1 Corinthians 9-10


In spite of its abrupt opening, chapter 9 is very closely linked to chapter 8. Indeed, it forms an all-important part of the section which runs from the beginning of chapter 8 to chapter 11 verse 1.

In the articles on chapter 8, we noted Paul’s teaching that whereas somebody’s ‘knowledge’ might satisfy him that he had the right to eat idol-meats without restraint, ‘love’ and consideration for a weaker brother would lead him to forego his rights.

We saw too that, at the close of the chapter, Paul directly applied to himself the principle of waiving one’s right to eat meat. It is fascinating to trace the way in which, in chapter 8, the apostle moved from speaking in terms of ‘we’ and ‘us’ in verses 1-8, through speaking in terms of ‘you’ and ‘yours’ in verses 9-12, to speaking in terms of ‘I’ and ‘my’ in verse 13. But it has to be acknowledged that Paul’s personal resolve in verse 13 was wholly conditional; it was very much a case of ‘if’, and it applied only in certain circumstances. Indeed, the situation he envisaged there – that of a brother’s spiritual life being endangered because Paul ate meat of any kind – may well have never arisen, or, if it did, only in certain places and at certain times. And so now, in chapter 9, Paul introduces very different circumstances in which he applies this same principle to himself; that is, the principle of denying himself and of waiving his rights and curtailing his freedom for the sake of others.

In chapter 9, he demonstrates that, in fact, the whole of his ministry for God had been (and continued to be) conducted on this very principle. And this time the application of this principle certainly was not hypothetical; it was real and factual. This close link between the teaching of chapters 8 and 9 is confirmed by Paul’s constant use of the word ‘right’ (or ‘authority’) in the first main section of chapter 9 (where it occurs no less than six times1), which is the same word as we met towards the end of chapter 8 translated ‘liberty’ (verse 9).

The apostle makes it clear in chapter 9 that there was more than one thing which he possessed, but which he chose not to ‘use’. First, to paraphrase verses 1 to 18, he says, ‘As an apostle, I have the right to be supported and maintained at the expense of others. But, for the sake of others and the gospel, I don’t exercise this right’. Second, to paraphrase verses 19 to 23, he says, ‘I have the freedom (not now the ‘right’) to live as I please – to live as I wish. But, for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of others, I don’t exercise this freedom’. Paul then concludes the chapter with a section (verses 24 to 27) about self-control; again, to paraphrase, ‘I have one grand and glorious object in view – to ‘gain’ men through the gospel – and to achieve this, I am prepared to deny myself many things to which I would otherwise be entitled. Any man who strives for a prize must learn to exercise self-control in legitimate things’.

The chapter opens with a very brief outline of the ground to be covered. ‘Am I not an apostle?’ provides the basis for Paul’s argument in verses 1 to 18, and ‘Am I not free?’ provides the basis for his argument in verses 19 to 23.2 I suspect that Paul deliberately chose to cite the example of his waiving his rights to support as an apostle, not only because this was related to the question of what he was able to eat and drink, v. 4 (which was directly relevant to the subject in view throughout chapters 8 and 10), but because his apostleship was under serious attack at Corinth. Evidently, some at Corinth had problems with Paul’s claim to apostleship, and that on several grounds. They took exception to: (i) Paul’s message. ‘Christ crucified’ was far too simple for them. In their eyes this was not the kind of preaching to win widespread acceptance. (ii) Paul’s methods. These they found dull and unappealing. The apostle didn’t (and, indeed, he made it clear that he wouldn’t!) use the persuasive communication techniques and studied eloquence of the philosophers and wandering religious teachers of his day. (iii) Paul’s money policy. The apostle made a point of not charging for his services. ‘No one worth his salt’, you can hear his opponents saying, ‘would teach and preach for nothing. After all, you get what you pay for!’3

Clearly, the opening of 1 Corinthians 9 isn’t meant to be a detailed defence of Paul’s office as an apostle – such as he sets out, for instance, in his letter to the Galatians; there to establish the truth of the gospel which he preached. But Paul does take the opportunity here to state briefly his credentials. He will come back in his second letter to deal in detail with the charges laid against him.


1. Paul’s refusal, for the sake of others and the gospel, to exercise his apostolic right to support and maintenance at the expense of others, vv. 1-18
(i) Paul vindicates his office as an apostle, vv. 1-3
(ii) Paul establishes his right to be supported as an apostle and denies that he has exercised that right, vv. 4-15 – his denial being expressed in the second half of verse 12 and in verse 15
(iii) Paul explains the ground of his glorying, vv. 16- 18

2. Paul’s refusal, for the sake of others and of the gospel, to exercise his freedom to live as he pleased, vv. 19-23

3. Paul’s self-control and self-denial, vv. 24-27 – where the apostle draws an illustration from the Greek games to sound a warning against complacence and self-confidence.


Paul’s refusal, for the sake of others and of the gospel, to exercise his apostolic right to support and maintenance at the expense of others, vv. 1-18

(i) Paul vindicates his office as an apostle, vv. 1-3

Verses 1-3. In Paul’s expression in verse 3 – ‘My defence to those who examine me is this’ – he uses two words (‘defence’ and ‘examine’) which (together with the word ‘seal’ in verse 2) formed part of well-known legal terminology. He was later to use the same word ‘defence’ in his opening remarks to the hostile Jewish crowd in Jerusalem who were all out to kill him, ‘Brethren and fathers, hear my defence before you now’, Acts 22. 1.

In the opening three verses of our chapter, Paul is briefly outlining his ‘defence’ against those at Corinth who would interrogate and cross-question him – his ‘defence’ against those who assumed the right to critically investigate his claims.4 And his use of the present participle (’those that do examine me’) suggests that these men were making a practice of doing just that.

Paul’s ‘defence’ was twofold. (a) He had personally ‘seen Jesus our Lord’ (literally), and (b) he had been highly effective in his ministry as an apostle – which they, of all people, knew full well.

(a) Paul, he insists, possessed the qualification (as did every true apostle) of having seen the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. No man could be an apostle without that. When selecting an apostolic replacement for Judas Iscariot, Peter spelt out the criterion plainly; ‘one of these (Barsabas or Matthias) must become a witness with us of His resurrection … they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles’, Acts 1. 22, 26. Interestingly, Paul had seen the risen Lord, not only on Damascus Road, Acts 9. 3, 17, and again after his return from Damascus to Jerusalem, 22. 17, but seemingly at Corinth itself – on that night when, following stiff opposition from the Jews, the Lord had said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you’, 18. 9-10.5 Not, of course, that seeing the risen Jesus was the only qualification necessary for apostleship – or the 500 brethren mentioned later would have all been apostles, 1 Cor. 15. 6! But, along with Peter and the others, Paul had also been personally commissioned as an apostle by the Lord – in his case, on the Damascus Road. Indeed, it may well be that the very form of his question here, ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ (literally; rather than ‘Have I not seen Christ?’ or just ‘Have I not seen the Lord’), recalled the question he had then asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ and the mindblowing answer he had received, ‘I am Jesus’, Acts 9. 5.

(b) The second strand to Paul’s defence was that, having been commissioned as an apostle, he had preached the risen Saviour in the demonstration of the Spirit and power. ‘Yet doubtless (that is, ‘at least’, ‘at any rate’) I am to you’, he claims. This because the Lord had been pleased in an unmistakeable manner to stamp His seal of approval on His servant’s work – and they were that seal. A ‘seal’ was impressed onto a deed or other legal document as a proof of its genuineness and validity.6 The Corinthians should therefore have been the last folk on earth to dispute Paul’s apostleship; wasn’t he their one and only spiritual ‘father’, having begotten them through the gospel, 4. 15?

(ii) Paul establishes his right to be supported as an apostle and denies that he has exercised that right, vv. 4-15

In verses 4 to 14, he asserts his right to live at the expense of the churches – but only, as we will see, that he might demonstrate how he had relinquished that right. His claim to maintenance could be justified, he argued, on no less than seven separate grounds:

  • The precedent set by the other apostles – notably by the Lord’s brothers and Cephas, vv. 4-6;
  • Examples drawn from ordinary, everyday life – the soldier, the vineyard-owner and the shepherd, v. 7;
  • The teaching of the word of God – the law of Moses, vv. 8-10; Fairness – the repayment of a debt, v. 11;
  • The practice of other Christian preachers and teachers, v. 12;
  • The God-ordained method of supporting Godappointed workers in Israel – both the Levites and the priests, v. 13; and
  • The Lord’s express appointment – both in the case of the original apostles and in the case of the seventy, v. 14.

Verses 4-6. But if Paul is an apostle (and he has established this in verses 1-3), then he has the right to be supported – in exactly the same way as did ‘the other apostles’, v. 5, and, in particular, as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas. Was it only Paul and Barnabas who were to be denied the right to eat and drink at the church’s expense?

As noted above, it may be that Paul deliberately introduces the reference to food and drink because that links well with the context of chapters 8 and 10, which deal in part with situations when one should waive one’s right to eat certain foods. It is worth noting this reference to Barnabas (as Paul’s partner), coming as it does some time after the sharp exchange between the two men over John Mark and their subsequent parting (‘separation’, literally) from one another, Acts 15. 39. There is no evidence that Barnabas had ever been to Corinth but clearly his name was well enough known for the Corinthians to understand Paul’s reference. After all, Barnabas had been associated with the Christian church from the beginning – being mentioned as early as Acts 4. 36. I note also that he was known by name at least to the church at Colosse – a church which Paul himself had never visited, Col. 2. 1; 4. 10. I wonder whether in now asserting Barnabas’s right to financial support, Paul might have had in mind that this ‘good man’7 had once sold his property and laid the proceeds ‘at the apostles’ feet’, Acts 4. 36-37 – and, unlike in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, he had laid all of the proceeds there; contrast Acts 5. 2.

I wonder also whether the decision by Paul and Barnabas to refuse any practical support was linked in some way to their unique mission to the Gentiles. The Jews would have readily understood that those engaged in religious service should be maintained by the offerings of the believing community – as witness, for example, the reference to the priests and Levites in verse 13 – and were therefore most unlikely to misunderstand a preacher’s motives if he accepted financial support.8 But, by way of contrast, the Gentiles were accustomed to being exploited and sponged on by greedy and grasping wandering preachers and philosophers. A century later, Justin Martyr has occasion to write of one such ‘who was called a Peripatetic, and as he fancied, shrewd. And this man, after having entertained me for the first few days, requested me to settle the fee, in order that our contact might not be unprofitable. For this reason I abandoned him, believing him to be no philosopher at all’.9

Paul makes it clear that he and Barnabas had every right to impose themselves as a burden on the church – and that in the relatively expensive manner of married men. According to Acts 18, throughout his 18-month stay at Corinth, Paul had pursued his trade as a tent-maker – as he had previously done at Thessalonica, concerning which he wrote, ‘nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labour and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you’ – and as he would later do at Ephesus, concerning which he reminded the elders of the church, ‘you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me’.10 Paul makes it clear here that both he and Barnabas had every right, as did the other apostles, to spare themselves the hardship of manual toil.

Verse 7. Paul next makes his appeal to three illustrations of natural justice, each drawn from ordinary, everyday life. First, he appeals to the case of the soldier, who did not serve at his own ‘expense’ – the word originally referring to rations of cooked meat and later to military pay. Second, Paul appeals to the case of the vineyard owner, who plants his vineyard for fruit, not for fun. And, third, he appeals to the case of the shepherd, who expects to have his share of the milk from the flock. The point Paul makes is that in each case the worker laboured in the expectation of his due reward – and, if Paul was thinking in terms of the soldier’s ration of cooked meat, in each case the reward consisted of the right to eat and/or drink.

Verses 8-10. ‘Do I say these things as a mere man?’ he asks – literally ‘do I speak these things according to man?’; that is, from a merely human point of view?11 No, not at all! For Paul is able to appeal to the law of Moses for confirmation.12 And here is a simple lesson for all preachers and Bible teachers. No matter how apt they may seem, illustrations drawn from human affairs are not sufficient in themselves. Such illustrations need to be supported by scripture.

The ox separates the grain from the husk of the corn either, as here, by treading out the corn, or by dragging a threshing sledge over it. But, by whichever method, God required that the ox was to receive its sustenance as a result of its labour; ‘You shall not muzzle an ox’. And we note that yet again Paul directs the Corinthians to a case involving food – this time food for the oxen.

Not that this was written only for the benefit of the oxen, Paul adds. It was said ‘altogether (‘undoubtedly’, ‘certainly’13) for our sakes (‘because of us’). Yes, of course, God cares for the oxen too; the quote from Deuteronomy 25. 4 itself proves this.14 Paul’s point is that Deuteronomy 25 establishes a far-reaching principle – to the end that both (i) the man who ‘ploughs’ and (ii) the man who ‘threshes’ (the same word as ‘treads out the grain’, v. 9) should labour in the firm knowledge that all who contribute to the work of the harvest can expect to share in the fruit of the harvest.15 Paul is saying that the biblical teaching about the ox establishes a principle which applies to all agricultural service, and which in turn applies to spiritual service.

Verse 11. This continues the agricultural and farming imagery from verses 9 and 10. But here Paul deploys an entirely separate argument. This time he is appealing to the Corinthians’ sense of fair play, gratitude and indebtedness. The gist of this argument is well illustrated by what the apostle later said to the churches at Rome – using much the same vocabulary – ‘it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things (i.e., things needed for the body)’, Rom. 15. 26-27. ‘If we sow spiritual things among you – if we bestow eternal blessings of infinite value on you’, Paul is saying, ‘then surely it’s hardly unreasonable if we reap some material benefits from you. This would be no more than a very small, and altogether warranted, token of your thanks’.

Verse 12. Other preachers and teachers had taken their ‘share’ of support from the Corinthians. It is most unlikely that Paul has in mind here ‘the other apostles’ of verse 5. We discover from Paul’s second letter that there were those who he describes as ‘devouring’ the Corinthians – who were sponging on them, who were exploiting them for personal gain16 – and that with far less claim than this ‘wise master builder’ who had once laid the foundation of the church,17 1 Cor. 3. 1. In contrast to such men, Paul says, ‘we’ (he and Barnabas) … endure all things’ – which he had spelt out in a little more detail back in chapter 4; ‘To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labour, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the scum of all things until now’, vv. 11-13.18

And we endure all this, Paul says, ‘lest we hinder the gospel of Christ’; the word ‘hinder’ meaning literally ‘cut into’. That is, ‘lest we obstruct a road to arrest the advance of others’, as, for example, the advance of a pursuing army. Barnabas and Paul were determined at all costs to avoid placing any obstacle in the way of the gospel’s progress. They had made up their mind that they would suffer loss before the gospel would.

Verse 13. Paul now refers to the divinely-ordained method of supporting the official religious personnel in Israel; both (i) ‘those who minister the holy things’, that is, the Levites, maintained out of the nation’s tithes, and (ii) ‘those who serve at the altar’, that is, the priests, who were authorized to ‘partake of the offerings of the altar’ (for, with the exception of the burnt offering, part of each of the offerings was given to the priests19). And we ought perhaps to remember that Barnabas himself was a Levite, Acts 4. 36!

Verse 14. ‘Even so’, Paul adds, for the same Lord who had once, in the law, required the practical support of the religious personnel in Israel, had more recently appointed that those who proclaimed the gospel should ‘live from the gospel’. Indeed, the Lord Jesus had done so on at least two occasions; once in the case of the original apostolic band, Matt. 10. 10, and once in the case of the 70 (or 7220), Luke 10. 7. So, in much the same way that the Lord had Himself been supported in His ministry, Luke 8. 1-3, He expected those who preached in His name likewise to be supported by those who benefited from their labours. I note that, alone among the seven arguments which Paul makes, this (the last) takes the form, not of a question, but of an assertion. The Lord Himself has spoken on the subject – and there all argument ends!

Verse 15. ‘I (emphatic – compare the ‘we’ of verse 12) have used (the perfect tense; that is, ‘this is my settled practice – this is the rule I always follow) none of these things’. And Paul hastens to add, ‘nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me’. Paul is quick to guard himself against any misunderstanding; he will not have it thought, even for one moment, that he is hinting for support. This isn’t some backhanded request or subtle bid for funds. And so he breaks in with his impassioned protest; ‘for it is better for me to die than – no man is going to make my boast (my glorying) empty’, literally.

(iii) Paul explains the ground of his glorying, vv. 16-18

In a nutshell, Paul’s ground of boasting lies, not in that he preaches the gospel, but in that he makes no charge for his preaching. A man has nothing to boast in if he does only what he is compelled to do. And Paul had been appointed a preacher of the gospel; he had been made a steward of the gospel. To that extent, he was a conscript and not a volunteer! For Paul to preach the gospel was therefore only for him to perform his duty – to discharge his stewardship. But he wasn’t compelled to preach that gospel ‘free of charge’ – to preach it without looking for any financial support. This was a matter of his own personal choice and conviction; he did this of his own accord. And this was the ground of his boasting.

I find the reference to ‘boasting’ (to ‘glorying’) interesting. It looks as though the Corinthians had been so dazzled by Greek culture (which, among other things, looked down its nose on all forms of manual labour) that, instead of being grateful to Paul for his self-sacrifice on their behalf, they regarded his physical toil as altogether beneath the dignity of a true apostle of Christ. And so they despised him for it – drawing the protest from him in his second letter, ‘Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?’21 ‘Far from being ashamed that I work with my own hands to maintain myself’, Paul is saying, ‘this is my boast!’

As far as I can see, the references to ‘reward’ in verses 17-18 can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, we might expand the question at the opening of verse 18 to mean, ‘What then is the ground (the basis) for me receiving a reward?’ – a reward in the future, that is; presumably at the judgement seat of Christ. In which case, Paul would be saying something like, ‘In working with my own hands to maintain myself, I go beyond the mere discharge of my stewardship. In so doing, I enter the realm of voluntary service and am doing something above and beyond my duty. And for this I expect to receive a proper reward from the Lord in the day of review’.

On the other hand, we can take the question at the opening of verse 18 as it stands. In which case Paul would be saying something like, ‘As a result of working with my own hands to maintain myself, I can make known the gospel without cost to others. And this in itself is reward enough for me’.

Without wishing to be dogmatic, I favour the second interpretation. And I note that the word translated ‘reward’ often carries the idea of ‘wages’ or ‘hire’ – as, for instance, in the Lord’s words, ‘the labourer is worthy of his wages’, Luke 10. 7, referred to in verse 14. Paul may well then be playing on the word ‘wages’ and saying something like, ‘The only “pay” I ever want for my preaching consists in the joy and pleasure of refusing to accept any “pay” from those that hear and believe my preaching!’

Verse 18 concludes, ‘that I abuse not my authority (‘my right’) in the gospel’. Here also there may be a play on words. I note that Paul had spoken in both verse 12 and verse 15 of his decision not to ‘use’ his right to financial support. While not denying that right to others, given Paul’s own convictions on the matter, for him to have accepted payment from those to whom he preached, would have been for Paul, not to ‘use’, but to ‘abuse’ his right.22



See 1 Cor. 9. 4-6, 12 (twice), 18.


Many of the earliest manuscripts (including the uncials Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus) reverse the order of these two opening expressions in verse 1. In which case, as often, Paul crosses his hands and proceeds to expound the expressions in reverse order.


In some ways not dissimilar to the comment put into Huckleberry Finn’s mouth by Mark Twain concerning the farmer-preacher Mr Phelps; ‘never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too’; Huckleberry Finn chapter XXXIII.


Note the use of the word in Luke 23. 14; Acts 4. 9; 12. 19; 28. 18.


That this experience is described by Luke as a ‘vision’ does not mean that it was a dream – or took place in Paul’s mind only. See the use of the same word in Matt. 17. 9 and Acts 7. 31.


See, by way of example, 1 Kings 21. 8; Rev. 5. 1.


Acts 11. 24.


Note that the Lord Jesus taught that ‘a worker is worthy of his food’ in the context of the apostles being sent out to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, Matt. 10. 6, 10. For that reason they would not then need any financial resources of their own, v. 9. Compare also the sending of the 70 (or 72) and the conventional Jewish greeting which they carried, Luke 10. 1, 4, 7. The ministry of the other apostles was directed to ‘the circumcision’ but that of Paul and Barnabas to the gentiles, Gal. 2. 1, 7-9; cf. Rom. 11. 13; 15.16.


‘Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew’, chapter 2.


Acts 18. 2-3, 11, 18; 20. 34; 2 Thess. 3. 8.


See also 1 Cor. 3. 3; 15. 32.


Note Paul’s view of the divine inspiration of the law – it is ‘the law of Moses’, v. 9, but it is a question of God’s 'concern’, v. 9, and what God 'says’, v. 10. To the apostle, the law of Moses was the voice of God.


See the use of the same word in Luke 4. 23; Acts 21. 22; 28. 4 – also translated ‘by all means’ in verse 22 of our chapter.


See also Num. 20. 8, 11; Psa. 147. 9; Jonah 4. 11; Matt. 6. 26. But, as often in the Bible, Paul here puts the absolute for the relative – compare Hos. 6. 6; Luke 14. 26.


Compare 2 Tim. 2. 6.


2 Cor. 11. 20; cf. 12. 13-16.


1 Cor. 3. 10.


Paul’s claim in verses 12 and 15 echoes Nehemiah’s great ‘but I did not do so’, Neh. 5.15 – also spoken in the context of being chargeable on one’s brethren in having food and drink provided at their expense.


Lev. 10. 12–15, Num. 18. 20-24; Deut. 18. 1-4.


Some of the older Greek manuscripts read ‘seventy-two’, rather than ‘seventy’.


2 Cor. 11. 7.


We know that the apostle liked this particular wordplay – compare ‘those who use the world as not misusing it’, 1 Cor. 7. 31.


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