1 Corinthians 9-11 I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them

From 1 Corinthians 9-11

Paul apostle thumbPaul was under no man’s authority. Yet he accommodated himself to the needs of others and became a servant of all. He did this in order to win people for Christ. What changes do you need to make in order to save the nations of this world?

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Throughout his letters to the Corinthians Paul is dealing with several problems.

One problem is that his authority is being challenged by the Corinthians. Like chapter four, at the start of chapter nine, Paul defends his role as an apostle. He begins speaking about the sacrifices he has made. He has neither wife, nor regular income from his gospel ministry. Yet he still perseveres sharing the gospel with those who need it (1 Cor 9.1-18).

This is where our passage picks up.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Cor 9:19)

Paul is not under the authority of any of those he preaches to. He says ‘I am free from all’. Yet he has made himself everyone’s servant (‘servant of all’) in order to win them.

He means win them over to Christ, so they may be saved.

His behaviour mimics Christ’s example, humbling himself for the salvation of others (Phil 2.5-8).

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. (1 Cor 9:20–22)

Paul refers to several types of people:

  • the Jews,
  • those under the law,
  • those outside the law, and
  • the weak.

His operative expressions are ‘became as’ and ‘in order to win’.

The order reflects a movement from the inside of the synagogue to outside. First the Jews, moving to the Gentiles and then the weak. Presumably the poor and needy. Paul doesn’t really consider himself any of these any more. He understands himself and all believers to be under the banner of Christ.

‘The Jews’. Paul of course is a Jew. His Christianity is deeply rooted in Judaism. But it is now redefined around a new kind of monotheism involving the advent of Jesus Christ and the Spirit. Becoming like a Jew is a bit like wearing an old hat for him. Sometimes he behaves as a Jew, at other times he doesn’t. He becomes like a Jew, adopting their customs with the sole purpose of winning the Jews to Christ.

‘Those under the law’ Paul is speaking about the law of Moses and I suspect he is referring to the god fearers. Those who put themselves under the law, but had not undergone as far as circumcision. He does not consider himself under the law of Moses any more.

‘Those outside the law’ are the Gentile. Those outside they law do not observe the law of Moses. Jews thought the Gentiles lived immoral lives because they did not. Anxious to avoid the notion he at times engaged in immorality, he says that while he is ‘outside the law’ (of Moses) he still lives as being under the ‘law of God’ and the ‘law of Christ’. I assume these refer in some way to some a universal standard of morality Paul believes in still in force and perhaps Jesus’ commands in the gospel.

‘The weak’. Paul has a heart for the poor and needy. He gives special attention here to the weak. For Paul, this means stepping down the social ladder and working with his own hands to support himself in order to make the gospel “free of charge” to the majority (i.e., the poor) (Barton, S. C. (2003). 1 Corinthians. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1333). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

Paul freely modifies the way he lives so he wont put any unnecessary hindrance to his audiences accepting his gospel message.

23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:23)

Paul does this for the ‘sake of the gospel’. He values the gospel and his ministry so much, he is willing to serve people in this way. He does it so they may be saved.

When they are saved, he also shares a little more of the blessings of the gospel as they do.

46 Greek footrace (Myers R 2012 Images from The Temple Dictionary of the Bible Bellingham WA Logos Bible Software)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24–27)

Paul approaches his ministry like a trained athlete. To live this way requires training and hard work. He runs so he may ‘win’. He wants to win people to Christ.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to run as well.

They may not be involved in gospel ministry as Paul is. But they are involved in their own salvation.

Paul believes the way he conducts himself now will have implications for how he is received in the future. He runs so that he may not be disqualified.

Likewise he encourages the Corinthians also to discipline themselves and run their own race. In this way Paul prepares the Corinthians for his upcoming warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10.1-22).

Words for Believers

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Click to enlarge

Paul gives a wonderful example of gospel ministry. He is mindful of the way he presents himself and is willing to accommodate himself to the needs of others in order that they may be saved by the gospel. He has made mistakes (Acts 14.8-18), but I expect he didn’t expect to continue making them.

The person who shared the gospel with you probably had to accommodate themselves to you as well to remove any unnecessary obstacles to your believing.

Before sharing the gospel with others, spend a little time thinking about how you can behave in order to win them to Christ.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.