Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:7-18 CEB
7 Who joins the army and pays their own way? Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat its fruit? Who shepherds a flock and doesn’t drink its milk? 8 I’m not saying these things just based on common sense, am I? Doesn’t the Law itself say these things? 9 In Moses’ Law it’s written: You will not muzzle the ox when it is threshing. Is God worried about oxen, 10 or did he say this entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake because the one who plows and the one who threshes should each do so with the hope of sharing the produce. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it so much to ask to harvest some material things from you?
12 If others have these rights over you, don’t we deserve them all the more? However, we haven’t made use of this right, but we put up with everything so we don’t put any obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get to eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share part of what is sacrificed on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel. 15 But I haven’t taken advantage of this. And I’m not writing this so that it will be done for me. It’s better for me to die than to lose my right to brag about this! 16 If I preach the gospel, I have no reason to brag, since I’m obligated to do it. I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel. 17 If I do this voluntarily, I get rewarded for it. But if I’m forced to do it, then I’ve been charged with a responsibility. 18 What reward do I get? That when I preach, I offer the good news free of charge. That’s why I don’t use the rights to which I’m entitled through the gospel.
Theme- Love endures all burdens
- What comes to mind when you hear the phrase There is nothing love cannot face?
- Why would Paul bring up the issue of financial support if he did not expect the Corinthians to send him money?
- Paul uses several analogies as parallels for his own role soldier, farmer, shepherd, priest; where does he expect to see themselves in these analogies?
- How do you understand Paul’s actions in not expecting support from the Corinthians to be motivated by love?
- What would an appropriate response be from the Corinthians hearing this message?
1 Cor. 13:8 There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. The word for “cannot face” comes from “roof” and refers to protect from or support. Meaning love protects what is under its care and supports them in their difficulties.
Each of the illustrations Paul uses as analogies for his ministry are paid, but also receive extra beyond the payment: the soldier- expenses, farmer- grapes, shepherd- milk, temple worker- meat.
The Corinthian church would have been expected to help provide for Paul’s ministry but Paul never asked them for any money or provision.
The word that ties 1 Corinthians 9 to 1 Corinthians 13 is στέγω (stego) translated “put up with” or “endure”; this word originated from the word for roof and means to both support and protect. Everything Paul is saying to the Corinthian community in chapter 9 should be read with the backdrop of “love always protects”. Notice that Paul starts this passage by talking about conventional wisdom, we know that soldiers have expenses paid, farmers can munch on the harvest, shepherds can drink goats’ milk. None of these are part of the individual’s pay, but perks above and beyond the payment of the job. Further, not only does conventional wisdom teach these are good, so too does the Deuteronomy (25:4). Every authority in the lives of the Corinthians says it is a good thing that a person tasked with a job should be taken care of by the employer. And this principle also applies to the Church, leaders and ministers within the various churches are to be cared for by the people, just like the workers in the temples are provided for by the worshipers.
Despite the fact that all of this is true and good, Paul has chosen not to uphold this practice but supported himself through other vocations and support from other churches (like Thessalonica). Why would Paul defy both conventional wisdom and his beloved Torah in this matter? The answer of course is love; he felt that forgoing the financial benefits of his role was loving.. It is most likely that Paul understood that if he took money from the Corinthian church they would view themselves as his patron and be allowed to tell him what to do. Rather than place this temptation upon them he chose to provide for himself in other ways. He was going to endure difficulty so that the church would have an easy path. Another analogy that may be in Paul’s mind as he wrote this letter is that of Isaiah 40:3 “Make straight the way of the Lord”. He might have understood that his depriving himself was making the path straight and easy for the Corinthian church to walk. It is easy to picture the kind of love Paul is describing as a mother providing both milk and protection for her infant. Her body is naturally denying itself nutrients to provide for the helpless child.
What Paul did for the Corinthians was willing place the burden of his ministry on himself to make sure their path to God was as easy as possible. Think about being a member of the Corinthian church when you hear that Paul placed the burden of his 14 months with you on congregations hundreds of miles away and asked you for nothing out of his love. He renounced his rights to show the Corinthians his love. How do we live this out in our daily lives, when do we give up our rights for those we love? What does it look like to lay aside our rights for the love of country, community, family, or church? I read once that if a person is blessed for giving a cup of water to another (Matt.10:42) how much more blessed is the person who drinks water to be able to give wine to a person in need. As I meditate on this idea I am struck by my own need to be more generous with and protective of those whom I am called to love in my congregation and community.
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