The assertion in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 8 of his willingness to sacrifice for ever his own right to eat meat, about which he had himself no conscientious scruple, out of a tender regard to the spiritual welfare of others, seems to have reminded the Apostle that another act of self-sacrifice on his part had not only been unappreciated, but made the grounds of an unworthy attempt on the part of some (probably the Jewish Christians) to depreciate and even call in question his apostolic dignity and authority. At Corinth (Acts 18:3), and elsewhere (Acts 20:34, and 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:9), the Apostle, instead of depending upon the Church for support, had laboured as a tent-maker. Cilicium, a kind of cloth used for tent-coverings, took its name from Cilicia, where the goats out of whose hair it was made were found in abundance; and the manufacture of it was naturally the handicraft which a native of Tarsus in Cilicia would, according to general custom, have learnt in his boyhood. The followers of St. Peter, with maliciously ingenious logic, argued from this practice of St. Paul’s that his dignity and authority were thereby proved to be somewhat inferior to that of St. Peter and the Lord’s brethren, who were supported by the Christian Church. It is to this subject the Apostle now turns, and the chapter (9) is occupied with his reply to their insinuations. If we remember that so long an epistle could not have been written at a single sitting, but probably occupied many days in its composition, such change in subject and style as we have an example of in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 8 and the first verse of this chapter, will not seem so abrupt and startling as at first sight they may appear. This chapter deals with its subject in a style eminently characteristic of the Apostle. While in the earlier part the style is argumentative, with here and there flashes of sarcasm or of passionate appeal, towards the end it is full of earnest and loving pathos. The subject of the entire chapter is “The vindication of his personal conduct as an Apostle,” and this is arranged in the following order:—
I.1 Corinthians 9:1-18. THE ASSERTION OF HIS RIGHTS AS AN APOSTLE, AND HIS VOLUNTARY ABNEGATION OF THEM.
-11 Corinthians 9:1-3. The assertion of his apostolic dignity.
-21 Corinthians 9:4-14. The assertion of his right to be supported by the Church, and that he did not avail himself of it.
This right is maintained from the following considerations:—
(a)1 Corinthians 9:4-6. The fact that others and their wives are so supported.
(b)1 Corinthians 9:7. An appeal to the facts of ordinary life, illustrated by the cases of a soldier, a vine-keeper, and a shepherd.
(c)1 Corinthians 9:8-10. A reference to the principles of Jewish law.
(d)1 Corinthians 9:11-12. The treatment of other Christian teachers.
(e)1 Corinthians 9:13. The support of the Jewish priesthood.
(f)1 Corinthians 9:14. The command of Christ Himself.
-31 Corinthians 9:15-18. The cause and motive of the Apostle’s voluntary abnegation of this right.
II.1 Corinthians 9:19-27. IN OTHER MATTERS AS WELL AS IN THIS, THE APOSTLE WAS INFLUENCED BY A REGARD FOR OTHERS.
-11 Corinthians 9:19-22. The various forms which this self-sacrifice assumed for their sakes.
-21 Corinthians 9:22-27. The bearing of it on himself personally.
Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?—To have seen Christ was a necessary qualification for the Apostolate (Acts 1:21). From the manner in which the Apostle here asks the question, and does not answer it, it would seem that although some small minority might, for some party purpose, have at some time questioned it, yet that the fact was generally admitted and universally known that St. Paul did actually see the Lord at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:4), and on other occasions (Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17).
Are not ye my work in the Lord?—This is a further proof of his Apostleship, and therefore of his right or freedom to have demanded support from the Church. (See 1 Corinthians 4:15.)
The brethren of the Lord, and Cephas.
Doth God take care for oxen?—We must not take these and the following words as a denial of the divine regard for the brute creation, which runs through the Mosaic law and is exemplified in Jonah 4:11, but as an expression of the Apostle’s belief as to the ultimate and highest object of God’s love. The good which such a provision as the Law achieved for the oxen was nothing compared to the good which it accomplished for man. God did not do this simply as a provision for the ox, but to teach us men humanity—to teach us that it is a divine principle that the labourer should have his reward.
But suffer all things—i.e., We endure all kinds of hard work and privation rather than use a power which I have demonstrated we possess, and which others actually avail themselves of, lest our doing so might, in a way, hinder the progress of Christ’s gospel by giving enemies any even apparent reason for attributing our zeal to unworthy motives.
They which minister. . . .—Better, They which minister about the holy things eat from the temple, and they which serve at the altar have their share with the altar. The first part of this passage refers to the general principle that the priests who were engaged in the Temple services were supported from the various offerings which were brought there, and the second clause more definitely alludes to the particular fact that when a sacrifice was offered on the altar, the sacrificing priests, as well as the altar, had a share of the animal. (See Leviticus 6:16; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 7:6; Numbers 5; Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 10, 18) A suggestion that the allusion might be to the custom of the heathen priests is wholly inadmissible, for such would have no force for Christians, and would entirely destroy the sequence of the next verse.
They which preach the gospel.—The preaching of the gospel is in the Christian ministry the function which corresponds to the offering of sacrifice in the Jewish priesthood. Bengel well remarks, “If the Mass were a sacrifice, Paul would undoubtedly have accommodated to it the apodosis here.”
Neither have I written these things.—Better, neither am I writing. The Apostle in these words carefully guards against the possibility of their taking these arguments used here as an indication of any intention on his part to give up now the independent position which he had hitherto assumed.
It were better for me to die.—The meaning of these words is evidently that the Apostle would rather die than make void his right to boast or glory in his unremunerated work in the Church—which would be the case if he now or ever condescended to receive, as others did, any support from them. There is, however, a great variety of readings as to the actual mode of expression of this thought. One suggestion is that the words may read thus:—“It were better for me to die than (receive reward from you); no man shall make my ground of boasting void.” Another is; “It were better for me to die, rather than any one should make my ground of boasting void.” There is great weight in favour of both of these readings. The following have also been suggested as possible readings of the passage:—“It were better for me to die than that my ground of boasting should die; no one shall make it void;” and “It were better for me to die than that my ground of boasting ——; no man shall make it void.” In this last case the Apostle pauses in the middle of his impassioned declaration, and leaves the sentence unfinished, as he flings aside the thought that his ground of boasting could be removed, and exclaims earnestly and emphatically, “No man shall make it void.” Perhaps, on the whole, especially having regard to the character of the writer, this last rendering is most likely to be the true one. In any case, the general drift and meaning of the passage is the same. The Apostle would rather die than lose his ground of boasting, and he boldly asserts his determination to let no one deprive him of it.
A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.—Better, I am entrusted with a stewardship.
The word “For,” introducing the answer, would seem to imply that the reward must be a greater one. “For” though an Apostle, I became a slave of all that I might gain the greater number. The words “greater number” probably include the two ideas, viz., a greater number than he could have gained had he used his rights as an Apostle, and also a greater number of converts than was gained by any other Apostle.
For example, of St. Paul’s conformity to Jewish law, see Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 20:6; Acts 21:26.
To them that are under the law. . . .—Better, To them that are under the Law, as under the Law, not being myself under the Law. These last words are found in all the best MSS., but have been omitted by an oversight of the copyist in the text from which our own translation is made. Those spoken of as “Jews” are, of course, Jews by birth and religion; those “under the Law” are probably proselytes to Judaism. In neither case do they mean Christian converts, for the object of St. Paul’s conduct towards those of whom he here speaks was to win them to the Faith of Christ. He himself was no longer “under the Law” being a Christian (Galatians 2:19).
I am made all things to all. . . .—Better, I am become all things to all men that I should save at least some. Although he had thus accommodated himself, so far as was possible, consistently with Christian duty, to the weaknesses of all, he could only hope to win some of them. The natural climax would have been—“I become all things to all men that I might win all.” But the Apostle’s humility could not let him dare to hope for so great a reward as that. All the self-sacrifice he could make was necessary to gain “at all events some,” and that would be his ample reward. The word “save” means “win over to Christianity,” as in 1 Corinthians 7:16, and is used here instead of the previous word “gain,” being repeated to prevent any possible perversion of the Apostle’s meaning as to “gaining men.” His subject was not, as enemies might suggest, to win them to himself—but to Christ.
So run—i.e., run in the way referred to, so that you may gain a prize.
Is temperate in all things.—He fulfils not only some, but all of the necessary preliminary conditions. He indulges self in no way.
They do it to obtain a corruptible crown.—There are two striking points of contrast between the earthly race and the spiritual course. There is but one obtains a reward in the earthly contest; none need fail of it in the heavenly race. That reward in the one case is perishable; in the other it is imperishable. If, then—such is St. Paul’s argument—men show such extraordinary devotion and self-sacrifice for a reward which is merely perishable, and which each has only a chance of gaining, what should not be the devotion and self-sacrifice of those for all of whom an imperishable reward is certain!
So fight I.—The illustration is changed from running to boxing, both being included in the word used in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “contending.” He has an adversary to contend against, and he strikes him, and does not wildly and impotently strike at him, and so only beat the air.
Bring it into subjection.—Better, and make it a slave. The idea is carried on that the body is not only conquered, but led captive. We must remember that the language all throughout this passage is figurative, and the statement here refers, not to the infliction of actual pain on the body, but to the subduing of the appetites and passions which are located in it. The true position of our natural appetites is that they should be entirely our servants, and not our masters; that we “should not follow or be led by them,” but that they should follow and be led by us.
Lest that by any means.—Better, lest having been a herald to others, I myself should be rejected. The image is carried on, and the Apostle says that he has a further motive to live a life of self-denial—viz., that he having acted as a herald, proclaiming the conditions of the contest and the requisite preliminaries for it, should not be found to have himself fulfilled them. It is the same image kept up still of this race, and of the herald who announced the name of the victor, and the fact that he had fulfilled the necessary conditions. It was not the custom for the herald to join in the contest, but the Apostle was himself both a runner in the Christian course, and a herald of the conditions of that race to others. Hence, naturally, he speaks of the two characters, which in the actual illustration would be distinct, as united in one when applied spiritually to himself. The word “cast away” conveys a wrong impression. The Greek word signifies one who had not behaved according to the prescribed regulations.