Study Notes for I Corinthians 9:1-18 (click here for Study Sheet)
In this chapter Paul again defends his apostleship. He insists that he saw "Jesus our Lord", and he even claims the Corinthians themselves as an evidence of his calling. The fact that the Corinthians know Jesus is a result of Paul's bearing witness of the living Lord to them. Miracles, signs, and wonders, hallmarks of true apostles, marked Paul's ministry. Some theologians even conjecture that during Paul's three years in the desert after his Damascus Road experience, Jesus taught him personally. In any case, Paul vehemently defends his right to be called an apostle.
In this passage Paul asserts the right of a person working in ministry to gain financial support from the people he or she serves. Paul especially claims his own right to such support, but he points out that even though he was fully entitled to it, he did not ask the Corinthians for anything.
"Don't we have the right to food and drink?" he asks. "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? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?"
Paul earned his living by making tents. Besides his ministry, he kept his "day job".
Barnabas: One who encourages/exhorts
Paul was not the only apostle supporting himself. Barnabas also worked for his living.
Barnabas, also an apostle (see Acts 14:14), figured prominently in Paul's early ministry. When Saul first appeared in Jerusalem after his conversion, the Christians there believed he was a spy. Barnabas, a warm-hearted person with great spiritual insight, defended Paul to the Jerusalem apostles and convinced them that Paul was now a brother. Because of Barnabas's recommendation, the Christians accepted Saul/Paul.
It was Barnabas who first represented the apostles to the new Gentile Christians in Antioch. He took Paul with him to Antioch, and Barnabas recognized the Gentile conversions as a work of God. He perceived that evangelizing the Gentiles might be a place where Paul could make a significant contribution.
Barnabas took Paul with him on a missionary journey that started in Cypress and extended into Asia Minor. They left a chain of mostly Gentile churches behind them. (Acts 13-14) It was on this journey that the relationship between Barnabas and Paul shifted. Up until then, Barnabas had been the leader, and Paul had been his protégé. From this time on, Luke reverses the order of their names when he writes about them; Paul became the more prominent evangelist.
Paul and Barnabas ceased their partnership when Paul objected to taking John Mark (Barnabas's cousin) on a missionary journey with them. Although their partnership ended, their friendship did not.
God used Barnabas to launch Paul's career as a Christ-follower/evangelist. Even though Paul eventually appeared to eclipse Barnabas, the role of Barnabas was crucial in the story of Paul. Barnabas was known for encouraging and exhorting the early Christians. He commanded a great deal of respect, and when he spoke, people listened.
In addition to his role as an evalgelist and encourager, Barnabas may have been a writer as well. Many people have attributed the book of Hebrews to Barnabas's authorship.
In I Cor. 9:6 Paul questions, "Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?" Paul and Barnabas always shared respect and sympathy for each other.
A Christian Laborer
In this letter Paul is supporting the practice of apostles and missionaries getting their livelihood and support from those whom they teach and serve. To make his point, he uses three metaphors to illustrate the life of a Christian worker.
First, Paul mentions a soldier. A soldier does not defend his territory and go to war at his own expense. He faces the enemy in the name of the king or emperor and at the monarch's expense. He is not doing his own work; he is doing the work of the king.
Second, Paul pictures a grape farmer. The farmer plants the seeds or seedlings, tends and waters them, and nurtures them as they grow into mature vines which produce fruit of their own. The farmer's privilege is to eat the ripe grapes his plants eventually bear. No one expects the farmer to save every grape for market. It is the farmers right to benefit from and enjoy the crop he's nourished.
The third metaphor is a shepherd. Shepherds develop relationships with their sheep. They name them, and the sheep know their shepherd's voice. The shepherd protects the sheep from marauding wolves and other beasts of prey. He leads his flock to food and water; he keeps them on track when they begin to move blindly towards danger. The sheep help support their shepherd by providing milk which he as well as the lambs can drink. The sheep do not begrudge the shepherd this support, thinking in their "sheepish" way that the milk is just for their lambs.
A Christ-follower shares many characteristics with Paul's three metaphorical careers. A Christ-follower does not do his own work; he does Christ's work. He represents Jesus in the spiritual battle which engages him or her. A Christian does not defend himself; he defends the gospel and the Savior. In addition, the Christ-follower continually plants seeds. Whenever he or she speaks truth and demonstrates the love and grace of Christ, a seed of belief may germinate. Finally, a Christ-follower loves and protects the people he or she disciples. It is a spiritual mentor's responsibility to discern when those for whom he cares become confused or distracted. It is a shepherd's job to keep the sheep on track and to expose the dangers they face.
Paul refers to the Old Testament command of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Paul makes it clear that the command was not for the sake of the ox; rather, it was for the sake of the plowman. When a person devotes his energy to the work he or she is called to do, that person deserves to benefit personally from that work.
Also, a person who receives the benefits of another's ministry needs to see that he or she owes a debt of thanks and gratitude to the one who ministers.
The old familiar way many of us supported the clergy completely lacks the sense of ministry, blessing, and gratitude which Paul describes in this chapter. The method many of us knew involved our giving tithes to a denomination. The denomination, then, paid equal salaries to every pastor it employed. Whether a pastor served alone in a rural district with two or three churches, or whether he served on a staff of a large local church, the salaries were nearly equal. Whether a pastor ministered to his parishioners or not made no difference. Whether a pastor actually loved Jesus and showed Him to his church, or whether he was cynical and aloof made no difference. Whether a pastor's flock grew and flourished, or whether they dwindled into a dry, self-serving circle-the pastor's pay remained the same.
Paul describes a reciprocal responsibility between ministers and the ministered-to. A Christ-follower called to teach, preach, or otherwise speak for God bears a responsibility before Him to love, care for, and speak the truth to those he or she serves. Those who benefit from the minister's work, in turn, have a responsibility of showing gratitude to God and support for the minister.
Paul, however, chose not to take support from the churches he served. He considered the rewards of watching people come to know Jesus and the promised rewards of the future to be compensation enough.
Call to Ministry
God calls each of us to ministry. We each have different packages of spiritual gifts, and God assigns us our duties for him in accordance to his will and in keeping with the gifts he gives us. We each have mentors and teachers from whom we learn and who help us grow.
Conversely, we each have people to whom we minister. God calls us to take seriously the jobs he puts in our lives. He asks us to love for him the people we mentor and disciple. He asks us to let him provide the strength, insight, and time to do the tasks he gives us.
God also asks us to support and thank those who minister to us. We owe it to our pastors to contribute to their salaries and to the functioning of our local church. We also honor God's care of us by giving verbal and moral support and thanks to the ministers he places in our lives.
We are called to love each other for God. Sometimes God asks us to be a Barnabas for someone. Sometimes God places us in someone's life for the purpose of encouraging and supporting them. Sometimes he asks us to mentor someone-someone who might actually eclipse our own ministry! And sometimes God sends us a Barnabas.
We can know that God knows each of our needs. In his sovereign love, he places us in each others' lives in order to administer his love, correction, and strength to each other.
We are called to be open to him so he can touch others through our lives.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised June 15, 2000.