RIGHTS AND REWARDS
Almighty God, my creator and sustainer, intensify my awareness of your love, and speak your will clearly to me now.
Read 1 CORINTHIANS 9:1-18
Paul’s Rights as an Apostle
9 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[a]? 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? 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.”[b] 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.
15 But I have not used any of these rights. 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.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
As you commence this journey through the second half of 1 Corinthians, ask God both to challenge you and to fill you afresh with his Spirit so you can change.
The central theme of these verses comes through clearly. Paul is talking about ‘rights’ and how to exercise them. In verses 4-6 the word ‘right’ is mentioned explicitly and there are three other references in our verses (vs 12,15,18). Even when the word isn’t used, the concept dominates the argument. What do we learn?
Those who work full-time for the church have the right to financial support. Paul states this plainly in verse 14. Indeed, there were times when he received such support himself and this freed him up for his work as an apostle.1 It’s also important to stress that the Bible says much about the rights of the poor and marginalized. To suggest, as some do, that the rights of the oppressed are unimportant is thoroughly unbiblical.2 What is more, such talk completely misses Paul’s point.
What he is saying is that, in this particular context, he is making a free choice not to rely on others’ support. Why does he do this? First, he has an overriding passion for the gospel. In the Corinthian situation he judges that offering the gospel ‘free of charge’ (v 18) is the best way to commend it (v 12b). Does that same passion for the good news shape our decision-making and way of life? Second, he’s looking for the heavenly reward which will be his if he does his work as a volunteer (v 17). Might an application be for us to give something of ourselves as volunteers too? To go above and beyond the call of duty and serve, for at least some of the time, free of charge, in the church and in the wider community? If so, it would be a fitting response to our Lord Jesus, who freely gave up his own rights to give us a gospel to believe in and to share.
What is God calling you to do ‘free of charge’? Reflect on this question and allow God to prompt your thoughts.
Father, forgive me if I’m overly concerned with power, honor, and status. Open opportunities for me to serve you and others, freely and joyfully.
1 E.g. Phil 4:16–19 2 E.g. Prov 31:8,9
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