1 Corinthians 9

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs.

1 Corinthians 9

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Paul's rights as an apostle 
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.

3 This is my defence to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 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 lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever ploughs and threshes should be able 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? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 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, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Paul's use of his freedom

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 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 people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

The need for self-discipline
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 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 for ever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.


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This chapter highlights the integrity of Paul as he seeks to preach the Gospel. As an apostle himself (1), the first person to preach to the Corinthians (2b), he is entitled to the same "rights" as other itinerant preachers - like to be materially supported whilst with a church (4) and taking his wife with him when he travelled (5). He argues there is nothing wrong with these practices (7-11).


He has not exercised these rights. This was used against him by opponents in the Corinthian church who insinuate that this undermines his apostolic credentials. But he chose not to be a burden on any church, working as a tent maker to support himself.

Why did he do this?

Spiritual freedom is supremely important to him. He does not want to be beholden to anyone. He is free to live like a Jew amongst the Jews and a Gentile amongst the Gentiles (19-21) so as the preach the Gospel to anyone without hindrance.

At this stage in his ministry, there was the potential for division between those who believed that Gentiles who came to faith needed to adopt the signs of belonging to Israel (circumcision, ritual food laws) and those who did not. Paul wants to enact the freedom the Gospel brings - and this includes a "no strings attached" approach to his ministry. No one could say they had bought him or that he owed them anything. The only thing he feels he owes anyone is the obligation to preach the Gospel (16-17) - and this he owes to Jesus himself because he had mercy on him, a man who persecuted the church.


Integrity (everything within us pointing in the same direction) is really important. Is there anything in your life that is pointing elsewhere?

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