul had an end in view which preserved his liberality from degenerating (ver. 22). In order to remove a man's difficulties, you must look at them from his point of view and feel the pressure he feels. In order to "gain" men, you must credit them with some desire to see the truth, and you must have sympathy enough to see with their eyes. Parents sometimes weaken their influence with their children by inability to look at things with the eyes of youth. Put yourself in the place of the inquiring, perplexed, embittered soul, find out the good that is in it, patiently accommodate yourself to its ways so far as you legitimately may, and you will be rewarded by "gaining some."
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?