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This is a continuation of Applying 1 Corinthians 8.
“Why does Paul get to be in charge? Why should any of us listen to him? Why should we send him money and put him up in our houses and do what he tells us?” These are the questions certain believers in Corinth are starting to ask, and they’re fair questions. No doubt Paul seemed like big stuff when he was living among them five years ago and impressing them all with his confident aura. But now a lot of time has passed and some people are starting to ask why the church should keep taking orders from some bossy apostle. As he begins this next chapter, Paul is going to defend his position as Mr. Big Stuff. If this sounds like a carnal agenda to you, that’s because it is.
Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord? Even if others think I am not an apostle, I certainly am to you. You yourselves are proof that I am the Lord’s apostle. (1 Cor. 9:1-2)
Paul saw Jesus with his own eyes. Well whoop-dee-do. No, but really—that’s why the Corinthians have to do what he says. Trying to pull rank based on some epiphany you had is a strategy that’s as old as the hills. Today we’ve got countless prophets strutting around like proud peacocks telling us all about how Jesus showed up in their bedroom last night. Do you know who has seen Jesus face to face more than any of us? Satan. So does that mean we should all listen to him? Do you see what’s wrong with this “I saw God so that makes me better than you” logic?
Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord?
How humble of Paul to claim all of the credit for saving the believers in Corinth. The Holy Spirit—nah, He didn’t have anything to do with it. It was all thanks to Mr. Awesome here. If he hadn’t gifted the city of Corinth with his brilliant presence for eighteen months, all of these believers would still be on their way to Hell. Move over, God: there’s no room on this stage for anyone but Paul.
This is my answer to those who question my authority. Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? Don’t we have the right to bring a believing wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves? (1 Cor. 9:3-6)
Here in Chapter 9, we’re seeing our famous apostle having an entitled hissy fit. “You have to respect me because I’ve seen Jesus. You owe me because I saved your souls. I ought to be able to mooch off of you anytime I feel like it, and I ought to be able to bring all of my friends along to mooch off of you as well. I know that you’re putting up other apostles. I know that you’re giving Peter a bunch of goodies, so it’s not fair that you’re snubbing me and Barnabas. Where’s our free stuff? We’re just as important as they are!” It isn’t very pretty, is it?
What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” [Deut. 25:4] Was Yahweh thinking only about oxen when He said this? Wasn’t He actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. (1 Cor. 9:7-10)
The letter of a law is what that law technically says. The spirit of a law is the general principle that the law is putting forth. Here Paul uses one of Yahweh’s rules about being kind to farm animals to argue that apostles ought to be supported by those who they help. The spirit of Yahweh’s oxen law is that those who help accomplish something ought to share in the finished product. Oxen help separate grain kernels from their papery husks by walking on piles of kernels over and over again. The oxen save humans a ton of hard work. Yahweh says the oxen shouldn’t have their mouths tied shut so that they have to walk for hours without a bite to eat. Paul is saying the apostles are working hard as well, and because of the kind of work they do, they ought to get special privileges.
Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. (1 Cor. 9:11-12)
Notice how Paul tries to say apostles are superior to preachers. What brazen ego! Preachers could easily argue that they have the much harder lot. Apostles breeze into town, put on a show, rake in new converts, and then they leave again. What’s harder: making babies or raising them? We all know that making babies is the fun part, and in the Church, evangelists are often envied by preachers because evangelists are the guys who get to see new converts streaming down the aisles after they hold some theatrical conference. Of course most of the new converts that evangelists appear to rake in aren’t true converts at all, they’re just people who went along with the crowd. And in real life, evangelists use all kinds of manipulation tactics to entice people into coming forward. At major conferences, the first wave of people who you see coming forward are support staff who are pretending to go forward in order to encourage others to do the same. At our major conversion shows, we break out the adrenaline spiking songs, the gut wrenching testimonials, the dramatic lighting and the popular media clips. Then when everyone is in a state of emotional instability and about as far from sober thinking as we can get them, we act like their commitments to Christ are oh so sincere. We’re fools, but this is how desperate we are for numbers. We will do anything to get the numbers. We even bribe people with free gifts. All in all, the Church’s methods of evangelism today are pretty repulsive, but there it is.
It is beyond arrogant for Paul to try and elevate his personal calling as superior to all others. Paul is not superior to anyone, he’s just got an ego that is out of control. Back in Chapter 3 he told the Corinthians it was wrong to elevate one leader as better than another. Now he’s brazenly demanding that they do exactly this by viewing apostles as extra wonderful and extra deserving.
Notice how Paul goes on and on about how entitled apostles are to receive endless support and admiration, and then he turns and around and boasts about the fact that he’s never accepted a lick of support from anyone.
If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. (1 Cor. 9:12)
First Paul brags about how superior he is, then he brags about not making a big fuss about his superiority. He even goes so far as to say that the apostles would rather put up with any kind of hardship than accept the help that they are so deserving of. Fine. If Paul doesn’t want people’s help, he should stop talking about it. But Paul is such a fathead, that he can’t let anyone off the hook for supporting him without letting them know what an incredible favor he’s doing them by not demanding that they fork over his rightful share of their stuff.
Are you starting to see why certain Corinthians have lost respect for Paul as a leader? The man is so pompous and condescending. He talks like apostles are the only guys in the world who have jobs. What does he think the Corinthians are doing—sitting on their hands every day? They work, too. They have families to support, they have children to take care of. Paul isn’t the only guy in the world with sweat on his brow. But apparently Paul has no respect for other people’s work—only for his own. Paul is an apostle, and that means the whole universe should halt and bow down to him.
Don’t you realize that those who work in the Temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the Temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, Jesus ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge. Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by Yahweh to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! (1 Cor. 9:13-16)
Paul says he would rather die than lose his right to boast. Yep, that sounds about right. And yet how two-faced, for back in Chapter 1 Paul had said:
Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31)
Clearly Paul doesn’t feel it’s important to walk his talk. For a grown man to say he’d rather die than to lose his right to boast is pretty childish.
Now when Jesus was sending out His disciples on their first mission trip without Him, He told them not to take any supplies, but to live off of the charity of others (see Know Your Bible Lesson 52: Sending Out the Twelve). He said:
“Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.” (Matt. 10:10)
Well this little gem of a rule applies to all workers, not just evangelists. Both the fisherman and the preacher deserve to be fed. Everyone who works deserves to be fed. So now that we have that established, who is going to do the actual feeding? The problem with the preacher is that he isn’t producing an edible product. The fisherman can take home some of his catch and fry it up for dinner. He can sell the rest and use the money to buy other supplies for himself. But what is the preacher going to sell so that he can make money to eat? Is he going to sell God’s messages? Many today try to go this route. What do you think those little copyright warnings are about in the front of your Bibles if not about guarding a profitable product? Today many teachers in the Church are hedging their stuff and trying to charge you to gain access to things which they claim God has spoken. Well since when does God authorize us to bilk people for His pearls of wisdom? The Catholic denomination has a long, sordid history of trying to sell eternal salvation to people, but they’re not the only ones stooping to such disgusting levels. Today many preachers and teachers try to tell you that God orders you to pay their way. Many go so far as to say God will throw you into Hell if you don’t tithe. You can find scores of “anointed” prophets in the Church today who claim to have had visions of Hell in which Christians are seen roasting in the lake of fire with some kind of signage attached to their bodies which explains that they became damned by God for not tithing. And of course many have narrowed the definition of tithing to mean giving to your “home church”, which means giving to the preacher who you are currently listening to. You might be giving a bunch of money to other charity organizations, but if you’re not giving to your “home church” that church might very well accuse you of disobeying God. Some churches go so far as to post lists of the financial slackers in their congregations each week. It comes down to this: teachers want you to believe that God has issued a universal command that you owe them money. So has He?
Allow us to give you a little inside perspective on this issue. As you’ve noticed, we teach about God. We’ve posted reams of material on the internet instructing Christians about who God is and what He wants from them. We could go on and on about how much work goes into this, but who cares? The point is this: we work full time at this teaching business. We have no other job. We don’t receive a paycheck. And yet God has clearly commanded us not to accept any money from you, and not to charge you for anything that we put out. Why would God tell us not to try and hit you up for money if the old oxen law applies across the board for every teacher? Because clearly Paul is wrong when he tries to say every leader in the church is authorized by God to go around demanding handouts from others.
When an employee has a problem, who should he go to for resolution—some random guy on the street or to his boss? God is our Boss. So if we have a problem with our provisions, it’s God we’re going to talk to, not you. Paul is an apostle. Paul is about to go on another boasting trip about how Yahweh is his Boss. Fine. Then if Paul has a beef with the job accommodations, he needs to take it up with his Boss, not unload this ugly pile of carnality onto the heads of the Corinthians.
At the end of the day, it’s really no one else’s problem if you’re hungry or tired or frustrated. You need to take responsibility for your own life and look to God if you’ve got a problem with how He is providing for you. If God wants other people to provide for you, He knows how to motivate them to do so. But when you get in there and start waving the flag of entitlement, you’re just being a yuck. This whole speech Paul is laying out is very repulsive. The man is modeling bratty, juvenile behavior when he could be modeling faith in God. If the Corinthians have decided that they don’t want to listen to Paul anymore, he should graciously move on, not throw this pathetic tantrum. If the Corinthians don’t want to send Paul anymore support, fine. Where is Paul’s faith in God? If he’s so confident in the validity of his calling, why isn’t he also confident that God will provide for him in that calling? Or does Paul think that God is the kind of Father who dumps His kids by the side of the road and leaves them at the mercy of others? It doesn’t sound like Paul knows God very well, does it?
If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for Yahweh has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News. (1 Cor. 9:17-18)
For a guy who never demands his rights we’ve been hearing a lot about rights in this chapter. Paul is so good at dishing out doubletalk in his letters.
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
Here Paul boasts about what a little chameleon he is. He is constantly changing his behavior so he can blend in with his current target audience. And this is supposed to make us respect him? Do you respect someone who constantly puts on phony airs in order to earn the approval of others?
Today there’s a big fuss in the Church over “relevancy”. The theory of relevant teaching could be summarized like this:
“The Holy Spirit is an idiot who has no idea how to communicate with the humans He created. Since we obviously know people so much better than He does, it’s on us to change God’s messages however much we deem is necessary in order to reach the current target audience.”
Does this sound like a God-honoring attitude? Since when are we smarter than God? Since when does God make errors in His wording, tone, or approach? Do you know why so many sermons you hear in the Church today are such unedifying rot? Because someone tried to make them “relevant”. As soon as we start giving the Holy Spirit this arrogant “Let us improve You” attitude, He puts out His tripwire and sends us all sprawling headlong onto our faces. The minute you start trying to “fix” God, you’re heading down the road of idiocy and God will delight in fixing you right back. When God says something, He always gets it right the first time, so we need to put the red pens away and remember that apart from God, we are total morons.
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Now that we’ve lost all respect for Paul, he tries to tell us about how hard he strives in his own walk because he obviously has no idea what it means to please God, therefore he’s constantly afraid of missing the mark. He says we should all try to imitate him so we can all lay awake at night fretting about God suddenly rejecting us. What a fine spiritual role model this man is.
UP NEXT: Applying 1 Corinthians 10: More Beefing About Idol Meats