1 Corinthians 9:4-18
Have we not power to eat and to drink?…
Having vindicated his claim to be reckoned among the apostles of Christ, Paul proceeds to assert his right to a temporal maintenance at the hands of those to whom he ministered. The other apostles received support, not only for themselves, but also for their wives: why should he not make the same claim? Though he was unmarried, and though he had hitherto supported himself by the labour of his own hands, this did not invalidate his right. Consider -
I. THE RIGHT OF MINISTERS TO A SUITABLE MAINTENANCE. This is upheld by various arguments and analogies,
1. The labourer is worthy of his reward. Three instances are adduced in illustration (ver. 7).
(1) The soldier. The duty of fighting for his country throws the burden of his support upon others. Why should it be otherwise with the Christian soldier (2 Timothy 2:4)?
(2) The husbandman. His labour is rewarded by the fruit. The minister of the gospel is also a husbandman (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
(3) The shepherd. Does he not receive the milk of the flock, partly for food and partly for exchange? Why should not the Christian pastor, who tends the flock of Christ, have a similar return (1 Peter 5:2)? The principle in these instances is that every occupation in common life yields support to the worker, and that he does not require to go beyond it for daily sustenance. In like manner, the minister of the gospel is entitled to an adequate maintenance without having to resort to secular work to supply his wants.
2. The teaching of the Mosaic Law. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox," etc. (ver. 9; Deuteronomy 25:4; comp. 1 Timothy 5:18). What was the meaning of this injunction? It shows, indeed, the care of the Lawgiver for the brute creation, but it is only a particular application of a great principle. The Law has regard for oxen, not for their own sake, but for the sake of him to whom they are in subjection. And if even the labouring ox was to be fed, how much more should the plougher and the thresher work in hope of partaking! The Law of Moses thus confirms the teaching of natural analogy, that the labourer is to be maintained by his work.
3. The fairness of the claim. "If we sowed unto you spiritual things," etc. (ver. 11). In every case the sower expects to reap; but there is more than this in the apostle's argument. The preacher of the gospel sows spiritual things - those great truths that minister to the spirit: is it a great matter if he looks for carnal things in return - those things that minister only to the flesh? If he is the instrument, in God's hand, of saving the souls of his hearers, what amount of gold can be an adequate recognition of the service rendered?
4. Analogy of the Jewish priesthood. (Ver. 13.) The rule was that they who served at the altar should receive a portion of the sacrifices and other gifts that were constantly brought to the temple. A sufficient support was thus secured; and the Divine sanction implied in that ancient rule applies equally to the case of the Christian ministry.
5. The express ordinance of the Lord Christ. (Ver. 14.) When he sent forth his apostles to preach, he said, "Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses;... for the labourer is worthy of his food" (Matthew 10:9, 10). This was their marching order. They were to depend on the offerings of the people among whom they laboured; and the reference here shows that this was no temporary arrangement, but that it was intended to be the New Testament rule for preachers of the gospel. Instead of having to turn aside to secular pursuits, they are to be free to give themselves wholly to their work. By these various arguments the apostle establishes the right of ministers to claim support at the hands of the Christian people, and the corresponding duty of the people to contribute that support. Both the right and the duty have been but imperfectly recognized by the Church. This will appear if we consider:
(1) The average rate of ministerial support. Compare this with the incomes of men in the other learned professions or in mercantile pursuits.
(2) The manner in which giving to the cause of Christ is frequently regarded. How many either give with a grudge or do not give at all! The evil resulting is twofold - spiritual loss to the individual, and a crippling of the Church in her work. Not until all the tithes are brought into the storehouse will the Lord open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing (Malachi 3:8-10).
II. THE RENUNCIATION OF THIS SIGHT. (Vers. 15-18.) Strongly as Paul insists upon his right to temporal maintenance, it is not with a view to urge his claim upon the Corinthians, but to bring into clearer relief his renunciation of it. That he preached the gospel free of charge was to him a matter of boasting which he would rather die than be deprived of. It was no glory to him that he was a preacher; for, as a steward put in trust with the gospel, this was his simple duty. But it was no part of his stewardship to labour without support; and this, accordingly, was a proof of his sincerity in which he was entitled to boast. In this act of self denial he had a reward in making the gospel entirely free, and in securing that on this ground no hindrance should be put in its way (ver. 12). Here some practical considerations emerge.
1. How a minister of the gospel should bear himself towards pecuniary support. There are cases in which he may forego his right, especially where he sees that this renunciation will tend to the advancement of the gospel. Usually, however, it is his duty to accept a stipend at the hands of the Christian people, and that for the reason which led Paul to decline it. To receive a reasonable maintenance is to be in the best position for devoting one's self entirely to the ministry of the Word. But at all times it should be manifest that the servant of Christ does not act from mercenary motives. The shepherd is not to tend the flock for the sake of the fleece. "Not yours, but you," should be his motto (2 Corinthians 12:14).
2. The obligation to preach the gospel. "Necessity is laid upon me." There is a Divine must in the case of every true preacher, as there was in the case of Jesus (comp. Mark 8:31; Luke 4:43; Luke 19:5; John 3:14). The love of Christ, not less than the command of Christ, constrains him. It is with him as with the prophet: "Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his Name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9).
3. The doctrine of reward. The apostle's statement regarding the reward he expected for his optional renunciation of support has been adduced by popish divines in support of their doctrine of supererogation; but it will not bear such an application. The distinction he makes is between what was plainly a part of his bounden duty as a steward, and what seemed best for the furtherance of the gospel in his peculiar circumstances. In one sense it was a matter for his own choice whether he should accept a temporal maintenance, but this is not the sense required by the Romish argument. Whatever promises to conduce to the furtherance of Christ's kingdom, becomes thereby a duty to the apostle; for "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). There is no act which is not included under love to God and love to man. There is no self denial to which the love of Christ should not prompt us. The gospel doctrine of reward does not rest on any theory of supererogation, but rather on the principle that God is pleased to recognize the fidelity of his servants. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Have we not power to eat and to drink?