Attacking the Messenger (part 1)

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Lesson 21 Corinthians 9:1-14 (ESV)

Attacking the Messenger (part 1)

The church in Corinth was dealing with some
serious conflicts when he wrote this letter to them.

Some had come along who were taking advantage of their weak understanding of Scripture. They were misleading them into unbiblical teachings and practices, and dividing them into factions.

One of the issues he dealt with in chapter 8 was this liberty we have in Christ. Some there were being offended by some things not forbidden in God’s law. In verse 7 Paul said, “… some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”

We have freedom to move within the boundaries God himself defines. Believers are free to eat and drink all things in moderation. But in verse 9 he added one thing more, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Things we are morally free to do, and have a right to do, can sometimes be unwise to do. They might seem like normal and good things to us. But they might get in the way of doing what’s best for God’s glory in the larger view of things.

In verses 12-13 he said, “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

The standard for the believer’s choices and behavior isn’t his own comfort or benefit. It’s what brings the greatest honor to God as he defines what’s true and good in his word. That includes what most benefits the spiritual well being of others God brings into his life.

The troublemakers in Corinth had also challenged Paul’s rightful Apostleship. They turned their attack against the messenger, trying to discredit Paul and what he taught them. They said he couldn’t be a legitimate Apostle because he wasn’t personally chosen by Jesus, and because he practiced a liberty about things some were forbidding.

Paul laid out his defense very carefully in chapter 9.

First, Paul dealt with their main objections to his Apostleship:

1. 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.

The implied answer to these four questions is “yes”.

First, Paul was free in Christ. He had just explained this in the previous chapter. He was free to eat and drink without following the now fulfilled dietary restrictions, But he decided to abstain when eating or drinking would be inappropriate or offensive. This wasn’t a contradiction. It was a free exercise of his liberty in Christ.

Jesus had called him to the Apostleship personally. Though he didn’t meet Jesus before he died on the cross, Paul was personally called by Jesus. The risen Lord appeared to him along the road to Damascus and changed his life. He was called directly just as it was with the original Twelve Apostles.

The Corinthian believers themselves were evidence that his work was legitimate. They had been converted from paganism and false teachings through Paul’s preaching of the gospel. They were his “work” in the Lord.

Paul answered his critics by reminding them
about the rights and liberties we have in Christ.

3. This is my defense to those who would examine me.
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?

Paul had a right to eat and drink whatever he wanted. He chose not to. He had the right to bring a believing wife along on his travels. He chose not to. He also had a right to receive support from those he ministered to. He chose not to. He set aside the support he deserved, to avoid confusing new believers.

While he stayed in Corinth he earned his living by making tents. He was in business with two other Christians, Aquila and Priscilla.

The tent-maker trade meant they worked with a special heavy-duty cloth used for many things. The cloth, cilicium, was a rough material made of goat’s hair for which Cilicia was famous. It was used to make tents, sails, garments, curtains, and awnings. This made it easy for Paul to travel and to get work easily anywhere he went. So while he was there, Paul didn’t get his income from the giving of the new church.

But that’s not the normal way ministers of God are to be supported. So his critics latched onto it as a way to imply that he didn’t respect God’s word.

But Paul’s calling wasn’t to be a model for the regular Pastor. He had a special calling as an itinerant apostle to the Gentiles. In the same way missionaries today are supported by God’s people in established churches. They consider it wise not to appear to be just in the work for money. So they don’t ask for support from the unsaved to whom they are sent, or from the newly established churches until they understood how God’s church worked. This is why the PCA and other denominations send out supported missionaries to the field.

There were isolated cases where Paul did accept special love offerings from new churches. But generally he was supported by his own work, and the giving of the more mature churches, particularly the ones who sent him out.

Before Paul explained why he didn’t look for them to support him, he wanted to make it clear that he fully agreed with the biblical principle of supporting ministers through the offerings of the church.

There is a basic moral principle of God’s economics

We should earn our living by working hard at whatever God calls us to do.

Paul gives three obvious every-day examples.

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?

No army or nation would last long against an enemy if the soldiers all had to have 2nd jobs. Soldiers need to be available full time to answer the call to battle. A planter of a vineyard expected that he would benefit from his own work. The whole point of labor as God mandated it is to bring forth our provisions from the resources and opportunities God gives us. Shepherds were expected to use the milk of their flocks while they cared for them.

These obvious examples show how God’s economy is designed to work.

Then Paul quotes God’s law. Not as another example, but to show that this is a moral issue:

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.

Verse 9 quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Before machines were developed, grain was crushed on the threshing floor either under the hooves of oxen or under a sledge pulled by them. God’s law forbid muzzling the ox to keep it from eating some of the grain as it worked. God says that all workers, should be permitted to partake of some of the benefits of his own labor.

The creation ordinance in Genesis 2 mandated that our needs should be provided for by our labor. When Paul wrote 1 Timothy 5:18 he quoted this same law. That verse says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ ” The second part of 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes from Jesus in Luke 10:7. “The laborer deserves his wages.” Jesus said this when he was sending out the 70 disciples to spread the gospel. He wanted them to thankfully receive whatever was given to them by believers along the way. They shouldn’t feel guilty for taking support from those to whom, and for whom, they ministered. It’s proper for those benefiting from the word to support those who minister them.

The basic principle is that faithful labor should provide for the laborer’s needs. Honest work is the way God designed for wealth to be created and distributed. Worldly systems don’t see how work is related to our calling in God’s kingdom. They only see work as a way to get things for our own comfort and enjoyment. Even charitable giving is often more for self-promotion or to ease a guilty conscience.

Paul shows that this applies to those who labor in spiritual matters too.

11. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
12a. If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? …

Pastors and Missionaries are very busy people if they do their work as God describes it. Like the soldier, ministers shouldn’t have to support themselves with a second job. And like the worker in the vineyard they should find support for their needs in the work they do.

When this principle is honored, both the giver and the receiver are benefited. When this principle is not followed, there will be struggles and a lack of blessing.

Though Paul didn’t exercise every right he had.
That doesn’t mean he rejected the principles.

12. … 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.
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?
14. In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that his choice to work at tent-making didn’t mean he rejected God’s ordinary principle of economics for ministers. He reminded them of the examples given in God’s word. God’s law provided that the priests serving in the Temple could eat food from the sacrifices. They were paid from the tithes so they wouldn’t have to hold down another job.

But in this special case, Paul chose not to ask for a portion of the tithes in Corinth. He was bringing the gospel to untaught Gentiles and establishing new churches. He wanted his efforts to be above criticism until God’s ways were better understood.

But he was criticized any way. When ungodly people don’t like what you do they will generally attack no matter what you do. So before he went into details which we’ll look at later, he went over the basics so he could show that he fully agreed with all of God’s moral laws.

This basic rule about work and wages isn’t just for the salaries of ministers and missionaries. It applies to all who work. If we hire someone, even if it’s just to mow our lawn or to baby-sit for our children, we need to honor the basic ways God’s world was made to operate. When we work for others, we should do our work responsibly, doing the best we can.

There are other biblical principles
that come into play here too.

It would go beyond the context of this passage of 1 Corinthians to deal with these other principles in detail at this time. For example: we should do quality work and not try to get by with doing with less than our best. Workers should expect their work to be compensated fairly so they can live on their wage. We should pay for things promptly and pay those who work for us on time. Fair and honest business should be an ingrained moral value in us all.

To the degree that we honor God’s rules, we can expect those rules to work. But where people only partially obey God’s economic rules, they should expect corruption and tragedy.

There is an important lesson here for us as we do our work. We need to develop an attitude about work that fits with what God says it is. Contrary to the way some think in our self-centered world, work isn’t meant to be a form of entertainment. While some are specially blessed to be able to work at things they truly enjoy, there are many jobs that need to be done in our world that aren’t particularly fun. We need people to dig holes, pour cement, wash clothes, work check-out lines, fill out forms, pick crops, and many other routine things. But it all fits together like an orchestration as God’s Plan unfolds.

I remember playing 3rd Trumpet in our Jr. High orchestra. We didn’t get to do solos or play the lead melody. We had to wait our turn and play fill in notes here and there. It seemed tedious in practice to just count for several measures,
then play a few notes that didn’t seem to mean anything. When the time came for our first concert I was embarrassed at how bad it sounded. I expected my parents to be disappointed at the miserable music our director chose. But when we assembled in the orchestra pit and started the program I was amazed. Our little disconnected notes became an amazing part of what all the other instruments were doing. It sounded very good. Our fill-ins gave the arrangement depth and dimension.

When we see our work, no matter how routine it might seem, as part of God’s plan, it takes on meaning beyond just the isolated job we do. Holes are dug and business forms are filled out for a reason.

In God’s economics we all do our little part, and we should do our jobs well for God’s glory. Dig the holes well, fill out the forms accurately, check out customers with courtesy and care. We labor to bring our little part of God’s world under control, and to earn the things we need. We also need to keep in mind that it all contributes to a much larger picture.

Some have callings in life they truly enjoy and find it immediately rewarding. I loved being a school teacher, Pastor, and now a “teacher-at-large” here and over the Internet. In the past I worked in a commercial steam laundry, made boxes in a shipping department, grilled hamburgers, laid fabric in a hot clothing factory, bagged groceries, drove a delivery truck, and tried to satisfy shoe customers (who insisted they wore a size 7 when nothing smaller than an 8 fit their feet). In it all I was working in God’s world doing my little part while I earned my living. It all contributed to how the parts of God’s world are designed to work together.

This is the ordinary way God made his world to work. We are to labor, do our best at whatever we are doing at the moment, and we are to receive a fair compensation. That’s how we are to support ourselves, and take part in the whole scheme of things. But as believers in Christ, we do it all for the glory of God.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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