What Are We Entitled To?
1 Corinthians 9:1-18
September 6, 2020
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, you are the Sovereign King. You have given us your Word and in it you have revealed yourself to us. Send your Holy Spirit that he might give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand your Word. May he enable us to not just hear words spoken but your Word spoken. In Christ’s name, amen.
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.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 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? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
People fight. People have been fighting since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. When God confronted them, he told Eve that her desire will be against her husband and that he would rule over her (Gen. 3:16). God was telling Eve that because of their sin men and women would fight amongst themselves. In the very next chapter, Cain fought with Abel and killed him. Then Cain’s descendent boasted of killing a man simply for offending him. The Bible is filled with examples of people fighting.
We don’t even need to open the Bible to see this truth. All we have to do is open our eyes. We fight in our own relationships. We see people fight at Ingles and Wal-Mart. We see people fight on TV over all sorts of things.
We don’t just fight outside of the church; we even fight inside the church. In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul writes, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” Apparently these two women were fighting with one another about something. Paul goes on to say that they have labored with him in gospel ministry and that their names are written in the book of life (Phil. 4:3). These are two believers who are currently fighting with one another. We fight inside the church; we fight with other Christians.
As we’ve already seen, the church in Corinth is dysfunctional. They are divided into various factions. They have serious ethical issues. They have serious lifestyle issues. And as we’ll see in a few weeks they have serious theological issues. One of the major issues within the church was that they were fighting. Sometimes amongst themselves, and Paul has addressed that issue back in the first section of the letter. But they’re also fighting about the Apostle Paul himself.
The reason they’re fighting about Paul because they feel entitled to a certain type of pastor. They feel entitled to a pastor who will preach and teach to their preferences, tastes, and desires. They feel that Paul owes it to them to adapt his personality, his ministry, and his message to their liking. They were trying to influence Paul and his preaching.
As we examine these verses, we’ll see that we do not influence the preaching of the gospel but are ultimately influenced by gospel preaching.
Paul begins this section by writing, “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. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me”.
Paul says he is defending himself. The word for defense is apologia; it’s where we get our words apologetic and apology. Apologetics is study of how to present the gospel and answer objections; it is a defense of the gospel. In the Greco-Roman world an apologia carried a connotation of legal defense. Paul, a former Pharisee and lawyer by training, is giving a legal defense of his ministry to the Corinthians.
Why is Paul defending his ministry? Why is he on trial? The Corinthians feel entitled to a certain of pastor and that they can control the situation so that they can get the type of pastor they want. They want someone is well-known. That might explain why they are divided into factions around well-known pastors and Apostles like Paul, Peter, and Apollos. They want someone who is charismatic and can draw people in just by his natural charisma. They wanted someone who could go toe-to-toe with the philosophers in town and win. They felt entitled to that. So they were telling Paul shape up or ship out. It’s going so far as that some of them are questioning Paul’s apostolic authority, despite the fact that he is the one who brought the gospel to them.
Part of their issue with Paul might have to do with money but not in the way we typically think. It seems as though they were upset that Paul refused to take a salary from the Corinthians. In verses 8-12a, Paul makes clear pastors can and should receive financial benefit from the churches they serve. But in the second half of verse 12 he makes clear he hasn’t taken a salary from them. He reiterates the fact that he hasn’t taken a salary from them in 2 Corinthians 11:7.
Why would he refuse a salary from them? For most of my life, I read this passage and assumed that the Corinthians were the ones who didn’t want to pay Paul. But it seems much more likely that Paul was the one who refused a salary. In that culture, philosophers would travel from town to town. They would charge money for people to hear their take on things. Often they would stay in the home of their hearers. Usually it was a wealthy family. And that family felt entitled to have a say in the things and the way the philosopher taught.
And Paul knew this. He knew the culture he was ministering. He knew that some of the wealthy Corinthians in the church would think that if he took a salary they would feel entitled to tell him what to preach and how to preach. They would feel entitled to say, “Don’t preach this; preach that” or “Don’t call this sin; call that sin”. And he wanted to avoid that. He wanted to be able to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without any constraints. That’s why he writes, “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ”. The fact that he didn’t take a salary from the church in Corinth upset the Corinthians. That’s why they’re upset with him. That’s why they’re attacking Paul and why he is defending himself.
And since he didn’t take a salary from the Corinthians, Paul had to work with his hands. In verse 6 he says, “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” He worked outside of the church so that there could be food on the table, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head. In Acts 18:3 that Paul worked as a tentmaker while in Corinth. He would sow and mend tents to provide for himself so that he could free proclaim the gospel.
That would have annoyed the Corinthians to say the least. The Greco-Roman world didn’t have a high view of manual labor. They thought that those who worked with their hands in any capacity were less than those who didn’t work or those who spoke for a living. Some of the Corinthians were probably embarrassed by Paul’s labors as a tentmaker and felt entitled to a pastor who would take their salary and be respectable in the community.
Let’s be clear, the Apostle Paul doesn’t say taking a salary from the church is bad. He gives several arguments saying that it is right and natural for pastors to be supported by the church in most circumstances.
He says, “7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?”
Many of us in this congregation have served in the military. Many have served in the army, or the navy, or the marines. None of you served at your own expense. You were serving the American government. And you received payment from the government for that. The ordinary practice of things is that those who work are paid from that work.
There is Scriptural precedent for this idea. That’s why Paul quotes Deuteronomy25:4 here. Few of us work with beasts of burden. But in the ancient world, they would cut the grain stalks down and then place the stalks on the ground. They would then have the ox tread over the grain with a sledge, crushing the head. The wind would blow away the chaff and the farmers could pick up the usable grain. If the ox was muzzled while he treaded grain, there was a chance that he would die from overwork. But if the ox was not muzzled, it could eat while it worked and be sustained.
When Paul asks, “Is it for the oxen that God is concerned”, he’s expecting a no. Of course God is concerned about the oxen, that’s why this in the law. Paul’s point is this: If the ox is entitled to eat some of the grain it treads, then the pastor who labors in God’s vineyard is entitled to the fruit of that labor.
That’s why Paul goes on to say, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” The priests in the Old Testament ate from the sacrifices that the people offered. They didn’t eat all of the sacrifice, but they were entitled to eat certain parts of certain sacrifices since they labored in God’s vineyard. Just as the ox was entitled to eat grain from the field and the priest was entitled to eat food sacrificed in the temple, so too are pastors entitled to get a living from preaching the gospel.
Even though Paul is entitled to receive a salary for gospel ministry, he has refused. He preaches the gospel free of charge. He is willing forgoing this right of his. He has forgone his right in order that no one can influence the preaching of gospel. No one can say, “Paul, my tithes and offerings make up most of your salary. You’ve been preaching against some things I do. Stop or I may stop giving my tithes and offerings”. He wants to be free from those sorts of potential influences and instead he wants to the pure preaching and teaching of the gospel to influence how people live.
Paul wants to be able to call sin sin and call someone to repent in Christ without worrying that someone will try to influence his preaching. He wants to be able to share the gospel with all people and all types of people without someone trying to influence him to only share the gospel with a certain kind of person. Paul wants the Corinthians to be influenced by the gospel and be willing to give things that they are entitled to for the benefit of weaker Christians.
So what does all of this mean for us? First it means that pastors are entitled to a salary from the churches that they serve. Paul says, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” Pastors labor in the God’s vineyard, proclaiming the gospel and building up those whom God has entrusted to their care. And because they labor in the church, they are entitled to a living salary.
I know this can be a hot button issue. In some corners of the church, there is a belief that pastors should find a job outside of the church and take a salary from that job and not the church. I know plenty of bi-vocational pastors. And I can tell you that many of them are a lot more limited in their time. They don’t have the time to prepare sermons or to counsel or to visit congregants like pastors who get a living from proclaiming the gospel.
The pastor of the church I was under care of while in seminary was bi-vocational. David worked 40+ hours a week as a counselor to provide for his family. But that limited his ability to be as involved in certain aspects of church. He was never involved in one of our midweek small groups because he didn’t have the time or energy. He also struggled in finding time to study and prepare sermons like he really wanted. So he would often preach three Sundays in row and then let someone else on the preaching team preach one Sunday before he resumed preaching. He wanted to preach more, but he didn’t feel he had the time to preach more than 70% of the sermons in a given year.
When a pastor takes a salary from the church, they are freed up to devote their time and energy in ministering to the congregation they serve. Before I accepted the call to be your pastor, I was working at Starbucks and would do pulpit supply for churches in the area. I can tell you from my own experience, it was tiring trying to find time to study and write while I worked 40 hours a week.
When a pastor takes a salary from the church, they have more free time to study, to visit, and to disciple people. It is really in the best interest of the congregation that a pastor takes a salary from them. That allows them to focus on pastoral visitation, studying the passage they’re preaching on, and discipling congregants. The fact that I take a salary from the church enables me visits you, have lunch with you, and to really study what I’m preaching so that I can explain God’s word to you and help you apply it to your lives. Pastors are entitled to a salary from the church.
Second it means that we are not entitled to have a say in which passages of Scripture or which doctrines are taught. Pastors are commissioned to preach God’s word in its entirety. In Acts 20:27, Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he did not shrink back from preaching the whole counsel of God. Every pastor follows in his footsteps in that we are to preach the whole counsel of God. We are to preach from Genesis to Revelation and teach all of the doctrines that are found in the word of God.
Sometimes that isn’t comfortable for us. Sometimes there are passages or doctrines we don’t like; they call out our sin or run counter to culture. And we don’t like that. We want to avoid them. And when a pastor preaches on those passages, at times we might feel entitled to say, “Don’t preach on that. I don’t like that passage” or “Don’t preach those things, it might scare people off. If you teach those things, we might withhold our tithes and offerings”.
A friend of mine confided in me that several congregants said just that to him. He was preaching through a book of the Bible, like I do, and he came to a passage that touched on a well-to-do congregant’s sin. The Monday before he preached on that passage, this congregant came to his study and said, “Some of us are concerned about what you’re preaching. If you continue preaching like you are, we might stop giving our tithes”. They felt entitled to say which parts of Scripture should be preached and which sins should be called to be repented of.
We are not entitled to pick and choose which parts of the Bible or which doctrines are taught. We do not get to influence what passages or doctrines are acceptable. Instead, we should be influenced by the gospel. We should so desire that all aspects of God’s counsel are taught because that means the gospel is applied to all parts of our lives.
The Apostle Paul understood that. That was why he refused a salary from the Corinthians. He knew that what they really needed was to be influenced by the gospel. He knew they needed to hear the entire counsel of God so that their sin would be exposed, the gospel applied, and God gloried as the word conforms them to the image and likeness of Christ. He knew that what they needed was to influence which passages where considered acceptable and which doctrines considered palatable; he knew they needed to be influenced by the gospel in all areas of their lives.
Maybe there are passages of Scripture that you don’t like because it reveals your sin. Maybe there are doctrines you don’t think that ought to be preached from the pulpit because it might offend people in the community. Instead of trying to influence which passages are acceptable or which doctrines are palatable, be influenced by the gospel. Let the whole counsel of God speak so that it can call us to repent of our sin, the gospel be applied to our hearts and minds so that we are conformed to the image and likeness of Christ in all areas of our lives.
 Kim Riddlebarger, First Corinthians (Georgia: Tolle Lege, 2013), 216.