1 Corinthians 9:15-18 ~ 20140316 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/16 1 Corinthians 9:15-18 Freedom and Compulsion; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140316_1cor9_15-18.mp3
15 Ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ κέχρημαι οὐδενὶ τούτων. οὐκ ἔγραψα δὲ ταῦτα ἵνα οὕτως γένηται ἐν ἐμοί, καλὸν γάρ μοι μᾶλλον ἀποθανεῖν ἤ — τὸ καύχημά μου οὐδεὶς κενώσει. 16 ἐὰν γὰρ εὐαγγελίζωμαι, οὐκ ἔστιν μοι καύχημα, ἀνάγκη γάρ μοι ἐπίκειται· οὐαὶ γάρ μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσωμαι. 17 εἰ γὰρ ἑκὼν τοῦτο πράσσω, μισθὸν ἔχω· εἰ δὲ ἄκων, οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι. 18 τίς οὖν μού ἐστιν ὁ μισθός; ἵνα εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀδάπανον θήσω τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, εἰς τὸ μὴ καταχρήσασθαι τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ μου ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.
1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]
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. 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? 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.
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.
Paul is tackling the difficult issue of how to interact with the culture in which you live. The Corinthians lived in a culture characterized by idolatry. They had their line of biblical reasoning for why they had the right to eat meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Paul gently leads them to think more carefully through the issues. In chapter 8 he warns that if, by this right of yours, you destroy a brother for whom Christ died, you sin against Christ. In chapter 9:1-14, he makes the case for his own legitimate rights as an illustration for them. He has the right to eat and drink, to have his needs met by those whom he serves. This right of support extends beyond himself to also pay the expenses of a believing wife. He has the right to refrain from working a second job to support himself and his family. A common-sense look at other occupations legitimizes the right to expect to be fairly compensated. The Old Testament affirms this right by precept and precedent. The inequality of being paid for services of eternal worth with perishable things demonstrates that this is a very conservative, very reasonable expectation. Jesus himself commanded 'that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Not To Secure Provision
But Paul is not talking about his right to be supported so that he can demand proper payment or lobby for a raise. He brings up his own legitimate rights as an example of what it might look like to have a higher purpose in mind than one's own rights. He is very clear in verse 15:
The purpose of defending his rights is not so that he can lay claim to his rights. His purpose is to demonstrate that sometimes it is right to forfeit your rights for a higher purpose. He is not now writing so that these things would be done for him. He is passionate about this.
We lose some of his passion in most of our English translations. This is a broken sentence, where he begins one thought, interrupts himself and moves in a different direction. We could translate 'it is better for me to die than... my boast no one will make empty!' He begins the though 'I would rather die than...' but he doesn't complete it. Was he going to say something like 'I would rather die than accept money from the likes of you'? That would be offensive, so he changes mid-sentence and exclaims that no one will make his boasting void.
Patronage in Corinth
It may be helpful to understand something of the culture of Corinth here. Corinth was a highly stratified culture with wealthy patrons and many in lower classes. Patrons could sponsor a slave, provide for his needs, give him an education, train him to serve in some function, and after some years of service grant him freedom. But this freedom was not without strings attached. The freedman was now obligated to his patron, to show respect and honor, to give gifts, and to continue to work for him on occasion. Status was all-important in Corinth, and some people would seek to become a slave of a wealthy patron in order to improve their social standing.
The scholar business was also big in Corinth. If you were wealthy, you could hire an instructor to teach you in philosophy. The more you paid, the better education you would get. The more you paid, the more bragging rights you would have with others about how much you were paying for the very best.
Into this social context, Paul comes to town doing manual labor and proclaiming the gospel free of charge to anyone who would listen, regardless of social standing. He refused to accept payment from anyone. This was downright offensive to those in the upper classes who assumed that nothing worth anything comes for free. For Paul to accept support from a wealthy patron would mean that he was also obligating himself to that patron.
Back in verse 12 of this chapter, Paul said that he would endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel. This word 'obstacle' was what a city would do if an enemy was advancing to attack. Go out and tear up the roads to your city so that the troops would have no easy access to attack. Paul felt that receiving support from the strangers he was proclaiming the gospel to could be a hindrance to that gospel, and so he chose to forgo his rights and endure anything. This did not mean that Paul never accepted support from anyone. He wrote to the church in Philippi thanking them for their generous gift. But he didn't take money from the strangers he was seeking to win. He felt that would be an obstacle to the gospel. Paul has already described in chapter 4 what this meant for him.
Paul was willing to endure anything in order to advance the gospel. The message of the good news of a crucified Messiah was offensive enough. That I am so bad that I deserved death but someone died in my place, and that I am so infinitely bad that someone who is infinitely worthy had to pay my price as my substitute – that is offensive to my pride, because I want to be able to say that I'm not really that bad, and that I don't really need outside help. Paul said in 1:23 'we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.' The gospel that Jesus died for sinners is a scandalous message. So Paul endeavored to remove every other potential obstacle that might hinder the uncompromisable message of that gospel.
Paul said that he would allow no one to deprive him of his boast. What is his boast, and how does this fit with the rest of what Paul teaches about boasting? In chapter 1, Paul pointed to how God chose foolish, weak, low, despised nothings in order to exclude any boasting from his presence (1:27-29), and he concluded with the Scripture “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:31). In chapter 3, he points out that all Christian leaders are merely servants obeying the command of their Lord Jesus, and he concludes 'so let no one boast in men' (3:21). In chapter 4 he says
In Galatians 6, Paul makes this unequivocal statement:
We have nothing to boast in that we did not receive as a gift, and the only thing worthy of boasting in is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where we receive the ultimate gift.
So what is Paul's boast here in 1 Corinthians 9, and how does this fit with what he says about boasting?
In verses 16 and 17 he clarifies:
Paul literally gave his life to the preaching of the gospel. And yet he says that this gives him no ground for boasting because he is required to preach. And he exclaims 'woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!' Paul resonates here with the prophet Jeremiah. Paul, like Jeremiah, was set apart by God from before birth. Paul said:
Jeremiah was sent to proclaim the Lord's judgment on his people for forsaking him and worshiping false gods. Jeremiah was told:
And he was told that 'they will fight against you' (1:19). God told Jeremiah
Jeremiah (understandably) became frustrated with his task. After Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks by the priest in the house of the Lord, he complains to the Lord:
Jeremiah was tired of being mocked and was ready to quit speaking for the Lord. But when he tried to quit, 'there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot'. As much as Jeremiah wanted to quit, he was compelled to speak. He says 'you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed'.
Paul was in a similar situation. Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus, was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus, knocked to the ground, blinded, and told what to do.
Paul had no choice in this. He was confronted, commanded, and commissioned. Like Jeremiah, he was given a task.
Paul was under obligation. He says here, '
Paul was under necessity. There was no reward for him in preaching the gospel, because it was not of his own will. He didn't choose to preach the gospel; far from it. He was actively persecuting and seeking to destroy followers of Jesus. He was interrupted. He was involuntarily pressed into service. It was a stewardship, a responsibility entrusted to him. We might be able to say that some of the other apostles willingly left following John, left their nets and their father, left the tax booth and chose to follow Jesus. But not so Paul. He was under compulsion. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Jesus conquered his unwilling heart and gave Paul a new willing heart that was eager to serve him. But how could Paul demonstrate that he was now eagerly, passionately, voluntarily, willingly preaching the good news and not merely preaching under compulsion? How could he show that he was not merely doing what was his duty?
What is my reward? What is my grounds for boasting? Paul did not make full use of his rights. Is Paul saying he is better than the other apostles and earning a greater reward? No! Later in this letter he will call himself the last and least of all the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle except for the grace of God extended to him (15:8-10). Is Paul contradicting his statement in Galatians that he will not boast in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? No! Paul's reward, literally his wage, was to forfeit his wages and relinquish his rights by proclaiming the gospel freely. Paul considered it his payment to not receive pay for preaching. What he got out of it was the privilege of going beyond what was required. Paul had become a genuine Jesus-follower. Jesus said:
Paul's boast, Paul's glory, Paul's rejoicing was in the cross. Because God's grace had so transformed his heart, Paul was eager, like his Master, to surrender his rights for the sake of others. Paul considered it a privilege to live a cross-centered life, he considered it a reward to share in the sufferings of Christ.
To share in his sufferings and to become like Jesus in his death is to gladly relinquish my rights for the eternal good of others. If by surrendering my rights, I can remove an obstacle that may hinder someone from believing in Jesus, then I have become a little bit like Jesus. This is no sacrifice. This is privilege. This is something to glory in, something to boast in, something to rejoice in, that Jesus has so changed my heart and my desires that I now love my enemies and will gladly give up my rights to remove obstacles so that they can know Jesus.
I am no longer my own. I have been bought with a price. I am under obligation to proclaim the good news. Good news that Jesus died for sinners so that we can be welcomed into the presence of an all-holy God. I cannot be silent about that good news. If I have the opportunity to surrender a God-given right in order to secure the eternal salvation of one for whom Christ died, I should exult in the high honor of following my Lord.