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The ‘Rights’ of an Apostle

I’m a free man, aren’t I? I’m an apostle, aren’t I? I’ve seen Jesus our Lord, haven’t I? You are my work in the Lord, aren’t you? I may not be an apostle to other people, but I certainly am to you; in fact, you are the authorized stamp of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is the defence I make to anyone who wants to bring a charge against me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take a Christian wife with us on our travels, as the other apostles do, as the Lord’s brothers do, as Cephas does? Or are Barnabas and I the only ones who don’t have the right to be set free from the need to work? Who serves in the army at their own expense? Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat its fruit? Who looks after animals and doesn’t drink the milk?

I’m not just using human illustrations to make the point; the law says the same thing, doesn’t it? This is what is written in Moses’s law: ‘You must not muzzle a threshing ox.’ God isn’t concerned for oxen, is he? 10 Doesn’t it refer completely to us? Yes, it does – because it’s written that the one who ploughs should do so in hope of the produce, and the thresher should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. 11 So if we have sown spiritual things among you, is it such a big thing that we should reap worldly things? 12 If others have that kind of right over you, don’t we have it even more?

Giving Up Rights for the Gospel

But we haven’t made use of this right. Instead, we put up with everything, so as to place no obstacle in the way of the Messiah’s gospel.

13 Don’t you know that those who work in the Temple eat the Temple food, and those who serve at the altar share in the food from the altar? 14 In the same way the Lord has laid it down that those who announce the gospel should get their living from the gospel.

15 But I haven’t made use of any of this. I’m not writing this in order to make it happen like this for me. It would be better for me to die than . . . Nobody’s going to deprive me of my boast! 16 If I announce the gospel, you see, that’s no reason for me to be proud. I’m under compulsion! Woe betide me if I don’t announce the gospel! 17 If I do it willingly, I have a reward; if I do it unwillingly – well, this is the commission that’s been entrusted to me! 18 So what is my reward? Just this: that when I announce the gospel I should give it away free of charge; that I shouldn’t make use of my rights in the gospel.

The Apostle’s Freedom – to be Enslaved to Everyone

19 The reason for all this is as follows. I am indeed free from everyone; but I have enslaved myself to everyone, so that I can win all the more. 20 I became like a Jew to the Jews, to win Jews. I became like someone under the law to the people who are under the law, even though I’m not myself under the law, so that I could win those under the law. 21 To the lawless I became like someone lawless (even though I’m not lawless before God, but under the Messiah’s law), so that I could win the lawless. 22 I became weak to the weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that in all ways I might save some. 23 I do it all because of the gospel, so that I can be a partner in its benefits.

The Christian Athlete

24 Don’t you know that when people run on the race-track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. 25 Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. 26 Well then: I don’t run in an aimless fashion! I don’t box like someone punching the air! 27 No: I give my body rough treatment, and make it my slave, in case, after announcing the message to others, I myself should end up being disqualified.