Paul’s Rights as an Apostle. 1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?a 2Although I may not be an apostle for others, certainly I am for you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3My defense against those who would pass judgment on me* is this. 4* Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6Or is it only myself and Barnabas who do not have the right not to work?b 7Who ever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating its produce? Or who shepherds a flock without using some of the milk from the flock?c 8Am I saying this on human authority, or does not the law also speak of these things? 9It is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”d Is God concerned about oxen, 10or is he not really speaking for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope, and the thresher in hope of receiving a share.e 11If we have sown spiritual seed for you, is it a great thing that we reap a material harvest from you?f 12If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?g
Reason for Not Using His Rights. Yet we have not used this right.* On the contrary, we endure everything so as not to place an obstacle to the gospel of Christ. 13* Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat [what] belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?h 14In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.i
15* I have not used any of these rights, however, nor do I write this that it be done so in my case. I would rather die. Certainly no one is going to nullify my boast.j 16If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!k 17If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.l 18What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.m
All Things to All. 19* Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.n 20To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.o 23All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
24* Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.p 25Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.q 26Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. 27No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.*
* [9:1–27] This chapter is an emotionally charged expansion of Paul’s appeal to his own example in 1 Cor 8:13; its purpose is to reinforce the exhortation of 1 Cor 8:9. The two opening questions introduce the themes of Paul’s freedom and his apostleship (1 Cor 9:1), themes that the chapter will develop in reverse order, 1 Cor 9:1–18 treating the question of his apostleship and the rights that flow from it, and 1 Cor 9:19–27 exploring dialectically the nature of Paul’s freedom. The language is highly rhetorical, abounding in questions, wordplays, paradoxes, images, and appeals to authority and experience. The argument is unified by repetitions; its articulations are highlighted by inclusions and transitional verses.
* [9:3] My defense against those who would pass judgment on me: the reference to a defense (apologia) is surprising, and suggests that Paul is incorporating some material here that he has previously used in another context. The defense will touch on two points: the fact of Paul’s rights as an apostle (1 Cor 9:4–12a and 1 Cor 9:13–14) and his nonuse of those rights (1 Cor 9:12b and 1 Cor 9:15–18).
* [9:4–12a] Apparently some believe that Paul is not equal to the other apostles and therefore does not enjoy equal privileges. His defense on this point (here and in 1 Cor 9:13–14) reinforces the assertion of his apostolic character in 1 Cor 9:2. It consists of a series of analogies from natural equity (7) and religious custom (1 Cor 9:13) designed to establish his equal right to support from the churches (1 Cor 9:4–6, 11–12a); these analogies are confirmed by the authority of the law (1 Cor 9:8–10) and of Jesus himself (1 Cor 9:14).
* [9:12] It appears, too, that suspicion or misunderstanding has been created by Paul’s practice of not living from his preaching. The first reason he asserts in defense of this practice is an entirely apostolic one; it anticipates the developments to follow in 1 Cor 9:19–22. He will give a second reason in 1 Cor 9:15–18.
* [9:13–14] The position of these verses produces an interlocking of the two points of Paul’s defense. These arguments by analogy (1 Cor 9:13) and from authority (1 Cor 9:14) belong with those of 1 Cor 9:7–10 and ground the first point. But Paul defers them until he has had a chance to mention “the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12b), after which it is more appropriate to mention Jesus’ injunction to his preachers and to argue by analogy from the sacred temple service to his own liturgical service, the preaching of the gospel (cf. Rom 1:9; 15:16).
* [9:15–18] Paul now assigns a more personal motive to his nonuse of his right to support. His preaching is not a service spontaneously undertaken on his part but a stewardship imposed by a sort of divine compulsion. Yet to merit any reward he must bring some spontaneous quality to his service, and this he does by freely renouncing his right to support. The material here is quite similar to that contained in Paul’s “defense” at 2 Cor 11:5–12; 12:11–18.
* [9:19–23] In a rhetorically balanced series of statements Paul expands and generalizes the picture of his behavior and explores the paradox of apostolic freedom. It is not essentially freedom from restraint but freedom for service—a possibility of constructive activity.
* [9:24–27] A series of miniparables from sports, appealing to readers familiar with Greek gymnasia and the nearby Isthmian games.
* [9:27] For fear that…I myself should be disqualified: a final paradoxical turn to the argument: what appears at first a free, spontaneous renunciation of rights (1 Cor 9:12–18) seems subsequently to be required for fulfillment of Paul’s stewardship (to preach effectively he must reach his hearers wherever they are, 1 Cor 9:19–22), and finally is seen to be necessary for his own salvation (1 Cor 9:23–27). Mention of the possibility of disqualification provides a transition to 1 Cor 10.
a. [9:1] 1 Cor 9:19 / 2 Cor 12:12 / 15:8–9 / Acts 9:17; 26:16.
b. [9:6] Acts 4:36–37; 13:1–2; Gal 2:1, 9, 13; Col 4:10.
g. [9:12] 2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18; 2 Thes 3:6–12.
h. [9:13] Nm 18:8, 31; Dt 18:1–5.
i. [9:14] Mt 10:10; Lk 10:7–8.
j. [9:15] 2 Cor 11:9–10.
k. [9:16] Acts 26:14–18.
m. [9:18] 2 Cor 11:7–12.
o. [9:22] 10:33; Rom 15:1; 2 Cor 11:29.