Paul appears to open this ninth chapter defending his standing as an apostle, citing his encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 and the work that God is doing through him in this church in Corinth. As an apostle Paul has certain rights. This theme of rights carries us from chapter eight and the discussion of food offered to idols, where the right was to eat meat. Here the right of Paul, as an apostle, is to be able to earn a living from his preaching of the gospel.
He makes his argument via parable (soldier, shepherd, thresher) about those whose work provides for them, and he then makes arguments from scripture about an ox that is not muzzled when treading grain. More than the ox, Paul says God is concerned with us. 1 Corinthians 9:9b-10 says, “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” Paul concludes that those who work for the gospel have a right to earn a living off of that work.
As much as Paul argues for his right, he then turns around and says he has not made use of his right. Why? He wants to present the gospel free of charge. He doesn’t want to put any obstacle in the way of their hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. It is another example of sacrificing a right in order to do something greater.
When I gathered to study this chapter this morning, I wanted to talk about the pros and cons of supporting those who preach the gospel. I myself am blessed to be financially supported as a pastor. So perhaps I’d be biased in arguing for that practice. But I think there can be great advantages to earning your pay somewhere else. For one, the temptation of money that we are taught of in much of the Bible doesn’t factor into the equation. You serve Christ not for money, but for his glory alone. I’ve been especially challenged by this quote on that issue from Sir Robert L’Estrange, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on preachers being paid. Pros and cons. Advantages to being a “tentmaker” or being financially free to focus solely on the ministry? Thoughts?