This sermon is number 21 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 21
"The Worker's Rights"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 9:1-14
Chapter 9 and beginning to read at verse 1: "Am I not an apostle? am I not free?", some versions and I think most scholars believe that that verse should be the other way around: "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel".
I think you would have learned, if you've been with us through these studies in recent weeks, that the Corinthians for the most part thought more in terms of 'I' rather than 'we'. They thought of themselves individually rather than their collective responsibility to one another in the Lord Jesus Christ as brothers and sisters. As a result of that, when they considered their freedoms in the Lord Jesus Christ, as we saw last week in chapter 8, they focused on the benefit that they received personally from the freedoms that they had in Christ, and they failed to consider the repercussions of exercising their freedoms - how it affected their brethren and sisters in Christ. All they seemed to be concerned with was the rights of liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what the repercussions were for their brethren and sisters. So Paul had to teach them that while their freedoms were valuable, and while their liberty in Christ was a right that they had of grace, those freedoms, those liberties, were not more important or more valuable than the Gospel itself.
I think that we'll see that more clearly tonight in the illustration that Paul gives us of this principle in his own life. Christians, he's telling us in principle in chapter 8 and now by his own example, Christians when it is called upon them ought to feel able to disregard their freedoms readily and eagerly when they need to do so for the purpose of the gospel and for the betterment of their brethren and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. The principal was laid down in chapter 8 and verse 9, let's remind ourselves again: 'Take heed lest by any means this liberty of your's become a stumblingblock to them that are weak'. We saw last week that their Christian liberty, although it was their right and although the Corinthians were thinking in terms that were theologically accurate, absolutely correct and sound, Paul was coming in with a new principle that was unknown to them: that their liberty was to be limited and regulated by love.
It's alright being truthful and having all the truth at your disposal, but Paul says that that is not enough: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding gong, or a tinkling cymbal; and I am nothing if I have no love - even if I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries and give my body to be burned, if I have not charity I am nothing!'. We saw that clearly: that our rights end whenever another person, especially a brother or sister in Christ, is offended. If we offend one for whom Christ died, and we cause one to stumble for whom Christ shed His precious blood at such a cost, it is a great expense.
But what Paul is showing us here this evening in chapter 9 is an illustration, a personal illustration, how he didn't just practice what he preached, but he preached what he practised - which is more important. This wasn't something that just came out of his head and he hadn't done it yet himself, this was the way Paul had lived experientially. In verses 1 to 14 we're going to see tonight how he sets forth what was his right as a minister of the gospel of Christ, what was his entitlement as an apostle of Jesus. Next week, verses 15 to 18, we will see, and we'll see a little bit of it tonight, but we see it bore out more and explained more in the later verses, the reason why he didn't take advantage of what was his right as an apostle. Later on in verses 19 to 27 we're going to see how Paul was not only willing to give up wages, not willing just to give up his food and his drink, but he was willing to give up anything and everything, whether it was his right or not, for the sake of winning other people to the Lord Jesus Christ - that by any means he might win some.
Now this is very hard for us to swallow, because we live - although we're Christians - in this Western, affluent world, and in the free West that I hope we don't take for granted at the present time, we're told to value our freedom. But we can err on the side of valuing our freedom to such an extent that we're unwilling to give up our rights for anything. Because of that we have a society that is obsessed in the extreme with what is their individual rights. Paul is coming in here in chapter 9 trying to encourage these Corinthians to forfeit their rights for the sake of others. He does this by describing his entire ministry as one that never grasped or grappled or wrestled for his own rights, but one that was a life of servitude, sacrifice and one of accommodating others for their good.
Now let's look at this example of the principal that he's already laid down to us. The first thing that Paul does is he proves his authenticity. What he's really concerned with, before he enters into describing his rights, he has to argue for the fact of whether he's an apostle or not. We assume right away that that was disputed by the Christians who were in Corinth: 'Am I not free?', verse 1, 'Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord'. They questioned the fact that he was an apostle at all.
Now to answer that accusation he gives four questions, rhetorical questions, to which there are obvious responses. Am I not free? Now, if you've been following this book with us in recent weeks, you will see that the Corinthians have seen their freedom and their liberty as something so precious that they were even willing to offend the weaker brother to safeguard it. Paul's coming in here right away and saying: 'Well, am I not free? If you're defending your own liberty, am I not free? Am I not an apostle?'. Remember that 'apostle', although it simply means 'the sent one with a commission', we're talking about the narrow terms and definition of an apostle: i.e. one of the twelve, one who was the chosen of the Lord Jesus. Although Paul was not one of the original twelve, we know that he was classed and esteemed as the apostle to the Gentiles. Consequently, not only was he free as a Christian, but you would imagine that if he was an apostle he had liberties that other Christians didn't have. In other words, he had an authority and a jurisdiction over the church that you or I do not have. He was a central leader with all the apostles in the church, and therefore he had responsibilities, but he also had freedoms.
Therefore, what he's really saying here at the beginning is: 'The church doesn't have authority over me, am I not free? Am I not an apostle?'. It's the reverse: 'I therefore, as an apostle, am free and have authority over you in Corinth. You who are so fond of asserting your own liberty, so I, Paul, cherish my liberty very well. As an apostle I need my liberty as a responsibility to rule in the church of Jesus Christ'. So you see how he's answering them right away, and then he goes on to prove his apostleship: 'Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?'. We read between the lines and assume that they were saying: 'Well, if Paul is saying he's an apostle and Acts chapter 1 verse 22 says that to be an apostle you had to see the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, Paul wasn't one of the original twelve disciples that were with the Lord when He was on the earth, therefore Paul cannot be an apostle'. But he comes back and he says: 'Have I not seen the Lord Jesus Christ?'.
Of course it's a rhetorical question, and he's implying the answer: 'Yes, I have seen Him'. The requirement of being an apostle was to see the risen Lord Jesus, and we know from the book of Acts alone that the apostles saw the Lord Jesus risen on at least three occasions. Now let me prove this to you, if you turn to his conversion in Acts chapter 9 for a moment, and this is the primary example of when he saw the Lord, Acts chapter 9. You know the Damascus Road experience, I'll not take time to read the first three verses - verse 4: 'And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks'. He saw the Lord! But that is not the only occasion, for if you turn to chapter 18 - although this is a vision, nevertheless he claims to have seen the Lord, the risen Christ, in the vision - verse 9: 'Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision'. The Lord spake by a vision, so it wasn't just audible it was visual: 'Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city'. A third occasion, chapter 22 - it's another vision admittedly, but yet it's still a sight of the risen Lord - verse 17: 'And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me'. The mark of an apostle was to have seen the risen Christ, and Paul was defending the fact that he had the mark of apostleship - 'Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?'.
The signs of the apostle, and this is an important one because there's men claiming to be apostles around our land - in fact, only last Thursday night we received a bundle of tracts and leaflets through the door and one of the deacons gave one to me to read to see what it was all about. I began to read, and the first couple of lines right away smacked of heresy - this guy, I don't even know who he was, but his Christian name is Malcolm, said 'Malcolm, an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent by God'. There are men even in Belfast who think that they are apostles of Jesus Christ - have they seen the risen Lord Jesus? I think not! The mark of apostleship, but then there's the signs of apostleship, 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Verse 12, and he's telling the Corinthians - they should know this, they've seen this among themselves - 2 Corinthians 12 verse 12: 'Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds'. Paul had performed these signs of an apostle among them, they shouldn't have any doubts whether he was an apostle or not
So: he had the mark of an apostle, he had seen the risen Lord; he had signs of an apostle, signs and wonders and great mighty works and miracles. Then he says in our passage in Corinthians 9 that he also had the seal of the apostle: 'Are ye not my work in the Lord?', verse 2, 'If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord'. What he's saying, if I can paraphrase it, is: 'If anybody should know that I'm an apostle it should be you, because not only have you seen these signs of an apostle, but you are my seal as an apostle, you're my work in the Lord, you came to Christ through me' - all you have to do is read Acts 18 to find that out, that he had founded this church in Corinth. Many of the first saints were actually led to Christ by the apostle himself, and though it might have been sympathetic for someone who had never known the apostle Paul to hear his claims and doubt that he was an apostle, but these Corinthians of all men were not ignorant - they knew the truth, they themselves were his seal of apostleship, or proof that he was an apostle
Of course, you may know that a seal in ancient times was used on containers of merchandise, or maybe a stamp on a letter, to indicate the authenticity of what was inside it. It also stopped people tampering with the contents, or even substituting or altering it. Paul is saying: 'You, you who are doubting me, are the very proof, the authenticity that I am an apostle to the Gentiles'. Because of that he says in verse 3: 'Mine answer to them that do examine me is this' - and that's not really in reference to what follows, it's in reference to what has come before. 'My answer to those who doubt my apostleship, who examine me forensically like in a law court, my answer to them is this'
Now let me say that there will never be another apostle like these apostles, and don't ever believe anybody who says - I don't care where they come from or what theological camp they adhere to - they cannot be an apostle in the sense of these early apostles. We can never reciprocate what Paul is saying here and owning as his own, but I do want to draw two general evidences, not of an apostle, but of an authentic worker for Jesus Christ that we can take out of Paul's example. In verse 1 and verse 2 the two things we can take generally is, one: an authentic worker and server of Jesus Christ will have an experience of Christ, they will have an experience of Christ. 'Have I not seen Christ Jesus our Lord?'. Now obviously you have to be born again, and that would be elementary to even state that this evening - but the sad fact is that there are men in pulpits across our land and they're never seen Christ in salvation! Yet they claim to serve Christ! But that's not how I want to apply it, that's taken as read right away, but what we're talking about here is a living, vital relationship and communion with the Lord Jesus. That's the first thing of authentic service for the Lord
The second thing is this: a fruitful work for Christ. Not only an experience of Christ, but a fruitful work for Christ: 'Are ye not my seal of apostleship, my work in the Lord?'. Do you see this? On the one hand you have faith: an experience of Christ at conversion, and after conversion; and on the other side you have fruit for Christ. If there are two marks of an authentic servant and worker of the Lord Jesus it is both of those: faith and fruit, and that was the reason why Paul could come in as a servant of Christ with great authority - not just of apostleship, but of the fact that he knew Christ. It was obvious he knew Christ, and he had borne fruit for Christ, so he could be dogmatic before the church of Christ. If I can put it another way: he knew what he believed, and he stood up and he proclaimed what he believed with authority, and he saw fruit from proclaiming what he believed with authority.
What a picture of the authentic worker for Jesus. I just wonder why, perhaps, we have so little passion in our pulpits in this day and age in which we live, why we've so little conviction among the saints of God and among men that open the word of God and preach from its pages. I just wonder, looking at this great man of God the apostle Paul, is it because less and less people have an authentic experience of Christ? Not just at conversion, but every day! Is it because they don't have an authentic experience of the truths that they espouse when they preach? Is it because they have never proved these truths in their own lives or in their churches? Is it because they have never seen the fruit of their labour as they adhere to these principles of work and spiritual truths? As Vance Havner, I think it was him, on one occasion said: 'Don't deal in untraffiked truth' - don't deal in untraffiked truth. That simply means: don't be telling other people to do things that you're not prepared to do yourself, or maybe you've never experienced yourself.
It was Vance Havner that said: 'I read of a man who had studied Arabic until he could read it, but he couldn't speak it well enough to order a cup of coffee'. One may have a head full of theology without any testimony of actual experience. There was once a famous writer who studied medicine and was absolutely commended, so good at dissecting corpses, dead bodies, looking at the anatomy and the physiology of the human form - but he didn't like working with living people! There are those who enjoy theology and dry doctrine, but they don't care for living experience, a knowledge of Christ and experience of Christ! Seeing that experience of Christ borne out in fruit from your life for Christ, every day and every hour - this apostle Paul wasn't a man who read some theological book and espoused to its claims. He said: 'Have I not seen Christ Jesus our Lord?'
After all, is that not what Christianity is? An experience of Jesus Christ, and Paul bore this balance out that the book of James preaches to us: that faith without works is dead, and he had both of them. In verse 3 he says: 'That's my answer to them that do examine me in this'. Now, the other thing that these Corinthians were trying to do to him was push him into a narrow unnatural bracket of human life. They were saying: 'Well, if you're an apostle you should live like this, if you're a servant of God this is the habitual lifestyle that you should be portraying'. They were trying to deprive him of rights that were normal to ordinary human beings, they were setting him on a pinnacle as such. That's so relevant, because I find as we look abroad in Christendom that those in the church often feel it's their right to legislate what their leaders and the leader's families should or should not do - when most of the time they don't apply those truths to their own lives
I'm not singling anybody out, I'm not referring to my own personal experience here, or anything anybody's doing or saying to me in the meeting - don't misunderstand me at all. You know what I'm talking about. They want the missionaries to have a certain lifestyle, but they can have another one personally: 'That's terrible, a missionary living like that', but you're not prepared to live like that. You're not prepared to deny yourself where perhaps you expect others to deny themselves. And the point is, Paul is saying: 'Although I am an apostle, I'm entitled to the same privileges and joys as the rest of you'. That's what he's saying, he's saying: 'Although I am an apostle, these things are my rights'.
So he's not just proving his authenticity, but he's maintaining his liberty, verses 4 to 6. He begins to ask questions about rights, his own personal rights, and the answers again are so obvious that one can easily sense Paul's sarcasm as he asks them. Here's the first one: 'Have', verse 4, 'we not power to eat and drink?'. That basic, isn't it? 'Do we not have a right to food and drink, as we minister the Gospel to you? Are you going to starve us, make us thirst to death as we are giving to you words whereby ye may be saved, the eternal life, the well of waters springing unto eternal life, this water that will make you never thirst again and you're not going to give us a drink or a meal?'. This is what was happening, verse 5: 'Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Do we not have a right to bring our believing wives along with us, like the other apostles, when we're going on a missionary journeys?'.
Incidentally, there's a couple of things by digression we may note, that a wife in the Lord ought to be in the Lord - see what it says here? First: 'a sister, a wife', young people note that: there is to be no unequal yoke, and if it applies to an apostle it applies to a Christian - and if you're going to consider a wife, it ought to be a sister in the Lord as well. Another thing to notice is the Roman Catholic Church would say that it's required that a man of God, a minister, a priest, whatever you want to call him, ought to be celibate - but here you have Paul saying that the other apostles were not celibate, they brought their wives along - and in fact look at one who did bring his wife along: Cephas, which is the Aramaic word for Peter, their first pope! He brought his wife along with him, maybe they don't know that, but he brought her along. 'And also as the brethren of the Lord', does that mean Peter wasn't a brother of the Lord, or the apostles? No, it means the natural brothers of the Lord that Mary and Joseph had after she give birth to the Lord Jesus - the half-brothers and sisters of Christ - those brethren brought their husbands and wives along.
Paul says: 'Do we not have a right?'. Incidentally, isn't it lovely when we were pondering last week how those who are married because of the present distress, because of how short it is to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, they should live as if they're not married? Do you know one way of getting round that, rather than leaving your wife at home? It's bringing her along with you - I think this is lovely, that the wives went, they led them about as well as the other apostles. Paul says: 'If I want to have a wife, have I not a right to have a wife? Are you going to say I have to be celibate?' - that's what they were saying, because he was saying: 'I wish you were like me'. 'I have a right to be married if I want to'. Then thirdly in verse 6: 'Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?' - he's saying: 'Are I and Barnabas the only apostles not worthy of being paid for the work that we're doing for the Lord among you?'.
Some evidently thought, and I think at least that Paul's refusal to take advantages of these rights proved, that he actually lacked these rights, that he wasn't worthy of the rights - and they said: 'Well, if Paul doesn't demand a wage from us like other apostles have, and if he hasn't brought a wife along with him like the rest of the apostles, it means that he doesn't have those rights. And if they're the rights of an apostle, that means he's not an apostle at all'. You can see where reason gets you at times, and so Paul has to come in here and affirm his apostolic rights, and he pointed to this fact: that although he supported himself making tents to provide for his own needs, and even as we find in the New Testament he provided for the needs of others by doing this, although he did this he had a right to be fed at their table and paid from their finances. But he stepped aside from those rights, he even step aside from marriage which was his right, he had foregone these rights - why? For the greater good of the Gospel!
You may be surprised that Paul is going down, after talking so much in chapter 8 about your rights, foregoing them, now he's starting to establish in a legalistic way, like the lawyer he was, the reason why he has rights. Do you know why he's doing it? To show them that he didn't grasp at them, he had foregone them that they may come to Christ, and now they're holding that very thing against him. Look what he says in verse 12, although we're running ahead of ourselves, the end of it: 'Nevertheless we have not used this power', or these rights, 'but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel'. Now listen, if you give up your job to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul is saying that you have a right to be supported, but this is what he's also saying: there can come times that you should not demand your rights at the expense of the gospel. Do you see how this principle in chapter 8 that we spent so much time on is being illustrated by Paul himself here? And I think that this policy is so refreshing in the mercenary world of Christian ministry that we live in today: Paul didn't see himself as being employed, he saw himself as being called! He didn't use his position for profit, but he found a greater service in sacrifice, a greater joy in laying his life down and foregoing his rights, and he wasn't in an 'If the price is right' ministry. Let us get away from this cursed thing, this Achan that is in the camp of evangelicalism today. If you think that there are abuses on one side, there are surely abuses on the other - yes, there are churches that are starving, there are pastors and ministers today - and thank God that I'm not one of them, I'm well cared for here - but there are churches who won't support their workers when they have the ability to do it! God forgive them!
Sam Jones said that when asked about finances in his early ministry, he always replied: 'I leave that with the brethren', and Sam added, 'and I really did, for when I left the brethren still had it'. On the other hand, there are those not only who withhold what is the due of the ministers of Christ, but there are workers, preachers, missionaries, who are fleecing and sponging off congregations who don't have the wherewithal - yet they're demanding it as their rights! There are congregations left without shepherds because they can't keep a man in the custom to which he is used. What is Paul saying in all of this? He's saying: 'You're not seeing what really suffers - yes, the congregation suffers; yes, on occasions the servant of God suffers; but the gospel is what ultimately suffers'. Oh that we could see the bigger picture in all of this politicking, at times, that goes on in ecclesiastical halls.
He proves his authenticity, he maintains his liberty as his right, and then in verses 7 to 14 he defends his entitlement. In verse 7 he begins to build the case further, and he appeals to seven pieces of evidence - he's going now down a legal route here to prove why it's his right to have a wage. Verse 7: 'Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?'. One preacher called this chapter, as he preached on it, 'Questions, questions, questions' - there are so many questions in the chapter, aren't there? But they're rhetorical, they're obvious, the answers to them stare us in the face as he goes down. The first thing he does is he defends his rights in three ways from the customary realm of society of his day - things that ordinary people knew.
The first is: he defends his right by the illustration, the allegory of warfare: 'Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?'. Now this comes home to us this particular night as we find our nation at war, and we ask ourselves: 'Do any of our soldiers', and we thank God for them, 'do any of them buy a ticket to Baghdad with their own wages?'. Do any of them buy a machine gun and grenades out of their own pocket and their family allowance? They don't do it! They don't go to war at their own expense, they don't pay for the things they need, they don't have to have another job to work at night, because their service is for the country and the country pays their way. Do you see where he's going? Then in the customary area he talks about a farmer, or a vineyard dresser, and he defends his right by farming: 'Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof?'. Have you ever seen a vineyard farmer going down to the supermarket and buying a bunch of grapes? Sure it's ridiculous! He doesn't do that, he eats of his own fruit. Then he talks about shepherds, he defends his right by the allegory of shepherding: 'Who feedeth a flock', a shepherd, 'and eateth not of the milk of the flock?'. Do shepherds have milkmen? Of course they don't, they eat of the milk of the flock; or men who milk the cows eat of the herd, the milk of the herd in our nation.
Paul is really saying that all these customs show us that common sense dictates this: that he that lives for the gospel ought to live off the gospel, and as people in the world have a right to make a living from their own work, surely a Christian should be provided for by the Christian? I don't think the analogy should be ignored either, that he uses this picture of a soldier: one who has courage, one who has loyalty, dedication, enduring hardship. That's what should be the mark of a servant of God if he's going to be supported of children of God, to be courageous and loyal and dedicated, enduring hard times. The same with a vinedresser, what does he do? He plants something that bears fruit - and what are we planting in our churches? Is it bearing fruit? A shepherd is one who takes care of the flock, doesn't leave the flock, provides food and watches for the souls of the flock. Those servants should be looked after, Paul says.
Now watch what he does: he's defended it by warfare, by farming, by shepherding, and now he defends it by law - verses 8 to 10. He says: 'Say I these things as a man?'. You see you had these hyper-spiritual people in Corinth, like you have in churches today, and when you give an illustration from life, ordinary life, they say: 'Oh, that's worldly'. Paul says: 'Say I these things as a man? Is it a merely human point of view that I'm talking about here? Does God not confirm this in the law of God?'. He defends his right by the law of Moses, and Paul believes obviously that the law of the Old Testament undergirded moral principles and his moral right to receive a livelihood from his ministry. If you have a good marginal Bible you'll see that he says in verse 9: 'For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn', and it's quoted from Deuteronomy chapter 25 verse 4.
Now thank God we're free from the law, oh happy condition - but please don't for one moment think that the law is all cruel, because behind the God of the Old Testament law there is the same compassion that we find in the very bosom of the Lord Jesus Christ. For even that old law that condemns to death so many sinners, has enough compassion to protect an old ox treading at the corn - isn't that lovely? It reminds me of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord God of heaven takes note even of the little sparrow that falls, how much more are ye than many sparrows? Now I know that Paul says at the end of verse 9: 'Does God take care of oxen?', and he's meaning: is God really talking about oxen here? That's what he's saying - it doesn't mean that God doesn't care about oxen, we know He cares for the sparrow, but what he's saying is: 'Is that the point God is really getting at, or is God undergirding a principle here that transcends just farming?', and that's exactly what He's doing.
We know that there were two methods of treading out the grain that were practised, and at times they would take the stalks of the grain and spread them over a flat hard surface called a threshing floor. The oxen or the horses would drag a weighted board across the grain by walking around and around a central position, around a pole if you like - and this grain would be crushed. But there were other times that the animal simply walked on the grain with their feet and trod it out, and what the law is saying is that the farmer isn't to muzzle the oxen treading out the corn, but the oxen is permitted when it's hungry to bend down to the corn that its treading and eat of it. 'Does God take care of oxen?', or verse 10, 'saith he it altogether for our sakes?' - isn't that lovely? It's for our sakes even that old law was given, there's a deeper moral principle undergirding the law, and it's summed up when he says in verse 10 that: 'he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope'. Those who are threshing ought to have hope in sharing in the harvest, do you not think that's fair?
I think at times there are double standards operated in the church of Jesus Christ with regards to missionaries and servants and evangelists and so on, but Paul says to Timothy: 'There ought not to be, but the one that labours among you in the word of God ought to be due double honour!'. In verse 11 he said: 'If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?'. What he's saying? 'We sowed spiritual seed among you, and surely we have every right to reap material harvests' - do you know what he's doing? He's setting the spiritual and the material in contrast, and he's saying: 'Surely it's insignificant if we've given unto you the words of eternal life and are building you up and feeding you spiritually, that we should receive material things from you?'. Do you know what the problem was? They esteemed the material things greater than that which was spiritual.
I wonder do we do that today? It'll be borne out, as one man said: 'You'll know how evangelistic a church is by looking at the budget', how much they spend on it. My friends, surely the spiritual is more important? In verse 12 he indicates that these Corinthians, they were supporting other workers that weren't even labouring among them at this particular time. Look at it: 'If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Do we not deserve it?'. I think it's probably these other Christians, maybe Apollos, maybe Cephas who came after Paul had settled the church there and lead them to Christ. He defends, not only by the law, but by precedent: 'You've done this for other people, surely I have a greater right when I'm the apostle to the Gentiles, and I led you to Christ in the first place'.
He's building up some case here, isn't he? But here's the point, the crescendo, the climax, the second part of verse 12: 'Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ'. Others who came after Paul claimed their right and got it, but he didn't claim it! That's his point: 'It was my right', and he's built up the case not to get what is due, but to show them that he had foregone it for their good - why does he do it? Not to show how big a man the apostle Paul is, but to show them that they ought to do it too for the brethren - forgo their rights. He said, and this is tremendous: 'but suffer, I suffer all things' - do you know what that Greek word is? It's the word 'endure', 'stego' (sp?) - and it can be translated like this 'to pass over in silence'. He's saying: 'I put up with not being given enough food on the table, not enough drink to quench my thirst. I had to work on tents with my own hands for my own needs, and the needs of my brethren, and I suffered it in silence - why? That it would not hinder the Gospel!' - that's why! I tell you, a dose of this would be good for all of us. How many of us would pay our own way to get the gospel out?
He says: 'I did this not to hinder the gospel', look at that wee word 'hinder' for a moment. It's a Greek word that I'm led to believe is a surgical term for making an incision, a cut. What he's really saying is: 'I didn't want, with financial needs, to cut the body of Christ to such an extent that it would wound the gospel'. At all costs he was trying to avoid the impression of a financial interest in the ministry that God had given him. He defended by precedent, now he defends it by priesthood sixthly - verse 13: 'Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?'. You know that these priests and Levites got their food from the temple offering, and shared in what had been sacrificed on the altar. Then in verse 14: 'Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel' - he concludes in the same way as the Lord Jesus Himself. This isn't just mere human wisdom, the Lord Himself said that the workman is worthy of his meat, Matthew 10:10 - and to the 72 He said in Luke 10:7: 'The labourer is worthy of his hire' - defended by the Lord, and his conclusion couldn't have been stronger than that!
What a case! Defended by warfare, farming, shepherding, law, precedent, priesthood, and the Lord Himself - yet at the end of it all he didn't claim his right, why? Because the Christian worker is not to be seen as a wage-earner, but he's to be thought of in terms of love rather than law, gratitude rather than duty and compulsion. Now give me a couple of minutes here as I draw this all together, because there's principles and applications that we can apply to our lives. Paul had authority that none of us have, or no modern worker preacher or missionary has, yet we ought to submit to this apostolic authority we find here. Here's about four or five ways we can do it. One: we should support our workers - and I thank you for supporting me, but there's more than me you know. There's missionaries, there's evangelists, there's organisations, and it's up to us to support them. There's the work here, and we'll be building soon, and it's our duty to support it! Second: we need to realise that expressing our freedom in Christ, although it is our right, it may hinder the gospel at times. Thirdly: lost souls, what a principle this is, are more important than our rights! Fourthly: we need to cultivate our love for others that motivates us to place their need for the gospel above our desire for freedom and rights.
I love Philippians 2, as we've been meditating in it, and what does verse 6 say: 'He was in the form of God', the morphae (sp?) of God, 'yet He thought it not something to be grasped at, but made Himself of no reputation. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself' - He, the Christ, didn't grasp at His own deity! He had it, but He didn't revel in its privileges. I love those old Moravian missionaries, and there's a story told of one of them who was in the West Indies, and no matter how much he tried he could get no access to the natives because they were kept working all day as slaves, and then when they got home at night they were too tired to be receptive to the gospel. After he had tried every plan he could think of and failed in every one of them, the verse Romans 12 verse 1 came to him, about offering your body as a living sacrifice. He took drastic action, and do you know what he did? He sold himself into slavery! By one of the plantation owners he was driven every day with those coloured men into the field to work, but it was there he could speak to them - he forwent his right of freedom for the cause of the gospel and for the cause of Christ.
How much do we do that? Come on, we're not talking about pastors and missionaries here, and evangelists, this is for us all - and we'll see this next week. Are we obsessed with our rights? Can we say in the spirit of Christ, like the Moravian man, like Paul the apostle and like the imitable C.T. Studd: 'If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him'. Next week we're going to see the worker's responsibility to the church and to the gospel.
Oh, our Father, let our lives be given and every moment spent for God, for souls, for heaven, and all earth's ties be rent. Lord Jesus, Thou gavest Thyself for me, but what have I given for Thee? Lord, let our lives not be a hindrance to Thy gospel, but may our deaths be a testimony to it, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-first tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Worker's Rights" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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