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1 Corinthians chapter 9

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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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