For the Sake of the Gospel

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Sermon 27 – “For the Sake of the Gospel”

STAND & READ 1 Cor. 9:1-18



Two weeks back, we began a new section in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  This section, which runs from chapter 8-11.1, has as its theme Christian Liberty….our freedom in Christ.  In this section, Paul is responding to what was probably a slogan in the Corinthian church, coming from Paul’s teaching of our freedom in Christ…..from this teaching, they understood their freedom as absolute, “All things are lawful for me..” (6:12; 10.23).  This issue at hand is the eating of food and drink offered to idols.  In chap. 8, the Apostle gives us the Law of Love….best summarized by Gal. 5.13 - “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our freedom is found in obedience to Christ and in walking out the gospel that won us this freedom.  It is a freedom that is never self-centered, but other-centered….it is freedom to serve others through love.

Now, having set down this Law of Love in chapter 8, the Apostle Paul moves to give us an example of the Law of Love in action.  Paul wants us all to learn the priority of love over freedom…..the gospel over our own rights….the love of others over the love of self.  And the example he gives first is his own life -his rights as an Apostle

Paul develops this by (1) defending his position as an Apostle; (2) the rights of every Christian minister of the gospel; (3) His setting aside those rights for the sake of the gospel message he preaches and lives!

Paul Defends His Apostolic Authority


 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.

Paul begins with four questions….all having the assumed answer “yes”.  He is a Christian and therefore free because of the work of Christ.  It is a freedom we all have as Christians because:  of the perfect obedience of Christ – his life lived without sin as he carried out, in perfection, all that our Heavenly Father commanded…said all that He was commanded to say; because it is through the sacrificial and unjust death of Christ on the cross – an unjust death necessary to satisfy the just claims of God to judge and punish each of us for our sins and rebellion against our Creator; we are free because God made (laid upon) Jesus His eternal Son to be sin so that we might live and become God’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5.21).  We are free from enslavement to sin, to death, to self – through the shed blood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Paul says your slogan is “I’m free!  All things are lawful for me!”  Well, I am certainly free….but I am also an Apostle!  I have seen the Lord and answered his call on my life to preach the gospel to the Gentiles! (Acts 9.15)…You should readily see this….after all, you are the result of my work for the sake of the gospel….you are the Lord’s harvest from the preaching of the gospel!  Look and see….you are the seal of my apostleship!”  Remember, in the ancient world a “seal” was used on shipping containers, letters, and other things to indicate the authenticity of what was contained within!  It was a sign that the shipment or letter was really from the one who owned the seal.  The Corinthian church was a living seal….living proof that Paul’s apostleship was the real deal!

 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.  – Paul says, “This is my defense…when someone questions my apostolic authority – I point them back to this, ‘I have seen the risen Lord Jesus’ and I point them to you, Corinthians!”

Paul Lays Out the Rights of Christian Ministry

 1 Cor 9:4-6

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?

Notice that 3x in these 3 verses is the word “right”….in the KJV – “power”.  This Grk word exousia _______________ has a broad meaning in the NT – it is the same word used to speak of the preaching of Jesus as that of authority! (Mark 1.27)  But here, it means “having freedom to choose and or act; the right to decide.  {The KJV rendering it power probably blurs the lines of understanding a little for this text.}

So, what are these rights Paul lays out? (They all deal with the right to be supported in the Ministry)

1.    Do we not have the right to eat? – Possibly a play on the central question of this section – freedom to eat food sacrificed to idols.  But more directly, the Apostle and pastors and missionaries have a right to provision of food.  Easy enough!

2.    Don’t we also have a right to bring along a believing wife…like the other missionaries and even Cephas (Peter)!  Most commentators take this not as explicit approval of ministers marrying (although we find that this in verses such as 1 Tim. 4.3), but here the emphasis is on support for the minister and his wife, understanding that his wife is a valuable part of his ministry.

3.    “is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?”  Paul is saying that both he and Barnabus have a right to be supported in their gospel ministry without having to work outside of the ministry.   By implication, the other apostles and pastors….Peter, James, Mark, Timothy, etc all are receiving support from the churches in which they minister.

What we will see is that Paul, in declaring his right to be supported, is going to emphasize his giving up that right for the sake of the gospel! 

Examples to Support His Rights

Human Custom

1 Cor 9:7

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?

Again, Paul uses rhetorical questions to buttress his argument; simple examples from everyday life:  A soldier doesn’t supply his own rations when he’s sent off to war!  The one who plants does so with the intention of eating of the harvest!  The shepherd tends the flock and derives nourishment from the flock!  Although all 3 of these have great OT roots as illustrations of men God calls to ministry….the primary usage here is to drive home the Apostle Paul’s argument…that those called of God to ministry have a right to support from the church.

God’s Law

vv.8-11 “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 speak entirely 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?

Paul turns from human practice (what is common in the world) to God’s commands.  Then Paul cites a passage from Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” and explains it!  In case you misunderstand, Paul says, is the primary concern here for the oxen or for mankind?  Paul says it’s us!  Scripture declares God’s love and providential care over his animal creation: Ps.147.9 says God “gives the beast his food.” and Jesus spoke of our Heavenly Father feeding the “birds of the air” (Matt. 626).  But here, Paul interprets this verse from Deut. as, “if the ox is to be paid for his work (allowing him to eat while working…which a muzzle would prevent), how much more so God’s workers!  The General Rule is this:  man should be paid for his labor.  The one who plants should reap reward from the harvest; the one who threshes should share in the crop…and the minister of the gospel who sows spiritually should reap materially.

1 Cor. 9:12

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.

Paul stops for a moment in his argument and gives us a glimpse of where he’s going.  Evidently others who have pastored the church in Corinth (such as Apollos) have received material support from the Corinthian church….Paul says if they did, I (as your founding pastor) deserve even more!  But….although I have this right, I haven’t claimed it….in fact, I’ve surrendered it for the sake of preaching the gospel of Christ!  (obstacle = destruction of a road to impede an army)

OT Priests


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?

In the OT, the priests were completely supported by the community of faith….they ate of the food given for sacrifice as well as from the tithes of crops and animals.  Giving to them was the same as giving an offering to God.

NT command of Jesus

1 Co 9:14

14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

Paul was probably referring to Luke 10.7 where Jesus instructed the 70 disciples he was sending out to….“7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. …”

For the Gospel

Finally, Paul comes to his main point…after giving a full and biblical account of all his rights, both as an Apostle and as a minister of the gospel to receive financial support from the church in Corinth…..

1 Co 9:15-18

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.

In order to understand this fully, we need to realize 2 things about Greek culture that plays a part here.  (1)  Paul’s ministry was always in urban (city) settings.  During this time, there were many philosophers, orators and even teachers who traveled from Greek city to city holding debates, speaking in public and offering some tutoring.  Many raised support from those who came to hear and or supported their particular philosophy.  There were more than a few charlatans and swindlers among them as well.  So, to Paul, it was most important that the gospel be given “free of charge”.  (2) We also need to see the pattern of Paul’s ministry – and the support he accepted.  It seems that Paul never received support from a young church he was in the process of planting, but he expected those churches already thriving to support his ministry.  We know from Acts 16.11-17.13 that the churches in Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea, Philippi) consistently supported Paul’s ministry after he left there.  So, this forfeiting of his right to support from the Corinthians is not unprecedented.  But he exercised this right in other less troubled and more mature churches after he completed his local ministry to them.

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!

Paul makes it clear that he has not gone to the trouble of proving he has a right to receive support from them, to try and somehow get them to begin giving him support in spite of his protests to the contrary.  He would rather die than lose his base of boasting…. “boasting” here means to glory or rejoice in something!  He’s not talking about pride here (or normal use of the word) but of glory!  v.16 makes it clear that to preach is not his source of joy….for he is called to preach the gospel…it is as necessary to him as air is for our lungs!  God has “laid upon him” the necessity to preach.  Illustration:  Last week we were on vacation and I didn’t preach….and I tell you it’s hard!  Ask Ronie how miserable I was last year on those Sundays when I didn’t preach before my calling to CBC!  Jeremiah told God he was through preaching and immediately recanted, saying his “heart was like a burning fire shut up in my bones”.  Woe to the man who is called to preach and does not….we are compelled. 

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.

Paul makes it clear that preaching is not his reward (he’s a steward of the gospel); his reward is to preach it without receiving support.  He was willing to give up his right….freely forsake it….for the glory of Christ!

Applications – Paul’s basis for joy was in freely giving the gospel – his reward from the Father comes not because he preaches, but because he was willing to give-up his rights for the sake of the lost. 

So, I ask you this morning…what are we willing to give-up for the glory of Christ and His gospel?  We all have so many rights….and we are usually very good at knowing them and claiming them….but what are we willing to freely give-up for the cause of the gospel?  We like certain types of worship music….some prefer hymns, and others prefer more contemporary – but are we willing to freely give up our right for the sake of reaching others for Christ?  How about Wednesday evenings?  We all covet our time off…..but would be willing to spend 1 hour in Bible Study and Prayer on Wed. evenings?  Would you be willing to help share the gospel with and disciple young children in AWANA’s.  Would you be willing to wake up an hour early on Sunday morning in order to be involved in Bible Study through SS?  The prize of the gospel is God…..the greatest gift of our salvation is God Himself – to be in relationship with Him.  Can we emulate the Apostle Paul – do we value Christ above our very lives!  Do we long for salvation for our families and neighbors enough to set aside our rights?  Could we be where Paul was… “counting everything else as rubbish in order that we might gain Christ!” (Philip. 3.8)             Let’s Pray   

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