1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9:6

Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?

Barnabas was the first Christian in Jerusalem to recognize the hand of God on Saul’s life. Joseph Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He became one of Saul’s closest friends and most important coworkers.

1 Corinthians 9:11

If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?

Material things. The original word (sarkikos) is related to the word for flesh (sarx). Paul is saying, “Is it out of line to expect a meal or two from you?” (to quote the Message Bible). Material things also include financial support (see Rom. 15:27).

1 Corinthians 9:19

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

(a) I am free from all men. Paul was on nobody’s payroll. He didn’t have to submit to performance reviews and he didn’t face contract renewals.

(b) I have made myself a slave to all. Although Paul was free, he cheerfully served others to win them to Jesus. Although he had no obligations to anyone, the love of Christ compelled him to put others first (2 Cor. 5:14).

1 Corinthians 9:20-21

To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.

(a) Those who are under the Law were the Jews.

(b) Those who are without law were the Gentiles. Paul was just as happy discoursing with the Jews in the synagogue as he was talking to the Gentiles in the marketplace. Like Jesus, the great apostle could talk to anyone.

(c) Though not being without the law of God. Although Christians are not under the law of Moses, we are under the law of Christ.

(d) The law of God. The Jews sometimes referred to the Law of Moses (Jos. 8:31-32) as the Law of God (Jos. 24:26, Neh. 8:8). See entry for Romans 7:22.

(e) The law of Christ is the Lord’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). This law is sometimes referred to as a new commandment (1 John 2:8, 2 John 1:5). See entry for Gal. 6:2.

1 Corinthians 9:22

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

(a) To the weak I became weak. Like Jesus, Paul met people at their point of need. He bore the light of the gospel to the dark places of the world.

(b) So that I may by all means save some. Why do we work? Some work to curry favor with God, as though his blessings could be purchased or their inheritance could be earned. Not Paul. He worked to win souls for Jesus.

1 Corinthians 9:23

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

(a) I do all things for the sake of the gospel. In our busy world it’s easy to be distracted by many things, but Paul had a crystal clear focus. His ambition was not to make the best tents or win philosophical debates but to save the lost (1 Cor. 9:22).

(b) So that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Paul did not preach to become a partaker of the gospel but a fellow-partaker. He did it so that he could share the blessings of the gospel with others.

1 Corinthians 9:24

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

(a) Do you not know? See entry for 1 Cor. 3:16.

(b) The prize is people. Paul did what he did to “win Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20), and to “win those without the law” (1 Cor. 9:21). He wanted to “win the weak” (1 Cor. 9:22) and he became a servant “so that I may win more” (1 Cor. 9:19).

(c) Run in such a way that you may win people. Jesus died for people and Paul did what he did for people. In the kingdom of God, people are the only thing that matter and the only treasure that lasts.

Further reading: “What are heavenly treasures?

1 Corinthians 9:25

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Athletes train hard for prizes that have no lasting value, but the prize we pursue will never fade or rust. The wreath or crown that endures is people (see entry for 1 Th. 2:19).

1 Corinthians 9:26

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;

Not without aim. Many people are aimless because they lack a sense of purpose. They are drifting through life with no direction, bouncing from one thing to another. Paul was not like this. He had a clear goal (to win some) and he knew how to attain it (by serving all).

1 Corinthians 9:27

but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

(a) I discipline my body. There is value in physical exercise (1 Tim. 4:8). Paul walked hundreds of miles every year. If he hadn’t been fit, he could not have reached as many people with the gospel. The only way you could stop Paul traveling, was to lock him up.

(b) I myself will not be disqualified. Paul is not saying we can be disqualified from the kingdom any more than he is saying we are saved by going to the gym and working out. The original word for disqualified means not approved or worthless. Paul wanted his life to count and his work to be worth something. If his aim is to win people, his fear is that he would win none. He didn’t want to accumulate wood for the fire, but lasting treasure.

We have all received the light of the gospel, but if we hide our light under a bushel, it is worthless. Although we won’t lose our salvation, we won’t receive any reward (1 Cor. 3:14) or win the prize (see entry for 1 Cor. 9:24).

Further reading: “Disqualified for the prize?

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