Formations lesson for May 27: Personal Freedom
May 11 2001 by F. Calvin Parker , 1 Corinthians 9:1-18

Formations lesson for May 27: Personal Freedom | Friday, May 11, 2001

Friday, May 11, 2001

Formations lesson for May 27: Personal Freedom

By F. Calvin Parker 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 This lesson begins a new unit on the theme of freedom. The transition from the previous unit on Paul the apostle is remarkably smooth. In last week's lesson Paul delivered the gift of freedom to a slave girl and to a jailer. In today's lesson he declares and explains his personal freedom as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

The freedom of an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1-7) Even though Paul had founded the church in Corinth, some of its members questioned his claim to apostolic status. Paul was different from Peter and the other apostles in that he refused material aid from the church. His refusal aroused suspicion. Could it be that he knew in his heart he was not a true apostle?

Paul's response is passionate; a barrage of pointed questions. But it is a carefully reasoned defense. His apostleship is genuine, Paul argues, for like the other apostles, he has seen the Lord - on the Damascus road. Moreover, his missionary labors have been blessed of God, and the Corinthian church is a prime exhibit of his achievements. Being an apostle, Paul insists, does not mean that he has to live as the other apostles live. He is free to do what he thinks best for the work of Christ.

The right to compensation (1 Corinthians 9:8-14) Having declined material aid, Paul makes a forceful argument for the right to receive it. He bolsters the teaching of Scripture with human analogies to establish that workers - religious workers included - are entitled to a just wage. "The Lord commanded," Paul adds, "that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The closest equivalent found in the Gospel sayings of Jesus is Luke 10:7: "the laborer deserves to be paid."

This principle can be followed in different ways. Billy Graham, like most professional evangelists, received love offerings as his income until he was embarrassed by the huge amount contributed at his 1950 Atlanta crusade. To avoid comparison to a sheep-fleecing Elmer Gantry, Graham wisely chose to live on a salary.

While in Japan I was supported by Southern Baptists in America and not by the people to whom I ministered. And unlike most religious workers in this country, we missionaries served under a "support system" as opposed to a "salary system." Whether preacher, teacher, doctor, nurse or "church and home" missionary, we were paid on the same scale. Differences in our qualifications, responsibilities and effectiveness - important factors in a salary system - played no role in our level of support. Because of our missionary calling, we were expected to give our best to the work and to accept changes in location and assignment without financial motivation. Under this system too, I think I was getting my living by the gospel.

Freedom to waive one's right (1 Corinthians 9:15-18) Having established his right to compensation, Paul boldly waives it. Even though he accepts aid from other churches, notably the church at Philippi, he declines it from Corinth. He deems it important in this case to set an example of self-denial and not be a burden to anyone (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9). He even glories in the freedom to pay his own way and make the gospel "free of charge." After all, he cannot help but preach!

Did Paul disobey Christ's command that preachers should get their living from the gospel? F.F. Bruce writes that the "command" had the nature of a "permission," not a "regulation" (Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit, p. 107). Paul was free to forego the right that he claimed for others.

In a sense I waived this right while serving as pastor of a Japanese church in Tokyo, since I was receiving my missionary pay. Whether this was good for the church, I cannot say for sure. Obviously, tentmakers and bi-vocational ministers play an essential role in the kingdom of God. And all religious workers need to guard against any suspicion of mercenary motives.

In summary, churches and ministers alike should seek the proper balance between personal freedom and mutual accountability. Surely this is in keeping with the spirit of Paul.

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5/11/2001 12:00:00 AM by F. Calvin Parker , 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 | with 0 comments
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