Paulís Voluntary, Limited Liberty
Motivating Christians is a big challenge. "Reprove, rebuke, exhort," were Paulís words to Timothy, encouraging the younger preacher to do his part in motivating the brethren in Ephesus. The dark prince of the power of the air is constantly doing everything he can to get inside the brains of brethren, and begin to twist their perception and their thinking so as to get them off course. The mental mountains which must be moved as the saint ceases to be conformed to this world and becomes transformed into the image of Christ cannot be thrown into the sea by mere human effort. So the saints fight their intense battles. And in the midst of these battles, they could use motivation. Thus preachers and teachers of the word of God are exhorted to lead by example, backing their exhortations with lives that exhibit the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
- Paulís credentials - Paul stated that he was willing, if necessary, not to eat meat offered on the idolís altar if that would be an occasion for his brotherís stumbling. He expresses his point strongly, stating, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble." To show the Corinthians that this statement was backed by action he had already taken in other areas, the apostle launches into a fairly long dissertation on what he and his companion Barnabas had voluntarily given up for the sake of the gospel, as well as further exhortations for the followers of Christ in the Corinthians congregation. "Am I not free?" he asks. "Am I not an apostle?" he further queries. "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" he superadds. Paulís credentials establish his freedom to do anything his knowledge of Godís covenant would allow him to do. His point is going to be that while he has all this freedom, he is not going to use that freedom in the arrogance of his knowledge; he is going to limit his liberty in order to do what is best to encourage the brethren through their mental barriers and adjustments to new ways of thinking in Christ. "Are you not my work in the Lord?" is the apostleís final rhetorical question here (I Corinthians 9:1). "If to others I am not an apostle," is his reference to some othersí denigration, "at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (I Corinthians 9:2).
- Illustrations of limitation - Paul was willing to face his questioners, and here uses a graphic picture of how he would parry those queries. "My defense to those who examine me is this," is his open challenge (I Corinthians 9:3). "Do we not have a right to eat and drink?" (I Corinthians 9:4). The apostle is laying the groundwork, since he and others such as Barnabas have to eat and drink in order to function, for the fact that he could be financially supported in order to eat and drink. "Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife," is an additional fair question, "even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (Corinthians 9:5). Certainly he did have a right to be married and to take his wife along on his travels. But as he had previously made clear, he thought he was more effective and more efficient being unmarried so that he could serve the brethren better. "Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?" is another inquiry he has for provoking thought. He could take money from the congregation at Corinth, but he is not going to because he knows it is better for the brethren and the furtherance of the gospel if he does not.
Brethren do need to be motivated. In hopes that the more arrogant brethren would get off their high horses and abstain from meats offered to idols for the sake of weaker brethren, the apostle is offering illustrations of how he limits he liberty. His good example would motivate the honest ones!
Plowing in Hope, Threshing in Hope
The test of many a character occurs when the exchange of money is involved. Abraham, for example, would not take any of the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah after he rescued them from the kings of the east, saying to the king of Sodom, "I will not take a thread or sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ĎI have made Abraham rich.í " (Genesis 14:23). Abraham had a right to the spoils, but he would not bend his principles for the sake of the money. He would willingly refrain in order that he might further the purpose of God; the result of Abrahamís successfully passing this character test is that in the next chapter God implements the beginning of the eternal covenant with him. Similarly, men such as Barnabas and Paul had passed Godís character test and were entitled to support from congregations such as Corinth, and the apostle is going to take some time to drive this point home. Then he is going to show that he was willing to forego money that was rightfully his in order to demonstrate to the Corinthian brethren that they could forego the eating of meat offered to idols.
- Practical argument - The body of man is a physical machine, and it needs fuel and oxygen to function. The oxygen can come from breathing the air, but the fuel has to come from food hunted or harvested. And that hunting and harvesting is labor intensive; it requires much work for comparatively little. Hence as Paul makes his case about how the apostles could receive remuneration for their spiritual labor in order to fuel their bodies, he asks the question, "Do only Barnabas and I have a right to refrain from working?" The point is that Paul and others had the right to remuneration, and also ó Paul especially, here ó could refrain from that for other purposes. "Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense?" he asks. Soldiers donít, and neither are the apostles and others required to do so. "Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it?" he further probes. "Or who tends a flock and does not use of the milk of the flock?" (I Corinthians 9:7). Those who labor on the battlefields or the agricultural fields have the right to their produce; in fact, that prospect of remuneration or usage is the only incentive to labor. The application to spiritual fields is clear.
- Argument from the Law - Paul has used an argument from human experience to make his point. But he is willing to carry his logic further. "I am not speaking these thing according to human judgment, am I?" he challenges. "Or does not the Law also say these things?" (I Corinthians 9:8). Now he can bring in an even more substantive point from the Old Testament scriptures. "For it is written in the Law of Moses, ĎYou shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.í " (I Corinthians 9:9). The ox was permitted to dip his nose into the grain while he turned the millwheel. But apostle is not willing to leave the point here. "God is not concerned about oxen, is He?" he reasons. "Or is He speaking altogether for our sake?" So God was writing things in physical terms in the Old Testament writings for a basis of how things are to function under the terms of the New! "Yes," he says, "for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops" (I Corinthians 9:10).
Paul, with his usual insight, clear reasoning, and inspiration, is making his case that he has the right to share in the material side of the Corinthians commitment to God. But his ultimate point is that he is not going to use this right in the case of these brethren, according to the wisdom granted him by the All Wise God.
No Hindrance to the Gospel
There were those who were working inside the church at Corinth in order to achieve position and a market share of the church finances. The apostle Paul, by contrast, had made the point that "I preached the gospel to you without charge" (II Corinthians 11:7). "But what I am doing," he stated, "I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting" (II Corinthians 11:12). Strong words!!! Because of these opportunistsí desire to get their mitts into the treasury, Paul was willing to demonstrate in a clear way that, although he had the right to compensation, he was willing to forego that right. And he is bringing it to their attention here in order that the brethren might forego some of the things they could do for the sake of weaker brethren. In making his presentation, he argued first from the perspective of what he called "human judgment," pointing out that it naturally makes sense that a soldier would have to serve for pay, or that a farmer would have to expect a return on his harvest. He further argued that even the Law of Moses had that the statement that the ox was not to be muzzled while it threshed out the grain, and that those who preach the gospel have to "plow" in hope of being able to use some of the produce of their labor.
- Spiritual pre-eminence - The material things ó food, clothing, the labor for their production, and the money used to make the transactions possible ó are all of this world, and destined to perish. The things which bring salvation to the soul ó the word of the gospel, forgiveness of sins, and the indwelling Holy Spirit ó are eternal. Hence it is impossible to value that which will last forever on the basis of anything temporal. Paul thus makes this point to the brethren: "If we sowed spiritual things in you," he emphasizes in question form, "is it too much if we should reap material things from you?" (I Corinthians 9:11). Again, he is buttressing his point that he and his fellow bond-servants of the gospel had a right to some financial assistance in appreciation for their efforts in the spiritual realm.
- Non-use of his right - The brethren apparently understood that those who labor in the word can have some compensation for their efforts, since living on earth requires financing. "If others share the right over you," he appeals on this basis, "do we not more?" As the one "who plowed in hope" in starting the congregation, he had more right than anyone to material return. Now, however, he is ready to make his application. "Nevertheless, we did not use this right Ö" (I Corinthians 9:12). Paul had not wanted to take anything monetarily from the congregation at Corinth, knowing, apparently, something of their character and anticipating future problems. "I robbed other churches," said he, engaging in a little hyperbole, "taking wages from them to serve you" (II Corinthians 11:8).
The apostleís earnest desire was the salvation of souls. He did not want there to be any confusion as to what his purpose was in preaching the gospel to those who might possibly become Christians; he did not want any intimation that his motive was money rather than their eternity. It was at Corinth he worked as a tent-maker, waiting until Silas and Timothy could come from Philippi in Macedonia, bringing assistance from that congregation and enabling him to begin preaching and teaching full time. "We endure all things," he states, "that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:12). Paulís track record in Corinth and elsewhere demonstrated to any objective observer his willingness to endure whatever persecution and privation that might come his way in order that the gospel go forward. And he is making this point that the brethren might have a similar attitude in demonstrating their willingness to forgo the eating of meats offered at idol altars. In this way, the weaker brethren would not have cause for stumbling, and the gospel could go forth unfettered.
The Lord's Directive
The warfare for the soul of one single individual is intense. Multiply that thought by billions, and the nature of struggle of the gospel against the forces of darkness somewhat comes into view. Saints must be reminded that the lock-down Satan had on each member of the fallen race was so great that deliverance could only be accomplished through the death of Godís only begotten Son! Hence it is that serious brethren and sincere proclaimers of the gospel must want to conduct themselves in such a way as to generate no true impediment to the word of God. "We endure all things," the apostle Paul had stated, "that may no hindrance to the gospel of Christ." "If food causes my brother to stumble," he had also noted, "I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble." Money is a major issue among the Gentile peoples of the world, who always seem to be in a mad scramble for the stuff, and Paul doesnít even want that to become an issue. Hence he spends a sector of his letter explaining in detail his and othersí right as preachers to receive material compensation for spiritual work done. By somewhat belaboring his point on this matter, then his willingness to forgo such return from the congregation at Corinth will stand as an even higher point.
- Argument from the priesthood - Paul has argued that soldiers do not serve at their own expense, that farmers and shepherds operate in expectation of gain, that according to the Law even oxen have a right to eat from the grain they grind. Now he argues his point based on the Old Testament priesthood. "Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple," he asks, "and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?" (I Corinthians 9:13). What he is referring to is that a portion of many of the Old Testament offerings ó either meat offerings or grain offerings ó†was burnt, but another part was for the sustenance of the priest and his family. In fact, those offerings had to be offered with salt, and thus the priest and his dependents would obtain that necessity of life also. All that he needed while he was performing the Lordís service was in this way provided.
- Living from the gospel - Paul parallels the ministrations of the Old Testament priesthood to those who preach the gospel. In writing to the brethren in Rome, he had pictured himself in his preaching, "ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16). Drawing from the idea that the priests got their living from the altar where they served, he asseverates, "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). There three major "directives" from the Lord: one, that those who desire to be saved must obey the gospel; two, that saints must participate in the Lordís Supper in order to have eternal life; and three, that those who proclaim the gospel are to get their living from the gospel. When the follower of Christ considers the weight put on this proposition, he better understands the importance of preaching in saving the lost and conserving the saved!
The apostle, however, demonstrated his willingness to set that directive aside as it applied directly between him and the church at Corinth. For him to make that sacrifice and "endure," as he put it, there must have been some greater issue at stake. "But I have used none of these things," he animadverted. He wanted to "offer the gospel without charge," and for the brethren likewise to put aside personal rights so as not to hinder the forward progress of the gospel, or put a stumbling block before weaker brethren. This is Christianity in action!
Preaching the Gospel
"The world through its wisdom," stated Paul, "did not come to know God." The peoples of the world can and must draw the conclusion that the universe was created by God, and through that conclusion be able to know that God is a God of order. But to know of His love and mercy and grace requires the gospel, information given by revelation. And that is where preaching comes in! "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching," was the apostleís foundational statement, "to save those who believe." A person may argue with God, but not successfully. If God is pleased to have the message delivered through preaching rather than through song or dance, then that is how God is "well-pleased"! "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Paul had queried, concerning the masses huddled in the darknesses of this world. "And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" was his follow up question (Romans 10:14,15). It takes money to send them, and thus the record of the Lordís instruction: "So also the Lord directed those who preach the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). Preaching is the critical part of the spread of the gospel.
- Focus - Preaching is hard work, when it is done the way it is supposed to be done. There are drones who "milk the system," preaching in long-established congregations, with set office hours like working in a bank, with hours to prepare messages, and with the ability to live the soft life. But it is hard work, as Paul mentioned in reference to his preaching in relationship to that of the other apostles, noting, "I labored more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (I Corinthians 15:10). The point is that true preaching is hard work, and it requires focus to be effective. In the modern world it involves setting appointments, working through contact lists, communication, care, Bible studies, and many other demands that drain mental energy. If an individual tries to preach part time, and focus on something else part time, his effectiveness is really limited. So as men develop into evangelists, having proven their worth and desire to reach the lost, then they need to be financially able to focus on that work. That is one of the reasons for the Lordís directive.
- Paulís restraint - Having clearly established that those who preach the gospel are to get their living from the gospel, the apostle then again emphasizes his point. "But I have used none of these things," he affirms (I Corinthians 9:15). "And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case," he clarifies, "for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one." The apostle is not trying to get an offering from Corinth, like so many then and now would; he is not preaching for the money, as he somewhat sarcastically call his "boast." "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:16). Paul is internally driven to preach; it wells up from within him, flowing from his concern for souls. Whether he is in the kingís palace or in the chains of a prison, he will preach. He will call King Agrippa to repentance, immerse run-away slaves, and convert the Praetorian guard. He is going to preach, and monetary concerns have nothing to do with it!
The desire of Paul ó his compulsion to preach ó stands as a great example to moderns. The same concern for lost souls must still be there. The same desire to get people to understand the word of God and the gospel of glory must be there. The same desire to endure for the proper motive must still be there. From the pen of this man flowed this continuing challenge: PREACH THE WORD!
Stewardship of the Gospel
"Regard us in this manner," the apostle had exhorted, "as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." The apostle thus often refers to himself and his fellow workers as these "bond-servants of Christ" Ė slaves of Christ by choice. He also uses words like compulsion to describe his condition subsequent to his decision to follow Christ. "For the love of Christ controls us," he noted in another place, "having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (II Corinthians 5:14). The apostle, then, is indicating how driven he is to preach the gospel, and that he will respond in any circumstance by teaching and preaching about Jesus the Christ. Others are not so driven; therefore he has to describe the condition of his mind and the habitual action that he will always take.
- His stewardship - Stewardship has to do with assets or responsibilities of one entity which are entrusted to someone else. The apostle, then, as he describes himself as a steward, views this stewardship of the mysteries of God as something which he cannot relinquish. "I am under compulsion," he emphasized, "for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." Woe is a strong word! But it thus serves to set the stage for Paulís next comment. "For if I do this voluntarily," he explains, "I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me" (I Corinthians 9:17). Recalling his meeting the Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road, in his testimony before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa, the apostle quoted Jesus as saying, "For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you Ö" (Acts 26:16). He was sent; he, in one manner of speaking, was compelled!
- His reward - Since he has this stewardship from God, what sort of payment should he get from people? If he charged people for his services in teaching the truths of eternal life, he then in effect would be "double dipping." Furthermore, what price could be set for an hour of his time? Would $100, $1000, or even $10,000 be adequate compensation for the information shared? "What then is my reward?" he asks. "That, when I preach the gospel," he answers, "I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel"(I Corinthians 9:18). He wants to know that he is contributing to the cause of Christ voluntarily in some way, and the way in which he accomplishes that is to set aside his "right" to compensation.
The context of the apostleís remarks must not be forgotten. He is still writing under the general heading of encouraging the brethren to set aside their "right" to meat which had been left over from pagan sacrifices and which had been offered for sale in the meat market. The brethren "in the know," of course, had the knowledge that pagan gods were not gods at all, but that the whole package of these sacrifices had been implanted in the minds of Gentiles by Satan. The concern of the apostle was that weaker and newer brethren would have their consciences weakened by these stronger brethren who would purchase and eat such meat. He therefore encourages the more knowledgeable brethren to forsake their "right" to so eat, and offers himself as an example of someone who also would forego ó and had forgone! ó his "right" to compensation. The goal of all such setting aside of "rights" is either the conservation of the saved or the salvation of the lost. "For though I am free from all men," he asseverates, "I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more" (I Corinthians 9:19). May we all follow in his footsteps!
By All Means, Save Some
It takes tremendous desire to seek and to save the lost. The beginning of this desire, and its ultimate expression, are exhibited in the great golden verse of the Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). In a few simple words, the awesomeness of the gulf between sinful man and the righteous God, the incomprehensible gap between heaven and hell, and the yawning chasm between eternal life and eternal condemnation are pictured by Jesus Himself. In this way, the driving desire of God to save mankind is graphically illustrated. This earnestness of the loving Father is therefore to be passed along to His children. "We love," said the apostle John, "because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Hence it is that the entire body of Christ is infused with a love for the lost; it exerts itself mightily, it sacrifices greatly, and inconveniences itself tremendously for the sake of getting the gospel to a dying world. And one of the greatest examples of such love is the apostle Paul.
- Slave to all - The difference between a slave and a free man is huge! The apostle Paul uses that distinction to make his point about his desire to seek and save the lost. "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more" (I Corinthians 9:19). The apostle endured every privation in order to serve mankind in getting to them the words of eternal life. While many would not recognize this as service or slavery, those who appreciated the gospel and began to participate in its promulgation would increasingly understand that Paul had indeed set aside his desires and wants. Although he could set his own schedule, he made himself a slave to othersí hours, with the earnest desire that he might win just one more soul.
- Reaching the Jews - To reach the lost, the teacher of the word has to get down to where people really live; he has to eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners, but without compromising Godís principles and morality. The great example, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, whom the apostle John describes in these terms: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us Ö (John 1:14). "And to the Jews," then says Paul, "I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews" (I Corinthians 9:20). People have to be "won." They need to be educated, then persuaded. They need to be cajoled, then motivated. They need to feel the wrath of God, then understand the greatness of His love. To bridge the gap, Paul became ó as he legitimately could ó a Jew, with full understanding of their idioms and customs. "To those who are under the Law," he added, "as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law." The apostle could share with the Sadducee and the chief priest; he could also meet the Pharisee at his level. His goal was to "connect" so that he could communicate.
- Reaching the Gentiles - The apostle could join the Jew in his customs. But he could also interact with the Gentile, as he noted: " to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law" (I Corinthians 9:21). He kept Godís standards, but with concern and compassion interacted with all people.
"To the weak," he said, "I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:22). By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö !!!!!
Fellow Partaker of the Gospel
"While we are in this tent," averred the apostle Paul, in reference to dragging the physical body through life, "we groan, being burdened" (II Corinthians 5:4). Feeding the body, sweeping the domicile, keeping the stall for the donkey transport system Ö these all require time, energy, and some focus. Hence it is that the necessities and distractions of earth can blur the saintís vision, and cause him not to focus enough the value of the eternal things. Not so with the apostle Paul! He clearly grasped the eternal value of each soul, and reordered his lifeís priorities accordingly. "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some," was his commentary. Through persecutions, threats, slanders, dangers, and physical challenges, he did whatever it took to rescue the next soul held in captivity by Satan. "I do all things for the sake of the gospel," he added, "that I may become a fellow partaker of it." Having, in his own words, "been caught up into Paradise," he had a perspective on the unspeakable value of being a partaker of the gospel; therefore, he threw himself into the work of seeking and saving the lost for their sakes, for his own sake, and for the sake of the name of the Lord.
- Total intensity - Athletics can serve as good illustrations. Because they take place in the physical arena, have specific boundaries and definite goals, many of the extraneous factors that complicate the rest of life have been cleared away. Thus the point to be illustrated can be easily brought to the fore, and good communication will ensue. The apostle, then, wants to demonstrate the intensity it takes in seeking and saving the lost, and uses some athletic illustrations to make his points. "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run," he asks, "but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win" (I Corinthians 9:24). While the losers of the race may have lollygagged a bit, the winner has to run with maximum intensity for the entire duration of the race. The apostle is encouraging the saints to have this same intensity in doing everything in their lives also "for the sake of the gospel," that they might become partakers of its victory.
- Total control - Those who reach the Olympics are the best performers of their sports specialty in the world. To be the best, they have to exercise discipline for years to increase or maintain their top-level performance. "And everyone who competes in the games," illustrates the apostle, in reference to the Olympiads of his day, "exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (I Corinthians 9:25). The laurel leaf which crowned the victor in those days dried and crumpled within a few days; but the saint who exercises self-control in all things will receive the "unfading crown of glory"!! This will be enough incentive for those who are spiritually attuned.
- Total focus - Misdirected energy is worse than wasted; it is often destructive. The apostle demonstrates his focus in using his personal energy in ways that are directed and cumulative. "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim," he avers, "I box in such a way, as not beating the air" (I Corinthians 9:26). He runs toward his goal; he makes his punches count. There is no wasted effort with the apostle as he rescues the lost and ensures his own salvation. This total focus is thus also enjoined upon the followers of Christ.
"I buffet my body," is the apostleís salient point, "and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:27). Words are the primary tools used in the salvation of others; for the salvation of self, actions are the requisites. Advice is easy to give, but not so easy to implement. Hence it is, that the saints have to buffet their bodies and make them their slaves in order to be qualified for "so great a salvation." It is worth the effort!