Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:19-20, Paul surrenders his freedom to benefit all

1 Corinthians 9:19-20

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

Paul is continuing his plea, which started in 1 Corinthians 8:1, that the strong Corinthian believers should curb their freedom in order to love and protect those in the church whose consciences were weak. The original arena for this discussion was the practice of eating meat that had some prior association with idol worship. Some felt free in Christ to eat this meat without qualm, but others saw them doing so and were tempted to go beyond what their consciences would allow. So, the freedom of some was causing damage to others.

In 1 Cor. 9:1-18, Paul has firmly asserted his rights as an apostle, particularly the right to financial support from the Corinthian church. But he voluntarily gave up that right (1 Cor. 9:12, 15) so that obligations to patrons and other financial issues could not possibly hinder the gospel. He is trying to convince the Corinthians by his own example that giving up your rights for the sake of the gospel is a loving act that follows the example of Christ and also benefits those whose faith is fragile.

Because Paul had given up his rights, he was completely free to act and had no obligation to anyone (1 Cor. 9:19), except to Christ. For that reason he could offer the gospel free of charge (1 Cor. 9:18). He follows that with the remarkable statement I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:20). David Garland says: He exchanges his position as a free man with high status for that of a slave . . . . Slavery to Christ necessitates slavery to all (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5; Mark 10:42-45). . . . Paul does not lead from a secure position above others but from a position below them, incarnating the folly of the cross.[1]

What Paul means by saying he made himself a slave to everyone becomes more apparent when he explains, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19b). The Greek verb for win comes from the world of commerce and means to gain an asset or make a profit. By winning others to Christ, Paul brings about lasting spiritual value. Arguments about advantage were a common element in Greek rhetoric.

It is truly ironic for Paul to say, To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews (1 Cor. 9:20). Anthony Thiselton says, Since Paul was in fact a Jew, this formulation shows how radically he conceives the claim that in Christ he is . . . in a position transcending all cultural allegiances.[2] Ask yourself whether you see identification with Christ as transcending all your own cultural allegiances. If not, you need a clearer understanding of your identity in Christ.

Those under the law (1 Cor. 9:20) probably means the Jews, although it could be a reference to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. More important is Pauls declaration though I myself am not under the law. Both then and now there are Christians who believe you must keep the Law of Moses — to the limited degree that is now possible — in addition to believing in Jesus, but Pauls statement demonstrates that they are headed in the wrong direction.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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)428-29.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)702, quoting R.B. Hays.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:1-7, Paul is entitled to all apostolic rights

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.

Pauls theme does not change when we enter chapter 9. But you might think otherwise when you read the chapter heading provided by the NIVs editorial team: Pauls 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.[1] 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 (ananke, 9:16-18), and (3) demonstrates that it is included for the good of others to admonish or instruct them (9:24-27).[2] 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 Lords 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, 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) 661-662.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 406, citing B. Dodd.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:1–3 Getting definite about identity

1 Corinthians 1:1–3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Getting definite about identity

We will soon see that faction-building — so common to the culture of Roman Corinth — had become a major problem troubling this young church. New Testament scholar Linda Belleville informs us that “At the heart of the Corinthians’ problems was an attitude of spiritual arrogance.”[1] Roman pride led to a false assumption of spiritual superiority.

Using a modified form of the standard greeting in letters of that period, Paul begins his attempt to cure the Corinthian identity problem by starting with Christ Jesus. Jesus is mentioned by name four times in the first three verses. Further, Jesus is called “Lord” three times. New Testament scholar James Dunn comments that the title “Lord” denotes: “dominance and the right of disposal of superior over inferior — whether simply master over slave, king over subject, or, by extension, God over worshipper. To confess someone as one’s ‘lord’ expresses an attitude of subserviency and a sense of belonging or devotion to the one so named.”[2]

So, a major idea in defining the identity of Christians is that Jesus is their Lord, not Caesar or any other person, such as the head of a faction.

Paul’s identity is also important to the success of this letter. In calling himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Cor. 1:1), Paul presents himself as the emissary of Jesus. According to ancient usage, an apostle is a “sent one,” and “’The one whom a man sends is like the man himself.’”[3]

In addition to identifying Jesus as Lord and himself as Jesus’ emissary, Paul also identifies the Corinthian recipients. Although there were probably several house churches in Corinth, Paul emphasizes their unity by calling them “the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul goes on to say that the Corinthian believers have been set apart (“sanctified”) — a Greek verbal form indicating something done in the past and having a lasting result — to serve God. The full phrase “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2) means this setting apart occurs through union with Christ by faith.

Paul ends his initial greeting with a wish for grace and peace, precious gifts that can only come from the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 1:3).

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

 


[1] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 17.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1998) 247.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 25.