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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 9:19-23; By All Means Save Some

03/23 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 By All Means Save Some;Audio available at:

1 Corinthians 9 [SBLGNT]

19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω· 20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω· 21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους· 22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω. 23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul is tactfully tackling the issue of how far a believer can go in identifying with the culture around him without involving himself in the sin of the culture. Some in Corinth were fighting for their rights to participate in pagan temple festivities, claiming that their knowledge set them free. They know that there is only one true God, and that idols are nothing, so any food dedicated to an idol is untainted by all the pagan hocus-pocus, so they are free to eat. Maybe they felt it would be an opportunity to evangelize family and friends if they attended temple functions. Paul challenges them to think more carefully through the issues. What if a brother whose conscience is not as liberated as yours follows your example and violates his own conscience, participating in the actual worship of idols? By destroying the weak brother for whom Christ died, you sin against Christ.

In chapter 9, Paul carefully builds the case for those who preach the gospel to be supported by those to whom they preach. He builds this case all for the purpose of demonstrating by his own example what it looks like to have legitimate God given rights and to release those rights for the sake of the gospel and for the good of others. Paul has no choice but to preach the gospel. He is required to preach. In verses 15-18, he claims it as his reward to waive his rights to compensation and present the gospel free of charge.

Free from All

In verses 19-23 he returns to the issue of freedom. In verse 1, he began with the rhetorical question “am I not free?” and here he returns to this issue of freedom. In this passage, he asserts his freedom, voluntarily limits his freedom, and gives us his driving principle for self-limiting his freedom.

Paul asserts his freedom in no uncertain terms. He asked the question “am I not free?”, and here he says “I am free from all”. Paul is a free man. He is free from all people. He is free from all things.

Jesus said

John 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” …36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Paul says to the believers in Galatia

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Paul will not submit again to slavery. He speaks earlier in Galatians

Galatians 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Paul is willing to stand on his rights, insist on his freedom, and demand his rights when the truth of the gospel is at stake. When Peter caved to the pressure of the Judaizers and backed away from eating with Gentile believers, Paul called it hypocrisy and confronted him openly and publicly. He says:

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Peter, a Jew, who had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, was living like a Gentile while among the Gentiles. That was right. He was free in Jesus to eat what Gentiles eat. What was wrong and out of line with the good news was when he backed away and separated himself from them out of fear. This conduct flew in the face of the gospel message that the death of Christ had broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (Eph.2:14). Paul, as a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, was free from all. And when it came to the truth of the gospel, he would fanatically fight for that freedom.

Slave of All

But this is what Paul does with his freedom when the good news of freedom in Jesus is not under attack. He says

1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all,

Being free, he freely chose to enslave himself to all. He will describe what this looks like for him in the next verses. But first he lays out the driving principle behind his voluntary enslavement.

1 Corinthians 9:19 …that I might win more of them.

His voluntary slavery was with a gospel purpose. This is the driving force of Paul’s life. This was his prime passion. ‘That I might win more of them’. This is why he suffered imprisonment, countless beatings, five times the 39 lashes at the hands of the Jews, three times beaten with rods. Once they stoned him, dragged him outside the city, and left him for dead. And he got back up and went back in to the city and went right on preaching the gospel (Acts 14:19-20). He endured shipwreck three times. He faced constant danger, toil, hardship, hunger, thirst, sleepless nights, exposure to the elements (2Cor11:23-28). He had counted the cost, and he did it all willingly, that he might win more. The value of one soul for whom Christ died was of far greater worth than his own personal health, safety, comfort or well-being.

It is interesting to note that Paul sometimes opted out of a beating. Sometimes he called on his rights as a Roman citizen. In Acts 22, when the soldiers were stretching him out for a flogging, he appealed to his Roman citizenship. In Acts 25, aware that the Jews were intending to ambush and murder him, Paul appealed to Caesar. With the Romans, Paul stood up for his rights as a citizen, creating legal precedent that would benefit and protect followers of Jesus for future generations.

But with the Jews, five times he accepted the 40 lashes minus one. A Jew, guilty of blaspheming, must be cut off from his people. But in order to avert this punishment, according to the Mishnah, one could submit to flogging. Paul, preaching Jesus as the promised Messiah and God in the flesh was probably accused of blasphemy. He could have shook the dust off his feet and walked away, but in order to maintain his connection to the Jews and access to preach the gospel in the synagogues, he voluntarily submitted to their discipline. During the scourging, someone would read repeatedly the curse from Deuteronomy 28, so in a very literal way, Paul came under the law (BECNT p.430). So passionate was Paul to win his fellow Jews to Jesus, that he said:

Romans 9:2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Although Paul was free from all, he voluntarily became servant of all, so that he might win more of them. Paul was passionate about captivating as many people as possible with Jesus.

Proverbs 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

This word ‘to win’ is usually used in a financial sense of profit or gain. Paul’s reward was to win people for Christ. As he was commissioned by Jesus

Acts 26:17 …from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Paul’s driving passion and ruling principle in life was to win as many as possible, to open eyes, to rescue from Satan’s kingdom, to offer forgiveness of sins and a place among God’s people.

The Third Category

In the following verses, he describes how he went about this with different groups of people.

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

This is a fascinating passage. Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, an offspring of Abraham, an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, Paul a Jew by birth, says ‘to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. Since becoming a follower of Jesus, Paul no longer considered himself a Jew. Ethnically, he was Jewish. That did not change. He clarifies what he means by his next phrase. Jews were those who are under the law. Paul once was a Jew under the law. He is that no longer.

2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul was no longer a Jew under the law. Neither was he a Gentile. He had become a new creation in Christ. Jesus had created a third category.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

To the Galatians, he says

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jesus has abolished the old categories of humanity.

Galatians 6:15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

He addresses the Ephesians, formerly Gentiles, separated, alienated, strangers, and he says:

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Jesus abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances in order to create one new man in place of the two. Romans chapter 7 tells us how the law was abolished for followers of Jesus.

Romans 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

And he uses the law of marriage to illustrate the principle that we are only bound by the law as long as we are alive.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We are freed from the law because we have died with Christ. We have been released from bondage to the law. We are free from the written code. We now serve God out of a Spirit transformed heart. This is what Paul says in Galatians 2:

Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Law, the Law of God, and the Law of Christ

Let’s look for a minute at how Paul sees himself in relation to the law. He is very careful to clarify so that he is not misunderstood. He became as a Jew, as one under the law, though he himself is no longer a Jew and is not under the law. Paul is not obligated to keep the Jewish law. If we look back at the Jerusalem decree in Acts 15, we see that Gentiles keeping the law of Moses was what was at issue.

Acts 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Peter argued that God

Acts 15:9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Even to those raised Jewish, the law of Moses was ‘a yoke on the neck that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.’ Paul makes it clear that he is not himself under the law. In relations to the Gentiles to whom the law had not been given, Paul became as one outside the law, but he is careful to clarify ‘not being outside the law of God but inside the law of Christ’. Paul wants to make clear that no longer being under the law does not mean that he is free to sin. He makes a distinction between the law that he is not under and the law that he is not outside of. In verse 20 he says that he is not under the law, and in verse 21 he says that he is not without the law of God but inside the law of Christ. He draws a contrast between the law of Moses and the law of God. One he is no longer under any obligation to fulfill, the law of Moses having been perfectly fulfilled in Christ. The other, the law of God or the law of Christ, is what he is walking in.

Jesus said:

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

God gave the law to his people through Moses. The law showed us our sin. In Acts 13, Paul says about Jesus

Acts 13:38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

The law of Moses did not free. It was a yoke that no one could bear. Galatians (5:23) tells us that we were held captive, imprisoned under the law. The law was our guardian until Christ came.

The 613 commandments of the Old Testament have been completely fulfilled in Jesus. Those who are justified through faith in Jesus are not under that law. We are now in the law of Christ.

So what is the law of Christ? Jesus was asked

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus said

Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus said

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John wrote

1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 4:21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Paul tells the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,

It is clear that the law of Christ is the law of love. Romans 8 says

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

We fulfill the law when we walk according to the Spirit.

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Galatians says

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

James says

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

All Things to All People

Paul became all things to all people for the advance of the gospel. To the Jews he became as a Jew. In Acts 16 Paul circumcised Timothy in order to remove hindrances to the gospel among the Jews. In Acts 18, Paul cut his hair because of a vow. In Acts 21, Paul was counseled to purify himself along with four men and present the appropriate offering in the temple. Paul demonstrated that, although he was free from the law, this did not mean that he could not observe Jewish laws when it would serve to advance the gospel.

Paul became as one outside in order to win those outside the law. When Paul went up to Jerusalem, he brought Titus the Greek as a test case to demonstrate that Gentiles were not required to keep the law (Gal.2:3). At Antioch, Paul insisted that Peter continue to demonstrate the truth of the gospel by eating with the Gentiles.

There was another category of people that Paul reached out to with the gospel. These were the weak. The text does not say that he became as the weak. It says he became weak. He doesn’t become a Jew or a Gentile, but he does become weak. He does not qualify this with a statement like ‘though not myself being weak’. In the context, we see that Paul took a manual labor job to pay the bills. The sophisticated Corinthians may consider this weak, but Paul says that he gladly became weak in order to win the weak to Christ. He voluntarily placed himself in the lowest social strata to bring the gospel to people who may not otherwise listen. Paul did not merely preach the gospel. Paul lived the gospel. As he says in Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

As Christ gave himself up for us, Paul follows the example of his Master and gives up his own rights. He stoops down to identify with the weak so that they know that the gospel is for them. Paul being weak, unable to save himself by his own righteousness, stands with the weak in the gospel blessings that come to the weak. Paul’s life has been transformed by the gospel. Paul now lives a life conformed to the gospel. Paul was transformed by the cross. Paul now lives life shaped by the cross. He lives a life characterized by sacrifice. He is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to bring the saving good news to people for whom Christ died. His prime passion is the good news of Christ crucified, and he is willing to live out that good news and come alongside anyone to stand with them at the foot of the cross. There is no other Christian life than a life shaped by the cross.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

March 23, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment