1 Corinthians 9

Paul's Example of Yielding Rights

Paul is still on the subject of eating at pagan temples or eating food offered to idols. The point he seeks to make is he would gladly become a vegetarian if it meant helping anyone commit their life fully to Christ. He is going to define genuine freedom in this chapter by using himself as a personal example. He will finish off the chapter by explaining how his life commitment to "become all things to all men" functions practically.

To decide not to eat at the temple restaurant for the sake of a weaker brother's conscience would be, without a doubt, giving up the right to the freedom to eat however he wanted.

Paul is going to cover the subject of yielding rights using the example of his giving up being paid for his labor of preaching the gospel.

Paul's Apostolic Proof (1-2)

Paul makes his rightful claim as an apostle and as one who is fully qualified for apostolic privilege.

a) Paul had personally seen Jesus as the Lord.
b) Paul had churches he could point to that he had built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
c) The Corinthian church was proof to the truth that he had actually done the work (1-2).

Paul's Right to Income (3-12a)

Paul then lays out a logical defense for those who would question his right to take financial support, the right to be fed, and the right to have a wife supported. Paul points out that other apostles especially enjoyed having their wives supported, including James, the Lord's brother, and Cephas (3-5).

Paul asks how logical it seemed to support every other preacher and then exclude Barnabas and himself (6).

Paul's logic went even deeper.

a) Using professions as examples, he asks, who engages a soldier to fight and then tells him to do it at his own expense?
b) Using examples derived from Scripture, he asks, what farmer planted a crop or a vineyard and was forbidden to eat what he had grown, or who would milk some goats and be told they could not drink the milk? (7)
c) Using a quote from the law, Paul reveals that his logic did not come from human authority or human reasoning. Moses said you should not "muzzle an ox while treading the grain." Paul pulled this quote from Deuteronomy 25:4, which seems completely out of context when viewing right around verse four. However, when one looks deeply at the context, one discovers it deals with human relationships. Moses was seeking to make a point that is very much in context with other relational issues. Someone who is working to not share in the profits from his or her labor is relationally wrong. Paul punctuates the point by reminding the reader that an ox cannot read, so it was not for the ox Moses was quoting the proverbs but for working relationships (8-9).
d) Using an example of a plowman, Paul states that the real concern is that those who plow or thresh or have anything to do with harvest would be able to share in the riches of the harvest God provides for those who have given their life to to fully follow Christ (10).

Paul then lands his point concerning giving: those who sow spiritual things such as the Gospel of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the common life of Christ's family should not think it a huge violation of common sense to expect to receive material blessings.

Paul is reaching back to the Old Testament here; he is remembering the priests of old who reaped the benefit of the tithe as the remuneration for their spiritual labors. Paul is simply stating that other leaders in his time were claiming their rightful privilege, as laid out in Scripture and the law, and he and Barnabas should be able to receive the same privileges (11-12a).

Paul Applies His Point About Freedom (12b-18)

Paul then makes the point that he and Barnabas had not exercised their freedom in asking for support and financial remuneration that they had earned and Scripture had authorized. Instead, they preached for free, imagining it would create less offense and thus create a greater potential for those in Corinth to give their lives in full allegiance to Christ (12b).

Paul then uses another example, the tithing example. Those who were employed to offer sacrifices at the temple, serve at the altar, and care for the temple ritual shared in those sacrificial offerings, which would have included the tithe (13).

Paul announces that the way the priests of the Old Testament were cared for through the tithe is to be the same principle guiding the care of Gospel preachers (14).

Paul's case at this point is air-tight; he has a right to support but yields those rights for the sake of the Gospel. He is not even including this example in the letter to the Corinthians to gain future financial support—that is not close to his motivation.  

Paul establishes two critical points here:

a) Paul would rather die than have it imagined that his motivation was for mercenary or financial gain. He gave up income from a willing and free heart because he thought it the best way to lead the Corinthians into a completely devoted loving relationship with Christ (15).
b) Paul was consumed with the gospel purpose of freeing men to be fully devoted to Yahweh through His King, Jesus. More important to him than fulfilling all his rights to have an income provided was the fact that he was knocked to the ground by Yahweh on the day he was saved. On that day, Paul was given a calling from Yahweh that far exceeded his ability to refuse to preach the Gospel. It was like Paul had become wired by God to do one thing, and he could do nothing else (16).

In Paul's mind, he was not doing all he was doing on his own initiative—he had no choice. God had given him a sacred trust, and he could not turn that sacred trust into a payment he was owed. From Paul's perspective, he owed God. He would have done what he was doing for free because he couldn't help himself (17).

Paul's pay was the opportunity to live out the longing of his heart to fulfill the deep burden to preach the Gospel, given to him by Yahweh. He could not demand a right of payment when the true payment he was looking for was just the opportunity to share the Gospel and help others give their entire being to Christ (18).

Paul's Life Motto (19-23)

Paul declared that he was free, free to become a slave to all people—not to serve their lusts and desires, but to bring them to Christ (19).

He then explains his lifestyle; when with Jews, he didn't do things to offend Jews. When with legalists, he didn't do things to offend them, but lived as though he too was under the law.

When with Gentiles, he didn't do things to offend Gentiles, even if it meant living as though he was free from all law. While living like he was free from law, Paul adds that he didn't ignore the law, but Paul boasted that he kept the law by obeying the law of Christ (20-21).

When with the weak, Paul would share in weakness so the weak could come to Christ; he didn't act powerful and independent.  

Paul sought to give up his rights and freedom in a quest to find common ground with everyone so that some could come to full allegiance to Christ (22).

Paul possessed the freedom to do everything he could, giving up every right imaginable, that he might share the gospel and all its blessings with everyone he could (23).

Being Free Didn't Come Easy (24-27)

Committing to this course of serving Jesus did not come about easily for Paul. Paul actually spent some time in deep training. He felt what he did could be compared to runners who were dedicated and determined, knowing just one would receive the prize. Paul said he ran like someone determined to win, to win people to the allegiance to King Jesus (24).

The key to winning was learning to give up rights freely for the salvation of others. Paul discovered learning to give up rights was a daily exercise of self-control in all things.

Paul noticed that world class athletes would discipline themselves to win a trophy. Paul disciplined himself to win the imperishable wreath of human souls (25).

Paul then gives another example of an athlete who was not aimless in his approach to his sport, a boxer. He refused to live one minute as one swinging his arms in the air, unconcerned about landing a punch (26). Again, Paul makes it clear he disciplined his body, bringing all desires, even the desire to grasp something he had a right to, under the control of the Holy Spirit. Paul realized even if he could not learn to yield his rights, he could end up disqualified. His logic worked this way: if he could not give up even his sacred right to payment for Gospel labor, he might not be able to deny himself other desires. Once he could not deny any area of desire, he would be disqualified from doing what He had been made to do and had a sacred calling to do (27).

Paul's point is painful: failing to control one's desire for what one has a right to have is not much different than failing to control a sinful desire. Both the desire for a right and a desire for a lust can leave a soul disqualified for Kingdom life.