How many times have you heard that Christians are to “become all things to all men” and then wondered what that phrase really means? Paul uses this phrase in 1 Corinthians 9:22 with a specific idea in mind, but this phrase has often been misunderstood and abused by professing Christians. Some have used this phrase to allow them to do all kinds of nonsense in the name of Jesus and call it Christian “ministry”. This is seen in the modern seeker-sensitive and
In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul reminds the Corinthians as to what his rights are as an Apostle. These can be summarized into three areas:
- He has a right to have his daily needs supplied [v. 4].
- He has a right to have a wife who could also accompany him in his ministry [v. 5].
- He has a right to be supported by the Corinthians so that he doesn’t have to work a trade [v. 6].
Thus, the basic message of verses 3-14 is that those who proclaim the gospel have a right to get their living from the gospel (v. 14).
But after verse 14, there is a drastic change in Paul’s argument. We see that he refuses to use the very rights that he just argued for (vv. 15-27) and his basic message is that there must be no hindrance to the gospel, even if it means that church workers like him have to give up their right to fulltime support. Sadly, many modern fulltime church workers think completely opposite to Paul, thus reflecting a polished professionalism rooted in a love for money rather than a concern for the gospel itself (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Paul didn’t want anything to do with that, especially since his apostleship was already being called into question by some within this church.
Now, before we look at our text, it is important to note that philosophers, orators, and itinerant missionaries in the Greco-Roman world were financially and materially supported by four means: fees, patronage, begging, and working. Paul taught that to charge a fee for ministry was the mark of a false teacher, so that wasn’t an option for him (2 Cor. 2:14; 4:1; Titus 1:11), to beg was to depend upon the arm of man rather than the providence of God (Matt. 6:33-34), and finally, to accept patronage from a church that was calling into question the legitimacy of his apostleship was to feed their already lingering doubts about his message and ministry (1 Cor. 9:15). And so in verses 15-27, he goes from defending his rights as an apostle to defending his right not to make use of his rights so that (1) he will not lose his reward for preaching the gospel without charge and more importantly, (2) that the gospel won’t be hindered.
TEACHING AND APPLICATION
Verse 15 – “But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.” Paul’s preaching the gospel without pay is both a calculated decision so as not to hinder the gospel. He argued for his right to support, but then he says that he does not want to be supported by them. He would rather die than have the Corinthians support him lest they use that as another reason to call into question his ministry and message. As a matter of personal policy, Paul generally did not receive funds from those he was directly ministering to so that no one could accuse him of doing it for money (cf. 1 Thess. 2:1-9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9; and 1 Cor. 4:11-12; Acts 20:33-35). John MacAthur says the following regarding Paul’s boasting:
Paul’s boast was not intended to convey arrogance but joy. He was so glad for that spiritual privilege and commitment in which he rejoiced that he would rather die than contradict it. He had his priorities right, receiving his joy from exercising his privilege to restrict his freedoms rather than from using them.
Verse 16 – “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul says that he can’t boast in the task of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles because that is what he must do by divine design. To be “under compulsion” does not mean that he is compelled by some inner subjective “itch” to preach, but instead that he is compelled by God’s divinely predestined plan for his life to preach. Don’t forget that as an unbeliever he was on his way to persecute Christians when God arrested him and caused him to become the Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:3-6, 15; 26:13-18; cf. Rom. 11:13). His ministry was divinely predetermined and to attempt to go against that would be to attempt to thwart the sovereign decree of God. That is why he says, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel”! Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist before him (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-17), Paul was called to do what he did from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15-16). He could not stop from preaching what God had predestined him to preach because it was bestowed upon him by the Sovereign of heaven (Col. 1:25). Some of the worst emotional distress comes upon God-ordained preachers and prophets who resist God’s work for their lives. In this case, resistance is futile; they will be used of God. Jeremiah tried to stop preaching after becoming frustrated, depressed, and despondent due to the continual rejection and ridicule that he faced from rebellious Jews, but he testified to what happened to him when he tried to stop preaching, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,’ Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it.” (Jeremiah 20:9) The man whom God sovereignly calls to proclaim His message cannot do anything else; for it is God’s predetermined plan that he preach. Paul was like that. He had no choice; he was “under compulsion.”
Verse 17 – “For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” Paul says that he cannot boast in preaching the gospel because he does not do so of his own choosing. If he had done so by his own volition, then he is entitled to pay. But he has not done so, so what “pay” is there for him? He says that his apostleship is similar to that of a household slave, who works without pay and has been entrusted with managing a household. The fact that Paul didn’t do this “voluntarily” doesn’t mean that he was unwilling to obey, it just means that he had no part in God sovereignly and effectively calling him to the work which He created him for. To have a “stewardship entrusted to” him means that God gave Paul what God highly values for safe care. If the ministry that God gave him is not handled properly, God promises stern discipline (James 3:1). This is another reason why Paul said in verse 16 “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel”. Paul has told us what his reward could not be for, but now he tells us what it is for.
Verse 18 – “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” In one sense, his “pay” was in fact to receive no pay. But this nonpayment payment gives him the apostolic freedom from all people, so that he might make himself a slave to everyone. So, in terms of his own ministry, his “pay” actually turns out to be his total freedom from all human hindrances to his ministry. Simply put, Paul’s reward was that he served the Lord without compensation even though he had a right to it. With great joy, Paul set aside a liberty and right that he had as an apostle so that he could make his own contribution to the work of the ministry by working with his own hands to support himself.
Verse 19 – “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” Paul’s primary reason for not taking full advantage of his liberty as an apostle and a believer was so that he may “win more”. Because he desired to see men come to Christ, Paul was willing to do anything short of compromising the gospel. Though he was “free from all men”, he was willing to limit his rights and become a “slave to all” by setting aside some of his Christian liberties so that he could reach them with the gospel. Paul would modify his lifestyle if necessary so that he would not cause a person to be offended by his preferences, habits, or Christian liberties. While he knew full well that salvation is of the Lord, he wanted nothing that he did to hinder a person from exercising faith in Jesus Christ. His motivation was to love them enough to set aside his own preferences so as to win people to Jesus. The word that translates the phrase “made . . . a slave” is a very strong word that means “to enslave, to bring under subjection”. The next verse shows how he was willing to bring himself under subjection to all so that he might win all.
Verse 20 – “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law . . .” To the Jews he became like a Jew; meaning, that within the limits of the New Covenant, he would behave as Jewish as necessary so that he could effectively evangelize Jews. He loved his own people even to the point of being willing to give up his salvation if possible, so that they could be saved (
Verse 21 – “To those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” Paul was willing to live like a Gentile when ministering to Gentiles who are “without law”; meaning the Law of Moses. Paul makes it clear that he is not “without the law of God but under the law of Christ” so that his readers do not mistake him for a lawless man. He saw the Law of Christ as the sole binding authority upon his life because he was a redeemed man living under the New Covenant era. God’s law has not been abrogated, but in Christ the law of God has been raised to a higher standard in several ways. Consider the following from the Sermon on the Mount:
A Change in the Law? - In the course of this sermon, we see that Jesus is giving new law and, in the antithesis section, He is comparing this law to the Mosaic Covenant.
Divorce Matthew 5:31-32
· Mosaic Law stated that a man could divorce his wife if she becomes displeasing to him. Deuteronomy 24:1-4
· The issue of something being displeasing about her was open for interpretation, but it definitely gave men an opportunity to divorce their wives.
· Adultery could not be the issue that made her displeasing because adultery would result in stoning. Leviticus 20:10
· Moses permitted the Israelites to divorce because of their hard hearts. Matthew 19:8
· Jesus limits divorce even more than Mosaic Law did. The only possible way to have a God honoring divorce is if your spouse commits adultery and remains unrepentant. Matthew 19:9
· Paul reiterates the statements that Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount. He does not see the need to restate that adultery is a legitimate reason because Jesus has already made the statement. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Loving your Enemies Matthew 5:43-48
· Jesus states that we are to love our enemies and even pray for those who persecute us. Romans 12:14-21
· This concept was foreign to the Israelites because they were to destroy their enemies. Numbers 31:1-24, Deuteronomy 20
· There was no allowance for mercy in Mosaic Law because those under that law were not converted. Deuteronomy 7:1-2
A New Focus on Internal Motivation - In this sermon, Jesus also moves into the motivation for our actions. This was not the emphasis in the Old Covenant, but Jesus is putting the spotlight on these issues now.
Adultery Matthew 5:27-30
· In Mosaic Law, adultery was expressly forbidden. In fact, it was punishable by stoning if the adulterer was caught in the act. Because this was the case, only the outward action was commanded against in the law. Moses and the leaders of
· In Jesus’ law He increases the demand by condemning even a lustful look as adultery. This was something internal and impossible to punish in national
Murder Matthew 5:21-22
· Similar to adultery, murder was forbidden. In Mosaic Law, the act of murder was condemned in the Ten Commandments. The rest of the law explained what should be done to someone who murdered. Exodus 20:13 (6th commandment) and Deuteronomy 5:17, Exodus 21:12-27
· In Jesus we find that even having thoughts against someone (hating them in your heart) was worthy of the judgment.
Summary - Jesus is giving the listeners a sneak peek into the ethics of the New Covenant era while still under the Old Covenant. We cannot deny that Jesus is changing the law in this sermon, for He does so in a variety of ways. Under the Law of Christ in this New Covenant era, not only is physical adultery evil, but according to Jesus, lusting in your heart after another person is evil and adulterous as well (Matt. 5:27-28). In the Old Covenant era, to “love your neighbor” meant your fellow Israelite (Lev. 19:18). In the New Covenant era, the Law of Christ says that your neighbor is anybody you bump up against (Luke 10:30-37 – the Good Samaritan). In the Old Covenant era,
Verse 22 – “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Paul avoiding offending those who had weak consciences. He refused to do things that would violate their consciences and cast a stumbling block before them; things like eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:9-13). In becoming all things to all men so that he would by all means save some, he never compromised the purity and clarity of the gospel. He would never change any truth to please anyone. While the truth had to be proclaimed in the gospel, he would set aside his liberties before anyone in order to avoid hindering the progress of the message. Again, MacArthur says it well,
If a person is offended by God’s Word, that is his problem. If he is offended by biblical doctrine, standards, or church discipline, that is his problem. That person is offended by God. But if he is offended by our unnecessary behavior or practices – no matter how good and acceptable those may be in themselves – his problem becomes our problem. It is not a problem of law but a problem of love, and love always demands more than the law.
Verse 23 – “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” Paul’s life centered around the preaching and teaching of the gospel and nothing else mattered to him. Being a fellow partaker of the gospel with those whom he had ministered to was a precious joy that he held fast to. After all, at the end of this life, he too wanted to hear, “Well done my good and faithful slave, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matt. 25:21).
Verse 24 – “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” The Corinthians were familiar with their own foot races which were part of the Isthmian Games which occurred every other year. These athletic competitions were only second to the Olympics in importance. To compete in them required proof of 10 months of continual hard training with the last month of training being held onsite in
Verse 25 – “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Again, if the pagan athlete can exercise self-control in every area of life: diet, sleep, grueling training regimen, and proper instruction; how much more should the Christian engage in such discipline in order to obtain the imperishable crown, which is eternal life? (James 1:12) The athlete’s disciplined self-control should be a rebuke to half-hearted, spiritually out-of-shape Christians who claim to have the very power of God within them yet do very little to prepare themselves for the next life. Examine yourselves my dear friends lest you be found to be spiritually disqualified from the race! (2 Cor. 13:5)
Verse 26 – “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air . . .” Continuing with athletic illustrations, Paul says that when he “runs” and “boxes” he doesn’t do so as if there is no goal in sight, for that would be a waste of time. No, he has the goal of eternal life in mind and when he carries out the daily grind of his Christian life he does so with that all consuming goal in mind. He doesn’t spiritually run about haphazardly nor does he spiritually box so as to simply fight at the air. No, he wants to keep his sights fixed on the goal of eternal life and he wants to strive to enter into that narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:18)!
Verse 27 – “ . . . but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” “Discipline” comes from a Greek word (hupopiazo) which means “to strike under the eye”. The phrase “make it my slave” (dulagogeo) comes from the same root word used in verse 19 which means “to enslave, to bring under subjection”. Paul is essentially saying that he figuratively gives himself a black eye or is willing to put it out if necessary and that he makes his body a slave to his regenerated soul so that he can avoid causing a hindrance to the gospel and complete his life having fully served Christ. This is akin to what Jesus commanded in Matthew 18:9 "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”
Sadly, some of you are slaves to your bodies. You allow your flesh to dictate what your mind thinks. Your flesh controls you instead of you controlling your flesh. An athlete can’t do that, he brings his body into subjection to the training program. He follows his training regimen, not his body. He runs when he would rather be resting. He eats a balanced, healthy meal when his body would rather be slurping a Wendy’s chocolate frosty. He goes to bed when his flesh wants to stay up and he gets up early when his fleshly carcass wants to remain in bed. The successful athlete leads his body; he does allow his body to lead him. It is his slave, not vice versa. So it should be with you if you are spiritually lazy; if you are even a Christian at all!
A contestant that failed to meet the training requirements in the Isthmian games was disqualified. A disqualified athlete failed to meet the known requirements for participation and success and worse, he purposefully broke those requirements. When it comes to the Christian life, how many of you do that regularly? Many professing believers begin with sincere devotion and passion for Christ. They live red-hot for Jesus for a while, and then they begin to falter and eventually they fall away from the faith if repentance is never granted (Matt. 13:20-22). Instead of being disqualified from the Christian race, may you make your calling and election sure and at the end of your life may you be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Never forget that enjoying our Christian freedoms can interfere with others seeing and experiencing our Christian love. Following our own ways at the expense of others can keep them from following the Way. God most uses those servants who are well-prepared to be used when the Spirit sovereignly chooses to use them in the propagation of the gospel and sometimes, that means laying aside our preferences and freedoms so that others may see Christ in us, the hope of glory.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 399.
 John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 1st Corinthians, (Chicago, Ill: Moody, 1984), 209. Italics mine for emphasis – DSS.
 Note: Mark and Luke do not include Jesus’ statements about adultery in divorce. This does not mean that Jesus never said these things, but rather that those two authors choose not to include this information. Ultimately we must read all the gospels to get a well-rounded view of what Jesus is teaching. The gospels compliment one another rather than contradicting one another.
 MacArthur, 213.