Study 13 – 1 Corinthians 9:1-18

Supporting the work of the gospel

Discussion Question

While there is free-to-air television, paid streaming services are thriving in business. What is going on there? Can you think of other examples where you might be inclined to pay more money for something that you could get for a lot cheaper or even free?


In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul quoted the Corinthians as saying, “I have the right to do anything.” Since then, Paul has discussed sexual immorality as a sin that must be avoided and marriage as a haven for sexual morality but in no means a human right. Then in Chapter 8 he spoke about the freedom to eat whatever you like as well as the freedom to abstain from food for the sake of a brother or sister. So, although there is freedom, there is also wisdom, responsibility and morality.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:1-18

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 defense 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.”k 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 plows 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.

What did you see?


  • Paul’s claim to apostleship (1-2)
  • It’s his right to be looked after (3-12a)
  • But he did not exercise his rights (12b)
  • It’s a command of the Lord (13-14)
  • But he will not make full use of his rights (15-18)

Paul’s claim to apostleship (1-2)

“Am I not free?” Free from what? Or free to do what? Paul has been talking about Christian freedom and how we are to not treat it as a right but as a freedom – meaning we are equally free to abstain from whatever it is that we are free to do! So, what is Paul free from or to? It could refer to his freedom in Christ, just as his readers are free in Christ. Or it could refer to his freedom from general work to do gospel ministry. The content of what follows seems to be an argument from Paul on how he should expect better treatment from some just as other apostles are treated with respect and financial assistance. There could be a double meaning here because on the one hand he is free to make wise godly decisions and yet he is not free because others are holding back their generosity toward him. Yet, he will conclude, even if he was given the choice, he would prefer not to be assisted by the Corinthians to do what he is obligated to do. What a confusing way to start Chapter 9. He continues to ask rhetorical questions which imply the answer: YES and yet they imply that perhaps the reader isn’t as clear on the answer as Paul would want them to be. Let’s move on.

“Am I not an apostle?” Answer: yes! But again, the implication is that Paul isn’t so sure that his readers know this like he knows it. Words can have multiple meanings until they are used in context and then their meaning becomes clear(er). ‘Apostle’ simply means ‘sent one.’ Paul is using the word as a unique reference to a select bunch if men personally selected by Jesus and sent by Him to spread the good news. While Paul is no different to any other sinner who trusts Jesus for his salvation, he has a special role in the history of that salvation. But Paul is not like every other Christian because he is an Apostle. He is free like every Christian and he has the duty of an Apostle. The Corinthians are being reminded of this. Here are some bible references to increase your knowledge of Apostleship: Luke 6:13; Acts 1; 2:42-43; 4:33; 9:27; Romans 11:13; 1Cor15:9; 2Cor12:12; Eph 2:20; Eph 4:11; Rev 2:2.

“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Paul’s apostleship is not based on human election but by personal invitation of our Lord. Note that Paul is laying out some credentials on a basic agreement of the church: that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our King. If you do not think Jesus to be Lord, then join a different church. And Jesus had personally met Paul (Saul) and called him to be an apostle – a sent one. Acts 9:27; 2Cor 12:12;Gal 1:1; Galatians 1:11-24; Gal 2:8; and the first verse of almost all of Paul’s letters!

“Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” Paul’s credentials also include his converts. The church in Corinth exists because of his work there. The irony unfolding in this passage is that Paul is free in Christ and yet compelled to preach the gospel. The church were seemingly mistreating their father in the faith. Even when they praise Cephas and boast in him, they fail to love the apostle they owe their eternal life to. Paul is not just an Apostle – he is their Apostle!

“Even though i may not be an apostle to others…” Paul hints here that some may question his validity as an apostle. Being an apostle was a

“”For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” His work in the Lord has resulted in saved souls. Imagine an Apostle with no disciples? God’s work through us is a seal of the work that we do. Gifts and church office are secured by Christians seeing God at work through those talents or according to the office held. If Paul could not name a single convert, you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone of his credentials – but he has churches from multiple cities as a seal of his work in the Lord.

It’s his right to be looked after (3-12a)

“This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.” It’s unclear whether ‘this’ refers to what he has just said in Verses 1 and 2 to defend his position as an apostle and true worker of God, or if it is what follows after this sentence. It probably doesn’t matter in the end because he is making a two part argument that depends on one another. 1) he is an approved worker in God’s kingdom who the Corinthians, if anybody, ought to recognise (Verses 1-2); 2) doesn’t he have as much right as any of the other apostles?

“Don’t we have the right….?” Verses 3-6 remind us of this issue of what our rights actually mean in Christ – all things are permissible…and an apostle has freedoms too. IF Paul wished to, he should be able to marry a believing woman who can partner with him in mission but it seems that his readers are critical of what he is or isn’t allowed to do. We should recall the earliest chapters where the issue was about which is the best leader – Cephas was listed there too. And we should recall chapter 7’s discussion on the place of marriage and Paul’s decision in Christ to remain unmarried. It appears that some in judgment over Paul were placing restrictions on his freedom – restrictions that only Paul is free to place on himself.

“Who serves as a soldier…plants…tends flock…?” Three examples given to clearly illustrate that a worker is not deprived of some goodness in the work also. The real issue that Paul has with the church is getting sharper as it seems like they were not respecting him nor caring for him in his work.

“For it is written…” Paul abandons human logic and refers to the word of God. These are not exclusively different from one another as the word of God is the wisdom of God – but it appears through the wisdom of this world as foolishness – especially at its core. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 which Paul easily applies as illustrative of a greater principle: don’t be an uncaring master – let the worker have joy in the work.

“…sown spiritual seed…reap a material harvest from you?” Although grace is free, the messenger needs to eat.

“…shouldn’t we have it all the more?” Paul is not simply saying that he is an apostle but he is THEIR apostle. Why, after receiving the gospel of eternal life from Paul, are the Corinthians happy to provide financially to legends who have no direct dealings with them and neglect their own father in the faith?

But he did not exercise his rights (12b)

“…we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” Paul’s priority is to preach Christ crucified. If demanding financial assistance got in the way of the message, he denied his right to ask for it. But the time has come for the church in Corinth to grow up and receive a lesson on generosity, thankfulness and responsibility.

It’s a command of the Lord (13-14)

“Don’t you know…?” Paul takes them again to the word of God to remind them of the principle that has been established long ago by God. Lev 6:16, 26; Dt 18:1.

“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Paul has taken the Old Testament command and directly applied it to the New Testament equivalent of the priest. In the Old Testament, the priest received and moderated the sacrifice of atonement for the people – and he taught the law to the people (Lev 10:11; 2 Chron 15:3; Jer 18:18; also Ezek 22:26; Micah 3:11). Now see the description of Paul’s office in Romans 15:16, “[God] gave [Paul] the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The preaching of the gospel is a priestly duty. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 uses the same Old Testament reference of the ox to declare that people who oversee the affairs of the church are to receive payment for their work. It is a command of the Lord.

But he will not make full use of his rights (15-18)

“I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.” It is odd that Paul who would elsewhere say let anyone who boasts, boast in the Lord and not themselves. Yet he is ‘proud’ (perhaps?) of his service to the Lord that has not required financial help from various places including Corinth. So, if he is not trying to coax money from them, what is his purpose of writing this? He explains in Verses 16-18 that he is concerned only about preaching the gospel and is compelled to by his own conviction that he is preaching the God’s message of salvation and so, he simply wants his readers to observe this approach to his ministry and grow themselves up because of his example. That is, he does not teach them in order for them to cough up the dough – but to inform them of the reality so that they can learn to respect the gospel, see the true worth of what they have received and learn to be more mature in their treatment of others.

“…I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach.” Whether they support his work or not, it won’t matter, because he will keep preaching until he dies. He will not stop and wait to receive support. He will keep preaching and keep watching the work of God active in the lives of people.

“…and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” Just as the proof of Paul’s ministry is in his converts, there is also evidence of his own salvation and true service because it is the work itself that is his reward.

What did we learn?

The bible provides plenty of information to lead us to Godly, wise decisions and practices without treating them as law. The principle of giving for the work of the gospel is clear from Scripture. Yet, it ought not be demanded of people to give. Let the gospel bring new life and let the word of God convict true converts of how to respond to God. The gospel does not cost money and it ought never be a chore to share it and preach it. Recipients of grace are faced with the wisdom of God on how to treat those who, by the testimony of their own work, are called by God to preach the gospel.

Now what?

Topic A: The call of God to be a preacher. Some say that you need to be called by God to enter the ministry and some say that this is an unbiblical use of the word ‘calling’. The bible definitely uses the concept of being ‘called by God’ when talking about salvation. Every born again Christian has been called by God. The bible also describes bible teachers and preachers as being gifts given by God for the church (Ephesians 4). But Paul doesn’t use the word ‘calling’ to describe an overseer or preacher but rather that their lives and abilities lend themselves to this role and that they prove themselves to be fitted for such a task as they get on with the job of preaching and teaching. Paul, of course, describes himself as being ‘called to be an apostle’ but this is different to the topic of being called to be a preacher.

Topic B: Giving financially to the work of God. After reading this passage, giving financially to the work of preaching the gospel ought to make sense. The hope is that every believer will prayerfully and wisely decide how they are able to contribute – when, where and how. If wish to have a mobile phone then we pay for a phone plan. If we wish to own or rent property then we pay for that too. If we want to eat, we usually give money to someone for that. How do we consider being recipients of good bible teaching and of sharing the gospel in the local area and across the globe?

Topic C: Never being a hindrance to the gospel. Paul would not let an issue like money stand in the way of getting the gospel out. He was compelled to preach and would be damned if he stopped. What ways can the spreading of the gospel be hindered? Are there changes we or you could make to allow the gospel to go further?