Summary: Freedom isn’t everything. Make sure the freedom we hang onto includes the freedom to win others for hrist ansd the freedom to love other Christians even above ourselves.
A Small Confession...
I have something to confess to you today. Something that may forever change the way you look at me. Something that may lower me in your esteem. I like to watch Jerry Springer.
What really interests me is how the participants see their right to free speech. Because they have the right to say whatever they want, they believe it’s their duty to do so. No matter how offensive it gets, Jerry keeps saying "well that’s your view and you’ve got the right to say it."
Rights can be a good thing. In the Hunt for Red October Sam Neil’s character was looking forward to defecting to America. In Russia he could only live where the government told him to. He could only travel with the government’s permission. But in America he had the right to live and travel as he wanted to.
Rights can be good, they can protect us. But just because we have a right to do something, should we do it?
In today’s passage Paul’s giving the Corinthians, and us, a model of how to use our Christian freedom and rights. And he invites them to start, by considering his own example. How he tempers his freedom with love.
Paul the Apostle.
9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
Do you feel the weight of his words in these first two verses?
This is not how Paul usually writes. He doesn’t like to make a show of his authority except when he’s forced too. But that’s what he’s doing here. He’s insisting that he’s free. That he holds the God appointed position of an Apostle. One sent from God. And even if other churches or Christians don’t acknowledge Paul as an apostle, the Corinthians have to – Paul was the one who planted the church in Corinth. He is their Apostle. And in 9:2, he says that they are the seal of his Apostleship.
When I graduated from Uni, I received a piece of paper, with some words on it, something along the lines of Guerin Tueno has spent long enough here, eating junk food, going to lectures, and writing essays. He is hereby awarded this degree. What makes this paper special is that it has the seal of the university on it. A special mark to show that the authority of the University is being used in awarding the degree. I could have written my own degree up, but without the seal it’d be meaningless.
In the ancient world, kings, and governors also had seals to mark documents as legitimate and authoritative. Paul’s saying that the Corinthian believers are nothing less than God’s seal of authority upon him. Their existence testifies to the Paul’s position, authority and mission.
Paul starts like this because he wants them to remember the full weight, and power of his apostleship. The Apostles are special people. Surely if any one should insist upon their freedom as Christians it’s them.
That’s what the Corinthians were thinking, and yet Paul brings up his Apostleship for precisely the opposite reason. He’s thinking of the Apostles, or at least himself as among the strong that he talked about in chapter 8. They know that its OK to eat meat offered to idols, because idols aren’t really gods. The Apostles have knowledge, something the Corinthians prized. But this Apostle is driven by love, not simply by the exercising of his freedom or rights.
Within his rights, but... (9:3-18)
What Paul gives them in a list of unused rights he could claim as an Apostle.
V4 The right to be fed and watered by the Churches.
V5 The right to be married and have his wife travel with him.
V6 The right to be paid by the churches.
And its not just that human authority says it – the Old Testament has principles that would establish it too. If an ox gets to eat some of the grain it’s helping to grind – surely Christian leaders should be supported by Christians in their ministry?
So why has Paul turned them down? Why has he refused and gone without. v12 – "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything for the gospel of Christ."
Paul’s prepared to go without his rights, because he doesn’t want to let money get in the way of the Gospel. Imagine Paul coming to a town. He gives an evangelistic talk, some people became believers, and then he passes the hat around. People inside and outside the church would be asking some serious questions. Is this message for real, or is he only in it for the money? It wasn’t a invitation for reconciliation with God, it was a performance. And Paul wants to avoid that above all else.