As apostle to the Gentiles, Paul faced much opposition and hostility. Some of this was from external sources, while some was from the church communities to which he ministered. One example was the church in Corinth, a church filled with acrimony. It was a church not only divided against one another, but also against Paul. Paul’s primary apostolic defense to Corinth is found in 2 Corinthians 10, but he does also make a defense, or more technically an apologia, in 1 Corinthians 9. Here, he defends what sort of apostle he is and how it differs from the expectations Corinth had for him.
Paul’s defense in 1 Cor. 9 has two functions. Not only is he defending his apostleship, it as an example of refusing to use ‘rights’ you have for the betterment of others. To promote this Paul gives a defense, an apologia, of his ministry style, in direct contrast to the expectations of the day. Travelling speakers were common during the Roman Empire. In order to support themselves, they would accept payment for services. Thus they turned into performers, receiving more if they pleased the crowd. This also translated into the Christian world, where travelling preachers would go from city to city. The problem was that in order to receive a better payment, the preachers were hesitant to say anything but what the people wanted to hear. Paul was different, as he refused to accept money from Corinth. Therefore, he was free to say what he wished. What is interesting is that Paul builds an argument (1 Cor. 9:3-14) claiming that it is in his rights to receive payment, amongst over things, as an apostle. However, 9:15 brings a dramatic shift. Paul defiantly claims he makes no use of these rights, nor does he write in order to start receive anything. Paul’s point becomes clear when the context is examined. 1 Corinthians 9 is the middle section of an extended discussion on what to do with idol-meat. There are two different questions in play, but for our purpose we need only to mention the question of food formerly sacrificed to idols. To summarize Paul’s answer, if it will have a negative impact on a Christian brother or sister refrain from eating the idol-meat. The argument is much bigger than this, but the main point for Paul is how one does or does not act has a direct effect on the gospel they purport. This means that our defense of the gospel can be undercut if our actions do not support our claims. Our arguments might be iron clad, but our actions might be working to undermine the claims we make.
by Mat Lortie