Paul Went First

Posted: January 3, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:1-18, “Paul Went First”

“You go first.” When uttered among young men (particularly the pre-teen versions of me and my friends), these were famous last words. Someone had come up with a dare or challenge of some kind and someone needed to take the first step. It did not always end poorly, but it sure did not always end well, either!

Some challenges need a person to take the first step and set the example if anyone else is to follow in kind. When it came to taking those steps of faith with the church, Paul was eager to lead the way. He never exhorted the church to action he was not willing to personally take. That included the issue of self-denial, even when it came to something as personal and important as his financial support.

“Oh great: a sermon about a preacher saying how he has the right to be paid. Just what we need. More guilt about money.” Not so fast…be careful not to let the example of 1 Corinthians 9 throw you. As it becomes clear, the main point of Chapter 9 is not about ministerial salary but about submission to the gospel and doing whatever it takes to avoid stumbling someone from receiving Christ as Lord.

As should be obvious, Chapter 9 comes on the heels of Chapter 8, and this is simply a continuation of the subject. Paul had begun answering questions in a new Q&A section of his letter. The first dealt with issues of sex, singleness, and marriage, which he answered thoroughly. This new issue dealt with idolatry, or more precisely, “things offered to idols,” (8:1). The city of Corinth, like most cities in the ancient Roman empire, had its share of pagan temples in which sacrifices were made to false gods on a regular basis. In fact, many of the Christians to whom Paul wrote had previously offered these sacrifices when they were still pagan Gentiles. Now that they were Christian Gentiles, what would they (along with their fellow Christian Jews) do with these former offerings? Could they eat the meat? With their newfound faith, they were no longer offering animals to false imaginary gods, but was it legal for them to eat meat that had been sacrificed? Meat was only meat, after all. Why waste a good steak?

The first part of Paul’s answer dealt less with the effect on the individual than the effect on his/her neighbor. If a Jewish Christian ate sacrificed meat in front of a Gentile Christian who previously brought that sacrifice, how might that impact or even stumble that person? How might it hurt those who were weak or immature in the faith? It was something that the Christians had the right to do, but it did not mean that it was wise or lawful to do it. As for Paul, he thought it better to sacrifice one’s own right if it meant helping his brother or sister walk with Jesus.

This was not academic theory with Paul. This was not a double-standard instruction that was “good for thee, but not for me.” Paul could point to a very practical example in his own life where he denied himself a certain right, that someone else might not stumble in their reception of the gospel of Christ.

What was it? His own pocketbook. Paul was willing to endure hardship and deny himself his right to financial support if that was what it took to bring people to Christ. When it came to the gospel, Paul demonstrated in his own personal life that Jesus was worth any sacrifice.

Do what is best for the gospel! Trust Jesus with everything else.

Verses 1-18 break into three major sections: (1) Paul’s authority, (2) Paul’s answer, and (3) Paul’s aim.

1 Corinthians 9:1–18

  • Paul’s authority as an apostle (1-2).

1 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

  1. If you follow along in a different translation, you may have noticed that the two questions in verse 1 are reversed. It does not affect the meaning but the reversal does make far more sense in the preceding context from Chapter 8. Paul just got done writing how he’d be willing to forego eating meat altogether if it meant that his brother in Christ would not be stumbled by his actions. If the other brother was weaker in his Christian maturity – if this was a sensitive spot for him, then Paul was willing to make the sacrifice on his account. It did not mean he was in bondage to the brother. It did not mean that the weaker brother had veto-power over every decision Paul might make. It did mean that Paul was willing to sacrifice the minor things if it meant the best for his brother (or sister).
  2. Paul was “” One dictionary notes about this particular word, “[this] is the full citizen who belongs to the polis, the city state, in contrast to the slave who did not enjoy full rights as a citizen,” (NIDNTT). Paul had this same kind of freedom – not only as a natural born citizen of a Roman colony (which he was), but most of all as a true citizen of the kingdom of God. What does that freedom matter when it comes to self-sacrifice? (Which is the context out of Chapter 8.) Everything! What Paul gave for his fellow Christians, he gave willingly, not under compulsion. He was not bound by the law to make these sacrifices nor was he guilted into it through the nagging complaints of others. What he gave, he gave in love. What he gave, he gave freely as a free man in Christ Jesus. He gave it freely for Christ Jesus – not in bondage to any man or woman, but as one who was bound to Christ.
  3. Not only did Paul give it freely, but he gave it having every right to make a different decision. He was an “” Apart from Jesus Himself, who has more authority in the church than an apostle? If Paul wanted to eat meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols (or engage in any other liberty), how many people had the authority to tell him otherwise? When Paul confronted Peter to his face (Gal 2:11), he confronted Peter as a fellow apostle in the Lord. They were on equal footing. If they weren’t, then Paul would have likely followed the instruction he gave to Timothy about addressing the sins of pastors and elders (1 Tim 5:19-20), being more orderly and with witnesses. Because they were equal in authority (both being apostles), Paul did what he did. But the broader point is that Paul had the right to act in any situation because he was a true apostle of the Lord Jesus.
  4. This was not him talking up his own ego. He had the credentials to back it up. First of all, Paul had “seen Jesus.” Paul had his own personal eyewitness account of the Risen Lord. When Peter and the other original 11 surviving apostles met in Jerusalem prior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they saw the need to fill the apostolic gap left by Judas Iscariot, and one of the qualifications for the men was that the person needed to be present for Jesus’ ministry, from His baptism to His resurrection (Acts 1:22), Jesus’ resurrection being most important. If someone was to serve Jesus as someone sent out by Jesus, then that person needed to have seen Jesus in order for Jesus to send him. Although Paul was not present for Jesus’ earthly ministry (though as a younger member of the Sanhedrin, he surely would have been aware of it), he was a certain eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus made a personal appearance to Paul on the day of Paul’s conversion. So yes, he had seen the Lord. That said, it is important to note that this experience was not all that qualified Paul as an apostle. Otherwise, any one of the over 500 people to whom Jesus appeared at once (15:6) would have been able to claim legitimate apostolic authority. What was required along with an eyewitness experience was the commission and calling of Christ. Technically, an apostle is simply a “sent one” – it is the emissary of someone else. If a VIP did not show up in person, he might send a delegate to speak and act on his behalf. That delegate was the person’s “apostle.” As for Paul (and others) he had been sent out by the Lord Jesus. He was personally commissioned for his ministry by Christ. Again, this hearkens back to Paul’s initial conversion the day he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus and Jesus told him he was to be “a minister and a witness,” and was sending him to the Gentiles to preach the gospel (Acts 26:16-18).
  5. That was one apostolic credential of Paul’s (arguably, the most important!). The second was the church of Corinth itself. They were his “work” and his “seal,” or his certification of apostleship. If anyone was able to testify to Paul’s role as an apostle it should have been the people of the churches that Paul planted. Not a single Christian in Corinth was able to honestly question Paul’s authority and calling. They themselves were the proof. How could they know Jesus sent Paul? Because Paul preached Jesus to them – because now they knew Jesus in faith and truth – because now they were saved, in a real relationship with the living God. All of this came through the work and testimony of Paul. If the Corinthians could not attest to Paul’s apostleship, who could?

Paul had legitimate authority as an apostle. He sets this up from the beginning because of its importance. If anyone had the right to do things that might perhaps cause stumbling offense to weaker, more sensitive Christians, it was an apostle of the Lord. Arguably, all Christians are less mature in the faith than Jesus’ chosen apostles. Yet as one of those chosen apostles, Paul was willing to set his position and liberties aside for the sake of others. This set the stage for the example that he was setting for everyone else in the church.

Although we cannot claim apostolic office, we can thank God for the freedoms we have in Jesus. We have the right to do all kinds of things (as becomes plain in the next part of our text). That someone might make a different choice than us in a certain situation does not necessarily mean that either party is in sin. After all, we have freedom in non-essential areas. But wisdom dictates that we look to the example set by others who have come before us, particularly those whom God used in marvelous visible ways, such as the apostles. If Paul did not think of himself as too “big” to set aside certain freedoms and liberties, then neither should we.

  • Paul’s answer to his questioners (3-14).

3 My defense to those who examine me is this:

  1. FYI: The Greek for “defense” is apologia (ἀπολογία) from which we get our word “apology” and “apologetics.” To say that Paul offered an “apology” is not to say he was sorry or regretted anything; it was to for Paul to provide his answer, his defense for his actions. The branch of theology called “apologetics” deals with (1) defending the Biblical faith against outside attacks, and (2) providing reasons to believe Biblical truth, in light of and in contrast with, the surrounding culture. In a culture that is filled with as much false teaching as our culture is, the idea of apologetics becomes extremely important. How do we respond to certain pastors and church congregations that drops gold dust from the ceiling, or visits the graves of certain saints of the past, hoping to “suck” the anointing from them? Or, in external matters, how do we respond to political theories that infiltrate churches and seminaries that teach certain races are inherently good or evil? This is the need for solid, Biblical apologetics today.
  2. BTW: This is needed not only on an academic level but also on a practical day-to-day level. You have friends, neighbors, and co-workers that have questions about basic Christianity. They don’t know what makes Christianity different than any other religion. If all religions basically teach that people should be nice to one another, what makes Jesus and the Bible any different? It’s important for people like you to know answers. Your neighbors won’t usually call up a local pastor to ask; they’ll ask you. And what will you say? As Peter writes, “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Pt 3:15).

As to our actual context, Paul’s apologetic wasn’t dealing with fundamental issues of the faith; the focus of his answer/defense was specific to this particular issue of liberty.

4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?

  1. Out of all the freedoms that Paul had, one of the most obvious was the most personal. Paul had the authority/right to take a salary and support a family. That may not have been the first freedom on the minds of the Corinthians. After all, Paul recently finished a section in the letter extolling the benefits of being single in ministry, writing that he wished that more people made the same decision he had made regarding marriage. Even so, Paul had the right to marry if he wanted. In fact, he had the right to financial support in general. He, just like anyone else, had the normal needs for food, drink, and shelter. He had the right to support a family if he so desired. Other apostles did, without any complaint of the church. In fact, Peter/Cephas was already married at the time that Jesus initially called him to follow as a disciple (Mk 1:30). If Peter had this right even when being financially supported by the church (no longer being a fisherman), then why would Paul be any different?
  2. Notice this word “” This is the same word translated “liberty” in Chapter 8:9, as well as translated “authority” in 9:18. It normally is translated “authority” in the New Testament, but it does also pertain to rights, power, and (in certain contexts) liberty and freedom. The idea is that Paul was empowered with the freedom to do all the things he mentioned. He did not disparage the other apostles regarding their lifestyle choices. Although he had a personal desire for more Christians to remain unmarried for the purpose of freedom in ministry, he did not begrudge anyone the right to marry. These were legitimate choices that any Christian (apostle or otherwise) might make. In fact, Paul affirmed the right to choose them. He states that he had those same rights, even though he chose not to use them.
    1. FYI: “a believing wife” might literally be translated “a sister-wife,” with the context being that of a sister-in-Christ. Just like born-again men are brothers in the Lord, so are born-again women sisters in the Lord. That kind of believing faith is essential when it comes to Christian marriage. Paul had the right to marry; he did not have the right to marry an unbeliever. As Scripture repeatedly emphasizes, Christians need to seek to be equally yoked in marriage. It is one thing if you come to faith once you are already married; it is something else to be single and date someone of a different faith. You set yourself up for sin and sadness if you proceed.
  3. The mention of Barnabas is interesting, considering that Barnabas was not with Paul at Corinth. At the time of Paul’s arrival, his primary travelling partner was Silas, but he was also accompanied by Timothy and sometimes Luke and others. As for Barnabas, the last time he was seen in Scripture prior to Paul’s arrival in Corinth was at the time of their vehement argument and split (Acts 15:36-40). What makes the mention of Barnabas so wonderful is that it is evidence that there were no ill feelings between the two men. Paul may have sharply disagreed with Barnabas regarding John Mark, but Paul never saw Barnabas as anything less than a full-fledged beloved brother in the Lord – and, Paul still saw Barnabas as a worthy example for other younger believers to follow, even believers who may not have yet met him.
    1. As an aside: note that Paul includes Barnabas among the other apostles. Considering that we saw Paul’s own apostolic credentials, can it be said that Barnabas also had his own qualifications? Some of the details, we do not know. Although Scripture is clear that God the Holy Spirit specifically spoke and called Barnabas and Paul to the missionary ministry (Acts 13:2), we do not know when Barnabas became an eyewitness of the Risen Jesus. We know that it must have happened at some point, since he is included among the apostles (both here and Acts 14:14); we just do not have Biblical documentation as to when it happened.
  4. When Paul writes of refraining from working, he is not accusing the other apostles of laziness, nor does he imply that gospel ministry is not true work. On the contrary, he soon uses farming terminology to refer to ministry labor. Rather, Paul refers to bi-vocational ministry. Quite often (though not always), Paul financially supported himself through finding work as a maker of tents as he went from town to town. In fact, that was how he was introduced to Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, as Aquila was a worker in the same trade. Although other apostles seem to have left their respective careers (such as Peter and John who were formerly fishermen), Paul maintained his secular employment for quite some time, for reasons he explains later in the passage.

7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?

  1. These were common examples from secular culture. Soldiers do not pay their own way; they get paid or they don’t go. (Why would they?!) Farmers partake of the fruit of their crops and herds. In fact, they are the first to do so, before a single bit of it is sold to someone else. This is simply a common truth in the culture. And it wasn’t only seen in secular society. Sacred Scripture taught the same thing…

8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about?

  1. The Scripture quoted by Paul is Deuteronomy 25:4, which states exactly what Paul wrote. Interestingly, the context of the original verse seems to be somewhat random at first glance, being sandwiched between one teaching that governs and limits corporal punishment in legal convictions, and another law governing levirate marriage (the duty of a surviving brother to marry and provide for the childless widow of his deceased brother). There is little to no context regarding issues of farming but much to do with justice and mercy. Perhaps this was why Paul wrote that God was not concerned with oxen. It wasn’t that the plain meaning and original interpretation of the verse was irrelevant; it was that the overall context demonstrated a deeper fundamental issue. God was teaching His people to do what was right. They were to take personal responsibility for themselves and to act as responsible citizens as the people of God. Yes, part of that included treating one’s livestock animals humanely, allowing them to freely eat and maintain their strength. But there was more. The Israelites were to treat one another with the same basic respect. If they were to allow oxen who tread grain the ability to eat, how much more should they allow those who labor over the daily bread of the word of God to eat?
  2. That this was Paul’s intent is plain, given that he uses the same verse in exactly the same context with Timothy, there combining it with Jesus’ specific instruction regarding ministry compensation. 1 Timothy 5:17–18, “(17) Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (18) For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”” Please note that neither Paul nor Jesus (whom Paul quotes at the end of 1 Tim 5:18) say that anyone who has a title of “pastor” automatically deserves a paycheck from the church. Paul writes of the “elders who rule well,” and “labor,” and Jesus also refers to the “laborer.” Pastors who are unwilling to labor in the Scriptures they claim to teach are not deserving of a dime. Those who look at the ministry as a way to fleece the flock of God rather than feed it are those who ought to be marked and cast out.

10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.

  1. Those who labor partake of the labor. Just like the farmer and the shepherd – just like the oxen and the soldier – those who labor in the ministry should partake of what comes from that ministry. A farmer plows in hope of seeing a harvest. The person who threshes wheat hopes to get the grain, mill it to flour, and make a loaf of bread. They don’t do these things because they are bored; they do it with the hope of seeing a result.

11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.

  1. Paul gets personal and pointed! He specifically wrote of his right/authority to partake of the Corinthians’ “material things.” He gave these Corinthians the gospel of Jesus. He did not charge them to listen. Nor should he! Freely Paul had received, so freely he was to give. But his work among the Corinthian church did not stop there. It continued into spiritual maturity. Paul labored over this congregation, planting it, teaching it, raising up elders and leaders. He remained in this city for a year and a half, helping it get going (Acts 18:11). Recall that Paul worked as a tentmaker when he first arrived. Had he remained a tentmaker the entire time? Apparently so (evidenced here and in vss. 15 and following). Should Paul have remained bi-vocational? That was a personal choice. At some point, however, Paul had the right to receive some kind of financial support. He had “sown spiritual things” into the congregation for a great amount of time. Surely, it was a small matter for Paul to reap some material compensation in return.
  2. Apparently, some had. Some partook of what Paul had not. Who were they? At this point, we cannot say. Paul’s 2nd letter to Corinth shows great contrast between him and other pseudo-apostles who set themselves up as super-apostles promoting themselves rather than the gospel (2 Cor 11). At this point, Paul could have referred to any number of things. Teachers of philosophy charged their students to listen to their teachings. Doctors and physicians charged their patients to receive of their services. There were any number of professions that claimed a right of compensation from the people of Corinth (or any city). Surely Paul and the apostles had even more of a claim as they provided even more of a service, giving them the greatest of all things: the word of God.
  3. Yet Paul did not use this right. Why? “Lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” More will be said on this in the verses ahead but it is clear that Paul was rightly hesitant to do anything that might become a hindrance to the gospel. It calls back to the ending of Chapter 8, when he worried about causing another brother to stumble. Paul did not want to trip up anyone in his/her walk with Jesus. Yes, he had the right to financial compensation, but he had a greater concern for the unfettered proclamation of the gospel.

13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

  1. He reiterates the Old Testament (which was the only Biblical testament available at the time!) principle using the example of the priests. Throughout the book of Leviticus, the priests are seen routinely eating a portion of what was brought to God in sacrificial worship. Even the bread of presence that sat on a table in the tabernacle/temple was required to be consumed by the priests, never to be casually or callously thrown into the garbage. For priests to eat the things brought to the Lord in worship was not unusual or selfish; it was expected – it was commanded – it was itself an act of worship and obedience to the Lord.
  2. From this, we get the New Testament application. Gospel preachers have a right to get their livelihood from their gospel work. Not to take advantage of anyone under their care – not to lazily sit back and live off the labors of others; but to live from the labors of their own hands, just like any other profession.

This was Paul’s answer/defense to his objectors. He was about to write (and indeed, already mentioned) how he denied himself certain rights for the sake of the gospel and out of love for others. But before his self-denial could be appreciated, it needed to be first understood that Paul truly had a right that he was denying. This was no straw-man argument where he pulled something out of thin air and argued against it. He had a true claim to financial compensation as a minister of the gospel and it was that claim that he temporarily set aside in Corinth.

This was Paul’s example. What is yours? It might be difficult to relate to a gospel preacher saying that he had a true right to financial compensation. After all, it takes all of 5 seconds searching the internet to find dozens of preachers claiming the same right in abundance. For as much as some preachers talk about money, you’d think they never had time to actually talk about the Bible. (And many don’t!) Put all that aside for a moment. Paul wasn’t like the TV preachers today. His method and work ethic regarding the gospel was pure. If anyone should have been compensated for it, it was the apostle Paul. Yet he put it aside for Jesus.

What might you put aside for the sake of Jesus? What is there for which you have an undeniable right, yet you might deny for yourself if it becomes a hindrance? For some, it might be a casual glass of wine with dinner. Yes, you have a right and no legalist ought to guilt you otherwise. But if you happen to be dining with a former alcoholic, or someone whose family was destroyed by a drunk driver, why not deny yourself that right out of concern for that person? Or, maybe your freedom is to listen to whatever music you desire, enjoying all things to the glory of God. Yet if you’re sharing a ride with someone who holds a different conviction, why would you throw your liberty in their face by listening to secular radio? That is a right that can be easily denied for the sake of love and for the sake of Christ. Just because we can do something, or just because we have the right to do something, does not mean that we always should do it.

  • Paul’s aim in ministry (15-18).

15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.

  1. The people of Corinth might have breathed a sigh of relief with verse 15. If the idea was that they should have been giving Paul some kind of financial compensation this whole time, they had built up a pretty big bill! But that wasn’t Paul’s point at all. He wasn’t guilting anyone or pushing his own agenda or comforts. When writing about his rights as a minister of the gospel, he simply established the principle; he wasn’t pushing for a payout. Paul did not want these things for himself and he wasn’t asking for them. He did, of course, want the Biblical principle set forth so that Corinth would understand how to proceed in the future with other pastors and elders; he just wasn’t asking anything for himself.
  2. Why? Because he didn’t want anything to possibly undercut the effectiveness of his ministry. He did not want his “boasting” made “” Question: What was his boast? His independence. He didn’t have anyone in Corinth that could claim, “I bought Paul’s dinner for him and gave him his apartment.” He didn’t have anyone in the city who could make any claim on him or think they had any special influence upon his message. And that was important in a town like Corinth! Remember that this was a local church congregation that already struggled with pride and sectarianism. They had some who were of the party of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Peter/Cephas, and others who claimed only Christ (1:12). This was a church that set themselves against one another, trying to promote themselves and their own wisdom (1:20, 4:8). If they had financially supported Paul then that was just one more thing in which they could vainly boast, rather than humbly submitting themselves to Christ. Paul would rather have perished than to have given the Corinthians another outlet of pride. Thus, he boasted in his independence.
  3. It is important to note the difference between Paul’s independence from Corinth and a general state of financial independence. Paul was not He was not so rich that he never required anything from anyone. We’ve already seen how he labored with his own hands as a tentmaker when he first arrived in Corinth. But neither was Paul always bi-vocational. There were other times that Paul received financial support from other churches that allowed him to continue on his missionary journeys. In fact, there was at least some time that Paul spent in Corinth that he received financial support from other churches, just so he could remain in Corinth (2 Cor 11:7-8). But while he was in Corinth, he remained free from them, that he could preach freely among them.
    1. That begs the question for churches today. Is it wrong for pastors to receive financial compensation from the congregations they serve? Or should they raise support from other churches or through other employment, that they might serve their congregations free of any financial tie to them? With due humility, speaking as a pastor lovingly compensated by this congregation, the principle for ministerial compensation was laid out by Paul earlier in the text (vss. 3-14). So no, it is not wrong for pastors to be compensated by their churches; it is right and Biblical. That said, it is not always possible. When this church was first planted, I was bi-vocational for the first 5 years of ministry. Men who are truly called by God to pastor do so, not for a paycheck, but out of God-given compulsion, obedience, and love for those to whom they minister. 

16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

  1. Paul’s boast was not in his skills, his finances, or even his calling. He was surely glad to be an apostle and minister of the gospel, but his position was not worthy of his boasting. Paul had no choice other than to preach the gospel. This was his assigned and solemn duty. Sure, there might be a reward in heaven when he did it willingly and gladly, but at the end of the day, Paul did it because he was a steward of what God entrusted to him. This was his duty and he had no other choice. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had a similar point of view on ministry. There was a time that he did not want to proclaim God’s word. It was personally difficult on him and Jeremiah suffered greatly. He was routinely mocked and made a reproach. Jeremiah 20:9, “Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.” When Jeremiah tried to stop preaching, he simply couldn’t. God’s word was like a fire within him, burning to be released. This was his duty and calling, and he simply could not stop from doing it. Likewise, with Paul. Such was his call as a gospel minister and church planter that he could not stop. This was what God had given him to do, and he would do it – whether he wanted to, or not.
  2. Would this be our same urgency! That we would have such a vision of the Lord Jesus that we could not help but speak of Him with others. That we would have such a love for our Lord that our hearts would burn with the desire to pray and to worship. That we would understand our solemn duty and stewardship before the Lord God, knowing that we have been entrusted with the most valuable news on the face of the earth. For us not to share it is shameful. Regardless what you think about vaccines, there are news stories about coronavirus vaccines sitting on the shelf, not being administered – there was a nurse who intentionally allowed 500 doses to be spoiled. For all the ink that will be spilled in the papers because of how a vaccine is treated, how much will be said about Christians who never share their faith? Not everyone has the gift of evangelism – few Christians have anything close to the ministry of the apostle Paul – but we are all stewards of the good news of Jesus. All of us can share with someone. May God give us hearts that yearn to do so!

18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.

  1. Did Paul have a reward? Certainly one awaited him in heaven, but even on earth, there was a reward for Paul even in the times he had no financial compensation. What was it? Paul’s reward was to be able to preach free from accusation. He was above reproach as he shared Jesus. There was no thought of him “abusing his authority,” or pushing around his weight as an apostle. Paul wasn’t driving around town in the 1st century equivalent of a Jaguar or Bentley. He wasn’t wearing $1000 suits, obviously purchased through the giving of the saints. No one could look at Paul and accuse him of enriching himself off the men and women in the church. Thus, when people listened to him preach, they listened without distraction – they listened without hesitation – they listened without obstruction. They could see Jesus through the message of Paul because Paul did not allow himself to get in the way.
    1. You don’t have to be a prosperity gospel TV preacher to get in the way of someone seeing Jesus. The average Christian can easily find himself/herself becoming an obstruction to the gospel. We put in too much of ourselves into our testimonies – or we add too many additions on top of the simple gospel message – or we put too much focus on the benefits of Christianity rather than on Christ Himself. All those things are distractions to what is most important. All those things are abuses of our opportunity. What people need to see is Jesus; not us. So let us show them Jesus.

Paul had an aim to preach the gospel without strings attached, to be completely above reproach. He had an aim to preach Christ, nothing less; nothing more. He didn’t want anything getting in the way of the main message…including himself. That was why he gave up his right to compensation. A paycheck for the gospel without the ability to present the gospel wasn’t worthwhile. If it helped someone else see Jesus, Paul was willing to put even his basic life necessities aside.

Conclusion:

In the end, what Paul wrote is not about pastoral salaries or guilting people into giving more money to churches; it was about Paul setting an example for the rest of us. How might we live our own lives in such a way that people don’t get tripped up on distractions – how might we put certain things aside to help others see Jesus?

As an apostle of the Lord Jesus, Paul answered his critics saying that he had a true right to receive financial support, yet it was a right he willingly refused in his aim to preach Christ. He was willing to put anything aside, if it meant that he had the opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus.

Are we? Truth be told, this is a tough example to follow. It is particularly difficult for Americans. After all, we live in a land of “rights.” We have so many rights as citizens of the United States that we have ten of them enumerated right into our national constitution. We like our rights and we will not give them up easily. That is just how we think.

The gospel calls us to think differently. Yes, we have rights as born-again believers – we have certain authority granted to us by virtue of the fact that we have been freed from the slavery of sin by Jesus. They may not be laid out in a constitutional “Bill of Rights,” but we can certainly see them in our Bibles. Yet some of those things might, from time to time, need to be willingly set aside in love. Some of those things, as right as they are, might still be a distraction to someone else from seeing Jesus. At that point, does it matter how much right we have to it? Surely, the need for someone else to see Jesus is worth laying that thing aside.

When the ill-fated Titanic sank, one of the many tragedies included the lifeboats. Infamously, there were several lifeboats set in the water that were only half-full. Reasons vary as to why. Some boats were filled only with women and children; others were not filled to capacity due to the crewmembers being uncertain of the weight-bearing load as the ropes let it down to the water. The worst part of the lifeboats was that there simply were not enough. Although the Titanic had a capacity of 3,500 people, the lifeboats could only take 1,178. Why? Because those were the regulations at the time. When the designers provided only 20 lifeboats to the Titanic, they were following what was their right. They followed the letter of the law, even as it automatically consigned over half the passengers and crew to death in the case of tragedy (which, sadly happened).

Sometimes we lay aside our rights that lives might be saved. Some things which are personal to us are not to be so cherished that they keep other people from seeing Jesus. It does not mean that we forego those things forever; it does mean we do what is necessary in the moment for the sake of the gospel.

Beloved, rejoice in your freedoms! But be mindful of the weaknesses and potential stumbling blocks that remain for others. May God open our eyes to the areas we might temporarily set aside for the sake of Christ.

Maybe you have certain freedoms that have caused stumbling. Maybe you’re one who has been stumbled in your weakness. May we all love one another with the love of Christ. God help us not cause harm in a desire to guard from harm.

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