Willingly Surrendering Our Rights to Christ - 1 Corinthians 9:1-23

Willingly Surrendering Our Rights to Christ


1 Corinthians 9:1-27
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In this chapter, Paul addresses apostolic rights and why he is entitled to them, and why he surrenders them. Keying in on the closing verse of the previous chapter, Paul essentially tells the Corinthian church that he willingly surrenders his rights so that he does not cause anyone, or the church, to stumble. He provides a personal example from his life of what he discussed in the previous chapter. Even though we have freedom in Christ, we don’t need to exercise our rights or liberties if it causes someone to stumble.

Paul lays the foundation of his apostleship. He is free in Christ and is only governed by God. He also notes that he meets the criteria of being an apostle because he bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Additionally, the mark and proof of his work is the church of Corinth itself. He planted that church and, by his teaching of the Gospel, their hearts are affected and changed by his ministry to them. 

Apostles at that time had the right to material support from churches. Today, pastors and missionaries today are supported by churches. But this can be a stumbling point and hindrance for some Christians. There are some churches and ministries that continue to ask for more money and abuse the right to support. The Corinthians challenged Paul’s apostleship rights because he didn’t partake in them. Additionally, Paul worked with his hands, and this was below the Greeks because manual labor was only for the servants. Because he worked with his hands, then he must not be an apostle and must not have the right to receive material support from them. The previous chapters demonstrated their unwillingness to yield to Paul’s authority. Paul gives several examples of why he was entitled to this support and why he is entitled to the rights of an apostle. 

After Paul gives reasons for his right to material support, he tells them why he willingly surrenders his rights. Paul was called by God to preach the Gospel, and he viewed it as a reward to do this for free. He did not want to take money or support from a new Christian church because he did not want to hinder the glory of God and the growth of that church. Paul’s reward for preaching wasn’t exercising his right for material support from the church, but it was a spiritual reward from God. He willingly submitted to God’s calling in his life to preaching, and that was reward enough. He knew that God would provide, and he did not want to hinder any one church. He did not want any churches to feel obligated to support him. He wanted to be a servant to all of them and support all of them with the Gospel of Jesus. 

Willingly surrendering his apostolic rights allowed Paul to be a ‘free agent’ to all the churches and new Christians. He says that he was no longer under the Law of Moses but was under the law of God and Christ. He wasn’t working outside of the law of Christ. This allowed him to meet with both Jews and Gentiles and eat their food without causing them to stumble. Paul did this so that there were no barriers to the Gospel and that they would be more receptive toward Paul. 

Finally, Paul equates our Christian walk to a race. As Christians, we compete against ourselves and not other Christians. We must practice self-control and discipline in our studies of God’s Word. We discipline our bodies in the ways of Christ Jesus and submit our hearts, minds, and will to the Lord so that we may complete the race set before us. Therefore, we portray the fruit of the Holy Spirit to those around us. 

Paul chose to surrender his rights of material support as an apostle willingly. He knew that his calling by God to preach the Gospel was so much greater and more rewarding than anything he could receive from man. He knew that God would provide, but he demonstrated this to the Corinthians with the purpose of not hindering anyone’s walk with Christ. God calls us to support those who feed us spiritually and those who go out from our church body to spread the Gospel. However, we don’t need to appeal to the masses for constant financial support. In our church, we have Agape boxes in the back. We believe that where God guides, He also provides. Additionally, we must exercise self-discipline and train for the race that God sets before us. But training for that race requires spending time in God’s Word to gain more understanding of His love and then grow in spiritual maturity. 

I encourage all of us to evaluate our lives and our walk with Christ. Are we being self-disciplined, and are we willingly submitting to His calling, not asking anything in return so that we don’t cause others to stumble?
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