Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:15b-18, Pauls gift to Corinth

1 Corinthians 9:15b-18

15b And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

At times, strong emotions break into Pauls thinking and writing; 1 Cor. 15b is one such verse. Here are three translations of verse 15b:

(NIV) . . . for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.

(NET) In fact, it would be better for me to die than — no one will deprive me of my reason for boasting!

(Thiselton[1]) I would rather die than — well, no one shall invalidate my ground for glorying!

The last two translations are much closer to Pauls Greek text and demonstrate his strong feelings about what his life is about — telling people about Christ crucified and seeing them grow into mature believers.

Verse 16 is rather simple in concept, though it sounds a bit strange to our ears. Just recall how many amazing heroes — from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or some death-risking rescue — say that they were not a hero because they were only doing their duty. Paul sees himself as a steward of the gospel (I am simply discharging the trust committed to me 1 Cor. 9:17b). Christ commissioned him to take the gospel to the gentiles. If he did not do so, he would be miserable over failing Christ (Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 1 Cor. 9:16b). In preaching the gospel, Paul was doing his duty.

Paul thoroughly grasps the position he is in, because the prophet Jeremiah wrote eloquently of being under similar compulsion (Jer. 20:7-9). Jeremiah suffered severe persecution for speaking Gods message and considered remaining silent. Jeremiah tells what happened then (Jer. 20:9b): His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. Paul understands that inner fire by personal experience. Since Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples in every nation, the fire of witness is to spread through us.

The only way Paul would be entitled to a reward is if he did something entirely by personal choice.[2] Thus, the first half of verse 17 says, If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward. Thiselton explains, If Paul cannot freely give his apostolic work (since to this he is pressed by God without choice), what is left to give freely is his toil and labor as a leather worker and salesman in the commercial [market].[3] So, Paul surrendered his right to financial support as his own gift (1 Cor. 9:18). In this way he is going the second mile (Matt. 5:41).

So, how does this apply to the Corinthian church? Thiselton relates the ideas of Dale Martin by saying, Paul does not ask every reader to give up a right, but those who have rights to give up, i.e. the strong or socially influential. . . . Low-status persons, the weak, by definition have no [rights] to give up.[4] The socially influential are exactly the people exhibiting spiritual pride and trying to form stronger factions within the church. By example, Paul calls on them to imitate him instead.

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 676.

[2] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 696.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 697.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 69798.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:14-21, A father’s concern for his spiritual children

1 Corinthians 4:14-21

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

Paul once again changes metaphors, moving this time to depict himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers. This metaphor allows him certain advantages.

In spite of the criticism Paul has received from some of the Corinthians, he seeks to communicate that he is on their team — or, better yet, with them on Christ’s team — rather than tearing them down (1 Cor. 4:14). The Corinthian church was growing within a society that assigned status on the basis of honor and shame. Anthony Thiselton says, “Paul does not wish simply to remove all status, but to redefine what counts as status in terms of glorying in the cross, glorying in the Lord and perceiving . . . the honor of being accounted worthy to suffer hardships in the service of their Lord.”[1]

By calling the Corinthian believers my dear children (1 Cor. 4:14), Paul prepares the way to take the role of your father through the gospel (verse 15) while casting the faction leaders in the role of guardians. The guardian was usually a trusted slave that Greek plays portrayed with a rod in hand for correction of the children in his care. David Garland says: “The humorous picture of ten thousand custodians brandishing rods at their stubborn charges may soften the affront. . . . Who these caretakers are, Paul does not say. . . . They are likely to be the local leaders of the competitive factions.”[2]

Paul is well aware that these first Christian converts had no precedents to teach them how to live for Christ. So, Paul says to them, “Take your cue from me” (Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 4:16). By looking at Paul’s way of life, the Corinthians should know how to conduct their own lives in Christ. In his absence from them — Paul writes from Ephesus — he sends Timothy to remind them by example of the way of life Paul teaches in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17).

By mentioning all the churches, it is likely that Paul wants to put the Corinthians in a different competition for status. By taking their cue from his pattern of life, the Corinthian believers will take their rightful place among all the churches striving to live for Christ crucified and turn away from the pointless rivalries of Roman Corinth.

Thiselton says, “Being blown up with air was a more familiar metaphor for arrogant self-importance in the first century than today,”[3] and that is a colorful image for the faction leaders. They are behaving as if Paul will never return, but they get a rude shock by his announcement that he will come to Corinth soon, assuming the Lord wants him to (1 Cor. 4:19a). He makes it clear that he will not be testing the talk of the faction leaders but rather their power. When Paul came the first time, his preaching was accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor. 2:3).

Paul knows that the kingdom of God can once again show its power over mere talk (1 Cor. 4:20). As he writes to the Corinthian church, Paul knows that others are also making decisions. The Greek verb theloties together verse 19 (Is God willing to allow Paul’s journey to Corinth?) and verse 21 (What type of visit do the Corinthians want?).

Thiselton relates a fascinating aspect of Roman culture affecting Roman Corinth: “The figures of the emperor and the father of the family were expected to admonish the communities for which they were responsible. The Corinthians would well understand the question: In which of these two ways am I to come as a father?”[4] That was the worldly viewpoint. As Christians we know that the spiritual oversight of Corinth lay with God the Father and his apostle, Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian church.

The moral issues which Paul addresses in chapter 5 made the rod more likely than the love and gentleness.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)369.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)146.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 376.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 378.

Exposition of Romans 1:13-15, Win Christ’s disciples; equip Christ’s disciples!

When Paul speaks of reaping some harvest (Rom. 1:13) among the Roman Christians, perhaps he is looking back to the parable told by Jesus about the four soils (Luke 8:4-15). The only seed that grew and actually yielded a harvest of grain was that which fell on good soil. Perhaps we should regard this parable as a strong hint that it takes some time to know whether our evangelism results in a disciple of Jesus or not.

Either way, our job is to tell the good news about Jesus and build those who become his disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).

(ESV) Romans 1:13-15

I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul continues his efforts to defuse any criticisms of his ministry that might hinder his recipients from listening to his theological arguments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of his extensive ministry among Gentiles in far-flung places, the Roman Christians might have felt slighted by the fact Paul had not visited the capital of the empire.

Once again, John Chrysostom (a fourth-century father) offers a helpful set of insights about Paul’s inability to visit Rome sooner (1:13):

Paul does not concern himself with such things [as to why he was impeded], yielding instead to the incomprehensible nature of providence. By doing this he shows the right tone of his soul and also teaches us never to call God to account for what happens, even though what is done seems to trouble the minds of many. For it is the masters place to command and the servants to obey.[1]

When Paul mentions “the Greeks” in 1:14, this term includes all those who considered themselves partakers of Greek culture; for example, the standard Greek lexicon says, “Cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term.”[2] We must also recall that due to the conquest of most of the known world by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), Greek language and culture had spread throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.

So, when Paul speaks of “Greeks and . . . barbarians” (1:14), he is effectively saying everyone. The terms “the wise and. . . the foolish” also mean everyone. In saying, “I am under obligation” (1:14), Paul uses the present tense and indicative mood to convey the ongoing nature of his moral obligation before God to preach the gospel.

If the idea that Paul is going to preach the gospel (1:15) to Roman Christians seems a bit jarring, the problem is in our limited contemporary understanding of this phrase. Moo observes, “In this case, ‘preach the gospel’ will refer to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.”[3] Similarly, Osborne says, “Once more, it is important to realize that gospel in the New Testament included discipleship as well as evangelism.”[4] Paul had a big gospel.

Never shrink the gospel!

Perhaps some of you will remember the Walt Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989); before you scorn the title, consider that the film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. While shrinking might be comical in a Disney movie, it is serious when it comes to the gospel.

One popular tool for sharing the gospel is The Four Spiritual Laws, a brief booklet written by Bill Bright in 1952. While such tools are very useful in explaining the essentials of salvation — as in my own conversion to Christian faith — they often have the unfortunate side-effect of shrinking the gospel to a degree that Paul would find really tiny.

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. You will easily see both evangelism and discipleship in these verses. How would you relate these verses to the broader understanding of the gospel?

2. How might we get better educated on various aspects of salvation? Here are some references to consider: Substitution (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:14); Justification (Rom. 3:21-26); Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19); Redemption (Eph. 1:7); Expiation (Col. 2:14); Regeneration (Titus 3:5). How do these verses help you to see various aspects of salvation?

Perhaps it will help to think of the gospel as a treasure. You would not want people taking away pieces while you were not looking! Another way the gospel is like a treasure is that we should get busy giving it away to those who need it so desperately!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 26.

[2] BDAG-3, Hellen, Greek, q.v.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 63.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 39.