Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 3:1-12; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18; Psalm 87; Judges 3-4
Paul continues his discussion of Christian freedom in 1 Corinthians 9. Some Corinthians were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle (9:2-3). One reason for this was Paul’s refusal to accept financial support from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul now uses this as an example of something which he had a right to receive, but which he had chosen to relinquish. To support his claim that he has a right to receive payment, he appeals to common secular and Jewish practices of the day, a biblical principle, natural justice, and Jesus’ command (9:7-14). He demonstrates the value of being able to defend our views from various angles, not just using biblical support.
Having clearly shown that he had a right to be paid for his Christian service, Paul explains why he chose not to exercise his right. Firstly, he wanted to avoid any compromise in his message because of any apparent debt due to his financial supporters. Those being paid for their ministry should reflect on whether their message is changed because of fear over where the next pay check will come from. Secondly, he wants to prevent any hindrance to the gospel. Paul will elaborate on this principle in the next part of chapter 9 that we will examine tomorrow.
Today’s world constantly reminds us of our rights. Some are enshrined as human rights. Others are promoted as patients’ rights, customers’ rights, and rights of membership. Many of these are important and promote justice and equality. But they easily lead into an insistence on our rights no matter what. They can generate an ethos in which we focus on our entitlements. The same mentality can drift into our involvement with God and the church. Is this church providing properly for me? Is God meeting all my needs? Don’t I have a right to spend my time and money the way I want? What right does God/the Bible/those Christians have to tell me what to do?
We must carefully evaluate what people tell us they think God wants us to do. Paul praised the non-Christians in Berea for checking whether what he said was true (Acts 17:11). He told the Galatians not to believe him if he came back to them with a different gospel message (Galatians 1:8).
But in today’s passage, he points out that as Christians we should not be primarily focused on our rights and entitlements. Paul tells us that he was prepared to forego what he was entitled to for a higher purpose: the goal of spreading the gospel news of Jesus Christ. This provides another qualification in the discussion of Christian freedom. We must evaluate how our freedom impacts our ability to share the love of Christ with others. At times, our freedom to choose not to insist on our rights may have a greater impact for the gospel. In deciding whether we should or shouldn’t accept amoral practices, we need to examine those issues, not just determine if we have the right to do or not do certain things.