Summary: Sometimes we feel like God has to completely change us in order to use us. Paul shows us that God takes the background, weaknesses, and even difficulties and uses them for His kingdom, if we let Him.
Who are you as a person? Who are you as a Christian? Do those two questions get two different responses from you? I think often times we think that when we come to Christ, Jesus basically considers us to be a blank slate that needs to be redrawn into the character of Jesus and that everything about us will eventually change. It is true that the “flesh”, which is all that is done outside of Christ, will be replaced with the Spirit as He changes our character.
But much of what makes you—you, will remain. You have a personality, a background, a culture, an occupation. You have events and relationships that have shaped you into the person you are. God is not in the business of changing that, as much as He is engaged in showing you His redemption in your life and then using that to reach out to others in a way that is far more effective.
I look at chapter 9 as a continuation of what Paul was saying in Chapter 8—that the gospel is more important than personal freedom in Christ. In Chapter 9 what sounds like demands for recognition is actually a great teachable moment. Paul was an Apostle of Jesus Christ and could have been accorded incredible honor for that position. Instead, Paul says, he lays down what is his in order to gain what is more important: souls redeemed and brought into the kingdom of God.
1 – 2
In order to be an Apostle, a person would have had to have seen Jesus. Paul saw him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-18 ). He would have had a direct commission from Jesus, and he would have had to have performed signs and miracles that attested to his apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:12 , Acts 13:9-12 ). Paul did not plant all the churches he visited, but he did plant the one in Corinth. They if anyone should recognize his apostleship. Sadly, some did not (we get to that later).
3 – 7
The church was still very young at this point. They didn’t have buildings and full time pastors to support. In fact, in the Greek world, speakers would often accept patronage from the people. Paul accepted help from Lydia in Acts 16:15 but from that point on supported himself in ministry by making tents (Acts 18:3 ). You could call him a bi-vocational apostle. He had the right to support, but didn’t want to take the young Corinthian Christian’s focus off of the gospel and on to him.
Though Paul himself was not married, other Apostles, like Peter, were—and bringing their wives on missionary trips, supported by the churches, was okay.
Paul and Barnabas may have been the only Apostles who worked while they traveled. Tent making was seen as a lowly job, fit for slaves. The fact that Paul did not accept money could have actually been one of the reasons some thought he was not an apostle. “He has to work making tents. If he was really a successful apostle he wouldn’t have to do that.”
Paul had the same rights as a farmer, or a soldier—but he didn’t exercise them.
8 – 14
Even the Law of Moses supported Paul’s point. Deuteronomy 25:4 is the reference he quotes. They cared for their animals by letting them eat some of the grain they threshed. In the same way, Christians ought to care for those who labor in leading the church and preaching the gospel.
It doesn’t mean you have to get paid, which is Paul’s point. But it doesn’t make you less than others who are paid full time wages. Paul did this to further the gospel. Perhaps they might have thought he was only doing what he was doing to earn money (as some today do). His aim was never to make money but to make converts. To that end he was willing to give up his wage so that the focus would be on the gospel, not his salary.
Paul uses one more example in verse 13—the priests. Numbers 18:8-24 talks about how the priests were paid by the offerings brought before the Lord. This was also true in the pagan temples.
15 – 18
It’s interesting that Paul has to tell them that he is not writing about not getting paid in order to guilt them into supporting him. I guess he figured they would ascribe just about any negative motivation they could think of before believing the truth that he was really just there to serve Jesus in spreading the good news.
Paul says he is merely following orders. He enjoyed it, but couldn’t stop preaching even if he wanted to. What do you enjoy doing? Perhaps there is something there that God wants to use too!