Observe here, 1. That St. Paul, in his former epistle to the Corinthians, abundantly proved the lawfulness of his taking maintenance from those to whom he preached the gospel: Yet here he tells the Corinthians, he preached freely to them, without putting them to any charge, though at the same time, he had subsistence from the brethren of Macedonia.
From whence learn, That one church ought to contribute towards the furtherance of the gospel in and amongst other churches. Here the brethren in Macedonia supplied the apostle with maintenance, whilst he preached to the church at Corinth.
Observe, 2. The reason why St. Paul did preach the gospel without receiving any thing for the same at Corinth; namely, to cut off occasion from the false apostles, who sought occasion to traduce and slander him, as a poor indigent fellow that preached for bread, and gloried that he preached freely.
Where note, That it is probable, that these false apostles were some rich men, who took no pay of the churches for what they did, but preached, or rather deceived freely, and would have reproached the apostle as a mercenary preacher, had he taken any thing.
From the whole, learn, 1. That it is agreeable to the mind of Christ, that the ministers and dispensers of his gospel should be maintained. A maintenance for the ministry, is certainly of divine right.
Learn, 2. That the apostles themselves did not all work, at least, not at all times, for their livelihood, but, generally speaking, did always receive maintenance from the churches: ver, 8, I robbed other churches, taking wages of them. We do not find the eleven apostles, after the Holy Ghost came upon them, wrought afterwards with their hands for their livelihood, but gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word, Act_4:4.
Learn, 3. That though St. Paul did labour with his own hands at Corinth, and refused maintenance, for the reason forementioned, yet his example doth not enjoin us to work for our subsistence, with the labour of our hands, nor forbid us to take maintenance, when the churches we serve are able to maintain us. St. Paul tells us, when he wrought with his hands, he had then a power to leave working, 1Co_9:6. He had a right to a maintenance from the church at Corinth, though, upon prudential consideration, he did forbear it, and no law of Christ restrained him from it.
Learn, 4. That there have been persons, all along, from the first planting and preaching of the gospel, who have sought occasion, and taken all occasions, though very unjustly, to charge the ministers of Christ with covetousness, worldly mindedness, and with preaching for filthy lucre sake. It was St. Paul's own case here; and therefore, says he, will I glory in this, that at Corinth, and all Achaia, I have preached freely, to cut off occasion from them that desire occasion, to charge me with covetousness and worldly-mindedness, which he would by no means give them an handle for. And thus it continues to this day: Let a minister be never so laborious in his office, or inoffensive in his life, if he expects but a moderate part of what is his just due, there are those that will cheat him of one half of his right, and them charge him with covetousness for demanding the other.
Observe, lastly, The description and character here given by St. Paul of the false apostles, They transform themselves into the apostles of Christ. that is, they pretend themselves to be Christ's apostles, and act as if they were such indeed; they take up the doctrine of Christ in some things which the holy apostles taught, but it was that they might weaken the estimation of the true apostles in the hearts of the Corinthians, and set up themselves there.-
These false apostles was Judaizing Christians, who mingled Judaism with Christianity, and endeavoured to bring the Corinthians under the bondage of the ceremonial law. Behold here the first heresy with which the wisdom of God was pleased to exercise the church, even in the apostles' days, that no church, and no age of the church, might pass without some temptation and trial; they transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, even as Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Then is Satan an angel of light, when he suggests good for evil ends, and under specious pretences of bringing glory to God, doth tempt persons to transgress the will of God.
Thus the false apostles would preach error with as great zeal and industry, as the apostles of Christ did preach truth, and use their utmost arguments, persuasions, and motives, for embracing of error, which the holy apostles did for the entertainment of truth, seeming to do the same things that the true ministers of Christ did. It is very possible for men to be really Satan's instruments, animated and taught by him to do his work, against the interest of Christ and his truth, and yet, at the same time, pretend to excel and go beyond Christ's faithful ministers in preaching truth and holiness. So that the highest pretences to truth, orthodoxness, free grace, purity, and unity, are no sufficient evidences of a true ministry. Satan and his ministers, who love to transform themselves sometimes into angels of light, may pretend to all these, and are, notwithstanding, the sworn enemies of Christ and his kingdom.