Today’s Chocolate: Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 9
Here, at the end of the chapter, is another of Paul’s well-known metaphors, in which the Christian life is represented as a race or athletic contest. It requires discipline and long-term commitment, both training and grit, more than just a quick sinner’s prayer to use as a get-out-of-hell-free card. And I could easily skip right to Paul’s running metaphor and offer a few inspiring words of encouragement–the sort of thing you’ve heard before. But when I look at the metaphor in the context of the whole chapter, I’m faced with a question: why is Paul saying this stuff to the Corinthian church in the first place?
See, one of Paul’s key points with the running metaphor is that you run to win, and if you win, you get something for it. He explains: “[Athletes compete] to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (25, NIV). And he hits this same note throughout the passage. “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?” (7, NIV), he asks. Specifically, he’s arguing that he and Barnabas are entitled to material support for their ministry. He further cites the compensation of the Levitical priesthood to support his claim (v.13), and he makes an analogy based on the Torah’s requirement that oxen used for threshing grain be allowed to eat from the grain they work on (v.9). But here’s the kicker: he establishes his right to compensation only to decline it!
So why is he telling the Corinthians this stuff in the first place? Is he bragging about his level of self-denial, or trying to make the Corinthians feel guilty and inferior in order to establish a position of power over them? I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know exactly why Paul is pointing this out to the Corinthians. But I can take a guess.
As humans, we have make sacrifices: we can’t have it all, and we often have to give up one thing in order to get another. Even Jesus Christ, as a human being, had to make sacrifices. In another of his letters, Paul writes that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6), and the author of Hebrews (who may in fact have been Paul) states the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice: “[Jesus] for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). No one sacrifices just to be sacrificing. We sacrifice with a goal in mind.
And Paul tells us his goal in giving up his right to compensation. He asks, “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (18). He wants the gospel to be free. And he adds, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (23). The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has sacrificed himself to save us humans from our own self-destructiveness, and that he offers a way out of the death and evil we’ve mired ourselves in. Paul wants a part in that good news. And, to keep anyone from rejecting the gospel on the basis that it obligates them toward those who preached it to them, Paul himself refuses his due. Like Jesus Christ, he’s also willing to make sacrifices.
At least, that’s my best stab at Paul’s point. As far as I can tell, he also wants the Corinthian church to know that they ought to support other ministers and evangelists as a matter of course. Paul can only waive his own right; he can’t make others forego their own compensation. The church should support those who serve it, and the Corinthians should be willing to make financial sacrifices to support the spread of the gospel. We’ve all got to sacrifice–so let’s make sure our sacrifices are for something worthwhile.