Daily Living of the Gospel, 1 Cor. 9. 1-23
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
A special enquiry seems to have been set up by the Corinthians into Paul’s economic condition, and, in these verses, he answers the queries and objections. Several, important truths are underlined regarding those who engage in full-time service for the Lord.
Although not engaged in lucrative employment, they should be able to lead normal lives on the social and domestic level equivalent to the standards of those amongst whom they serve, 1 Cor. 9. 4-6. “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?”, v. 11.
“Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” These words teach that the servants of God may engage in aggressive, itinerant evangelism at home or abroad, as the advance guard in the outreach of a company of believers, supported by that company or others. “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof?” They may pioneer in a region for the forming of a local church, or a number of assemblies, who will eventually support the pioneers. “Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” They may, as full-time teaching elders among other elders engaged in normal employment, receive remuneration from the company they shepherd and teach, 1 Tim. 5. 17. And when occasion demands, any or all of these should be free to labour with their hands in order to meet an urgent financial need, Acts 18. 3.
The proof of authenticity in Paul’s call to full-time service lies in the results, “are not ye my work in the Lord?”; “for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord”, 1 Cor. 9. 1-2. This must also apply to all those regions, where, as in Corinth, there is the possibility of grouping believers as a local church. For other spheres, such as the Islamic fields, there will come the assurance that the Naamans, the Nicodemuses, and the Josephs of Arimathea are somewhere and somehow living as secret disciples. But in normal circumstances, the preaching of the Gospel will be followed by the salvation of men and women, and their being led on in the things of God as an assembly of Christians.
All the instruction concerning the support of the Lord’s servants is closely linked with the teaching of the Old Testament. From that abundance which was primarily offered in sacrifice to Jehovah, they that waited on the altar became partakers with the altar. The law of Moses was most emphatic in its providing for those who were completely set apart for the service of God. And in this period of the spread of the Good News, the Word of God is equally emphatic, “even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”, v. 14.
But strange to say, after such clear teaching, Paul, because of the spiritual condition of the Corinthians, avoided accepting their money, preferring to be helped by those who were more in touch with God, v. 15; 2 Cor. 11. 7-9. And financial support was far from being an overwhelming factor in his thinking, “necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”, 1 Cor. 9. 16. Like another servant of God, he could have cried out, “his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not”, Jer. 20. 9. There was an absolute necessity to evangelize. He regarded his service in this connection as a stewardship. And in this he wanted to be able to waive his rights to receive support in order to fulfil his obligations without charge, thus to become the very slave of all men, instead of enjoying the social and financial freedom to which he was thoroughly entitled. What a splendid example of self- abnegation! And how many servants of Christ, across the centuries, in many lands, have followed in his footsteps: “As poor, yet making many rich”, 2 Cor. 6. 10.
From his position as the slave, totally possessed by the Lord for the communication of the gospel message, Paul outlines his attitude towards all those who stood in need of the good news. He became “all things to all men”, that he might “by all means save some”, 1 Cor. 9- 22. Is there hypocrisy in his attitude? Not at all, simply a spirit of total and willing comprehension of the different categories making up the world of his day. Like Ezekiel, he sat where the people sat in order to bring to them a message from the Lord, Ezek. 3. 15. The words of John Wesley, “Go to the people-where the people are! could have summed up exquisitely the thoughts of Paul. And in the same way that our blessed Lord received sinners and had a meal with them in order to evangelize them, so His servant reached out to a lost world. . .
From all this, it seems clear that the main preoccupation of the companies of believers relative to full-time workers should be to ensure that they are freed from all financial anxiety, and that the dominating thought in the mind of the evangelist should not be wooing money but winning men. Verse 23 unites the two elements, the companies of Christians and those commended to the work, since both partake of the unspeakable joy in the spread of the good news - spiritual treasure which is wealth indeed.
Approved or Disapproved, 1 Cor. 9. 24-27
The Greek games now serve as an example to the apostle as he considers the battle of the Christian life. It is a consuming passion entailing the straining of every muscle and the concentrating of every thought on the reaching of the ultimate goal. In the race set before us, our example is the Lord Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”, Heb. 12. 2. And Paul, outlining his course, says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”, Phil. 3. 14. What a contrast to the lethargic, apathetic attitude among crippled, professing believers today - limping home at the very end of the line!
The next example is even more demanding m its implications. Those, who in the fierce wrestling bouts strove for the mastery, were prepared to practise in their training total self-denial. Those young Greek athletes went to lengths that completely amaze us in denying themselves the normal things of everyday life, and in refusing to respond to the clamourings of fleshy appetites. What immense sacrifices on their part to secure a victory that would grant them a fragile, ephemeral laurel wreath! How different is the prize for the athlete of Christ! Victory will assure the granting of an incorruptible, eternal crown. Will such a reward come to carnal, surfeited, worldly believers? By no means! The conflict is real, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against. . spiritual wickedness in high places”, Eph. 6. 12.
Only strict discipline and self-denial will avail in these crucial moments of the history of the Church through which we are passing. The apostle strains every sinew as he runs towards the clearly defined goal. He enters into conscious contact with the enemy in the extremely rapid battle for spiritual victory. He does not beat the air. Shadow boxing is not in his line! He disciplines with vigour the appetites of his body, making of that body the totally subservient slave of the spirit. And all this that he may be approved of God at the end. Like William Kelly, when told that because of his knowledge of Greek he could have made a name for himself in the world, demanded, Which world, sir?”, Paul’s thoughts are always fixed on the realities of the age to come. How sad, he muses, if having proclaimed as a herald the claims of God to others, he should himself be openly rebuked from the throne. 2 Timothy 4- 7-8 paints a different picture, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day”. How encouraging is his last movement towards the goal! May the Lord grant to each one of us similar joy as we come in sight of His blessed presence and kingdom.