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1 Corinthians chapter 9

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

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New Living Translation

King James Version

3Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, 4Have we not power to eat and to drink? 5Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? 6Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? 7Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? 8Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? 9For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? 12If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. 13Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 14Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. 15But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. 16For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! 17For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. 18What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
New King James Version

What does 1 Corinthians chapter 9 mean?

After making a firm case that those who minister for Christ have a right to be financially supported by the people they serve, Paul will go into detail about why he refuses to receive that benefit from the Corinthians. This is all in service of Paul's larger point: those in Corinth who are strong in their Christian faith should be willing to give up their right to eat food offered to idols. This is for the sake of those who are weaker in their faith. It is true that those in Christ are free to eat any meat. Idols are false and hold no real power. Paul is calling the Corinthians to set aside a right that is truly theirs.

To show that he is doing the same thing, Paul begins to demonstrate that he has rights as an apostle, including the right to ask them to support him financially. This is especially true of the church in Corinth, which he founded. He describes the Corinthian Christians as the seal of his apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1–2).

Paul lists some of the rights of an apostle, including food, drink, and taking a wife on the road with him, as other apostles do. Instead, he and Barnabas do secular work to support their ministry work. Why don't they deserve to be supported by the Corinthians, as other spiritual leaders were? Paul gives examples to prove his point: Soldiers don't pay for their own food. Farmers eat from their crops. Even the law of Moses instructed farmers not to prevent oxen used to plow field from eating grain as they worked. People who worked in Jewish and pagan temples also share in the food offered on the altar. The Lord's clear command is that those who sow spiritual seed among a people should reap from them some material support (1 Corinthians 9:3–14).

Paul makes clear, though, that he and Barnabas have refused this right. He is not asking the Corinthians for money. In part, he does not want anything, including financial support from them, to get in the way of people believing the gospel of Christ. In fact, he would rather die than to have anything remove his grounds for boasting that he preaches the gospel for free. He is not boasting about preaching the gospel in and of itself. Paul believes he has no choice about that. He is like a slave entrusted with important work. He must carry it out. He can boast—joyfully, not arrogantly—that he does not ask for money from those he serves, even though he has the right to do so (1 Corinthians 9:15–18).

In fact, Paul continues, he limits his freedoms in many other ways. He participates in Jewish religious life in the hopes of winning law-following Jews to faith in Christ. As one free in Christ, though, he also lives as one who is not under the law to win Gentiles who are not under the law. He even becomes "weak," in a sense, for the sake of those who are weak (1 Corinthians 9:19–23).

Paul compares himself to an athlete in training to compete in the games of the day. He competes not for his salvation, but for an eternal crown that involves recognition from Christ for all those he has led to salvation. That's why he sets aside his freedoms and practices self-control. He hopes to receive this prize and not to be disqualified by sinful selfishness before he gets to the end of his life (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
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