When it is Wrong to do Right

I Corinthians 9:1-23

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2011

We have been studying the Book of I Corinthians. Last week, we looked at the topic of Christian liberty in I Corinthians 8 & 10 in which Paul dealt with a food issue (food offered to idols). We saw what Christian liberty is, what it is not and what the limitations are to Christian liberty. I Corinthians 9, Paul continues this topic. Let’s read I Corinthians 9:1-23.

Every Christian in the church has the right to respectfully question any Christian leader or anyone in Christian leadership. There are two extremes. Some never question them.

Some Christians do not do that and they use Psalm 105:15 as the proof that we should NEVER question or criticize the pastor. Whatever he says goes. They are untouchable. Many pastors and televangelists claim to be “God’s Anointed”. Is this what the verse is teaching?

Who are God’s Anointed? That verse is talking about prophets, not pastors. Kings in the OT were also called God’s anointed (I Samuel 24:6-7). It is fine for some to say that pastors are God’s Anointed, as long as you realize that, according to the NT, ALL Christians are God’s anointed (I John 2:20).

Furthermore, this verse is talking about harming people. The verb “touch” is parallel to the verb “harm” or “hurt”. Criticizing someone is not harming someone. Sometimes even godly leaders need to be rebuked when they fall into sin. Paul criticized Peter to his face on one occasion (Galatians 2:11-16). Christians leaders are not infallible. Preachers are not untouchable.

On the other hand are people who are church critics. They will listen to a sermon just to find everything wrong with it and to tear it apart. The question we need to think about is this. Do we have a critical spirit? People with a critical spirit are always negative and always complaining and finding the flaws in people. They are not too good at encouraging people or building them up.

Apparently, some of the Corinthians were critical of the Apostle Paul. Some in the church didn’t respect Paul. Some in the church apparently were opposed to his ministry. What did they have against Paul? They were saying that Paul was not really an apostle or only a second rate apostle.

He was not one of the Twelve. He had a real simple message. He was not a great public speaker. He wasn’t as polished a speaker as Apollos and he did not charge for his ministry. Why didn’t he do that? Maybe he wasn’t worth anything. Who are you to tell us what we are supposed to do?

No one likes to be criticized but spirituals leaders cannot avoid criticism. How does Paul respond to some of these charges? He answers them. I teach language arts at school and one of the things we teach is tone. What is the tone of a story or poem? It is the attitude of the author. The tone of I Corinthians changes dramatically in chapter 9.

Christians leaders have the right to respectfully defend their leadership. In chapter 9 Paul gives a defensive of his apostleship. He gets a little defensive (9:3). The way he defends himself is to ask a series of questions (e.g., 9:1-2).

Paul asks eighteen different questions in the first eighteen verses. Many of these are rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are questions that you don’t ask to get information, because the answer is obvious. It is like asking, “Is the pope Catholic?” They are questions you ask to make a statement, like “Are you out of your mind?”

He talks about his rights. Six different times in this chapter we see the word “right” (9:4, 5, 6, 12, 15 [2]). In I Corinthians 9, Paul mentions two things that he says that he has the perfect right to do. Then he tells the Corinthians why he is not insisting on his rights. Paul is showing in chapter 9 that he practices what he preaches.

In I Corinthians 8, he says that we should not always insist on our rights. In Chapter 9, he mentions two rights that he voluntarily gives up. What are the two rights that Paul mentions? He says that he has is the first thing that Paul says that he has the right to get married (9:5). That was one of Paul’s rights.

Paul could have gotten married. There is no evidence that he ever was. He never talks about being married but he could have gotten married. The other apostles got married and their wives traveled with them. Even Cephas got married.

Who is he? Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter (kaphos). Peter comes from the Greek name. Why is that important? Roman Catholics believe he was the first pope, although he is never called a pope (father) in the Bible.

If he was the first pope, the first pope got married. Popes today are not married. Remember in the Gospels that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) and if he had a mother-in-law, he had to have a wife.

Paul had the right to get married but chose not to and he explained in chapter seven why he didn’t. Paul was called to be single and felt that he could minister better single than married with all of the traveling and danger he encountered on his missionary journeys.

Another thing that Paul says that he has the perfect right to is to be supported financially by the Church of Corinth (9:4, 6-14). It answers the question, Do leaders have the right to receive a salary? Should we pay the preacher? This is not a burning issue today but believe it or not there are still a few churches that do not pay their preachers. They do not believe in a professional clergy.

The church is run entirely by volunteers. According to Paul, the church has the responsibility to support Christian workers. Which ones? This chapter is talking about the financial support of people who preach the gospel – evangelists, missionaries or church planters.

Are they the only church workers who should be supported financially by the church? No. Paul said in I Timothy that some elders should be supported financially as well (5:17-18). This is a very important verse. Let’s look at it a little closer. Some people have read I Timothy 5:17 to teach that there are two kinds of elders in the church: teaching elders and ruling elders.

Is that biblical? No. The Bible says that ALL elders should be “apt to teach” (KJV), not just some of them. One of the requirements for elders is that they are “able to teach” (3:2). It is not a requirement for deacons but it is a requirement for elders. If they cannot teach the Bible or the Christian faith to others, they should not be elders. There is no such thing in the Bible as a non-teaching elder.

But then Paul takes this one step further. He says that elders who LABOR in teaching and preaching are worthy of DOUBLE HONOR. What does that mean? It means two things.

  • It means respect (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Church leaders who labor in the Word should be treated with respect. They should be treated with respect but not worship. Some pastors in these mega churches (MacArthur, MacDonald, Swindoll) almost have a cult like following. But double honor means something else.

  • The Greek word for “honor” (τιμη) can also mean payment or stipend (like an honorarium).

Double honor can mean double pay or double salary. In this very chapter, Paul said that widows in the church were to receive “honor” and he uses the same Greek word (5:3). He goes on to say certain widows in the church were worthy of financial support (5:9-10; cf. Acts 6:1).

Paul doesn’t say that the pastor who labors in the Word is worthy of double honor (although that is true); he says that THE ELDER who labors in the Word is worthy of double honor. Apparently, a man can serve as both a preacher and an elder (Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:27).

Reasons to Financially Support Church Leaders

What are some of the reasons that church leaders should be supported? Paul gives all kinds of arguments why ministers should be supported financially.

1. Jesus said that they should be supported (9:14).

Jesus taught the “the laborer is worthy of his hire or his wages” (Matthew 10:10) and that includes church workers. They do not work for free. If you do a job, you should be paid for it. That’s what Jesus would do. Wages are a payment, not a gift.

2. Scripture says that they should be supported (9:8-9).

In both I Timothy 5 and I Corinthians 9, Paul quotes a passage from the OT to prove his point and it is the same passage (Deuteronomy 25:4). That is a rather strange verse. It has nothing to do with apostles or prophets or priests. It is a verse about animals (ox). Animals tread out corn on the threshing floor. While they are working, don’t muzzle them. Let him eat some of the grain as they work.

The verse says nothing about the church supporting missionaries but Paul makes an important application from that passage to Christian workers. Apparently, the OT is still relevant to Christians today. Paul makes an inference form this verse.

If animals were allowed to do this, then how much more should people be allowed to do this? If animals were worthy of their wages, should not people be as well? People are much more important than animals (9:10).

3. Experience says they should be supported (9:7, 13).

Paul mentions four different occupations that receive compensation for their work. Soldiers, farmers and shepherds and even priests all lived off of their work. That was true in both Jewish and pagan temples. The idea of paying God’s servants does not begin in the NT. It goes all the way back to the OT.

Paul had the right to support from the Corinthians and he had the right to get married but he didn’t use any of those rights (9:15). Why not? He felt that he had a different call. God called him to be single and God called him to preach. He felt “compelled to preach” (9:16). If you knew how he became converted, you would know why.

Paul had traveled a long way to persecute Christians when Jesus appeared to him in a bright light which blinded him and knocked him to the ground. A voice spoke to him.

It was the voice of the resurrected Christ. For three days, Paul was completely blind and he fasted. He ate nothing and drank nothing. He was then healed and baptized by Ananias. Then he was given his special mission to preach Christ.

Furthermore, he felt that he could have a better testimony without taking any money from the Corinthians to preach the gospel free of charge. Paul didn’t want people to think that he was only in the ministry for the money.

That is why he worked for a living and he worked long hours (“day and night”) too (II Thessalonians 3:8). Paul’s goal was to reach as many people as he could with the gospel (9:19-22).

Paul is not saying that it is always wrong to exercise your rights. There were times in the Book of Acts where he exercised his rights and there were many times when he accepted money from the Philippian Church (Philippians 4:15-18).

He is simply saying that there are times when it might be the right thing not to insist on your rights and he gives us two times when this would be wrong. This is review but what are those two situations?

We should never insist on our rights if it causes someone else to sin. We should not exert our rights to the detriment of others. I have the right to make a good living but not at the expense of my wife and kids.

We should never insist on our rights if it is going to affect our Christian testimony. For the sake of the gospel, there may be some things that we give up that we have the right to so souls can be saved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *