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Bible: What Does 1 Corinthians 8-9 Teach Us About Christian Liberty?
The Apostle Paul
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Another topic that concerned the Corinthians revolves around meat sacrificed to idols (vv. 1-13).
Before answering their question about this particular Christian liberty issue, Paul reminds those who have mature spiritual understanding about such matters not to become arrogant toward weaker brethren who do not know the truth, but to show them love so that their faith would become stronger (v. 1).
He admonishes the spiritually proud, telling them that they yet have much to learn (v. 2).
Knowledge is important, but love is more so; God knows intimately the one who loves Him (v. 3).
Paul begins his answer on the specific issue by first asserting the common knowledge among mature believers that idols have no real existence as gods and that only one true God exists (v. 4).
Still, he acknowledges that many heavenly and earthly so-called gods and lords do exist; perhaps Paul is referring to demonic forces and human emperors, respectively.
The Christian, however, recognizes only one God, the Father—the executive Creator of the universe—whom they live to glorify, and one Lord, Jesus Christ—the Father’s Mediator in Creation and the Sustainer of human life (vv. 5-6).
Voluntarily Restrict Freedom
Those believers having this knowledge ought to show sensitivity toward their weak brethren who still regard idols as real gods.
The strong should voluntarily restrict their liberty and not eat meat sacrificed to idols if eating it motivates the weak to eat also and thus defile their weak conscience (vv. 7, 9-10).
Eating it or not eating it merits nothing before God (v. 8).
Therefore, a strong brother should not cause a weak one to suffer spiritually by flaunting his liberty in Christ (v. 11).
By doing so, he also sins against the Lord (v. 12).
Paul, therefore, resolves not to eat meat if he recognizes that such partaking causes others to sin (v. 13).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
S. Lewis Johnson
Defense of Apostleship
Paul prefaces the defense of his apostleship by asking rhetorical questions, three of which point to his qualifications.
First, he asserts that he is “free”; this term may signify his freedom from the condemnation of the law, or it may mean that he is not a slave of men (cf. 9:19).
Second, he purports to be an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection (cf. Acts 1:22), and
Third, he offers the Corinthians’ salvation as evidence that the Lord commissioned him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 1-2).
His defense functions as an application of the Christian liberty principle he had just set down in I Corinthians 8:13.
He asks a series of rhetorical questions that asserts his rights as a Church leader—rights he does not utilize as do others (vv. 3-6).
For instance, he never demands hospitality (v. 4); he does not bring a wife with him on his apostolic journeys (v. 5).
Nor does he take financial support for his mission work, but labors as a tentmaker to earn a living (v. 6).
[He does not take advantage of these privileges in order to avoid offending those who “examine” him.
Noteworthy is Paul’s clear statement that the apostles are married (cf. Matt. 8:14) and that Jesus had other brothers.
This word plainly contradicts Roman Catholic traditions that maintain celibacy for clerics and perpetual virginity for Mary.]
Paul employs a second series of rhetorical questions, drawing upon military, agricultural, and animal husbandry analogies to prove his point (vv. 7-10).
He argues his position with three examples:
(1) no soldier purchases his own gear and ammunition to fight a battle;
(2) every vintner consumes the fruit of his labor; and
(3) every shepherd drinks his flock’s milk (v. 7).
With still more rhetorical questions, Paul contends that the principle that workers should benefit from their labor derives from the Mosaic Law, and that he is not speaking his thoughts alone (v. 8).
He applies the moral principle in Deuteronomy 25:4—a law concerned with moral justice and social equity in one’s treatment of workers (in the OT context, oxen) [v. 9a]—to himself and others as Christian workers.
God is concerned with mankind’s justice toward all creatures, but He is mostly desirous that human beings treat each other equitably (vv. 9b-10).
[See S. Lewis Johnson’s chapter in The Old Testament in the New (39-51) for a clear discussion of this passage.]
Pay for Christian Workers?
Do you think Christian workers should receive remuneration for their services?
Right to Receive Support
With two final rhetorical questions, Paul emphasizes the fact that “religious” workers have a legitimate right to expect financial support from those they serve.
Although Paul boasts a larger claim to support from the Corinthians than do other teachers, he refrains from taking advantage of this privilege, preferring to suffer maltreatment from them rather than let them impede the progress of the gospel (vv. 11-12).
The apostle illustrates this principle from the OT (priests, while serving the people, eat from their altar offerings: Lev. 6:16; Num. 18:8-24) and from the words of Christ Himself (Matt. 10:10) [vv. 13-14].
Paul reiterates the point that he has neither taken a “paycheck” from them, nor written these things in order to receive one.
Paul “boasts” to preach the gospel without charge; he does not want the beneficiaries of his ministry to give him anything unwillingly (v. 15).
The apostle discloses that he must preach the gospel, for he believes that he would be disobeying Christ’s commission to him if he neglected to do so (v. 16).
He will receive a reward if he willingly obeys; if he obeys but with an unwilling heart, he is still under obligation to preach (v. 17).
Paul sees as his reward his ability to preach the gospel without receiving remuneration for his services; by so doing, he will not be accused of abusing his ecclesiastical privileges (v. 18).
The apostle is under no obligation to serve anyone as a bond slave, but he voluntarily submits himself to serve everyone so that he might persuade more people to believe the gospel (v. 19).
He associates with, tolerates, accommodates himself to, and temporarily adopts the customs of all kinds of people without violating his own moral standards under Christ.
Jews and those under the Law (v. 20), those without law (v. 21), and the weak (v. 22): he spends time with every available people-group for “the gospel’s sake,” that he might win some to Christ and “partake” in the gospel with the Corinthians (v. 23).
Paul employs an analogy from the Isthmian games to demonstrate what the Christian attitude toward life should be (vv. 24-27).
Believers, like the athletes in sports competition, should exercise self-control in every aspect of their lives, so that they might win not the prize of a perishable wreath, but the reward of an imperishable crown from God for faithful service (vv. 24-25).
He offers himself as an example of one who “runs” (conducts his life) toward a goal (that is, he sets objectives); he does not swing wildly at his opponent, but plans his punches (v. 26).
Paul practices self-discipline, training his body to obey his mind.
By so doing, he prevents himself from being disqualified from further rewarding service (v. 27).
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