Paul’s Apostolic Freedom
1Am I not completely free and unrestrained? Absolutely! Am I not an apostle? Of course! Haven’t I had a personal encounter with our Jesus face-to-face—and continue to see him? Emphatically yes! Aren’t you all the proof of my ministry in the Lord? Certainly! 2If others do not recognize me as their apostle, at least you are bound to do so, for now your lives are joined to the Lord. You are the living proof, the certificate of my apostleship.
3So to those who want to continually criticize my apostolic ministry, here’s my statement of defense. 4Don’t we apostles have the right to be supported financially? 5Don’t we have the right to travel accompanied by our believing wives and be supported as a couple, as do the other apostles, such as Peter the Rock and the Lord’s brothers? 6Of course we do! Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to stop working for a living?
Responsibility to Financially Support God’s Servants
7Who serves in the military at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not enjoy the grapes for himself? Who would nurture and shepherd a flock and never get to drink its fresh milk? 8Am I merely giving you my own opinions, or does the Torah teach the same things? 9For it is written in the law of Moses:
You should never put a muzzle over the mouth of an ox
while he is treading out the grain.
Tell me, is God only talking about oxen here? 10Doesn’t he also give us this principle so that we won’t withhold support from his workers? It was written so that we would understand that the one spiritually “plowing” and spiritually “treading out the grain” also labors with the expectation of enjoying the harvest. 11So, if we’ve sowed many spiritual gifts among you, is it too much to expect to reap material gifts from you? 12And if you have supported others, don’t we rightfully deserve this privilege even more?
But as you know, we haven’t used that right. Instead, we have continued to support ourselves so that we would never be a hindrance to the spread of the gospel of Christ. 13Don’t you know that the priests employed in sacred duty in the temple are provided for by temple resources? And the priests who serve at the altar receive a portion of the offerings? 14In the same way, the Lord has directed those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel. As for me, I’ve preferred to never use any of these rights for myself. 15And keep in mind that I’m not writing all this because I’m hinting that you should support me.
Paul Renounces His Rights for the Sake of the Gospel
Actually, I’d rather die than to have anyone rob me of this joyous reason for boasting! 16For you see, even though I proclaim the good news, I can’t take the credit for my labors, for I am compelled to fulfill my duty by completing this work. It would be agony to me if I did not constantly preach the gospel! 17If it were my own idea to preach as a way to make a living, I would expect to be paid. Since it’s not my idea but God’s, who commissioned me, I am entrusted with the stewardship of the gospel whether or not I’m paid. 18So then, where is my reward? It is found in continually depositing the good news into people’s hearts, without obligation, free of charge, and not insisting on my rights to be financially supported.
Paul, a Servant to All
19Now, even though I am free from obligations to others, I joyfully make myself a servant to all in order to win as many converts as possible. 20I became Jewish to the Jewish people in order to win them to the Messiah. I became like one under the law to gain the people who were stuck under the law, even though I myself am not under the law. 21And to those who are without the Jewish laws, I became like them, as one without the Jewish laws, in order to win them, although I’m not outside the law of God but under the law of Christ. 22I became “weak” to the weak to win the weak. I have adapted to the culture of every place I’ve gone so that I could more easily win people to Christ. 23I’ve done all this so that I would become God’s partner for the sake of the gospel.
Paul’s Disciplined Lifestyle
24Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. 25A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. 26For that reason, I don’t run just for exercise or box like one throwing aimless punches, 27but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body and get it under my control, so that after preaching the good news to others I myself won’t be disqualified.