In the musical, The Music Man, con man Harold Hill waltzes into River City, Iowa, posing as the organizer of a boys’ band. He wins over the townspeople who pay money for instruments and uniforms, money with which Harold intends to skip town. He’s a fraud, and the town librarian, Marian, knows it and determines to expose him.
Just as Marian questioned Harold, some skeptics had raised doubts about Paul and questioned the legitimacy of his apostleship. In chapter four, Paul announced that he was unwilling to subject himself to the scrutiny of others; God alone would judge his ministry. In chapter nine, however, he seems to offer, if not a defense, then an explanation for his ministry methods.
While it may seem like a digression from the argument of chapter eight regarding the eating of meat in pagan temples, chapter nine is purposefully connected to that conversation. Paul cites his own ministry as an example to imitate when it comes to deciding issues where personal freedoms collide. Though Paul had the right to collect financial compensation for his work as an apostle, he forfeited it for the sake of the gospel.
He gives many reasons for this apostolic right. First, many other apostles received support from the churches where they ministered. Second, he gave the examples of the soldier, the vineyard grower, and the keeper of the flock. Could they be expected to work at their own expense? Then, he asks them to consider the Law of Moses. It prescribes that oxen not be muzzled when treading out grain. Such treatment would be inhuman and cruel. Even the Jewish temple rituals provided for the food of the priests who served there.
By offering himself as an example of setting aside his rights, Paul answers what it might look like to address the questions and divisions emerging from the issue of meat sacrificed to idols in chapter eight. What if the “strong,” like Paul, forfeited their freedom to eat idol meat and chose not to attend feasts in the pagan temples, simply for the sake of the gospel and the community?