As we mentioned last week, chapter 8 frames the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols and our freedom in Messiah, chapter 9 has Sha’ul giving himself as an example, and chapter 10 provides examples from Israel’s history, warnings and directions. Sha’ul uses his own example to demonstrate how self-sacrifice can further the Kingdom of God. The verse that sums up this section is (10:31-33), “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jewish or Greek people or to God’s community— just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.”[i][Read 1 Cor. 9]
Rights of Ministers
(Vs. 1-2) Sha’ul wants to show the congregation in Corinth that just because we have freedoms, does not mean that we must exercise them. Sha’ul begins by re-establishing his position as an emissary, or apostle, by asking four (4) rhetorical questions. I prefer how this translation uses the word emissary. It is where we get the word Missionary. Sha’ul shows that his authority comes from the fact that he established the congregation in Corinth. Title follows function. In addition to starting the congregation, he reminds them that he has seen Yeshua. This would probably be a reference to the time that Yeshua knocked him of his donkey and blinded him.
(Vs. 3-7) After establishing his authority, he now goes into his defence. He shows that since the other emissaries were paid in food and drink by their respective congregations, then he also had that same right. Since the other emissaries, the half-brothers of Yeshua and Peter were married, and brought their wives with them when they ministered, he also could have done that. Just as a soldier, a farmer and a shepherd have their expenses paid by those they work for, so also it is perfectly acceptable for a pastor, teacher, or missionary to be paid by those they serve.
(Vs. 8-12a, 13-14) Sha’ul now uses a classic rabbinic-type argument called kal vachomer or the “light and the heavy.”[ii] This means that if something is true on a light scale, how much more so for a more important issue. First, Sha’ul quotes from (Deut. 25:4) and shows that since animals should not be muzzled when they work, how much more should people not benefit from their labours? And just as a farmer expects a crop after sowing seed, a minister who sows the spiritual seed of the Word can also expect to gain a physical harvest from his sowing as well as a spiritual one. Now, in (Vs. 14), Sha’ul appeals to Yeshua’s teaching as written down in (Matt. 10:10 & Luke 10:7). This provides additional authority to the claim that Sha’ul is making. Additionally, we also see that the teachings of Yeshua were already being circulated by the time this letter was written in early AD 55.[iii]
(Vs. 15-23) Sha’ul now goes into the reasons that he has not demanded his rights. He says, that “we did not use this right, but we put up with all things so that we cause no hinderance to the Good News of Messiah.” Sha’ul desired to identify and empathise with all people so that he could communicate to them the Good News in a way they would understand. This passage has been misinterpreted by many people because it is often taken out of its context. Some have indicated that Sha’ul modified his behaviour based upon the group he associated with. If this is the case, then how could he confront Peter for doing the exact same thing in (Gal. 2:12)? Some have tried to make this passage say that Sha’ul ate un-kosher food when he was with Gentiles, but if this was the case, how could he say in (Phil. 3:6) that according to the righteousness stipulated in the Torah he was blameless? No, none of these fit. Rather Sha’ul chose to empathise with those to whom he ministered. He learned their perspective and chose to communicate the Good News in a way that would make sense to them.[iv] This is no different than any other missionary who expresses the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah, in a way that is understood by the listeners.
Sha’ul is not sharing this with the congregation in Corinth to get them to start supporting him financially. From his perspective, he does not get a reward from God for simply sharing the Good News, since he sees it as a commission. Rather his reward is that he fulfils this commission free of charge, without exercising his right to compensation. Remember that the example that Sha’ul is trying to give to the congregation, is that doing what is allowed, or making use of our rights and freedoms, is not always the most beneficial, and in this case, it is not the most rewarding option. So, while it is perfectly acceptable to receive financial support, as Sha’ul himself does later from the congregation in Philippi (Phil. 4:14-20), as a general rule, he has chosen to work a second job so as to provide the Good News free of charge.
(Vs 24-27) In Chapter 10, Sha’ul will provide negative examples to make his point, but before he does, he closes out this chapter with two examples from sports. The first example is from running where there is only one winner. Sha’ul encourages his listeners to run our lives in such a way that we will win. This means that we should not simply do the bare minimum. We should rather train and exercise our spiritual lives so that we look as close as possible to Yeshua. Not as little as possible to get into heaven by the “skin of our teeth.” This goes back to what Sha’ul has already spoken to the congregation in (3:14-15), “If anyone’s work built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss—he himself will be saved, but as through fire.” We should seek the best fruit of the Ruach in our lives. Sha’ul then speaks of training his body the same way a boxer would. He wants his punches to connect instead of beating the air. In every way we can, we should train our spiritual lives through, prayer, fasting, worship, and studying the Word. This is how Sha’ul trained himself, so that in the end he would not be disqualified.
Application and Conclusion
As an individual I have chosen to work a second job so that I would not be a burden to the congregation. Even when I was much younger my desire was always to have a “tent making” job that would allow me to do missions work. I just did not realise at the time to what or where God would eventually call me.
Another application is that when we meet individuals, we should seek to understand where they are coming from. Even the generation gap can seem like a cross-cultural mission field. The more we listen to the other people, the more we will understand how to share the Good News in a way they will understand. We must work to ensure that the way we minister does not create additional stumbling blocks.
To close I want to highlight another way that we as a congregation seek to apply these principles. As a Messianic Congregation, our desire is to bring the message of Yeshua back to the original messengers. This means communicating the Good News in a way that is understood from the Jewish perspective. One way that we can do that personally, is to learn to share the Good News entirely using the Tanakh. We have on our website one of the best explanations of Messianic Judaism, that I have found. If there is time at the end, I will read it. For the moment, let us pray that Adonai would give us the grace and patience to listen to others, hear where they are coming from, and then the wisdom to be able to share the Good News of Yeshua in a way they will understand.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, pg. 335.
[iii] Ibid, pg. 248.
[iv] Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern, pg. 464.