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1 Corinthians 9:1-21 - Homiletics

The leading characteristics of a truly great gospel minister.

"Am I not an apostle? am I not free?" etc. Taking these verses as a whole, they illustrate some of the leading characteristics of a truly great gospel minister, and I offer the following remarks:—

I. The greater the minister of Christ, the MORE INDEPENDENT OF CEREMONIAL RESTRICTIONS . Paul was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, ministers of Christ that ever existed. He was an apostle, and had "seen Christ"—a qualification that distinguished him as a minister from all, but eleven others, that ever lived. Besides this, his natural and acquired endowments placed him in the very first rank of reasoners, scholars, and orators. He was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, etc. But see how this great minister regarded the mere conventionalities of religious society. "Am I not an apostle? am I not free?" He refers in all probability to the preceding chapter, which treats of the eating of meat offered to idols, and concerning which he says, "if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth." As if he had said, "I am free to eat that meat, and free to reject it; I am not bound by any conventional custom or ceremonial law, for I am 'an apostle.'" Now, it may be laid down as a universal truth that, the greater a gospel minister, the more independent of ceremonies. Indeed, the greater the man, always the more independent he is of forms, fashions, customs. Hezekiah called that which his countrymen worshipped "Nehushtan"—a piece of brass. Cromwell called that glittering insignia of authority on the table of the House of Commons, and at which most of the members, perhaps, trembled with awe, a "bauble." Thomas Carlyle called all the pageantry of office and the glitter of wealth "shams." Burns called the swaggering lordling a "coof." How much more would a man like Paul—who possessed that spirit of Christ which gave him an insight into the heart of things—look down, not merely with indifference, but with contempt, upon all that the world considered great and grand! The more Christly inspiration a man has, the more he will discern degradation on thrones and pauperism in mansions. A famous French preacher began his funeral address over the coffin of his sovereign with these words, "There is nothing great but God." To the man whose soul is charged with the great ideas of God, all the distinctions amongst men are only as the distinctions existing among the various bubbles on the flowing stream. Some are a little larger than others, some are tinged by the sunbeam, and some are pallid in the shade; but all have the same common nature, and all, breaking into the abyss, are lost forever. "Am I not free?" says Paul. A grand thing this, to be free from all the conventionalities of society and the ceremonies of religion. What cared Elijah for the kings of Syria, or Israel, or Judah? Nothing. Agrippa trembled before the moral majesty of Paul, even in chains. Oh for such ministers as Paul in this age of hypocrisies and forms!

II. The greater the minister of Christ, the HIGHER THE SERVICE HE RENDERS TO SOCIETY . What high service did this great minister St. Paul render to the members of the Corinthian Church! "Are not ye my work in the Lord?... The seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord." Ye are, as far as ye are Christians, "my work." I converted you; I turned you away from idols to the one true and living God, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ. No work on earth equal to this. "He that converteth a sinner from the error of his ways," etc. This work which I effected in you "in the Lord," or by the Lord, is a demonstration of my apostleship. What work again, I ask, approaches this in grandeur and importance? It is the work of creating men "anew in Christ Jesus;" it is the work of establishing that moral moral empire in the world, which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." The man who succeeds in accomplishing this work thereby demonstrates the divinity of his ministry. Hence Paul says, "Mine answer to them that do examine me is this." Those that question or deny my apostleship I refer to the spiritual work I have accomplished; "this is my answer," my defence. Truly it might be said of Paul, "No man can do the works that thou doest, except God be with him." The only way by which we can prove ourselves true ministers is, not by words, but by spiritual works.

III. The greater the minister of Christ, the MORE INDEPENDENT HE IS OF THE ANIMAL ENJOYMENTS OF LIFE . "Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" Paul claims the privilege to eat and drink as he pleased, and to marry or not according to his pleasure, to be a celibate or a benedict. Perhaps some of the members of the Corinthian Church questioned Paul's apostleship because he was not married. Those who belonged to Peter's party—who was a married man—would be likely to say, "Paul cannot be an apostle, for Cephas, who is an apostle, has his wife, whom he takes about with him in the prosecution of his mission." And then the "brethren of the Lord," too, they have their wives. Paul's reply to this is virtually, "I have the power and the right to all connubial privileges and comforts, the right to feast at banquets, and to form domestic relations; but I forego them, I am independent of them, I have higher tastes and sublimer sources of enjoyment. 'For me to live is Christ.' He is the all and in all of my soul." The more brain and Christly inspiration a man has, the less carnal, and the less carnal the more independent of material enjoyments.

IV. The greater the minister of Christ, the MORE CLAIM HE HAS TO THE TEMPORAL SUPPORT OF THOSE WHOM HE SPIRITUALLY SERVES . The apostle goes on from the sixth to the fourteenth verse to say that he and Barnabas would be right if they were to forbear working for their livelihood, and claim their temporal support from those to whom they spiritually ministered. He goes on to indicate several reasons why he had a claim to their temporal support.

1. The general usage of mankind. "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" etc. He draws three illustrations from human life to show the equity of the principle—from the soldier, the agriculturist, and the shepherd.

2. The principle of the Jewish Law. "Say I these things as a man? or saith not the Law the same also?" etc. On a space of hard ground called a threshing floor the oxen in Jewish times were driven to and fro over the corn thrown there, thus separating the husk from the grain. "God," says Matthew Henry, "had therein ordered that the ox should not be muzzled while he was treading out the corn, nor hindered from eating while he was preparing the corn, for man's use, and treading it out of the ear. But this law was not chiefly given out of God's regard to oxen or concern for them, but to teach mankind that all due encouragement should be given to those who are employed by us or labouring for our good, that the labourers should taste of the fruit of their labours." "Doth God take care for oxen?" Yes. He enjoined that the mouth of the working ox should not be muzzled, but should have food to eat. Is not man greater than the ox? And shall he work and be deprived of temporal supplies?

3. The principles of common equity. "If we have sown into you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" They had given to them far higher things, infinitely more important than the temporal support which they required. He who gives to his race Divine ideas gives that Which alone can secure the progress of humanity, both in temporal and spiritual good. True ideas destroy bad institutions and create good ones.

4. Other apostles and their wives were thus supported. "Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?" .. If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather?" This language implies that all the others who worked amongst them obtained their temporal support. Why should not we? Have we done less? Is our authority inferior?

5. The support of the Jewish priesthood. "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and their which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?" "The first part of the passage refers to the general principle that the priests who were engaged in the temple services were supported from the various offerings which were brought there; and the second clause more definitely alludes to the particular fact that, when a sacrifice was offered on the altar, the sacrificing priests as well as the altar had a share of the animal."

6. The ordiniation of Christ. "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (see Matthew 10:10 ). "Should live of the gospel," not grow rich on the gospel, but have from it that which is needful for subsistence. Looking at all that Paul says on that question here, and at the immense service that a true minister renders to society, the conviction cannot be avoided that no man has a stronger claim to a temporal recompense for his labour than a true gospel minister. Albeit no claims are so universally ignored. What Churches in these modern times tender to their ministers as an acknowledgment of their service is regarded as a charity rather than a claim. Charity, indeed! Call the money you pay to your butcher, baker, lawyer, doctor, charity; but in the name of all that is just, do not call that charity which you tender to the man who consecrates his entire being and time to impart to you the elements of eternal life.

V. The greater the minister of Christ, the MORE READY TO SURRENDER HIS CLAIMS FOR THE SAKE OF USEFULNESS . Great as were the claims of Paul, he magnanimously surrenders them all in order to become more useful. He would not feast at banquets, enjoy conjugal life, or take payment for his services, lest his usefulness should be in the least impaired. "But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me; for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void." I would sooner die than be dependent on you for a livelihood. Grand man! He stood before his congregations and said, "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me."

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