Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians;
A Bible Study Based upon the Homilies of St John Chrysostom (SJC)
Study Guide – May 9, 2023 – 1st Corinthians 9.1-12 Session 22 – Homily 21
Prayer before reading of the Holy Scriptures: Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments so that, having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things which are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good and life giving Spirit, always now and forever and to the ages of ages.
- Saint Paul supported himself in his ministry – SJC He was used to forego even things permitted that he might not give offense, although without any law to enforce his doing so.
- The Corinthians deserved no mercy for idolatry – SJC Now if he did more than was enacted lest they should take offense, and abstained from permitted things to edify others; what must they deserve who abstain not from idol sacrifices? And that, when many perish thereby? A thing which even apart from all scandal one ought to shrink from, as being the table of demons.
- Saint Paul is exalting himself not out of pride but to prove his point. He had authority but didn’t use it. – SJC yet disliking to say any great thing of himself, see how he has tempered both feelings as the occasion required: limiting his own panegyric, not by what he knew of himself, but by what the subject of necessity required.
- Saint Paul had all the requirements of an Apostle, therefore he had all the rights too – SJC What then, though thou be ‘an Apostle,’ and ‘free,’ and hast ‘seen Christ,’ if you have not exhibited any work of an Apostle; how then can it be right for you to receive? Wherefore after this he adds, Are you not my work in the Lord?
- As always, Saint Paul shows humility by admitting the work he accomplished was “of the Lord.” SJC Moreover, because it was a great thing which he had uttered, see how he chastens it, adding, In the Lord: i.e., the work is God’s, not mine.
- The people must have been ‘pushing back’ against Saint Paul as if to say, ‘Who are you to tell us?’ – SJC What is, My defense to them that examine me is this? To those who seek to know whereby I am proved to be an Apostle, or who accuse me as receiving money, or inquire the cause of my not receiving, or would fain show that I am not an Apostle: to all such, my instruction given to you and these things which I am about to say, may stand for a full explanation and defense.
- Saint Paul uses common sense to prove his rights and gain their confidence – SJC For since, which was the strongest point, he had proved from the Apostles that it is lawful to do so, he next comes to examples and to the common practice; as he uses to do: What soldier serves at his own charges? says he.
- The work of the Church is more dangerous than being a soldier – SJC For such a kind of thing was the Apostolate, nay rather much more hazardous than these. For not with men alone was their warfare, but with demons also, and against the prince of those beings was their battle array. … Wherefore he proceeds to another topic also and says, Who plants a vineyard, and eats not of the fruit thereof? For as by the former he indicated his dangers, so by this his labor and abundant travail and care.He adds likewise a third example, saying, Who feeds a flock, and eats not of the milk thereof? He is exhibiting the great concern which it becomes a teacher to show for those who are under his rule. For, in fact, the Apostles were both soldiers and husbandmen and shepherds, not of the earth nor of irrational animals, nor in such wars as are perceptible by sense; but of reasonable souls and in battle array with the demons.
- Saint Paul teaches about our rights and expectations using OT allegories – SJC That whatever is said by the Old Testament respecting care for brutes, in its principal meaning bears on the instruction of human beings: as in fact do all the rest: the precepts, for example, concerning various garments; and those concerning vineyards and seeds and not making the ground bear various crops, and those concerning leprosy; and, in a word, all the rest: for they being of a duller sort He was discoursing with them from these topics, advancing them little by little.
- Because the work of the Church is spiritual, it deserves even greater rights than worldly matters – SJC he points out likewise another most reasonable cause on account of which they might justly receive; viz. having bestowed much greater gifts, no more as having labored only. What is it then? if we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?
- Saint Paul makes one final push for them to abstain from idolatry. He says, ‘If I could have but didn’t, shouldn’t you also abstain? – SJC Now if we in a matter left free to us, and when we were both enduring much hardship and having Apostles for our pattern, used abstinence lest we should give hindrance, (and he did not say, subversion, but hindrance; nor simply hindrance, but any hindrance,) that we might not, so to speak, cause so much as the slightest suspense and delay to the course of the Word: If now, says he, we used so great care, how much more ought you to abstain, who both come far short of the Apostles and have no law to mention, giving you permission: but contrariwise are both putting your hand to things forbidden and things which tend to the great injury of the Gospel, not to its hindrance only ; and not even having any pressing necessity in view.
LIFE APPLICATION: It is not about rights, it is about mercy
- We are given mercy; we should show mercy – SJC For this also did Paul; when he might have received, Christ having granted permission, he received not. Thus has our Lord in His mercy mingled much gentleness with His precepts that it might not be all merely of commandment, but that we might do much also of our own mind.
- We pamper ourselves while we ignore those in need – SJC You, I say, pampering and fattening yourself and extending your potations to the dead of night and comforting yourself in soft coverlets, dost not deem yourself liable to judgment, so lawlessly using the gifts of God: (for wine was not made that we should be drunken; nor food, that we should pamper our appetites; nor meats, that we should distend the belly.) But from the poor, the wretched, from him that is as good as dead, from him do you demand strict accounts, and do you not fear Christ’s tribunal, so full of all awfulness and terror?
- We ought to be punished for neglecting the poor – SJC but we are worthy of innumerable punishments because we compel the poor to suffer such things. For if we would easily give way, never would he have chosen to endure such things.
- We should use discernment in helping the poor – SJC There are other poor men, of light and unsteady minds and not knowing how to bear hunger, but rather enduring every thing than it. These having often tried to deal with us by piteous gestures and words and finding that they availed nothing, … And what could a fierce demon do more? Next, you give him money in abundance that he may do these things more promptly. And to him that prays and calls on God and approaches with modesty, you vouchsafe neither an answer nor a look.
- It isn’t ‘just’ giving, but giving liberally – SJC But if you give a little silver, you think as much of it as if you had laid out all you have, not knowing that not the giving but the giving liberally, this is true almsgiving.
- We must do the work of Christ, not just the Church – SJC For this cause do you not give, because the Church ought to give to the needy? Because the priests pray, will you never pray yourself? And because others fast, will you be continually drunken? Do you not know that God enacted not almsgiving so much for the sake of the poor as for the sake of the persons themselves who bestow?
- Even the Church must give an accounting – SJC But when you see the greatness of her substance, bear in mind also the crowds of poor who are on her list, the multitudes of her sick, her occasions of endless expenses. Investigate, scrutinize, there is none to forbid, nay, they are even ready to give you an account. But I wish to go much farther. Namely, when we have given in our accounts and proved that our expenditure is no less than our income, nay, sometimes more.
SEND OFF! We will all give an accounting to God
For each of us shall give account of himself to God. In order therefore that we may render up this account with a good defense, let us well order our own lives and stretch out a liberal hand to the needy, knowing that this only is our defense, the showing ourselves to have rightly done the things commanded; there is no other whatever.