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Paul’s Apostolic Freedom

Am I not completely free and unrestrained? Absolutely! Am I not an apostle? Of course! Haven’t I had a personal encounter with our Jesus face-to-face—and continue to see him?[a] Emphatically yes! Aren’t you all the proof of my ministry in the Lord?[b] Certainly! If others do not recognize me as their apostle, at least you are bound to do so, for now your lives are joined to the Lord. You are the living proof, the certificate of my apostleship.

So to those who want to continually criticize my apostolic ministry, here’s my statement of defense.[c] Don’t we apostles have the right to be supported financially?[d] Don’t we have the right to travel accompanied by our believing wives and be supported as a couple, as do the other apostles, such as Peter the Rock and the Lord’s brothers?[e] Of course we do![f] Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to stop working for a living?[g]

Responsibility to Financially Support God’s Servants

Who serves in the military at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not enjoy the grapes for himself? Who would nurture and shepherd a flock and never get to drink its fresh milk? Am I merely giving you my own opinions, or does the Torah teach the same things? For it is written in the law of Moses:

You should never put a muzzle over the mouth of an ox
    while he is treading out the grain.[h]

Tell me, is God only talking about oxen here? 10 Doesn’t he also give us this principle so that we won’t withhold support from his workers?[i] It was written so that we would understand that the one spiritually “plowing” and spiritually “treading out the grain” also labors with the expectation of enjoying the harvest. 11 So, if we’ve sowed many spiritual gifts[j] among you, is it too much to expect to reap material gifts from you? 12 And if you have supported others, don’t we rightfully deserve this privilege even more?

But as you know, we haven’t used that right. Instead, we have continued to support ourselves[k] so that we would never be a hindrance to the spread of the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that the priests[l] employed in sacred duty in the temple[m] are provided for by temple resources? And the priests who serve at the altar receive a portion of the offerings?[n] 14 In the same way, the Lord has directed those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel. As for me, I’ve preferred to never use any of these rights for myself. 15 And keep in mind that I’m not writing all this because I’m hinting that you should support me.

Paul Renounces His Rights for the Sake of the Gospel

Actually, I’d rather die than to have anyone rob me of this joyous reason for boasting![o] 16 For you see, even though I proclaim the good news, I can’t take the credit for my labors, for I am compelled to fulfill my duty by completing this work. It would be agony to me if I did not constantly preach the gospel! 17 If it were my own idea to preach as a way to make a living, I would expect to be paid. Since it’s not my idea but God’s, who commissioned me, I am entrusted with the stewardship of the gospel whether or not I’m paid. 18 So then, where is my reward? It is found in continually depositing the good news into people’s hearts, without obligation, free of charge, and not insisting on my rights to be financially supported.

Paul, a Servant to All

19 Now, even though I am free from obligations to others,[p] I joyfully make myself a servant to all in order to win as many converts as possible. 20 I became Jewish to the Jewish people in order to win them to the Messiah. I became like one under the law to gain the people who were stuck under the law, even though I myself am not under the law. 21 And to those who are without the Jewish laws, I became like them, as one without the Jewish laws, in order to win them, although I’m not outside the law of God but under the law of Christ. 22 I became “weak” to the weak to win the weak. I have adapted to the culture of every place I’ve gone[q] so that I could more easily win people to Christ. 23 I’ve done all this so that I would become God’s partner for the sake of the gospel.[r]

Paul’s Disciplined Lifestyle

24 Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack[s] keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. 25 A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. 26 For that reason, I don’t run just for exercise[t] or box like one throwing aimless punches, 27 but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body[u] and get it under my control, so that after preaching the good news to others I myself won’t be disqualified.


  1. 1 Corinthians 9:1 As implied by the perfect active indicative. Paul has seen the Lord, but the effects of that “seeing” continue on in full force (i.e., “I continue to have him in my sight”).
  2. 1 Corinthians 9:1 These four forceful rhetorical questions are emphatic in the Greek construction, which means they each demand an answer in the affirmative. Although some commentators view these four questions as qualifications of an apostle, there is no indication that this is indeed the purpose of his questions. Paul is defending his apostleship, not listing qualifications of apostles. The seven arguments he makes in defense of his apostleship are the following: (1) He enjoys freedom from all bondage, both from the world and religion (v. 1). (2) He had face-to-face encounters with Jesus (v. 1; 15:8). (3) The formation of the church of Corinth validates his apostleship (vv. 1–2; Acts 18). (4) His unselfish lifestyle resulted in not demanding to be paid for his ministry (vv. 3–15). (5) He was given a divine stewardship (vv. 16–18). (6) He was determined to win everyone through the gospel of Christ (vv. 19–23). (7) He lived a disciplined life in order to succeed in the obstacle course of ministry for Christ (vv. 24–27).
  3. 1 Corinthians 9:3 The Aramaic is quite blunt: “Those who judge me I rebuke in [the] spirit.”
  4. 1 Corinthians 9:4 Or “to eat and drink,” a euphemism to describe financial support.
  5. 1 Corinthians 9:5 See Mark 6:3; John 2:12.
  6. 1 Corinthians 9:6 Made explicit from the Greek disjunctive particle.
  7. 1 Corinthians 9:6 Apostles were usually cared for and financially supported by the church so they didn’t have to engage in secular work for their wages, although Paul and Barnabas, on different occasions, supported themselves without being a burden to the congregations (see vv. 12–15).
  8. 1 Corinthians 9:9 See Deut. 25:4; 1 Tim. 5:18.
  9. 1 Corinthians 9:10 Or “Doesn’t he say this for our sake [as apostles]?”
  10. 1 Corinthians 9:11 The Greek word pneumatikos is often used for spiritual gifts, not just spiritual blessings. See 1 Cor. 12:1; 14:1. The Aramaic is explicit: “Since we have planted the Spirit in you, we should harvest financially from you.”
  11. 1 Corinthians 9:12 Or “We have endured all things.”
  12. 1 Corinthians 9:13 Or “those who work with sacred things.”
  13. 1 Corinthians 9:13 The Aramaic word for temple is “house of blessing.”
  14. 1 Corinthians 9:13 Or “what is offered on the altar.” See Lev. 6:9-11, 19.
  15. 1 Corinthians 9:15 Paul uses the rhetorical device of abruptly breaking off his statement (“I would rather die than—”). This is known as an aposiopesis, meant to intensify the importance of having the joy of boasting in the fact that Paul provided for his own needs in ministry.
  16. 1 Corinthians 9:19 That is, Paul lived free from the obligation of pleasing those who paid him a salary. He lived by faith, yet he still became the servant of all.
  17. 1 Corinthians 9:22 Or “I have become all things to all different kinds of people”; that is, he adapted culturally wherever he ministered.
  18. 1 Corinthians 9:23 Paul is declaring the five motivating principles for his ministry: (1) Always start by finding common ground with those you want to reach. (2) Avoid projecting to others that you are a know-it-all. (3) Accept everyone regardless of his or her issues. (4) Be sensitive to the culture of others. (5) Use every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people.
  19. 1 Corinthians 9:24 Or “the runners in a stadium.” This refers to the Pan-Hellenic stadium near Corinth where the Isthmian games were held.
  20. 1 Corinthians 9:26 Or “I don’t run aimlessly.” That is, Paul ran with his eyes on the goal of ending well.
  21. 1 Corinthians 9:27 Or “I beat my body black and blue.” This is an obvious metaphor of placing the desires of one’s body as second place to the desires of the Holy Spirit. See Rom. 8:13.