This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of all of chapter 9, followed by his notes on verses 16-19, 22-27. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the Scripture he is commenting on. Text in red, if any, are my additions.
The Apostle had proposed his own example (8:13) with the view of inducing the Corinthians to forbear scandalizing their weaker brethren. He continues the subject in this chapter, and he shows the painful sacrifices to which he had submitted in forfeiting his rightful claims to support at Corinth, which he was perfectly free to enforce; and these sacrifices he made, lest he might in any way impede the progress of the gospel. From this he leaves it to be inferred, that they should abstain prom things in themselves indifferent, and involving no great sacrifice, in order to avoid the scandal of their brethren. He first establishes his Apostleship (verses 1–4). In the next place, he points out certain privileges which he had a right to claim in common with the other Apostles (4–7). He proves from several sources his right to receive sustenance from the Corinthians (7–15). But he refrained from enforcing this right, although it was hard for him to forego it, lest he might retard the progress of the gospel; nor will he receive any support from them even in future, lest he might be deprived of the special glory and crown attached to the gratuitous discharge of the duties of his sacred ministry (15–19). In the next place, he developes the idea expressed in verse 1—(“am I not free?”) and shows how he sacrificed even his personal liberty to procure the salvation of others, and thus to become a sharer in common with them in the blessings of eternal life (19–24). The mention of the prize of eternal life suggests to the Apostle an expressive image of the value of this prize, and the difficulty of securing it, conveyed in the difficulty of obtaining a crown at the Grecian games. He continues this subject of the difficulty of salvation, to verse 14 of next chapter.
16 For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me: for a necessity lieth upon me. For woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.
But, in what does my peculiar subject for glorying consist? In the mere preaching of the gospel? By no means; for, if I merely preach the gospel, I have no peculiar subject wherein to glory. I do only what I must do; for, woe to me if I neglect preaching the gospel.
This peculiar matter for glorying cannot consist in the mere act of preaching the gospel; since, in doing so, he only does what he is bound to do, under pain of eternal woe.
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation is committed to me.
If I discharge this indispensable duty of preaching with alacrity and with the proper dispositions, I shall be entitled to the essential reward attached to so exalted a function; (I shall not, however, have the peculiar matter for glorying referred to), if I do this work from bad or unworthy motives, I lose a reward; my ministry, however, is not to be undervalued; for, still I act as a dispenser of the mysteries of Christ.
“Willingly,” ἑκὼν (hekon), i.e., with proper dispositions. If I perform the act of preaching the gospel with the proper dispositions, receiving, at the same time, the necessary means of support—the recompense to which all laws, human and divine, give me a claim—“I have a reward,” i.e., he secures the essential reward attached to preaching the gospel; but not the special, accidental glory and reward attached to preaching it, not only with proper dispositions, but also gratuitously, as had been done by him. “If against my will,” ἄκων, i.e., from sordid, unworthy motives; then, I lose all reward; however, “a dispensation is committed to me” (οἰκονομίαν πεπιστευμαι = oikonomian pepisteumai), i.e., I am still the dispenser of the mysteries of Christ, and, hence, my ministry is not to be undervalued or rejected in consequence of the unworthy motives by which I may be actuated.—Estius, in hunc locum. Others, with A’Lapide and Piconio, understand “willingly” to mean gratuitously, and “reward,” to mean a special reward attached to gratuitous preaching, and “against my will,” to mean, with the prospect of just temporal retribution. The former interpretation, however, seems preferable; for, the Apostle appears to consider four classes of preachers—the first, those who omit the duty of preaching. Eternal woe is to be their lot. A second, those who preach the gospel with proper dispositions, and receive temporal compensation. They are entitled to the reward attached to the discharge of this exalted function. A third, those who discharge the duty from corrupt motives; and although their ministry in a spiritual point of view, proves of no service to themselves, still, it is not to be undervalued or despised by others; for, they deal out the treasure of heavenly mysteries intrusted to their keeping. A fourth class—of which he himself is the type—those who preach gratuitously, and these are entitled to special glory and rewards. The interpretation of Estius, adopted in Paraphrase, assigns the more natural meaning of the words, “against my will.” For, a man who performs anything perceptive, even with a view of temporal remuneration, could hardly be said to have done so, “against his will.”
18 What is my reward then? That preaching the gospel, I may deliver the gospel without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
In what, then, consists my peculiar matter for glorying; my peculiar title to a special reward, sooner than forfeit which I would die (verse 15) is this that while preaching the gospel, I do so gratuitously and abstain from fully enforcing my right to support and temporal remuneration, founded on the fact of my preaching the gospel.
“What then is my reward?”—He says, emphatically, “my reward,” to distinguish it from the reward, verse 17. “My reward,” as appears from the following words, means, the cause or matter for reward; it is the same as “my glory,” verse 15:—From the whole passage, it appears quite clear, that the conduct of the Apostle in refusing any temporal compensation from the Corinthians, was a work of supererogation, to which he was not bound either in the abstract (as is clear from the fact of the other Apostles receiving support, and his receiving it himself from the Macedonians), or, in the circumstances; for, he might have explained his claims to support, and thus have removed all legitimate grounds of offence or unfair suspicions on the part of the Corinthians. Moreover, he says, that even were compensation offered him, after the explanation given, he would still refuse it (verse 15); in which case, he, certainly, would not be bound to forego his just claims.
OBJECTION.—He calls a departure from his present line of conduct “an abuse,” and hence, it was a matter of precept for him to act as he did.
RESPONSE.—The Greek word for “abuse,” καταχρησασθαι (katachresasthai), simply means, to use fully. It has this meaning (7:31). St. Chrysostom, by “abuse,” here understands to use a lesser good—minore bono uti—as opposed to a greater, but not to a precept. Hence, the words mean, that I might not use to the full extent (as it would be the exercise of a lesser good), my rights in the gospel.
19 For whereas I was free as to all, I made myself the servant of all, that I might gain the more.
For, although free from all human servitude, whether in regard to Jew or Gentile; I, still, made myself the slave of all in order to gain all to Christ.
The Apostle having referred to the sacrifice which he himself had made, when foregoing his claims to support, as a motive to induce the Corithians to forego, in favour of their weaker brethren, claims involving little or no sacrifice, now adduces another example of heroic charity still more arduous than the preceding, as it was, in a certain sense, the sacrifice of his liberty.
“For whereas I was free as to all,” &c. These words would appear to correspond with the words, verse 1, “Am I not free?” and are, according to some Commentators, a more full explanation of the same. He had, in the preceding, shown his light as an Apostle, and the sacrifices he made; he now shows how he gave up his freedom, in the cause of the Gospel.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all.
With the uninstructed and scrupulous, I became as a weak ignorant person, accommodating myself, as as far as possibe, from a feeling of tender compassion, to their weakness, in order to gain over persons of this class. In one word, I became all to all, in order to save all.
These words, of course, can only mean, that the Apostle went as far in accommodating himself to every description of persons, as the laws of virtue and religion would permit. He became all to all, says St. Augustine—compassione misericordiæ, non simulatione fallaciæ (Herein he exercised not the subtlety of a deceiver, but the sympathy of a compassionate deliverer)—and again, non mentientis actu, sed compatientis affectu (not acting with deciet, but out of compassion).—(Epistles, 9 and 19, ad Hieronymum.) “That I might save all.” In Greek, ἵνα παντως τινα σώσω, that I might by all means save some. The Vulgate is supported by some of the chief manuscripts, and by the Arabic and Ethiopic versions.
23 And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be made partaker thereof.
And, although I labour gratuitously and disinterestedly for others, I am not still forgetful of my eternal interests. I do all things for the advancement of the gospel, in order that with you I may share in its promises and rewards.
He says, that although regardless of temporal interests, there is one interest, however, which he has constantly in view, as the aim of all his actions, and that is, the interest of eternal salvation. “All things,” the common Greek text has, τουτο (touto), this, but παντα (panta), all things, is read in the chief MSS., and preferred by critics generally. “That I may be made partaker thereof.” The Greek word for partaker, συνκοινωνὸς (synkoinonos), means, partaker in common, which shows the great humility of the Apostle seeking only for the same crown that was in store for the Corinthians. What an important lesson is conveyed in these words of the Apostle, for those who are engaged in the salvation of others! What will it avail them to have saved thousands of others, if they themselves are lost? With the Apostle they should, therefore, constantly strive, while labouring for the salvation of their brethren, to be themselves sharers with them in the blessings of eternal life. They should frequently pray for the gift of the only true wisdom, viz., the wisdom of salvation.
24 Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize. So run that you may obtain.
And while striving to be a sharer with you in the rewards of eternal life, I am not ignorant, nor should you either be ignorant, of the arduous nature and conditions of the struggle in which we are all engaged; as it is in the race course, so is it here—all run in the course, but only one receives the prize. Do you so comply with the conditions marked out for running in the ways of the gospel, as to secure its reward.
24. The allusion to the reward of eternal life, suggested to the Apostle an idea which, with the Greeks, would be very expressive of the value of the prize for which they were contending, and of the conditions for securing it. This was the idea of the prize contested for at their public games, so famous in the history of Greece; and on this idea he founds an exhortation to strive earnestly for the prize of eternal life. The Apostle alludes to the Isthmian games celebrated at Corinth. (For a full account of the Grecian games see Potter’s “Grecian Antiquities.”) “So run that you may obtain.” From this example we are not to infer, that only one person can obtain eternal life, as only one was crowned at the Grecian games; for, the object of the Apostle in this example, as appears from the words, “so run that you may obtain,” is merely to show that as no man gained the prize in the Grecian games without complying with the laws prescribed for the combatants; so, no one can succeed in gaining the prize of eternal life, without complying with the necessary conditions of the spiritual exercises. As the prize at the games was glorious, so is it the case here. As the conditions were arduous, so is it also in regard to eternal life. In this verse, the Apostle refers to one of the exercises practised at the public games, viz., that of running; in verse 26, to two of them, viz., running and boxing.
25 And every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself from all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one.
And every one who wishes to contend at the public games, submits to the greatest privations, and cautiously abstains from every indulgence that might prejudice success. And they, indeed, submit to all the rigours of abstinence from meat, drink, exercise, &c., to gain a crown that shall fade away at once whereas, the crown for which we have entered the lists shall never fade.
“That striveth for the mastery,” ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος (ho agonizomenos), who enters the lists as champion. The competitors, at the celebrated Grecian games, were obliged, in the course of preparation, to submit to the greatest privations, to practise abstinence from meat, drink, sleep, &c.—(see Epictetus, Enchiridion, cap. 35)—and all this merely for the purpose of gaining some transient applause, to have their brows encircled with a crown of either laurel or wild olive, ox pine, or even parsley, which was to fade away shortly, and be soon altogether valueless and utterly forgotten. But the crown, for which we are contending, is a crown of undying, never-fading glory; why not then submit to still greater privations in order to secure it? How much have not the saints endured for heaven? Cannot we do the same—none potes tu, quod isti et istæ? says St. Augustine. To how many privations do not worldlings submit for a mere transient glory, or for a wretched fortune? How much do not even the reprobate suffer for hell?—and what have we hitherto done or endured for the bright crown of the just in heaven? “Children of men, how long heavy of heart, why in love with vanity and in quest of lies!” And justly may all earthly promises be termed lies; since, instead of the enjoyment and happiness, which they hold out to us, they only cause us bitterness, remorse, and disappointment—“but we an incorruptible one.” Oh! how consoling to us in worldly crosses and disappointment to reflect that, if we lose a corruptible good, we can still secure a never-fading crown of glory. O Mary—“gate of Heaven”—“cause of our joy,” and “comfortress of the afflicted!”—pray for us.
26 I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air.
I, therefore, in the race of the gospel, run straightforward in my course towards the prize publicly exposed at the goal, and not as a man who runs at random. In the evangelical palæstra, I combat my adversary with effect, unlike the man who, instead of dealing out unerring blows, is merely beating the air.
The Apostle here makes allusion to two of the exercises in the Grecian games, viz., running and boxing.—(See Potter’s “Antiquities of Greece,” Vol. I. Book II. chap, xxi.)
27 But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.
And since my chief opponent and most dangerous adversary is my own body; I, therefore, chastise it, rendering it black and livid, and by mortification bringing it under subjection to the spirit; lest, after having preached to others, I myself become a cast-away.
The flesh is the most dangerous of the three leagued enemies of our salvation; if it be overcome, we can easily obtain the mastery over the world and the devil. Duriora sunt prælia castitatis, in qua pugna quotidiana, victoria rara (difficult is the moral combat, and in the daily struggle victory is rare).—St. Jerome. The Apostle here points out the most efficacious way of combating it—it is by “chastising” it, or, as the Greek word, ὐπωπιαζω (hypopiazo), means, rendering it bruised and livid, by the force of corporal macerations and austerities, and, thus, bringing it under subjection to the spirit. From this passage is derived a conclusive argument in favour of the practices of fasting and corporal mortification recommended and enjoined by the Catholic Church. For, those who are sincerely anxious for salvation, cannot propose to themselves a better model than the Apostle, who, to guard against reprobation, had recourse to bodily chastisement and austerities; nor can these salutary and painful exercises be less necessary for our sinful and rebellious flesh, than they were for St. Paul, fortified, as he was, by so many graces and communications from heaven.
The words also convey an argument against the erroneous doctrine of the inamissibility of grace; for, St. Paul, who was in the state of grace, fears lest he might fall therefrom and become a castaway. The words, therefore, evidently imply that a man can fall away from grace.