Know Your Rights

June 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Posted in I Corinthians | Leave a comment
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I. The Right to Establish a Legacy

Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?

I Corinthians 9:1

This is part of Paul’s extended argument for why we should be willing and motivated to forego the exercise of our Christian liberties for the sake of our love for other, weaker believers, and for the sake of Christ’s love for them. Before he went into into his own willingness to do this, he asked his audience to concede the obvious fact of his own Apostleship. You and I are not capital-A Apostles, obviously (despite what you see in the Charismatic movement these days), but are we not, in some sense, little-a apostles? Are we not “sent ones,ambassadors for Christ in the world? Are we not free? Paul was a Roman citizen, in bondage to Christ, but still free from the curse of the Law. Are not we free from the penalty and power of sin? We have not seen Jesus personally with our physical eyes, but I pray that you have seen Him with eyes of faith, and are fully convinced that He is real and that you know Him personally.

The fact of the Corinthians’ conversion and changed lives were evidence of Paul’s Apostolic authority, but do you have people whose lives you have influenced? People who could today testify of the genuineness of your profession? If so, you have a “right” to point to these people as supporting witnesses (although not conclusive proof) of the authenticity of your walk with the Lord. You may not be the founder of a church like Paul was, but surely there are a group of people who see you as a spiritual mentor or at least a Godly influence in their lives. If not, this is a goal to strive for: make a legacy of faithfulness and influence.

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.

I Corinthians 9:2

Yet there were some who challenged Paul’s credentials:

Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,

I Corinthians 9:3

II. The right to Earn a Living

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?

I Corinthians 9:5

The idea of “leading about” our wives, who are also our sisters in Christ, is awkwardly worded to us, as if a husband had a rope through his wife’s nose, or as if she was unable to see and needed to be led through life like a blind person. What it really refers to, though, is the type of servant-leadership and leading-in-love that the Bible gives to husbands as a fearful and Christ-honoring responsibility. Paul was not married, as far as we can tell, but there was nothing about his full-time service as an Apostle that prohibited him from being married. (I Corinthians 9:3 also refutes the Roman Catholic policy of unmarried priests – especially since it uses Peter as the specific example of a married Apostle.)

Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

I Corinthians 9:6

It is not wrong for full-time ministers to be supported financially by the Church, and through charitable and required giving.

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?

I Corinthians 9:7

Just like in the secular world, people expect to be paid for serving others, and people who are in the business of caring for livestock and crops also draw their own livelihood from some of the very supply they produce for others.

Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

I Corinthians 9:8

The Bible is very specific in giving authority to working people to eat from the fruits of their own labor.

III. The Right to Eat Leftovers

Have we not power to eat and to drink?

I Corinthians 9:4

The word for “power” here means authority.

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?

I Corinthians 9:9-11

The principle of reaping and sowing is both material and spiritual. If we accept the spiritual side of it, the material side really ought to be a no-brainer. Ministers have the right to eat the leftovers from what is given into their hands as part of their service to the Lord.

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?

I Corinthians 9:13

However, it is important to remember that the having of a right does not dictate the necessity of exercising that right.

IV. The Right to Eschew Liberty

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.

I Corinthians 9:15

So, the Apostle Paul, while in Corinth, did not get paid for ministry; he would have rather die than be accused of greed or scamming.

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.

I Corinthians 9:16-18

In fact, he was called to preach the Gospel whether or not he was paid, and he considered the privilege of preaching it to be its own reward. I hope you and I would have this attitude in ministry, because it is often a thankless task, and a motivation of “giving to get” will all too often result in discouragement and even bitterness.

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.

I Corinthians 9:19-22

Please understand the context of the foregoing verses, because an out-of-context reading of the statement, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,” was the “seeker movement’s” life verse during the heyday of Rick Warren’s purpose-driven campaign to see Christian churches run like service-industry corporations. It was a verse twisted to justify all manner of pragmatic shenanigans that ultimately destroyed many formerly-sound local churches, and – according to many reports – led to vast numbers of false converts. What the verse is really about is the adoption of non-sinful but foreign cultural norms, for the sake of the Gospel. He did not mean for “all means” to include sinful means, nor a “bait and switch” ministry method. And, while it is true that Paul’s evangelistic methods were pragmatic in a sense, what he practiced was a holy and honest pragmatism with all cards on the table, not so that he might spring the truth like a trap once he had gained people’s trust, but so that he could honestly portray the ethic of Christian love in building genuine – GENUINE – relationships and share the Gospel with “all men.”

Paul was willing to forfeit certain rights and privileges, and was unwilling to flaunt his liberty to encourage comfort with sin, or to stunt the strengthening of conscience.

V. The Right to Exercise Laboriously

This is the one part of I Corinthians Chapter Chapter 9 – an otherwise very clear chapter – which is somewhat difficult to grasp. There is not a whole lot of agreement among commentators about the precise details of what is being conveyed.

It helps to understand the Isthmian Games, a popular sporting event in Paul’s day, that would have been known to all Corinthians. It also seems likely from the biographical information we can glean about Paul from the Bible that he may have actually competed in these games (possibly in racing events and/or fighting matches featuring a combination of wrestling and striking similar to what is known as “MMA” today), which were a smaller version of the Olympic games.

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

I Corinthians 9:24

The main idea in this passage of Scripture is that an athlete who really wants to win, not only takes the event itself seriously, but the training leading up to the event.

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 Corinthians 9:25

However, the “competition” (which is a competition within ourselves and against spiritual enemies, not against each other) is far more important than any earthly sporting event.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I Corinthians 9:26

This probably refers to strategic blows – not flailing wildly hoping to hit the opponent by chance.

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.

I Corinthians 9:27

When we, as Christians, set aside our rights and freedoms in favor of temperance for the sake of weaker believers, we not only help them, but we help ourselves by working hard toward the right goal, which is mortifying: (1) our flesh; (2) our desires; and (3) any part of our makeup that has a bent toward anything sinful.

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