June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 9: Freedom to be a slave

Yesterday we exercised our RIGHT TO VOTE. Today we exercise our RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION. It’s rights like this we take for granted in Australia.

But it’s JUST NOT LIKE THAT in many countries around the world. Like Afghanistan. Since the Taliban came to power several years ago, women have become more and more oppressed. Their basic human rights taken away.

Things like the right to work. In fact, ANY women’s activity outside the home is banned. Women aren’t allowed to deal with male shopkeepers, or be treated by male doctors.

A woman died from severe burns in a Kabul hospital after a Taliban official stopped doctors from removing her chaderi (or protective robe).

They can’t go to school, wear cosmetics or high heels. They mustn’t talk or shake hands with other men. They can’t laugh loudly, or even travel on the same bus as men. The windows of houses must be painted so WOMEN CAN’T EVEN BE SEEN from outside.

THERE ARE SOME BASIC RIGHTS THAT GO WITH BEING A HUMAN BEING. Like the right to health care, to equality of opportunity, to shelter. To food and water.

When people are denied rights like this, we get angry.

And Paul’s point in this chapter/ is that there are some basic rights that go with being AN APOSTLE. The right to be fed. To be paid. To bring a wife on his travels. The right not to work.

Paul is free to claim these rights. He DESERVES them. But instead of demanding them. Instead of getting angry. He’s willing to GIVE THEM UP.

Because there’s so much more to his life than standing up for his rights. Life’s been turned on its head since he met Jesus. Since Jesus gave him a new job. A new COMMISSION. To preach the gospel. And that was a task that CONSUMED Paul.

And so standing up for his rights just didn’t seem important anymore. In fact, if rights got in the way of preaching the gospel, he’d drop them faster than you can say, “Show me the money!”

You see, Paul’s eyes were on a GREATER prize. A crown from God himself. The gold medal. And Paul would give up ANYTHING he’d earned HERE/ to make sure he’d win THAT prize.

1. This is who I am! – Rights established (1-2)

And it’s not like he wasn’t ENTITLED to a few honours here. That’s his first point. After all he WAS an apostle! Actually seen the risen Lord Jesus. And appointed by him IN PERSON. And in Christian circles, that made him just about as high up as you could get!

That’s the first part of Paul’s argument. Establishing his rights. “This is who I am” Verse 1 &2

(1 Cor 9:1-2 NIV)  Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? {2} Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

It seems like some people were casting doubts on whether Paul was an authentic apostle. “He’s just a Johnny-come-lately. He never actually FOLLOWED Jesus. Just some vision he CLAIMS he saw. And what’s more, he doesn’t even EXPECT the same treatment as the others. He won’t take a pay check. He’s just some apostle”

Paul’s answer. I AM an apostle. I’ve SEEN Jesus our Lord. Not just some vision. But the resurrected, EXALTED Jesus. And, in a sense, that’s better than ANYONE ELSE.

And what’s more. You’re my certificate of authenticity. You know my work. You’ve heard my message. You became Christians. You’re the evidence that it’s Jesus who’s behind my work.

Verse 3. That’s what I’ll say to anyone who wants to pick a fight!

2. This is what I deserve!  – Rights (3-14)

Next, Paul moves onto what his rights ARE as an apostle. “This is what I deserve!” Verse 4.

(1 Cor 9:4-6 NIV)  Don’t we have the right to food and drink? {5} Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas ? {6} Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

At least three privileges the OTHER bigwigs in the church claimed. The apostolic expense account. Food and drink. Travel expenses for the wife. And not having to work for a living.

“Don’t Barnabas and I have the same rights?”, says Paul. And to prove his point, he gives four different examples. Four situations where it’s perfectly for the worker to receive some sort of payment from the type of work he did. Verse 7.

  1. No SOLDIER pays his own way. He gets paid. Obvious
  2. What VINEYARD WORKER doesn’t satisfy his hunger during the day by munching on some grapes? Obvious.
  3. What SHEPHERD doesn’t put milk from the cows or goats in his cup of tea? Obvious.

(And down in v 13.)

  1. Even the TEMPLE WORKERS get to eat the BBQ that’s served up on the altar.

Four arguments from the way the world works. And he backs them up with TWO BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES. Verse 9. Moses said “Don’t muzzle the ox while it’s treading out the grain”.

But Moses is doing more than just talking about CATTLE. It’s a whole PRINCIPLE he’s arguing. Verse 10.

(1 Cor 9:10-11 NIV)  Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. {11} If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

And he backs it up in v14. Even Jesus said as much. The worker deserves his wages.

(1 Cor 9:14 NIV)  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

The argument’s finished. His point’s been proved. I’m an apostle. This is who I am. And I deserve these rights just as much as the next apostle. This is what I deserve.


3. This is what I give up! – Rights surrendered (12b,15-23)

Part 3 of his argument. I surrender them all. This is what I give up. No right is worth holding onto/ if it’s in the way of the gospel.

In fact, he says it twice.

Verse 12. The second half of the verse.

(1 Cor 9:12 NIV)  … But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Verse 15.

(1 Cor 9:15 NIV)  But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.

Notice that Paul doesn’t make his point so the Corinthians will START GIVING HIM STUFF. It’s the LAST THING on his mind. He’s totally committed to NOT CLAIMING his rights. To preaching the gospel for free. It’s his BOAST. His claim to fame. He’s PROUD of the way he’s done things.

And it can’t have been easy. Acts 18 tells us that he worked as a tent-maker for a year and a half in Corinth. Dirty, tiring, smelly work. He worked ALL DAY, so he could afford to tell people the gospel ALL NIGHT. It would have been far easier to accept their money.

It’s pretty strong language, isn’t it? “I’d rather DIE than have anyone deprive me of MY BOAST”.

So WHY is he so committed to it? Why such intensity? All for the sake of a few dollars. Let me suggest three reasons. The nature of Paul’s OPPOSITION. The nature of Paul’s GOSPEL. And the nature of Paul’s CALL.

Firstly, the nature of Paul’s opposition. Paul preaches the gospel for free/ to separate himself from false teachers who are charging for their ministry.

We’ve seen glimpses through 1 Corinthians/ of the sort of people who were making trouble for Paul. But it’s in 2 Corinthians that they come into focus more clearly.

BOASTING is pretty strong language. And that sounds pretty conceited to our ears. But the thing to remember is that he’s RESPONDING to what OTHERS are saying. To OTHERS who are BOASTING.

In 2 Corinthians 10 -12, the language of BOASTING comes up again. And Paul’s point is that at least he has some GROUNDS for boasting – not like his critics.

He compares himself to a group he sarcastically calls the SUPER-APOSTLES. Bigger and better at everything. More spectacular gifts, more eloquent speakers, bigger salaries. And bigger egos.

Listen to what he says about them. 2 Corinthians 10 v12

(2 Cor 10:12-18 NIV)  We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with SOME who commend themselves. When they measure themselves BY THEMSELVES and compare themselves WITH THEMSELVES, they are not wise.

{13} WE, HOWEVER, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will CONFINE OUR BOASTING TO THE FIELD GOD HAS ASSIGNED TO US, a field that reaches even to you. {14} We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. {15} Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, {16} so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. {17} But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” {18} For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Paul boasts about his ministry. About the fruit that he’s seen. About the effectiveness of the wonderful gospel that he’s proclaimed. His boast is IN THE LORD. And in what Jesus has done through him.

And part of the strategy of that ministry has been to DO IT FOR FREE. To cut the big egos down to size. To put the super-apostles in their place. Halfway through v9 of ch 11.

(2 Cor 11:9-13 NIV)  … I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. {10} As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this BOASTING of mine. {11} Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! {12} AND I WILL KEEP ON DOING WHAT I AM DOING IN ORDER TO CUT THE GROUND FROM UNDER THOSE WHO WANT AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE CONSIDERED EQUAL WITH US IN THE THINGS THEY BOAST ABOUT. {13} For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.

Paul presents the gospel for free, and BOASTS of it, firstly, because of the nature of his opposition.

Secondly, Paul presents the gospel for free because of THE NATURE OF HIS GOSPEL. The whole message of the cross/ is God’s FREE GIFT of salvation through Jesus. It would be completely wrong to offer that gift to someone, and then to expect them to pay for it.

What sort of a preacher preaches about a Saviour who gave up all his rights, then demands his own rights?

Instead, Paul either worked for himself. Or he accepted help from other churches he’d already planted. Still in 2 Corinthians 10. Verse 7.

(2 Cor 11:7-9 NIV)  Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? {8} I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. {9} And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.

It makes sense that churches that are BEING established accept the gift of the gospel FOR FREE. And it makes sense that churches who have RECEIVED THE GIFT IN THE PAST should show their gratitude by giving for other churches to be planted.

What would people think if the Tuohy’s or the Richardsons, or the Chadwicks were to take up a collection in the streets of Spain, or France, or Ghana. It’s just not appropriate to the message. The two don’t match up.

Or look at us. In the same way, many other churches have helped to establish Western Blacktown over the years. That’s one of the functions of being part of a denomination. To provide the mechanism for established churches to help new churches.

Paul gives the gift of the gospel for free because that’s the nature of the gospel.

Third. Paul preaches for free because of THE NATURE OF HIS CALL. He has no choice. He’s simply discharging the task his Lord gave him to do. Like a servant and a master. No wage, or reward, is expected/ because that’s the nature of the master – servant relationship.

It’s a command, not a suggestion. A statement, not a question. Like we say to our kids. “That was a statement, not a question. It was ‘You WILL clean your room’. Not “WILL you clean your room?”’.

Paul has no choice. I think that’s what we’re to make of v 16- 18 of 1 Corinthians 9.

(1 Cor 9:16-17 NIV)  Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am COMPELLED to preach. WOE TO ME if I DON’T preach the gospel! {17} If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; IF NOT VOLUNTARILY, I am simply DISCHARGING THE TRUST COMMITTED TO ME.

And Paul concludes in v18. If he’s only a servant doing what he’s told, then the only wage he can claim. The only REWARD. Is that he doesn’t CLAIM a wage.

(1 Cor 9:18 NIV)  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

And while plenty of ministers like to preach on the FIRST part of this chapter. “Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel”. We need to take Paul’s attitude in this part seriously TOO.

If we believe God has given us the task to proclaim the gospel. Then we are simply doing our duty. If we’re just doing what we’re told/ how can we claim any privilege, or esteem, or respect, or appreciation, or attention.

Don’t look for rewards. Just do it. Don’t worry about recognition. Just get on with it. Don’t be concerned with who notices, or with what results you can see, or whether your rights are being upheld.

Just keep going. Keep working at discharging the trust that Jesus gave you. Be faithful. And let God worry about the rest.

And it’s not just to do with MONEY. This attitude flows into EVERYTHING Paul does. He gives up his right to support. But he also gives up EVERY OTHER RIGHT. Whatever is needed, so that people might be won. Saved for the kingdom. Verse 19.

(1 Cor 9:19 NIV)  Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

And then he gives some examples. A whole approach to life that’s based on giving up HIS preferences/ for the sake of others. MOVING TOWARDS SOMEONE ELSE to make the gospel more acceptable. Verse 20.

(1 Cor 9:20-22 NIV)  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. {21} To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. {22} To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some

It might mean joining the RSL Club because that’s where your workmates go after work. It might mean signing up for a Education craft, or cooking course with your neighbour. Or joining a gym with your workmate during your lunch hour. Or organising a Father and Son camping weekend with your son’s soccer team. Or coaching your daughter’s netball team. Or volunteering for the P&F association at your school.

Or WHATEVER it might be. Giving up your rights. So that the gospel might be furthered.

But it’s not giving up WHO YOU ARE. There’s still the personal integrity of being a consistent person whatever your surroundings. Notice how Paul clarifies his position. Just in case anyone would misunderstand him. “In case you think I’m submitting to everything in the law again. I’m not under the law. I just go along with the externals. I became LIKE those under the law”.

“And just in case you think I’ve completely dumped the law, and am living the immoral life of a pagan. I only said I became LIKE someone not under the law. I’m not actually free from God’s law because I’m under Christ’s law).”

Paul’s point/ is be as free as you like ON THE NEGOTIABLES. The things that DON’T REALLY MATTER. Be a swinging voter on those things.

But don’t change who you are IN TERMS OF YOUR CHARACTER. Who you are before God. Don’t budge an inch there.

And remember that’s it’s for the gospel. The temptation for me is to do those things so that people will think I’m a good guy. “Oh, isn’t Dave good. He gives up his time to coach this, or do that!”

But it’s got to be for the gospel. Check your motives. How is the truth of the gospel impacting on those relationships you’re building. How is it redeeming the time you’re putting into them.

It would be an EASY life if we were just yes-men. Or yes-women. Chameleons changing to suit whatever environment we were in. Following the path of least resistance. Never wanting to disappoint anyone. But that’s not Paul’s motivation. His lifestyle is much more difficult.

5. This is what I do

It’s NOT an easy life. Keeping the gospel as number one priority is hard-work. It’s easy to SAY. But much harder to do. When it comes to the cold, hard facts of how you use the hours in your day. Or how you spend the money in your pocket. Or what you conversations are like.

Keeping the gospel NUMBER ONE is hard work. And Paul goes on to paint a colourful picture of what a life like that looks like. This is what I do.

It’s like the professional athlete. Who is totally focussed. Who’s eyes are always on the prize. Who’s diet, and sleep patterns, and training, and social life, and work commitments, are all designed around that final goal. Of winning the contest.

And Paul’s point is that they’re devoted to a prize that doesn’t last. How much more should Christians strive for the ETERNAL prize. The inheritance that God’s got for us in heaven. Verse 25.

(1 Cor 9:25 NIV)  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

And with a crown like that in view, a Christian’s training should be just as single-minded. Verse 26.

(1 Cor 9:26-27 NIV)  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. {27} No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

He trains. And punishes his body. He works on his weaknesses. He crucifies the old nature. He does without physical comforts. He endures prison and beatings.

Because his eyes are on the prize. Not the gold medal from some politician. But the “Well done, good and faithful servant” from his Lord and Saviour. The Master who’d given his servant the task. “Proclaim my gospel”.

And so that’s what Paul did. He proclaimed the gospel. With his mouth. But also with his actions. He gave up all rights. Anything he deserved, anything he knew he was free to do. But which might stand in the way of the message.

And that action, in itself, proclaims the gospel. Because the gospel is all about God’s free offer of forgiveness. The gospel is all about Jesus giving up HIS rights. Putting aside the glories of heaven. And humbling himself. For the weak, he became weak.

(Phil 2:5-11 NIV)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: {6} Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to — even on a cross! {9} Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. AMEN.       …..  Let’s pray

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