Summary: This text presents the sensitive topic of giving to gospel ministry and the preachers of the gospel.
Now that everyone is settled in, let me tell you the real title of today’s sermon: Why the Preacher is Worth Every Penny He Gets! I’ve complained so much about the topics I’ve had to deal with in Corinthians; you may have wondered why I kept plugging along. It was to get to this passage! And what timing! Next week is the congregational meeting to act on the church budget. Truly the Lord works in mysterious ways!
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
No doubt you picked up the passionate tone of this passage. Indeed, it is somewhat uncomfortable to read, like entering a room in which a personal heated argument is taking place. You would prefer not being included in the conversation.
What sets off this emotional outburst of Paul? In the previous chapter, he again corrects his Corinth children. This particular issue has to do with the freedom of a Christian. He tells them not to abuse their freedom so that they end up destroying the faith of their brothers and sisters. He closes by making a personal statement: if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
That sentence may have triggered in his mind the accusations being made against him. I’ve mentioned before the tensions between Paul and the Corinth Church which he had fathered. The Corinth believers think they have grown up spiritually, and they are bucking against their spiritual father who criticizes them for their freedom, treating them as though they are but spiritual babes. It is evident to them that he has lost touch with the spiritual movement that is taking place.
And, as will happen when frictions arise, they make charges. Who gives you the right, Paul, to tell us what to do? You are not one of the original apostles. None of them appointed you to be an apostle. He most likely has a letter from the Corinthians in front of him with some unpleasant remarks questioning his apostolic credentials. So he gets started.
Am I not free? Do you think you possess a liberty I do not have? And while we are at it, let’s just lay our cards on the table. Do you think I am not an apostle? Peter, John, and the others – they saw Jesus. So have I. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, who also questioned his credentials: For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12).
Evidently this was an important issue. When the original eleven apostles chose a replacement for Judas, their criterion was the man had to have been with Jesus. Here comes Paul who proclaims himself an apostle, and yet had not known Jesus when on earth. Maybe he is a preacher, but can he claim to have the same authority that the others have? The Corinthians, no doubt, accepted that authority in their early years, but now – especially in light of Paul’s obstinacy – they are re-evaluating who he is.
It especially irks Paul that this particular church is questioning him. As he says, Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. You are the very evidence of my calling.
The Lord had commissioned Paul specifically to take the gospel to the Gentiles. The Corinth Church should be exhibit number one as a testimony to his fulfilling that call. Indeed, while in Corinth he had received a vision from the Lord to remain in the city because, as the Lord said to him, I have many in this city who are my people (Acts 18:10).
Paul continues: 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. Some in the church are acting as though they are his judges. Okay, let’s pretend I am on trial. Here is my defense.
4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
“We” refers to Paul and his assistants such as Timothy and Silas. He will use “we” and “I” interchangeably, speaking of his ministry which is shared with these companions. “Brothers of the Lord” likely refers to Jesus’ brothers such as James who became leader of the Jerusalem council and will be mentioned in chapter 15. Cephas is the Greek name for Peter.