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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 3–14
Verses 3–14

Having asserted his apostolical authority, he proceeds to claim the rights belonging to his office, especially that of being maintained by it.

I. These he states, 1 Cor. 9:3-6. “My answer to those that do examine me (that is, enquire into my authority, or the reasons of my conduct, if I am an apostle) is this: Have we not power to eat and drink (1 Cor. 9:4), or a right to maintenance? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas; and, not only to be maintained ourselves, but have them maintained also?” Though Paul was at that time single, he had a right to take a wife when he pleased, and to lead her about with him, and expect a maintenance for her, as well as himself, from the churches. Perhaps Barnabas had a wife, as the other apostles certainly had, and led them about with them. For that a wife is here to be understood by the sister-woman~adelphen gynaika, is plain from this, that it would have been utterly unfit for the apostles to have carried about women with them unless they were wives. The word implies that they had power over them, and could require their attendance on them, which none could have over any but wives or servants. Now the apostles, who worked for their bread, do not seem to have been in a capacity to buy or have servants to carry with them. Not to observe that it would have raised suspicion to have carried about even women-servants, and much more other women to whom they were not married, for which the apostles would never give any occasion. The apostle therefore plainly asserts he had a right to marry as well as other apostles, and claim a maintenance for his wife, nay, and his children too, if he had any, from the churches, without labouring with his own hands to procure it. Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to for bear working? 1 Cor. 9:6. In short, the apostle here claims a maintenance from the churches, both for him and his. This was due from them, and what he might claim.

II. He proceeds, by several arguments, to prove his claim. 1. From the common practice and expectations of mankind. Those who addict and give themselves up to any way of business in the world expect to live out of it. Soldiers expect to be paid for their service. Husbandmen and shepherds expect to get a livelihood out of their labours. If they plant vineyards, and dress and cultivate them, it is with expectation of fruit; if they feed a flock, it is with the expectation of being fed and clothed by it! Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own charge? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not the milk thereof? 1 Cor. 9:7-9. Note, It is very natural, and very reasonable, for ministers to expect a livelihood out of their labours. 2. He argues it out of the Jewish law: Say I these things as a man? Or saith not the law the same also? 1 Cor. 9:8. Isa. this merely a dictate of common reason and according to common usage only? No, it is also consonant to the old law. God had therein ordered that the ox should not be muzzled while he was treading out the corn, nor hindered from eating while he was preparing the corn for man’s use, and treading it out of the ear. But this law was not chiefly given out of God’s regard to oxen, or concern for them, but to teach mankind that all due encouragement should be given to those who are employed by us, or labouring for our good—that the labourers should taste of the fruit of their labours. Those who plough should plough in hope; and those who thresh in hope should be partakers of their hope, 1 Cor. 9:10. The law saith this about oxen for our sakes. Note, Those that lay themselves out to do our souls good should not have their mouths muzzled, but have food provided for them. 3. He argues from common equity: If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? What they had sown was much better than they expected to reap. They had taught them the way to eternal life, and laboured heartily to put them in possession of it. It was no great matter, surely, while they were giving themselves up to this work, to expect a support of their own temporal life. They had been instruments of conveying to them the greater spiritual blessings; and had they no claim to as great a share in their carnal things as was necessary to subsist them? Note, Those who enjoy spiritual benefits by the ministry of the word should not grudge a maintenance to such as are employed in this work. If they have received a real benefit, one would think they could not grudge them this. What, get so much good by them, and yet grudge to do so little good to them! Isa. this grateful or equitable? 4. He argues from the maintenance they afforded others: “If others are partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? You allow others this maintenance, and confess their claim just; but who has so just a claim as I from the church of Corinth? Who has given greater evidence of the apostolic mission? Who had laboured so much for your good, or done like service among you?” Note, Ministers should be valued and provided for according to their worth. “Nevertheless,” says the apostle, “we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. We have not insisted on our right, but have rather been in straits to serve the interests of the gospel, and promote the salvation of souls.” He renounced his right, rather than by claiming it he would hinder his success. He denied himself, for fear of giving offence; but asserted his right lest his self-denial should prove prejudicial to the ministry. Note, He is likely to plead most effectually for the rights of others who shows a generous disregard to his own. It is plain, in this case, that justice, and not self-love, is the principle by which he is actuated. 5. He argues from the old Jewish establishment: “Do you not know that those who minister about holy things live of the things of the temple, and those who wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 1 Cor. 9:13. And, if the Jewish priesthood was maintained out of the holy things that were then offered, shall not Christ’s ministers have a maintenance out of their ministry? Isa. there not as much reason that we should be maintained as they?” He asserts it to be the institution of Christ: “Even so hath the Lord ordained that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), should have a right to a maintenance, though not bound to demand it, and insist upon it.” It is the people’s duty to maintain their minister, by Christ’s appointment, though it be not a duty bound on every minister to call for or accept it. He may waive his right, as Paul did, without being a sinner; but those transgress an appointment of Christ who deny or withhold it. Those who preach the gospel have a right to live by it; and those who attend on their ministry, and yet take no thought about their subsistence, fail very much in their duty to Christ, and respect owing to them.