1 Corinthians, Lesson 13: Christian Freedom

Christian Freedom (610x351)Paul continues to deal with the issue of whether it’s okay to eat the meat that was earlier sacrificed to idols. Last week, we saw Paul deal directly with that issue. This week, he begins by using himself and other pastors as an example to help them learn to balance Christian freedom in light of the love we are to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Paul has done heavily throughout 1st Corinthians, this line of thinking is also within a chiasm:

A 8:1-13 Dealing with food sacrificed to idols

.     B 9:1-10:13 Paul (9:1-27) and the Old-Covenant Israelites (10:1-13) as examples

A’ 10:14-11:1 Dealing with food sacrificed to idols


Paul as a Free Apostle

This section opens with four rhetorical questions, each where the readers/hearers would answer “yes.”

Read 1 Corinthians 9:1-2

  • What does Paul establish in these two verses?


  • Based on that, what is he “free” to do?


You are the seal of my apostleship: Since the congregation at Corinth had earlier written a letter to Paul, asking him to resolve questions of doctrine and practice, and how they intersected, Paul takes the letter they wrote and turns it back on the congregation. In other words: “You asked me to resolve these questions of doctrine and practice. By coming to me in such a way shows that you recognize my apostolic authority.”


The Apostles and Pastors’ Right for a Wage

This section also begins with a series of rhetorical questions.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:3-7

  • With this barrage of questions, what does Paul establish concerning the obligation for congregations to provide for their pastor(s)?


  • In context, what does “brothers of the Lord” mean?


Paul Brings in Support from the Old Testament

What is interesting, in Paul’s use of the Old Testament, is that he doesn’t use the example of the tithe to make his point about congregations providing for their pastor(s).. In the Old covenant, God mandated a tithe to provide material support for Old-Covenant priests. Further, in the New Covenant, it wasn’t as if the need for material support disappeared.

So, why did Paul NOT use the tithe as his example? This could have been for a couple reasons:

  1. 1 Corinthians was a letter to a mostly-Gentile congregation. Although the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, was their Bible, they did not have tithing as part of their experience, for they never were in the Old Covenant.
  2. Paul was, at times, bi-vocational as a tent maker. In the Old Covenant, God forbade priests to do any other work except to serve as priests. Since Paul himself chose to be bi-vocational, such an example would not work, since he chose to do other work when it made sense to do so.

And so, Paul uses what the rabbis called a qal-wahomer argument, going from the lesser to the greater.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:8-12

Muzzling an Ox: Israel’s farmers used oxen to pull a sledge around a threshing floor to separate the kernels of grain from the husks. In Deuteronomy 25:4, the Mosaic Law prescribed that, while the ox was threshing, it was not to wear a muzzle. A muzzle kept the animal from eating some of the grain as it threshed, which prevented the ox from replenishing its energy as it worked.

If a farmer overworked his animal and didn’t allow it to have enough sustenance, it didn’t just harm the animal; it also harmed the farmer’s ability to earn a living. Thus, it was in the farmer’s best interest to have a healthy animal and treat it humanely.

  • Based on Paul’s “not muzzling an ox” argument, how would that apply to Apostles and pastors? (see also 1 Timothy 5:18)


Hebrews 13:17: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.


What Paul and Sosthenes Have Chosen not to Do 

  • What have Paul and Sosthenes (the “we”) chosen not to do?


  • Why?


  • Yet, what point does Paul still keep making?


  • What does Paul say the “Lord commanded” in verse 14?


Lord commanded… should get their living by the gospel: This could refer to Luke 10:7: “the worker deserves his wages.” It could also refer to something Jesus explicitly said that none of the four Gospel writers included in their Gospels, which Paul was now referencing. Either way, since this section is not “Paul’s opinion” like the earlier section on celibacy, it is God’s Word for the Church today. Congregations, then, should provide pastors support to “get their living.” This allows a pastor to serve more fully, and be more capable, as a pastor (1 Timothy 5:18).

Read 1 Corinthians 9:15-18

What Paul doesn’t mention at all is the pastor already in place at Corinth. Most likely, he was earning his living by being a pastor. This could have been part of—but certainly not the primary reason—for Paul writing what he does. He wouldn’t want the pastor there to suffer privation because the congregation at Corinth was now providing for him, as well.

  • Paul is going on and on about the congregation’s obligation to provide for their clergy. Yet, what does he NOT want to happen for him? (vs. 15)


  • What is Paul’s primary reason for not demanding a wage from them?


…rather die than have anyone deprive of my ground for boasting… the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting: Paul, in his typical style, gets philosophical, which for us today can be confusing. It seems as if he is just contradicting himself. He said, “I would rather die than allow someone to deprive me of my reason for boasting.” But then he said immediately after that, “The Gospel gives me no ground for boasting.”

Does he want to boast or not? His boast is the preaching of the Gospel. And yet, he cannot boast in that, for that necessity was laid on him by Jesus (vs. 16). Because Jesus laid the necessity for him to preach the Gospel (see Acts 9:15-16, Galatians 1:1), he may not take credit for doing that.

However, what Paul can do is to “present the Gospel free of charge.”

  • Helping the Corinthians to understand how a Christian should see his “rights” and exercise them, how does Paul use himself as an example of exercising or not exercising his “rights”? (vs. 18b)


Freedom that Serves the Other

In verse 19, Paul makes his thesis statement. Verses 20-23 are examples to show how he had done what he stated in verse 19. He could have used other examples, more of them, or fewer of them. The point is why?

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

  • What contradictory ideas does Paul mention in verse 19?


  • For Paul, what reason did he give for choosing to do what he did?


  • Take Paul’s idea of a Christian being free in Christ but choosing to use that freedom to serve the other.


That I might win more of them: Paul’s reason for using his Christian freedom to make himself a servant of all was to help in the preaching task that God has given him. Paul’s reasoning made sense, for that “necessity was laid upon” him (vs. 17). Paul used his freedom evangelistically that he “might win more of them.” And why wouldn’t he: he was serving as an Apostle.

However, you and I are not apostles. (Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t bring Jesus to others in our words and deeds. We do. See Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 3:15, and Colossians 4:5-6.) But the main point that Paul was making to the Corinthian congregation was how to understand Christian freedom and how their misunderstanding and misuse of that freedom was causing division in the congregation.

Paul wasn’t telling the Corinthian Christians that his use of Christian freedom, “to win more of them,” was for them to do likewise. Instead, Paul was using himself as an example on how to understand Christian freedom, in the context of eating meat sacrificed to idols, not evangelism (which is what many do this verse, take out of its context, and come to God-displeasing conclusions).

Paul had the “right” to do lots of things. But he chose to use his “rights,” not to serve himself, but to serve his neighbor. For Paul, this was to further His Gospel preaching. For you, it could be in a number of areas.

  • How are you using the “freedom” you have in Christ to serve yourself when it happens to hurt your neighbor? Discuss.


That’s how we are to understand Christian freedom. At minimum, Christian freedom is not something the Christian wields to get his way to the detriment of others (prevent harm). At best, the Christian uses his freedom to serve others (promote what is good). How this happens in your life is based on your vocations (“callings,” 1 Corinthians 7:17), where God has placed you serve in life.


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