“My answer to them that do examine me” (1 Corinthians 9:3)

Criticism! There is plenty to go around – some deserved and some undeserved – some constructive and some destructive. Everyone gets criticism! The Apostle Paul was no exception. The criticism that is directed towards him in this chapter was both disparaging and painful. This is best understood when remembering that Paul was the one that led these “Critical Corinthians” to Christ (1 Cor. 9:1)! He tells them later on, “ye have not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). He must have been emotionally wounded, as a father would feel, over the betrayal by a son. He felt it deeply saying, “The more abundantly I love you, and the less I am loved” (2 Cor. 12:15; 6:11).

Paul’s Leadership Rejected

Unfortunately we do not have the advantage of knowing the actual wording of the Corinthian’s criticisms, but by reading the inspired text and having Paul’s answers before us; we can have a sufficient understanding of what were their complaints. We do know that …


(1) They questioned the authenticity of Paul’s Apostleship ( Vss. 1-2). I believe this is because the Corinthian Church was a divided church. They were separated by serious controversies caused by at least 4 sectarian factions (1 Cor. 1:12), most of whom correctly believed that Paul was not one of the “12 Apostles” (Acts 1:15-26). They had rejected Paul’s distinctive revelation (see my Tract – “Paul’s Distinctive Revelation”) and his apostleship to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11). Paul gives his defense in the form of rhetorical questions that demanded a positive answer. He bursts forth in stunned surprise and unbelief that the Corinthians could be so carnally blinded of his apostleship; especially after he spent “a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). He forcefully answers:

  1. “Am I not an Apostle”? Yes! He is the administrator of the Mystery (Eph. 3:2-3); a dispensation of the gospel was committed to him through which he discharged his Apostolic message of grace (1 Cor. 9:17).
  2. “Am I not free?” Yes! He was once bound by sin and the Law. Now, he and those who believe the Gospel of Grace are free from its burden (Rom. 10:4). He is free to make life choices based on grace.
  3. “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord”? Yes! He is qualified to be an Apostle. He testifies, “I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not” (1 Tim 2:7)! He saw and talked with the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road (compare Acts 1:21-22 with Acts 9:1-9).
  4. “Are not ye my work in the Lord”? Yes! The Apostle Paul performed special signs and wonders to attest his apostleship and the message that he preached (2 Cor. 12:11-12). The greatest evidence of his apostleship, however, was the conversion of the Corinthians to Christ; they were, as he said, the evidence – “the seal of my apostleship”(1 Cor. 9:2).

(2) They questioned Paul’s right to be supported by the church. In answering this criticism, it is not hard to detect that Paul has been offended by these attacks and speaks with a bit of righteous indignation. It seems to me that the criticism of Paul’s life and ministry came from the fact he did not exploit his authority and position even though he could have made legitimate demands. He noted that “others” received these benefits” (“others” – meaning the “12”; “the brethren of the Lord” and “Cephas”), but declares rather emphatically, that he did not! On the other hand, he says he did “suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:11-15). I believe the Corinthians were saying, by their carnal reasoning, that Paul was not a real apostle and was, therefore, not deserving of support! These carnal Corinthians, in my opinion, are the poster children for the shameful, insensitive, unreasonable and unthankful church! Paul was an authentic apostle by the will of God, and was eminently qualified and worthy of support. What Paul had been teaching in Chapter 8, he now illustrates in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14: namely, the laborer (the soldier, the vinedresser, shepherd) are worthy of hire – So says also the Law of Moses. As the farmer plowed and sowed seed in hope of a good harvest, so also the Apostle Paul had plowed and sowed gospel seeds into the rich soil of Corinth and reaped a harvest; he is within his rights to expect and enjoy the fruits of the harvest!


Paul’s Explanation

After meditating on the text, I was compelled to ask, “Why didn’t Paul, both now and on other occasions in his ministry, avail himself of the rights that went with the position and calling of an apostle?” Why? Why? He could have asked and received them! I believe the choices and decisions he made were a matter of:

  1. Duty: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16)! Paul has a debt that he must pay saying, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14).
  2. Reward: His “reward,” he says was “if I do this thing [preach the gospel] willingly, I have a reward” (1 Cor. 9:17). “I may make the gospel of Christ without charge” (1 Cor. 9:18) “and, this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you”(1 Cor. 9:23).
  3. Stewardship: a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” (1 Cor. 9:17).
  4. Servanthood: For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” Paul had willingly and sacrificially lived and ministered without exercising his “rights” – namely, the comfort and companionship of a wife, paying his own way and by working as a tent maker (2 Thess. 3:8-9) in order to make himself a “servant unto all” that he “might gain the more”(1 Cor. 9:19).



There are a couple important lessons to be learned here:


(1) These Corinthian believers have failed to implement the principles of brotherly love and sacrifice as modeled by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 9:19). It has often pointed out that believers are to be “followers” of Paul in the area of doctrine (1 Cor. 4:6; 11:1; Phil. 3:17) but neglect his example to following him in love, pity, humility, self-sacrifice and patience. These virtues were well nigh neglected by the carnal Corinthians and so also, it seems to me,   do the Carnal “saints” in this post-modern world of today! Shame on us! We boast of our own rights, liberty and ambitions. We love to get all we can and can all we can get and then sit on the lid until the undertaker comes! The highest right is to give up our right!


(2) There needs to be serious thought and consideration given before we ever surrender our lips to uttering criticism, gossip to malign or accuse another believer as the Corinthians had done to the Apostle Paul. We need to be reminded: Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:3-4). But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God; so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Rom. 14:10-13).