1 CORINTHIANS 9
Rights, responsibilities, and self-control are the name of the game for Paul. Responsibilities sometimes mean that you exercise self-control so as not to take advantage of your rights, in order to be more effective in your witness.
Rights: Paul worked hard among his churches and is clearly their ‘builder’ in Christ, rather than anyone else. Some members were claiming that he was simply a free-loader, trying to extract money and food from people to fund an extravagant lifestyle – playing what we would today call an American ‘Televangelist’ role. Paul fiercely disagreed and made two main points: Firstly, he was entitled to support from his churches, as everyday life examples, the bible, and the lifestyles of the other recognised apostles proved. Those who sow spiritual ‘seed’ should reap a material ‘harvest’.
Responsibilities: Paul’s second point was that he and Barnabas had never used that right of support. They had supported themselves by their own hard work and had paid for everything they consumed, so as not to be a burden on their churches. This ought to have increased their credibility amongst their flock, not diminshed it!
Self-Discipline: Like all believers, Paul was free and did not need to do anything to earn his salvation. But he deliberately put himself under the rules and lifestyles of those he preached to, in order to be as similar to them as he could. He was free, in the sense of not being under the Law of Moses at all, and a slave, in the sense of being completely and utterly submitted to Christ his master! Submission and self-discipline are both vital; discipline means doing what you should rather than what you feel like doing. Athletes train incredibly hard to gain small margins of superiority over their rivals, punishing their bodies with harsh daily training; how much more should we deny ourselves things that will make us spiritually ‘flabby’ and lazy, losing our ‘edge’ as we try to counter the Devil’s schemes!
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified”. (Verses 24-27, New Living Translation)
Are we ‘shadow-boxing’ in order to impress our fellow-believers or our leaders, but not really punching our weight? Are we giving in too easily to our bodily cravings or emotional wants, so that it makes us ‘soft’ and too timid for the real battle? Are we so ‘under the radar’ that even the Devil need not bother with us? These are good questions to level at ourselves regularly – and to answer honestly, with repentance if necessary.