Surrendering Rights for the Sake of the Gospel :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Surrendering Rights for the Sake of the Gospel

Forrest McPhail
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The Apostle Paul provides an extended section of instruction in 1 Corinthians 9 for ministry workers and the churches that support them. A major emphasis in the chapter is to exhort God’s people to be willing to give up their rights for the sake of the Gospel. Paul uses his own example of refusing the right to financial remuneration to illustrate his point. Let’s learn how this example of giving up his right to financial support applies to our own need to be willing to surrender our rights to honor the Lord.

The Right to Live by the Gospel

Most of God’s people readily understand the need to assist gospel workers financially to free them up for this all-important work. Obviously, if all these had to work full-time to support themselves and their families, their labors in the Word and prayer would be quite limited. This is why the norm for gospel workers should be partial, if not full, support.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul takes time to prove that it is the God-given right of gospel laborers to expect financial assistance from God’s people. After demonstrating this, he then explains why he did not use that right so that he might be more effective in his own apostolic ministry. By doing this, Paul uses his own testimony as a vivid illustration of how the love of Christ drove Him to discipline himself that he might more effectively win others.

5 Reasons Why Financial Support is a Right

Here are the five reasons Paul gives to support the principle of regular financial assistance for gospel workers.

1. The example of the rest of the apostles (and others) confirms this principle (vv. 1–6; 12).

Based on what Paul communicates here, apart from him and Barnabas, every other apostle (both “big A” apostles and “little a” apostles) he knew drew their living from their gospel ministry. This was the established precedent for gospel laborers.

Apparently, all the men on Paul’s mind had refrained from secular employment and were fully given to gospel ministry. In other words, all their energy was devoted to the work of the Gospel.

2. Payment for labor is a natural economic principle (v. 7).

Soldiers, farmers, and shepherds all get paid for their labors. We all have to receive payment in exchange for our work so that we can meet our needs and provide for our families. How much more, then, should a laborer of the Gospel expect remuneration for his labors? Financially assisting laborers is good and right, the ethical thing to do.

3. Support of God’s servants is confirmed in principle by Old Testament law (vv. 8–11).

The law teaches us that even work animals are to be treated well and adequately provided for because we profit from their work. Paul points out that God used this law to teach the just treatment of animals only secondarily; if animals were to be treated justly this way, how much more so human beings who work for us? Paul argues that those who invest their time and energy to labor for us spiritually should also be provided for materially.

4. Remuneration for religious services is universally understood (v. 13).

Levites and priests were to be provided for under the old covenant because their services were rendered on behalf of the people. This principle of remuneration for religious services is understood worldwide and was the norm throughout history.

5. Jesus ordained it (v. 14).

Jesus Himself directed this practice. When He sent out His disciples, He assumed they would be provided for as they went. Those who received them were expected to help provide for them. Jesus and His disciples were sustained through people along the way, and some even became regular supporters.

Paul Chose to Forego His Right to Regular Support.

After spending extensive time arguing for the legitimacy of material support for gospel workers, Paul makes this statement:

“But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision” (v. 15).1

While Paul did receive love offerings and support at times,2 his customary practice was to refuse to accept support entirely. It seems that in initial church-planting ministry particularly, Paul refused remuneration for his time and labors among the lost and new converts to Christ. This was true at least in Corinth, Ephesus, and to some degree in Thessalonica.3 In these places he relied on tentmaking to meet his daily needs.

Paul even declares to the Corinthians, where he firmly maintained this limitation, that his boast, his special privilege, his personal duty to Christ, as it were, was to preach the Gospel “free of charge” (v. 19).  He even said, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting” (v. 15)! His “ground for boasting” is definitely not a defense of bragging rights; rather it marks his privilege to glorify the Lord by his ministry choice.

Paul Gloried in His Privilege to Lay Aside His Rights.

Imagine how Paul’s decision to give up his rights to support affected his life. Consider how it affected the lives of those who served alongside him. His choice to forego regular support meant he had to earn his way as an itinerant tentmaker. This meant some serious hardships, especially when facing persecution, beatings, thefts, and sudden relocation. Paul gave much time and energy to gospel ministry.

Why did Paul choose this difficult path? He was illustrating the principle that summarizes 1 Corinthians 9:

“I must be all things to all men with all discipline of body and spirit that I might win some.” 

Maybe God is calling you now to surrender a particular right for the sake of the Gospel. Would you be willing to forego specific dietary privileges, the right to reap benefits from a business endeavor, financial security, or even the right to take a godly spouse with you to the mission field?

Paul and his co-laborers were willing to make difficult long-term decisions to make themselves more effective as servants of Christ. Are you?

Paul found joy in giving up privileges he might have rightfully claimed in order to be more effective for Christ. Would you find joy in laying aside your rights?         


All Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted. 

Philippians 4:10-20.

Acts 20:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12.