THE RIGHTS OF A SPIRITUAL LEADER
1 CORINTHIANS 9:1-14
Beginning with chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been dealing with a problem situation. It was the problem of those who were eating meat that had been offered to idols.
When you went shopping in the marketplace at Corinth, you found yourself in close proximity to the heathen temples that stood alongside that marketplace. More often than not, the meat that was being sold in the marketplace has made its way there via the temple to Apollo or some other Greek god and had been stamped “kosher” with Apollo’s seal of approval.
Many of the Corinthians believers realized that this pagan ceremony did not affect the quality of the meat. They knew that eating angelfood cake doesn’t make you more spiritual and that eating “heathen hamburgers” doesn’t hurt you. They enjoyed their liberty in Christ and they freely ate of this food.
There were other Christians in Corinth who did not realize these basic truths. They had been indoctrinated into believing that the makeup of the food was actually changed by the pagan ceremony. They felt that to partake of such food would be to engage in idol worship.
Paul presented the principle that sometimes it is better for the stronger Christian to limit his liberty rather than to cause his brother to stumble.
Now Paul turns to a personal illustration of this principle. The illustration will be taken from Paul’s own life. He is going to show how he has limited his own freedom and his own Christian liberty for the benefit of others. The liberty on which he will focus will be that of the spiritual leader who has the prerogative and the right to be compensated for his services. But before Paul can give the illustration, he must first establish the principle that a spiritual leader does have that right.
Principle: Stronger Christians should limit their liberty for the weaker brother
Illustrated by Paul who gave up his right for compensation
Paul demonstrates that he does indeed have this right for compensation
A lot of people seem to think that preachers and ministers ought to give up all their rights in order to become a preacher or a minister. They seem to think he ought to be poor and to drive an old car and to be on call for every minute of the day. His children are under constant inspection and his wife is expected to be the doormat of every angry housewife who comes along.
He is paid to be good and the rest of us are good for nothing. If something is to be done in the church, it is the preacher’s job to do it. After all, that is his reason for being there.
This sort of thinking views the church as a theater, the pastor as an actor, and the congregation as the critics. In reality, the people are to be the actors while the pastor is holding the prompts and trying to get them to remember their forgotten lines.
The Corinthians were infected with this sort of thinking. They assumed that, if Paul was the servant of God, then he ought to be treated like a servant. They held to their own particular brand of doormat Christianity. They could walk all over others, but no one was permitted to offend them. It was okay for Paul to sacrifice his rights for their benefit, but don’t let him suggest that they should ever do the same.
It is for this reason that Paul presents a case for the rights of a spiritual leader.
THE STATUS OF A SPIRITUAL LEADER
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
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. (1 Corinthians 9:1-2).
Paul is going to demonstrate the legitimacy of his spiritual leadership. He will do this by asking four questions. Each of these is a rhetorical question. The answer is not given because the answer is obvious.
1. Am I not free?(9:1).
The Corinthians had evidently been very quick to proclaim their own freedom in Christ, but they would not admit so easily that others were equally free. The fact that Paul is a spiritual leader does not mean that he does not have the spiritual freedoms that any other Christian enjoys.
We tend to lose sight of this principle. It is that spiritual leaders are people just like anyone else. In spite of the position they may hold, they are still real people with real problems and real needs. They are no different from anyone else. They are sinners who commit real sins and who have been forgiven and saved by the grace of God.
Paul is setting the stage for an issue that he will soon bring up. It is the issue of payment to spiritual leaders.
The work of a free man demands wages. Not so with a slave. No one ever thought of the necessity of paying wages to a slave. A slave was merely an article of property and you did not have to pay him for his services. But when a free man worked for you, it was necessary to pay him wages. Paul is going to be establishing the principle that those who work in the ministry ought to be paid for their labors.
2. Am I not an apostle? (9:1).
There may have been those in Corinth who had suggested that Paul was only a “second-rate” apostle -- that his leadership could be ignored because he was not one of the original Twelve.
Spiritual leaders today sometimes come under similar attacks. It might be an attack that is based on the lack of a degree from an accredited Bible College or Seminary. Or it might be an attack against the size of one’s church or ministry. Or it might be directed against one’s style of preaching.
3. Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (9:1).
Paul was an apostle and it did not matter who did not agree because his apostleship was not from man. It was not from an accredited seminary. It was from God.
Jesus personally called Paul on the Damascus road. You can’t get more personal than that. Paul was knocked to the ground by Jesus who then set him apart as a man with a mission. That mission was fulfilled whenever Paul preached the gospel. It was fulfilled when he came to Corinth.
4. Are you not my work in the Lord? 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 (9:1b-2).
God had sent Paul to the Corinthians. They had received his message as being a message that came from God. If anyone should have viewed Paul as an apostle sent from God, it should have been the Corinthians who had come to Christ as a direct result of Paul’s preaching.
Yet it was these same people who directed the most opposition to Paul and to his ministry.
THE QUESTION OF RIGHTS
My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? (1 Corinthians 9:3-6).
Paul comes to the immediate issue at hand. Does he have the rights of any other spiritual leader? Or has he become some sort of second class Christian just because he has limited his liberty for the sake of the Corinthians? He points out his liberty in three areas:
· The right to eat and drink.
· The right to be accompanied by a wife.
· The right to refrain from working.
1. The Right to Eat and Drink: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? (9:4).
The Corinthians had been arguing that they had the right to eat and drink whatever they desired. They worked for their living and they earned the money and it was their right to spend it to feed themselves. If some weaker brother happened to stumble over their eating habits, it was just his tough luck.
Paul retorts that he has the same rights that they do. He is a Christian just as they are Christians. He is laboring just as they are laboring. He has the right to enjoy the material fruits of his labors.
2. The Right to Be Accompanied by a Wife: Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? (9:5).
Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying that Christian leaders are permitted to be married. He also implies that the financial support given to a spiritual leader ought to be enough to support him and his family. I would suggest that this means the wife of a preacher ought not to have to work to support her husband in ministry.
Paul does not stop there. He points out that the other apostles made a regular use of these rights. They were married and their wives were supported with them by the work of their husbands.
There is a religious denomination today that teaching that those who labor in ministry are not permitted to marry. This is one of the least of their problems, but we should still note that Paul repudiates such a position regarding the mandatory celibacy of the clergy.
Cephas and the Brothers of the Lord and the rest of the Apostles
Myself and Barnabas
They take along a believing wife
They have chosen not to do so
They are supported by the work of the ministry
They have chosen not to take money from the church at Corinth
THE PRINCIPLE OF DESERVED COMPENSATION
Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? (1 Corinthians 9:7).
Paul now asks three more questions in rapid succession. These three questions serve to set forth the principle upon which this chapter is based. It is the principle of deserved compensation. It is the principle that says the worker deserves to be compensated for his labors.
This is a principle that is fundamental to working. When you go to work, you expect to be paid for your labors. You expect to be compensated for the time and energy that you have extended. When you walk into a shopping center, you don’t just pick up an item from the rack and walk out of the store without paying for it. You understand that the owners of the store want to be paid for that item.
There weren’t any shopping centers in Corinth, so Paul gives three examples that were relevant to his day.
· The example of a soldier.
· The example of a farmer.
· The example of a shepherd.
In all three cases, the principle is the same. The worker expects to be rewarded from the fruit of his labors.
THE PRINCIPLE SEEN IN THE LAW
8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. (1 Corinthians 9:8-10).
The Principle of Compensation that Paul teaches to the Corinthians is not a new teaching. It was seen all the way back in the Law of Moses. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 24:4 and then he applies it to this situation.
This tells me something about a proper understanding of the Old Testament. There are some people who want to tell you that the Old Testament has nothing of relevance to the believer today -- that it was written to the nation of Israel and that we ought not to pay any attention to it. But I want you to notice Paul’s view of the Old Testament Scriptures. He quotes them to prove a principle that is true for Christians today. This means that the principles that were true in those days are just as true today. God doesn’t change. He still tells His people how they ought to live.
Paul asks, God is not concerned about oxen, is He? This is another rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. God’s main concern on planet earth is not oxen. His main concern is man. He did not send His Son to the earth to die for oxen. Because man are more important than oxen, the principle which is true of oxen is especially true of men.
In ancient times, a team of oxen would be tied to the axle of a heavy millstone and led round and round in a circle, causing this heavy millstone to roll continually on its path. Grain from the fields would be taken and laid in the path of the millstone so that its great weight would crack open the hard kernels of wheat. At a later time, the broken husks would be separated from the good kernels. This was the separating the wheat from the chaff.
While that team of oxen were marching round and round the threshing floor, they would often bend down and eat of the wheat. The enterprising farmer might see a portion of his profits being eaten up and be tempted to put a muzzle over the mouths of his oxen. God told him not to do it.
The principle is clear. The one who labors is to participate in the fruits of that labor.
THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED
If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:11-12).
Paul now looks to the practical application of this principle of Deserved Compensation. It is never enough to have knowledge of godly principles. Those principles must be put into practice. They must be taken out of the notebook of the classroom and applied to the daily situations of life. Paul moves from the theoretical to the practical.
1. A Conditional Requirement: If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? (9:11).
There is a conditional requirement in this clause that must be true of any spiritual worker who expects to be compensated. He must be teaching spiritual things.
This is important. There are a lot of people these days who are asking for money for all sorts of reasons. The Christian is bombarded with requests for money from every area. Some of those who appeal for money do not deserve to be paid because they have not taught spiritual things. The entire ministry of some men seems to be a giant request for more money. But the Christian leader is called to feed the flock rather than to fleece the flock.
On the other hand, if the Christian leader has been faithful in teaching spiritual things, then that faithfulness is to be rewarded with material things.
2. A Well-Deserved Right: If others share the right over you, do we not more? (9:12).
Apparently the Corinthians did make a practice of paying some of their leaders. But they neglected to pay those who had brought Christianity to Corinth. Then neglected to take care of the needs of their spiritual father.
3. An Enduring Relinquishment: Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ (9:12).
Paul had the right to demand financial support from the church, but he did not. He gave up his rights for the sake of the gospel.
Paul didn’t want anyone to be able to say, “Paul? He’s only in the ministry for the money. He doesn’t want to have to work for a living, so he preaches instead.”
Does this mean that all Christian leaders ought to go out and to do likewise? Does this mean that Christian leaders should always refuse to be paid? Not at all. If God has called a man to devote himself fully to the preaching of the Word, then it might be wrong for him to divide his time and energy with a secular job.
On the other hand, there may be times when a Christian worker might be led to work to support himself as Paul did, especially if he is in a small church that is financially unable to pay him a sufficient wage.
We never read of Paul soliciting financial support for himself or for his ministry. He did not offer a hand-autographed copy of 1 Corinthians for a donation of $20 or more. He did not sell prayer cloths.
Yet he did not hesitate to make known the material needs of others. In the last chapter of this epistle, he will give specific instructions regarding a collection of money for the needy church in Jerusalem. But he will not ask for money for himself, even though he had every right to do so.
THE PRINCIPLE SEEN IN THE PRIESTHOOD
Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
In the temple at Jerusalem, the priests were paid from the sacrifices and offerings that were brought into the Temple. Likewise in the pagan temples of Corinth, the priests of those temples ate of the portions of meat that were offered up in their temples.
So also, God has directed that those who labor in the Word are to be paid by those who benefit from the preaching of that Word.
There is a message of exhortation here for you. Are you working to meet the material needs of those men who are your spiritual leaders? Are you helping to provide the financial support to those who give you your spiritual support?
Make no mistake about it. You have a responsibility. There is an action that you are called to take. You are called to take care of their physical necessities.