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Concerning Preachers
by Tom Bunting on I Corinthians 9

vv. 1-2 – Paul begins this section by asserting his apostleship. It is obvious that the apostle had opponents within the Corinthian congregation (or at least influencing them from outside) and needed to clarify his relationship with the church. They were questioning his apostleship and his behavior (why he did certain things and why he did not do certain things). The following is his answer to his critics. In his answer we learn of the church’s responsibility to the preacher and what the preacher’s attitude should be toward his work and wages.

vv. 3-9 – He begins his argument by discussing some universally accepted rights of all people. Everyone has basically the same rights and privileges in life: the right to food, to marry, to work, to be a soldier, to own a vineyard and enjoy the fruits, or own a flock and drink the milk.

We all deserve some means of sustenance and/or livelihood. We all should receive something in return for our labor. It was true for apostles, soldiers, farmers, shepherds, preachers etc. It is equally true today. This is not just an idea of man, but it originated with God (vv.8-9). We all labor so that we can provide for our family (1 Tim. 5:8). All Christians need to understand that a laborer is worthy of his hire (Matt. 10:10).

vv.10-14 – The apostle goes on to show that a preacher has this right to wages. What is true for all laborers is equally true for a preacher (vv. 10). When the preacher has sown spiritual things, is it too much if he reaps “carnal things” (v.11)? From Rom. 15:27 we understand the term “carnal things” refers to material or physical things. Even though the preacher’s work is primarily spiritual, he can receive material things as wages. Just as others have this right, so does the preacher (vv. 12).

However, a preacher may not always exercise this right! The preacher does not preach solely for pay. There are more significant underlying motives for preaching the gospel than material gain. Those who have within them that “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” spirit will often continue to preach although they are receiving a great injustice in regards to wages by those whom they are serving (I Cor. 9:16). Brethren need to understand that preachers should be paid. It is clearly stated in vv. 13-14 “…they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

“But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (vv. 15-16).

vv.15-16 – The gospel preacher has the right to wages, but circumstance should determine if he will exercise that right. Is it expedient? Is it best for the proclamation of the gospel? He has to be careful that he is not preaching the gospel for personal gain. This is always a danger and perhaps more so in our present society where there is great emphasis is on material things. At Corinth, Paul chose not to use his right, “lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ” (v. 12). Under the circumstances at Corinth he deemed it best not to exercise his right in this regard. He gives us the reasons why he did not accept wages from Corinth. In II Cor. 11:7-9 we are told that, while he was in Corinth, he received wages from other churches “to do [them] service” (v. 8) and “kept [himself] from being burdensome unto [them]” (v. 9).

He did not accept pay from Corinth then and neither is he asking for money now in this letter, but rather informing the brethren how they should view the subject (v. 15). He is not preaching for money, glory or honor (v. 16).

He is preaching of necessity. He can’t help himself, “woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (v. 16). Money, glory or honor is not the compelling motivation to preach. There are times when it is best that the preacher does not use this right (power).

vv. 17-18 – The underlying purpose for preaching is not for pay. Paul preached willingly, or if against his will (as some apparently were claiming) his reward would be that he “made the gospel without charge” (v. 17).

Any preacher could preach without charge to avoid hindering the gospel, if necessary (v.18). A preacher will not abuse his power (right for pay). He will not insist on pay when it is detrimental to the church or the furtherance of the truth. There are places that need the gospel, but the pay is not there. He will still go! When necessary there are other ways the preacher can utilize to earn his living. One way, Paul received wages from other churches (2 Cor. 11:8). He gives us an example of how this was done in Phil. 4:11-15. A second way, he worked with his hands (1 Cor. 4:11-13). They were tent makers (Acts 18:3); “these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:34-35).

Paul states, I do not seek yours (money), but you (2 Cor. 12:14). The preacher is not seeking people’s material possessions. He is seeking their soul’s salvation. When you go to preach some place, what brought you there? Why did you come? Were you seeking an opportunity for personal glory, honor or money? If that was your goal then your work will not result in spiritual profit for the congregation. Your emphasis will be in the wrong direction.

vv. 18-23 – The preacher should not expect to be served, but to serve. He must not think “what can I get from them”, but “what can I do for them”. How can I be of service? He teaches the gospel without charge so “that I abuse not my power in the gospel” (v. 18). He does not adjust the teaching for fear of loss of wages. “You work for us, so change your message for we are paying you”. He is not their servant, but he serves the gospel. Although free he willingly makes himself a servant (v. 19). He is not owned by anyone. Being a servant is his choice.

The reason he made himself a servant is to gain as many as he can, to save as many as possible (vv. 19, 20, 21, 22). He uses the term “gain” in verses 19, 20 & 21. In verse 22 he tells us what he means when he says “gain“ -- “that I might by all means save some.” The driving force behind his work, it is not wages (which he is allowed), but saving souls!

vv. 24-27 – Whatever sacrifices (effort) is necessary, it is not just for their salvation but also his salvation. The preacher is not preaching for money, power, glory or honor. Like the athlete striving for a crown, Paul’s agonizing effort and sacrifice is to save others and to save himself.

The church needs to understand that the preacher has the same rights and privileges as others. He should receive wages. The preacher needs to remember that wages are not his motivation for preaching. He will gladly do without material things, if he believes it important to the success of the gospel message. I DO THIS FOR THE GOSPELS SAKE, THAT I MIGHT BE PARTAKER WITH YOU (v. 23)! We are all striving for the incorruptible crown (v. 25). The preacher will do whatever is necessary to save others and save himself (v.27).

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