Summary: Paul tells how he gave up his right of material support for the sake of the gospel.
In chapter 8 Paul told the Corinthians that they should not to eat in the pagan temples. (That was a common practice in Corinth. Eating in a temple was sort of like going to a restaurant today.) One thing Paul knows about the Corinthians is that many of them are questioning whether he is a real apostle or not. After reading Paul’s words on the issue of eating in the temples, many of the Corinthians probably said, “This may be your point of view, Paul, but we don’t think you have the authority to tell us what to do because we don’t believe that you’re really an apostle.”
Why are some of the Corinthians questioning Paul’s apostleship? It seems that one reason for their doubts is that, unlike the other apostles, Paul doesn’t accept material support from them. There was a time when he did accept patronage from other Christians (for example, Paul and his companions stayed in the home of a wealthy woman named Lydia while in Philippi, Acts 16:15), but he later abandoned that practice and started supporting himself by working as a tentmaker (cf. Acts 18:3). Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (2:9). This was also Paul’s practice while he was in Corinth. He said back in 4:12, “We work hard with our own hands.” To the Corinthians, this was demeaning—both to Paul and to themselves. (If I refused support from this church and decided to work at McDonalds to support myself, some of you would probably see that as demeaning both myself and the church.) Because Paul worked instead of accepting support from the Corinthians, they say him as inferior to the other apostles. They were saying, “If Paul doesn’t accept our support, maybe it’s because he’s not entitled to it. Maybe he’s not an apostle like the others.”
I. PAUL’S DEFENSE: “I am a genuine apostle of Jesus Christ” (vv. 1-2)
Paul asks four questions in verse 1. Each of these questions demands a positive answer. The first two questions introduce the main topics of this chapter. The first question is, “Am I not free?” Of course he is free, and he will address this issue in verses 19-23. The second question is, “Am I not an apostle?” Of course he is an apostle. There were two requirements for apostleship: (1) you had to see Christ following His resurrection; and (2) you had to be given a special commission (job) from Him. Paul shows the Corinthians here that he fulfills these two basic requirements.
A. Paul had seen the Risen Lord.
The first reason why the Corinthians should not doubt Paul’s apostleship is because Paul had seen the Risen Lord. He asks, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” In chapter 15 Paul lists some of the appearances of Christ following His resurrection. In verse 8 he says, “And last of all he appeared to me also.” (In Acts 9 the ascended Jesus confronted Paul, formerly Saul, as he traveled to Damascus.) Paul believed that his experience on the Damascus road was more than a mere vision. For him it was a resurrection appearance.