1 Corinthians 9:1-27
This is a continuation of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. In chapter 8 Paul gave advice on how we are to engage with new believers who do not yet understand God’s Word. A new Christian may have a conviction that is different from our own. We are to give them special care and not waste time arguing as this may cause them to turn from the Lord. We are to plant seeds of Truth in them in how we live and what we say. Doing and saying everything in love.
Now we’ll move on to chapter 9. I hope you join me and pull out your own Bible for this verse-by-verse study.
1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
All these things are true.
Paul is an apostle (meaning one sent forth).
He is a free man.
He did see Jesus. In Acts 9 we can find documentation that Paul was confronted by Jesus who told him to journey into Damascus where he would learn what he must do. The Lord then comes to Ananias in a vision and tells him that Paul is a chosen vessel to bear the name of the Lord before the Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel.
The people Paul is addressing are the Christians in Corinth who Paul taught. Paul demonstrated the love of God to these people. He planted seeds there. They are certainly his work in the Lord.
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
Paul is saying that they are proof of his apostleship. Not that he requires that proof. In Acts 9 he is credentialed by God. It doesn’t get better than that.
Acts 9:15 But the Lord said unto him, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
Acts 9:16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
Paul is instructing them on how to respond should someone question his apostleship.
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
Using The New Strong’s Concordance and The Companion Bible I know that power used here in the original Greek is 1849 exousia meaning authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.
They have the right to eat and drink, don’t they?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
Cephas is Peter. The word sister here refers to a fellow believer, not a sister by birth. Paul is saying that they and apostles as well have the right to marry a fellow believer. Paul remained unmarried but that was by choice and he explains that decision in 1 Corinthians 7. But we know that Peter did have a wife because Jesus healed Peter’s mother in-law as documented in the book of Matthew.
Matthew 8:14 And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.
Matthew 8:15 And He touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
Both Paul and Barnabas elected to support themselves through a job other than their teaching. Paul was a tentmaker and he continued to do this even while traveling and spreading the Word of the Lord. This was his choice but he didn’t have to do this. God’s law allows for His teachers to receive compensation in their work. It’s the way it was from the days of meat offerings when God instructed the priests to take a specific portion as their own meal (documented in Leviticus). Paul is saying that even though he could have stopped his work as a tentmaker and relied on the church for his income he has the right to support himself in another fashion. As does Barnabas.
We can see that Paul is a tentmaker in Acts.
Acts 18:1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
Acts 18:2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.
Acts 18:3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
So now we understand that Paul was a tentmaker and so were Aguila and Priscilla. (Romans 16:3-4 tells us that Aguila and Priscilla help Paul in doing the Lord’s work.)
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
Paul is further explaining that in every vocation you have a right to receive pay for your work. This is true whether you’re a soldier earning wages or a farmer who eats the fruit of his labor. It’s also true of those who do the Lord’s work as Paul and Barnabas did yet they elected to support themselves in a different way.
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
Paul is asking if this right to be paid for your work is just a tradition of men or actually dictated by God’s law. He answers the question in the next verse.
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
This is quoted from Deuteronomy 25:4. The ox is working in the field and he has earned the right to eat some of what he’s working on. God allows this and He takes care of the oxen in this way. If God allows this for this animal doesn’t it stand to reason He also allows it for us? The farmer, the soldier, the man or woman teaching His Word (as Paul was)?
10 Or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
This law isn’t just for the animals it’s for humans as well. When you are doing work you should have the opportunity to partake in the fruits of that labor. We should plow in hope. Work in hope. Know that we will reap rewards for what we do.
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
If he (and other teachers) sow spiritual things is it such a big deal that they should reap some rewards in the flesh?
When you sow spiritual seeds (the seeds of Truth, demonstrating and teaching God’s Word through your actions, words, etc) you have earned a reward in the flesh as well. This is why God told the priests to take a portion of offerings made to the Lord. Now in Paul’s time those offerings were no longer made. (Hebrews 10:5-18 documents that Christ became the one and only offering for sin. You can find a study of that scripture in my notes for 1 Corinthians 7:18-40.) The offering became monetary as it is in churches today.
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
People in other vocations have a right to payment, don’t they? So don’t the apostles?
Paul and his fellow teachers have the right to a salary from their teaching. Yet Paul and Barnabas chose not to accept that payment. Paul is saying he made that decision because he didn’t want to hinder the gospel of Christ. He didn’t want anyone to be able to say that he did his teaching in order to make money. That’s not why he did it so he wanted to make sure there was no doubt of that. He did his teaching and seed planting because he loved the Lord.
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
This references what we discussed earlier. Priests who served in the temple and at the altar partook of the offerings made there. That was the way it was supposed to be according to God’s law. When those particular offerings went away it didn’t mean that those doing the Lord’s work should just suddenly starve. No. They still had a right to some payment so that they may eat and have shelter.
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
The Lord ordained that if you’re preaching the gospel and truly teaching His Word you deserve a salary as a result. But Paul didn’t take one. He says he would rather die than give any person cause to question why he teaches. Rather than risk the chance that someone might doubt his sincerity he chose to earn his salary as a tentmaker. He isn’t required to do this by God. This is Paul’s decision so that it is abundantly clear that he teaches solely because he’s led by God to do so and because he loves the Lord.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Paul is a wonderful teacher of His Word. His teachings have survived many years. His teachings continue to plant seeds even today! But Paul understands that this ability is a gift from God. He shouldn’t boast of it. He doesn’t want or need the credit for it. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul explains why no teacher should be idolized for their teaching because all glory goes to God alone.
Paul says woe until him if he doesn’t preach the gospel. Why? He has a God-given gift that he must use to do God’s work. He was called by God to be a chosen vessel and spread His Word (Acts 9:15-16).
Romans 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
The gifts and calling of God are “without repentance” which means they are not to be repented of or disobeyed. God chooses who to use in the fulfillment of His plan and how to use them. He decides what gifts to give to which person (1 Corinthians 7:7). He knows exactly what we can handle. Each gift and each job is important to His plan. 1 Corinthians 12 shows that all these gifts work together.
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
Paul knows he has a reward coming that’s greater than the salary he could have taken from his teaching. And he certainly does. Consider how long his teaching has been planting seeds. By not taking a salary from the church he is able to prove his sincerity in doing God’s work.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
He was born free but he’s made himself a servant to all he teaches by not taking a salary from ministry.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
In the original Greek the word Jew here is 2453 Ioudaios which means belonging to Jehudah or of Judea. Let’s look at Paul’s history a bit.
Acts 22:3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
Paul was not of the house of Judah (he was a Benjamite) but he became as one of Judea (which is what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:20 when you look at the original Greek). That’s why he calls himself a Jew.
He studied at the feet of Gamaliel. Who is this?
Acts 5:34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
Gamaliel is the grandson of the famous Hillel (you can find this in the notations of The Companion Bible). He was Paul’s instructor (as we also know from Acts 22:3). This verse in Acts is saying he was a “doctor of the law” which is just another way of saying he was a teacher of the law. He had a “reputation among all the people” which means he was honoured or precious. This man knew God’s law well and he taught Paul so that Paul could also teach the law.
Now that we know more about Paul’s background let’s revisit this verse and the next one.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
Paul wasn’t born of the tribe of Judah but he became as one of Judea so that he could win them for Christ. He studied and learned the law so that he could teach those who were under the law. If he’s talking to someone who understands the law Paul will speak to them in the way they understand since he too is well versed in the law. He was taught by a highly honoured teacher of the law. If Paul is speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the law he can also teach them but in a different way. Paul got down to their level. He didn’t use big words to prove what he knew. He tells us this in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and chapter 2 as well. Paul teaches with simple language so that all may come to understand. The more you study Paul’s teachings the more you’ll also see that Paul excels at using common sense to describe the way of things. Just as Jesus did.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Paul teaches on the level of each person to plant seeds in as many as possible. There will be some who do not believe. It’s not Paul’s job to make an unbeliever a believer. It’s not our job either. It’s his job to plant. Only God brings forth the increase. Paul, and every seed planter, will reap their rewards.
1 Corinthians 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Paul plants seeds so that he too may share in the rewards. Just like we covered in verse 10. You plow in hope. You thresh in hope. You do your work with the hope of the reward coming. You know it’s coming.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
Everyone who runs in a race is after that prize, right? So give it your very best. Don’t do it half-heartedly. Don’t show up on the big day unprepared. Show up ready. Make sure you’ve trained. Make sure you’ve had the rest and food your body requires to be at is best.
The prize for us is eternal life. The race is the planting of seeds. That’s what we are called to do. There are so many ways to do it. You don’t need to be behind a pulpit. You can teach from where you are. You can teach with your actions as well as your words. You can teach with the way you live your life, demonstrating His Word and His love in everything you do. If you want that prize you can’t show up on the day of judgment and hold your hand out for it. You have to work for that prize. Are you using your God-given gifts for the Lord? Are you exercising and training by studying the Word? Are you applying God’s teachings to your own life?
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
Every man or woman who wants to win a race trains hard. They do so to win a corruptible crown. Whatever that prize is it’s not going to stay in perfect condition forever. It’s going to tarnish or break eventually. We train to win an incorruptible crown.
1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
What do we want as our prize that’s incorruptible? We want to spend eternal life in our incorruptible bodies. Bodies that don’t age or suffer from injury. Bodies that will be with our Lord.
1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1 Peter 1:4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
1 Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Because of God’s abundant mercy and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a living hope for life eternal. This is our inheritance. It’s incorruptible. Undefiled. It cannot fade away. What a prize to pursue in this lifetime.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
Paul came to win. He wants that prize and he is going after it. He fights for it. Not as someone who throws punches at the air. He’s not doing a few training exercises and calling it a day. Nobody could accuse Paul of that. Paul was beaten and imprisoned because of his teaching. Yet he continued to teach. This happens today. Depending on where you live you may not suffer a physical beating or imprisonment. But anyone living and teaching the Word will definitely be ridiculed. Paul tells us this in chapter 4. That’s okay. People are uncomfortable with the Word. They think the wisdom of man is greater than God’s wisdom. Keep moving forward as Paul did. Fight the good fight and go after that prize.
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
In chapter 6 Paul speaks of not allowing our flesh body to rule over our spiritual body. This flesh life is short while the life of our spiritual body can be very long. Don’t let the desires of the flesh dictate your actions.
Paul is telling us that his spiritual body rules over his flesh body. He is always mindful of the race he’s in and the prize he’s pursuing. He uses his God given gifts to do God’s work. He teaches the Word. He doesn’t stop just because someone people don’t like it. He does all teaching with love. He doesn’t take payment for his teaching (although it’s allowed) to ensure no one can question his sincerity or motivation.
This is a man who has dedicated his life to seed planting from the very moment God spoke to him on the road to Damascus. And aren’t we happy he did? So that we too can learn and share in the rewards with him.