1 Corinthians 9:1–7
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.
4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?
Paul ended chapter 8 by explaining the harm that can be done to a weaker believer through the thoughtless exercise by some Corinthian believers of their full rights in Christ. Chapter 8 ends with this ringing statement: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” So, Paul was willing to give up his right to eat meat associated with idol worship for the good of others in the church.
Paul’s theme does not change when we enter chapter 9. But you might think otherwise when you read the chapter heading provided by the NIV’s editorial team: “Paul’s Rights as an Apostle.” The NET Bible is almost identical with the heading “The Rights of an Apostle.” But the editors of the ESV get it right when they provide the heading “Paul Surrenders His Rights.”
Anthony Thiselton again lights the way by saying, “The argument about ‘rights’ and ‘apostleship’ simply runs parallel to Corinthian arguments about their ‘right to choose’ (cf. 6:12; 8:1–13; 10:23) in order first to establish the validity of the ‘right’ so that Paul, in turn, may choose to relinquish it where it threatens to harm the welfare of others, or of the church as a whole.” Paul asserts his rights (1 Cor. 9:1–12a) only to model giving them up for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12b–27). In this way, Paul incarnates the gospel — a theme we will return to later.
All of the rhetorical questions in verses 1–2 are structured in Greek to signal an emphatic, affirmative answer. Just imagine, no one in Corinth can claim to be an apostle, but Paul can! No one in Corinth has seen the resurrected Christ, but Paul has! If Paul has a share in the freedom bought by Christ on the cross, then surely his freedom surpasses them all. The living proof of his apostleship is the faith of the Corinthians themselves!
David Garland points out: “Paul casts his remarks as a fictitious defense because of the delicacy required when discussing oneself. . . . Sounding boastful is avoided if the speaker shows that he (1) is offering a defense against charges (apologia, [9:4]), (2) does so because of compulsion (anank?, 9:16–18), and (3) demonstrates that it is included for the good of others to admonish or instruct them (9:24–27).” This helps explain the structure of chapter 9. Paul implements step one with presentation of his “defense,” starting in 1 Cor. 9:3.
To be concrete about some of his own rights, Paul uses rhetorical questions to assert two of his specific rights: “the right to food and drink” (1 Cor. 9:4), meaning financial support from the Corinthians for his ministry to them, and the right to have a wife accompany him (1 Cor. 9:5). If Paul had a wife, she would also have been entitled to support just as in the case of “the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter]” (1 Cor. 9:5).
The three rhetorical questions in verse 7 all expect the answer “No one!” Paul uses three metaphors: the soldier, the vine grower, and the shepherd. Paul appeals to common knowledge that each one has the right to be sustained by others or by their property.
In the next lesson, Paul will continue his argument by further strengthening his right to financial support from the Corinthians. Then he will explain why he waived that right for the sake of the gospel.
Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 661–662.
 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 406, citing B. Dodd.