In his letters to the believers in Corinth, Paul not only addresses the failures of the church but also addresses the allegations levelled against him. When immorality is allowed to take the driver seat in a church, it will try its best to bring down the workers of God. If Paul’s ego would have been hurt with these allegations, then he would have left the fellowship of the church at Corinth and immorality would have won. But Paul stays and defends his choices saying,
This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.1 Corinthians 9:3
Paul talks about his right as an apostle and his freedom in Christ as he did not follow the path followed by the other disciples but the one that God chose for him. Quite often, we get defensive when people judge us or compare us with someone they think is better than us. Paul, like any other human, objects to the allegations and is offended by the comparison to Peter and the other disciples. Probably this is the reason for his long rant and self-justification in trying to explain his calling to his readers.
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.1 Corinthians 9:12
It seems from Paul’s wordings that the Church did not want to support the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas but contributed to Peter’s ministry happily when he came with his wife to visit the fellowship of Corinthians.
The needs of our local pastors are often sidelined when energetic preachers visit our church. We are swayed by the presentation of the gospel and want to be a part of their journey. While there is nothing wrong in supporting anyone preaching about God, ignoring the workers of God among us is a grave sin. If God is asking us to not mistreat an ox by muzzling its mouth when it is treading out the grain, how much more would He expect from us when it comes to muzzling out our spiritual leaders.
Today, because of the growth of global churches and ease of access on online platforms, the local pastors are being ignored all over the world. We are answerable not only for our local church but also for the men and women in charge of preaching the word. This does not mean that we will fatten the ox by overfeeding it but at the very least we should not muzzle its mouth and let it eat what it needs.
Voluntarily and Freely
Paul reminds the church that he did not use his rights and does not even want anyone to do the things for him that they have been doing for the other disciples.
If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.1 Corinthians 9:17
A common motivational phrase said to inspire anyone starting a job is, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” This can be applied to the work that God has assigned us because if we think of it as a burden, we will only look for rewards and blessings. We should share the gospel because of the overflowing love that God has poured into our hearts and not because of our attempts to try and please Him.
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.1 Corinthians 9:18
There are people who want to earn from the gospel and go for their seminary studies, only because all the other choices did not pan out for them. The work of God should not be a fallback option and also not a business model. It should be preached voluntarily and freely in the same way it was given to us.
Using Our Freedom
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.1 Corinthians 9:19
Paul writes that he became a Jew to become like the Jews and like a gentile to bring them into the fold of Christ. His purpose for adopting chameleon like characteristics, was not to gain acceptance among his peers but to further his mission. He did all this for the sake of the gospel alone.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:22-23
When we try to alter our appearance or change our habits in attempts to fit in this pagan world, we are leaving Christ behind. We must follow the example of Christ in every way possible. Jesus did not water down his sermons to try and fit in with the pharisees and the sadducees but rather He always spoke according to His Father’s will.
What Paul means is that he is becoming weak to the weak. Trying to boast our faith in front of the weak will only alienate them. Among the ones away from God, we must not boast of our righteousness and among the ones who are closer to God, we must challenge ourselves to follow the example of Christ.
No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.1 Corinthians 9:27
Everything that Paul preached to others, he applied it in his own life. We should not be preaching from someone else’s experience of reading a handbook but only preach about what we have learnt from Christ. Talking about something that we have no experience about will be like the blind leading the blind and there will be more chances of us failing in what we are preaching. Everything that we have learnt should be first applied in our lives and with the leading of God, preached to the people of His choosing.
Learnings From Israel’s Past
Paul cites the examples of the Israelites who kept running into trouble when they became overconfident of their righteousness. They were scattered, poisoned and even struck down for their arrogance.
We misuse our freedom because we think we are living under the grace period. We must realise that our actions have consequences and we will be answerable for everything we have done on this earth. But we can take heart as whenever we are tempted with arrogance, we should know that we have the ability to resist it.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.1 Corinthians 10:13
Let us truly understand the freedom that God has given us and voluntarily participate in the calling that He has planned for us.