1 Cor. 9:01-15 – How to Use Your Rights to Get What You Want

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 29 Mar. 2009


            1. Am I not free?

            Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I myself seen Jesus our Lord?

            Aren’t you yourselves my work in the Lord?

2. If to others I am not an apostle, nevertheless I still am to you,

            for you yourselves are my seal of apostleship in the Lord!


3. My defense to my judges is this:

            4. Don’t we ever have authority to eat and drink?

            5. Don’t we ever have authority to take along a sister-wife

                        as also the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

            6. Or do only Barnabas and I not have authority not to work?

                        7. Who ever becomes a soldier at his own expense?

                        Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat the fruit of it?

                        Or who shepherds a flock and doesn’t eat from the milk of the flock?

            8. It’s not [only] according to man I utter these things, for doesn’t the law also say these things?

                        9. For in the law of Moses it has been written,

                        “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.”

            It is not the oxen that is of concern to God, 10. rather, He always speaks on our account,

                        for on our account it was written that it ought to be upon hope that the plower is to plow –

                        and the thresher - upon hope of the shareholding.

            11. As for us, if we sowed spiritual things into you,

                        it’s a big [deal] if we ourselves will reap from your fleshly things!

                        12. If others are shareholders of authority [over] you, [why] not rather us be?


But we did not use this authority, rather we are covering over these things

            in order that we might give no kind of disconnect in regards to the gospel of the Christ.


            13. Don’t you know that the temple workers eat from the things of the temple,

            and those who attend to the altar share together in the altar sacrifice?

            14. Thus also the Lord commanded to the gospel announcers: to make a living from the gospel.


15. But as for me, I have not made use of any one of these things,

neither do I write these things in order that it might become thus to me,

            or it would be better for me rather to die than that my boast in any way be empty!


I)        Introduction: The Context of I Cor. 9

A)    Review of ch. 8

1.      Question from the Corinthians to Paul: “We know that idols are not the true God, so… we can eat food sacrificed to idols, right?”

2.      Paul starts answering the Corinthian’s question by talking about knowledge. Knowledge has everything to do with explaining a basis for determining right from wrong.

3.      In the case of eating meat sacrificed to idols, an insufficient attention to God’s law was creating problems:

(a)    The party with the “weak” conscience did not have a sufficient knowledge of God and of His creation to know that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat of any kind.

(b)   The party with the “knowledge” did not have a sufficient view of the importance placed in the Law of God upon loving one’s brother.

(c)    The remedy for both parties is to grow in the knowledge of God.

4.      Result of Knowledge should be Love, not Pride “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”

5.      Sin has a Relational component: Part of what defines sin is whether the action was done to honor God or whether it was done to spite Him. One man plays electric guitar as an act of rebellion against God, and another man plays electric guitar as an act of worship to God. Right and wrong generally have more to do with how your actions are related to God than to what those actions are.

6.      3 Things you need to know: God, Your calling, and Your Christian brother.

(a)    Your calling is to worship God – to be “into God,” and You have authority to use God’s creation to glorify Him.

(b)   But you need to know your Christian brothers; “Look out so as not to be a stumbling block”.

(i)     You have to know your brother well enough to know what will be a problem for him.

(ii)   We must go beyond doing our own thing and live as a community of believers with understanding and consideration for each other.

(iii) And part of this consideration means giving up your rights for the sake of others.

B)    Incongruity of ch. 9 in context of 8-10

1.      Now, all of a sudden, Paul interrupts this teaching on considering the weaker brother’s conscience to prove that he is an apostle! Then, in ch. 10, he goes back to the topic of chapter 8 and talks about being considerate of your brother’s conscience again!

2.      Liberal scholars question the integrity of this epistle, saying that some editor must have just slapped some sermons together to make the book of 1 Corinthians, and see the proof: a sermon on Paul’s apostleship got stuck right in the middle of the sermon on considering the weaker brother’s conscience!

C)    Ch. 9 as personal example of the point of ch. 8 & 10

1.      There is a better resolution to this problem. The truth is that Paul, knowing how hard it is to take the medicine he’s dishing out in chapters 8 and 10, stops and gives a personal example in ch. 9 of how he himself has given up his rights for the sake of his brothers’ spiritual well-being. Paul sets the pace for the Corinthians before going further in chapter 10.

2.      Whereas Jews were accustomed to the practice of providing for ministers, and other apostles ministered among Jews, Paul, on the other hand, preached to Gentiles, where complicating issues made financial support from them less straight-forward.

3.      So Paul’s example takes some explaining in this chapter. First, Paul establishes that he is an apostle, then he brings out the point that an apostle has a right to financial support from the church, and then he explains that he did not exercise his right for the sake of the gospel in Corinth.

II)      Exegesis of 9:1-15

A)    Paul’s apostleship defended (vs. 1-6)

1.      Paul’s apostleship was challenged in Corinth (v.3)

(a)    People in Corinth said that Paul was “weak, and his speech of no account.” (2Co 10:10)

(b)   These people came after Paul to “preach another Jesus, whom we did not preach… a different gospel” Paul calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, styling themselves apostles of Christ” (2Co 11:3-5,13).

2.      But Paul has the marks of an apostle (v.1)

(a)    “Free”

(i)     A.T. Robertson=free from Mosaic law, distinguishing prophets from apostles

(ii)   Could just as well be free=not a slave being provided for by a master and thus needing to make his own support.

(b)   “Seen” Personally commissioned by Jesus

(i)     Acts 1:22 – seeing Jesus was a qualification mentioned by Peter in the choosing of a 12th disciple to replace Judas after he betrayed Jesus and committed suicide.

(ii)   Acts 9 – Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus was a personal commission from Christ

(iii) “…He [Jesus] appeared to me also,” Paul writes later on in ch 15

(c)    Planted churches

(i)     Barnabus (v.6) travelled with Paul on that 2nd missionary journey when the church in Corinth was planted.

(ii)   You are the “seal” of my apostleship – The fact that you exist as a church proves that I’m an apostle, because apostles plant churches!

3.      An apostle’s right is to be supported by the church financially (vs. 4-6)

(a)    This includes food and drink (v.4)

(b)   It also includes the right not to have to work an additional job for a living. (v.6)
When a minister in our church is called to pastor a congregation, there is traditionally a paragraph in the call that says, “We promise in the discharge of your duty all proper support, encouragement and obedience in the Lord. That you may be free from worldly cares and avocations, we hereby approve a salary of $X.”

(c)    This includes enough financial support from the church to provide for a wife:

(i)     a believing wife, lit. “sister-wife” - a common Greek idiom (ATR)

(ii)   Peter had a wife who was supported by the church

·         Cephas was a name Jesus gave to Simon Peter (John 1:42)

·         Mat. 8:14 mentions a visit that Jesus and His disciples made to Peter and his wife’s house where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

·         Clement of Alexandria (Misc. 7:63) and Eusebius (3:30) also tell stories about Peter’s wife.

·         The point is that Peter had a right to get financial support for his wife, too.

(iii) Jesus’ brothers also claimed that right:

·         Jesus was called Mary’s “first-born” in Luke 2:7, indicating that she gave birth to subsequent children. Mt. 1:25 also implies that Joseph and Mary’s marriage relationship was such that they could have had children after Jesus was born.

·         Mark 6:3 gives us the names of Jesus’ brothers: James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon, and also mentions sisters.

·         At any rate, these brothers of Jesus, apparently received financial support from the church, and Acts 1:14 says that “they continued stedfastly in prayer” with the other apostles, perhaps indicating that they focused their time on church ministry instead of another paying job.

·         Gal. 2:9 states that these apostles recognized Paul and Barnabas as apostolic peers, giving them “the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision.”

B)    The case for Paul’s right to financial support (vs. 4-6)

1.      Proof from the natural world (v.7)

(a)    Military:

(i)     How many of you soldiers love your military career so much that you would gladly do it all for free and work another job to pay the bills at the same time?

(ii)   God provided the spoil of conquered cities as pay for the soldiers in his service: Deut. 20:14 “…all that is in the city, even all its spoil, you should take for prey unto yourself; and you should eat the spoil of your enemies, which Jehovah your God has given you.”

(b)   Same with Gardening and Animal husbandry:

(i)     Deut. 20:6 “What man is there who has planted a vineyard, and has not used its fruit?”

(ii)   2 Tim. 2:6 “The farmer who labors must be the first to partake of the fruits.”

(c)    ILLUSTRATION: When I worked as a cook at Pizza Inn: The owner gave me weekly paychecks from the money he made off the pizzas I cooked and sold to customers. In addition, he told me I could make myself any kind of pizza I wanted for lunch and have unlimited refills at the soda fountain while I was working.

(i)     The natural order of things tells us that nobody works for free; you expect to get paid from the work you do.

2.      Proof from the Holy Scriptures (vs. 8-11)

(a)     Paul quotes Deut. 25:4 “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he is treading out the grain.”

(b)   Pass around photos of oxen threshing and describe process. (Team of oxen drags a sled around on the harvested grain to break off the chaff and bring out the wheat berries that you use to make bread. The oxen deserve to be able to bend down and take a bite of the grain from time to time as they do their labor.)

(c)    Paul reasons from the lesser to the greater in vs. 9-10 – the law wasn’t just made for oxen; the principle was intended to apply even moreso to humans.

(d)   Lev. 19:13  “You must not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him: the wages of a hired servant must not remain with you all night until the next morning.”

(e)    Ralph Earle commented, “The one who dispenses food for the soul should be paid for this just as is the grocer who furnishes food for the body.”

(f)    1Ti 5:17-18 – also applies this law to ministers “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.  (18)  For the scripture says, ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox while he is treading out the grain.’ And, ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire.’”

(g)   JFB note that “plowing” and “threshing” could refer to church planting (3:6-9) and ministering in an established church. A workman has a right to expect a share in the profit at the end of the day, and in that hope he works hard.

So, not only from common practice but also from the law of God, Paul proves his right to financial support, but he doesn’t stop there:

3.      2 more Proofs from Logic (vs. 11-12)

(a)    v.11 – argument from the greater to the lesser

(i)     If we sowed spiritual things – (this is a true condition – 1st class Greek conditional)

(ii)   2nd half lit. “great if we will reap material things”

(iii)  All the English translations make the second half a question, “Is it too much to reap material things from you?”

(iv) I don’t see a clear indicator of a question in the Greek text; I think Paul’s Greek was a little more polite than the English translations, but the point is not essentially changed that it is proper to respond to a spiritual investment with a material reward.

(v)   As Paul put it in Rom. 15:27 “if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister unto them in material things.”

(b)   v.12 – argument from others’ practice

(i)     If others exercised the right of support from you (again, a 1st class true condition – 2 Cor. 11:20 apparently indicates that other men came through Corinth and got their way with the Corinthian church.)

(ii)   2nd half lit. “not rather we” – i.e. Shouldn’t we all the more?

(iii) If Paul were writing today, he might say, “Look, you would pay an honorarium to a visiting speaker, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t have a problem supporting Wycliffe Bible Translators, would you? Then there’s no reason you couldn’t support the missionary who started your church!

4.      2 Additional Biblical Reasons why Paul had a right to support (vs. 13-14)

(a)    Temple protocol (v.13)

(i)     Lev. 6:26 “The priest that offers the sin-offering shall eat it…”

(ii)   Lev. 7:6 “Every male among the priests shall eat of it...”

(iii) Num. 18:31 “And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.”

(iv) Deut. 18:1-3 “The priests the Levites, even all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of Jehovah made by fire, and His inheritance… (3) And this shall be the priests' due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice - whether it be ox or sheep - that they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, [etc.]”

(v)   John Calvin summarized, “The Levitical priests were ministers of the Israelitish Church; the Lord appointed them sustenance from their ministry; hence in ministers of the Christian Church the same equity must be observed at the present day. Now the ministers of the Christian Church are those that preach the gospel (v.14)… [C]onsider attentively Paul’s words. He argues that pastors, who labor in the preaching of the gospel, ought to be supported, because the Lord in ancient times appointed sustenance for the priests, on the ground of their serving the Church...”

(a)    The command of Jesus the Lord (v.14)
This direct command from Jesus is recorded in Luke 10 as he was orienting the 72 people He sent out on their ministry assignments, “Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes… And into whatever house you shall enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if a son of peace be there… in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire…”

(b)   This continued to be the practice of the church, as JFB relate in their commentary: “The stipends of the clergy were at first from voluntary offerings at the Lord's Supper. At the love-feast preceding it every believer, according to his ability, offered a gift; and when the expense of the table had been defrayed, the bishop laid aside a portion for himself, the presbyters, and deacons; and with the rest relieved widows, orphans, confessors, and the poor generally [TERTULLIAN, Apology, 39]. The stipend was in proportion to the dignity and merits of the several bishops, presbyters, and deacons [CYPRIAN, c. 4, ep. 6].”

So now, Paul has made his case that He is an apostle and that Scripture as well as logic and common practice agree loud and clear that he had every right to receive financial support from the Corinthians. What did he do with that right?

B)    Paul’s policy regarding financial support in Corinth (12b and 15)

1.      Paul & Barnabus did not use this right (v.12b)

(a)    Paul did use this right on other occasions – He received a gift from the church in Philipi and thanked them for it in his letter to the Philippians (4:14ff).

2.      But in Corinth, Paul & Barnabus did not use all these arguments to convince the Corinthians to support them financially, instead they decided to “suffer/endure/put up with” lit. “cover over” like a roof (ATR, Thayer) or “hold water-tight” to keep from leaks (JFB) this inconvenience. They sheltered the Corinthians from having to fulfill their obligation by working for themselves and keeping themselves from complaining about it.

3.      The reason: “in order that no kind of hindrance/obstacle/disconnect be given regarding the gospel of Christ.”

(a)    The word for “hindrance” is literally a “cut,” Thayer explains that when you wanted to prevent a chariot from getting somewhere, you would dig a ditch across the road, and that would slow them down.
I remember roadside vendors who did that in Yemen – they had build a mound of dirt across the highway so that our bus would have to slow down to cross it, then they ran out to the windows of the bus while it was slowly going over their speed bump and they tried to sell us their fresh carrots.

(b)   “Paul relinquished an undeniable right that the progress of the Gospel would not be obstructed” (Calvin).

4.      Why would receiving support have been a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel in Corinth?

(a)    Apparently it was the large number of charlatans that swept through this crosswinds trading community of Corinth.

(b)   So many people were teaching junk philosophy and asking for money that Paul didn’t want Christianity associated with that kind of behavior.

(c)    2 Cor. 11:7 “…I preached to you the gospel of God for free… 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them that I might minister unto you; 9 and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden on any man; for the brothers, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my need; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:17-18)

(d)   “He did not want to hinder progress by giving a handle for the imputation of self-seeking… [instead of] hinder[ing] the progress of the Gospel by giving a pretext for a charge of interested motives, Paul would rather die of hunger.” (JFB)

5.      In v. 15, Paul says he doesn’t want “anything/anyone” (depending on which manuscript you read) to “empty/void/or deprive” him of his “boast.” What was his boast?

(a)    From 5:6 we see that boasting can be a bad thing;

(b)   From 9:16, we see that Paul’s boast is not the Gospel he’s preaching;

(c)    He states explicitly in 2 Cor 1:14, that the Corinthians are his boast in the day of Christ,

(d)   and he expounds on this in Phil 2:16 by saying, “[I am] holding forth the word of life; that I may have something to boast about in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain.”

(e)    Paul’s willingness to inconvenience himself by laying down his rights as an apostle was necessary in order to bring the Corinthian church to birth, and he says he would rather have died than not succeed in his God-given mission to plant the church in Corinth. Paul valued the prize of having a church in Corinth to present to Christ so much that his own life was less valuable to him, and of course, getting a salary from the Corinthian church was an even smaller matter.

(f)    This is the attitude that Paul models for us - the example he leaves for us to follow: The attitude that no matter what rights I have, they all pale before the all-important purpose of God to bless the nations of the earth with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

II)      Applications

A)    Support ministers of the gospel!

1.      The treasure box on the literature table is there so you can give to support me and other ministers of the Gospel financially.

2.      It is your duty to make sure your pastor and your missionaries are adequately cared for.

3.      Gal 6:6 “But let the one who is taught share with him that teaches in all good things.”

B)    Following Paul’s example, Use your rights to get what you want!

1.      As a Christian, what do you want? “Your name be honored, Your kingdom come, Your will be done…”

2.      Sometimes that means actively asserting your rights to get what you want:

(a)    Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen at times to advance the cause of the Gospel –

(i)     In Philippi, he used his rights as a Roman citizen to get the town mayor to personally apologize for punishing him without a trial. This advanced the Gospel in Philippi because it made Christians look like important people who should be taken seriously rather than like rabble who deserved a flogging.

(ii)   Next time it looked like Paul was going to get flogged in Jerusalem he pulled out his citizenship card a little earlier and avoided the flogging in the first place, securing armed protection so that he could write the books of the Bible we’re reading today!

(b)   You likewise have rights you can assert.

(i)     If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can vote for political candidates who have a Biblical understanding of truth, ethics, and salvation.

(ii)   If you’re a parent, you can assert the right for your children to obey you so that they will learn to obey God. This advances the Gospel in their lives.

3.      Sometimes, this means passively foregoing your rights to get what you want:

(a)    Paul decided that in Corinth it would be better to work at tentmaking and earn an independent salary from that rather than use his authority to get financial support from the church.

(b)   You likewise can forgo rights to fair treatment or other things in order to advance the kingdom of God:

(i)     Forgo your right to get paid for your labor by doing volunteer work to help a poor person. We have an opportunity to do that next month as we help build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple in Belvue.

(ii)   You have a right to privacy, and when that neighbor kid shows up on your doorstep every afternoon, you have the right to turn them away, but you also have the opportunity to deny your right to privacy and take advantage of the opportunity to share God’s mercy with another needy soul.

4.      Like Paul did, use the goal of advancing God’s kingdom to determine when to assert rights and when to forego them.

III)    Closing Testimony of Moravian Missionaries willing to give up freedom for the Gospel

      In 1731, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was invited to Denmark for the coronation of a new king. During a dinner at the Danish palace, Zinzendorf was served by a Christian slave -- now named Anthony -- from the Danish West Indies.

      “Tell me, how did you come to hear of Christ?” Ludwig asked.

      Surprised that one of the dinner guests would ask him questions of a personal nature, Anthony answered, “I first heard of Christ when I was on the ship coming to Europe.”

      “What do you mean ‘first heard of’?' Ludwig asked. “St. Thomas has been ruled by European countries for many years. Surely you must have heard of Jesus Christ before then.... Tell me, how is it that you could live on a Christian island and not know about Christ Jesus?”

      “Perhaps a story will help you understand, sir,” Anthony replied. “When I was a child, a slave who was a coach driver drove his master to church. While the service was going on inside, the slave was expected to wait with the carriage. But this slave became curious. The church doors were closed, so he crept up to them and put his ear to the door to hear what was being said inside. Someone saw him and reported him to his master.... The slave owner took out a knife and cut off his ears right there on the church steps.”

      Ludwig felt his stomach turn as he pictured such a gruesome act, on the steps of a church no less.

      “You need to understand that the white people on Saint Thomas do not want their slaves to hear about Jesus Christ. They fear that the message will fill their heads with new ideas and cause them to rebel.”

      Filled with compassion, Zinzendorf invited Anthony to come and share his testimony back in his home church in Germany. The former slave accepted, and his message made quite an impact, especially on 18-year-old C. Leonard Dober. Leonard stepped forward and volunteered to be a missionary to the slaves in the West Indies. When asked his reasons for going, Leonard Dober composed the following letter:


Since it is desired of me to make known my reason, I can say that my disposition was never to travel during this time [in my life], but only to ground myself more steadfastly in my Savior; yet when the gracious count came back from his trip to Denmark and told me about the slaves, it gripped me so that I could not get free of it. I vowed to myself that if one other brother would go with me, I would become a slave, and would tell him so... I thought: even if helpful to no one… I could still give witness through it of obedience to our Savior! I leave it to the good judgment of the congregation and have no other ground than this thought: that on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.


Dober never did have to become a slave, but he endured many hardships in order to get to the West Indies and preach the gospel there, including rejection, hard labor, deathly illnesses, and the loss of his companion. But within a decade, when Count Zinzendorf visited St Thomas with more missionaries, there were 800 converts in that slave church! Leonard Dober got what he wanted by giving up his rights for the sake of the Gospel.