Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Minister’s Right (1 Corinthians 9:3-12)

"Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?" (1 Cor. 9:7b)

Having proved his apostleship, Paul defends his right to be supported by the churches. Many people in that day, as in modern times, believed that those who have been called to serve the church should earn their own wages. This, however, is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, as Paul goes on to prove. But even in something as clear as being supported by the church, Paul did not enforce his right. For the sake of the Gospel, he did everything humanly possible to remove stumbling blocks out of the way of those who heard him preach. If his receiving support from the church would cause some to be prejudiced against the Gospel, he would forsake this right. Thus, Paul by a sacrificial example, showed how one should give up his own rights and liberties for the sake of others, not only in the eating of meat, but in receiving support.

Yet, despite Paul’s decision not to accept support from the church at Corinth, he did not back down from defending his right and the right of others in the ministry to receive support. Does a farmer not eat of his labor? Does a soldier go to war at his own expense? Of course not. Neither, then, should a minister toil at his own expense. He should eat the labor of his hands, which is the church. It is the church’s duty and privilege, therefore, to support those who have been called by God. To refuse to support ministers of the Gospel is to muzzle them, to inhibit them, to cause them to be hampered by the concerns of the world and be tempted to neglect the concerns of the church. Therefore, for the sake of the church it is right for ministers to be cared for, that they might be free to minister without the burden of worldly concerns.

The reception of support is the right of those who have been called, just as it is their right to become married if they wished. Paul emphasizes this fact in verses 5–6: “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” If Paul had wanted to marry, he had that right, but as in the case of eating meats and of support, Paul refused that right so he would have more freedom to proclaim the Gospel.

To what extent do you support your minister by giving to the church? Do you help support a minister or missionary of the Gospel in another capacity? Consider this teaching and give first to your own church and then to others in ministry. Encourage your children, teaching them early to give their own money.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Paul’s Divine Calling (1 Corinthians 9:1-2)

"Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1).

Paul leaves his discussion of conscience to defend his right as an apostle. He had just declared how he had given up his rights to eat meat for the sake of the weaker brethren. He goes on to say at the beginning of chapter 9 that as a Christian and an apostle, he is free to exercise, or not exercise, his rights as he wishes. Because he is free in Christ, he is not bound by the opinions of men, as he said earlier in the letter, but he is free to do what he wishes. That might involve giving up certain liberties so that he can be “all things to all men,” or it might involve his continuing commitment to serve Christ despite the challenges of those who do not believe him to be an apostle.

In verses 1–2, Paul again outlines what it means to be an apostle. This is important for him to emphasize because his apostleship means authority. If he had not been an apostle, the people in Corinth were not constrained to listen to him. But because he had been called by Christ Himself, he was an apostle. His calling was also affirmed by the conversion of those in Corinth, who had listened to his teaching and been converted by the power of the Spirit.

“There are three kinds of evidence of the apostleship,” Hodge wrote. “1. The immediate commission from Christ in the sight of witnesses, or otherwise confirmed. 2. Signs and wonders, and mighty deeds, 2 Cor. 12:12. 3. The success of their ministry. No man could be an apostle who had not seen the Lord Jesus after His resurrection, because that was one of the essential facts of which they were to be the witnesses, Acts 1:22. Neither could any man be an apostle who did not receive his knowledge of the gospel by immediate revelation from Christ, for the apostles were the witnesses also of His doctrines, Acts 1:8; 10:39; 22:15; Gal. 1:12.… The conversion of men is a divine work, and those by whom it is accomplished are thereby authenticated as divine messengers.” This, however, should not be abused. Sometimes people are converted despite the errors of preachers who have no true calling. But there are cases, as with the apostles, when the work was so profound and true that it evidenced their call.

According to the biblical definition of an apostle in the verses below, why are apostles no longer present in the church today? If we do not have apostles, how are the doctrines of Christ transmitted? What made the teachings of the apostles authoritative? In what ways do you submit to the authority of the Scriptures?

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Bound By Love (1 Corinthians 8:11-13)

"And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (1 Cor. 8:11).

The word “perish” in verse 11 means “guilt, condemnation, and perdition.” One might ask how a person “for whom Christ died” could perish. Does this verse contradict other passages that teach the perseverance of the saints? As in so many places in Scripture where a Christian is warned against falling into sin, warned against the consequences of being condemned, such verses are put in the context of the grand scheme of God’s design for redemption. Those He has chosen, those for whom Christ has died, will be saved. If there is a warning given, the means for salvation will be supplied. “God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end,” Hodge wrote. “If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means. It is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet in both cases the event is spoken of as conditional. There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of their perishing if they fall away. But this is precisely what God has promised to prevent.”

Paul’s terminology here has a twofold purpose. It emphasizes the seriousness of causing others to stumble (it can be compared with Jesus’ teaching that anyone who causes little ones to sin will perish), and it is designed to pierce the conscience of the knowledgeable believer. If Christ was willing to give up His life for those He loved, are you not willing to give up eating food sacrificed to idols? You must also consider that if you sin against a weaker brother by causing him to stumble, you sin against Christ Himself: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40).

Paul concludes by saying “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat.…” He did not want to cause another to sin or even to take offense: “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom. 14:21). Paul was not in bondage to a weaker conscience (which would be legalistic), but was bound by the law of love. He was therefore free to be conformed to the image of Christ who gave up His life for the church.

Paul’s decision not to eat meat does not imply that you can never exercise your liberties just because there might be someone who would be offended. It does mean, however, that love for another always comes first (Gal. 5:6). Is there someone in your sphere today to whom you should act in love rather than to use your liberties?

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Stumbling Blocks (1 Corinthians 8:9-10)

"But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak" (1 Cor 8:9).

Notice that in this chapter Paul is addressing the “knowledgeable” Corinthians. He does not speak at all to the weaker brethren. He does not exhort them at this point to attain right knowledge so they will not continue to think something is wrong when actually it is not. Instead, he spends his time addressing those who have all the facts right but are still behaving in a wrong manner.

In verses 9–13, he tries to impress his point as strongly as possible that there is no excuse for knowledgeable Christians to cause weaker brothers to stumble. Paul warns them not to allow their liberty to become an offense to those who are weak. “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?” Notice that the setting of this scenario is in public, “eating in an idol’s temple.” It does not matter how you use your liberty in private, for whether you eat food sacrificed to idols is not another’s concern, but what you do in public is of great consequence. This is an important point because while you must restrain your liberty for the sake of the weak, you must not come under the bondage of another’s conscience. For example, one believer may think it is wrong to drink alcohol and is deeply offended when anyone drinks. You may know this and never drink in his presence. If he should come to your home for dinner, you would not serve alcohol. If he went to a restaurant with your family, you would not order alcohol. However, you should not let the conscience of this believer bind you. When at home alone with your family, or in a situation where this person is not present, you may, if you want, drink alcohol. This does not flaunt your liberty because it cannot be a stumbling block to this other believer since he is not present.

As Paul emphasized at the beginning of this chapter, Christians must act in accordance with the law of love. That means putting others first. This does not mean we become enslaved to the rules of conduct they construct for themselves, but it does mean that we do everything we can to move any stumbling block out of their way (Rom. 14:21).

Do you, in any way, flaunt your liberty before a weaker brother or sister? If so, repent of that sin today and consciously put the concerns and fears of your brethren first. Do you have a friend or an associate in the church who continues to do something that offends you or causes you to stumble? If you have not talked to them about it, do so.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Weaker Brother (1 Corinthians 8:7-8)

"… and their conscience, being weak, is defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7).

The context here shows that the knowledge Paul wrote about is the knowledge that idols are nothing, that they have no power, that the pagan gods are imaginary beings. Even though weaker believers knew that there is only one God, they were still not fully persuaded that the gods of the heathen had no existence. Whenever they ate meat sacrificed to idols, they did not consider it ordinary meat, but a sacrifice, a part of a religious ceremony. They could not separate the meat from the idolatrous practice. When Paul says that they eat with “consciousness of the idol” or “conscience of the idol,” this means that their moral judgments and feelings were still influenced by the apprehension that the false gods might be real beings.

If weaker brothers who have this apprehension eat food sacrificed to idols, they eat it against their conscience. In their own minds, they are continuing to eat something that serves as a sacrifice, not ordinary meat. “A weak conscience is one which either regards as wrong what is not in fact so; or one which is not clear and decided in its judgments,” Hodge wrote. “According to the Scriptures, ‘whatever is not of faith is sin,’ Rom. 14:23; therefore whatever a man does, thinking it is wrong, or doubtful whether it be wrong or not, to him it is sin. Thus the man who eats an idol-sacrifice, uncertain whether he is doing right or not, defiles his conscience. The conscience is said to be defiled, either when it approves or cherishes sin, or when it is burdened by a sense of guilt. The latter form of pollution is that here intended. The man who acts in the way supposed feels guilty, and is really guilty.”

In light of the condition of our weaker brethren, and because food does not commend us to God, the strong should not be too hasty to flaunt their liberty. If meat were a matter of importance and necessity, if it really did commend us to God, then we would have reason to eat these sacrifices. But because it is a matter of indifference, we should not cause our brethren to be offended. Another way of saying verse eight is “Meat does not commend us to God; it makes us neither better nor worse; but take heed how you use your liberty.”

What are some things you do that may offend a weaker brother? What are some things which you may think are unlawful that others find to be lawful? Could you be wrong in thinking that those things are wrong? Ask God to give you more love for others and instruct your conscience in what is right.