During Paul’s ministry there were some in the Church who did not believe he was a true apostle. I was surprised when I learned that fact. One example is the Jewish group of believers who were called the Ebionites. They believed that Gentiles had to become Jews to be Christians and taught circumcision. They held other views that were considered heretical. Of course, Paul writes against those who taught that. It is clear that Paul had critics who attacked him and his apostleship. It is possible the slander had reached Corinth at the time of this letter, so Paul addresses it.
“1 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”
Paul had a very special encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. The Lord chose Paul, an enemy of the Church, to be a witness to the Gentiles, and he would suffer greatly for the name of Christ. Jesus specificaly chose him for a specific task and was sent. That makes him an apostle. The work Paul had done among the Gentiles, and the fact that his work was used by the Lord to produce fruit among them and bring unbelievers into the kingdom shows the truth of Paul’s calling. The Corinthians were part of that proof. Others may not have considered him an apostle, but he was to all those churches where he had laid the foundation of Christ.
“3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”
I think Paul may be addressing particular attacks that are being made against him here. Of course him and Barnabas have the right to eat and drink. Maybe someone was calling them gluttons and drunks. Maybe they were criticising Paul’s team because they took believing wives with them. Some have used this text to say that Paul was married, but I don’t think so according to the information Paul gives back in early chapters about himself and marriage. I think Barnabas or other team members had wives. I think it is very interesting that some of the other apostles, brothers of the Lord, and even Peter had wives that they took with them. These texts are proof that the tradition of the Catholic Church of forcing Priests to remain single is wrong.
“6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock… 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?
Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.”
The slander must have included accepting money from churches for the work of Christ. Paul begins defending the practice of churches supporting full time servants of the Lord at this point. He draws on illustrations from the Old Testament to do so. He shows it is right to accept funds from the Church for their work, but then goes on to say to the Corinthians that he did not use this right in regard to them. That way there would be nothing to hinder the good news that he had brought to them.
“13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
So in conclusion to that point Paul uses one further illustration from the Old Testament and the current practice of his time. The priests who served in the Temple were given the sacrifices as food for their table as commanded by God. And the Lord had revealed to the Church and commanded that those who work full time for Him should live from that work. The logical conclusion is that the Churches are to support those God has called to minister to them.
“15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.”
In regard to the Corinthians, Paul did not accept anything from them. Nor is he writing those things for it to begin to be done. I believe it is because of the slander that had been brought against him, Barnabas, and his team that he defends himself. And since he had been chosen to not accept anything, and had spoken about it, if he changed his mind it would be better to die. Then his enemies could in some way think they were justified in slandering him as they were doing.
“16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.”
If Paul preached the Gospel and accepted funds from the Corinthians then he would no longer be able to say that he did it for the sake of Christ alone. His enemies could say he preached the Gospel out of a desire for money. Peter points out that some were doing that at that time(2 Peter 2:3). That was not Paul’s heart, therefore he did not accept financial contributions from the Corinthians.
Paul’s thought in regard to not preaching the gospel is one that brings God’s wrath to mind when he uses the word, “woe.” How terrible it would be for Paul if he didn’t do what the Lord had called and directed him to do. I think Paul willingly and unwillingly did what he had to do. There are two sides of the coin here. Of course Paul willingly wanted to serve the Lord, but I am sure there were some things that he suffered through that at times he was unwilling. I don’t think anyone wants to suffer the terrible things Paul went through such as stonings, scouraging, being in danger, cold, shipwrecked or anything else along those lines. Paul’s reward from the Lord was that he was able to preach the Gospel freely without accepting funds, that way Paul would not be tempted in anyway to abuse his position. Paul worked with his own hands to provide for himself and his companions. He was skilled in other areas that allowed him to survive. And Christ had helped him to be content in any circumstances (1 Timothy 6:8).
Peter writes that those who are to shepherd God’s flock are to not be greedy for money (1 Peter 5:2). God wants them to be willing and eager to serve. He wants them to be content and rely on Him. I think about today how the unbelieving world sees this issue. I turn on Christian television and see how they are focused on nothing but money. The end result is that those who desire money and wealth in the leadership of churches bring criticism and negativity to the name they represent.
I really do not think that pleases Christ. Men of God should be content with what God provides for them. They should flee from greed and live modest, Christ honoring life styles. After all Jesus is the example to follow. Especially in our day with all the scandals, greedy, false teachers out there like Robert Tilton. I was really unhappy when I saw that he was back on television, as I was when I turn through channels and come across Jimmy Swaggart. They drag the name of Jesus through the mud with their antics, then after taking off some time they come back to do it again. It is terrible what some gullible, ignorant Christians will listen to and some of the men they follow. Like sheep without a shepherd. It grieves my heart.
Its nothing new. The priesthood in OT times grew corrupt and wicked as well. Jesus looked on the people when He came as sheep without a shepherd, and God through the prophets severly condemned the corruption and religious hypocritical leaders. Jesus did the same at the Temple.
Paul writes to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).