1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9:1

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

(a) Am I not free? Paul was not bound to the world, the law, or sin. Like Jesus, he was a free man in a world of slaves.

Every believer is free in Christ but not every believer knows they are free. Some have been duped into keeping religious rules. Others are addicted to money and ambition. Others are struggling with sin. Not Paul. Only a free man can free a slave.

(b) Am I not an apostle? With these four questions, Paul defends his apostleship (see next verse).

(c) Apostle; see entry for 1 Cor. 1:1.

(d) Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Paul saw Jesus face-to-face (1 Cor. 15:8).

(e) Are you not my work in the Lord? You are the proof of my ministry and the fruit of my labor.

1 Corinthians 9:2

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.

I am to you. Paul was an apostle to the Corinthians because he planted the church and was a spiritual father to them (Acts 18:1–11, 1 Cor. 4:15).

1 Corinthians 9:3–4

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink?

(a) Those who examine me. Paul’s authority as an apostle was challenged by some.

(b) Do we not have a right? Paul begins to list the rights of an apostle.

(c) To eat and drink? Those who minister the gospel ought to be supported by the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:14). Paul received financial support from some of the churches he visited (Php. 4:10–18), but not from the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 9:5

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?

(a) A believing wife. Paul did not travel with a wife (he did not have one), but others did and this was fine with Paul.

(b) The brothers of the Lord. The half-brothers of Jesus were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Matt. 13:55). At first, they did not believe Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 3:21), but they and their mother Mary were among those praying in the Upper Room after the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:14). James became the influential leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). It’s possible the other brothers became ministers of the gospel and apostles, but we have no direct evidence for this.

(c) Cephas is Peter (see John 1:42). Peter was married and had a mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14–15).

1 Corinthians 9:6

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

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

(b) Refrain from working. Paul preferred to preach the gospel full time if possible.

For much of his ministry, Paul was bivocational. (When Paul first came to Corinth, he supported himself by making tents (Acts 18:3).) He worked during the day and preached at night so that he might not to be a burden to young churches (1 Th. 2:9, 2 Th. 3:8). Paul was happy to do this, but the arrangement was less than ideal. God did not put Paul on earth to make tents.

1 Corinthians 9:7

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?

Who at any time. In the world, those who work get paid for their work whether they are soldiers (civil servants), farmers (business owners), or shepherds (blue-collar workers).

1 Corinthians 9:8

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?

(a) The Law refers to the law of Moses, the commandments, ordinances, punishments, and ceremonial observances given to the nation of Israel through Moses (Jos. 8:31, John 1:17). This law is sometimes referred to as the law of commandments (Eph. 2:15) or the law of the Jews (Acts 25:8). See entry for The Law.

(b) Also say these things? The law of Moses also prescribed payment for work (see next verse). Being remunerated for your work is not just a worldly principle, but a Biblical one as well.

1 Corinthians 9:9

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?

Muzzle the ox. If the law of Moses provided for the lowly ox (Deut.25:4), how much more does a minister of the gospel deserve to be fed and supported (1 Cor. 9:14).

1 Corinthians 9:10

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.

For our sake. The instructions about oxen were written for us. Whether we are sowing or reaping, we work because we expect to share in the harvest.

1 Corinthians 9:11

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

(a) We sowed spiritual things. We sowed the seed of God’s word. We told you the good news of Jesus. We led you to the Savior.

(b) Is it too much. If we have given you spiritual things of everlasting value (you were lost!), is it too much to expect material things in return (we have to eat)?

Those who lead us to Christ and strengthen us in the faith are of inestimable value. How can we repay them for such kindness? One way is to contribute to their material needs.

(c) 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 9:12

If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

(a) If others share the right over you. Other ministers had been financially supported by the Corinthians.

(b) Do we not more? No one deserved the Corinthians’ gratitude and support more than the man who labored in Corinth for 18 months laying the foundations of the church (Acts 18:11). Although the Corinthians had many teachers, Paul was their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15).

(c) We did not use this right. Paul did not ask the fledgling church for financial support, but he supported himself by making tents (Acts 18:3, 1 Cor. 4:12). However, at the end of this letter he suggests the Corinthians may be able to support him in the future (1 Cor. 16:6).

(d) We endure all things. Insufficient financial support meant that Paul was sometimes “hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless” (1 Cor. 4:11). It meant he had to toil night and day as a bivocational worker (1 Th. 2:9, 2 Th. 3:8).

(e) No hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Even though Paul had financial needs, he did not charge speaking fees or demand payment. He did not want anything to hinder the preaching of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:18).

(f) The gospel of Christ. The gospel revealed in the Bible goes by several names. There is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1) or the gospel of Christ (Rom. 15:19, 1 Cor. 9:12, 2 Cor. 2:12, 9:13, 10:14, Gal. 1:7, Php. 1:27, 1 Th. 3:2). There is the gospel of God (Mark 1:14, Rom 1:1, 15:16, 2 Cor. 11:7, 1 Th. 2:2, 8, 9, 1 Pet. 4:17), gospel of the blessed God (1 Tim. 1:11), and the gospel of his Son (Rom 1:9). There is the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14, Luke 16:16), and the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). These are different labels for the one and only gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). See entry for The Gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:13

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 from the altar?

(a) Do you not know? This was one of Paul’s rhetorical trademarks. “Do you not know? You should know.” See entry for 1 Cor. 3:16.

(b) Eat the food of the temple. Under the law of Moses, the priests who served at the temple got to eat the food sacrificed at the temple (Lev. 6:16, 26, 7:31, Deut. 18:1).

Every day, hundreds of animals were sacrificed at the altar in Jerusalem. That meat was used to feed the families of those who worked at the temple.

1 Corinthians 9:14

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

(a) The Lord directed. The instruction to support gospel ministers comes from the Lord himself (Matt. 10:10, Luke 10:7).

Paul lists several reasons why those who labor in the gospel ought to be supported: it’s how the world works (verse 7), it’s enshrined in the law (verses 8–10), it’s only fair (verse 12), and it’s how the Levites were funded (verse 13). Above all these reasons is the word of the Lord. “This is the Lord’s instruction,” says Paul. “Not mine.” It is God’s heart for us to bless those who have blessed us (Rom. 15:27, 1 Cor. 9:11, Gal. 6:6). Paul repeated the Lord’s instruction (1 Tim, 5:18) and was not ashamed to ask for help for himself (e.g., Rom. 15:24, 2 Cor. 1:16) or others (e.g., Tit. 3:13). He did not ask because he needed the money, but because it’s blessed for us to give (Acts 20:35). When we invest into the kingdom, perhaps by supporting those who preach the gospel, we reap eternal rewards (Php. 4:17).

(b) Directed. Some translations say the Lord commanded, as though we were still under law. But the original word (diatasso) means to arrange or prescribe or direct.

(c) Get their living from the gospel. Just as those who serve at the temple have a share in the meat sacrificed on the altar (see previous verse), those who preach the gospel ought to be supported by the gospel (e.g., via meals, accommodation, honorariums, offerings, donations, royalties, patronage, etc.).

Jesus’ own ministry was funded by the support of many (see entry for Luke 8:3). Although the One who fed 5000 and who turned water into wine hardly needed financial support, he received it to give us an example to follow. It is not the unbelieving Gentiles who fund gospel ministers. It is the Body of Christ.

(d) The gospel refers to the gospel of Christ or the gospel of God or the gospel of the kingdom. See entry for 1 Cor. 9:12.

1 Corinthians 9:15

But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.

(a) I have used none of these things. Paul never asked for financial support from the Corinthians, despite all the rights and reasons just listed.

(b) And I am not writing these things so that you would start supporting me now, says Paul. I’d rather die than give up this great boast I have.

(c) My boast. Paul was pleased to preach the gospel without charge (1 Cor. 9:18) and remain free from obligations to others (1 Cor. 9:19).

No one could impugn Paul’s motives for preaching the gospel. No one could say he did it for the money or to build an edifice or somehow glorify himself. Scandals have ruined too many ministries, but Paul’s reputation was stellar and his message was unsullied.

Paul’s boast needs to be tempered with his suggestion at the end of the letter that the Corinthians might support in future visit (1 Cor. 16:6). In his next letter, Paul will spend two chapters encouraging the Corinthians to excel in the grace of giving (2 Cor. 8–9).

1 Corinthians 9:16

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.

(b) The gospel refers to the gospel of Christ or the gospel of God or the gospel of the kingdom. See entry for 1 Cor. 9:12.

(b) I am under compulsion. I don’t preach the gospel for money; I preach because the love of Christ compels me (see 2 Cor. 5:14).

Evangelism done out of duty is a drudge, but when the love of God captivates our hearts we cannot help but tell others.

(c) Woe is me if I don’t preach, said Paul. I have to tell people about the love of God. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s why I undertake dangerous journeys, endure hardships, and write letters from prison.

In his early years Paul had been seduced by a murderous religion that paid lip service to God. But after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul came to understand why he had been put on this earth. By the grace of God Paul became a history-maker who achieved more in one lifetime than just about anyone who ever lived.

1 Corinthians 9:17

For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.

(a) If I do this voluntarily. If I preach without payment.

(b) I have a reward. Even if I am not financially supported as a minister of the gospel, I am rewarded (see next verse).

(c) If against my will. If I am compelled to preach.

(d) I have a stewardship. This is what I have been called to do. Preaching the gospel is my privileged calling from God.

Paul is saying, “Whether we preach for love or because we feel called to do it, we win either way. To preach the gospel is a noble and rewarding occupation.”

1 Corinthians 9:18

What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

(a) What then is my reward? Paul preached the gospel to win people. “I have become all things to all men, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

People were Paul’s reward or prize or crown. “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Th. 2:19¬–20).

(b) I may offer the gospel without charge. Paul sometimes received financial support from those he ministered to, but he never charged anyone for the gospel. He had little regard for the concerns of men (see next verse) but went where the Spirit led and said what the Spirit told him to say.

(c) Without charge. The gospel is free, but getting the message to people costs money. Who should pay? Who paid for Paul’s traveling expenses? Who paid for his food and accommodation? Often Paul paid his own way by engaging in manual labor (1 Th. 2:9, 2 Th. 3:8). Sometimes others supported him (Php. 4:10–18). But Paul never charged anyone to hear the gospel. (2 Cor. 11:7).

(d) Not to make full use of my right. Paul didn’t waste time claiming his rights to support. For the most part he was pleased to sidestep these issues and concentrate on the more important task of preaching the gospel.

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).

If we would seek the same reward as Paul (people), we must follow the same method Paul used (service). The kingdom of God is not advanced by power or any worldly means, but through sacrificial love and service to others.

(c) That I may win more. Here is the key phrase to understanding why Paul did what he did. Paul did not preach the gospel for money but to win or gain people for the kingdom of God. Paul was on a rescue mission. He wanted to win Jews, Gentiles, the weak and the strong, and everyone he could. He became all things to all people so that by all means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22).

1 Corinthians 9:20

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

(a) I became as a Jew. Paul, or Saul as he was known to the Jews, visited synagogues and preached from the Hebrew Scriptures. He took a vow and purified himself when he visited the temple (Acts 21:23–26). He did not do these things because he was confused about grace or to appease those within the circumcision camp. He did it to win Jews for Jesus. In reaching out to Jews he showed great courage, for most of his persecutions were instigated by the religious Jews.

(b) Those who are under the Law were the Jews and those who had joined their law-keeping religion.

(c) Not being myself under the Law. We are not under law but grace (Rom. 6:14).

This short statement in the middle of a long letter probably offended many. It probably cost Paul friends and led to the closing of doors for ministry.

Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews and in regards to the law, a Pharisee (Php. 3:5). Paul was as Jewish as they come. But after met Jesus everything changed. While he was happy to serve those under the law, he didn’t want anyone to be unclear about his own position. Paul was no longer under the supervision of the law, for he had been apprehended by the grace of God (Rom. 6:15, Gal. 3:25).

(d) That I might win; see entry for 1 Cor. 9:19.

1 Corinthians 9:21

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 without law were the Gentiles. Paul was just as happy discoursing with the Gentiles in the marketplace as he was talking to the Jews in the synagogue. Like Jesus, he could talk to anyone anywhere.

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

(c) 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). But in a new covenant context, the law of God refers to the word of God. When Saul the Pharisee concurred with the law of God, he meant he obeyed the law of Moses (Php. 3:6). But when Paul the apostle concurred with the law of God, he meant he took pleasure in obeying God the Father. See entry for Romans 7:22.

(d) The law of Christ is the Lord’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34).

The law of Christ is not an old covenant law but a new commandment and a new kind of commandment (1 John 2:8, 2 John 1:5). We don’t love others because we fear God’s punishment; we love because we have received his love. 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.

People come to grace at different speeds, and those who get grace need to be gentle with those who are still processing the implications of the cross. Paul did not condemn those who had doubts or who were troubled about secondary issues (e.g., food offered to idols). He spoke to all with gentleness and wisdom. He had little interest in winning debates but a great interest in winning people.

(b) So that I may by all means save some. Everyone needs a why and this was Paul’s why. He did what he did to win people for the kingdom. He preached the gospel everywhere to everyone to save the lost. See also the entry for 1 Cor. 9:19.

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 (see previous verse).

(b) The gospel; see entry for 1 Cor. 9:12.

(c) So that I may become a fellow partaker of it. The key word here, which is excised from some translations, is fellow. 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 slave “so that I may win more” (1 Cor. 9:19).

(c) Run in such a way that you may win people. In the kingdom of God, people are the only treasure that lasts (see entry for 1 Cor 9:19).

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.

(a) Competes. The original word (agonizomai) means to struggle, contend, and endeavour.

(b) Exercises self-control. Athletes are focused, sometimes to the point of obsession.

(c) Perishable wreath. Athletes struggle and 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 lack a sense of purpose. They are drifting through life with no direction, bouncing from one thing to another. Their punches are aimless and they will leave no legacy. Paul was not like this. He had a clear goal (to win some) and he knew how to attain it (by serving all).

It is the love of God that gives our lives meaning and direction. When you know who your Father is (the Maker of heaven and earth) and when you know who you are (a dearly-loved child of God), you will have the confidence to live the life he designed for you. And if you are able to share your Father’s love with others in a way that is consistent with your gifts and talents, you will enjoy the same sense of purpose that Paul had.

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 original word for discipline (hupopiazo) means to subdue. The spirit-led believer is no slave to his appetites but subdues his flesh to his will.

(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. He is talking about work and rewards and making our lives count for something.

We have received the light of the gospel, but if we hide our light under a bushel, it is worthless. God wants you to shine. If you don’t shine, you won’t lose your salvation. But you won’t receive any reward (1 Cor. 3:14) or win the prize (see entry for 1 Cor. 9:24).

The original word for disqualified (adokimos) means not approved or worthless. Paul did not want to live a worthless life accumulating wood for the fire. He wanted to win people and acquire everlasting treasure.

Further reading: “Disqualified for the prize?

The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got a suggestion? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.

Leave a Reply