The church in every generation faces the possibility of being swallowed by the surrounding culture. Patronage was a highly valued cultural norm in first-century Corinth.
Patrons achieved status by providing the athletic contests, food, and road improvements that the government didn’t offer.
Another status symbol for a wealthy patron was to have a wise speaker on the payroll.
It was considered dishonorable for wisdom speakers to work at anything but perfecting their entertaining craft.
Paul, the Contrarian
Paul’s goal was to help the church lead a Jesus-kind-of-life. Jesus would never have been a public speaker for a wealthy individual.
Paul sought to imitate Jesus, which involved opposing the cultural trend in Corinth. His refusal of patronage was an object lesson to the church.
Self-sacrificing love was the lifestyle of Jesus and it was to be the same for the church.
Paul began his argument by listing the rights that could easily have been his.
— 1 Corinthians 9.1-7 – Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
This is my defense to those who would examine me.
Do we not have the right to our food and drink?
Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit?
Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?
Paul could have claimed more rights to privileged treatment than any other member of the Corinthian church. He reminded the church about his rights in order to refuse them.
Tomorrow’s article will dig deeper into Paul’s rejection of his rights. It is worth noting how he refused to accept a privileged position in the church.
— 1 Corinthians 9.12, 15 – Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right.
But I have made no use of any of these rights.
The fact that Paul refused to accept the Corinthian patronage system caused him trouble with the church.
They were embarrassed that their leader worked with his hands. Humility was not appreciated but was seen as a weakness.
The same could be said for self-sacrificial love. It was not seen as a power but as foolishness.
Paul argued with the church to imitate Jesus, and that included not being the “house” preacher for a wealthy patron.
His sentiments were reflected in his message to the Philippians.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
But emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2.5-8)
A Good Reminder
Paul’s attitude toward his personal rights and his deep desire to imitate Jesus’ attitudes and actions is a good reminder for us.
When we complain that our rights have been infringed, the words of Paul should resonate with us.
— We will not make use of our rights. Instead, we will live like Jesus in self-giving love.
— We will strive for the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself and took the form of a humble slave.
Rudy Ross and I have recorded a YouTube video on this passage. It can be found on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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