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1 Corinthians 9:1–2

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”

Paul’s rejection of the self-professed “strong” Corinthians’ joining in the meals that were part of pagan worship is based on the fact that doing so was not loving toward other believers. Formally, the “strong” were correct that since only one God exists, the pagans were not actually worshiping deities when they gathered in their temples. For instance, despite appearances to the contrary, pagans who gathered to worship the Greek god Zeus did not actually worship Zeus, for no such god exists (1 Cor. 8:1–6). Moreover, the “strong” Corinthians were correct that eating in itself is indifferent and thus that they were free to eat whatever they liked (v. 8). However, the “strong” Corinthians applied these truths wrongly by taking part in the pagan meals. Their actions caused believers who thought that the gods existed to fall back into idolatry (vv. 7, 9–10).

This was not the only reason that eating the pagan meals was wrong (10:20–21), but it was a fundamental reason. Christians have been brought into a new relationship with God and with each other, so we must look out for the interests of other believers (Phil. 2:4). Thus, Paul concludes that it is wrong to use our knowledge of the truth in a way that ends up leading others astray (1 Cor. 8:11–12). He vows that he will not eat if such eating will cause others to stumble (v. 13).

Although Paul will make it clear that “weaker,” less knowledgeable believers should not lord their weaknesses in such a way as to bind others (10:23–30; see Rom. 14), he must first make it clear that Christian freedom should not be employed in a way to make others stumble. But such does not deny the true freedom that believers possess (1 Cor. 8:13). This leads him in 1 Corinthians 9 into a bit of a digression on his freedom as an Apostle, which also serves as a defense of his Apostleship. As we saw in chapter 4, some in Corinth questioned Paul’s Apostolic call, apparently because they thought his suffering was incongruous with Apostolic ministry. Chapter 9 indicates that Paul’s failure to enjoy having a wife and financial support from the Christian congregation as the other Apostles did also led some to question his Apostleship. If he were truly an Apostle, the opposition reasoned, he would make use of such rights.

Paul begins his defense by noting that he is most certainly an Apostle. In fact, the Corinthians proved as much because they were converted under his ministry. In a sense, to question Paul’s ministry was to question their own understanding of the gospel (vv. 1–2).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

The Corinthians are not the only professing believers in history to question Paul’s call. Even today, some professing believers doubt that Paul spoke for Christ. They might explicitly call his authority into question by denying his teaching or more implicitly doubt him by putting his teaching on a lower level than that of Jesus. Let us not do that for Paul or any of the other Apostles.

For Further Study
  • Acts 9:1–31
  • 2 Peter 3:15–16

Wounding the Conscience of Another

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue