God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 9:1-4 Am I not free?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 23, 2023
9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who judge me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and to drink?
“Am I not free?” This may seem like an abrupt change, but Paul is actually continuing his thought from chapter 8. He has just said that he will never eat meat again if it causes a weak brother to sin, but he asks this about his own conscience: “Aren’t I free?” This is aimed at the “knowledgeable” Corinthians who were demanding their rights and trampling on the weakness of their brothers and sisters. “After all, don’t I have the right to do this, if anyone does? Yet I will not demand my rights, out of the love for my weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Am I not an apostle?” This follows “Am I not free?” to show that, as an apostle of Christ, he of anyone should be aware of what is permitted to him. As traveling missionaries and preachers, the apostles were held in special reverence and respect by the churches, and it was surely not considered out of the ordinary for an apostle to ask to be given shelter and meals from a congregation or even an individual Christian. The member would have taken this as a special honor.
“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” There was no doubt as to Paul’s apostleship. Other men such as Barnabas might be called apostles in a broader sense (Acts 14:3-4), but Paul had a claim to his apostleship that was on a par with the Twelve in that he had seen Christ and had been instructed by Christ (Acts 9:5; Galatians 2:11-12,18). Jesus himself made Paul an apostle.
“Are you not my work in the Lord?” The Corinthians, along with the other churches of Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece were Paul’s special work. He founded churches and multiplied them. Paul’s work could be described in part, a small part, in the toil of traveling, the hardships of opposition, the pain of being “beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, and spending a day and a night on the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25) besides the attacks he constantly faced from Jews, certain Christians, and others who opposed his teaching and preaching (Acts 17:32). But more importantly it was rather the planting of the seeds of the gospel, the nurturing of the faith of the people in those churches. “You,” he says, “are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), and “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). And there is also Hebrews 3:6: “We are his house.” This is how they were also the seal of Paul’s work, the letter (with its seal) that he had written for the world to read, which is the faithful church of God at Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:2). For even if someone else in the church were to reject him—for example (although we have no such examples), the church in Jerusalem, or Syria, or Alexandria Egypt, or way out in Spain where he soon planned to go (Romans 15:24), or some other place—he was an apostle, and the apostle to the Corinthians.
Paul is building up to several points about the rights of an apostle, and here we already see the right to eat and drink. “My defense,” he says, “is this.” Surely, of all the rights Paul has, the elementary right to be supplied with the basic needs of life must be included. By this he means that he had the right to be housed, clothed and fed at the congregation’s expense. He is building up to a quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.” He cites the authority of Scripture about this because, “What has no biblical authority is as easily condemned as approved” (St. Jerome). So while Paul began to state his case already at verse 1 (“Am I not free?” etc.), his true defense begins here at verse 4 and what follows. He is an apostle, and if nothing else, the apostle to the Corinthians, and as such he can expect certain things from his hearers.
All of this shows that Paul is making a point about more than eating and drinking. Our sinful nature forgets to remember the needs of our neighbor as we carry on with the private business of our own lives, and we, even called workers in the ministry, sometimes forget the needs of called workers in the ministry, whether other workers or, at times, even ourselves. Loving one another is a part of loving God above all, and may God grant that we do this “without grumbling” (as Peter says, 1 Peter 4:8). Even as we pray for God’s unfailing love to rest upon us (Psalm 33:22), may our love also rest upon one another as God works for us and through us on behalf of all his dear children.
Pastor Timothy Smith