1 Corinthians 9
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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?
1 Corinthians Chapter 9

The apostle now enters on the vindication of his office which some in Corinth had sought to undermine and of ministry in general which they tended to corrupt. Title is asserted, but with full room for grace. For ministry is of Christ the Lord, not of the first man, and the spirit of the world if allowed is its ruin.

"Am I not free?* am I not an apostle?* have I not seen Jesus† our Lord? my work are not ye in [the] Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of my apostleship ye are in [the] Lord. My defence to those that examine me is this. Have we not authority to eat and drink? have we not authority to take about a sister wife, as also the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas? or I alone and Barnabas, have we not authority to abstain from‡ working [lit. not to work]?" (Vers. 1-6.)

* The order is transposed in the vulgar text, following the mass but not the best MSS and versions, A B P, etc. Vulg. Syr Cop. Aeth. Arm., etc.

† Ἰ. Χ., as in T. R., D L K L P, most cursives and versions; X. F G, etc.; Ἰ. A B, a few cursives, some ancient versions, etc.

‡ μὴ ἐργ. A B D F G P, etc.; τοῦ μὴ ἐργ. the rest.

Most strongly had he declared his readiness to give up anything for natural life rather than jeopard his brother. Yet does he affirm his independence of human yoke as distinctly as his apostleship. Liberty thus went hand in hand with the highest responsibility. Nor was his office vague or secondary. He had seen Jesus our Lord. His detractors were thus far right: he had derived no degree from the apostolic college, no mission from Jerusalem. From the twelve others might pretend to succession, and falsely: Paul had his authority immediately from the Lord seen on high. Were the Corinthians the men to question this? - the "much people" whom the Lord had in that city? whom Paul had begotten through the gospel? Was this their love in the Spirit? If not an apostle to others, surely such should not deny it who were its seal in the Lord. But what may not the saint do or say who slips out of the Lord's presence? Too, too like Jeremiah's figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil. In none is evil worse than in. the Christian. The corruption of the best thing is not the least corruption. Was it come to this, that Paul was put on his trial, on the preliminary inquiry at least, to see whether an action would lie against him, and that he had to make his plea or speech in defence to his own Corinthian children in the faith? He then asserts the title of an apostle, as we may say too in general of him who ministers in the word, and here in the gospel particularly. "Have we not authority to eat and drink?" that is, right to maintenance. "Have we not authority to take about a sister wife, as also the other apostles and the brethren in the Lord and Cephas?" that is, not only to marry a sister but to introduce her where he himself went, an object of loving care to the saints with himself. So it was with the apostles in general, notably with the Lord's brethren or kinsmen and above all with Peter. (See Matthew 8:14.) "Or I only and Barnabas, have we not authority not to work?" This is the alternative ordinarily where support is not given. But the saints should never take advantage of the grace that foregoes such a title to relax in their own plain and positive duty. To cut off the plausible self-seeking of false apostles who wished to ingratiate them. selves and to insinuate evil against the true, the apostle did not use his title, especially at Corinth, but wrought with his own hands, as it would seem Barnabas did also. But he is careful to lay down as unquestionable the title of the spiritual workman to a living for himself and his family.

Very fittingly does this follow his exhortation in the preceding chapter, where he reproves such an use of liberty as might stumble the weak. It was certainly not so with him who did not even use his right to support when in their midst; so had he done as to marriage (1 Cor. 7),* through all his career in order to serve the Lord the more undividedly; even as he could tell the Ephesian elders at a later day how they themselves knew that his hands had ministered to his wants and the wants of those who were with him, and had shown them every way that so toiling we ought to come in aid of the weak and call to mind the words of the Lord Jesus, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

* The ignorance of the plainest facts and statements of scripture which characterizes the fathers, even those who were comparatively near the apostolic age, would be scarce credible, if one did not see the same sort of haze over the eyes of almost all who read their writings. They seem incapable of a spiritual or even sober judgment. Thus Eusebius (H. E. iii, 30) cites from Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii.) that "Paul does not demur in a certain Epistle to mention his own wife, whom he did not take about with him, in order to expedite his ministry the better." This is a total misconception of Php 4:3 and of our chapter, neither of which supposes him married, whilst 1 Corinthians 7 proves he was not. Again, quite a crowd of fathers (Tertullian, Ambrose, Aug, Jerome, Theod, etc.), followed of course by Romanist theologians, even their two best commentators (Cornelius à Lap. and Estius), interpret 1 Corinthians 9:5 of rich christian females who accompanied preachers to help out of their substance. Possibly so gross a misconstruction flowing from a false system of thought as to celibacy led to the ἀγαπηταί, ἀδελφαί, or συνείσακτοι of early ecclesiastical notoriety, condemned by the first council of Nicea. One may add here the curious error in the Vulg. (not alone the printed editions but some good, if not most of the, manuscripts), hoc or haec operandi.

But he proceeds to show that even nature teaches better than to neglect those who serve the Lord in His saints or gospel. "Whoever serveth in war at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of its fruit[*?]? or who tendeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Do I speak these things as a man, or doth not the law also say these things? For in the law of Moses it is written, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that is treading out corn. Is it for the oxen that God careth, or doth he say it altogether on our account? For it was written on our account, because the plougher ought to plough in hope and the thresher [†?]in hope of partaking. If we sowed for you the spiritual things, [is it] a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others partake of the authority over you, should not we more? But we used not this authority, but bear all things that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of the Christ. Know ye not that those that minister about the holy things eat of the temple, and those that attend the altar share[‡?] with the altar? So also the Lord ordained those that announce the gospel to live of the gospel." (Vers. 7-14.)

* τὸν κ. Ε. p.m. A B Cp.m. F G P, etc; ἐκ τοῦ κ. T. R. supported by the mass.

† T. R. adds τῆς ἐλπίδος αὐτοῦ with large but inferior authority.

‡ παρεδρεύοντες p.m. A B C D E F G P, a few cursives, and many citations; προσεδρεύ T. R. following a few uncials, most cursives, etc.

All live on the return of their work, soldier, husbandman, shepherd. The propriety of this, according to man, is unimpeachable: did the law of God speak otherwise? It is even stronger in the same direction; and if He spoke of not muzzling the ox when treading out corn, He had not cattle in view but His people, His servants in the word. The figure is kept up accurately. The plougher ought to plough in hope, and the thresher (ought to thresh) in hope of partaking, the last phrase being more appropriate when the time for a share was obviously near.

There is also, it may be well to notice, in verse 11 a guard against him who would object that the analogy fails, in that the labourer thus specified received in kind, whereas the spiritual labourer might need help in the things of this life. The apostle meets the senseless or selfish cavil by showing the duty of a recompense à fortiori, as what is of the Spirit transcends what is of flesh. "If we for you sowed the spiritual, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal?" He appeals in verse 12 to their own practice as owning the title of others. "If others partake of the authority over you, should not we more?" He takes care however to show that he was wholly above selfish aims in thus pleading for the spiritual labourer and his title to support: "Yet we used not this authority, but bear all things that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of the Christ." He would plead for others and their title, and the duty of the saints ministered to on a right consideration of the work done; but he used not the right for himself, on the contrary bearing all sorts of trial in order to afford no hindrance to the gospel.

Lastly the apostle draws a testimony from the Levitical system contrasted, as it is in many respects, with the gospel, in that it identified the ministrants with what was brought into the temple and laid on the altar. Jehovah being the part and inheritance of the priestly name among the sons of Israel, He gave them a share in His offerings and sacrifices. So now under the gospel the Lord forgets not those who preach it but appoints them to derive their maintenance from it, though there may be exceptional cases as in his who has written the rule for us.

The apostle had now affirmed the principle. It was for others however, not for himself. He is careful to make this understood by the Corinthians. He had written in love for the glory of the Lord, "but," says he, "I have used none of these things. And I have not written these things that it should be thus in my case, for [it were] good for me to die rather than that any one should make vain my boast. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast, for necessity is laid upon me, for woe is to me if I preach not the gospel. For if I do this willingly, 1 have a reward; but if unwillingly, I have an administration entrusted to me." (Vers. 15-17.) Divine love cares for others, and sacrifices self. The apostle was the living exemplification of the gospel he preached. There were rights, and grace does not forget them for others - does not avail itself of them. He is even warm in repudiating any such thought in the present case. It was living Christ so to feel and act, who taught that it was more blessed to give than to receive. His own life and death were the fulness of its truth; but the apostle was no mean witness of it, though a man of like passions with us. Nor has he been without his imitators in this, even as he also was of Christ. He would not afford a handle to those who sought it at Corinth. Others have had grounds equally grave for a similar course.

It is important to see also that to preach is not a thing to boast of. It is an obligation - a duty to Him who has called one, and conferred a gift for this very purpose. It is thus a necessity laid on all such, not an office of honour to claim, nor a right to plead. Christ has the right to send, and He does send, labourers into His vineyard. This makes it truly a necessity laid on him who is sent. According to scripture, the church never sends any to preach the gospel. Relations are falsified by any such pretension. Again He who sends directs the labourer. It is of capital importance that this should be maintained with immediate responsibility to the Lord. ,Therefore it is that the apostle adds, "For woe is to me if I preach not the gospel." Undoubtedly he who does this voluntarily has a reward, and the heart goes with the blessed work, whatever the hardness and reproach which accompany it. But if not of one's own will, an administration, or stewardship, is entrusted to one. Now of the steward it is sought that he be found faithful.

"What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may make the gospel without charge. So that I use not for myself any authority in the gospel." (Ver. 18.) It was meet that such an one as the apostle, extraordinarily called, should act in extraordinary grace; and this he does. He made the gospel without cost to others, at all cost to himself. He did not use his right to a support for himself. It is no question here of "abuse," any more than in chapter 7: 31. It is the giving up of one's right for special reasons of grace, and it is the more beautiful in one who had as deep a sense of righteousness as any man, perhaps, who ever lived. The plea for the rights of others was therefore so much the more unimpeachable, because it was absolutely unmixed with any desire for himself.

"For being free from all, I made myself bondman to all, that I might gain the most. And I became to the Jews as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; and to those under law, as under law, not being myself under law,* that I might gain those under law; to those without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain those without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak; to all I have become all things, that by all means I might save some. And all things I do for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow-partaker of it." (Vers. 19-28.) How bright a reflection of the spirit of the gospel! The apostle was ready to yield at every side where Christ was not concerned. He was free, but free to be a bondman of any and everyone, in order that he might gain, not ends of his own, but the most possible for Christ. Hence among the Jews he raised no question about the law. His heart was set on their salvation; he would not be turned aside by legal questions. He became as a Jew; but while he declares that to those under law he was as under law, he carefully guards his own standing in grace by the clause left out in so many of the more modern copies, "not being myself under law," that he might gain those under it. Such was the only gain he sought - not theirs, but them; and them for God, not to mould after any opinions or prejudices of his own.

* μὴ ὢν αὐτός ὑπὸ νόμον A B C D E F G P, many cursives, ancient versions, etc.; Dcorr. K and most cursives omit, as does Tex. Rec.

He was just the same with the Gentiles. (Compare Galatians 4:12.) Such is the elasticity of grace. "To those without law, as without law," while he carefully adds, not being without law to God, but duly or legitimately subject to Christ, that he might gain those without law. It is in vain to speak of natural character or education. If there ever was a soul rigidly bound by Pharisaic tradition within the straitest limits, it was Saul of Tarsus. But if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation. The old things passed; behold they are become new. Such was Paul the apostle; and so he lived, laboured, and speaks to us livingly. He would not wound the scruples of the feeblest; nay, to the weak he became weak, that he might gain the weak; in short, he could, and does, say, "to all I am become all things, that I may by all means save some." It was not, as some basely misuse his words, to excuse tampering with the world, and so spare one's own flesh, which is really to become the prey of Satan. His was self-sacrifice in a faith which had only Christ for its object, and the bringing of every soul within one's reach into contact with His love.

"Know ye not that they who run in a race-course run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And everyone that contendeth is temperate in all things; they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly - so combat, as not beating air. But I buffet my body, and lead [it] captive, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be reprobate." (Vers. 24-27.) The figure from these games would be most striking to the Corinthians accustomed to those of the Isthmus. Indeed the use is plain to anyone. Spiritually, the prize is not for one, but for all, if all run well. But even in the games the candidates must be temperate in all things, though theirs were but a fading crown, ours an everlasting.

The apostle then applies it with touching beauty, not to the faulty Corinthians, but to himself. His was no rhetoric of the schools or the law-courts, but the word of Christ for heaven. He therefore transfers the figures to himself for their sakes, if one may apply his own language in 1 Cor. 4. "I therefore so run as not uncertainly." How was it with them? I "so combat, as not beating air." To this alas! they were habitually prone, as the epistle shows throughout, especially 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Cor. 15. "But I buffet my body, and lead it captive, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be reprobate."

Would that the Corinthians had so dealt with themselves! Alas! they were reigning as kings, while the apostles were, as it were, appointed to death. It is an utter mistake to suppose that the language of the apostle supposes any fear of perdition for his own soul. He had grave fears for those who were living at ease and carelessly. It is very possible for a man to preach to others, and be lost himself; but such an one does not buffet the body, nor bring it into subjection. Had the apostle lived without conscience, he must have assuredly been lost, as indeed one of the twelve was. Here we are shown the inseparable connection between a holy walk along the way, and eternal life at the end of it. Who can doubt it? and why should any man make a difficulty of the passage? There would be difficulty indeed, if the apostle spoke of having been born again and afterwards becoming a castaway: in this case life would not be eternal But he says nothing of the sort. He only shows the solemn danger a" certain ruin of preaching without a practice according to it. This the Corinthians needed to hear then, as we to weigh now. Preaching or teaching truth to men without reality, self-judgment, and self-denial before God, is ruinous. It is to deceive ourselves, not Him who is not mocked. Nor do any Christians more deeply need to watch and pray than those who are much occupied with handling the word of God or guiding others in the ways 'of the Lord. How easy for such to forget that doing the truth is the common responsibility of all, and that speaking it to others ever so earnestly is no substitute for their own obeying it as in the sight of God! A spiritual walk is a different thing from sincerity; but high discourse without an exercised conscience exposes to shipwreck ere long.

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.
Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
Have we not power to eat and to drink?
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?
Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
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?
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
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?
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.
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
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.
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?
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
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.
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!
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.
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.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
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;
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.
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.
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
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.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
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.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

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