Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS – Chapter 9

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?
2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 9:1-2

Paul, still on the context of his argument that we should abstain from some things in order not to stumble others reminds the Corinthians that he has apostolic authority, which some were questioning. He is free – not under another apostle but under the authority of Christ. He had seen the resurrected Christ and been given a speaific commission, recorded in Acts:

16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,
17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you
18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ – Acts 26:16-18

The proof of Paul’s Apostleship was people turned from darkness to light; turned from Satan to God and received forgiveness and a place in the churches Paul planted. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life: the seal of redemption, the seal of his apostleship. For us we should recognise the work of the Holy Spirit in other fellowships and praise God for His leading other Churches to spread the gospel and in other people to reach the lost.

3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.
4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink?
5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? – 1 Corinthians 9:3-6

Paul begins to argue his case that he should, as an apostle, be supported financially by the Church. He uses the legal language of defence and examin as if he is standing in a trial. He is dealing with so many issues in this letter and and in this issue it seems the Corinthian Church had ironically suggested that as they were not supporting him financially (as he and Barnabus were working) he was not an apostle! The reference to “eat and drink” implies eat and drink at the churches expense. Also, that if he was married they would support his family, as the Churches did the other apostles, including Peter. Talking about finance in a church is always a hard issue. As you said yesterday we often challenge or judge how Church funds are spent and finances is a huge area where faith has to be exercised. The Lord is our provider:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. – Psalm 23:1

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. – Genesis 22:8

In his letter to Timothy Paul raises this issue in relation to caring for relatives.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. -1 Timothy 5:8

Loving one another has a practical outworking. If we see a Christian brother or sister in need and do not help how can we say we love them?

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:15-17

God tests our hearts through finances. May we be free to give as we have received.

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?
10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?
14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:7-14

The defense continues. This section is longer that we normally consider because it needs to be read but does it contain diamonds and gold? Not really. Paul has to make his point and does so well. From our perspective I expect we agree with him that people who devote their life to pastor a church should be supported by that church. It is commendable that Paul says “we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ”. Even in this matter he did not want to stumble others. Even if he had to go without. And he records in 2 Corinthians that he did go without on many occasions for the sake of the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:15-18

So this bit ends Paul’s talk on financial support. It seems that the Corinthians despised those who did manual labour. So, Paul’s work as a tent maker was beneath them. They despised him for working but Paul boasted about it as he did not want to be beholden to anyone. He knew he was called to preach the gospel and he wanted to preach. Paul was happy that he was seen not to be taking money to preach. James said:

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:5

Paul may be working among the poor but he had the faith of the King inside him and knew he was part of the kingdom of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

This is an amazing passage that shows the way Paul viewed his ministry. He was all things to all people and yet he remained faithful to God. Although not under the power of the law to obtain salvation he remained under the law, to reach the Jew. He did this by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the outworking of his sanctification by the Spirit not in his flesh. And yet to the Gentiles he was not under the law yet he was righteous. Sometimes we do not get the balance right. We may try and reach people by compromising our standards which is not inclined to work. We are in the world but not of the world. People need to see in our lives the distinct difference of a born again person. Set apart for the masters use but a servant of all. Living a righteous life but not judging others. Frail and weak but relying on the Lord. That way people see Jesus in us and the gospel can be shared in power.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. – 1 Corinthians 9:24

Just a brief thought this morning. Being one who hates sports, especialliy running races, this illustration is death to my flesh. Paul used it frequently, I expect because of the Olympic style games they enjoyed:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, – Hebrews 12:1

holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:16

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? – Galatians 5:7

Leaving the weight of our sin behind, not letting it or the memory of it linger we endure to gain the prize of Jesus smiling and saying:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ – Matthew 25:23

25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Self control, self discipline, will-power. All good in themselves they prevent us from making decisions that will cause ourselves or others harm or, on the positive side, will promote
well-being. But, however you frame it, these boil down to the use of our will. Psychologists believe that exercising self control is a finite resource, meaning we need energy and determination to use
self-control. That is why when we are tired or stressed we reach out for the chocolate, a cigarette or alcohol. Thankfully as Christians we are not bound by the worlds beliefs. Self-control is a gift of the

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. – 2 Timothy 1:7

But we still need to excercise self-control:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, – Titus 2:11-12

It is a part of growing in maturity as a Christian.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:5-8

God has given these gifts to use and now we can ask and receive these to see the Spirit work through us.

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. – John 16:24

That is our responsibility: to ask in faith and the Lord will be faithful to give us what we need to fulfill what we are called to do, or to resist the evil one.



The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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