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1 Corinthians 9:15

“I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.”

Like the other Apostles, Paul had every right to accept financial support for his work of preaching the gospel. In fact, Paul even says that the normative practice of the church should be to pay its ministers. Paul’s rejection of payment for his preaching and teaching did not mean that he had no legitimate claim to compensation for gospel labor, and it did not mean that he was not a true Apostle (1 Cor. 9:1–14).

Nevertheless, having the right to something does not mean that one must take advantage of that right. Paul has been clear on that point as well (see v. 12), and in today’s passage he once more admits that he is freely surrendering his right to financial support as a minister and Apostle. Furthermore, he insists that his purpose in writing all this is not to somehow secure payment (v. 15). Given the level of distrust of Paul’s Apostolic call among some of the Corinthians (see ch. 4; 9:1–2), this qualification that he was not out to “guilt” the church at Corinth into paying him was necessary to prove their distrustful attitude wrong.

In any case, Paul goes on to say that he “would rather die than have anyone deprive [him] of [his] ground for boasting” (9:15). Apparently, the Apostle believed that for him to accept payment for gospel ministry would mean a loss of his ability to boast in the gospel. What can this mean? We will consider this today and tomorrow, so let us begin by noting that when Paul speaks of boasting in a positive sense, he is speaking of taking pride in things that reveal his weakness and thus the strength of Christ, who can use him effectively despite his weakness. For example, Paul boasts of his weaknesses in 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 because his effective ministry despite those weaknesses reveals that true power comes from Christ and thus final glory redounds to Him.

Since the cause for Paul’s boasting is typically a weakness of his that served to reveal and magnify the power of Christ, Paul evidently thought that payment would somehow strengthen him and rid him of a weakness he could boast in. The Apostle’s thinking here is hard to follow, but Paul apparently thought that in his case—though not in the case of all gospel ministers—payment would be a source of strength or an earthly reward that would make the power of Christ somehow less evident in his ministry. With that power less evident, good grounds for his boasting would be lessened.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Paul’s example of rejecting compensation for gospel ministry is not required for all preachers and teachers. Still, his attitude of not wanting to lose a ground for proper boasting should be emulated. Let us all be looking for things that magnify the power and glory of Christ in our lives even if that means accepting hardship and weakness.

For Further Study
  • Exodus 14:31
  • Psalm 57:5
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7–12
  • Hebrews 11:32–38

Getting One’s Living by the Gospel

Paul’s Reward

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue