Should I Muzzle the Ox While He is Treading Out the Grain?–1 Corinthians 9.1-18

HarvestWhy does Paul feel the need to defend his position as an apostle? (vv. 1-7)

First of all, Paul was not a follower of Jesus’ prior to the resurrection. He was not known as one of the 12, nor was he the one that was chosen to replace Judas. He was actually chosen by Jesus without the knowledge of anyone. In Acts, it becomes clear to the apostles that Paul is a true apostle, but given his reputation, it is understandable that there would be some question about it. Still, this is not likely the reason that they question Paul’s apostleship in this account.

The word ‘examine’ as used in verse 3 is a legal term. It is the preliminary investigation. Those that are ‘examining’ Paul are sizing him up. They are comparing him to the other apostles to see if he is the real deal. And, they find a glaring difference. All of the other apostles as well as the other prominent leaders (the brothers of the Lord), receive their provision from the church. Paul and Barnabas don’t. It’s not exactly certain why this matters except that it is different. Perhaps it appears that the church is not willing to support him and it is a challenge to his credibility for that reason—although this assumption is not true because Paul actually takes up a collection at least once and takes it to Jerusalem to support the church there.

What did Paul do for money?

Paul and Barnabas were tent makers. This sounds a bit odd, but it is more likely that they were tanners by trade. Tanners often were hired to make tents out of leather and this took a very skillful tanner. At any rate, what is important is that they were tradesman who made their own living in addition to preaching the gospel.

Are Paul and Barnabas at liberty to accept wages? (v. 8-11)

Absolutely. Fist of all Paul knows the law and has authority to proclaim it. He quotes Deuteronomy 25.4. To muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain is to deny the ox a share of the grain in exchange for his labor. The process of treading out the grain is using an ox to stomp on the grain in order to break it apart from the chaff. Then they used a process called winnowing to remove the chaff, leaving them with just the grain. So, it’s basically saying, “look, he does the hard work, so let him have a snack while he works and he will work better.” Paul could do the same. If the church supported him financially, then he would have even more time to work for the gospel.

I love that Paul identifies God’s lack of concern for the oxen. It is his sarcastic way of saying that it is about us, not better farming tactics; that if we are called to serve God by proclaiming His word, we have a right to be supported by the church. Paul implies that since he sows spiritual things, it is very little that he could reap material things.

So why doesn’t Paul accept wages from the church? (v. 12)

Paul was not the only teacher that was influencing Corinth at this time. There were false teachers who taught bastardized versions of the gospel for the purpose of being supported by the church. Paul refers to these men in verse 12. Paul is not suggesting that he has more of a right to be supported than the other apostles or other qualified teachers; he is saying that he has more of a right than the false teachers.

Now we are starting to get the point of why Paul does not want to accept wages. If he did, he would be identifying with them and this would be a hindrance to the true gospel. Paul would rather deny the provision in order to be set apart from the false teachers so that he will not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

What is Paul’s motive? (vv. 13-15)

Possibly it is just an English thing, but Paul comes off a bit arrogant at times. Is it too much to think that Paul might have been trying to underhandedly pressure the Corinthian church into forcing financial support on him so that he can receive both the provision and maintain a higher state of humility? Yes, I think it is a bit far fetched and Paul addresses this.

Paul starts by reiterating his right to receive support from the church, but then negates any possibility that they would offer him anything by saying, “I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so it will be done so in my case.” So we see that it is quite the opposite. Paul remains humble by forsaking his liberty for the sake of the gospel. Paul’s motive is simply that the gospel be proclaimed in it’s purest form even if that means the sacrifice of his own comfort.

What is Paul’s boast? (vv. 15,16)

This is not the sort of arrogant boast, but a boasting in the Lord. Paul has an incredible testimony. That is his boast. “Look what God has done for me!” He knows that if he exercises his liberty to be supported by the church, then the gospel will be hindered. I get the feeling that many people would walk away from their faith. Many others that would have listened to his message would walk away, because his reputation would be so damaged. Remember he would look the same as the false teacher. There are tons of possible scenarios. These things would make his boast empty. How can you boast when you have lost sight of the goal—sold out to the man?

Verse 16 appears to contradict 15. He is not saying that he has nothing to boast about though. He is saying that he has no grounds to boast in himself, only in God. If he were to receive compensation for his efforts to preach the gospel, the he would be open to the opportunity to boast about his great teaching—look how great I am, they gave me X amount of money. He is saying that by not receiving any compensation, he lacks any motive of his own and does so only because of the compulsion which comes from the Holy Spirit. And woe to me if I do not do what the Spirit has called me to do.

Stewardship? Reward? (vv. 17,18)

Paul is saying that if he were to exercise his liberty and take compensation for preaching the gospel, then he is still a steward of the gospel. It would be OK. He holds a great position of service to the Lord. But, he has identified that there is a great reward for him if he chooses to not exercise this liberty. His reward is that he can present the gospel free of charge; that by withholding his God given right, he is able to maintain assurance of a pure motive for his service.

Now most of us are not really in this position, but there is definitely a few hard lessons we can learn from Paul based on these verses.

1. Wise use of liberty.

First of all, we must be wise about how we use our liberties. If our liberty will in some way hinder the expansion of the gospel, then we should prayerfully reconsider. You are a steward either way, but is there a reward for making a wise decision? Remember also that Paul said we have been given liberty by God to do all things—“all things are lawful, but all things are not profitable”—including sin. Sin is the first and foremost point when we can know it is not good to use our liberty (1 Corinthians 6.12).

2. Do what the Spirit has called you to do.

It is to our benefit to listen to God’s voice. Woe to me if I do not do what the Spirit has called me to do. Paul was called by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel to the gentiles. Since his liberty would impede that work, he did not make use of the liberty. How do I know what the will of God Is?—Romans 12.2

3. Preventative motive maintenance.

Why are you serving the Lord? There is only one right answer and that is, “for His glory.” Any other motive would be self centered—1 Corinthians 10.31

Image Credits: rdd, sxc.hu

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