1CORINTHIANS 9:1-27 – MORE ABOUT 'FREEDOM'
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
So concerned is Paul about the Corinthians' arrogant exercise of their 'freedom' in Christ in the matter of eating meat offered to idols, that he now spends a whole chapter in addressing the use, misuse and abuse of Christian freedom. He has not left the issue of food offered to idols, rather, he is using his own personal refusal to insist on his 'rights' as an example of the attitude the Corinthian Christians, and we also, should have in relation to 'freedom' and 'rights'.
A. PAUL'S RIGHTS AS AN APOSTLE – 9:1-14
Paul, first of all, affirms his identity as an apostle [verses 1-3]:
He has seen Jesus, our Lord.
The Corinthian church is the result of his work.
Their existence as believers seals his apostleship, and is his defence to all who judge him and deny his right to be called an apostle.
Because he is an apostle, he is obviously 'free'. Note his opening question: 'Am I not free?' And the key point that he is about to make about this apostolic freedom is that he, as an apostle, has, like all the other apostles, certain 'rights', that exceed the normal 'freedom' of all believers.
Read 9:4-14. List the various 'rights' that Paul could have used as an apostle.
 As an apostle he has the right to expect that his necessary food and living expenses will be met by those to whom he preaches. This is stated in various ways and using various illustrations in verses 4,7-12a,13-14.
Of all the apostles, only he and Barnabas worked for a living [verse 6].
Soldiers do not serve at their own expense [verse 7].
Farmers eat the produce of the labour [verse 7, 10,11].
The Law of Moses says 'Do not muzzle the ox …' [verse 8,9].
This was not because God was concerned about the oxen, but about humans, including Paul and Barnabas [verse 9,10].
Others have this 'right of support' [verse 12]
The temple priests received a share of the sacrifices offered on the altar [verse 13].
The Lord has 'commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel' [verse 14],
 As an apostle he has the right to take a wife along with him on his missionary travels [verse 5].
Leviticus 2:10; 6:16-18; 7:30-36
B. PAUL DID NOT EXERCISE HIS RIGHT AS AN APOSTLE – 9:12-19
But despite this 'right of support' which others exercised and benefited from, Paul did not do so. Contrary to common practice among the apostles:
He worked for a living [verse 6].
He worked at his own expense [verse 7].
He did not 'reap a material harvest' from the Corinthians [verse 11].
He did not use any of his rights [verse 15]. He did not want to be paid, even though such payment was validated by both the Law of Moses and the Lord, and validated by the fact that other apostles received payment.
Read 9:12-19. Why did Paul not exercise this right?
Paul gives three clear reasons for not exercising his rights as an apostle:
He did not want to do anything that would 'hinder the gospel of Christ' [verse 12].
He wanted to offer the gospel 'free of charge' [verse 18].
He wanted to win as many as possible for Christ [verse 19].
Reflection: Why would Paul believe that expecting payment for his ministry would hinder the gospel and prevent people coming to Christ?
C. PAUL'S EXPLANATION – 9:15-19
Paul makes it clear that he is not mentioning the matter of payment because he has changed his mind and now wants payment [verse 15]. So committed is he to not being paid for preaching and teaching that he says he 'would rather die' than no longer be able to boast that he did not receive payments [verse 15].
As far as Paul is concerned:
He is compelled to preach [verse 16].
His commitment to preaching was not voluntary (if it was, he would earn a reward) [verse 17].
He preached in order to discharge a trust committed to him by Christ [verse 17].
The only reward he wanted was to know that he had offered the gospel free of charge [verse 18].
Suggested reading: Read these verses to understand the commission laid on Paul by Christ:
From these references we learn how seriously Paul understood and undertook the commission given to him by Christ. From his letters we learn something of the awe and amazement that Paul never ceased to feel as he contemplated what Jesus Christ accomplished through his death. For Paul, this Gospel, this incredible, indescribable, unfathomably rich and glorious message, totally unexpected and undeserved, ought not to be trivialised or diminished by demanding payment from those who heard it. Even though the expectation of payment was ethically and legally right by God's standards, Paul could not do it. He counted it a privilege not to expect or demand payment.
Yes. He was free to expect payment. Yes. That was his right as an apostle. But how could he expect payment for preaching a message that spoke of the free gift of God? How could he demand payment for the gift of grace?
D. PAUL'S ALTERNATIVE TO EXERCISING 'FREEDOM' AND 'RIGHTS' – 9:19-23
While Paul's Corinthian readers were displaying arrogance across several areas of their lives and within their church fellowship, and obviously insisting on their right to exercise their 'freedom' in Christ, as they understood it, Paul, still using himself as an example, describes an entirely different way of living as a Christian.
He was free. He belonged to no man. But, he says, 'I make myself a slave to everyone' [verse 19]. He surrenders his 'freedom'. He surrenders his 'rights'. He puts it all aside for the spiritual well-being of 'everyone'. He does this for one reason: 'to win as many as possible'.
So what did this putting aside of his 'freedom' and his 'rights' look like?
Read 9:20-22. What did Paul do in order to save some people by the gospel?
Because he wanted to win Jews to Christ, he put aside his freedom in Christ and 'became like a Jew' – respecting Jewish culture, Jewish ritual, Jewish feasts, the Jewish temple, and so on. Whenever he entered a new town or city he went first to the Jewish synagogue in that place and preached to the Jews about Christ from the Jewish scriptures. Whenever he entered the temple he made sure he was ritually clean according to Jewish ritual. See, for example, Acts 24:18. He consulted with the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem, Acts 15, to ensure that his preaching was acceptable to them.
Similarly, because he wanted to win people who were 'under the law' he 'became like one under the law'. This is similar to his desire to win the Jews, who were 'under the law'. When among them he kept their laws.
Because he wanted to save Gentiles, who did not have the law, he 'became like one not having the law'. This does not mean that he became lawless [for he was still under the 'law of Christ', which is God's law]. However, he did not, while among these people without the law, live among them with judgment and condemnation. He did not while among them live like a man bound to the ritual, ceremonial laws, or to the law as defined by the Jewish scribes.
Because he wanted to win 'the weak' he 'became weak'. He committed himself to be careful not to offend them, not to disturb them, not to walk roughshod over their sensitivities and their consciences and the accumulated hurts of their lives, with his sheer, unbounded confidence in the gospel. But to lead them, draw them, gently, softly, carefully to the Saviour. In this he reflected the tender mercy of the Jesus, of whom the scripture states:
'He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young' [Isaiah 40:11].
'A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out' [Isaiah 42:3].
And so, Paul says, 'I have become all things to all men' [verse 22].
His 'rights' meant nothing. His 'freedom in Christ' meant nothing. Nothing compared with the exceeding joy and privilege of winning some of these people to Christ.
He gave it all up – all his so-called 'rights', all his 'freedom', even his own identity, his own reputation, his own fame – 'for the sake of the gospel' [verse 23]. He wanted nothing for himself: he wanted to share the blessings of the gospel with others. So grand, so glorious those blessings … he wanted everyone to know, to receive, to rejoice in them [verse 23]. He didn't want to enjoy those blessings by himself – he wanted to be a co-participant [sugkoinonos] with others in those blessings.
Suggested reading: To appreciate how Paul felt about the blessings of the gospel:
E. HOW PAUL DISCIPLINED HIMSELF TO LIVE WITHOUT HIS RIGHTS AND FREEDOM – 9:24-27
Paul now explains how he disciplined himself to live without his 'rights' and 'freedom'.
Firstly, he gives the example of competitors in a race: there is a prize, but only one runner can get the prize. The runner who gets the prize puts everything he has into the race: focus, determination, energy, the best possible effort. He runs in such a way as to get the prize. That is how Paul as an apostle was committed to his ministry, and to his goal of winning people for Christ.
Secondly, he gives the example of anyone competing in 'the games'. They 'go into strict training'. We can easily see present day examples of this strict training that is part of every competitor in the Olympic Games, and in lesser athletic and sporting events. Every aspect of a competitor's life is strictly disciplined in order to maximise their chance of winning. And they do this, Paul says, 'to get a crown that will not last'. In Paul's day the winner at the games received a circlet of laurel leaves. Fragile. Perishable. And even today, while the winner gets a gold medal, their glory is transient. They will soon be replaced by another winner who made faster time, jumped a longer distance, and so on. But, Paul says, the 'crown' that the apostles strove for 'will last forever': the eternal salvation of all who believed the message.
Thirdly, Paul says that he runs and fights with determination and focus; not like 'a man running aimlessly', not like 'a man beating the air'. He knows his goal. He knows what he is striving for. No matter what it takes, no matter what it costs him, no matter how disciplined he has to be, he wants 'by all possible means' to 'save some' so that he might participate with them in the surpassing blessedness of Christ.
Fourthly, in order to gain this 'prize' of bringing others into the blessedness of the gospel of Christ, in order not to forfeit this joy, Paul, like the athletes of old and the athletes of today, disciplined his body. Like the other apostles, he had a right to a married life, and he had freedom to get married. Like the other apostles he had the right and the freedom to expect remuneration for his work. His body, like any other, had physical needs:
His body experienced desire for sexual intimacy. He could have met that need by marriage.
His body experienced hunger.
His body experienced pain.
His body experienced discomfort.
His body experienced tiredness. He could have avoided much of these had been paid.
But, he says, 'I beat my body' [the Greek word means - 'I give myself a black eye'], 'I make it my slave'. His commitment to be fully focused on preaching the gospel and to make that gospel free of charge overrode the natural, normal demands of his physical body. He is not talking here about the sinful desires of 'the flesh' [of the human mindset opposed to God] but of the normal, natural needs of the body for sexual intimacy, food, clothing, rest and comfort. Although there is nothing wrong with these natural needs of the body, Paul was determined that those needs would not dictate the way he lived. He was determined to do whatever it took to get people to believe in Jesus, no matter what it cost him in personal discomfort.
That was the prize he sought; for that prize, in order to gain that prize, rather than miss out on it ['be disqualified'], he refused to live on the basis of his 'rights' and his 'freedom'.
Throughout this chapter Paul has been talking about himself. His purpose was to give his readers a demonstration of the kind of life they should be living: a life directed by a commitment to the well-being of others, not a life insistent on one's rights and one's freedom. In all of this he gives his readers only one command: 'Run is such a way as to get the prize' [verse 24]. For Paul the prize was the salvation of the lost. And that is what it should be for his readers. In the next chapter Paul continues on this same theme, rebuking his readers for their arrogance, raising again the issue of food offered to idols, and expanding on the goal or prize by which his readers should be defining their lives.