My Reflections on 1 Corinthians 9: Giving Up Your Personal Rights for the Sake of the Gospel
Let me begin with a question: What is more important to you, your personal/spiritual/ministry rights, or the integrity and advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Now, don’t be so quick to say, “the integrity and advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Why do I say that?
The fact is, over several decades in the ministry I have discovered that there are not as many Christians and church leaders as you might think that walk the walk when it comes to laying aside their legitimate human and spiritual rights for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, many pastors preach it on Sundays, but in actuality, how they live is often quite different.
It is the fruit of the “professionalism” of Christian leadership, I would content. I know this sounds judgmental, but I write this with an honest heart, and a lot of inside church experience.
Well, this was the primary question facing Paul – would he fight for his personal and spiritual rights, or would he choose to lay them down for the integrity and advancement of the Gospel? Paul’s answer found in 1 Corinthians 9 is “yes,” and he lived it out in his ministry.
This morning I spent some time reflecting on the content and application of Paul’s answer and response in this challenging chapter.
Below are some of my thoughts:
The primary issue facing Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 was that certain church leaders in the city of Corinthian were questioning, accusing, and opposing Paul (1 Corinthians 9:3). It is quite funny. How could these latecomers to church leadership in Corinth question Paul? But, they did. They apparently wanted to build themselves up in Corinth by undercutting Paul.
Paul spends a good part of this chapter emphasizing that he is free in Christ (9:1), that the risen Christ had commissioned him as an apostle on the Damascus road (9:1), that he was the founding apostle of the Corinthian church (9:2), and he also provides a rather long list of personal and spiritual leadership rights that he could correctly claim were his.
In other words, he had authoritative rights!
Paul had the “right” to confront, attack, and start a huge fight with these want-to-be leaders, and would have likely won with no problems. How dare anyone question Paul’s apostolic calling and credentials! After all, he has rights! He could have decided to take a strong stubborn stand in defense of his personal rights, and blow-up the church in Corinth and leave it in ashes.
This is not how Paul responded.
His primary concern was not his personal reputation or rights, but the reputation, integrity, and advancement of the Gospel of Christ. He chose to endure all the accusations rather than put an obstacle in the way of Christ’s Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12). Paul said he would rather die than get robbed of his ability and grounds to boast in Christ (1 Corinthians 9:16).
He would rather preach the Gospel for free, than be accused of advancing the kingdom of God as a job (1 Corinthians 9:18).
Paul declared himself to be a servant – one without personal rights – so that he could lead anyone and everyone to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19).
So, let me end with the question I began with.
What is more important to you, your personal and spiritual rights, or the integrity and advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Don’t answer this question to fast. Think about it a while. And, may God’s grace help us all to follow the ministry example of Paul.
For this is the way of the kingdom of God, and blessed are those who find it and live it.