Online Bible Commentary
The Apostle Paul
1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? 8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. (NKJV)
In this passage Paul is responding to criticism that he is not a true apostle. There were questions in the first century church in Corinth as to his authenticity since he was not one of the original apostles.
This unjust criticism that Paul does not speak the words of the Lord unfortunately still raises its ugly head today. Incredibly, there are still those who doubt Paul’s ministry. I know this to be true because I recently ran into one of the doubters.
Paul defends himself by declaring that he is “an apostle” and that he is “free” from human authority (v. 1a). The Greek word for apostle is Apostolos, which means “one who is sent off”. Paul is saying that he has been sent by the Lord to convey the Lord’s message and therefore his message is not subject to the authority of men.
He further makes the point that he is an apostle because, like the original apostles, he has “seen Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 1b). Paul saw the Lord on at least one occasion, on the road to Damascus.
Paul strengthens his case by declaring that the Corinthian believers are the proof of his apostleship (v. 1c). He is an apostle to them because he pointed them to Jesus and their salvation is “the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (v. 2).
Paul then presents another “defense” to his claim that he is an apostle (v.3). He states that he has the same rights as the other apostles in being provided food and “drink”, support from the church, for not only himself but also for his “wife” if he were to be married (vv. 4-5a).
He cites the examples of the rest of the apostles, the half “brothers of the Lord”; James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and Peter (Cephas) as some apostles who have been supported by the church (v. 5b). In citing these examples of other apostles who are supported by the church, Paul states that he and “Barnabas” should not be treated differently, thereby declaring Barnabas also as an apostle. (v. 6).
Paul then compares apostles to soldiers, farmers and shepherds. All three are entitled to be supported by their work (v.7). In the same way apostles are entitled to support from their labors in spiritual warfare, spreading the gospel by planting and watering, and pastoring a congregation.
Paul is not speaking as a “mere man”, one who is trying to fulfill the desires of the flesh (v. 8a). He cites “Moses” (Dt. 4) who declared that even an “ox” should be supported for his labors (v. 8b-9a).
However, the Lord did not give us the example of the ox because he cares for the ox (v. 9b). He gave us that example so that those who minister in His name should be materially supported in their labors (v. 10).
In most cases Paul would not accept support from the church because he did not want to be thought of as one who was in the ministry for financial reward. He was a tentmaker by trade.
So it is important here to recognize that Paul is not asking for material support from the church, even though he is entitled to it. He is making a case that he is a true apostle, even though he does not often accept support from the church. His critics doubted his apostleship partly because he did not accept as much support from the church as other apostles.
In conclusion, we should never doubt that Paul speaks for the Lord Jesus. He is to be respected and lifted up as the Apostle Paul.