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The Rights of an Apostle August 16, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that he possesses the freedoms that are inherent to all believers; he also has all of the rights of an apostle, and this is established by the fact that 1) he has seen the Lord Jesus and 2) the Corinthians have been converted via his ministry. Even though others may not view him as an apostle, the Corinthians cannot make the same mistake, as the fact that they are in Christ proves that he is an apostle. These statements constitute Paul’s response to the accusations of his opponents.

Now, as an apostle, Paul has the right to be supported by the church at Corinth. Also, the apostles – including Peter – have the right to take Christian wives and bring them on their missionary journeys. Clearly Paul and Barnabas should not be denied their right to be supported by those to whom they are ministering. To drive home his point, Paul cites the example of a soldier, who does not need to supply himself with his own rations; he also notes that farmers and shepherds can live by their labor. Moreover, the Mosaic Law supports Paul in this regard. In particular, he appeals to a quotation in Deuteronomy, where it is commanded that oxen not be muzzled as they thresh corn and tread it with their feet; now, if God cares for oxen, how much more does He care for the needs of men! Indeed, this command shows that God’s will is for men to be rewarded according to their labor.

Paul now applies this principle to his particular situation; if he has allowed the Corinthians to share in the fruits of the Spirit, they should allow him to share in whatever is necessary to sustain his body. The Corinthians have been willing to support other teachers, so they should be willing to support him, even though he silently endured all kinds of difficulties in his ministry rather than give his opponents a chance to attack him. In fact, all religions allow those who sacrifice to their god – or gods – to be supported in their service by receiving a portion of their sacrifice. Now the New Testament also supports Paul in this regard, as Christ has commanded that His ministers be supported on account of their calling. Yet Paul has not made use of his rights as an apostle; also, he does not want the Corinthians to support him, as he drew confidence from his present situation – it allowed him to boast before his opponents. Note that Paul cannot boast about preaching the Gospel, as he is obligated to preach it. If it had been optional for him to preach the Gospel, that would have been a basis for his boasting; since his preaching is mandatory, though, he is essentially doing what he has been commanded to do. Consequently, Paul’s basis for boasting must lie in the fact that he preaches the Gospel free of charge – thereby not making use of his rights as an apostle.

Moreover, Paul’s willingness to accommodate himself to the weaknesses of others extends beyond his refusal to accept material support to his interactions with all people; he is not obligated to act in this regard, yet he does so in order to win the majority of those whom he encounters. To the Jews, who happen to be under the Mosaic Law, Paul acts like a Jew and follows their practices. To the Greeks, who are not under any law, Paul does not conform to the Mosaic Law – although he still obeys Christ – as he wants to convert them. To weaker Christians, Paul accommodates their prejudices; in fact, he accommodates the particular prejudices of each person who he encounters so that he might save as many people as possible. Indeed, Paul’s whole life is devoted to the Gospel, so that he can enjoy its benefits with those who accept it.

He then calls the Corinthians to adopt a similar approach in living their lives by referring to the Olympics and the Isthmian Games, with which they are familiar; in these contests, the runners in a stadium compete against each other, and only one finishes first – the Corinthians should strive to emulate the winner’s effort. All professional athletes discipline themselves before their competitions, yet the winner’s prize of an olive wreath will eventually decay; how much more should believers strive for the prize of righteousness, which will never decay! This motivates Paul to neither 1) run in a purposeless manner nor 2) box like a fighter who keeps missing his opponent. Paul concludes that instead, he boxes his sinful nature and beats it into submission so that after he has finished preaching the Gospel, he will not lose his reward of eternal life.

Thoughts: In verse 5, we see that the Apostle Peter was actually married. Hodge notes the following:

That Peter was married is clear from Matthew 8:14 and Mark 1:30.

I had completely overlooked this fact during my previous studies of Matthew and Mark, so it came as a surprise to me. It is clear, then, that Jesus did not forbid his disciples from getting married. I am now very interested in meeting Peter’s wife when I get to heaven. In particular, I want to ask her about her experience as an apostle’s wife. Did she also share the Gospel message on Peter’s missionary journeys? How did she cope with the opposition that they encountered from those who refused to believe the Gospel? When Peter was crucified on an upside-down cross, how did she respond?

In verses 16-18, Paul explains his rationale for not seeking material support from the Corinthians when he preached the Gospel to them. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts in his commentary on verse 17:

A physician may attend the sick from the highest motives, though he receives remuneration for his services. But when he attends the poor free of charge, though the motives may be no higher, the evidence of their purity is beyond question. Paul’s ground of glorying, therefore, was not preaching, for that was a matter of obligation, but his preaching gratuitously, which was altogether optional.

It is clear, then, that while Christ commanded the apostles to receive material support from those to whom they were ministering, the apostles could decline this support. Paul must have been sure that if he chose to accept this support from the Corinthians, the spread of the Gospel would have been hindered, probably via the accusations of his opponents – including false teachers. This spurred him to serve as a tentmaker, which is difficult for those of us with just one job to fathom; indeed, it is exhausting to even picture Paul working and preaching the Gospel in his spare time.

Verses 24-27 contain some inspiring athletic imagery. In terms of running, I am reminded of Usain Bolt’s performance in the 200-meter dash at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Many fans recall his dazzling outburst in the 100-meter dash at those Games, yet fewer fans recall that he gave a strong effort throughout the 200-meter dash and strained for the tape at the finish line, breaking Michael Johnson’s world record by a mere two-hundredths of a second. Now in terms of boxing, it is apparent that the number – and percentage – of punches landed in a particular bout is a useful measure of a fighter’s success on that day. This was exemplified by the recent super lightweight title clash between Amir Khan and Zab Judah; clearly, landing a steady stream of punches will wear down an opponent over the course of a fight.

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Comments»

1. youthguyerik - August 16, 2011

Great commentary. I’m filing it away to steal for a future sermon. thanks much.


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