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1 Corinthians 9:1-10:13

Roger Hahn

Meat Offered to Idols - 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (cont.)

First Corinthians 8-10 deals with the subject of meat offered to idols. The traditional understanding is that Paul was responding to a division within the church at Corinth between the "strong" and the "weak." The division was primarily over whether or not a Christian could eat meat that had been slaughtered as part of a sacrifice to an idol. This interpretation views chapter 9 as an illustration of giving up one's rights for the benefit of others. However, chapter 9 is longer and more vehement than chapter 8. An illustration should not be more detailed and emotional than the statement of the problem. This has led to a new interpretation.

Paul's Apostolic Defense - 1 Corinthians 9:1-27

Chapter 9 is one of the longest and most emotional autobiographical sections in Paul's writings. A series of rhetorical questions raises the issue of Paul's rights as an apostle. Some members of the church at Corinth were rejecting Paul's instruction in the previous letter not to associate with idolaters (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-10). Thus the real problem was not private eating of meat from the meat market that had been sacrificed to an idol. Rather, the problem would have been eating such meat at the celebration feasts in the idol temples. In some way the letter from Corinth (7:1) also challenged Paul's authority to instruct the Corinthians on this subject. Thus an important part of the apostle's response was the establishment of his authority as an apostle to direct the Corinthians' behavior.

Verse 1 consists of four rhetorical questions. Each is constructed in Greek to show that Paul expected the answer to be "Yes!" These questions accomplish several goals. First, they introduce the question of Paul's apostolic authority. Second, the "yes" answers affirm his apostolic status. The question of whether Paul had seen Jesus our Lord or not was probably a way of asking whether he was a genuine apostle or not. Acts 1:15-22 show that contact with Jesus was considered a requirement for an apostle. Third, the questions were designed to create an awareness of unity between Paul and the Corinthians. By answering "Yes" to each of these questions the Corinthians were forced to agree with Paul on a series of issues. The final question reminded the Corinthians that Paul had founded their church and was thus owed a certain amount of respect and allegiance.

Verse 2 continues the strategy of highlighting the unity that should have existed between the apostle and his church. Paul appears to acknowledge that some people rejected his claim to apostolic status. But of all people the Corinthians should have affirmed his apostleship. In fact Paul calls them the seal of my apostleship. In the biblical world a seal referred to the mark of a person's signet ring stamped on wax or clay. The mark was seen as guarantee of ownership and authenticity. Paul's choice of words implies that the Corinthians' existence as believers proves the genuineness of his apostleship. The further implication of ownership suggests that the Corinthian church owes Paul a measure of obedience on this matter of meat offered to idols.

In the following paragraph, verses 3-7, Paul begins to build the case for his authority. He describes his strategy as a "defense" to those who are judging or examining him. The word "judging" is the same word used earlier in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 and 4:3-4. Another series of rhetorical questions appears in verses 4-7. The purpose of these questions is to lead the Corinthians to acknowledge that Paul should have all the rights of an apostle. Verse 4 addresses the right to food and drink. Verse 5 addresses the right to be accompanied by a believing wife. Verses 6-7 address Paul's right to receive financial compensation for his ministerial work. It appears that Paul believed the answers to these questions to be very simple and straightforward. Yes, he had a right to food and drink. Yes, he had a right to be accompanied by a wife. Yes, he had the right to be paid for his ministry.

However, Paul was able to assume that these issues were clear because the Corinthians knew a great deal about Paul's personal life. The same questions raise all kinds of intriguing historical questions for us because we do not understand the details of Paul's life. The question of whether or not Paul was married arises from verse 5. Arguments have been made on both sides, which shows that the verse is not clear at all. The Corinthians would have known whether or not Paul was married and thus the exact impact of his argument. The marital status of most of the other apostles seems clear even to us. The question of food and drink in verse 4 may be related to the issue of the meat offered to idols or it may be a general statement about basic needs being met. Once again, we lack the exact information needed to know, but the Corinthians would have had that information.

Verse 6 raises the question of why Paul and Barnabas worked in "secular" jobs to support their own ministries. Fee (p. 404) raises the interesting question of why Barnabas is mentioned here while Silas and Timothy are not mentioned. Acts indicates that Paul and Barnabas had separated their ministries prior to Paul's arrival at Corinth. Is verse 6 evidence that Barnabas also came to Corinth later? Probably not. What Paul draws upon in verse 6 is the reputation that he and Barnabas had for working in a trade to support their ministries. The question of verse 6 implies that Paul (and Barnabas) had the right to financial compensation for preaching.

Verse 7 extends that argument with three questions dealing, in order, with a soldier, a farmer, and a shepherd. Each question is constructed in Greek to show that Paul believed the answer to be, "No." No, a soldier does not serve at his own expense. No, a farmer does not plant a vineyard and never eat its produce. No, a shepherd does not care for a flock without receiving the milk from the goats. And a minister should not be expected to serve without receiving compensation for his or her work.

Verses 8-10 move the argument from human analogies to the authority of Scripture. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 forbidding an ox to be muzzled while it treaded out the grain. One of the methods of separating the grain from the husk in the Ancient Near East was to have an ox pull a heavy stone slab around and around over the pile of cut wheat. Most cultures muzzled the ox so that the animal could not eat any of the precious grain. Deuteronomy 25:4 expressly forbid the muzzle on Israelite threshing floors.

The puzzling part of verses 9-10 is that Paul raises the question of whether God was concerned with the ox. The Old Testament passage clearly seems to indicate an answer of "yes," but the Greek of Paul's question is constructed to show the apostle had the answer "no" in mind. Verse 10 states that the meaning of Deuteronomy 25:4 is that God is concerned about us.

Careful analysis of the grammar shows that Paul was not discussing what the text meant in its Old Testament context. There it clearly showed God's concern for the ox. Rather, Paul was raising the question of the application of this text in the present. As a rabbi he understood that the Law stated cases contained basic principles that could be and should be applied in new circumstances. The new circumstance Paul had in mind is most clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 10:11 where he describes his readers as those upon "whom the ends of the ages have come." Paul's point is that in the last days Scripture will have special applications and significance. The most important principle of the last days is the urgency of spreading the gospel. One obvious application of that principle is that those preaching the gospel should be supported and thus Paul interprets Deuteronomy 25:4 in this way.

The final part of verse 10 and verse 11 continue this thought. The very purpose of Deuteronomy 25:4 is that both those who plow and those who reap should labor with hope. Paul's meaning for the word "hope" is two-fold. At one level the reference to hope is a reference to the last days. Laborers in the gospel work in the hope that their ministry will fulfill the time set by God so that the end can begin. At another level workers in the ministry work in the hope or expectation of being supported while they share in the work God has called them to do.

Verse 13 drives this point home more clearly. Paul points out that priests working in the temple eat from the meat (and other food) sacrificed at the temple. The priests are paid from the offerings given. In that sense religious work, whether in an idol temple, in the Old Testament temple, or in the temple of the Holy Spirit, the church, is not different from the soldier, farmer, and shepherd mentioned in verse 7. A worker should be compensated for the work that he or she does. Verse 14 then points out that even Jesus taught the same. Paul probably had Luke 10:7b, "A worker is worthy of his wages," in mind.

Paul's argument is strange to modern readers. He has argued that those in ministry have a right to be compensated for their ministry. The normal application that we would make of that point is that contemporary ministers ought to be given salaries and appropriate benefits. Paul, however, has argued the case to point out that he has not collected on these rights! Verses 15-18 will portray his giving up of these rights as the reason the Corinthians should accept his apostolic authority. That is not the normal application that is often made in our day and time!

Verse 15 clearly states that Paul had made no use of any of these rights that he has just argued in his ministry with the Corinthians. He was not defending the payments he had received from them! Nor was he seeking to persuade the Corinthians to begin paying him. On the contrary, he would rather die than be deprived of the joy of providing the gospel free of charge.

Verses 15 and 16 speak of Paul's "boasting" with regard to preaching the gospel. The Greek word that is usually translated "boast" appears frequently in Paul's writings, but it is hard to translate with precision. Sometimes it is translated "joy" or "rejoice," sometimes "glory" as either noun or verb, and sometimes as "exult." The word describes that feeling that one's body isn't big enough to contain all the emotions of uplift and awe and excitement that are being experienced. The point is not arrogance but a powerful sense of joy and uplift. What provided Paul that feeling of joy and exultation was the opportunity to provide the gospel free of charge.

Paul has argued since verse 3 that he has the right to be supported financially in the ministry, but that he has refused such compensation. The same verses also argue for Paul's apostolic authority. We must wonder why the apostle put so much effort into making these points. The most likely explanation is that some of the Corinthians were rejecting Paul's authority to tell them not to eat meat offered to idols in the temple celebration feasts because he was not in their employ. Their argument would run something like this. If Paul were our minister he would have the right to tell us how to behave. If he were our minister we would pay him. Since we do not pay him, he is not our minister. Therefore, he does not have the right to tell us how to behave.

Paul's complicated argument is designed to say that he does have the authority to direct their behavior and the right not to be paid by them. In fact, Paul argues that his refusing the pay that he deserved should actually increase his authority to speak to them! The whole argument would seem ridiculous if it were not for the fact of how frequently it still occurs. Too many unhealthy churches want the right to muzzle a minister by controlling his or her paycheck. It should not be necessary to go to the lengths that Paul went to (ministering without pay) to be free to speak God's word instead of the message the audience wishes to hear. This passage behooves us scrupulously to grant a minister of the gospel full freedom to speak a word from God. It is quite true that a person posing as a minister may speak a word that is not from God. However, the process of evaluating that and punishing it can and must be done apart from financial power plays.

Verses 19-23 provide one of the most powerful statements of Paul's philosophy of ministry found in his writings. The Corinthian letters and Galatians show Paul responding to charges of inconsistency. Without verses 19-23 we might wonder why such charges were made. Verse 19 begins the section with a common Pauline contrast, that of freedom and slavery. Chapter 9 began with the question, "Am I not free?" Verse 19 answers, "Even though I am free with reference to everything, I have made myself a slave to all in order that I might gain the many." The following verses present four kinds of people to whom Paul has accommodated himself for the sake of the gospel. In the presence of Jews he functioned as a Jew to win Jews to Christ. Acts 21:17-26 provides an example of the way in which Paul accommodated Jews.

The second example was accommodation to "those under the Law." This may be nothing more than another reference to the Jews. Then why did Paul repeat himself in this way? There are at least two possible answers. The term Jew is an ethnic description, but "under the Law" is a religious description. Attitudes toward the Law varied in Judaism. Paul may have been claiming that he accommodated himself to even the most rigorously observant Jews. Or, "those under the Law" may refer to believers - both Jewish and Judaized Gentile converts to Christ - who rigorously observed the Law. Either of these views seems contradictory to the message of Galatians.

There is an important distinction that allowed Paul to make his claim in verse 20. Galatians firmly rejects any approach that required observance of the Law as a condition for salvation. First Corinthians 9:20 respects and works with those who rigorously observe the Law as a matter of their own conscience. The context is the issue of eating meat offered to idols. Believers must be careful to not violate the conscience of brothers and sisters in Christ. However, Paul does not concede that believers who are conscientious on particular matters have the right to impose their conscience on other believers. Had Christians always been able to keep this distinction in focus the history of Christianity would have been much happier.

The third example, becoming outside the Law to those outside the Law, is the flip side of the second. Acts 21:17-26 also reveals that Jewish believers often drew the conclusion that Paul had totally abandoned his Judaism. Verse 21 acknowledges that he gave that appearance but also claims that he never abandoned God's Law. The final example connects this discussion back to the larger context. Becoming weak to the weak ties this section to 1 Corinthians 8:12-13.

Verses 22b-23 provide the principle that guided Paul's ministry. He became all things to all people in order to gain some for the gospel. In fact, his entire ministry was exercised for the sake of the gospel. Verse 23 concludes with an important insight. Accommodation and commitment are necessary to be a recipient of the blessings of the gospel. One simply cannot preach a gospel of grace while practicing the opposite. The practice of our ministry must be as gracious as the theology of our gospel. This is a truth that is hard for some of us to deal with. Jesus put the matter even more bluntly in Matthew 6:15. "If you do not forgive others your Father will not forgive your trespasses."

The final paragraph of chapter 9, verses 24-27, draws examples from the athletic competition of New Testament times. Paul began with a general point of comparison between athletic competition and Christian life. Athletes compete to win. Paul urges the Corinthians and us all to live to win the prize. Though the prize is what Paul mentions it is not the point of his comparison. In athletics there is only one prize but Paul envisions the possibility of every believer being a winner. The point of comparison is not winning, but the desire to win. Athletes submit to disciplines and exercise self-control far beyond normal expectations in order to win. Christians must also be willing to submit to discipline, to give up rights, and to live with extreme self-control and even self-denial in order to successfully model the Christian life.

The specific examples of running and boxing illustrate Paul's point. Even more specific is the example of Paul's own life. Verses 26-27 frame his testimony in the language of athletics but he was thinking and writing in the context of the issue of meat offered to idols and attendance at idol temple celebration feasts. The reference to himself parallels the self-reference in chapter 8, verses 12-13. The reference to "enslaving" his body draws our attention back to verse 19. The specific way in which Paul would be disqualified after preaching to others would be by causing a brother or sister for whom Christ died to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). Paul's words are a pointed warning to the Corinthians that failure on their part to exercise self-control regarding idol temples and meat offered to idols could lead to their loss of the prize at the final judgment.

Israel's Example of the Need of Discipline - 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Chapter 10 returns to the subject of participation in idol temple celebrations. Paul begins the chapter by using the Old Testament to point out the grave danger the Corinthians were in. The seriousness of his warning can be seen in the title Barrett (p. 218) gives to this section, "Even Baptized Communicants are not Secure." Some of the Corinthians did not believe idolatry posed any serious problem for them since they knew that "an idol is nothing," (1 Corinthians 8:4). The references to the baptism and eating and drinking spiritual food suggest that these Corinthians somehow saw the Christian sacraments as providing protection against spiritual failure. Paul, however, points to the example of Israel to show that even being a part of the covenant community does not magically protect one from spiritual and moral ruin.

The section begins with a common introductory phrase, "I do not want you to be ignorant." This suggests that Paul was confident that the Corinthians knew the facts that he was about to mention but that they had failed to draw the appropriate conclusions. The well-known facts were that the fathers of Israel were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea. Obviously Paul was referring to the story of the Exodus. He assumes that even the mostly Gentile Corinthian believers will know this story.

Verse 2 states that Israel was baptized into Moses. Though Jews compared the Red Sea experience to a kind of baptism, Paul does not develop that comparison. Israel's baptism was "into Moses." The Corinthians' baptism was "into Christ." Furthermore, Israel ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink in the Exodus experience. The historical reference is obvious. The spiritual food was the manna and the spiritual drink was the water from the rock. The reference to "spiritual" food and drink also seems to imply some correspondence between Israel's experience and the Lord's Supper.

The final section of verse 4 attempts to make that connection clearer, but it involves a difficult leap of interpretation. Paul states that the spiritual rock from which they drank followed Israel and that rock was Christ.

The adjective "spiritual" modifying the rock in verse 4 should alert us to the fact that Paul is departing from the literal history of the Exodus. Certain the rock (or rocks) mentioned in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:2-13 did not follow Israel around in the wilderness. By the time of Paul a legendary interpretation of the well described in Numbers 21:16-18 was circulating among Jewish rabbis. This well, described as a rock, was said to have accompanied Israel and camped wherever the people camped. This legend could have influenced Paul's thought here.

However, it is more likely that Paul was aware of Jewish interpretation that described the rock as God himself. As often happened Paul ascribed to Christ certain activities of God in the Old Testament. By describing Christ as the rock Paul establishes the relevance of Israel's experience for the Corinthians and us. Verse 5 then adds the final important ingredient for Paul's comparison. God was not pleased with Israel in the wilderness and all except Joshua and Caleb died without reaching the promised land.

Verse 6 declares that Israel's experience took place as examples for us in order that we not desire evil like they did. Paul now clearly reveals the point of the comparison. Verse 7 commands the Corinthians not to become idolaters like the Israelites and quotes Exodus 32:6b. Exodus 32 contains the story of Israel forming the golden calf idol and worshipping it. The reference to eating, drinking, and rising up to play (or indulgence in revelry) uses words that describe the activities of the idol temple celebration feasts certain Corinthians wanted to attend. The Hebrew word for "play" or "revelry" in Exodus and its Greek translation both imply erotic sexual activity and verse 8 builds on that understanding. Idol temples in the biblical world were centers of "sacred" prostitution.

Paul clearly has brought up the example of Israel in the wilderness to point out the danger of the Corinthians participating in the idol temple celebration feasts. Verse 9 warns against putting Christ to the test as Israel did. When Israel put God to test they discovered that they were the ones who failed. Paul's concern is that the Corinthians who want to participate in the idol temple celebrations are putting Christ to the test.

The result is not proof of Christ's power, but eventual spiritual failure on the part of those who try to test Christ. There is always a grave spiritual danger when one wants to participate in sinful things or even in marginally sinful matters. The justification that such participation will prove Christ's superiority over sin ultimately becomes self-delusion. The problem is not Christ's power. The problem is the heart of a person who doesn't want to give up association with the world.

Verse 12 focuses on the attitude problem. The person who thinks he or she is standing is the very person who needs to be most alert to the danger of falling. The Greek word for "standing" can also be translated "established." The person who regards himself or herself as established and thus secure is already in imminent spiritual danger. Israel perceived itself as spiritually secure in God's election and it ignored the bottom line matter of obedience. Some Corinthians seemed confident they could trifle with idolatry securely protected by baptism and the Lord's Supper. There is no state of spiritual security that removes us from the necessity of obedience.

On the other hand, we do not need to live in fear of being always insecure. Verse 13 promises that God will never permit testing to occur in our lives beyond the ability that we have through Christ to overcome. Moment by moment believers have the possibility to obey Christ and to walk in the light. God never permits us to be overwhelmed by irresistible temptation. Neither does he protect us from life's toughest blows. He eternally hopes that we will respond in temptation and in difficulties with trusting obedience. As long as we do we are safe (and saved).

Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.

As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.

First Day: Read the notes on 1 Corinthians 9:1-10:13. Look up the Scripture references.

1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Describe why they were significant.

2. Select a spiritual truth that has a personal application in your own life. Describe how it applies.

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you find the right balance between overconfidence and insecurity in your Christian life.

Second Day: Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-30. Now turn your focus to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.

1. Verse 14 commands us to flee idolatry. What kinds of idolatry does our culture practice that we should flee? In what specific areas of life do you find it easy to fall into idolatry? How can you flee?

2. If verses 16-17 describe the Lord's Supper what truths do they teach about the Lord's Supper? Are any of those truths new ideas for you? How do they increase your appreciation for the Lord's Supper?

3. Eating meat offered to idols demonstrated allegiance to demons according to verse 20. What activities demonstrate allegiance to evil in our society? On Paul's logic why must Christians not participate in such activities?

Third Day: Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1. Focus in on 1 Corinthians 10:23-30.

1. Verse 23 states that all things are lawful but all things are not beneficial. What are some examples of behavior that might not end one's Christian life, but they do not help one live a better Christian life?

2. Do you think Paul contradicts himself in verses 25-28? If so, how? If not, why not?

3. Following Paul's argument in verses 25-28 what advice do you think he would give on the examples of behavior that you mentioned in question 1? Would you agree with his advice? Why or why not?

Fourth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1. Now focus on 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1.

1. In light of verse 31 what are some of the ways we can give God glory in our everyday activities?

2. In the light of chapters 8-10 what do you think Paul wants from the Corinthians in verse 32? What application of verse 32 could you make to your own life?

3. How would you feel about telling others to imitate you as Paul did in 11:1? What things in your life might need to change so others could imitate you as you imitate Christ? Write a brief prayer asking God to help you make those changes.

Fifth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Focus your attention on 1 Corinthians 11:2-12.

1. In verse 2 Paul commends the Corinthians for maintaining the traditions he had taught them. What are the values of traditions about Christian behavior? What are the dangers of such traditions?

2. What does verse 3 say about the relationship of a husband and wife? If we apply the same understanding to the relationship of God and Christ what view of the Trinity do we have?

3. Would your understanding of verse 3 be changed if the words "head of" meant "source of" rather than "superior to?" Which meaning best explains the three relationships mentioned in verse 3? Why?

Sixth Day: Read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Now focus your attention on 1 Corinthians 11:4-16.

1. How do verses 4-5 view the right of women to participate in the worship leadership of the church at Corinth? How would you fit these verses in with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?

2. Why do you think Paul wants women to wear a veil during worship? What arguments does he give to support his position? Are his arguments the product of his culture? Do his arguments persuade you that women should wear a veil in worship now days? Why or why not?

3. The issue of women exercising leadership in worship has been a divisive issue in recent years in Christianity. Write a brief prayer asking wisdom to understand God's will and grace to live with others who disagree.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2011, Roger Hahn and CRI/Voice, Institute
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