“It's Not About Rights”
1 Corinthians 9:1-14
June 18, 2006
Maturity often means giving up my rights.
I. Does RHIP? (1 Cor 9:1-6)
II. The Right to Receive Support (1 Cor 9:7-14)
III. Giving Up My Rights (1 Cor 9:12-18)
MessageAmerica was founded on a principle of human rights. The Declaration of Independence says We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. And so a government was instituted to secure these rights, and when the constitution was written a Bill of Rights was added, outlining in practical terms what the Founding Fathers intended to protect. That was about 220 years ago, and the system has worked reasonably well. But in recent years stress has developed because both the judicial system and popular movements have begun to claim new rights that the founding fathers wouldnt even recognize. Based on a principle called substantive due process the courts have found between the lines of the constitution rights to privacy, to abortion, to contraception, to unmarried sexual relationships, to homosexual marriage and to a right to die. And special interest groups are continually lobbying for new rights. One of my favorite examples comes from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA. They claim that Rats Have Rights. Whole websites have been developed on this theme. In June of 2000 PETA staged a protest against the TV show Survivor for showing the survivors killing and eating rats. The protestors chanted for hours Rats have rights! Rats have rights and I asked myself what rights do they have? The right to vote? The right to privacy? The right to remain silent? The right to get abortions? I mean what rights precisely do rats or trees or people have? And should they cling to those rights in every situation?
This is not a new question, and it was raised by the text we studied last week. The freedom party in Corinth felt that theologically and practically they had a right to eat meat offered to idols. But Paul told them that right or freedom must be tempered by a concern for the consciences of their fellow believers. In chapter 9 Paul goes on to use his rights as an example. He was the apostle to the Gentiles and the premiere evangelist and church planter of his day - certainly he was entitled to some rights and privileges. But he teaches in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 that maturity often means giving up my rights. It did for Paul, and it often does for us.
I. Does RHIP? (1 Cor 9:1-6)
Paul has to establish first that there is some expectation of privilege on his part. He talks about the rights of an apostle in 1 Corinthians 9:1-6. 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? 2Even 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. 3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5Don'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? 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
Does rank have its privileges? When Gail was growing up, this was a favorite saying of her fathers, as for example when he and her mother would have lobster and the kids would have hamburgers. Paul answers with four rhetorical questions of his own. The first question Am I not free? ties this chapter back to the previous where he argued that those free to eat meat offered to idols might have to restrain their freedom for the sake of others. But Paul did more: he has not only restrained himself relative to the general rights of all Christians, but also his special rights as an apostle, one who has seen Jesus our Lord. Apostles were authoritative witnesses of the gospel, and the resurrection. Since Paul wasnt one of the original disciples, some may have questioned his right to this position. But on the Damascus road he had seen the Lord, and he did bear witness to the resurrection. And the Corinthians know and should remember all this because they themselves are the result of his work in the Lord. Even for an apostle the work of ministry must be work in the Lord or it will not prosper. And the fact that it did is a witness to his apostleship.
Others might call Pauls apostleship into question, verse 2, but the Corinthians ought to be the last to do so. He was their father in the Lord; no one else had that same relationship; they were living proof of the effectiveness of his work, the seal of his work. In that age, when many couldnt read, the elaborate wax seal on a document confirmed that it was authentic. Paul is saying look at yourselves; look at the Lords work in and among you; you are the confirmation of my apostleship. Contrary to some translators, verse 3 should be taken with the first two verses, and is the summary thought: This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Paul feels that he can point to the church in Corinth, and to the other churches the Lord planted through him, as the proof of his apostleship.
But does this rank have certain privileges? Verse 4: Don't we have the right to food and drink? The Corinthians had apparently claimed the right to eat food offered to idols, and Paul says dont I have certain rights too? In fact most commentators agree that the verse could be paraphrased and dont we apostles have the right to be given our food and drink by the churches? The fact that Paul doesnt use that right doesnt make him ineligible. Verse 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? Notice, contrary to the teaching of the Catholic church, that Paul assumes some apostles at least are married, and he says that they had the right to take their wives along with them at the churchs expense. Paul specifically points to the case of Peter, Cephas, who we know from the Gospels was married - Jesus healed his mother-in-law, and who was one of the important influences on the church at Corinth. Paul also mentions the Lords brothers, probably including James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem. These witnesses to Jesus had the right to bring along their wives.
In verse 6 Paul asserts the right to compensation for ministry: Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? The NIV violates the rules of English by saying I and Barnabas instead of Barnabas and I - but it does reflect the Greek word order. We know Paul worked as a tent-maker during his missionary journeys. We dont know what Barnabas did, but apparently he worked also. Paul asserts that the rank of apostle has the privilege of church support. But Paul himself did not claim it.
II. The Right to Receive Support (1 Cor 9:7-14)
So weve seen that Paul is clearly an apostle, and that the rank of apostle does have a few relatively modest privileges: food and drink, the freedom to bring wives on apostolic trips, and an expectation of compensation. In the next several verses he reinforces that last privilege, to show how Biblical and practical it is. Verse 7 to 14: 7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9For 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? 10Surely 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. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If 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. 13Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Paul gives five reasons to show that those who labor in ministry should be supported by the church. The first is common practice or common sense. Verse 7 gives three Biblical metaphors for ministry - the soldier, the farmer and the shepherd. Each of these would expect to be sustained while he works. The soldier does not cover his own expenses - the government is expected to supply him while he fights. The farmer quite clearly deserves a portion of his crop. I recently read a book on the Russian civil war, and learned that under war communism, the Bolsheviks were taking a hundred percent of all agricultural goods for distribution by the state. It was a miserable failure and starvation was rampant. But when they reduced the take to one fourth of the harvest, and allowed the farmers to use the rest for their own purposes, starvation virtually ceased in under two years. The third metaphor is a shepherd; if his flock produces milk, it would be foolish not to drink it. So common sense and common practice say that an apostle should reap where he has sown.
The second reason is Scriptural precept. Verses 8 and 9: Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."
In ancient Israel an ox was used in threshing; the animal trampled the wheat, thus shaking the grain loose from the husks. The mixture was tossed up in a breeze so the wind blew the chaff away, while the heavier grain fell straight down. The law provided that the ox which trod the grain was not to be muzzled; he could eat. But Paul, knowing that this quote comes from a passage dealing with people, not animals, and may have been meant figuratively from the first, says Is it about oxen God is concerned? 10Surely 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. Paul contends that the primary application of these words lies with people: the worker shares in the fruit of his work.
The third reason is simple justice. Verse 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? Paul applies the Scriptural principles of verses 8 to 10 to himself and others. Paul has labored in spiritual things among them. He is fully entitled to receive from them a small material harvest - his bread and board and simple life sustaining compensation. And verse 12 brings out the justice of such support; apparently others had already exercised the right Paul is speaking of: If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?. Perhaps Peter or Apollos or someone else had received gifts from the Corinthians. Paul hadnt Some Corinthians may even have regarded this as proof that Paul was not a real apostle, that he proclaimed his own inferiority by not claiming the sustenance which was his due.
Paul explains, verse 12: But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Paul slips in the bottom line before he adds two more reasons why sustaining Gospel workers is reasonable. The bottom line in verses 15 to 18 is that its not about rights - its about servanthood to Christ and others that advances the Gospel. In contrast to our culture Paul will not demand his rights even when they are legitimate: hes not about rights, hes about responsibilities and servanthood. So even though simple justice would argue that Paul should receive his sustenance from the Corinthians and the other churches, his devotion to God requires that these things be secondary and the Gospel primary.
But he does give a fourth and fifth reason why such provision would be reasonable. Verse 13: Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? The Corinthians need to look no further than the Jewish temple - and probably other temples in their own city - to see the same principle in daily operation. The Lord had told Aaron I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion and regular share. In fact both the priests - the sons of Aaron and the Levites - the rest of the sons of Levi were supplied from the tithes that the people of Israel brought to the temple. This is the way God had designed it work.
Finally, verse 14: In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. This is the clincher - Paul cites a command of the Lord Jesus that those who preach the gospel should be supported by those whom the Gospel benefits. As Jesus sent his disciples out he told them, Matthew 10:9-10 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. Luke 10:7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. If the Lord himself had commanded this kind of support for his people, surely Paul deserved it.
And yet were going to find that he does not cling to that right. Before we explore those verses I should probably take a slight side trip into the contemporary church and say that yes, I think it is appropriate to pay full time pastoral staff, and thank you that over the years all of you have contributed to my support and more recently Mikes. We observe in the life of Paul that when he is not supported he works, and when he is supported hes grateful and devotes full time to ministry. I think Mike and I feel the same way - your support frees us up to do the ministry tasks that you and the Lord have asked us to do. The key is for all of you to recognize it as a serious responsibility to give, to promote effective ministry, and for us to recognize that it is only by the voluntary generosity of Gods people that we have this privilege.
III. Giving Up My Rights (1 Cor 9:12-18)
Ultimately we all have Paul as a model, and his attitude is its not about rights. We may in fact have some right; we dont cling to it as a right; we focus on ministry. Verses 15 to 18: 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. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18What 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.
All of us need to respond to the principles found in these verses and the ones well study next week. Paul has made an extremely powerful case for claiming his rights, not only as a Christian, but as an apostle. Now he makes a very contradictory case and describes an approach to the ministry of the gospel that is a challenge to every believer. We already looked at verse 12: But we did not use this right. Paul strengthens this assertion in verse 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. Paul is simply not going to concern himself about rights; he had deliberately chosen to forgo each and every one of them. And if by any chance the Corinthians were beginning to think he was fund raising, they could set their minds at ease. Paul says I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.
He already said in verse 12: On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Pauls whole auto-biography supports that statement. He was passionately gripped by Jesus Christ. He would do literally anything to ensure that in every aspect of his life Christ was pre-eminent. The word endure or put up with is the same word that Paul will use in chapter 13 when he says that love endures all things. It was Pauls love for Jesus, first, and then his love for the lost and for evangelism that allowed him to endure so much. Commentator C. K Barrett puts it well: The gospel, which turned upon the love and self-sacrifice of Jesus, could not be fitly presented by preachers who insisted on their rights, delighted in the exercise of authority, and made their best profit out of the work of evangelism.
We have only to read about Pauls sufferings in 2nd Corinthians to appreciate something of what it cost him personally to share the gospel: I have been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was ship-wrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. A man who endured all this in order to serve Jesus was not likely to be fussy about his rights.
And yet Paul wouldnt credit himself with merit of his own for this endurance. Verse 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! Paul knows his calling is to bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Hes preaching not because of any admirable quality or merit of his own, for Christ has compelled him to preach. It is necessary for his life. Like air, water, food or sleep, living out his calling has become essential to his well being, and he would be miserable if kept from it. Paul thus defines a sold out believer. Is there anything about your Christian life or ministry that is as important to you as the air you breathe? Is there anything about it you could not do without? I hope for me that it is this conversation with Christ, this relationship that I want to have filling my mind and moments - but I cant say that as certainly as Paul can.
Given this compulsion, Paul doesnt see his preaching as merit. Verse 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. If Paul was doing this out of his own human initiative, somebody ought to give him a Nobel prize. There ought to be a great reward for someone who will so deny his rights and serve a cause. But Paul isnt looking for that. He sees himself in the words of the New American Standard as someone who has a stewardship entrusted to him.
The steward, of course, was the slave whom the master had put in charge of his household affairs. It was a position of responsibility but also one of service, focused on what the master desired. Paul is saying Ive got to preach. Ive got to minister. Having my rights stepped on doesnt matter. A reward isnt appropriate. Ive taken on the role of a servant, and serving is my reward. Verse 18: 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. Paul had to preach, but he didnt have to preach without charge. And he didnt just see doing it as good strategy, though it probably was. But this free service was his boast and his reward: his pay is to serve without pay! His position gave him rights, but the freedom not to use them is the one right he will not forgo. As one commentator put it: Because the Corinthians had become so obsessed with rights, they found it almost impossible to believe that Paul could be inwardly driven purely by his love for Jesus and his passion for the gospel. They would have reckoned it the ultimate disaster if they had all their supposed rights stripped from them. For Paul, on the other hand, it would have been the ultimate catastrophe if he had been compelled to stop preaching the gospel.
So we each have to ask ourselves where am I in this? Am I now mature enough in life and in ministry to see myself as a servant and to give up my rights. Let me give you a very simple application - well do the hard stuff next week. The very simple application is this: next time you are irritated ask yourself what right do I think I have that feels like it is being violated? Is it the right to a little time to myself, the right to a little help around here, the right to make a few decisions on my own, the right to have things work out the way I planned What right do you feel is being violated? And are you willing to give up that right and thus give up the irritation and serve? Its not about rights - its about serving.