1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do 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? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who 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? Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same? For 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? Or 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. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If 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. Do 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? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 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!
It only takes a few brief excursions into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to discover that these people were a seriously ornery lot. They squabbled among themselves and they squabbled with Paul. They ate the Lord’s Supper in the morning and caroused into the night. They heard the Word, got themselves baptized, and then went out and did whatever they pleased. They drove Paul to the brink of distraction.
In our reading for today, it’s clear enough that they had been hard at work on Paul behind his back, insinuating that he was a kind of lazy moocher, that he had presumed too much, that he had taken far more from them in the way of support than he had any right to take. They felt he really ought to have worked harder for his supper. For his part, Paul felt he had earned his supper many times over. And he can barely hide the hurt he feels.
Whatever else there is to be said of all this, at least we can say that this kind of bickering within any congregation, for any reason, is a poison of the first order. Squabbling steals the life out of a church. It bleeds away energy. It cuts the heart out of what is meant to be the Body of Christ. When it becomes pervasive and endemic, a church becomes a church in name only. It has given up any right to call itself a Christian community.
So, in the end, all of us who want and mean to be true followers of Jesus need to make it our firm resolve that, in all things and above all else, we will hold fast to the real practice of loving kindness toward one another. And we will hold fast to this practice as our unchanging, indelible rule of life, no matter what anybody else says or what anybody else does.
Lord Jesus, help us to keep our eyes fixed always on you and your holy ways. Water the roots of loving kindness in our hearts and give us eyes to see your face in the face of one another. Keep the poison of enmity far from our lips, far from our ears, and far from our hearts. Amen.