Here he tells them that he had, notwithstanding, waived his privilege, and lays down his reason for doing it.
I. He tells them that he had neglected to claim his right in times past: I have used none of these things, 1 Cor. 9:15. He neither ate nor drank himself at their cost, nor led about a wife to be maintained by them, nor forbore working to maintain himself. From others he received a maintenance, but not from them, for some special reasons. Nor did he write this to make his claim now. Though he here asserts his right, yet he does not claim his due; but denies himself for their sakes, and the gospel.
II. We have the reason assigned of his exercising this self-denial. He would not have his glorying made void: It were better for his to die than that any man should make his glorying void, 1 Cor. 9:15. This glorying did imply nothing in it of boasting, or self-conceit, or catching at applause, but a high degree of satisfaction and comfort. It was a singular pleasure to him to preach the gospel without making it burdensome; and he was resolved that among them he would not lose this satisfaction. His advantages for promoting the gospel were his glory, and he valued them above his rights, or his very life: Better were it for him to die than to have his glorying made void, than to have it justly said that he preferred his wages to his work. No, he was ready to deny himself for the sake of the gospel. Note, It is the glory of a minister to prefer the success of his ministry to his interest, and deny himself, that he may serve Christ, and save souls. Not that in so doing he does more than he ought; he is still acting within the bounds of the law of charity. But he acts upon truly noble principles, he brings much honour to God in so doing; and those that honour him he will honour. It is what God will approve and commend, what a man may value himself for and take comfort in, though he cannot make a merit of it before God.
III. He shows that this self-denial was more honourable in itself, and yielded him much more content and comfort, than his preaching did: “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing whereof to glory; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel, 1 Cor. 9:16. It is my charge, my business; it is the work for which I am constituted an apostle, 1 Cor. 1:17. This is a duty expressly bound upon me. It is not in any degree a matter of liberty. Necessity is upon me. I am false and unfaithful to my trust, I break a plain and express command, and woe be to me, if I do not preach the gospel.” Those who are set apart to the office of the ministry have it in charge to preach the gospel. Woe be to them if they do not. From this none is excepted. But it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it. It is not said, “Woe be to him if he do not preach the gospel, and yet maintain himself.” In this point he is more at liberty. It may be his duty to preach at some seasons, and under some circumstances, without receiving a maintenance for it; but he has, in the general, a right to it, and may expect it from those among whom he labours. When he renounces this right for the sake of the gospel and the souls of men, though he does not supererogate, yet he denies himself, waives his privilege and right; he does more than his charge and office in general, and at all times, obliges him to. Woe be to him if he do not preach the gospel; but it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing, and whenever he forbears to claim it he parts with his right, though a man may sometimes be bound to do so by the general duties of love to God and charity to men. Note, It is a high attainment in religion to renounce our own rights for the good of others; this will entitle to a peculiar reward from God. For,
IV. The apostle here informs us that doing our duty with a willing mind will meet with a gracious recompence from God: If I do this thing, that is, either preach the gospel or take no maintenance, willingly, I have a reward. Indeed, it is willing service only that is capable of reward from God. It is not the bare doing of any duty, but the doing of it heartily (that is, willingly and cheerfully) that God has promised to reward. Leave the heart out of our duties, and God abhors them: they are but the carcasses, without the life and spirit, of religion. Those must preach willingly who would be accepted of God in this duty. They must make their business a pleasure, and not esteem it a drudgery. And those who, out of regard to the honour of God or good of souls, give up their claim to a maintenance, should do this duty willingly, if they would be accepted in it or rewarded for it. But whether the duty of the office be done willingly or with reluctance, whether the heart be in it or averse from it, all in office have a trust and charge from God, for which they must be accountable. Ministers have a dispensation of the gospel, or stewardship—oikonomia (Luke 16:2), committed to them. Note, Christ’s willing servants shall not fail of a recompence, and that proportioned to their fidelity, zeal, and diligence; and his slothful and unwilling servants shall all be called to an account. Taking his name, and professing to do his business, will make men accountable at his bar. And how sad an account have slothful servants to give!
V. The apostle sums up the argument, by laying before them the encouraging hope he had of a large recompence for his remarkable self-denial: What is my reward then? 1 Cor. 9:18. What is it I expect a recompence from God for? That when I preach the gospel I may make it without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. Or, “not so to claim my rights as to make them destroy the great intentions and ends of my office, but renounce them for the sake of these.” It is an abuse of power to employ it against the very ends for which it is given. And the apostle would never use his power, or privilege of being maintained by his ministry, so as to frustrate the ends of it, but would willingly and cheerfully deny himself for the honour of Christ and the interest of souls. That ministers who follows his example may have cheerful expectations of a full recompence.