Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:8–15a Rights may be willingly set aside

1 Corinthians 9:8–15a

8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.  15a But I have not used any of these rights.

Paul’s argument about the soldier, vine grower and shepherd (1 Cor. 9:7) are only human arguments, so he ratchets up the force by appealing to the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:8–9). Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 (“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”), Paul derives a principle that applies to his ministry among the Corinthians. David Garland explains, “If God forbids preventing an ox from enjoying benefits from its work in threshing grain, how much more is a human apostle entitled to receive benefits from his mission work.”[1]

Paul applies the principle from the Law to himself in a straightforward way in 1 Cor. 9:10–11. Verse 12 a clearly implies that others have been supported in ministry by the Corinthian church. Once again Paul argues from the lesser to the greater by saying that if those people deserved financial support, surely he who led them to Christ deserves support even more.

Paul has laid out a compelling case for his right to support, yet in verse 12b he drops a weighty fact on the table: “But we did not use this right.” Instead, Paul “put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” Anthony Thiselton offers Dale Martin’s insight “that this putting up with to avoid ‘hindrance’ is precisely what the socially ‘strong’ were not prepared to do.”[2] Recall that those Corinthian believers asserting their freedom to eat meat associated with idol worship had shown no concern for those who might be led back into idol worship by trying the same thing (1 Cor. 8:8–9).

The phrase “hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12b) contains a military metaphor of blocking an enemy advance, a meaning the verb has in other works from that era. This is a subtle suggestion that those who make so much of their rights are hindering the gospel of Christ.

After stating his own position, Paul adds two fresh arguments in favor of his right to financial support from the Corinthian churches. First, he mentions the practice of priests in the Old Testament (Lev. 6:16-18), who had the right to eat from gain offerings made by the people. Such practices were also common in the Greco-Roman world. Second, Paul claims the command of Jesus himself (Mark 6:8–11; Luke 10:7); that caps all the arguments!

However, Paul did not use his rights, and he made that decision for a thoughtful reason. Just as eating a meal with someone established a social bond recognized by others, accepting financial support from a patron would obligate Paul to that patron. It appears that Paul “refuses a ‘friendship’ or patronage which is offered by selected people of influence, rather than . . . the church as a whole.”[3] We will soon see the only obligation Paul feels.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)409.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 691.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 690.

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