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The Rights of an Apostle


Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?

8 Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same? 9For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. 11If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? 12If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! 16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.


16. For if I preach the gospel. To show how very important it was not to deprive himself of that ground of glorying, he intimates what would have happened, if he had simply discharged his ministry — that he would in this way have done nothing else than what the Lord had enjoined upon him by a strict necessity By doing that, he says, he would have had no occasion for glorying, as it was not in his power to avoid doing it. 493493     “Veu qu’il y estoit contraint, et ne pouuoit euiter telle necessite;” — “Inasmuch as he was constrained to it, and could not avoid such a necessity.” It is asked, however, what glorying he here refers to, for he glories elsewhere in his exercising himself in the office of teaching with a pure conscience (2 Timothy 1:3.) I answer, that he speaks of a glorying that he could bring forward in opposition to the false apostles, when they endeavored to find a pretext for reviling, as will appear more fully from what follows.

This is a remarkable statement, from which we learn, in the first place, what, as to ministers, is the nature, and what the closeness of the tie that is involved in their calling, and farther, what the pastoral office imports and includes. Let not the man, then, who has been once called to it, imagine that he is any longer at liberty to withdraw when he chooses, if, perhaps, he is harassed with vexatious occurrences, or weighed down with misfortunes, for he is devoted to the Lord and to the Church, and bound by a sacred tie, which it were criminal to break asunder. As to the second point, 494494     That is, the duty which the pastoral office involves. — Ed. he says that a curse was ready to fall upon him, if he did not preach the gospel Why? Because he has been called to it, and therefore is constrained by necessity How, therefore, will any one who succeeds to his office avoid this necessity? What sort of successors, then, have the Apostles in the Pope and the other mitred bishops, who think that there is nothing that is more unbecoming their station, than the duty of teaching!

17. For if I do this thing willingly By reward here is meant what the Latins term operae pretium, recompense for labor, 495495     “Ce que nous appelons chef-d’oeuvre;” — “What we call a masterpiece.” The idiomatic phrase, operae pretium, is ordinarily employed by the classical writers to mean — something of importance, or worthwhile. Thus Livy, in his Preface, says: “facturusne operae pretium sim;” — “whether I am about to do a work of importance,” and Cicero (Cat. 4. 8) says: “Operae pretium est;” — “It is worth while.” Calvin, however, seems to make use of the phrase here in a sense more nearly akin to its original and literal signification — recompense for laborwhat amply rewarded the self-denial that he had exercised — consisting in the peculiar satisfaction afforded to his mind in reflecting on the part that he had acted. The term made use of by him in his French Translation — chef-doeuure (masterpiece) corresponds with the Latin phrase operae pretium in this respect, that a masterpiece is a work, which the successful artist, or workman, sets a value upon, and in which he feels satisfaction, as amply recompensing the pains bestowed. — Ed. and what he had previously termed glorying Others, however, interpret it otherwise — as meaning that a reward is set before all who discharge their duty faithfully and heartily. But, for my part, I understand the man who does this thing willingly, to be the man who acts with such cheerfulness, that, being intent upon edifying, as his one object of desire, he declines nothing that he knows will be profitable to the Church; as, on the other hand, he terms those unwilling, who in their actings submit, indeed, to necessity, but act grudgingly, because it is not from inclination. For it always happens that the man who undertakes any business with zeal, is also prepared of his own accord to submit to everything, which, if left undone, would hinder the accomplishment of the work. Thus Paul, being one that acted willingly, did not teach in a mere perfunctory manner, but left nothing undone that he knew to be fitted to promote and further his doctrine. This then was his recompense for labor, 496496     “Son chef-d’oeuure;” — “His masterpiece.” and this his ground of glorying — that he did with readiness of mind forego his right in respect of his applying himself to the discharge of his office willingly and with fervent zeal.

But if unwillingly, a dispensation is committed to me. In whatever way others explain these words, the natural meaning, in my opinion, is this — that God does not by any means approve of the service done by the man who performs it grudgingly, and, as it were, with a reluctant mind. Whenever, therefore, God has enjoined anything upon us, we are mistaken, if we think that we have discharged it aright, when we perform it grudgingly; for the Lord requires that his servants be cheerful, (2 Corinthians 9:7,) so as to delight in obeying him, and manifest their cheerfulness by the promptitude with which they act. In short, Paul means, that he would act in accordance with his calling, only in the event of his performing his duty willingly and cheerfully.

18. What then is my reward? He infers from what goes before, that he has a ground of glorying; in this, that he labored gratuitously in behalf of the Corinthians, because it appears from this, that he applied himself willingly to the office of teaching, inasmuch as he vigorously set himself to obviate all the hindrances in the way of the gospel; and not satisfied with merely teaching, endeavored to further the doctrine of it by every method. This then is the sum. “I am under the necessity of preaching the gospel: if I do it not, wo is unto me, for I resist God’s calling. But it is not enough to preach, unless I do it willingly; for he who fulfils the commandment of God unwillingly, does not act, as becomes him, suitably to his office. But if I obey God willingly, it will in that case be allowable for me to glory. Hence it was necessary for me to make the gospel without charge, that I might glory on good ground.”

Papists endeavor from this passage to establish their contrivance as to works of supererogation. 497497     “C’est a dire, d’abondant;” — “That is to say, over and above.” “Paul,” they say, “would have fulfilled the duties of his office by preaching the gospel, but he adds something farther over and above. Hence he does something beyond what he is bound to do, for he distinguishes between what is done willingly and what is done from necessity.” I answer, that Paul, it is true, went a greater length than the ordinary calling of pastors required, because he refrained from taking pay, which the Lord allows pastors to take. But as it was a part of his duty to provide against every occasion of offense that he foresaw, and as he saw, that the course of the gospel would be impeded, if he made use of his liberty, though that was out of the ordinary course, yet I maintain that even in that case he rendered to God nothing more than was due. For I ask: “Is it not the part of a good pastor to remove occasions of offense, so far as it is in his power to do so?” I ask again, “Did Paul do anything else than this?” There is no ground, therefore, for imagining that he rendered to God anything that he did not owe to him, inasmuch as he did nothing but what the necessity of his office (though it was an extraordinary necessity) demanded. Away, then, with that wicked imagination, 498498     “Ceste perverse et mal-heureuse imagination;” — “That perverse and miserable fancy.” that we compensate for our faults in the sight of God by works of supererogation. 499499     “C’est a dire, lesquelles nous faisons de superabondant;” — “That is to say, what we do over and above.” Nay more, away with the very term, which is replete with diabolical pride. 500500     Our Author expresses himself in similar terms elsewhere as to the word merit. See Harmony, vol. 2, p. 197. — Ed. This passage, assuredly, is mistakenly perverted to bear that meaning.

The error of Papists is refuted in a general way in this manner: Whatever works are comprehended under the law, are falsely termed works of supererogation, as is manifest from the words of Christ. (Luke 17:10.)

When ye have done all things that are commanded you, say,
We are unprofitable servants: we have done what we were bound to do.

Now we acknowledge that no work is good and acceptable to God, that is not included in God’s law. This second statement I prove in this way: There are two classes of good works; for they are all reducible either to the service of God or to love. Now nothing belongs to the service of God that is not included in this summary: Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength There is also no duty of love that is not required in that precept — Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:30, 31.) But as to the objection that is brought forward by Papists, that it is possible for one to be acceptable, if he devotes the tenth part of his income, and infer from this, that if he goes so far as to devote the fifth part, he does a work of supererogation, it is easy to remove away this subtilty. For that the deeds of the pious are approved, is not by any means owing to their perfection, but it is because the imperfection and deficiency are not reckoned to their account. Hence even if they were doing an hundred-fold more than they do, they would not, even in that case, exceed the limits of the duty that they owe.

That I may not abuse my power. From this it appears, that such a use of our liberty as gives occasion of offense, is an uncontrolled liberty and abuse. We must keep, therefore, within bounds, that we may not give occasion of offense. This passage also confirms more fully what I just now touched upon, that Paul did nothing beyond what the duty of his office required, because it was not proper that the liberty, that was allowed him by God, should be in any way abused.

19. Though I was free from all. Εκ πάντων, that is, from all, may be taken either in the neuter gender or in the masculine. If in the neuter, it will refer to things; if in the masculine, to persons I prefer the second He has as yet shown only by one particular instance how carefully he had accommodated himself to the weak. Now he subjoins a general statement, and afterwards enumerates several instances. The general observation is this — that while he was not under the power of any one, he lived as if he had been subject to the inclination of all, and of his own accord subjected himself to the weak, to whom he was under no subjection. The particular instances are these — that among the Gentiles he lived as if he were a Gentile, and among the Jews he acted as a Jew: that is, while among Jews he carefully observed the ceremonies of the law, he was no less careful not to give occasion of offense to the Gentiles by the observance of them.

He adds the particle as, to intimate that his liberty was not at all impaired on that account, for, however he might accommodate himself to men, he nevertheless remained always like himself inwardly in the sight of God. To become all things is to assume all appearances, as the case may require, or to put on different characters, according to the diversity among individuals. As to what he says respecting his being without law and under the law, you must understand it simply in reference to the ceremonial department; for the department connected with morals was common to Jews and Gentiles alike, and it would not have been allowable for Paul to gratify men to that extent. For this doctrine holds good only as to things indifferent, as has been previously remarked.

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