Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 Corinthians/Chapter 9

1 Corinthians 9:1-27 (New International Version)
1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?

13But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Outline of the Chapter


I. Paul’s rights as an apostle (vs. 1-14)

A. Questioning if he was the same as all others (vs. 1-2)
1. Freedom
2. Part of Jesus’ work
B. Defending himself (vs. 7-14)
1. Soldiers serving
2. Sharing of crops
3. What really matters

II. Examples of why Paul has not used these rights (vs. 15-27)

A. Called to preach (vs. 15-18)
1. What his calling is
2. His reward
B. How he is serving (vs. 19-23)
1. Trying to relate to others
C. Encouraging others to do the same (vs. 24-27)
1. Run the race
2. Do not get down on yourself
3. Know what you are racing for

First Thoughts


When first reading over this, one may assume Paul is becoming very angry at his audience. He comes off as trying very hard to defend himself, maybe because of the judgment he is facing or for whatever other reason. It seems that he may be slightly contradicting himself, but as you read further into it, you may begin to realize what he is really trying to accomplish with this.



1. Why is he so frustrated?

2. Why does he have to use so many examples?

3. Is Paul for or against getting support from the church?

4. What are Paul’s intentions with this letter?

5. What does Barnabas have to do with this?

6. Why does he use the imagery of a runner?

7. How does Paul view serving the Lord?

8. Are there deeper meanings to some of the examples he uses?

9. Does he think that receiving support from the church is bad?

10. What are Paul’s passions in his ministry?

11. Do these passions get in the way of his goal?

Historical Background


To understand the people that Paul was writing to, one must first have a better understanding where these people were from.

Corinth was a city on the Gulf of Saros. This was a very popular stopping spot for captains and those looking to sell items. Corinth was the most wealthy and most important city at that time in Greece. It was the capital of Achaia, a Roman province, and its population was estimated as high as 600,000. There was a market place in the center of the city where the temple of Apollo stood, which is still the most well-known ruin from that time. (Craig, 3-4)



1 Am I not allowed to speak out? Am I not the one who has seen our Lord? Are you not the result of what I have done for the Lord? 2 Even though I am not everyone’s apostle, I am to you! You are the reason I work for the Lord.

3 This is what I have to say to those who judge me. 4 Don’t we all have the right to eat and drink? 5 Don’t we all have the right to take a wife with us, as do others we have known? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and me who have to work for our living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at the cost of his own life? Who plants gardens and does not eat what they grow? Who tends to a flock and does not drink the milk they get? 8 I do not only say this from a human point of view. Doesn’t the law say the same thing? 9 The Law of Moses states: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it the oxen that God is worried about? 10 He says the same for us, don’t you think? Yes, this was written for us, because when they each do a part of the work, they do it hoping they will share the harvest. 12 If you work on the harvest, shouldn’t you get some of it?

We did not do this right. We did whatever needed rather than hindering the gospel of Christ. 13 Did you know that those who eat at the temple get their food from there, and those who serve at the altar share what is offered there? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded us to share his word so that we may get something out of it.

15 But I have not received any of these rights. I am not writing this as a hint that I want them. I would rather die than have someone take away this joy of doing it for free. 16 When I preach, I do not boast, because I am obligated to. That would be bad on my part if I did not preach. 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I will lose this trust given of me. 18 What is my reward then? It is that I offer my preaching free, and that I have given up all my rights to preach it.

19 I am free, but I am a slave to others, so I may win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like them, to win them. TO those under the law I became like the to win them. 21 To those without the law I became like them to win them. 22 I became like the weak to win the weak. I have become all these to try and save as many as I can. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, but also so I may receive its blessings also.

24 Runners race to win the prize. We should run like this, hoping to receive the prize. 25 Those who are runners have to train. Their prize is not one that will last, but we run the race to win a crown that will last forever. 26 Because of this, I do not run like a man without discipline. 27 I give it everything I have so that I may be an example to others, and so I will not lose the joy of the prize.

Key Words



(vs.2)Seal of apostleship

(vs.9) Law of Moses

(vs.14) Gospel



Word Study


Vs. 1 Apostle- The Greek word for this is “apostolos” meaning “sent out one”.

Vs. 15 Boast(NIV), Glorying(KJV)- This is not meant to come off as having a big ego. It is a conviction Paul has felt. The Greek term for glorying (kauchema) means “joyous feeling of the moral worth of one’s own actions.” (Metz, 399-400)

Vs. 19 Gain(KJV), Win(NIV)- This is a word commonly used by missionaries. The Greek word for it is “kerdaino”, which usually means to gain. This sounds more like gaining possessions, so when used to “gain people” it makes more sense to use the word “win”. (Earle, 60)



(9:1) Paul lists off all these questions as to what rights he had as an apostle. He asked questions in which the answers are known, but he did it in a way so he could share more about what it means to be an apostle. Just because he is an apostle does not mean that he loses all his rights as a human. Some of the questions look to the past and some forward. (Interpreter’s Bible, 98) He shares that he is not controlled by these laws. He has freedom. This freedom he has though is much greater than most because he is an apostle. He has many privileges because he is an apostle. (Metz, 395)

(9:2) Paul is showing those who do not believe in him being an apostle why he is and who he is helping. He explains to them that he is an apostle for them, even if not for everyone else, they are the reason for his apostleship. Paul uses the word “seal”. This means that he is “connected with the gift of the Spirit.” (Craig, 98-99)

(9:3) Paul uses the word “defense” here. This could mean that he was being attacked about his apostleship. People did not believe that he was a real apostle because he did not take the support given by the church. (Craig, 99)

(9:4) Even though Paul turned down support from the church does not mean that he does not have the right to eat what is served. It is because of his dedication that he turns this down. (Metz, 396)

(9:5) Paul was using another example of a right that he had as an apostle. He had the right to have a wife come along with him. (9:6) Work is the big issue in this verse. Paul is referring to manual labor. Because Paul is making his own money and trying to make a living without the churches support, he has to do a lot of manual labor, which the Greeks did not agree with. Greek philosophers thought of these men who do manual labor to be worth less than people like businessmen and soldiers. (Metz, 397)

(9:7-8) All of these questions are rhetorical. Paul is again defending himself as an apostle. In all three of these scenarios, the person has to live off of what they provide. A soldier has to fight with what he is given, a man who plants a vineyard receives his portion it, and a shepherd lives off of what he raises. Paul is giving example that relate to him. He is showing that you should be able to live off of your own work if you chose. (Metz, 397)

(9:9-12) The law says that you should not muzzle an ox. Jews thought of these animals as God’s creation so they deserved to be treated in a humane way. They have a reward through the grain they were allowed to eat. Paul compares this to the work of the apostles. Why should they not be able to benefit from what they have done? (Metz, 398) (Craig, 101-102)

(9:13-14) Paul is comparing his work to a Priest, but not saying he is like a Priest. He is showing how they would get a lot of support from the church. If you are going around sharing the gospel, then you should be getting help from it. You should not have to do work without pay. (Metz, 398-399) (Craig, 102)

(9:15-18) Paul has not accepted any of the support given him by the church, and he did not write this letter to try and get money from them. He says that he would rather die than to accept what they were giving him. He really just wants to preach to them for free. He states that he does not deserve the credit they are giving him. He is not an apostle to be paid and recognized for his work. If you are called to do something and you go, you do not need or deserve the credit that they are trying to give you. He is doing this out of self sacrifice. (Metz, 400) (Craig, 102-103)

(9:19-22) Paul gave up all of himself to serve the Lord. He understood that to reach these people he had to put aside his thoughts and disregard what they thought of him and try to understand them better. How can you preach to someone if you do not know who they are? It meant more to him to try and win them to Christ than to try and fight with them over their thoughts of him. (Metz, 402) (9:23) Paul had reasons why he thought of ministry like this. He did this not only to share the gospel with others, but also so he might have the experience of living his life fully for Christ. (Metz, 402)

(9:24-27) Paul uses an image that most people could relate to or at least understand. Athletics were well known in that time. He uses a runner for an example. Runners have to have a lot of discipline and motivation. Their motivation is the prize for winning the race. Paul says that we should all be living like we are in a race to win a prize. Then he compares that small prize to what would really be the prize. The crown will last forever, but the earthly prize only lasts for a small amount of time. The only one that can hold you back is yourself. Paul also says that it would be very disappointing if you were telling others how to run this race, but did not make it yourself. Discipline is a big part of running this race for Christ. (Metz, 402-403) (Craig, 105-106)



Paul’s intention in writing this was not to try and receive money or any of the other rights he previously talked about. He was not planning on changing the purpose of his letter. Paul was adamant about making his own living and not getting support from the church, to the extent that he would rather die than accept help. (vs. 15) He does not want to receive any credit for the things he is doing because he believes he does not deserve them. (vs. 16) Paul’s intention with this letter is to share what he is doing and why he is doing it. He feels called by God and is not only preaching the gospel so others may receive the prize, but also so he will not miss out on it. (Metz, 399-400)

Final Thoughts: How to apply it to today


Paul set a very good example for us in this letter. He stands up for what he is doing. He knows that he has the same rights as anyone else then, but he sacrifices everything to serve Christ as he was called to do. Why should he be recognized for something he is called to do? He turns down all support from the church so he can provide for himself. His reward is seeing all the people that are now living for Christ and through this he will receive the final prize too because he is living how God has called him to. He recognizes that he cannot be preaching these things and not be practicing them himself. What good would that do?

Paul also sets an example of how to truly reach out to people and set an example. First is through practicing what he preaches, but also through relationships. He lives among these different groups and gets to know them and has a better understanding of who they are and their ways of doing things. Through this he has a better understanding of how to witness to them and share. He does not let their comments bother him and pushes on towards winning these others to Christ. He wants everyone to share in this joy of living for Christ and receiving the final prize.

We can apply this to our lives today in many ways. God has called all of us to serve Him and to help more people find joy in Him. How can people see this if those who are witnessing to them are still living the way they are? Why should we take all the credit for something that we are called to do? We are living for Christ not only to be an example for others, but also to receive our prize that we have worked so long for.

Works Cited


Craig, Clarence T. The Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 10. Nashville: Abingdon-Codesbury P.

Earle, Ralph. Word Meanings in the New Testament. Vol. 4. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1979.

Horsley, Richard A. 1 Corinthians. Nashville: Abingdon P, 1998.

Kelly, Balmer H. The Layman's Bible Commentary.1 Corinthians. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1961.

Metz, Donald S. Beacon Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Kansas City: Beacon Hill P, 1968.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B.

Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.