November 26, 2023 | Duane Roberts
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“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”—1 Corinthians 9:1–12 (NIV)
As we get into chapter 9, a quick recap: Just before this, Paul broke down the idea of the Corinthians having the right based on knowledge to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and why the use of Christian freedom should never hinder a brother or sister or cause them to stumble. Basically, be willing to give up your rights for the sake of the gospel and the building up of others. And now, building off of that, Paul uses the opportunity to talk about his rights as an apostle, defend his apostleship, which was apparently being questioned by some and part of division in this church, and give the Corinthians an example of surrendering one’s rights for the sake of the gospel.
Why this defense? Because there were some who questioned his apostleship. This, of course, was ridiculous, because he was the one who preached the gospel among them and was with them for 18 months. But there were some now who doubted him, who were team Cephas/Peter, or team Apollos (who wasn’t an apostle, but a protege of Paul).
Now, an interesting paradox was taking place in Corinth. One of the reasons some were questioning Paul’s apostleship was because Paul really didn’t receive support from the churches he ministered to. Instead, he chose to work and support himself. It seems like some were saying, “If Paul were a real apostle, we’d be supporting him.” And here’s the paradox: They refused to support Paul and yet questioned his apostleship because he didn’t receive support. What?!
So, Paul presents the case—using words like defense (apologia) and examine (anakrino), common terms in Roman courts—of his right to be supported by those he ministers to through precedent (the other apostles), metaphor, and God’s Word, ending his defense with, “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?”
But then he throws a curveball: “But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” Do you see this? Paul didn’t care about having his needs met. He makes this clear in Philippians 4. It was all about what their lack of support for him says about them, their walk, their generosity, and their maturity. In Philippians 4, Paul commends that church for their support because of it was a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NIV, emphasis added). Here, we see the opposite.
So, what’s our takeaway? It’s two-fold:
I pray you receive these truths with a heart of humility and receptiveness to the Holy Spirit.
Pause: What is the point of this passage? Of chapters 8 and 9? Why is this so important?
Practice: Consider your attitude toward giving and toward your rights and liberty to do, or say, or live as you desire. Does your attitude in these areas line up with what we’ve read in this letter so far? Chances are, even if it does for the most part, there are likely still some spots where you aren’t fully surrendered. This is not to shame you or make you feel bad, but a loving challenge to continually seek to surrender and become more like Jesus, to be conformed to His image as opposed to the world. So, spend time this week in prayer, asking the Lord to bring these areas in your life under submission to Him and His Word.
Pray: Father, make me more like Your Son in every way today—in my giving, in my attitude, in my heart toward my “rights” and “freedoms!” May my actions not cause anyone to stumble or be a hinderance to the work of the gospel. Instead, I pray Your Spirit works in me to make me a humble, willing stepping stone for the advancement of the gospel and the edification of the believers; to be an ambassador for Christ who daily is more accurately able to represent the Lord Jesus to the world and to my brothers and sisters. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.