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Paul's ministry and liberty; servant of all for the gospel's sake
1 Corinthians 9. The apostle was exposed to the accusations of false teachers, who asserted that he carried on his evangelisation and his labours from interested motives, and that he took the property of Christians, availing himself of their devotedness. He speaks therefore of his ministry. He declares openly that he is an apostle, an eye-witness of the glory of Christ, having seen the Lord. Moreover, if he was not an apostle to others, doubtless he was to the Corinthians, for he had been the means of their conversion. Now the will of the Lord was that they who preached the gospel should live of the gospel. He had a right to take with him a sister as his wife, even as Peter did, and the brethren of the Lord. Nevertheless he had not used this right. Obliged by the call of the Lord to preach the gospel, woe unto him if he failed to do it! His glory was to do it gratuitously, so as to take away all occasion from those who sought it. For, being free from all, he had made himself the servant of all, that he might win as many as he could. Observe that this was in his service; it was not accommodating himself to the world, in order to escape the offence of the cross. He put this plainly forward (1 Corinthians 2:2); but in preaching it, he adapted himself to the religious capacity and to the modes of thought belonging to the one and to the other, in order to gain access for the truth into their minds; and he did the same in his manner of conduct among them. It was the power of charity which denied itself in all things, in order to be the servant of all, and not the selfishness which indulged itself under the pretence of gaining others. He did so in every respect for the sake of the gospel, desiring, as he said, to be a partaker with it, for he personifies it as doing the work of God's love in the world.
The apostle's course as a Christian first of all, then a preacher; warning and distinction between participation in Christian ordinances and salvation
It was thus they should run; and, in order to run thus, one must deny oneself. In this way the apostle acted. He did not run with uncertain steps, as one who did not see the true end, or who did not pursue it seriously as a known thing. He knew well what he was pursuing, and he pursued it really, evidently, according to its nature. Every one could judge by his walk. He did not trifle as a man who beats the air-easy prowess. In seeking that which was holy and glorious, he knew the difficulties he resisted in the personal conflict with the evil that sought to obstruct his victory. As a vigorous wrestler, he kept under his body, which would have hindered him. There was reality in his pursuit of heaven: he would tolerate nothing that opposed it. Preaching to others was not all. He might do that, and it might be, as regards himself, labour in vain; he might lose everything — be rejected afterwards himself, if not personally a Christian. He was a Christian first of all, then a preacher, and a good preacher, because he was a Christian first. Thus, also (for the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10 connects itself with the close of 1 Corinthians 9), others might makes a profession, partake of the initiatory and other ordinances, as he might be a preacher, and after all not be owned of God. This warning is a testimony to the condition to which, in part at least, the assembly of God was already reduced: a warning always useful, but which supposes that those who bear the name of Christian, and have partaken of the ordinances of the church, no longer inspire that confidence which would receive them without question as the true sheep of Christ. The passage distinguishes between participation in christian ordinances and the possession of salvation: a distinction always true, but which it is not necessary to make when christian life is bright in those who have part in the outward privileges of the assembly.
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