1 Corinthians 9–10: Rights & Others

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 13: Sunday

Let no one seek his own good, but that of the other person.
1 Corinthians 10:24 LSB

Sunday’s Bible reading is 1 Corinthians 9–10. Paul follows up his exhortation in chapter 8, on how the Corinthians should treat their weaker brother with a long discussion on how he handles his freedom and liberty and why.

The background of 1 Corinthians 8 is important to keep in mind in these next two chapter. The treatment of the weaker brother arose in the context of meat sacrificed to idols. In chapter 8, Leon Morris reminds us:

“Notice that there are two separate questions: the taking part in idol feasts [8:10], and the eating of meat bought in the shops [8:4, 8], but previously part of a sacrifice.”1

Paul told the Corinthians:

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1b LSB

In chapter 9, he continues to discuss Christian liberty as he writes about his own life:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
1 Corinthians 9:1 LSB

The Corinthians equated Christian liberty with asserting their rights. Paul, on the other hand, as Anthony Thiselton comments,

“Paul rejects the maxim about “knowing my rights” in favor of following his personal example of “foregoing my rights” (ch. 9 and 11:1).”2

Norman Hillyer writes:

“The principle of self-sacrifice brought out in ch. 8 is now illustrated from Paul’s own life. He lists his positions, all of which carry rights.”3

As an apostle Paul had the right to be supported in his work among the churches, but he did not assert it.

Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:12b LSB

This is in direct contrast to the Corinthians’ attitude. Paul goes on to say:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
1 Corinthians 9:19 LSB

Here Paul moves to another right. Hillyer explains:

“Paul has surrendered more than his right to personal subsis­tence. Though he is free from all men, i.e., in no sense bound by the standards or fashions of others, he is prepared to be a slave to all, and conform to their standards or fashions, providing no real principle is at stake, in order to win as many as possible to saving faith in Christ…

“To sum up [v. 22]: Paul is willing to become all things to all men (cf. 2 Cor.11:29). This does not mean that he will act in an unprincipled manner, or compromise on Christian principles; but he will sacrifice his own legitimate interests and preferences completely, if thereby he may save some..”4

In chapter 10 Paul uses Israel as an example to warn them. Hillyer comments:

“The Corinthians’ shallow view of Christian liberty (exposed in ch. 8) stemmed from their taking idolatry lightly; and this in turn (as Paul now explains) arose from misunderstanding the nature of Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are not charms. Even an apostle has to persevere in his Christian life (9:27). Paul illustrates his point from the OT.”5

Paul tell the Corinthians the purpose of these examples from Israel’s history for them (and us!):

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
1 Corinthians 10:6 LSB
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived.
1 Corinthians 10:11 LSB

Paul concludes with two Therefores. The first one is warning and encouragement:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:12–13 LSB

The second Therefore is the bottom line:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:14 LSB

Leon Morris write that in 1 Corinthians 10:14,

“Paul proceeds to the heart of the problem…As he had counselled them in vi. 18 to ‘flee fornication’, so now he says flee from idolatry.”6

He titles 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, “The incompatibilibity of Christian and idol feasts.”7 He writes, Paul

“will not dispute the contention of the Corinthians that an idol is not a god at all. But he will not agree that therefore idols can be safely treated as nothing more than so many blocks of wood and sote. The devils make use of men’s readiness to worship idols. Thus, when men sacrifice to idols, it cannot be said that they are engaging in some neutral activity that has no meaning…

“It is just not possible for  men to be participants both in Holy Communion and in idol feasts if they realize what they are doing. The Lord’s table reminds us that the Lord is the host at the sacrament. By parity of reasoning the table of devils indicates that there may be other hosts. But if a man accepts the Lord’s invitation he cannot in good conscience also accept the invitation of devils. If he is really in fellowship with the Lord he cannot also be in fellowship with devils…

“Paul has been assuming that the Corinthians do not realize the signifi­cance of taking part in idol feasts. He has accordingly explained it.”8

Paul finishes with practical instructions on buying meat (v. 25-26) and on eating meat at the homes of unbelievers (27-30). He concludes by saying:

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:31–33 LSB

Paul’s guiding principle throughout is:

Let no one seek his own good, but that of the other person.
1 Corinthians 10:24 LSB

We live in a time when not only unbelievers, but Christians speak loudly about “knowing my rights” with few following Paul in “foregoing my rights.” I want to F. F. Bruce’s words on Romans 13:

“Christian liberty is a precious thing, not to be limited by any man’s dictation, but it should not be asserted at the expense of Christian charity. Christ, his people’s supreme exemplar, always considered the interests of others before his own; there­fore his people, while subject to none in respect of their liberty, should be subject to all in respect of their charity.”9

The Corinthians were long on acting on behalf of their own interests and short on acting on behalf of others. It’s evident that many had a difficult time leaving behind their old habits from their days before they became Christians. This is one church that needed love defined for them. This in one church that also needed a lot of love! And Paul’s great love for them is underscored as he didn’t write them off; he kept writing, exhorting, warning, and teaching these recalcitrant believers.

As Paul used Israel as an example and warning for the Corinthians, so we should heed that example. We also have examples in the Corinthians and in Paul. The Corinthians show us how not to be, and Paul gives us a tireless and patient example of a man who hung in there and loved a group of people who were most unlovely, foregoing his rights and seeking their good. May God enable us to learn from His Word.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Helping Hand: Marine 69-71. (CC BY-SA 4.0). Cropped.
1,6,7,8Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Erdmanns Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI: 1958, 1976) 124, 144-145, 144, 147-148.
2Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapid MI: 2000) 607.
3,4,5Norman Hillyer, “1 Corinthians,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1062, 1063, 1065.
9F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 337.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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