In the apostle Peter’s second letter, he has this to say about the apostle Paul and his letters.

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (emphasis added).

2 Peter 3:16 (NIV)

This was the same Peter who was directly taught by Jesus, walked on water, and saw our Lord transfigured. Many consider Peter to have been the apostles’ leader, yet even Peter recognized that Paul’s letters were sometimes hard to understand. Therefore, when we have a problem understanding anything Paul wrote, we shouldn’t be bothered since we’re in good company with the apostle Peter.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about the liberties we have as Christians. Indeed, he juxtaposes our rights as Christians to those that preach the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul points out other preachers of the Gospel, like the Lord’s brothers and Peter, who exercise their rights as teachers. They take their wives with them when they preach and earn money by preaching. Paul has no problem with making money from preaching the Gospel and points out that this is how God ordained it to be. Yet, in verse 15, Paul says this about his rights as an apostle.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast (emphasis added).

1 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

Paul would rather die than be deprived of being able to boast about not exercising his rights, which seems strange given what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1.

Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:31 (NIV)

How, then, could Paul be boasting in 1 Corinthians 9:15 and not be bragging about himself when that’s what it looks like? Let’s examine the context.

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:16-18 (NIV)

Paul writes that he is compelled to preach. Who compels Paul to preach? God compels Paul to preach. As God’s “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15) to preach to the Gentiles, he must preach the Gospel. By acknowledging that Paul preaches the Gospel because God directs him to do it, Paul’s boasting is not about himself. Paul does mention a reward and points to being able to preach the Gospel free of charge. Again, this appears as if Paul is pointing to himself, and in a way, he is.

Paul has been discussing the freedoms the Corinthians have in the Lord. Specifically, Paul has been discussing what food they should or should not eat. Paul wants the Corinthians to see that they have the right to eat whatever they want and to go into temples or wherever they want to go, but if they exercise that right, it could damage the faith of other Christians. Thus, Paul points out that by denying himself the right to earn money by preaching, he is exercising the same thing he is asking the Corinthians to do. Deny themselves for the glory of God to help those with a weaker faith. This is what we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

This why Paul talks about self-disciple in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 because not doing the things we want to do, especially when there’s nothing wrong with them, requires self-discipline. Remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Therefore, we cannot exercise self-control without the Spirit. Once more, Paul isn’t boasting about himself but about the Spirit and what it empowers him to do. Consider this verse from James.

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17 (NIV)

Simply put, this verse tells us if we see something we ought to do and don’t do it that’s it’s a sin for us. Conversely, if someone sees something as wrong and does it, it is a sin for that person because their conscience convicts them of sin. Thus, if you know your neighbor thinks it’s a sin to do this thing or that thing and you know that it is not, yet you do it anyway, you’re not only not acting out of love, you might be causing your neighbor to sin! If that neighbor decides to do the same thing that they consider wrong, it is bad for them. Consider what Jesus said about this type of thing.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Matthew 18:7 (NIV)

Although Paul talks about not wanting to lose his option to boast about not preaching the Gospel for free, we know that Paul isn’t bragging about himself. Instead, Paul is demonstrating what it means to deny himself in favor of the Gospel and the salvation it offers to all who believe. If we follow Paul’s example, then we are fulfilling the law of Christ.

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10 (NIV)

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.