Running to Win
I Corinthians 9
Paul goes on to address the questions and topics contained in a letter or letters he had previously received from the Corinthian believers. As we have noted in earlier chapters, he has addressed various aspects of marriage and singleness. He has answered the question relating to eating food that had been dedicated to an idol and now he answers a question regarding his 'rights' as a minister of God.
There are those today as well, who question the rights of a minister or pastor. Secretly (or even openly) they take objection to the 'large' salary that a pastor receives for merely working one day a week. As we will see, this is nothing new. They were doing it back in Paul's time.
He begins with a few questions. Let's read the first three verses.
“Am I not free?” It is implied here that Paul is referring to the freedom that some of the people were flaunting … saying “I can eat that meat if I want to. I have total freedom”. So Paul is saying “I am just as free as you are. And, as an Apostle, maybe even freer.”
“Am I not an apostle?” he asks. Some obviously were saying, “He couldn't be an apostle because …”
How would they know what an apostle really was? As heathens recently converted to Christianity they would have no way of knowing. As Jews recently converted to Christianity they might also have no way of knowing, simply because in the Jewish religion there was no such office as Apostle.
There would be only one way that I can think of that they could know anything at all about Apostles and that would be from visiting Christians who had come from Jerusalem. You will notice from the following scripture that the Apostles all resided in Jerusalem.
Acts 8:1 ¶ … On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
We can read in the early chapters of Acts that Peter left Jerusalem occasionally but he always returned there after his various mission tours. Other than that we do not read of any other Apostles every doing anything outside of Jerusalem.
So the Corinthians had heard something about apostles and some of them were saying that Paul wasn't one.
By the way, the book of Acts … which is a history of the church from the day of Pentecost onward to about the year 68 or so, was written after the books of Corinthians. Simple logic tells us that . Acts records Paul's ministry, not only at Corinth, but also much later, up to his first Roman imprisonment. Why is this important? Here is why, written many years after Pentecost, the writer includes the requisites to being an Apostle. The requisites were known and announced just before Pentecost, but they were put into print by Luke about 25 years later. So this tells us that these requisites were common knowledge all through the years.
I strongly suggest that the Corinthians were well aware of the list of requirements.
We get the list from the following passage.
Acts 1:21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
Here's the kinds of things that they apparently were saying.
- Paul had not seen Christ, let alone spent time with Him
- He did not live like the other apostles, he was unmarried and wandered around all over the place.
- He and Barnabas worked for a living. Real apostles don't do that.
- If Paul had had the 'right' to be supported he certainly would have excercised it.
- And I will add this one … The early church chose a replacement for Judas, so the spot was already filled. The total number had to be twelve.
Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
This is Paul's claim. There were no witnesses, but he claims to have seen the Lord. He states it very clearly later in Corinthians/
1Co 15:8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
What does born out of due time mean? He is saying that he was born too late. A little earlier and he could have been one of the twelve. Well, not really because Jesus needed a Judas. But what Paul is saying is, I am one of the twelve even though I was chosen later than the others … chosen after Jesus had already returned to heaven.
So why did the group of 120 believers choose a man to replace Judas just prior to the day of Pentecost?
It was Peter's idea. So what about the little 'business meeting' that Peter conducted in Acts 1:16-26?
The Lord had said wait until you receive power. Peter, the impulsive one of the group, likes to do anything but sit around doing nothing. And Jesus had not given a time frame for 'receiving this power' from heaven. Ten days had gone by and …. nothing was happening! Peter wracks his brain trying to figure out why something has not happened already. Then it hits him … we are no longer the twelve apostles. We are the eleven. A scripture comes to mind … the bottom line saying that Judas is going to be replaced. Aha! He thinks, That's it! We need to fill that spot and have twelve again.
He makes the presentation to the 120 people ending with, “So who in this meeting have been with us the whole time?” Only two fit the bill. So now its time to pray about it. “Lord, which one of these two do you want? We are going to flip a coin Lord, so which ever way it comes up, we will go with that.”
Do you see anything wrong with this prayer? Where is the prayer that goes, “Lord, there are only eleven of us apostles and the scripture says that there is to be a replacement. Is now the time Lord?”
Peter had skipped that. This whole replacement thing was not supposed to be done by them. God had plans to do it Himself at a later time.
God prepared Paul for Apostleship.
Galatians 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased
16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to ...
Notice that Paul went immediately to Arabia. It was almost the first thing he did. He did not consult with any other apostles until 3 years later. I believe that Paul was miraculously taught by Jesus for three years while he was in the Arabian desert. Three years. The same length of time that Jesus taught the other apostles.
The Corinthians may not have known this, so we find Paul defending who he is. The book of second Corinthians has much more about this, so I gather from that, these attackers of Paul needed convincing.
In the next verses he appeals to their relationship with him. What were they before Paul got to them? Unsaved heathen. (In biblical terms anybody who is unsaved is called a heathen) They should remember that he is the reason that many of them came to Christ in the first place. Where is their appreciation and respect? Some people are very quick to forget and become swayed to follow a crowd.
In verse three he begins to outline a defense against those who are judging him.
“Just like all the other apostles back in Jerusalem” …
I have every right to
- eat better (draw a good salary)
- to get married and bring my wife with me on these missionary tours.
'Think of this, If I were a soldier I would have my way paid. If I owned a vineyard I could have some of the grapes for myself, right? If I were a dairy farmer, I could have some of the milk, couldn't I?'
And do you think this is just my opinion? The bible says the same thing
it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."
Is it about oxen that God is concerned?
God does care about kindness vs. cruelty. Mistreatment of animals is not ok in God's book. But Paul points out that God is giving a principle here that applies to a lot more than just oxen. It is 'fair pay for work done'.
Paul last comparison is to farming … those who plough and those who thresh the grain .. all get paid. Then he says, “And I have planted the seed among you … should I not deserve to receive some benefit back? … just like any other apostle?”
In verse 12 he points out that he did not use his 'right' to be paid. He preached and taught for free. Paul is suspecting that if he had taken money from them, many would have accused him of not being sincere, that he was just in it for the money .. and that would have hindered the gospel.
In verses 13 and 14 he couldn't state it any plainer. 'Those who preach the gospel should make their living from it.' and in 15-17 he says “I haven't used my rights, and I am not telling you this now so that you will pay my back wages.”
He is revealing his heart. It feels good to be able to give of yourself. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that is what Paul has been feeling.
“So what is my reward in all this?”, he asks.
Do remember this verse from 8:9? Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling-block to the weak.
Paul is clearly explaining how this works by pointing to his own life.
What a wonderful example of knowing your rights but choosing to give them up. Jesus did that for us.
In verse 19 he mentions wanting to 'win as many as possible'. That was his calling and mission. Yours might look different. You are not likely a front-line missionary confronting the heathen with the gospel. But whatever God calls you to do … it will be a hundred times more effective if you can forget about your rights.
Look how Paul illustrates this in verses 20 – 22
In verse 22 he re-emphasizes his desire to see people saved. And in verse 23 he is saying, “And when that happens I get blessed … and that is all I need. I don't need your money.”
From verse 24 onward to the end of the chapter he is switching from talking about himself to this thought”:
“And you too need to take on an attitude of self-sacrifice.” There certainly would have been less fighting in the church with an attitude like that. I don't think that 'brother would be taking brother to court … before unbelievers as was the case in Corinth.
As Paul gives the analogy of runners in a race, he adds that to live a self-sacrificing life requires discipline. It is not easy and he certainly did not want to leave us with that impression. (27)
In order to finish, in order to win the race, I beat my body … The word 'beat' comes from a word which means to strike the body making it black or blue, to strike particularly under the eye.
Jesus said that if it is our eye that causes us to 'offend' then we need to get rid of our eye. Of all things that can distract and derail a Christian, most likely it is what we put in front of our eyes. When King David looked out off of his roof-top balcony and saw a woman … it was first his eyes that got him into trouble. After that whole horrible ordeal was over he said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” Psalm 101:3
So that I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. We could try to soften this statement, but I think it would be wrong to do so. I think he is referring to salvation. He is not implying that he is terrified of losing his salvation, in the sense that he has not security. He has said that salvation is not based on works. Salvation is based on belief of who Jesus is and what He did for you. You acted on that by confessing that you are a lost sinner. He reached down and lifted you up to security.
But there is something that Paul feared. Sin is deceitful. Pride is a sin. Paul could list all the things that he has come though such as having had to undergo peril, nakedness and hunger. He could talk about the wonderful visions he was permitted to see. I believe in Paul's case it was becoming proud that could destroy him in the end. Sinful pride can lead us to a place where we no longer need God. We no longer trust him.
So Paul feared one of two things: He feared that pride can build up in a person so that he no longer trusts God. Trust is the basis of our salvation. Perhaps he feared that he could be so deceived by pride that he no longer had faith that Jesus is the Christ, the saviour, Our rescuer, our deliverer, and in that state lose out on salvation.
-or- he feared that pride could so cripple him that he no longer would have the blessing of God in his life and that essentially he would be like a damaged vessel, taken out of service and placed on a shelf.
Listen to Paul when he talks about the 'thorn in the flesh' that God would not remove from him.
2Co 12:1 ¶ I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.
3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--
4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no-one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What was Paul's 'thorn'?
When Paul was not yet a Christian, he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians. He had been doing this kind of thing for a while, but God finally put a stop to it. God struck him blind. For several days he was totally blind. Finally he was directed to go to a minister who would give him instructions. The minister was Ananias who said, “ "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, Acts 9:17,18
Various statements in scripture seem to bear out that Paul's eyes never totally healed. His outward appearance could have been affected. We know his vision was.1
As we learn more about God and His word, if Paul was concerned about becoming conceited and proud to the point of losing faith in God, who are we to think we are immune from this?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Heb 12:1
1 Ga 6:11 ¶ See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!
2Th 3:17 The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.