The Test of Freedom – 1 Corinthians 9

Paul’s Financial Policy as an Example of Responsibility in Christian Liberty

As Paul continues to answer the questions the Corinthian church had asked him in their letter, we find ourselves in the midst of his answer about whether or not they should eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. We covered the first half of Paul’s answer about this last week and I want to remind you why this topic is relevant for us today. Obviously we don’t have to worry about whether or not to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, but the issue at stake here is Christian liberty. As Paul is answering this specific question about a specific topic, he is addressing a topic that we wrestle with all the time – how to use our freedom in Christ.

Last week Paul taught that our knowledge must be balanced by love so that we don’t become a stumbling block for others. We learned that we must use our knowledge to build others up and we must protect ourselves from allowing knowledge to puff us up with pride. As a body of Christ it is our goal to build one another up in the faith rather than to compete, so when the differing consciences of Christians collide, Paul advised that the one stronger in faith should defer to the weaker saint to ensure that they don’t cause them to stumble.

Paul will continue his answer about Christian liberty and responsibility next week in chapter 10, but as we will see today in chapter 9 Paul interrupts his answer to illustrate what he’s talking about by pointing to his own life as an example. The illustration he uses is his policy of financial support among the Corinthians. He helps them to see that it was his right to receive financial support from them while he was ministering there as their pastor, but he chose not to receive payment from them to ensure that money didn’t hinder the gospel.

In order to clarify his teaching, Paul explains both sides of his financial policy as a servant of Christ. First we will hear him defend his right to receive support (vss. 1-14) and then we will hear him explain why he refused support even though he had a right to it (vss. 15-27). He begins by defending his right to receive support with five arguments.

His Apostleship (vss. 1-6)

Paul’s first argument for his right to receive financial support is his position as an apostle which he describes in verses 1-6:

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? 2 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.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 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? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

First Paul points out his God-given position as an apostle. An apostle is one who had seen and been called by Jesus. Paul received his special calling on the road to Damascus when the Lord appeared to him and called him (through Ananias) to carry His name unto the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Paul had seen Jesus, received a commission from Him, and was now serving in His name. The Corinthian church was a direct result and proof of his ministry as an apostle. As a full-time pastor to them, Paul concluded that they had the right to be supported by the church, yet he and Barnabas worked for a living making tents rather than accepting payment.

As a Worker (vss. 7-8)

Paul goes on to say that not only is payment the right of an apostle, it’s the right of any worker.

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view?

Paul points to three examples of people who deserve to get paid for their work – a soldier, a farmer, and a shepherd. Paul seems to be saying that just as those who work secular jobs deserved to get paid, so does someone who works full time in ministry.

Scripture (vss. 8-12)

Not only did society prove his point, but Scripture did as well which is what Paul alludes to in the last part of verse 8.

Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 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? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 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.

Remember, the Old Testament was the only Bible they had in the first century, so Paul points to what Scripture had to say. Moses had taught that they were not to muzzle an ox while it was working. Paul points out in verse 9-10 that this teaching wasn’t for the oxen – it was for us! Moses taught this in order to teach that a worker deserves his wages. Likewise, Paul says, he and Barnabas had sown spiritual seed among them, which obviously was much more valuable than physical seed, so they deserved a material harvest for their work. However, he points out in verse 12, while this was a right that they had, they didn’t take advantage of it. Why didn’t they? Because of their priorities. Paul said that they would rather put up with ANYTHING rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

That serves as a great application question for us as we live in such a me-first culture that is always demanding our “rights.” Is there anything that you are not willing to put up with if it would hinder the spread of the gospel. For instance, would you be willing to put up with:

-Losing the “right” to bear arms if it meant you could better proclaim the message of Jesus and His teaching to turn the other cheek?

-An annoying person in your Growth group (or their annoying kids), if it meant you would have the opportunity to share Christ with them or help them grow spiritually?

-Someone verbally attacking or slandering your reputation if it meant that in the future you might have the opportunity to show them the grace of God by forgiving them and explaining that Jesus did the same for you?

I fear that we are so easily offended and spoiled these days that we often miss chances to share the gospel because our top priority is demanding our rights or preserving our reputation. That is not the example Jesus set for us.

Old Testament Practice (vs. 13)

Not only did the Old Testament teach about this principle, but it was practiced among the religious leaders as well. Paul points out in verse that those who worked in the temple were provided for.

13 Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?

The Teachings of Jesus (vs. 14)

Lastly, Paul points out that not only was this the way it was done according to the old covenant, but this is what Jesus had taught as well.

14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Point by point by point Paul lays out his defense of the fact that according to his rights and his freedoms, he deserved to have been paid for his work among the Corinthians. However, he wasn’t complaining about not being paid or asking for reimbursement for his services, he was explaining that he refused what rightfully belonged to him because there was something much more important at stake.

Paul’s Explanation for Refusing Financial Support (vss. 15-27)

While Paul had the freedom to receive payment from the Corinthians, he balanced his freedom with responsibility. He wasn’t doing ministry for himself. He wasn’t worried about making money. He wasn’t thinking about what he deserved or if life was fair, he had one ambition – to share Christ in the most effective ways possible.

Remember, where Paul is in the midst of his answer to them about how to correctly use their freedom. He had just told the stronger believers (in chapter 8) that they should give up their rights so that they could build up the weaker Christians rather than serve as a stumbling block to them, and now he was explaining how he was doing just that as well.

For this side of the argument Paul gives three reasons for giving up his rights; for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of sinners, and for the sake of greater rewards.

For the Sake of the Gospel (vss. 15-18)

Why would anyone voluntarily give up their rights? Greater priorities. Day-by-day we are make thousands of choices and our decisions always come down to our priorities. Many people haven’t slowed down long enough to think through their priorities, in which case, they will typically prioritize based on their own selfish desires. But when a person is wise enough and forward-thinking enough to contemplate what is truly important in life they make decisions that at the very least change their lives for the better, and possibly change the world for the better. Paul was one of those people. He was willing to give up his right to make a living off the people in Corinth because it was more important to him that they hear and receive the gospel in such a way that allowed them to understand that his motive was not to make money, but to impart life-changing truth.

In Paul’s day, just as in ours, some preachers were in it for the money. Paul wanted no part of that reputation so he went above and beyond to protect the gospel that he was preaching from those claims. He would rather work a full-time job and then do full-time ministry as well than have people questioning his motives for preaching. In verses 15-18 he explains this.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

The priority of Paul’s life was the proclamation of the gospel and that made his decisions about freedom easy – the gospel always came first.

For the Sake of Sinners (vss. 19-23)

The next priority we see in Paul’s life is the salvation of the lost. In verses 19-23 Paul speaks to this.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul gave up his freedoms willingly so that by all possible means he might save some of them. That’s a life on mission. That is a soul on fire for the kingdom of God. That is the attitude of someone who has thought long and hard about what life on earth is all about and made the decision to not waste his life. Paul was willing to give up anything if he could just help someone come to know Christ. I want to challenge you to pray that God would give you that kind of passion for the lost.

What did Paul mean when he said to the Jews he became a Jew, and to the weak he became weak? Was he just acting wherever he went? Was he changing his message so that it was more palatable to people? Was she inconsistent in the way he lived? No, Paul was simply meeting people where they were and adapting his approach to help them understand the gospel message. Jesus did the same thing. When Jesus spoke to Jews He was very confrontational because they knew the law but weren’t living in obedience to it. When He spoke to sinners, He was very gracious and patient. When he talked to Nicodemus He spoke about the need to be reborn. When He spoke to the woman at the well He spoke about the need for living water. The message never changes, but the way we deliver it is always changing and shifting based on the scenario and the audience. But just like Paul, our priority must be to reach the lost.

For the Sake of Greater Rewards (vss. 24-27)

The third and final priority Paul mentions is that of eternal rewards. Paul understand what Jesus taught when He talked about the wisdom of selling everything you have to purchase a field with buried treasure. Service to God was a huge priority for Paul. He didn’t care about the things of this world, in fact he said in Philippians 3:8 that he considered everything he had before Christ to be garbage compared with knowing Christ. In light of knowing what we know about the reality of why we’re here and where we will be for eternity, how can we go on living for the things of this world rather than living for eternal rewards? That’s what Paul closes with in verses 24-27.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

How dumb do we have to be to hear the Word of God and continue to let Satan trick us into focusing on the things of this world? What will it take to get our attention? We must take stock of what truly matters for eternity and forsake all else. We must stop running aimlessly and run in such a way as to get the prize.

For the sake of the Gospel,

For the sake of the lost who are destined for Hell,

For the sake of our eternal lives,

We must BALANCE OUR FREEDOM WITH RESPONSIBILITY so we do not waste our brief time on earth.

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