One aspect of the ancient world that we need to keep in mind as we read these verses is the fact that it frequently operated on the basis of informal “patron-client” relationships. In such relationships, a “have” (patron) supported a “have-not” (client) materially. The have-not did not earn or merit such “grace.” The patron or “have” did it for other reasons, such as the prestige of being noble or various other favors a have-not might render. In return, the have-not, the “client,” returned whatever honor or service was appropriate.
In some parts of the Roman Empire, the newly rich would compete for status by accruing as many clients as they could.3 Such clients might be expected to come to the patron’s house once a day and do whatever menial tasks the patron required. In return they would get at least one meal that day along with the possibility of future help. The entanglements of patron-client relationships provide us with a good explanation for why Paul on principle did not receive material support from the churches where he was ministering. He would take support from churches elsewhere, such as the support he received from the Philippian church while he was at Thessalonica (Phil. 4:15–16). But he refused support from the cities where he currently served.
Kenneth Schenck, 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006), 136. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 9