1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 2. Paul’s Use of Liberty (9:1-9:27)
      1. A. The Pastor’s Rights (9:1-9:10)

Calvin (11/04/17)

9:1
The teacher ought to live such that his life exemplifies his doctrine. If we would subject others to a law, we must ourselves submit to that same law. Paul is now demonstrating from his own example that he does this very thing. What he asks of the knowledgeable Corinthians is a hard thing, but nothing harder than he has already done willingly, in particular by setting aside his right to wages for his work in the Gospel. This begins with a strong emphasis on his own liberty, which he rests firmly on his apostolic office. Surely, the apostle should live at least as well as others. This is emphasized so as to counter those who sought to smear him because of his less than extravagant lifestyle. One of the more regular charges laid against Paul was that his doctrine was from man, not God. This he now counters forcefully. He has seen Christ and received his doctrine from Him. “It was not a smaller privilege, however, to have seen Christ in his immortal glory, than to have seen him in the abasement of mortal flesh.” This is something he speaks of often. (1Co 15:8 – Last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. Ac 9:3-4 – As he journeyed to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground, hearing a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Ac 22:6 – It came about as I approached Damascus around noon, a very bright light suddenly flashed around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”) This is, then, an establishing of his call. This is followed by the evidence of effect. “He had gained over the Corinthians to the Lord by the gospel.” How are we to harmonize Paul’s claim of them as his work with his previous declaration that the planter is nothing (1Co 3:7 – Neither planter nor waterer is anything. God causes the growth)? Understand that God remains ever the efficient cause, and man but an instrument which can do nothing apart from Him. When comparing man and God, it is right that all glory go to God and man’s part reduce to nothing. But, when ministry is discussed without such comparison to God, that is to say in simple description of the work, the efficacy of the ministry is reasonably spoken of as such, and the glory still goes to God. “In other words, the question is not, what man himself accomplishes by his own power, but what God effects through his hands.”
9:2
This continues to address questions about Paul’s Apostleship which, he insists, ought not to be in question amongst them, whatever others may feel about it. For them to reject his Apostleship would be to announce themselves as unbelievers. The proof was in their faith. But, could not the false apostles make similar claims as they gathered disciples? “I answer, that pure doctrine is above all things required, in order that any one may have a confirmation of his ministry in the sight of God from its effect.” Successful deception by those others is no cause for congratulation. Granted, some spread the Gospel more in spite of themselves than because of intent. (Php 1:16-18 – Some do it out of love, knowing I am appointed to defend the gospel. Others proclaim Christ for selfish ambitions instead of pure motives, hoping only to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What of it? Either way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and I rejoice and will continue to rejoice in that!) This does not erode the basis of his claim. “The structure of the Corinthian Church was such, that the blessing of God could easily be seen shining forth in it, which ought to have served as a confirmation of Paul’s office.”
9:3
Paul veers somewhat to a defense of his office, but by way of making his point more firm. If the faith of the Corinthians was, as he has said, a signal proof of his apostleship, they could not assault his office without simultaneously assaulting their own faith. This comes as response to those who dispute Paul’s Apostleship. Some translate this as interrogate, but that is a term that points to criminal investigation. Calvin’s preference is examine, which merely questions the validity.
9:4
What rights derive from that office? Surely, he has right to food and clothing. Yet, Paul did not do so at the expense of the Church, instead paying his own way. “This, then, was one liberty he dispensed with.” Likewise, he forewent the right to have his wife, and her also supported at the Church’s expense. Eusebius suggests this as evidence Paul had a wife, but left her behind to reduce the burden on the Church, but the verse does not require such understanding. The same defense holds if he were unmarried, having foregone even the right of marriage to this same end. To honor this wife with the name of sister [as some translations do] reinforces the connection of husband and wife, as being doubly tied. From this we can infer that marriage is by no means detrimental to ministry, but rather a support. The general point, though, is that marriage is a right allowed to all. [This more properly addresses verse 5, but as it is set here, so it shall remain here.]
9:5-6
The practice of the other Apostles confirms this right. He amplifies his point by stages: The apostles generally, the brothers of Jesus, and finally Cephas himself, who had first place amongst the leadership by common consent. The brethren of the Lord referred to are James and John. (Gal 2:9 – Recognizing the grace given me, James, Cephas, and John, the reputed pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, sending us to the Gentiles as they served the circumcised.) This reflects a customary Scriptural terminology for those connected by relationship, even if not directly kin. That Peter should be acknowledged as leader is no basis for the office of pope. That he was first among the apostles is a necessity common to any societal organization. Somebody has to be in charge. The apostles of their own accord set Peter in that position due to the gifts of grace God gave him, but this does not establish him in a lordship. Far from it! “For while he was eminent among the others, still he was subject to them as his colleagues.” Even if we grant that Peter’s eminence extended to all the churches, this still says nothing as to the pope. “For as Matthias succeed Judas (Ac 1:26 – They drew lots, and it fell to Matthias, who was thereafter numbered with the eleven apostles), so some Judas might succeed Peter.” The history of the popes clearly demonstrates that this is not only possible, but often the case. [There follows a pleasantly snarky takedown of the celibate priesthood concept.]
9:7
Three examples are given in support of his right to support by the church for his ministry services. Soldiers, farmers, herders: None of these labor for free, but expect their upkeep as a result of their effort. Thus, the nature of life in general suggests the reasonableness and equity in a paid ministry. True, there are cases of soldiers serving without such upkeep, but the general experience is otherwise, and the example holds.
9:8-9
Lest it be supposed that these worldly examples don’t apply to the sacred, the testimony of Scripture is brought in to confirm the point. The idea of speaking as a man sometimes indicates a perverse judgment. (Ro 3:5 – If our unrighteousness demonstrates God’s righteousness, can we accuse Him of unrighteousness when he inflicts wrath? (I speak in human terms.)) Here, however, it simply indicates common understanding. He therefore brings forth the discussion of the threshing ox, and insists that this is not expressive of God’s concern for oxen, but rather intended to apply to man and his labors. But, why this verse when others would more readily have applied? (Dt 24:15a – You shall give the laborer his wages before the sun sets.) Paul’s choice is a more powerful image, and allows an argument from the lesser to the greater. If even an ox should be cared for, how much more the minister? This is not to suggest that God’s Providential care somehow excludes oxen. Rather, we know it even covers sparrows [ahem]. (Mt 6:26 – Birds do now sowing, reaping, or gathering, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more? Mt 10:29 – You can by two sparrows for a penny, yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.) Neither is this a call to allegorical interpretation, “as some hair-brained spirits take occasion from this to turn everything into allegories. Thus they turn dogs into men, trees into angels, and turn all of scripture into a laughing-stock.” Rather, take the simple point. Humanity shown toward your oxen is not so much for their sake as for yours, as even the oxen were created for your benefit. If then we have compassion on the oxen, surely we ought to have compassion on our fellow man. (Pr 12:10 – A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel.) It is a matter of equity. Do not defraud the workman. “For it is not the ox that has the principal part in plowing or treading out the corn, but man, by whose industry the ox himself is set to work.” Thus, in the next verse, Paul’s thoughts move from ox to the plowman who guides the ox.
9:10
There is some textual debate here, as to whether the second hope of the thresher is to be included. (The thresher ought to thresh in hope of partaking of the fruits of his hope, or words to that effect.) The sum of this is that it would be unjust to expect the laborer to labor to no purpose, having no hope of receiving the fruit of his labors. The laborer partakes of his hope when he enjoys the produce of his work.
 

Matthew Henry (11/05/17)

9:1
Paul hit opposition both from outside the church and inside. There were those in Corinth who questioned his apostolic authority, and here he offers his answer. In the course of his answer he also displays his own actions ‘as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter’. He asserts his apostolic mission. His mention of seeing Jesus covers the requirement of witnessing His resurrection. [(Ac 1:21-22 – It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us – beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken from us – one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.) This is an interesting take. It suggests the criteria was not so much the shared experience of those years, but the capacity to be eyewitness of His resurrection. But if that’s the case, what are the other ‘great branch’ requirements that Matthew proposes?] He may not have been there for the empty tomb, but he had seen Him post-Ascension. (1Co 4:8 – You are already filled, have already become rich. You have become kings without us, and would that you had in fact become kings, so that we might reign with you.) On the basis of this commission, he insists he has the same rights to make claims upon them for his sustenance as do any of the apostles. “It was not because he had no right to live of the gospel that he maintained himself with his own hands, but for other reason.” Alongside the commission, the fruit of his efforts demonstrates the validity of his charter.
9:2
Then comes a rebuke. Whatever others may think, you should know better. You, more than any, ought to honor my character. This church, more than most, had cause to acknowledge his apostolic mission, as he had been so instrumental in their faith in Christ. (Ac 18:10-11“For I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” And he settled there a year and a half, teaching the word of God among them.) This, then, was ‘aggravated ingratitude’ on their part.
9:3
Herein we have Paul’s answer to those who question his authority. It begins with authority to obtain maintenance from the church, as well as the right to spousal support.
9:4-5
Paul was single, but nothing prevented him marrying and then to expect that her maintenance as well as his would come of his ministerial service. Whether Barnabas was married is uncertain, but certainly some of the apostles were. This cannot mean anything else than to refer to wives, for none of the apostles would be traveling with a woman not their wife, nor were any of them in position to have servants, male or female traveling with them. There is an unwritten implication that if he had children, they too could require the support of the church.
9:6
The sum of this is that material support was his due as an apostle. [Is Barnabas here included as an apostle, or simply a minister of the gospel? Where is the distinction to be made?]
9:7
Paul brings forth examples from life to support his argument. Nobody labors for free. They do so to get a livelihood. The minister is no different.
9:8
Mosaic Law supports his view as well. This is not just common practice, it is ‘consonant to the old law’.
9:9
There we find the ox is to be allowed to eat as he treads the corn, but as Paul writes, this was not primarily concern for the ox. It was ‘to teach mankind that all due encouragement should be given to those who are employed by us’.
9:10
“Those that lay themselves out to do our souls good should not have their mouths muzzled, but have food provided for them.”
 

Adam Clarke (11/06/17)

9:1
Clearly, Paul faced questions as to his apostleship, and even his willingness to serve that office gratis, rather than being appreciated, was raised as reason to doubt his office. The basis, apparently, was that all prior prophets, and all divinely appointed men got their support by their ministry, ergo if he did not, he must not be a true apostle. But, Paul, asserts, he is free, and received his commission direct from the risen Lord. “This was judged essentially necessary to constitute an apostle.” (Ac 22:14-15 – The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Ac 26:16-18 – But arise. Stand on your feet. For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jews and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.) Their conversion was proof of his authority. Clarke finds no cause to reverse the sequence of questions such that that of being free precedes that of the apostle, as being an apostle gave him the freedom to which he refers.
9:2
Other apostles may have established other churches, but Corinth had its founding by Paul. His argument is this: “Had not God sent me, I could not have profited your souls.” The seal is as a signet ring, used to confirm the authenticity of a letter. Grace, and the influence of God were the sole reason for his apostleship, and as such, the sole reason for their conversion.
9:3
This presents a forensic defense, as if he were on trial. It points back to the preceding verses.
9:4
It is just that those who labor for the Gospel make a living thereby. They seek not wealth, but ask only a living, necessary provision. Their work was described as the cure of souls, whether we take that in the cura sense of caring for their charges, or in the stronger sense of curing spiritual disease as a spiritual physician, the laborer is worthy of his hire. “He that preaches the Gospel should live by the Gospel.”
9:5
The right or power is exousian, the same term as is used in verse 4. It is a right, authority. That authority is more than official authority. It derives “from Him who gave them that office; from the constitution of nature; and from universal propriety or the fitness of things.” Here we see clear permit for a married clergy. We know Peter was married, and this indicates that James and Jude were also married. Peter, after all, could not have a mother-in-law without a wife. That he calls them also sisters indicates their like faith. So much for the celibate clergy as a requirement. The supposition that these were but holy attendant women cannot stand. It would have inevitably led to scandal, deserved or not. [Think Dan Brown’s inane Mary Magdalen theory.] These wives served as fellow ministers to the apostles, who discipled the women of the families, as per Clemens Alexandrinus.
9:6
Paul’s points here indicate that other apostles did not take second jobs to support themselves, but Paul and Barnabas did. Others may not have had so convenient a trade by which to do so. A tentmaker can work wherever. A fisherman, not so much.
9:7
Common sense confirms the godly in this regard. Clarke suggests that the soldierly image particularly suits Paul’s case, because the Roman soldier was not paid solely in money, but also in food.
9:8
Now, Paul brings confirmation that God also speaks to the same end.
9:9
He refers to Deuteronomy 25:4. Paul’s line of argument here is that God is hardly likely to take such care for the comfort of an ox and then have a disregard for man. “In this divine precept the kindness and providential care of God are very forcibly pointed out.” Interestingly, Clarke argues from this that God could no more reprobate a man than an ox. The reasoning, I have to say, is shockingly weak. To whit: “The decree of reprobation is supposed to be from all eternity; and certainly a man can no more sin before he exists, than an ox can when he exists.” [Having thoughts of the Pentateuch before me, it’s hard not to be aware of the various provisions made for reprobating an ox, for all intents and purposes, because it had effectively ‘sinned’ against man.]
9:10
The question returns as to the thresher partaking, or partaking in hope. The argument is against including the last clause, as one does not hope to partake of hope, but of hope’s object.
 

Barnes' Notes (11/06/17-11/08/17)

9:1
Questions about Paul’s apostleship most likely hinged upon the impossibility of his having seen the Lord Jesus, being not a witness of his life, death, and doctrine. Paul’s claim of liberty is twofold; first that of all Christians, then also that of being an apostle. The latter refers to his rights to abstain from labor, and to enjoy the same domestic relations as anybody else, with them likewise supported. Thus, it seems some of the objections against Paul arose from his laying aside of those rights. By asserting that he has in fact seen Jesus Christ, Paul confirms the necessary prerequisite of the apostle. Acts 1:21-22 make this an explicit requirement, encompassing in that requirement ‘the life, doctrines, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus’. This defines the UNIQUENESS of the office: That they were in fact eye-witnesses. (Mt 28:18-19 – All authority has been given Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. Lk 24:48 – You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. Ac 1:21-22 – It is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us – from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us – one should become witness with us of His resurrection. Ac 2:32 – This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Ac 10:39-41 – We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.) Paul had this qualification, but from the Ascended Christ. (Ac 9:3-5 – As he journeyed toward Damascus a sudden light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He answered, “Who are You, Lord?” And He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Ac 9:17 – Ananias entered the house and laid hands on him, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”) Paul makes frequent appeal to this fact, precisely because it was NECESSARY to have SEEN the Lord to qualify for office. (Ac 22:14-15 – The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see His Righteous One, to hear from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Ac 26:16 – Arise. Stand up. For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things you have seen, but also to those in which I will appear to you. 1Co 15:8 – And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.) No one could be an Apostle without having seen the Lord. Ergo, there could be no successor apostles. Their office was unique, and must have both commenced with them and ended with them. Their faith authenticated his claim. “God would not give his sanction to an imposter, and a false pretender.” “One of the best of all arguments that a man is sent from God exists where multitudes of souls are converted from sin, and turned to holiness, by his labors.” What better credential could there be?
9:2
The Corinthians, more than any others, had cause to be sure of his office, given their experience of his long labor among them. How could they doubt his commission, and that on so thin a basis as his declining to take his support from them? Paul’s words here are strong. He is not presenting their faith as furnishing some evidence, but as being absolute proof. A seal is, after all, indisputable [which is well to remember with regard to the Holy Spirit’s work with us!] Paul claimed the office before them as he ministered there, and God clearly blessed his claim. Man could not achieve their conversion. It required God, and He had done so: Further proof that Paul was sent by him. They knew not only his doctrine but his example. They knew that he was what he taught.
9:3
Paul’s answer is his apologia. (Ac 22:1 – Hear my defense... Ac 25:16 – I answered that it is not Roman custom to hand over the accused before he has opportunity to defend himself. 2Co 7:11 – See what earnestness this godly sorrow has produced in you: What vindication of yourself, what indignation, fear, long, and zeal; what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrate your innocence in the matter. Php 1:7 – It is only right I should feel this way about you, since I have you in my heart because both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are partakers of grace with me. Php 1:17 – The former proclaim Christ for selfish ambition rather than pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 2Ti 4:16 – At my first defense nobody supported me. All deserted me. Let it not be counted against them. 1Pe 3:15 – Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, ever ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you with gentleness and reverence.) It is a forensic defense against forensic charges from those who sit in judgment of him, as investigating his claimed apostleship. (Lk 23:14 – You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and having examined Him before you, I find no guilt in him regarding these charges. Ac 4:9-10 – If we are on trial today for helping a sick man and how it is he has been made well, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by His name this man stands before you in good health. Ac 12:19a – When Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards, ordering them executed. Ac 24:8 – By examining him yourself about these matters, you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.) This does not necessitate an understanding that Paul had previously given such defense, only that he does so now. It points to what follows in the next 3 verses.
9:4
First, that he had not demanded his right to maintenance did not in any way alter the fact that he had said right. He did not refuse it from some conscience issue due to being undeserving. The form of the question expects an affirmative answer. The accusation had its basis, apparently, in their habit of working to support themselves. (Ac 18:3 – Because they were of the same trade, he stayed with them to work; for they were tent-makers.) Pagan priests and Jewish both claimed their support. Paul’s answer insists that their logic is faulty. His labors do not indicate a lack of right, only a lack of demand. The proof of his right comes later in the chapter.
9:5
Now, the objection turns to marital status. Others had their wives with them, and the support of the ministry for their wives as well. Again, the logic doesn’t hold. Lack of a wife does not alter the right to the support of a wife, or his right to marry a believing woman. “A wife [...] should be a Christian, and regarded as sustaining the relation of a Christian sister.” Should an apostle have a wife, she surely ought to be a Christian. Such should be assumed to be the case. (1Co 3:11 – No man can lay any other foundation than has been laid: Jesus Christ.) If married apostles were right, which they clearly were, then married ministers can hardly be a problem. “It is safer to follow the example of the apostles than the opinions of the papal church.” They may have traveled with their wives for a number of reasons: as ministers to the women, for simple companionship and support. Paul’s assertion is that while he could do so, he opted not to, so as to present the Gospel without charge. (1Co 9:18 – What is my reward? That when I preach the gospel, I may offer it without charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.) Clearly, minister and missionary alike may marry. Yet some can serve better without being married, and there are circumstances which would advocate against it, particularly as concerns missionary efforts. (Mt 13:55 – Isn’t this the carpenter’s son, and His mother Mary? Aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Jn 7:5 – Not even His brothers were believing in Him. Mk 3:21 – Then went to take custody of Him, convinced He had lost His senses.) Apparently, they later became converts and ministers of the Gospel. And they, too, were married. It is beyond question that Peter was married. This passage adds the evidence of his having his wife still when an apostle, and that she went with him in his travels. Ergo, it is right and proper now for ministers and missionaries to be married.
9:6
We return to the matter of work. The inference of the accusers was that they worked for knowledge of having no claim to support. Again, the question expects the affirmative. Of course they had the right. Their efforts for ministry were of far more power for evidence than could be a demand of support. (1Co 9:12 – If others share the right of you, don’t we have greater right? Yet we didn’t use it, choosing to endure all things so as to be no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.) What caused this opposition to Paul is unclear, whether it was jealousy on the part of the Judaizers or some other matter. Whatever the source, “That must have been a bad cause which was sustained by such an argument.”
9:7
The remainder of the chapter gives demonstration of the rights ministers have to be supported, and the reason for Paul’s choice not to avail himself of that support. Here, we have an argument from nature, as it were. A soldier serves for his wages, and Christian ministry is readily compared to warfare, with the minister as soldier. (1Ti 1:18 – I entrust this command to you in accordance with the prophecies made about you, that by these commands you may fight the good fight.) “The work of the ministry is as arduous, and as self-denying, and perhaps as dangerous, as the work of a soldier.” If the soldier deserves his wages for violent defense of country, the minister surely deserves his own for the spiritual defense of same. (Ro 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 2Co 11:8 – I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you. Lk 3:14 – The soldiers asked, “What are we to do?” He told them, “Do no violence to any man, nor accuse falsely. Be content with your wages.”) The church is often spoken of as a vineyard, which makes Paul’s choice of the vineyard worker as example more beautiful yet. (Isa 5:1-4 – Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill, and He dug it all around, removed its stones, planted choicest vines, and built a tower in the middle of it. He hewed out a wine vat, as well. He expected it would produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. Now, then, Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge: What more was there to do for My vineyard than I have done? Why did it produce worthless grapes when I had expected good?) The term poimainei addresses not merely feeding the flock, but also guarding and defending it. The shepherd did get paid in cash alone, but also in milk from the flock. Here, again, we see Paul use terminology often applied to the church. (Ps 23:2 – He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.) The minister labors hard for the comfort and safety of the flock, and has every reason to expect support from them. “He lives to instruct the ignorant; to warn and secure those who are in danger; to guide the perplexed; to reclaim the wandering; to comfort the afflicted; to bind up the broken in heart; to attend on the sick; to be an example and an instructor to the young; and to be a counsellor and set a pattern to all.”
9:8
Paul turns to the Scriptures, to address the Jewish complainants on their preferred terms. The equitable nature of his examples is shown to build upon Scriptural principles. He is not suggesting that Mosaic Law had Christian ministry in view when it addresses the ox, but that the same principle established there applies. If God cares this much for a brute animal, much more so does He care for those who minister in His name.
9:9
The reference is to Deuteronomy 25:4. If the ox was entitled to have its support from the field in which it labored, God’s concern should certainly apply the more to the man who joins that labor. Treading the grain was a common means of threshing. Paul is not implying that God does not in fact care for oxen, but that His concern is not solely for the oxen. He does not suggest that the passage has reference to something other than the oxen it mentions, but that the principle established for the animal surely extends to the man.
9:10
We cannot suppose that the ‘altogether’ of this verse means the passage had nothing at all to do with oxen, which would stand in contradiction to the Law. Paul’s argument has no need of such an interpretation, nor does pantoos necessitate such an extensive scope. It can readily accept the translation of ‘chiefly’, or ‘principally’. (Lk 4:23No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard was done in Capernaum, do here as well.” Ac 28:4Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.) In similar sense, the principle of allowing the oxen its food from the crop no doubt applies to the present case. It is a principle defined by God’s humane nature. Labor ought to be done in hope of its produce. (2Ti 2:6 – The hard working farmer ought to be the first to have his share of the crops.)
 

Wycliffe (11/05/17)

9:1-3
This is not diverging from his topic, but presenting an illustration of the principles just established. He also has Christian liberty, and adds the rights of an apostle to the general set. Certainly, he could claim his support from those to whom he preached, but he refused to exercise that claim. “Such a decision demanded personal discipline and privation.” The lesson he sets forth here is to apply to their behavior in regard to the meat sacrificed to idols. While most texts present his claim of apostleship before that of freedom, some reverse it, including many of ‘the leading manuscripts’. This gives a reasonable flow from the last section, moving from general Christian liberty to apostolic claims, and then to the assertion of his qualifications: Having seen the risen Lord. He adds their own faith as a seal of approval upon his office, evidence of the fact. “They were the guarantee of spiritual fruit in his labors among them.” (1Co 3:5-7 – What is Apollos or Paul? We are just servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave us opportunity. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. So, neither the planter nor the waterer is anything, but God who causes the growth.) The reference to those who questioned his office points us backward to these first three verses, not forward to what follows. [If I am reading this right, they suggest that his defense consists in verses 1b-2, which is to say, his eye-witness of the risen Christ, and the effectual nature of his mission.]
9:4
Authority of office established, he turns to the right of support which derives from that office. (1Co 8:9 – Take care lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak.) This is the same term translated as right in this verse. The point of reference, however, has shifted from idol meats, to food and drink more generally.
9:5-6
Paul provides five bases for his rights. First, the example of others in like position. This includes those brothers of Christ who had not believed during His ministry years, but were now missionaries themselves. (Jn 7:5 – Not even His brothers were believing in Him. Mt 13:55 – Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary His mother, and His brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?) Explicit mention of Peter’s wife would make it hard to insist on a celibate pope, were one to accept Peter as the first pope, which we do not accept. (Mt 8:14 – When Jesus came to Peter’s house, He saw his mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever.)
9:7
The second basis is found in common experience. Soldier, vineyard worker, or shepherd; none works but that they expect their support from it.
9:8-10
Scripture is brought forth as the third basis. (Dt 25:4 – Don’t muzzle the ox while he is threshing.) Paul applies this to the ministerial right of maintenance. Paul’s use of this passage has often led to an impugning of his work, seeming to disdain the literal sense of the passage chosen. But, Paul does not reject the literal sense, only claims a deeper significance attaches. “Both senses, the literal and the allegorical (both are spiritual senses), are found in this passage.” That God is not primarily concerned for the animal does not mean he is unconcerned for them, only that His emphasis is elsewhere to be found. His care for animals is sufficiently attested. (Ps 104:14 – He causes grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth. Ps 104:21 – The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. Ps 104:27 – They all wait for Thee, to give them their food in due season. Mt 6:26 – Look at the birds. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth far more?) Martin Luther pushes this harder, insisting the Deuteronomy passage is entirely for our sakes, given that oxen can’t read.

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (11/08/17-11/09/17)

9:1
The claim of liberty alludes to 1Co 8:9 – Take care lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. Paul’s liberty is greater, encompassing not only the general liberties of the Christian, but also those of the Apostle. Paul’s claim to have seen Jesus is not a claim of mere vision, but of corporeal experience. (1Co 15:8 – Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me.) The claim is to bodily appearance. (Ac 9:7 – The men with him were speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Ac 9:17 – Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ac 22:17-18 – While in Jerusalem, I was praying in the temple and fell into a trance. I saw Him saying to me, “Make hast! Get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not accept your testimony about Me.”) The last was vision, the previous was physical, as required for the apostolic function. (Ac 1:22 – Beginning with John’s baptism, right to the day He was taken up from us, so as to become a witness with us of His resurrection.)
9:2
They were converts by his preaching, and had their gifts by his efforts. (2Co 12:12 – The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 1Co 1:7 – So you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jn 3:33 – He who has received His witness has set his seal to this: God is True.)
9:3
The Corinthians are his answer to his examiners.
9:4
Surely Paul could claim the same liberties they did. He certainly had right to be free of other labors, and to eat and drink at their expense. The charge against him was that he abstained as a matter of conscience, knowing he did not in fact have the right. (2Co 12:13-16 – In what respect were you treated less well than other churches, aside from me not becoming a burden to you? Forgive me! Here I am, ready to come to you this third time, and still I will not be a burden to you, for I am not after what is yours. I am after you! Children are not responsible to save up for their parents. Parents save up for their children. I will gladly be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? Be that as it may. I did not burden you myself, nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.)
9:5
Faith makes all believers brothers and sisters. Paul’s choice of celibacy was both for expediency and expense to the church. (1Co 7:26 – In view of the present distress, I think it best for a man to remain as he is. 1Co 7:32 – I want you free of concern. One who is unmarried concerns himself with the things of the Lord and how to please Him. 1Co 7:35 – I say this for your benefit, not to put a restraint on you. I say it to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.) The Corinthian’s use of liberty, on the other hand was self-serving and destructive. (1Co 8). We know Peter was married, and from this it appears others were as well. As to the brothers of our lord, these were probably cousins, in keeping with Jewish usage of the term brothers, and as such, sons of Mary’s sisters Cleopas and Maria. Peter, being as he was so highly regarded by certain of the Corinthian sects, is given particular mention here.
9:6
Barnabas followed the same course, remaining single, and supporting himself by making tents as they pursued their greater mission. (Ac 18:3 – Because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them where they were working. Ac 20:34 – You know how I labored to provide for myself and those with me. 2Th 3:8 – We ate no man’s bread without paying for it. With labor and hardship we worked night and day so as to be no burden to you.)
9:7
“The minister is spiritually a soldier, a vine-dresser, and a shepherd.” (2Ti 2:3 – Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 1Co 3:6 – I planted, Apollos watered, God caused growth. SS 1:6 – Don’t stare at me for my dark skin. The sun has burnt me. My mother’s sons were angry with me. They made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard. 1Pe 5:2-4 – Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not as compelled to do so, but voluntarily pursuing the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not lording it over your charges, but proving examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.)
9:8
Paul’s views bear the sanction of divine law.
9:9
Eastern harvesting practices don’t just carry the sheaves to the barn as we might, but rather thresh them in the open, using oxen or threshing instruments. (Mic 4:13 – Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, for your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverize many peoples, and devote to the LORD their unjust gain, and their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.) Yes, God cares for animals. (Ps 36:6 – Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God. Thy judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast. Mt 10:29 – You can buy two sparrows for a penny, yet not one will fall to the ground apart from your Father.) This, however, is not the ultimate aim. Man’s welfare as the head of creation is.
9:10
The quoted law is clearly not solely for our benefit, but it is ultimately so. Ministers ought not ever have to labor gratis. “’He that ploweth’ is the first planter of a church; ‘he that thrasheth,’ the minister who tends a church already planted.”
 

New Thoughts (11/09/17-11/16/17)

Apostolic Requirements (11/11/17)

I don’t think we can read this chapter without recognizing that Paul is, at least in part, presenting his credentials, as it were.  He says as much.  “This is my defense to those who examine me” (v3).  Whether this points back to the first few verses or forward to the next few, something in here is a defense of his authority to speak as an apostle, and to be recognized as an apostle.  This is not the only place he makes such defense.  In fact, it is almost a regular feature of his writings that he does so.  That alone ought to give us pause as regards the title.  If he had to work so hard to validate his own authority, how hard ought we to make it on those who seek to claim the apostolic mantel today?

This has ever been a problem in the church, it would seem.  We get some inkling of it with the Corinthians and their issues.  If Paul’s apostolic authority was being questioned, there were two likely reasons.  The first would be a sort of Jewish jealousy arising from those who sought to insist on the continuation of Judaic practices amongst the Christians.  These, if they did not claim apostolic authority themselves, asserted Peter’s authority, in spite of contradicting his teaching.  The other possibility is that there were those who, for the gifts they felt they had, and for the ego they assuredly had, promoted themselves as apostles in their own right.  Perhaps they’d had a dream or a vision.  Perhaps they had nothing much more than an idea they wanted to promote, and thought rather too much of themselves for having had the idea.  Whatever the cause, it is clear that Paul’s authority to correct was being undermined, as it were, in advance.

Paul may have had the greatest challenge amongst the Apostles so far as defending his office, but he was hardly the only one facing false apostles.  We see John, addressing the church in Ephesus after Paul’s demise.  He gives them a letter from Christ Himself, a direct address, an Apostolic message.  “You put all those who call themselves apostles and are not to the test, and recognized them as false” (Rev 2:2b).  They, apparently, took it pretty seriously.  This is, after all, said by way of encouraging what they’ve gotten right.  For our part, we dare not fly by this as a minor detail.  It is hardly minor!  In plain point of fact, it ought to convince us of the seriousness of claiming that title, and ought to have us seeking to discern how they would distinguish false from true.

I should think that the church in Ephesus, and in Corinth, and in Galatia, had greater reason to admit the possibility of an apostolic claim than we do.  At least they had met clearly acknowledged Apostles.  They had personal memory of Paul, of John, quite probably of Peter.  But, on what basis did these Ephesians discern the true from the false?  Was it simply an assay of doctrine?  That would seem a reasonable idea, but it would also seem a risky one.  Shall we reject the apostle simply because we have some doctrinal differences?  On what basis shall we determine which of us was correct?  After all, as that office is described in Scripture, the Apostle is an authorized imparter of Scripture.  How shall we correct the author?  This, in the end, cannot be the basis for validation.  It can, and in fact MUST be, a reason to make certain of that validation.

So, what does Scripture have to say about that office?  We might find some sense of it in Paul’s approach to defense of his own position, but as far as this passage is concerned, we would first have to decide whether the defense consisted in the first two verses, or in verses 4-7.  So, let’s start elsewhere.  If we are going to determine what qualifications are necessary prerequisites for the Apostle, we would have to start with the original twelve.  For these, the sole prerequisite we see is that Jesus named them to office.  This detail is given us in Luke 6:13.  He chose the twelve, and named them as apostles.  Now, we might look at this and say that Luke was choosing his words to help bolster the claims of his friend Paul.  But, consider Matthew’s much simpler declaration.  “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these” (Mt 10:2a).  He may not be telling us on what basis, but then again, perhaps he does.  After listing the twelve, he says this:  “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them” (Mt 10:5a).

I see two major points to take from Matthew’s accounting, particularly bearing in mind that he was an accountant of sorts, being the tax collector he was.  He specifically, and repeatedly, indicates that there were twelve apostles – no more, no less.  He does not suggest that these were twelve out of some larger group.  No, they are the twelve apostles.  There are no others.  Whatever we may say of the seventy of Luke 10, they are not the twelve.  They are ‘seventy others’, appointed by the Lord, yes, but not declared apostles.  Nor are we given cause to suppose some unstated assigning of office on their part.  They were sent, yes, but on a specific mission of specific duration.  Hold that thought, because it points to the second item from Matthew’s description.

That second point is that Jesus sent them out.  Now, as you can see from what I just said of the seventy, they were not the only ones that Jesus sent out.  Yet that factor cannot be minimized on their part.  That others were sent out does not eliminate the necessity of Christ’s sending as part of their official sanction.  Put differently, there can be no Apostle that Christ did not send.

I’m actually going to take a third point from Matthew’s description, because it must shape our understanding of what the Apostles were saying in Jerusalem as they sought to discern the leading of the Spirit in replacing Judas.  Let’s look at that, since it is the single, most often cited criteria we have for that office.  “It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us — beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us —  one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Ac 1:21-22).

Now, here’s the question:  What is actually required by this statement?  I have generally read that as indicating that to be an Apostle, one had to have been there from the day John baptized Jesus to the day of His Ascension.  That is to say, one had to have been a part of those three years that Jesus was ministering live and in person.  If that were the case, though, not only would we need to disqualify Paul, who came after the Ascension, but we would also have to discount Matthew, and several others of the twelve.  We would have, I think, four Apostles, and that would be it.  It becomes clear, then, that participation in those three years is not, in fact, the qualification Peter is suggesting, but rather defines the pool of men he thought they ought to consider as possible candidates.

Well, then, what was the criteria?  Because, if this wasn’t it, aren’t we opening the potential for a continued office today?  I think not.  I think we find the criteria not in the first half of verse 22, but rather in the second.  Whether, then, that man was present from the start or not, he must have one qualification:  He must be able to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection.  This, I would maintain, could not be met by having had a vision of Christ, or hearing voices.  Dreams will not meet the requirement.  Impressions will not suffice.  To put it in present day perspective.  If you have somebody on the Internet, or in the pulpit for that matter, claiming to be an apostle, on what basis do they make the claim?  Is it because somebody else who claims the title said so?  Not good enough.  Is it because they have a message from God, imparted by dream, by vision, by whatever means?  Not good enough!  Do you see anything here that says, “The Apostle must have a personal revelation from Christ?”  I think there actually is cause to insist on that, but not as a qualification.  The qualification is this:  He must be able to testify to the reality of the risen Christ.  This he cannot do without having personally encountered the risen Christ – in physical form.

This he cannot do without also having encountered the incarnate Christ, the pre-Crucifixion Christ.  Why do I say this?  I’ll put it very simply.  If you meet somebody who claims to have been pulled from the grave three days after interment, what cause have you to believe him?  You’ve never met him before.  You are far more likely to assess this man as a loony than to accept his testimony as valid.  In order to be believable, you would at the very least need to have known him before his interment, so as to be able to discern the physical resemblance.  Think of Thomas.  “Unless I poke my fingers in the holes, I’m not buying it.”  I’ve got news for you.  You would almost certainly have wanted the same proof!  More, remains though:  You would have to have been aware of this person’s confirmed death and burial.

Here, we have sufficient reason to think Paul would have known of Jesus, and probably even seen Him around Jerusalem that last week.  Why wouldn’t he?  Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem was quite a scene.  If he was in town, which we can safely assume he was, it being Passover week, and he a Pharisee of Pharisees, he certainly heard about Jesus, almost as certainly encountered Him at the temple, and absolutely was aware of His crucifixion.  He may not have been out there with the others spitting on Jesus, but he certainly knew what had happened.  So, he’s got two out of three.  It’s that third one that gets tricky.  And notice:  It’s the third one he presents as defense here.  “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

Oh, you say, but Jesus was already ascended, and besides Paul was blinded out there on the road.  How could he have seen Jesus in the flesh?  In fairness, I cannot give you an irrefutable answer to that question.  I can offer the description of that event, a description, I would note, that we find thrice stated in the course of Acts, but let’s stick with the original for now.  (Ac 9:3-5As he journeyed toward Damascus a sudden light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  He answered, “Who are You, Lord?”  And He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”)  Well, he apparently at least heard Jesus.  I should think, had he, like Thomas, had opportunity to touch the wounds, we would find mention of that, so let’s accept that he did no such thing.  Yet, we also have the testimony of Ananias on this matter.  (Ac 9:17 – Ananias entered the house and laid hands on him, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”)

Now, let me just add one detail from the later account that Paul presents to Agrippa.  This follows immediately upon Jesus’ reply of identification.  “But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you” (Ac 26:16).  Notice:  He appeared.  Paul stood.  Paul wasn’t totally incapacitated.  Now, I don’t know about you, but for my part, I could think back even to yesterday’s shower, and remember a moment of disorientation that arose from maneuvering with eyes closed, and I hadn’t experienced anything near the shock Paul must have experienced!  Is it really so far-fetched to suppose he might have needed a hand getting up?  They had to lead him into Damascus after all.  And those with him, you may recall, saw the light, but did not hear the message.  Maybe he asked one of them for a hand, but I can’t imagine them willingly coming closer to that blinding light.  It remains speculative, but…

There is one other point to recognize here.  We have this idea that the ascended Christ is back to being a purely spiritual being.  But, we have every reason to believe that the full humanity of Christ persists into eternity, even as it shall in our own case.  The body fit for eternity is different, to be sure, for as Paul says, the corporeal can’t handle it.  The corruptible cannot be immortal.  But, that is not to say that we become pure spirit-beings.  That is not the testimony of Scripture.  It’s a common idea we have from culture and tradition, but it does not find its basis on the word of God.  Jesus, being fully man and fully God, remains fully man as well as fully God.  He retains the body, for God does not change.  I suppose, based on that, we might accept that His wounds persist to be recognized.  That, I admit, is something I wonder about, but I would have to admit at least the possibility.

So, then, what Paul is saying by saying he has seen Christ is very clearly a declaration of meeting that necessary prerequisite for the claim of Apostolic office.  He may have seen the Ascended Christ, but he saw Christ for real, not in a dream, not in a vision, but live, in Person, on the road to Damascus.  This was a very real, visceral, encounter.  Understand that apart from this, there was no way he could testify as witness to the Resurrection.  He could testify that he had heard about it.  He could testify, as do we, that he believed it.  But, that is not evidence.  That’s opinion and hearsay.  Jesus did not appoint these Apostles to offer opinions and hearsay.  He appointed them as eye-witnesses to the reality of what had transpired.  Think about what Jesus said to the Eleven as they were out fishing, dejected at the turn of events there at the end.  “You are witnesses of these thing!  Behold!  I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:48-49).  You are witnesses.  You’ve seen it!  You were there.  You can tell them not what you were told, but what you experienced.

Turn to John’s testimony at the beginning of his first letter.  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life” (1Jn 1:1).  We’re not delivering clever ideas.  We’re telling you what happened.  Peter likewise makes the point.  “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2Pe 1:16).  We were there, man!  We saw it.

Now, I ask you:  Who among all men living today can make that claim?  There is no one.  Not a one.  The pope can’t make that claim.  Apostle so-and-so can’t make that claim.  If to be an Apostle is to have been eyewitness to His resurrection, then case closed:  There cannot now, nor could there ever be, any successor apostles.  The office, as Mr. Barnes concludes along with all who pursue the matter in earnestness, was unique to these men.  It necessarily commenced with them, and just as necessarily ended with them.  As far is this office goes, and with it the authority to establish Scripture and doctrine, the position has already been filled, and you need not apply.  In plain point of fact, you should turn and flee from any claimant to that office or even its pursuit as poor teachers at best, and dangerous deceivers at worst.

The Barnabas Question (11/12/17)

Well, you may ask, if the qualifications for being an Apostle are as you say, how is it that we find Barnabas described as an apostle as well?  Where is the record of his commissioning by Christ?  Where is it written that he saw Jesus in the flesh?  The nearest we shall come to that is the record of his appointment to minister in Cyprus.  There, we read that the Holy Spirit spoke to the church at Antioch – it is not said through whom specifically.  What is said is that the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them (Ac 13:2).  There is, then, assuredly an appointment by God here, but I do not see the Christ-in-person requirement satisfied.  Yet, in Acts 14:14 we have a clear identification of Barnabas as an apostle, together with Paul.

And then there is the passage before us.  It might reasonably be inferred that Paul is including Barnabas as an Apostle alongside himself.  But, it would be an inference only, and would also then require we add the brothers of the Lord as Apostles, as well.  There is even less basis for this, I should think.  It is at best evidence that they came to faith at some point, and had a certain recognition in the Church due to their relationship to its Christ.  But, Paul’s point doesn’t require an office for Barnabas, only a behavior while ministering.  That being the case, it is really Acts 14:14 with which we must wrestle.

That section of Acts concerns itself, as we have noted, with the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul, and then follows their activities under commission.  Several points are worth noting here.  First, The Holy Spirit clearly directed this activity.  There is a call.  Second, and rather telling to me, Barnabas is listed first.  He is given the priority in this assignment, which would make sense.  He is, after all a prophet or teacher in the church at Antioch where this is taking place.  Saul is somebody he brought in from Tarsus (Ac 11:25-26).  Yes, Paul had been at Antioch for a year or so, and been sent with Barnabas before, to go to Jerusalem to resolve the Judaizing issue (Ac 11:30).  The implication here is that Barnabas was viewed by the church in Antioch as being in charge, and Saul was his companion.

I am also inclined to find it significant that Paul was still going by his given name of Saul at this stage.  The shift, at least so far as Luke chooses to record it, comes later in Chapter 13, as they confront false prophets and magicians in Cyprus.  Thenceforth, it is almost always Paul and Barnabas who are identified, with the one exception I see being the events in Lystra, where the people of Lystra supposed Barnabas to be Zeus an Paul to be Hermes (Ac 14:12), and then we have that identification of the apostles, Barnabas and Paul (Ac 14:14).  They speak against this misidentification, declaring the truth of God before the crowd.  But, Jewish agitators come, and it is Paul they stone (Ac 14:19).  What’s going on here?  It would seem the locals viewed Barnabas as the primary partner, whereas those who were coming from Antioch and Iconium, treated Paul as the primary threat.

I have belabored this passage somewhat because it is the most direct reference we have to Barnabas as being an apostle.  It would be just possible, I suppose, to suggest that the appellation is applied by Luke as reflecting the way the folks in Lystra were seeing the situation, but I’m not convinced that this is the case.  Rather, I tend to see a distinction of usage here, and it is a distinction that might very well color how we read the offices of the church as Paul enumerates them in Ephesians.  I will emphasize, however, that this is opinion only.

It is, however, an opinion I find fits the facts as we have them.  Barnabas and Saul were indeed commissioned.  They were commissioned first by the church in Antioch, for the purpose of going to Jerusalem to represent the Gentile cause to the Apostles there.  They were ambassadors, emissaries, if you will.  They were commissioned by a sending authority for a specific mission.  That is, after all, what the word actually indicates.  They are now commissioned yet again, for a second mission, and this time, it comes with the backing of the Holy Spirit.  That mission, at least on the face of it, is to bring the Gospel to Cyprus.  Thus, so far as that trip is concerned, they are again emissaries commissioned by a sending authority for a specific mission.  The commission persists solely for the duration of the mission, as is ever the case with the ambassadorial role.

Notice the recurring term in this description:  Mission.  This is what I would term the lower-case apostolic task, which we refer to as that of missionary.  What is a missionary?  He is a man with a mission, a calling.  His calling is not, generally, to go pronounce the Gospel to one and all.  He is called to a particular field for a particular season to do a particular work.  When those particulars are satisfied, he may or may not continue as a missionary upon another mission.  He may discover that his season as an ambassador of this sort has concluded, and a new phase of life ensues.

But, here’s something I think we absolutely MUST keep in mind:  The fact that he has a commission to this task, even from the Holy Spirit, does not render him an Apostle.  It makes him a missionary.  He has a task to do, and is authorized to do it.  He cannot – couldn’t then, certainly cannot now – claim to be eye-witness of the risen Christ.  Even supposing a vision, he has not basis by which to confirm it is Jesus he has seen, and even if he could, it still falls short of providing the requisite eye-witness to the resurrection standing.  If we are to suppose a vision, or audible calling, or the like, I think we would have to conclude, as did the Antioch church, that it was the Holy Spirit commissioning, not a personal visitation by Christ live and in person.  I don’t suppose I can rule that out entirely, but the evidence such as we have it suggests that He is on the throne in heaven, and the Holy Spirit has been sent to keep us sorted out until it is time for His return.

So, we have a missionary, not an Apostle.  We may speak of him as an apostle of his sending church or organization, as they are the sending authority.  We cannot and should not speak of him as an Apostle of Christ Jesus, even though he serves to represent Christ and ministers His gospel.  In that regard, we are all of us called and commissioned, are we not?  Do we not understand the Great Commission as being more universal in nature, and not a message to the Twelve alone?  If you choose, I suppose I should accept that all Christians are, in this sense, lower-case apostles.   But, that’s really your choice, isn’t it?  Either we’re all apostles or none of us are.  As I say, I would be willing to make the case that the lower-case apostle is, in fact, the missionary.  I would also say that missionary is not exactly an office in the church.  It is a gift given to some in the church that they may minister more effectively outside the church, which then verges into the evangelistic gifting.

I would say, though, that I cannot think of a single missionary who would lay claim to being an apostle.  I have known pastors and church planters to take that title upon themselves, and primarily I think on the basis of being a church planter, a pastor to a group of churches, rather than just one.  But, that’s not the office of the Apostle as we have it.  The office is not church planter.  The office is eye-witness to the resurrected Christ, ear-witness to His doctrine, and establisher of said doctrine to His children through the ages – once for all.

So, if we accept that there are or were apostles, and then there are or were Apostles, we have, I think two fundamental distinctions to be maintained between the two.  There is the distinction of calling:  by the church on the one hand, by Christ personally on the other.  There is the distinction of mission:  to bear the Gospel into untouched regions on the one hand, and to establish true doctrine as revealed by Christ on the other.  I would have to insist that the one who comes today, claiming apostolic authority can at MOST consider that he has a mission to reach some specific group with the existing Gospel.  The one who comes claiming more, as though he is authorized to deliver new revelation is at best – at BEST – deluded by an over-inflated ego.  I have to say the case is far more likely that such a one is in fact a tool in the hands of the devil, wittingly or not.

Let me return, however briefly, to the case of Barnabas and Saul.  One thing that remains somewhat below the surface in the account of that missionary trip is the unique preparations of God in selecting these two to go to Cyprus.  Barnabas, we may recall, or readily remind ourselves from the text, was a Cypriot (Ac 4:36).  He was born and bred, there, although we first meet him in Jerusalem.  He was also a Levite, as it happens, whose proper name was Joseph.  The Apostles gave him the name Barnabas because he was such an encourager.

But, Saul was also well positioned to address the Cypriots, for Cyprus was in fact part of Cilicia, as was his home town of Tarsus.  Now, this might also explain why Barnabas found it a bit easier to accept Saul’s conversion, but there again what we have is an example of God’s Providential arrangements, isn’t it?  The two of them had at least this much in common.  They were both Jews with religious training.  They were both native to the same Gentile region.  They had both come to Christ.  And now, they were commissioned to work together on the same mission.  Granted, that season of co-laboring came to a rather precipitous end, as Barnabas desired to continue his work in Cyprus, and Paul wished to go to elsewhere.  Add to this the personal issues with John Mark, and ‘there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another’ (Ac 15:39).

Now, we can assign a certain weakness of the flesh to this disagreement, and we wouldn’t be wrong.  We can also discern in this that the work was big enough for both, and urgent enough that the two going in separate directions served God’s purpose better.  We might also take from it a model for our own actions.  Sometimes, I dare say, it is better that we separate from the brother with whom we disagree, in order that the ministry may proceed fruitfully by the hands of both parties, than for us to remain together in our aggravation and spoil the work entirely.  Might I suggest that this is an affirmation of sorts for the rise of denominations?  For all that they get a bad rap, they do serve the purpose of allowing those with ‘sharp disagreement’ to continue in spreading the Gospel well in spite of their differences.

Barnabas, it seems to me, had a clear sense of where his ‘Jerusalem’ lay.  Paul was keener to go to all the world.  I don’t think that makes one right and the other wrong.  It does mean they had differing commissions.  Barnabas was a missionary and a teacher.  Paul was a missionary as well, a planter of churches, but most importantly:  he was appointed to be eye-witness to the resurrected Christ, and to establish the True Gospel for all time, alongside the Eleven.   One was an apostle.  The other was an Apostle.

Apostolic Defense (11/13/17)

We return to the matter of Apostolic credentials, because this is where Paul begins.  There is question as to which part of the passage constitutes his defense.  Barnes follows what the NASB suggests by the colon at the end of verse 3, which is that the defense begins immediately thereafter.  Clarke, along with the Wycliffe Commentary, see that defense in the first few verses.  I tend to agree.  Defense by enumeration of rights that hinge upon the premise being defended do not serve to validate the premise.  It’s a bit like the child seeking to excuse his errant behavior on the defense that Billy and Joey were doing it, too.

But, if we take the first two verses as constituting Paul’s defense of office, then we see first his claim to the Apostolic prerequisite.  Based on earlier discussion I am reducing it to one.  He saw the Lord.  First, we must accept, as the JFB insists, that his claim is to seeing a bodily appearance by Christ.  As we have insisted, nothing less would do.  I grant that it is not declared in ways that remove all dispute, but this being the sole qualification for office, and the other Apostles having admitted him to their number, it must be accepted that sufficient proof of a real, physical encounter with the Risen Christ had indeed transpired.  He could serve as eye-witness.  Clarke joins the chorus of history in regard to this point, saying, “This was judged essentially necessary to constitute an apostle.”  Apart from those whose desire for prestige, or to speak with unwarranted authority given their words, this has been the settled understanding of the Church for long ages.   It is set aside only at great risk.  I would maintain it must certainly NOT be set aside.

But, Paul doesn’t settle for declaring his requisite, personal commissioning by Christ.  He points to something further:  The fruit of his ministry.  This, I have to say, feels a bit nebulous to me.  Could not a false apostle point to false fruit and wind up in pretty much the same place?  I find it somewhat surprising that the various commentaries see no issue with this.  But, here, I think we may make a mistake as to his point.  It is not the fact that he planted a church that serves as evidence.  Many a cult leader has done the same.  Many a movement has had its day without being any more true for it.   I think, to capture the full expression of his defense we will need to proceed onward through his discussion of liberty and his waiving of rights.

What we see following in this passage is the establishing of said rights.  His focus is on ministerial support, apparently because this was a point of contention for his accusers.  Their reasoning seems to have been that if he had the right and refused to avail himself of it, even demand it, he must not really be an apostle after all.  I have to say that this line of argument reveals more about the accuser than the defendant.  Clearly, this was their idea of ministry.  We can readily assume that they very much insisted upon their support if it was not immediately forthcoming.  This, I think, is the backing for Paul’s assertion of the Corinthians themselves as evidence of his office.  In point of fact, as Barnes points out, the fact that he speaks of them as a seal indicates something stronger.  They were not merely some evidence of his validity.  They are presented as absolute proof – the indisputable mark of authenticity upon his office.  I’ll come back to that.

But, here is what we are shown.  Those who were calling Paul’s Apostleship into question in Corinth were doing so on the basis of laboring for pay.  They perhaps pointed to his celibate tendencies as well, but it was primarily this issue of earning a living by one’s ministry that they held forth as evidence against him.  Look!  These others who come through here accept your support.  You don’t see them wasting time with such mundane labors as this tent making business.  If Paul does so, it must be because he knows he has no right to your support.  His conscience is getting the better of him.  There is so much that’s wrong with that thought process, projection not the least of it!  But, Paul’s point here is simple:  Demands for support are no evidence of authentic calling, even though the authentically called have every right and reason to expect that support.  Look at the efforts made in the course of ministry.  There’s your evidence

These troublers of the church:  What sort of efforts have they made for your spiritual health?  What have they done that was not entirely self-serving?  What have they shown themselves willing to forego in order that you may be edified the better?  If these are the same folks you are seeing down at the temple feasts with their pagan friends of old, the answer is pretty clearly not much.  If they are not willing to curb their liberties in the least, even knowing how those liberties trouble and tempt you, the answer is nearer to nothing at all.  The Corinthians church itself was something of a minor miracle.  We would do well to think the same of our own church.  A work of God arising in this place?  Among this people?  Amazing!  The very fact of its existence is evidence that God has been at work in astounding fashion.  And this, my friends, is where Paul takes us.  Let me offer Calvin’s observation to sum it up.  “In other words, the question is not, what man himself accomplishes by his own power, but what God effects through his hands.”

This is Paul’s defense.  Look what the Lord has done!  It’s tempting to follow some of the commentaries and argue that God simply would not have honored the efforts of a false teacher with such fruit.  That, I think, is a very shaky position to uphold.  God has, for a season, seemed to honor many a fallen man in the pursuit of His good and perfect plans.  Do we, for example, take Pharaoh’s success while Joseph was in Egypt as evidence that Pharaoh was a man of God?  Do we uphold Nebuchadnezzar as a paragon of virtuous ministry because his boundaries increased?  Do we suppose Cyrus approved of God simply because he allowed Israel’s return to Jerusalem?  Paul’s willingness to sacrifice any and all comforts for the sake of Christ are evidence.  The fruitful ministry that resulted is evidence because of that.  Both are only of any evidential value because God was at work.

I forget which commentary brought this out, probably Barnes, but part of Paul’s point here is that the Corinthians could not readily reject Paul’s Apostolic authority without rejecting their own faith.  His efforts were that instrumental in their conversion.  This, again, is not saying that Paul was the efficient cause, only that he was the instrument God chose for the work, and as an instrument, he performed beautifully.

So, let me return to this idea of the Corinthians as a seal before I leave this head.  A seal, as Barnes points out, is utilized as indisputable proof of authenticity.  That’s what it was for.  You wrote your document.  You rolled it up.  You put the blob of wax across the edge and you made an impression in the wax with your signet ring.  You sealed it with your unique mark.  So long as the seal remained unbroken, there could be no doubt about the validity of the document.  Even after the seal was broken, one might readily accept that the validating marks remained visible proof.

Here’s what struck me in reading that point from Barnes.  We have the Holy Spirit as seal of our inheritance.  Paul makes the very point to the Corinthians in his other letter.  “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2Co 1:21-22).  It’s a point he makes to the church in Ephesus as well.  “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:13b-14).  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).

Look at those declarations and recognize the power of the image of the seal.  This is indisputable!  Your being established in Christ is sealed!  Your inheritance as God’s own possession is sealed!  Your standing in the day of redemption is sealed!  These are indisputable.  This has to color how you hear that grieving of the Spirit.  Paul is not indicating a danger of you falling from salvation.  The Holy Spirit, though grieved, is not going to abandon you.  He will, most assuredly, bring you to what will likely be a very tearful repentance, but He’s not giving up on you.  You are sealed.  “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness’” (2Ti 2:19).  Yes, you have every reason to seek an ever-growing sanctification, an ever increasing deadness to sin.  But pursue it in confidence!  It is God who is at work in you (Php 2:13).  You bear the seal of the Holy Spirit.  Your salvation is not subject to dispute.  That is such a marvelously powerful place to be, dear one.  That is the proclamation of Christ from the cross:  “It is finished” (Jn 19:30)!  Is it any wonder that Paul determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified, as he brought the savor of the Kingdom to these poor, benighted Corinthians (1Co 2:2)?  This hasn’t changed.  The Word of God still goes forth, and it never, ever fails of His purpose (Isa 55:11).

Corinthian Offense (11/14/17)

I have to say that I still find the apparent line of attack on Paul’s character utterly bemusing.  Could they really have thought this was a plausible argument?  What?  Because he didn’t charge you for the message, he mustn’t be a real apostle?  Does it not occur to you that if in fact he was not a real apostle, it is unlikely in the extreme that scruples would prevent him charging you for upkeep anyway?  If the man is such a scoundrel as would present counterfeit claims to holy authority, would he really stop short of accepting your provision rather than laboring over the goatskins to make tents?

This is just stunning, isn’t it?  And yet, from what we read in Paul’s response, it’s pretty clear that this was in fact the complaint.  Paul’s response is just a more edifying variation of my own:  You really do think this way, apparently, and it really is patent nonsense.  Your conclusions make no sense, and indicating absolutely nothing as to my rights.  In fact, going back to the first two verses, for them to reject Paul as an Apostle, they would necessarily have to reject their own faith.  Put another way, as Calvin has it, to reject his Apostleship would be to announce themselves as unbelievers.  There is the logical conclusion to their argument.  If he is a fraud, then their faith must be fraudulent, being as their faith is the fruit of his fraudulent ministry.  This was not a conclusion they would willingly reach, ergo their premise is flawed.

More to the point, in my view, is Matthew Henry’s conclusion that this was ‘aggravated ingratitude’ on their part.  I should have to qualify this somewhat, though.  My sense of it is that those who were seeking to undermine Paul were new arrivals.  That is to say they were not the immediate fruit of his personal ministry in Corinth, but had come along later.  They are, one suspects, one and the same as those who were promoting their own superior piety, or advocating some faction or other in preference to Paul.  The ingratitude, then, is not in those who pushed this theory about Paul’s practices indicating his lack of authority.  The ingratitude is shown in that this premise was getting any hearing at all in the church.  That they had not immediately shut down the attack themselves, and effectively laughed off the charges was ingratitude in them, or at least a painful ignorance.

It should serve as a sterling example to us that what we do not see from Paul is offense.  If anybody had cause to take offense, surely he had just cause in this scurrilous charge.  But, he doesn’t express offense.  I won’t go so far as to say he feels no offense.  Paul is human after all.  But, his concern is not for his personal reputation.  His concern is for the church of Christ, God’s glory, and the well-being of those for whom Christ died.  This drives his counter-argument, not self-defense, but edification.  Don’t you see how off this argument is?  Look!  Here is the real story, and I’ll give it to you in many different ways, so that you may be settled in your understanding.  I am nothing, God is all.  But you – all of you – are precious to Him and to me.  Hear me, therefore, for the sake of Christ.

Apostolic Example (11/14/17)

Now, while he has offered this very brief, yet very thorough defense of office, it has not been a sudden veering off on a new topic.  It is much harder, I admit, to follow the flow of Paul’s thoughts in this letter than it is in Romans.  But, the flow is there, and it is every bit as logical and well arranged.  It is only when we do a surface reading that it seems disjointed, or perhaps it is because we are reading it with an eye to supporting some preconceived opinion.  We know Paul faced repeated challenges to his official status, and so, when we see the opening verse of this chapter, our thoughts immediately categorize the whole chapter as being part of his defense.  It is not.

The whole of this chapter, including that brief defense, is in reality an example by which he demonstrates the application of his previous point in regards to participation in idol-offerings.  That is why we have this focus on his right to provisions.  Provisions consist primarily in food and drink, the very same thing those he corrected in Chapter 8 were demanding as their right, come what may so far as their fellow believer was concerned.  Paul points to his own example, an example they had witnessed lived out amongst themselves, to show what real Christian liberty looks like.  It is, then, a demonstration that what he calls them to do is nothing other than what he would do himself.

Seen in that light, what comes out of this chapter is that Paul sets out his own actions, as Matthew Henry writes, ‘as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter’.  He is not diverging at all, but presenting an illustration.  He is not bragging.  Far be it from him!  He is showing that frankly, they ought already to have understood this principle, because it had been lived before them for a year and more.  Far from disproving his office, these things actually served to demonstrate how very seriously he took that office.

See the contrast in this.  Those who insisted on their liberties did so in a fashion that was entirely self-serving and proved destructive to their brothers.  Paul’s choices, both as to working to support himself, and as to remaining celibate, were taken with an entirely selfless perspective.  He did not choose to remain single because he had something against women.  The evidence is too clear that he had utmost regard for women ministering together with him.  I think we could reasonably infer from Luke’s concern to accent the women involved in the life of the church that this was something he saw Paul recognize as well.  But, Paul’s choices are made not with the idea of showing off his superior piety.  His choices are made, as he explains elsewhere, so as to remove any potential stumbling block from before those to whom he brought the Gospel.

Consider the case today.  Why are televangelists largely seen as suspect?  Is it not because however valid their message may be, it always seems to come with a price tag?  In many cases, it is absolutely scandalous.  Send money, and then I’ll pray for you.  God wants me to have a private jet.  Send your contributions today!  In other cases, it may simply be the honest cost of operations, but even so, the ministry that is forever begging for your donations is going to tend to turn you off, isn’t it?  It looks too much like a business, and too little like an embassy.

Paul’s example offers us something better.  As we heard in last Sunday’s sermon, here is one who was willing to say, “do as you see me do.”  His life, post-call, was a constant call to observe and emulate.  He does not find it necessary to advise his readers to do as he writes, not as he does.  Rather, he makes it very clear that what he writes is what he does:  I ask no more of you than I ask of myself.  Set your Savior first.  Give your all.  For Paul, having met his Maker, could conceive of no other activity in life than to serve.  If I am honest, I find such a determined devotion to Christ’s mission a bit unnerving.  It is likely evidence of my own distraction, as the things of this life gain my attention and keep me amused.  I don’t suggest this as a good thing.  I suggest it as a call that I need to consider.  If Jesus is my Lord, my all, how is it that I can be so quick to set aside His work in favor of my play?  How much am I at risk of being more like the meat-eaters of chapter 8 than the Paul of chapter 9?

Can I just say that, as much as I have been blessed by the current sermon series on Philippians, and as much as that book contains what is one of my most-often quoted verses, this passage from Sunday gave me pause.  “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.  For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Php 3:17-19).

As to the first part, you see how that reflects exactly what’s going on here in chapter 9.  Here’s my example.  Walk you in it.  It’s the second part that’s disconcerting in the extreme, or could be.  Other translations read, “whose god is their bellies”.  When I consider how much my travels are marked by memories of which restaurant we went to, what meal we had.  I often speak of it with amusement, but it’s a danger, isn’t it?  When I consider how much the Lincoln CRX that we drove during our business trip attracted me, it’s a danger, isn’t it?  Who cares if it’s affordable!  I want one.  When I think about how high a place music has in my thoughts, is this healthy?

Here, let me assert a bit of assurance.  “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Php 3:20).  Of this I am certain.  My faith in Christ is firm, and it is firm not because I am so convinced of it, but because He has so firmly embedded it in my soul.  It is, to my thinking, the greatest benefit of having come to Him so very much in spite of myself.  I do not suffer doubts about this.  I know He called me, and I know He did so while I was yet His enemy, or at the very least, was entirely apathetic to His existence, which amounts to the same thing.  These are not just platitudes from John the besotted for me.  They are declarations of exactly what I experienced.  There is no place for doubt in my mind, either to my standing with Christ, or with the fact that it required the Holy Spirit coming to establish faith in me, else I never would have believed.

That being the case, the concerns I express here are not that I am in fact an enemy of the cross of Christ.  Those days are past.  My concerns are with my own propensity, a propensity shared with one and all, to make more idols every time the old ones get destroyed.  It is a call to moderation, at the very least.  It is a call to question my priorities, and seek my Savior to help restore order in my life and my thoughts, that I, too, might advise as Paul does, “follow my example.”

Arguments from Ministry, Life, and Law (11/15/17)

From verse 4 onward, we see Paul establishing his right to support.  As we shall see in the next section, he is not doing so in preparation for claiming that support, but rather as a foundation from which to show his actions as demonstrating the right use of liberty as he set it before them in Chapter 8.  We find here three lines of argumentation presented. 

The first, as I have it labeled, is the argument from ministry.  Here, Paul turns to the example of other affirmed ministers of the Gospel, and particularly those of equal or near equal authority.  He points to ‘the rest of the apostles’, first.  Here are the first tier peers.  Somewhat surprisingly, he then brings the brothers of Christ into the picture.  Given what we see of them in the Gospels, these hardly seem like useful points of comparison for an Apostle, but it would seem they had a change of heart in due time.  Finally, we arrive at Cephas who is, if we wish to rank the Apostles, Paul’s truest peer.  I say this simply in that Peter turned out to be the chief Apostle to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles.  They acknowledged this about one another, and supported one another in these twinned pursuits.

Now, having noted Christ’s brothers, I would also note that there is at least some degree of debate as to who exactly Paul has in mind.  Calvin would have it that Paul refers to James and John by this appellation.  Well, they were brothers, it is true, and they were, as Apostles, of the Lord.  But, I am hard pressed to accept that Paul refers to them in this fashion.  It is hardly the obvious conclusion to reach.  Clarke, on the other hand, concludes as I think most would, that this refers to James and Jude, if not His other brothers.  These two, we should note, find their place amongst the Epistles.  I am inclined to think that it is Paul’s mention of them here that gave sanction to the inclusion of those two Epistles in the final canon of Scripture.  Otherwise, the only testimony we would have to them would tend to be very negative.

Returning to Paul’s argumentation, though, what we see here is a movement from lesser to greater.  The rest of the Apostles, we might notice, are a relatively unnoted bunch.  James of the brothers Bonarge has passed.  John will certainly play a significant and well-documented part in establishing the Church, but the others, while no doubt just as active, are spoken of far less.  Yet, they are Apostles, and they bear the same authority of office as does Paul.  Next we move to James and Jude, as I shall agree he indicates.  This might seem a step down rather than up.  The two men are never identified as Apostles, and the nature of the two Epistles we have from them are very different.  It’s not difficult to see why there were challenges to their place in the Canon.  Yet, they are there.  These are the brothers of Christ in the flesh, and they did come to faith.  Paul’s placement of them in this line of argument certainly assigns them a place of authority not only on par with the Apostles, but in some way higher ranking, to the degree that ranking applies.  Finally, he comes to Cephas, and I will note again his insistence on using Peter’s Jewish name.  That emphasizes both his ministry focus, and reminds of the basis for some of the factionalizing in Corinth.  It was Cephas who was promoted as the ‘right’ leader to follow, rather than Paul.

So, then, where is Paul going with this?  He is pointing to this increasingly authoritative list of co-labors and noting that in every case you find not only the man himself being supported by the ministry, but also their spouses, and one presumes, their children.  For those who look to this as an argument Paul makes for the authenticity of his office, I would have to note that it cannot work that way.  Rather, his whole argument hinges upon already having established that authority.  The authority is assumed.  Now, he’s pointing out certain rights and liberties that apply to said office.

But, he’s not satisfied to simply point to his co-laborers.  He points to laborers in every field.  This borders on the parabolic teaching style so beautifully realized in the teachings of Christ.  It is also a pretty standard rabbinic method, so it should hardly be surprising to find Paul employing it.  He points first to the soldiery, which seems kind of an odd example to set before the Corinthians.  But, they certainly had a strong Roman presence in the city, and had experienced a rather forceful example of Roman soldiering.  Perhaps there were some Roman military men in the church.  We don’t know.  But, it was an image everybody would recognize.  The fact that they got paid would be well known, as well.  It was probably also fairly common knowledge that a large part of that pay consisted in provisioning.  There’s that food business again.

From here, Paul follows another three-pronged approach, providing two more in the person of the vineyard worker and the harvest worker, or thresher.  Isn’t it something, that all of these examples wind up back at food?  Isn’t it something, as well, that all three of these examples point us back to imagery commonly applied to the Church, and in particular to its leadership, even its Head.  Jesus Christ is, after all our Warrior Lord.  He will come in conquest at the time of His choosing.  He is the owner of the Vineyard, the Lord of the Harvest.  Consider how even the feasts of the Old Covenant focused on the cycles of harvest, of provision.  Consider how the Apostles are set out before us.  They are the ones to whom the Vineyard is leased when the Owner comes and destroys the rebel workers who sought to steal it from Him.  They are the ones sent out to the harvest because the fields are white and ripe.  They are the soldiers of the Cross sent out to wrest back the kingdom from that usurping devil.  And in all this, we are constantly turned back to provision.

But, it’s not merely provision for the Apostles, or for the ministers who took up the work after them.  Here, as Clarke brings to our attention, we have a clear depiction of God’s providence.  What we see playing out in the lives of the common worker is a living parable.  “In this divine precept the kindness and providential care of God are very forcibly pointed out.”  Clarke is actually looking at the third prong of Paul’s argument, but as that comes as demonstrating the validity of common practice, I choose to apply it now.  Let us take it as a transitional point to that third prong.

Having shown that life itself demonstrates that pay for work is the natural course of events, Paul is actually taking a step in the other direction, as it were.  In listing his ministerial coworkers, he moved from lesser to greater.  In presenting these three proofs of his right to support, he goes the other way, moving from the high calling of the Apostles, to the common laborer, and now, to the brute beasts employed in that labor.  Even the oxen, he points out, quoting Mosaic Law, is granted its provision from its labors, even while laboring!  Don’t muzzle the ox, sayeth the Lord.  Can it really be supposed that God has this degree of concern for a beast fit to be slaughtered as a sacrifice, and has less care over those He appoints to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom?  It cannot be!  Can it be thought that He has written on the hearts of the basest pagan that his labors deserve his wages, and yet leaves His Apostles to make a living some other way than the high calling they have been given?  It cannot!

Rather, as Matthew Henry writes, it was ‘to teach mankind that all due encouragement should be given to those who are employed by us’.  Now, don’t get tangled up by the ‘altogether’ of verse 10, nor suppose that Paul’s point is that God could care less about oxen.  That won’t stand examination in light of the full scope of Scripture, and Paul, writing as the Holy Spirit gives utterance, can hardly be supposed to write that which contradicts what was already written.  Rather his point must necessarily harmonize with Law.

Down through the years, there have been periods and pockets in the Church that became over-enamored with allegorical interpretation of such things.  They would look at something like this quote Paul chooses, particularly in light of his application, and suppose we are supposed to see the ox as representing something else, the threshing as representing something else, and so on.  The Wycliffe Commentary leaves room for this approach, at least in part, insisting that both the allegorical and the literal apply, and both are in fact spiritual senses to the passage.  I don’t think that’s particularly safe or particularly necessary.

It seems to me that Paul’s point is perfectly clear quite apart from seeking some allegorical significance to the passage.  When he asks if God is concerned about oxen, we might interpolate a ‘primarily’ in there.  Again, follow the argument.  God provides for His Apostles; He provides for mankind generally – even pagans; He provides for dumb animals.  All of this is true, but to what end?  Well, certainly at the pinnacle, we set for His own glory.  But, amongst all Creation, it is abundantly clear that God sets man as the point of Creation.  Go back to the Creation Mandate. “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over every living thing” (Ge 1:28).  This plays into the task Adam was given in naming the animals (Ge 2:19-20).  This was an establishing of dominion.  There’s a reason Jacob sought to know God’s name when he wrestled.  There’s a reason God did not give it.  There’s a reason we find Him assigning names to Abraham, to Sarah, to Israel, to John, to Jesus.  This is a signifier that He has full authority over those named.  To name is to own, effectively.

So, we find Paul’s point about the oxen accords with the whole flow of Scripture, and ought rightly to have been the understanding taken from the Law all along.  Yes, it applies quite literally to the treatment of farm animals.  It also applies just as literally to the treatment of slaves and employees.   As such, it naturally applies to your servants, the ministers of the Gospel of Christ your Lord.

As to the urge to find allegorical meanings in everything, I could not but appreciate Calvin’s reaction.  Looking at Paul’s application of the Deuteronomy quote he insists this is no call to allegorical interpretation, “as some hair-brained spirits take occasion from this to turn everything into allegories.  Thus they turn dogs into men, trees into angels, and turn all of scripture into a laughing-stock.”  This, I think, is as great a risk today as it was in the Middle Ages.  There is this tendency amongst us to desire a deeper mysticism, and that desire for deeper mysticism leads into all manner of unwarranted modes of interpretation.  And here, I must use the term interpretation very loosely.

In plain point of fact, this is nothing other than a resurgence of Gnostic tendencies; the very mystery religions that Paul counters and denounces in this letter.  It is the urge of the ego to demonstrate superiority by any available means.  If I possess the secret, hidden meaning of the text that you commoners cannot perceive, I am superior.  Now, good Christian Gnostic that you are, you are unlikely to frame your thoughts in that way.  In fact, it is quite likely that you will very carefully shield yourself from recognizing what motivates this desire for secret knowledge.

I would say this is the same mindset that finds every sort of conspiratorial view of events to be utterly credible, and probably more accurate than what is generally held to be true.  It’s the mindset of those who will sneer at the one who rejects such theories as needing to wake up and take off the blinders.  It’s the same mindset that wants a plethora of prophets and apostles and other mystics to fill their days with dreams and visions.  It winds up much as Calvin has said.  If it does not turn scripture into a laughing-stock, it certainly does so the practitioner; and to the degree that practitioner holds forth as a proponent of the true faith, I suppose it must in fact reflect back on the faith they claim to uphold.

Mind you, the same can be said for every error of practice.  Those who incline toward a more cerebral pursuit of doctrine, for example, can lead the observer to conclude that this whole Christian business is nothing much more than any other philosophy, that it’s all head games and mental supports for the weak.  And yet, it is through the foolishness of the weak that God’s strength is shown.  Let us, however, whatever our innate tendencies and styles, take care that we shape our practice by sound understanding of God’s Word and God’s intent.  Let us be very wary of allowing our preferred practice to define our doctrine, and rather allow a proper and accurate understanding of doctrine to shape our practice.  And then, let us indeed practice that which we say we believe, lest we be found as mouthers of empty platitudes, having the appearance of godliness, but utterly lacking the power.

For the Minister (11/16/17)

Turning back to that threefold example from life which Paul presents in verse 7, I have already taken notice of how those images are so often applied to the church.  However, taking in the context of Paul’s intentions here, it is clear that the imagery applies even more strongly to the minister.  The JFB puts this before us plainly.  “The minister is spiritually a soldier, a vine-dresser, and a shepherd.”  It’s not, then, just that these are employments familiar to the Corinthians.  It strikes me that if that were Paul’s intent there are other professions that would have served better, perhaps merchant or sailor.  But, the aptness of the images chosen lies in their applicability to the minister himself, the one whose right to support Paul is belaboring here.

How apt those images are for ministers!  The minister is a frontline soldier in battle against the enemies of the kingdom.  But, of course, he does not bear arms against flesh and blood, but wields the Word against spiritual powers in high places.  That is a fearsome battle indeed, and one worthy of recompense.  He tends the vineyard of the Lord, knowing himself a tenant farmer, and hoping to produce a fine vintage for our Lord; a ministry bearing fruit which is pleasing in His sight.  Yet, he knows the vineyard is not his own.  He is but a faithful servant and is satisfied with the provision his Lord supplies.  He is one sent out into the harvest.  I note, however, the choice of description Paul has here.  He does not speak of sowers or reapers in this context, although those images arise elsewhere in the letter.  Here, the focus is on the threshing.  The harvest has been brought in, and now the work is focused on separating grain from chaff.

There are many competing philosophies as to the purpose of the church in God’s kingdom.  Some think the church is primarily to be geared toward reaching the lost.  Others suppose it a training facility churning out evangelists to reach the lost and bring them in for training.  Others still suppose it a hospital of sorts, or a spa, where the weary believer comes to be repaired and recharged.  All of these have some truth to them, and at the same time, I would have to say that none of these suffice.  Here, it seems to me, we see the church in a different light, and that light shows in all three images.

It is an armed output in enemy territory.  As such, we can expect forays to sally forth and seek to gain territory from the enemy.  We cannot, I think, expect to invite the enemy to come on in, although deserters might rightly be welcomed.  We are to be on the alert, and confident in our King.

It is a vineyard planted, walled, and otherwise prepared in every way.  That is the consistent picture that God paints when He uses this imagery.  “I planted.  I built the wall and the tower.  I dug the vat.  Only then did I let it out to you vineyard workers.”  In this view, the Church is, rather like Eden, a garden to be tended for its Lord.  The task is not to plant, nor to go out on botanical safaris, seeking new and exotic species to try.  The task is to care for the vines already planted, to weed, to water, and to undertake every effort to see good fruit produced by those vines which God chose to plant.

Similarly, the threshing task is not one of planting or even of harvesting.  There will be, to be sure, those individual workers who are given the task of planting, and others who will water, and then also, those who will go forth to harvest the resultant crop.  I would maintain that all of those workers are found within the congregation at large, constituents of the priesthood of all believers.  This is your call, my call.  This is what we do as we go about our employments, if we remain a gospel-oriented people.  But, looking to the pastoral role, as I said earlier, it is that of threshing, of eliminating the chaff so that the good grain can be gathered together.  This is not, I should stress, the separating of wheat and tares, although when a tare is evident, it is surely to be removed.  But, rather, it is, as it were, a ripening or purifying of the crop already harvested.

With all that in view, I want to highlight this description of the pastor’s lifework as Barnes describes it.  It is at once beautiful and terrifying.  “He lives to instruct the ignorant; to warn and secure those who are in danger; to guide the perplexed; to reclaim the wandering; to comfort the afflicted; to bind up the broken in heart; to attend on the sick; to be an example and an instructor to the young; and to be a counsellor and set a pattern to all.”  Note the words with which Mr. Barnes introduces this.  “He lives to.”  It’s not just a job, and it’s not even an adventure.  It’s life.  The minister is a man called of God to the task just described.  He has, in a very real sense, met his Maker, and like Paul, having done so, he can imagine no other course of life than to serve as his Maker commands.

As I say, it is at once a most beautiful calling and one most terrifying.  It is beautiful in what it has for its goals.  There is something achingly beautiful in a pursuit so self-sacrificing.  It is beautiful in our Lord.  It is just as beautiful, if on a different scale, in His pastors.  They live to do this!  Consider that!  They don’t do it because they have no other way to make a living.  They do it because it is life to them.  The give their all to the tasks of guiding, reclaiming, comforting, and bolstering those given into their charge.  The do so whether well recompensed or poorly.  It’s not about the wages of earthly maintenance, much though that is deserved and appreciated.  They do it because they can do no other than to heed the call God has set upon them.  The do their utmost to live a life worthy of emulation; to walk out an example to young and old, to set a pattern all can rightly follow.  The seek to provide direction to the young and wise counsel to the mature, and to do everything within their ability to see the vineyard, the granary of God filled with a well-matured, fruitful supply.

Now, if you’ve ever been around farming communities, or even attempted a home garden, you know that any number of calamities may befall the farm.  The farmer may attempt to predict the weather, but he cannot control it.  He may do everything in his power to eradicate pests and weeds, and keep the wildlife from eating his crop before he can, but in the end he knows that everything in his power will never be enough.  And, even if he manages all that, still some freak occurrence may wipe out all his work.  How, we might well ask, can he find it in himself to bother trying?  He knows the odds are against him.  But, he has this, if he is a faithful farmer:  He trusts God.   Not the description in verse 10.  The plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope.  They go to their labors trusting in God for the outcome.  Yes, they do their part.  No, they don’t suppose that comes anywhere near to assuring results.  But, God provides.  It is His Provision, His plan and purpose for His people that gives reason to hope, and it is that hope which fuels the work.

With this, I turn to a word of encouragement to those who minister, particularly up here in spiritually frosty New England.  It is God who ensures the work, sir, not you.  And, because He ensures the work, the work is assuredly fruitful indeed.  Now, from your perspective, dear laborer, it may very well be that the fruit of your labors remain hidden for a season, even a very long and trying season.  But, rest assured:  The Lord of the Harvest has appointed your labors, and that fruit shall indeed burst forth in fullness in His time.  It shall do so because God ensures the work.  His word does not go forth without accomplishing all His purpose, and His word sent you forth.  The minister, shall we say, ought to minister in hope, not just that he will be able to provide for his family from the proceeds, but in hope of a magnificent harvest, even should that harvest come about long after his time is done.  God ensures that His work shall be done, and as such, dear minister, you can continue your labors in joyful confident expectation of what God will do.