The word apostle means "one who is sent." In the Greek culture, it was just a generic term for a messenger or courier, but in the church came to be a specific office with certain qualifications. Jesus chose twelve of his disciples and named them apostles (Lk. 6:12-13). Later, in the book of Acts, after Judas had betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Peter decided that his place needed to be filled. In choosing the new guy, Peter said
Acts 1:21-22 "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection."
They chose two men and prayed,
Acts 1:24-25 ..."Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
So one qualification of apostleship was someone who had been with, and was sent by, Christ. How then could Paul claim to be an apostle? He didn't become a Christian until after Jesus had resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven. He did in fact meet the Lord on the road to Damascus:
Acts 9:3-5 ...suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting"
But that wasn't the only time Paul was with Jesus. Paul spent three years in Arabia, later telling the Galatians,
Gal. 1:11-12 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
So Paul had seen the Lord. He was, you may remember, the apostle to the Gentiles, but he never felt worthy of the calling. He will tell the Corinthians in chapter 15,
1Cor. 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Although he didn't feel worthy of his ministry, Paul was an apostle, and deserved the same rights as an apostle.
Paul here is listing the basic privileges of the ministry of an apostle. In going to teach and preach in a community, it is only right that an apostle would have food and drink provided for him and his wife. It is only right that someone who has dedicated their life to serving the gospel of Christ be supported by those in the church.
That doesn't mean that the gross excesses we've seen like ministers driving Mercedes and buying gold-plated dog dishes for their pooch is right. On the contrary that is an abomination. But,
1Cor. 9:14 ...the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
From the beginning, even the Levite priests were supported by the tithes and offerings of the people.
Num. 18:24 "For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance..."
Num. 18:30-31 "And you shall say to them, 'When you have offered from it the best of (your gift), then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. 'And you may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting.'"
When Nehemiah was overseeing the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, he writes,
Neh. 13:10-12 I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. So I reprimanded the officials and said, "Why is the house of God forsaken?" Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.
The people had not been giving their tithes and offerings to support their ministers. To survive, the priests and singers had to go get jobs and work their fields. This was cause for Nehemiah to reprimand the people. Those who serve should be supported by those whom they are serving.
It is the right of everyone who devotes their life to preaching the gospel to make their living from it. But for the year and a half that Paul was among the Corinthians, he refused to exercise that right. We read in the book of Acts,
Acts 18:1-5 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
So Paul worked, making tents to support himself. That allowed him to have one service a week Saturdays at the synagogue. Fortunately for him, Silas and Timothy came, and their two working incomes was enough to support the three of them, so Paul was able to devote himself completely to the Word. But he still didn't take a paycheck from any of the locals. He didn't want to be denied the boast that he never took a penny from them, even though it was his complete right to do so. He had been accused of enough problems without adding that to the list.
So, he denied himself his rights in Christ to keep others from stumbling.
Paul worked and slaved and invested very literally with blood, sweat, and tears to see people saved. Though he was free in Christ to exercise his Christian and apostolic liberties, he made himself a slave to all just to see more people brought to salvation.
Paul did all things for the sake of the gospel. He wanted to be a fellow partaker of it he was always concerned about being disqualified. You know, when I was in high school, life was just one big joke. I didn't care about what I did to myself. I never lived with tomorrow in mind. I never thought about how my grades would affect getting into college. I never thought about how all the loud concerts and amplifiers would affect my hearing. I never thought about how all those mind-altering drugs would affect my brain. I was a teenager. I was indestructible. There was no tomorrow, and my philosophy was like The Who's song said, "I hope I die before I get old."
Unfortunately, too many Christians are living their lives just like I lived my high school years. They're not taking tomorrow into consideration. They're not taking their new life in Christ seriously. They plod along, doing whatever feels good, walking through whatever door opens up in front of them. They just don't seem to care they don't seem to be aware.
Paul's all-consuming thought was, "I want to be a fellow partaker in the gospel. I don't want to be disqualified."
The city of Corinth had their own "Daddy of 'Em All" but it wasn't a rodeo it was a huge sporting contest, second only in the ancient world to the Olympics. It was called the Isthmian Games.
Those who competed had to take an oath that they had been in training for the last ten months. If it was found that they had not trained for ten months, they were disqualified they were not allowed to compete.
Knowing that they had to train or else be disqualified, I bet that when their alarm clock went off at 4:30am, they didn't hit the snooze button. No, I'll be their first thought was, "I've gotta train for that race. If I don't I'll be disqualified."
And the boxers they wanted to win. If you lose a race, you lose. But if you lose a boxing match, you REALLY lose! If you knew that you were going to have to fight Evander Holyfield, I bet you'd train for it. You wouldn't be goofing off you'd be sparring, jumping rope, training on the speed bag. If you didn't, you'd end up dead.
Paul is telling us the same thing here. Wake up. Run. Box. Train. So what if it's difficult? So what if you're tired? Don't you want to be a fellow partaker in the gospel? Do you want to be disqualified? Paul didn't. He wanted to make sure of his salvation. He did this to have full assurance. He knew that Jesus had said,
Matt. 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'
Are you concerned that you might be one of those people? If you're not, you should be. It's way too important to take for granted. The book of Philippians says to
Phil. 2:12 ..work out your salvation with fear and trembling....
If you're not concerned, if you're not working it out, you've got a problem.
How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we have full assurance? The writer of Hebrews says,
Hebr. 6:10-12 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Who has full assurance of their salvation? Those who are not practicing lawlessness, those who are producing good fruit, those who are doing good works, those who are diligently running the race. They have no question about their salvation.
I don't want you to misunderstand what I'm saying about works. Do works save us? Absolutely not. The Bible clearly states,
Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; (and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God); not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
I am not saying that we are saved by our works. Not in the slightest. Salvation is not accomplished by works, but, salvation is evidenced by works. Works don't save us, but they are an indication that we are in fact saved. James wrote,
James 2:14-17 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
Jesus summed it up in one sentence:
John 15:8 "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
If you've become stagnant in your walk with Christ. If you're not in a regular routine of repentance and good works, then you're not working out your salvation with fear and trembling. Am I saying you're not a Christian? No, but I am saying that you don't have full assurance that you are. The Bible clearly states,
2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Have your old things passed away? Are you radically different than you were the day before you confessed Christ as your Savior? If not, be concerned. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Even Paul the apostle was concerned about his own.