In the greater part of this chapter Paul continues speaking on the subject of Christian liberty and its proper use. It is our duty to deny ourselves of even that which is lawful if it is genuinely offensive to our brother. He uses himself as an example, having denied himself in three things: eating and drinking at their expense, marriage and requiring financial support for his labour among them. All were lawful to him, but he denied himself for their sakes who were weak in the faith.
(Vs. 1, 2.) Some denied that Paul was an apostle because he was not one of the original twelve. He refutes the charge saying, "I am free." No man had authority over him. He was chosen, ordained, taught and sent forth as an apostle by Christ (Gal. 1:11, 12, 15-18). "I have seen the Lord." All apostles were eye-witnesses of his glory (Acts 10:39-42; 1 John 1:1, 2). Paul saw Christ on the Damascus Road and when he was taken to the third heaven. "But" he adds, "if others deny my apostleship, surely you Corinthians will not; for the effects of my ministry among you puts you past denial. You are living proof of God's hand on me."
(Vs. 3.) This is his ground of defence, the vindication of his apostleship and himself to those who would criticize and question him: "I have authority directly from Christ. I am an eye-witness of his glory. The fruits of my ministry are proof of apostleship!"
(Vs. 4, 5.) Having proved his apostleship, Paul proceeds to establish his right to support and maintenance as a gospel minister. "Do I not have the right to food and drink at the expense of those to whom I minister? Do I not have a right to take along with me a wife, as do the other apostles James, John, Peter and those who were near kinsmen to our Lord?"
(Vs. 6.) "Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from manual labour for a livelihood, in order to give our full time to the gospel ministry?" Paul worked with his hands in his trade at Corinth (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33, 34; 1 Thess. 2:9). While at many places he did not exercise his right of support, he nevertheless defended it.
(Vs. 7.) By three examples commonly known among men, Paul shows it to be reasonable that ministers of the gospel should be supported by the people to whom they minister.
1. What soldier serves in an army and goes to war for a nation at his own expense?
2. What man plants a vineyard and does not eat some of the fruit?
3. Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk and eat the meat?
(Vs. 8.) "Do I say this as a man reasons and only on human authority? Does not the Word of God teach the same also?"
(Vs. 9.) "It is written in Deuteronomy 25:4: "You shall not put a muzzle on an ox when he treads out the corn, in order to keep him from eating of it." God looked upon this as an act of cruelty. Does God care more for oxen than he does for his ministers?
(Vs. 10.) It is true that Deuteronomy 25:4 mentions oxen in particular; but it is a principle that is to be applied to all our dealings with those who labour and serve us, especially those who minister the all-important Word of God. He who ploughs for another ought to work with the hope of getting bread for himself, "and he who works in the threshing-floor ought to labour in the hope of being cared for by those for whom he labours (1 Tim. 5:17, 18).
(Vs. 11.) "If we have studied, preached and taught you the doctrines of the Word of God and you have profited spiritually through our constant labour, is it asking too much if we share in your material possessions, such as food, drink and clothing?"
(Vs. 12.) "Other preachers among you justly claim and enjoy your support. Do not Barnabas and I have an even greater claim, being the first ministers to preach the gospel to you, and I, being an apostle of Christ? Yet I did not exercise this privilege of support while I was labouring among you, lest someone charge me with covetousness and hinder the spread of the gospel."
(Vs. 13.) "You can understand the mind and will of God under the New Testament by studying the mind and will of God under the Old Testament. God has a ministry under the Old Testament (the tribe of Levi), and he appointed a livelihood for them" (Num. 18:20, 21; Deut. 18:1).
(Vs. 14.) God's will for his ministers is the same under the New Testament. It is his will that those who have set aside worldly employment to spend their time in the study and preaching of the gospel should have a livelihood from their labour.