Paul Defends Himself From The Criticism That He Is Not Worthy Of Being Supported As A Leader; He Had The Right To Be Supported But Chose Not To Use That Right
Because of the Fall, human beings are alienated from God, and alienated from one another. Humanity is broken, fractured, disunified. We are divided along many lines – language, geography, nationality, skin color, religion, ideology, politics, economic status. The one new man, Messiah’s new united community, can’t be like that. We must be different from the world. But there were divisions in Messiah’s Community in Corinth. Some were supporting one leader and opposing other leaders. Paul was one of those who was being opposed. He defends himself – not just for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the community. The Community in Corinth will be better off if Paul is not being undermined.
He asks questions designed to reveal that he was worthy of everyone’s respect. Am I not free? Yes, Paul was a free man. He was not a slave. Free people deserved a certain level of respect. And Paul was more than just a free man.
Am I not an apostle? Apostle means emissary or representative. An apostle, as the word is used here, refers to someone who is sent by God. An apostle, who represented God, had the highest spiritual authority. An apostle deserved a high level of respect.
One of the qualifications for being an apostle was seeing the Lord Yeshua. Have I not seen Yeshua our Lord? Yes, Paul had seen the Lord Yeshua. Messiah had appeared to Paul. Paul was a true apostle. Everyone who followed the Lord Yeshua should give him the greatest respect.
Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Yes. Messiah’s many followers in Corinth were the result of Paul’s work. The Lord had used Paul to start the community. Starting one of Messiah’s communities is not easy. It’s not something that everyone can do. It takes a special set of skills. Starting a community merits respect, especially from those who benefitted from that work.
Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! Even if others followers of Messiah outside of Corinth did not recognize Paul as an apostle, the Corinthians should. They knew how the Lord had used him to establish the community.
For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. Apostles were special. The Lord used them in great ways. Messiah’s Community in Corinth, which was a great work of God, was evidence that Paul was a true apostle.
After these questions were answered, it was obvious that everyone in Corinth should acknowledge Paul as an apostle and give him the respect he deserved.
Some of Messiah’s followers in Corinth were sitting in judgment on Paul. They were criticizing him and trying to find fault with him, so they could disqualify him as a leader. That was wrong. It needed to stop. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Paul was aware of their criticisms. Here’s one of their criticisms. It has to do with financial support: Other leaders were being financially supported by God’s people because they recognized that those other leaders were worthy of their support. Paul, however, often was not supported by God’s people. Often he worked to support himself, like he had done in Corinth. The reason why Paul needed to support himself was because God’s people recognized that Paul was unworthy of being supported.
To defend himself from this criticism, again the Rabbi asks some questions. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? The answer is yes. Paul and his team had the right to be financially supported so that they could buy food and drink, drink referring to wine.
Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? The answer is again, yes. Paul and his team, if they were married, had the right to take their wives with them while traveling and serving the Lord, and the wives were to be financially supported – just like the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers who had come to faith, and Simon Peter received financial support to take their wives with them.
This raises a question: if Peter, whom the Catholic Church considers to be the first pope, had a wife, why can’t his so-called successors get married?
Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? The answer is no. Paul and his friend Barnabas had the same right to not have to work to support themselves while they were serving the Lord, just like the other leaders had. Paul and Barnabas had the same right to be supported by God’s people as the others leaders had.
Paul asks more questions which are designed to reveal that he had the right to be supported by God’s people. Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? The answer: no one. Soldiers do not serve at their own expense. Soldiers are paid for what they do.
Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? The answer: no one. Everyone who plants a vineyard expects to benefit from the grapes.
Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? The answer: no one. Everyone who tends a flock benefits from the milk that is produced.
The common theme: those who work deserve to be paid. And, as he does so often, the Rabbi reinforces his teaching with a quote from the Word of God. Do I say this merely on human authority? No, what Paul is saying comes from more than human authority.
Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? Yes, the Torah teaches the same thing. For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God’s Word teaches that an ox, while it is treading the grain, is to be allowed to eat some of the grain. The ox is to be supported while it is working.
Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Yes, God is concerned about oxen, but God is more concerned about human beings, who are more valuable than oxen.
Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because (and here is the principle) whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. Those who work deserve to be paid.
The Rabbi asks another question, which applies this principle to himself and his co-workers. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? The answer: No, it is not too much to ask to be financially supported for doing spiritual ministry. Since spiritual things are greater than material things, those who are doing spiritual work have the right to receive financial support from those who are benefitting from their spiritual ministry.
If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? The answer: Yes, others had the right to be supported by the Corinthians, and even more so Paul, who had founded the community, and by doing that, had benefitted them more than anyone.
Paul and his team had more right to financial support than the others, but chose not to use that right. But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Messiah. To prevent anyone from saying that they were in it for the money, and not because they knew the Gospel message was true, and thus discredit the message about Messiah, Paul and his team chose not to take financial support from God’s people, even though they had the right to receive it.
The Rabbi asks another question design to teach the Corinthians that he and his team had the right to receive their financial support. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? The answer is, everyone who is familiar with the Torah knows that those who serve in God’s temple were supported by the temple, and the priests who serve at the altar share in sacrifices that were offered on the altar.
In the same way, just as those who served at the temple were supported by the temple, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. Paul and his co-workers had the right to be supported by God’s people.
But I have not used any of these rights. The Rabbi will let them know why he has not used his right to receive financial support. But first, he makes it clear that he is not writing to get them to give money to him. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. There is a bad kind of boasting, and there is a good kind of boasting. This is the good kind. Paul had boasted that, even though he had the right to be supported, he had chosen not to use that right. He had chosen to earn his own living and support himself and preach the gospel at his own expense. He felt very strongly about this. He’d rather die than receive money from them and lose his boasting rights.
Why did he want to boast about not taking money? He tells us. For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. We don’t boast about doing our job. Everyone is expected to do their job. If your boss gives you a job to do, and you do that job, you don’t go to the boss and say: “Boss, I did the job you told me to do. Aren’t I wonderful? Don’t I deserve a raise?” We don’t boast about fulfilling our responsibilities. Everyone is expected to fulfill their responsibilities. It was Paul’s responsibility to proclaim the Good News. The Lord had given him that responsibility, and Paul was profoundly aware of the need to fulfill that responsibility. He had a deep inner awareness of the need to fulfill that responsibility. He was compelled to preach the Gospel.
He knew if he did not proclaim the message, he was not fulfilling his responsibility, and would be in big trouble. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
It was Paul’s responsibility to proclaim the Good News about the Messiah, and it was the responsibility of God’s people to support him as he did so. However, those who do their duty don’t deserve a special reward. But, Paul wanted a special reward, and he wanted to be able to boast about that special reward. So, he made a decision to earn his own living and not take the support of God’s people, which was his right. If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
Paul was compelled to proclaim the Good News to a world of human beings who are perishing. And he understood that the world is made up of different peoples with different values and different abilities. He felt an obligation to reach each one, and adapt himself so as to best be able to reach each one. Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. Paul felt responsible to bring the Good News to everyone. He felt an obligation to everyone, almost like the obligation of a slave to his master. What was his obligation? To tell that person about Yeshua – who He is; how sinlessly He lived; how He had died; how He had risen; how He had ascended; how He was able to give His Spirit to those who become loyal to Him.
This is a big world, with many kinds of peoples with different values and different abilities. Paul knew that he had to adapt himself to each one to most effectively communicate the message to each one. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. When trying to reach Jewish people, he identified as a Jewish person. He emphasized shared Jewish interests. To those under the law (the law being the Sinai Covenant) I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. Paul makes it clear that as a Jewish follower of the Messiah, his relationship to the Law, the Sinai Covenant, had changed. He was no longer under its authority. But, when among Jewish people who were still under is authority, he lived like a Jewish person who was under its authority. He didn’t want to do anything that would offend them, so they would think of Paul as a law-breaker. That might have prevented them from considering his message.
To those not having the law (the Gentiles) I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Messiah’s law), so as to win those not having the law. The Jewish people were under the authority of the Sinai Covenant. The peoples from the nations other than Israel were not under the law. The Sinai Covenant was not given to them. They were not responsible to live according to its many laws. Yet this very Jewish man was able to find common ground with them, and by doing so, direct them to Messiah.
I am not free from God’s law but am under Messiah’s law. Paul makes it clear that, although he was no longer under the authority of the Sinai Covenant, he was not lawless. God still had law. God’s law was still operating, but now it was the law of the Messiah, not the law of Moses. Covenant. Paul was under the authority of Messiah’s New Covenant – which means that Messiah’s New Covenant is not the same as the Sinai Covenant. The New Covenant is not the Sinai Covenant that has been renewed. Messiah’s New Covenant is different from the Sinai Covenant.
Paul applies his principle of making himself adaptable to everyone to those who are weak. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. Paul himself was strong – maybe not physically strong, but he had great inner strength; and he had great mental strength. Even though he was strong, he was able to find things in common and relate to those who were weak, in order to direct them to Messiah, who is able to give His great strength to those who are weak.
He applies his principle of adaptability to everyone. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. Paul understood that there was always one or more important interests that he shared with everyone. He found shared interests, areas of commonality in order to point people to Messiah in a way suited to them, so they could be saved. Paul didn’t expect all to be saved – just some.
This isn’t trickery. This is not about someone pretending to be something he isn’t. This is not unethical behavior. This is about finding shared interests with others which will enable them to be able to hear the truth.
The Son of God did this. When the woman at the well came to draw water, Yeshua used her interest in water to point her to Himself. I can give you living water. To the crowds at Sukkot who were praying for rain, He promised that those who believed in Him would have rivers of living water flowing within them. When crowds came to Yeshua looking for bread, He used their interest in bread to point them to Himself. I am the bread of life that came from Heaven. To those who were concerned about the temple, He claimed to be the temple. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. To those who were interested in the Sabbath, He claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath.
Paul made himself a slave to everyone. He gave up his interests and devoted his life to bring people the Good News. That is their greatest need and bring them the greatest benefit. And he lets us know that he also made these sacrifices to benefit himself. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Paul understood that the one who gives up his life in this world for the sake of advancing the message about Messiah will be blessed – in this life; and he will receive many blessings in the world to come.
It made sense to Paul to sacrifice his own interests and focus on proclaiming the Gospel and sharing in its blessings. That made sense to Paul. That was a deal that Paul is willing to make. And it makes sense to me, and I’ve tried to do that – but nothing compared to Paul. How about you? Does it make sense to you to sacrifice your interests for the sake of the Gospel, so as to share in its blessings?
Father, I am impressed with Paul’s sense of mission; that he felt an obligation to reach everyone, and was willing to adapt himself so as to best be able to reach everyone. Give us a greater sense of mission, and a greater sense of obligation to reach as many as we can.
Father, Your servant and representative, Paul, has made it clear that those who benefit by a spiritual ministry should support that ministry. Thank You that over the years, many of Your people have supported me, and Rabbi Glenn and others of the Shema team as we proclaim the Good News and build Your community. Lord, bless them. Reward them.