What does 1 Corinthians 9:17 mean?
ESV: For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
NIV: If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
NASB: For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a commission nonetheless.
CSB: For if I do this willingly, I have a reward, but if unwillingly, I am entrusted with a commission.
NLT: If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust.
KJV: For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
NKJV: For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
Verse Commentary:
The burden and ability to preach the gospel were both given to Paul by God. He is not preaching as a volunteer, but under orders as a willing and engaged bondservant. As such, Paul states he has no reward for merely doing what he must do. Instead, he views himself as a steward entrusted with a task. He is honored to be entrusted with this task of carrying the message of the gospel to so many people, but he recognizes that he is simply following orders. He is glad to play his part, as he must, but all the content of what he says and all the outcomes belong to the Lord.

Paul's reason for explaining all of this has many layers. One is to show that he is living out the same message he's preached to others: that they ought to put the needs of others ahead of their own "rights" (1 Corinthians 8:7–13). Paul is also pointing out that it's reasonable for ministers of the gospel to be given support for their work. Lastly, Paul is emphasizing that he's tried not to give anyone a reason to doubt the sincerity of his preaching.
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 9:1–18 describes Paul's case for why he, as an apostle, has the right to ask for financial support from the people he serves, including the Corinthian Christians. Though he could demand, Paul refuses to insist on his right. He doesn't want anything to get in the way of someone hearing the gospel. He must preach the gospel; he has no choice. But Paul wants to be able to boast about offering the gospel free of charge even though he has the right to ask for financial support. This passage establishes that believers have an obligation to support those who serve through ministry. This message is made more valid since Paul is not benefitting from his own argument.
Chapter Summary:
Paul encourages Christians to willingly give up their ''rights'' for the good of those who are weak in their faith. Paul shows that he, too, has given up his rights, including the right as an apostle to receive financial support from those he serves. Instead, he boasts that he serves the Corinthians without any compensation, even at great cost to himself. Paul describes himself as an athlete competing for the prize of a crown in eternity. His point is for believers to pursue godliness, and the good of others, with that kind of commitment.
Chapter Context:
First Corinthians 8 ended with Paul's declaration that he would give up his right to eat any meat rather than cause a brother in Christ to stumble. He shows in this chapter that he is already giving up his right as an apostle to be financially supported by those he serves. He doesn't want anything to get in the way of anyone believing the gospel. He limits his freedoms further by becoming all things to all people to win some for Christ. He disciplines himself like an athlete in training, to get a prize and to avoid being disqualified. The next passages will expand on this idea of distinguishing what is ''allowed'' from what is ''best.''
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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