Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:23–26 Getting things in perspective

1 Corinthians 10:23–26

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

Because covenant loyalty to Christ is so critical to the believers in Roman Corinth, Paul wraps up his long argument (chapters 8–10) about Corinthian participation in contexts involving idols — and often sexuality as well — by talking about guiding principles. Garland ably summarizes: “He gives the go-ahead on everything that is beyond an idol’s orbit. It is not permanently poisoned. . . . He clarifies that food is food, and it is permissible to eat unless it is specifically identified as idol food, which puts it in a special category that is always forbidden to Christians.”[1] Undergirding these practical principles is the self-sacrificing love exhibited by Christ and expected of all his own.

Paul returns to the theme of personal freedom ( as in 1 Cor. 6:12) by quoting the Corinthian slogan “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 10:23). While many Americans like the sound of that slogan, Paul considers it fatally deficient because it shows no consideration of what is “beneficial” and “constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23). Verse 24 puts this deficiency beyond question. Paul says our freedom should be used in the service of others. Paul gave his own example of surrendering his rights in chapter 9, and he is imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Put in other words, Christian freedom should lead to love for others. When you think about it, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice was an act of love he freely chose.

The word “good” in the NIV translation of verse 24 — and in most other English versions —does not represent a Greek word; it is an inference. The New Revised Standard Version tries a different idea: “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (emphasis added). Why would Paul leave the word out? Because he wanted to direct attention to the other person, not to the nuances of their condition. Garland adds, “Seeking the advantage of others rather than one’s own runs counter to the ‘me first’ sentiment that ruled the Corinthian culture.”[2]

Though it should not be necessary to remind Christians of the fact, when Paul gives commands about seeking the good (or advantage or well-being) of others, he is speaking on behalf of Christ! That is what it means to be an apostle of Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1). As we learned in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul is speaking to Corinthian Christians and all who trust in Jesus.

The “meat market” in Roman Corinth was something like a specialty butcher shop, and most of the meat there had likely come from one of the idol temples. Paul tells the Corinthians not to make an investigation at the meant market; just buy the meat and eat it (1 Cor. 10:25). This is not a question of loyalty to Christ, as it would be for meat eaten within an idol temple.

Paul implies but does not say that the demons behind Corinth’s idols do not have universal jurisdiction. What Paul does say is: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Cor. 10:26, quoting Psalm 24:1). Garland explains, “Idol food loses its character as idol food as soon as it leaves the idol’s arena and the idolater’s purpose.”[3] That being so, the Corinthian Christians needed to focus on the rule of God and the grace of his provision rather than being obsessed with idols. We would do well to focus on the same things.

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) 486.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 489.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 492.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:15b–18 Paul’s 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 Paul’s 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 Paul’s 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 God’s 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. 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, 697–98.

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.

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.”[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 (anank?, 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 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.



[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.