Relinquishing Rights
Tim Temple


We are seeing in Paul's letter to the Corinthians that the lordship of Christ in the local church is really a matter of the lordship of Christ in each of our individual lives; so what we have in this New Testament book is instruction about various topics that will help us to have Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives. The Holy Spirit has directed the Apostle Paul to various subjects that need our attention all down through the years.

In chapter 9, Paul is actually illustrating a principle that he began back in chapter 8, and that was the principle of relinquishing our rights in order to meet the needs of others. We have talked about this for several lessons. To set up his illustration of the importance of the sacrifice of rights, in the first fourteen verses of chapter 9, he establishes his right to be supported by other Christians. In the second half of the chapter, we have the fact that it is important in some cases and perfectly legitimate in some cases for the preacher to give up the right of full-time support. As we look at the passage today, we are going to see that it is just an illustration of giving up any of our rights if it will enable God to accomplish what he wants us to accomplish. We should be willing to go to any lengths for His honor and glory.

Paul's Example of Sacrifice

As we look at that passage, we are going to see an example of the sacrifice in verses 15-18, the extent of the sacrifice in verses 19-22, then the enablement for sacrifice in verses 23-27. Let's look first at the example of sacrifice in verses 15-18. The first thing to notice in that regard is specifically the rights being sacrificed. Notice in verse 15:

I Corinthians 9

15But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me:…

Notice the phrase, “these things”. This is a reference to the subject of the first half of the Scripture–his right to be supported. Paul is reminding the Corinthians and reminding us that he had not exercised that legitimate right to be supported. He had supported himself as a tent-maker while he was traveling around preaching the Word of God. He had not been dependent upon other Christians for his income. Interestingly enough, he had encouraged Christians to support other Christian workers. In fact, he goes on to say, “I am not writing these things so you will start supporting me.”

We might ask the question, “What is the reason for such a sacrifice?” If it is legitimate for a person such as Paul to earn his own living while he was preaching, why shouldn't all preachers do that? Does that mean that every Christian worker should make a sacrifice like this? There are groups within the Body of Christ who believe that that is so, that any Christian worker should earn his own living and do the work of the Lord in whatever time he has left.

Reason for the Sacrifice

What is the reason for Paul's sacrifice? That question is answered in the last part of verse 15:

I Corinthians 9

15…for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

There are two key words in verses 15 and 16. Look at the phrases, “my glorying,” in verse 15 and, “nothing to glory of,” in verse 16. Paul was willing to forgo his legitimate right to be supported so that he would have something about which he could boast [glory], something that he could take glory in. Immediately I am sure someone says, “Wait a minute! Is it legitimate to glory [boast]? Why does he say that? Is it legitimate to take pride in something that you are doing for the Lord?” He explains that in verse 16:

I Corinthians 9

16For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

Paul says, “I can't take any pride in my preaching of the Gospel.” Let me digress for just a minute. Here is an important lesson, too. Paul says, “I can't boast about my preaching of the Gospel because the preaching of the Gospel and the understanding of the Gospel is something that God accomplishes.” Anyone can preach the Gospel until they are blue in the face, but unless God opens hearts, unless God opens ears to the hearing of the Gospel and hearts to the receiving of the Gospel, nothing can be done. So Paul says, “I have been called to preach the Gospel. That is an order that I have from God, so I can't take pride if I am just obeying orders. I can't find satisfaction in just obeying orders. I have to preach the Gospel. Woe is me if I don't preach the Gospel. God has commanded me to do that.”

Incidentally, He has commanded all of us to do that. Some of you have had the opportunity of seeing others come to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior under your ministry as a result of your influence. Others of you know that you have had some influence, along with others, in someone's becoming a Christian. Don't be proud of that. You are just doing what God told you to do. Be thankful that you had that opportunity. Be faithful to keep on doing it, but don't be proud of that. Don't boast about that. I am always a little concerned about a person who is quick to tell you how many people he has led to the Lord because He is just doing what He is supposed to do, doing what He has been told to do. That is a bit like bragging about how many breaths you took yesterday!

Reward for the Sacrifice

Skip down to verse 18.

I Corinthians 9

18What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

Paul says, “I want to be sure that I have distributed the Gospel as effectively as possible, and I can take pleasure in the fact that I have done that. My reward is that when I preach the Gospel, I present the Gospel without charge.” Here is the crux of this whole chapter, I think, the essence of what Paul is driving at. Paul could take pride in the fact that nothing he had done or nothing that he didn't do would stand in the way of people accepting the Gospel.

We are so quick to think that somehow we can entice people to become Christians, that if we dress the right way or live in the right part of town or have enough money or don't have much money or don't dress in a flashy way, then somehow people are going to accept the Gospel. Really the reverse is true. What we need to be concerned with is, “Am I doing something that would keep someone from accepting the Gospel?” If we took the time to plot a map of the places that Paul went in his teaching, we would find that in every place that he spent any significant amount of time, there was something that would have been misunderstood if he did not preach the Gospel.

In Corinth, it was a very materialistic society, much like twentieth-century America. That is why we are studying this book–their society was so much like our society. If Paul had come in there to new Christians and began winning other new Christians and tried to command that they support him, they would have quickly said, “This guy is just out for what he can get financially. This guy has just found another gimmick.” So when he was in Corinth, he worked. When he was in Thessalonica, there were people who were not working and in fact encouraging others not to work. Paul had to write to them, remember, “If one doesn't work, neither shall he eat.” There were Christians in Thessalonica trying to con other Christians into supporting them. So Paul went there, and he worked for a different reason–because he didn't want to appear to be among those who were too lazy to work.

Paul said, “I have perfect right to be supported by other Christians, but I don't exercise that right because I want to be sure that nothing I am doing stands in the way of preaching the Gospel.” The principle of this whole chapter is this: Are you willing to give up even something that you have a legitimate right to in order to get the Gospel across to someone else? With Paul, it was a matter of financial support; with you, it is probably something else. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to; the issue is, are we ready to? God wants us to give up even things that we have a right to. God wants us to be willing to go to places that we have no right to be expected to, if that is what it takes, to enable someone to hear about Jesus Christ.

Extent of the Sacrifice

Someone might say, “That is okay in theory, but how far does God expect us to carry that?” The extent of the sacrifice is outlined in verses 19-22. The general application of the principle is in verse 19. He says:

I Corinthians 9

19For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

Paul was a free man; he was a Roman citizen, which in that day and time was a very highly valued thing. In fact, it was very much the equivalent of being a United States citizen, which is a right that most of us take for granted to a sinful degree. If you have ever traveled anywhere outside the United States, you have some idea of how valuable that privilege is. I never traveled behind the Iron Curtain, but those who have tell me that the awareness of that privilege was extended tenfold where people don't have any rights. All you need to do is go across the border to Mexico and find out that being a citizen of the United States is a tremendous privilege, one that we don't give much thought to. In the Roman Empire, there were people who lived in Rome who weren't Roman citizens. It was a very unique privilege. Paul said, “I am a free man; I am a Roman citizen; I can do whatever I want to do; I have privileges that other people around me don't have because I am a free man. But I have made myself a slave. I don't have to do this. I can choose what I am going to do or what I am not going to do.”

There is another principle here that grows out of this one. We need to be careful that we don't win people to us, that we win them to Jesus Christ. When we have a part in bringing someone to Christ, it is easy for the person being witnessed to to misunderstand and think that we are asking them to be like us, that we are making converts to ourselves. No, we are not asking them to be exactly like us; we are asking them to accept Jesus Christ and after having accepted Him, to make Him Lord of their life. There is a difference, by the way. They are not the same thing–accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and then as quickly as possible bringing them to the point of understanding that He is supposed to be Lord of their lives. We are not the Lord of the lives of the people we bring to Christ. Our purpose is not to make them have the same habits and practices that we do. Our influence on them needs to be, as soon as they come to Christ, to bring them to the place that they let Jesus Christ be Lord of their lives and that they have the habits and practices and lifestyle that the Word of God instructs us to have. Hopefully that will line up with our lifestyle.

Illustrations of the Principle

The general illustration of the principle is this: Paul says, “I am willing to sacrifice the right to be supported.” But in verses 20-22, we find some more specific illustrations of the principle. In verse 20:

I Corinthians 9

20And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

Then in verses 21 and 22, he gives two more specific applications:

I Corinthians 9

21To them that are without law [Gentiles] , as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

That last part of verse 22 is a very often quoted and a very often misapplied verse. Very often Christians will take that verse and use it to justify some unscriptural practice. They will say, “Well, I know this is something that Christians really ought not to do, but you have to go where sinners are. If you are going to go fishing, you go where you know the fish are. So I am going to have to do this thing that really is not Scriptural, but I am willing to become all things to all men that I might win some.” That is a trick of Satan!

Let's notice carefully what Paul is saying in these illustrations before he makes that statement. Back in verse 20, he says, “I became a Jew to win Jews.” In verse 21, “When I am with Gentiles [those without law], I become a Gentile.” In verse 22, “When I am with the weak [new Christians who have a lot of questions and a lot of misunderstandings], I became as one who is weak.” When he says, “I became as a Jew,” he didn't mean, “I went back to the Old Testament law for my salvation.” What he means is that when he was dealing with Jews, he was careful not to flaunt his liberty as a Gentile. When he was trying to win Jews to Jesus Christ, his first sermon was not about “you don't need to go to the Jewish synagogue on Sabbath.” That would come later. When he was with the Gentiles, he didn't try to convict them of breaking Jewish law. One of the problems with the preaching of the Gospel as it is being done in our world today, I think, is that too much of the preaching is about things that are really only solved when a person becomes a Christian. I meet people at least once a month who say, “I would like to be a Christian, but I know that I drink too much, and so when I can get my drinking under control, then I will be able to become a Christian. I would like to become a Christian and I know I ought to be a Christian, but my smoking is a problem. When I can get that under control, then I will be able to become a Christian.”

Meeting Individual Needs In Witnessing

When Paul went to the Jews, he didn't say, “You guys are wasting your time obeying those Old Testament laws.” When Paul went to the Jews, he said, “I became as a Jew, and I looked at life from the Jewish perspective, and I found a way to present Jesus Christ from the Jewish mindset.” He met them at the point of their needs. When he went to Gentiles, he didn't say, “You people need to be a lot more careful about living the way God directs you.” He went to the point of their needs. He said, “I am willing to become all things to all men.” There are many situations today in which you or I could only get a hearing if we are willing to accommodate the hearers weaknesses. For example, if you are trying to win a person whom you know to be a part of the Mormon cult–it is a cult, no matter how nice their buildings are or how nice they talk about the family; they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of our sin–you may have to give up drinking coffee. That's tough, isn't it? You may have to give up drinking cokes or any kind of stimulants. Why? To make them think you are a Mormon? No, because that is a hurdle that they might not be able to get around.

If you are going to be exposed on a regular basis to people who are extremely conservative, you may have to wear your hair a little shorter. That is getting to be less and less of an issue, but I can remember back in the early seventies, when I had hair that was a little longer than it is now, a fine, Christian person told me, “I would not be able to have you in my church to speak because your hair is over the tops of your ears.” I thought, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” although I had heard it many, many times at that point. What in the world does being able to see the tops of someone's ears have to do with understanding the Word of God? Listen, had they invited me–they didn't, and he wasn't really setting up an invitation; he was just making a comment–I should have been, and I believe I would have been, willing to get my hair trimmed to enable those people to hear the Word of God so that the length of my hair wouldn't stand in the way of the message of the Word of God. That is Paul's point, and that is not hypocritical.

That doesn't mean that we have to live our lives in fear and be careful that we don't do this or don't do that because someone might be offended. We are free in Christ. We can wear our hair as long as we want to within the bounds of Scripture, and the Scriptural standard about long hair is that there is a difference between the appearance of men and the appearance of women. A man's hair that looks like a woman's hairstyle is wrong; it is unscriptural. We will come to a passage about that a little farther over in our study of I Corinthians, so I won't continue on this. But we don't worry about our hairstyle because someone might be offended; we don't worry about drinking coffee because some Mormon might see us. What we are saying is, if you are working with someone whom you know to have a need in that area, to have a certain weakness, then you are the one that is supposed to sacrifice. You are the one who is supposed to be willing to give up. To say, “I become all things to all men,” to justify getting drunk with someone so you can win someone to Christ is absolutely the opposite of what this passage is saying. It is not saying, “I am willing to take on all kinds of things so I can witness to others.” It is saying, “I am willing to give up whatever I have to.” That is God's principle of sacrifice.

Enablement for the Sacrifices

That is a big order, but we can't leave this passage without seeing the enablement for sacrifice that is brought out in verses 23-27. The essence for Paul's motivation is in verse 23:

I Corinthians 9

23And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Notice that little phrase at the end of the verse, “with you”. I don't have the time to go into the background of my reasoning here, but let me just tell you, and you can study it through for yourself, that those two words are the key to understanding what Paul is saying. It is a reference to standing in the presence of God with other believers when we get to Heaven, especially those that you know you have helped to win. Paul says, “The thing that keeps me going is the fact that as I minister to you and as I bring people to Jesus Christ, I know that someday I am going to stand in the presence of Jesus Christ and with me will be these people that I have brought to Christ and that I have helped to grow in Christ. For that privilege, I am willing to do anything.”

Then in verses 24 and 25, we find the examples of the motivation. The first example is the sacrifice of rights by the Olympic runner in verse 24:

I Corinthians 9

24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

Most athletes train for a lifetime for the moment in the Olympic spotlight. Think of the things that they sacrifice. They sacrifice the right to eat a lot of foods that are perfectly all right. They sacrifice the right to sleep a little later in the morning. They give up that right and in many cases get up before sunrise and are out working out. They sacrifice the right to be perspiration free. Why do they do that? To obtain the prize.

Motivation for God's Glory

Verse 25 makes it more general:

I Corinthians 9

25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

He is talking about not only athletic contenders, but people who are trying to get to the top in business, people who are competing for the mastery of whatever field you want to think about. People who want to get to the top are willing to sacrifice things that are not really harmful in themselves. Why do they do it? To obtain a perishable crown–a little earthly glory.

Notice the last line of verse 25:

I Corinthians 9

25…Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

What is more important? In Paul's day it was just a little floral wreath that they received; in our day it is more than that–lucrative television contracts, financial reward, etc., a passing thing. The things that we strive for in the Christian life, if we are doing it properly, will have eternal effects. What if you are willing to stop drinking coffee for a while while you witness to your Mormon friend? Will it be worth it to enjoy his presence in Heaven for eternity? Won't it be worth it to run into him on the street in Heaven someday, and you both know that he is there because you were willing to stop drinking coffee for a while? Eternity's values are what is in view here. Most human athletes and human winners are motivated by something that is only going to last until they die at the most. Do you remember the winners of the last Olympics? Some who are really into that might remember, but how many of us remember the winners from the Olympics before the last one? It is a very perishable crown. But God never forgets those things that we accomplish for his honor and glory, and we will be in the presence of people throughout eternity that we have ministered to by God's grace. You see, that is the motivation. There is nothing wrong with having motivation on the earthly level, but far more important is the motivation for God's glory and honor.

Evaluating Our Christian Life

In verses 26 and 27, we find the energy that Paul derived from this motivation. In verse 26:

I Corinthians 9

26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Let me ask you something: How do you live your life? Are you just puttering around, getting by the best way you can? The Christian life ought to be a life of running purposefully. There ought to be things in our lives that we consider if it is all right for us to be doing these things; and even if it is all right, is it the best way I can live my life? Am I in training in order to reach the goal of influencing others for Jesus Christ or am I just getting by? Maybe I am not really doing anything wrong in the Christian life, but am I doing everything right? Is there anything about my life that would mislead someone? Is the way I am living a way that would present Jesus Christ in the clearest way? That is the kind of motivation that people who are in training for earthly things have. Why shouldn't it be the motivation for we who are living for the Lord?

I need to point out this term “castaway”. That doesn't mean loss of salvation because that would be inconsistent with the rest of the Scripture. Scripture teaches clearly in other places that once we have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, we cannot lose that salvation. You wouldn't know that just from this reference, but there are plenty of other places in the Scripture that do teach that, so we know that is not what Paul is saying. Well, what is he saying? The Greek word here is a form of a word that is translated “disapproved” in Romans, chapter 14, verse 18; Romans, chapter 16, verse 10; I Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 19. Paul's great fear was that when he got to Heaven and when he stood before the Judgment Seat of Christ where each of us will stand, he would see what was done for Jesus Christ and what was done which was motivated by something else. The Scripture says that anything that was motivated by anything other than trying to please Jesus Christ will be burned up and wasted and gone.

How many hours did you spend this past week doing something that was motivated simply by what you wanted to do? How many hours did you spend doing things that were motivated by trying in one way or another to please Jesus Christ either in obedience to His Word or in some way being pleasing to Jesus Christ? Whatever you spend in that first category is just going to be lost, gone, wasted. Paul says, “I am motivated by the fact of how terrible it would be to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and see that there is someone who did not listen to my message because of something that he knew about my life. I would hate to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and find that there was someone who wouldn't come to hear me preach because I was being supported by other Christians.” Again, I realize there are many things like that that are beyond our control. Some people have weird ideas, and they have weird bases for approving or disapproving, but to the extent that we are aware of it, to the extent that we can do something about it, the Word tells us that we need to be willing if necessary to give up whatever we have to give up to keep someone from misunderstanding who Jesus Christ is and what He has done, to keep someone from misunderstanding the importance of the principles of the Word of God.

It is just exactly like, but eternally more important than, training for an Olympic event or any kind of athletic event. Someone might say, “Boy, that is a restricted, limited, fearful way to live. I don't know if I want to live such a restricted life like that.” If you were to say that to me individually, I would say, “Can you think of a person whom you know who is a jogger, a racquetball player, or a weightlifter, or a tennis player, or a golfer, etc.? What is it those people talk about? Do they talk about what a strain it is to lift that barbell that one last time when their arms are about to break and they finally get it up to the point and someone who is spotting them helps them and takes it off their hands, what a great relief it is?” You don't hear them talking about that, do you? You hear them talk about what a joy it is to be in such good physical shape and to have so much fun. When you talk to a Christian about what he does or does not do, or when someone asks you, “Why do you live such a careful life?”, we don't pick out the things that we don't do. What we ought to think about and what we ought to concentrate in our own minds and share with others is the joy that awaits us of standing in the presence of the Lord, knowing that our lives have been lives of careful honor and glory to Him.


In this passage, we have one of the fundamental truths of the Christian life, one of the fundamental concepts. We are talking about the exercise of our rights and our willingness to not exercise our rights. The pertinent question at the bottom of all of this to ask yourself is, where would I be if Jesus Christ had insisted on His rights? Sure, it may be difficult to give up some of the things that you might have to give up somewhere along the line in order to reach others for Christ, but where would you be if Christ had not been willing to give up His rights? What if Christ had looked over the battlements of Heaven and looked down on the earth and had seen all the sinfulness going on on the earth and God the Father said, “The only way that we are going to be able to have fellowship with man is for You to pay for their sins,” Jesus Christ could have very legitimately said, “Let them pay for their own sins. They are the ones who are guilty, not Me. They have no right to expect Me to die for their sins.”? He would be perfectly right! But where would we be? We would be in Hell or hopelessly anticipating Hell. That is the principle of the Christian life, being willing to do whatever it takes, even to the sacrifice of our lives, to meet the needs of others. That principle applies not only in soul-winning, although that is where our focus has been today, but it applies in every area of life–our relationship with our wives, our relationship with our husbands, our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our relationship with our employer, our employees, our professors, our students, etc. That is the principle of living the Christian life.

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