Lesson Three – Freedom in Christ

Freedom in Christ

Lesson Text:  I Corinthians 9:1-27. 

Introduction

Therefore, If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.  I Cor. 8:13

This scripture served as a transitional tool.  It closed out Paul’s discourse on Christians’ freedom where weak and strong Christians’ relationships are at stake (I Cor. 8:9).  He moved the recipients, and us, to a rhetorical question about himself.  “Am I not free?”  I Cor. 9:1.  This question was the first of nineteen rhetorical questions in the text for this lesson.  We learned the life principle of freedom in our previous lesson; therefore, we can answer the first question, “Am I not free?”  We are free; however, three other questions must be answered by us before we exercise our freedom of choice:  Is what I am free to do as a son of God beneficial?  Will I be mastered by what I am free to do?  Will it be constructive for my spiritual growth and other members of God’s church?  See I Cor. 6:12; 10:23.  Paul applied these questions to his own “right of freedom” in his relationship with the Corinthian church in chapter nine.

Please keep in mind we are doing our hermeneutical work.  We are looking for the meaning of the content in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  Although we did our work of exegesis in Parts I and II on both letters, we will need to consider each thought, or block of scripture, in the “then and there” context – exegesis.  This is how we understand what the particular thought means for the “here and now” – hermeneutics.  In our literary analysis we ask how this block functions in the document.  In chapter nine we must work through nineteen questions Paul assumed the original recipients understood.  If we do not know what they knew we will need to do some “catching up” with the recipients.  That is, we may need to consider other scriptures to assist us in seeking the answers for his other eighteen rhetorical questions.

Twelve questions were asked in the context of attempting to inspire the church to think though this question; “Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?”  I Cor. 9:6.   This is a study about supporting teachers and preachers so they may not need to “work for a living.”  We will take up this study after we consider the remaining rhetorical questions.  Both studies will be done under the title; “Freedom in Christ.”

Lesson

Am I not an apostle?  Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?  Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?  Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you!  For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.  I Cor. 9:1, 2

Evidently, someone was attacking the validity of Paul’s apostleship.  There was some indication of this happening in I Cor. 4:1-5.  See the historical analysis in Part I, Lesson Three.  “Am I not an apostle?”  “Have I not seen Jesus the Lord?”  These two questions were echoed throughout both of Paul’s recorded letters to the Corinthians.  We know why he asked these questions.  Please review the “You, We, They” chart in Part I, Lesson Three.  The Corinthians knew the answer to all these questions.  His aim was to get them to stop and think “below the surface.”  It was time for them to analyze the facts about what had been happening between him and them for the past few years.  After considering the facts, they needed to search their consciences about their relationship (II Cor. 6:1-13).

The fourth question: “Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?”  The principle we want to consider is that the Corinthian church was the seal of Paul’s apostleship.  This means they were the fruit of his preaching and teaching.  Preachers and teachers of God’s word are careful how we build (I Cor. 3:10).  We do not go beyond what is written (I Cor. 4:6).  We are not trying to make disciples for ourselves; therefore, we do not depend on “wise and persuasive words” to preach and teach the kingdom of God (I Cor. 2:4, 5; 4:20; II Cor. 10:10, 11).  The proof of a preacher and teacher’s work has been described in II Corinthians 3:3-6.  Our aim is to move the word of God from the pages in the Bible to the hearts and minds of the hearers.  The word becomes who we are – sons of God (John 8:31, 32; Gal. 4:19).  We can be sure the quality of the fruit of our work will be a topic of discussion on the Day of Judgment (John 12:48).   Please read II Cor. 3:3-6 carefully and note the following points:

  1. Each mature member of the church reads like a letter from Christ.  Jesus is the vine, Christians are the branches.  God is the gardener who cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit (John 15:1-8).
  2. Jesus made Paul a competent preacher and teacher by giving him a wisdom message from God by the Holy Spirit (John 16:15; I Cor. 2:11-13).  The message he received is one of the Holy Spirit’s tools for His work in Christian’s sanctification (II Thess. 2:13-15; I Pet. 1:2).
  3. Each member in God’s church has been reconciled to God by the new covenant in the blood of Jesus (II Cor. 5:14-18).  We are sanctified by grace to be led in our sanctification by the Holy Spirit through the word of God (I Cor. 6:11).  The Holy Spirit is happy to fellowship us in order to accomplish His work of sanctification with us (I Cor. 2:14; II Cor. 13:14; Rom. 8:5-23).
  4. The result of successful preaching and teaching is that each member’s heart is being written (impressed) upon by the very message the Holy Spirit has received from the mind of God through Christ.

All the remainder of Paul’s rhetorical questions, except two, applied to financial or physical support for Christians who teach and proclaim the word of God.  One of the other questions was about “the right to take a believing wife.”  I Cor. 9:5.  Paul was not saying he had changed his “mind-set” about marrying.  He did have freedom to change his mind but only according to the divine principle – the person should be a believer (I Cor. 7:39, 40; 6:14).

The other non-financial question is the nineteenth in the string; “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?”  His admonition for the church members was to “run in such way as to get the prize.”  I Cor. 9:24.  Although there are many in the race, there is a prize for each and every faithful Christian (Luke 18:28-30).  The prize for faithful Christians is our inheritance of the kingdom of God and eternal life in His kingdom (Jas. 1:12; 2:5; Rev. 21:7).

In our study, we are looking for the life principles of the kingdom of Jesus for citizens of God’s kingdom.  This is the content we bring to the “here and now.”  The life principles plus the graces “in Christ” have set us free from sin and death (Rom. 8:1, 2; I Pet. 2:16).  The life principles have eternal relevance; that is, they serve mankind in all places, times and events because they describe how and why we were created.   These principles are for Christians’ eternal life in the kingdom of God.  Religious people who do not learn these principles adopt rituals and laws – laws that belong in the category of the Law God gave to Moses.  Paul told the Galatians; “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Gal. 5:1.

Jesus has been given the rule over His Father’s kingdom to bring children to His and our Father (Eph. 5:5; Heb. 1:8, 9; 2:10).  Since Jesus’ kingdom functions as His body while the members are still “in Adam, in Christ,” we will look for principles with which we can make application to the “here and now” situations.  There is only one kingdom of God.  Jesus will turn the “heaven and earth” portion, the portion over which He has been given authority, back to God when He is revealed again (Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 15:24).

Introduction to the second part of this lesson

“Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living.”  I Cor. 9:1.  In the context of Luke’s narrative in Acts 18:1-4, Paul probably was asking: “Must I continue making these tents to support my physical needs while serving your spiritual needs?”  This was his “transitional tool” to move his task to make them think about his eighteen months evangelism effort with them.  The Corinthian church had not given one drachma for Paul and his co-workers’ support (II Cor. 11:7-12; 12:14-18).  After a few “warm up questions” about secular things, Paul moved them to Moses and the ox analogy.

“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” (KJV)  Deut. 25:4.  Paul asked, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned?”  I Cor. 9:9.  Paul did not risk letting his analogy of Moses’ command be subjected to misinterpretation.  He replaced the ox with a soldier, husbandman, shepherd, plowman, thresher and the temple priests (9:7-13).  Each of these represents a teacher or preacher working for the mission of our king (Luke 4:18, 19).  Our question should be; “What was all the fuss about?”

Had Paul failed to teach this principle during his eighteen month evangelism tour in Corinth?  No, he used rhetorical questions to move the church to verbalize what he, himself, had taught them.  They understood the principle about how people who sow spiritual seed have a right to material support from those who were receiving the “seed of the kingdom.”  Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11; I Cor. 9:11.  They understood about supporting preachers and teachers.  They were already making this principle their practice (I Cor. 9:12).  The Corinthian church was supporting some person.  It may have been one of the false apostles, or more likely, a member of the church who had been influenced by them (II Cor. 11:7-15).

Paul himself had refused to accept this right of material support from the Corinthian church.  We need to understand his motive for not receiving support while at the same time he was “beating the drum” so skillfully for the church to support the teachers and preachers among them.  Paul was an apostle who taught and preached God’s word (I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:11).  He qualified along with Barnabas to be excused from working for a living (I Cor. 9:6).  Many people in the world have made “not working” their life-long goal.  Several have found a way to attain their goal by getting into the religious business (II Cor. 2:17; II Pet. 2:1-3).  Paul, himself, told the new church members in Thessalonica “to work with their hands.”  I Thess. 4:11.  Furthermore, in his second letter he wrote, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”  II Thess. 3:10.  The Hebrew writer made the connection between laziness and the loss of salvation (Heb. 6:9-12).  Jesus linked laziness with wickedness (Matt. 25:26).

It is very easy for a young man to drop-out of formal schooling, memorize a few scriptures, learn to speak with enthusiasm, gather some followers and collect money from them each week.  Something of this nature was happening in the churches in Achaia.  However, instead of it being one of the Greek members who were not “wise by human standards,” it sounds more like a Jewish member of the church.  It could have been one of those who wanted to be considered equal with and perhaps more capable than Paul.  See II Cor. 10:10, 12, 17; 11:3, 4, 12.  It takes the kind of people who were opposing Paul in the foregoing scriptures to get control over a congregation of people in this manner (II Cor. 11:16-21).  Sadly, this kind of control is evident in churches that do not function as the body of Christ.  Jesus is the only head of God’s church (I Cor. 12:12-31).  Elders are His overseers – not preachers (I Pet. 5:1-4).  Deacons are His servants (I Tim. 3:8-10).

We may now understand why Paul said, “nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine.” II Cor. 11:10.  His boast was that he had never accepted material help from the churches in Achaia and he was not seeking it at the time he wrote (I Cor. 9:15).  This was one way he could cut the ground from under, perhaps, the very people who were receiving support (II Cor. 11:7-12).   There could have been other reasons but this would explain how in our text he is teaching the church to support those who can identify with the “ox” in his analogy; when, even though he qualified, he would not accept support.

Some of the other reasons could have been because of the emotions that had developed between him and some church members (II Cor. 6:11-13).  The collection he planned to “haul away” from Corinth for the poor saints in Jerusalem may have been a concern.  Some people could have been thinking this collection might wind up in Tarsus, his hometown, rather than Jerusalem.  Why did Paul say, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit?”  II Cor. 2:17.  Because many people in the first century were getting into the religious business of preaching.  Paul did not want to be classified with them.  Greed on the part of the evangelist has cause evangelism efforts to fail (I Thess. 2:1-5).

Lesson

There is a context in which God through Jesus via the Holy Spirit through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gave us the divine principle for supporting those who give their life fully to sowing spiritual seed in the minds and hearts of people.  Paul has embedded this divine principle in the context of what was happening in Corinth at the time he wrote these letters.

We will want to hear Paul’s explanation of what is meant by “give their life fully.”  Some may call it “full time preaching and teaching.”  In Paul’s last recorded letter to Timothy and perhaps his last letter, he explained the meaning of “full time.”  Preachers and teachers have a limited amount of time and energy.  The following shows how it should be allocated.

Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.  Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.  The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.  Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all of this.  II Tim. 2:3-7

Elders who teach and preach God’s word in the manner Paul did qualify to be supported so they don’t need to divide their time for secular work (I Tim. 5:17, 18).  Apostle and elder is an office.  Apostles are no longer used by Jesus to build God’s church.  Preaching and teaching are functions performed by members of the church.  When elders function in this manner full time as Paul did, they should be supported by the church over which they oversee if they have a financial need.  See my book entitled, Kingdom of God, Part V, Church Government, Lesson Thirteen.  It can be read on the Website http://www.whydidgodcreateyou.com.

The definition of what is “full time” should be understood by the one who is supported and those who are writing the support check out of the Lord’s bank account.  The money the church gives belongs to the Lord.  We sometimes hear people talk about the church’s money.  The church leaders are ministers of the Lord’s money to do the Lord’s work (II Cor. 8:19).  The Lord’s program should be set before the church in order for each member to develop a heart of love in their personal response to do it (II Cor. 8:10).  The administration of the money should be transparent (II Cor. 8:20, 21).  This applies to the support of preachers and teachers as well as benevolent programs.  There is no record of giving money before the program was explained to the givers.  The idea; “you give it on the first day of the week and we will spend it, or if the money is there we will decide on a program” is the wisdom of men.  The Corinthian letters were written to help Christians make use of the wisdom of God and avoid the weakness in the wisdom of man (I Cor. 1:25).

In the text of this lesson, Paul used himself in the context of what was going on in the Corinthian church to teach the principles about a Christian getting and the church giving material support.

  1. The person who accepts support should be willing to fulfill the role of the proverbial ox.  The field is the Lord’s and Christians are being added to it for the purpose of developing as sons of God (I Cor. 3:7-10).  It is not the teacher or the preacher’s church.
  2. The supported person’s living comes from the result of his work in the gospel.  If he has money, he doesn’t need support to live (maintain his family).  If he has income for his living, he doesn’t take support from the church (I Cor. 9:14-17).  Somehow the idea exists in some circles that if a sermon is presented the speaker should be paid.  Paul did not have anything of this nature in mind – in fact, just the opposite.
  3. A person can be recognized as a teacher or preacher without using the right of support the Lord has ordained (I Cor. 9:15).  Paul was still a preacher and a teacher because he was preaching and teaching, even though he refused support in Achaia.
  4. If a person is preaching, this puts upon this person the responsibility to preach.  It is nothing for him to boast about – it becomes his responsibility by choice.  Woe to him if he does not – and this with or without support (I Cor. 9:16, 17).  This can only be understood in context with what is a church?  A church is the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3-8).  It is formed by the people called out of Satan’s kingdom (Acts 26:18).  It is ruled by Christ but held together by what every joint supplies (Eph. 4:14-16).
  5. Each member can choose how he or she desires to function according to what is a church.  What is a church is described by Jesus Christ – not mankind.  After we choose how we desire to function in the body of Christ, “ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” (KJV) Eph 4:1.  The function in which a Christian selects to function is his or her choice of vocation or calling (NIV); therefore, they are called to do it worthily.  Woe unto them if they don’t.  This applies to teaching, preaching, serving, giving, leading and the other choices members have been given in which to function in the body (Rom. 12:3-8).  Paul accepted the role of one being sent (apostle).  This entailed preaching the gospel.  This became his vocation.  Support had absolutely nothing to do with his decision or responsibility to preach in a worthily manner.
  6. “What then is my reward?”  9:18.  This was his 18th rhetorical question.  Paul answered this one for us.  “Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it,” … Paul continues to proclaim his “claim to freedom” by choosing to make himself “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  He continued to talk about different categories of people he became “as one with” in order to save some.”  9:19-22.  In verse 23, he wrote, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  The reward of a preacher or teacher is not in the size of his salary.  His reward is in his spiritual growth in the culture of the kingdom he is preaching.  His spiritual growth came by choosing to accept his freedom and then by becoming a slave to the recipients of the gospel.  He shared in the blessings he proclaimed, because of the manner in which he preached.  “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”  I John 2:6.  Paul practised Jesus’ righteousness and this walk transformed him into “His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Cor. 3:18.
  7. Paul sacrificed his right of “not working for a living.”  He received some help by robbing other churches (II Cor. 11:8).  He did work with his hands but as he said, if it was not a labor of love it profited him nothing (I Cor. 13:2, 3).  By the loving way he preached, he became love.  Love is the likeness of God in Christians, a likeness that is brought to bear on our conscious world.  We show God to the world and we become “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Col. 1:27.

What is the principle by which a request for support can be made by a member to the church?  Asking for support may not be a valid request.  Making a presentation of a church member’s work who has been preaching and teaching is valid, according Moses’ ox principle.  A reverse order is more in line with the divine principle; that is, the church makes the decision to support.  The principle to support teachers and preachers is a valid principle; the church must decide who qualifies to fill the “ox” role.  This takes wisdom.  Divine wisdom is the discipline of applying Jesus’ truth to our life experiences.  Although a person may prepare himself to “sow spiritual seed” this is not the deciding factor for receiving support.  Preaching is not a position we train to fill.  It is not a vocation in the world sense.  Preachers do not ask for support based on what they plan to do; they may make request for support based on what they have already done – so they can do more service.

As Paul wrote, “If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward, if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.”  I Cor. 9:17.  This introduced the subject of motive for preaching and teaching.  If one’s motive has anything to do with “not working for a living” it is not in line with biblical principles.  If one’s motive is to be “the preacher,” as the term is often used, the motive is wrong because preaching and evangelism is the same work.

No, I beat my body daily and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Cor. 9:27

Question for Discussion

  1. Christians are free.  List three questions we need to answer before we choose to use our freedom.
  2. What is meant by hermeneutical work?
  3. Explain II Cor. 1:3-6 in relation to Paul’s declaration that the Corinthian church was a seal of his apostleship.
  4. What topic might a preacher and teacher expect to be discussed at our final judgment?
  5. What is different about the finish line of the race Christians run and the race athletes run?
  6. Where is the scripture found in the Bible that Paul quoted to secure support for preachers and teachers of God’s word?
  7. What did Paul do to make sure his “ox analogy” didn’t get interpreted as “be kind to animals?”
  8. Give a reason for believing the Corinthian church had understood Paul’s teaching about, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.”
  9. How might we understand Paul’s skillful and zealous effort to secure support for qualified preachers and teachers when at the same time he declared his intent to refuse support from the Corinthian church?
  10. Normally, we don’t hear of elders or teachers being supported by the church.  What may have blocked their being supported in the minds of Christians when the same scriptures apply to them as to preachers?
  11. Give Paul’s description of a “full time” preacher and teacher in II Tim. 2:3-7.
  12. What was Paul talking about when he said, “To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that?”  II Cor. 11:21.
  13. Please carefully read I Cor. 9:15-23.  This scripture presents the preacher’s or teacher’s view of the role of the proverbial “ox.”  Describe how they see this Christian’s role in the body of Christ.
  14. Why must we understand the Bible description of a church to understand the foregoing scriptures?
  15. How did Paul’s rhetorical question in verse 18, “What then is my reward?” get worked out in verses 15-23?
  16. Why was Paul so intent on his personal discipline?
  17. In I Cor. 9:21, Paul said he became as one with those who were not having the law; however, he was careful to say there was one law from which he was not free.  What was it?
  18. How much bearing does financial support have on a Christian’s choice of his or her function in the body of Christ?

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