1 Corinthians
1-7 Am I Not Free? 8-14 God’s Concern For His Servants 15-21 Win More 22-27 All Things For the Sake of the Gospel
Am I Not Free?

1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3My defense to those who examine me is this: 4Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?

You shouldn’t delude yourself that Paul just only preached some theory in the previous chapter. In this chapter, it will become apparent that he has lived accordingly. In his whole ministry among the Corinthians that has become clear. He showed that he had voluntarily abandoned things to which he was entitled as a servant and an apostle and of which he could have had expected from the Corinthians. They had to become aware of that. That’s why he asked some questions. Not difficult questions which you have to think through. The answer, actually, is already embedded in the question.

V11Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?. He starts with the question: “Am I not free?” Of course he was free. The law had no say over him anymore. He was not responsible to anyone, for Jesus Christ was his Lord.

The next question is: “Am I not an apostle?” In the salutation of this letter he calls himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. The word apostle means: messenger. Such a person has to carry out the order of his sender.

Could Paul call himself an apostle just like that? There was bad talk of Paul going on among the Corinthians that he pretended to be an apostle. To be an apostle someone should fulfill the condition that he had seen the Lord Jesus, after His resurrection. In Acts 1 you read about choosing another apostle to replace Judas. Peter speaks there about someone who “[must] become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:2222beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these [must] become a witness with us of His resurrection.”). Paul fulfilled this condition. Therefore his third question: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” It is not that he was one the twelve apostles who travelled through Israel with the Lord Jesus, but he saw the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus when he persecuted the church. In Acts 9 you find this history (Acts 9:1-71Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He [said], “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”7The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.). So he really was an apostle.

The people who contradicted that, wanted to limit his influence among the Corinthians. Those were people who wanted to take advantage of the Corinthians themselves and therefore they laid this blame with Paul. It is remarkable how quick they (and we too) are inclined to believe such gossip.

Paul can refute these accusations very easily. He just points at them and asks the Corinthians: “Are you not my work in the Lord?” He says, as it were: ‘Just look at yourselves. How have you become converted?’ Therein lies the gentle reproach that they should have known better.

V22If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.. They even should have been aware that they were “the seal”, that is the confirmation, of his apostleship. Certainly they in particular, should not have doubted his apostleship. Do you see how he justifies himself to the Corinthians? He asked his questions in such a way, that there was only one possible answer to them. Obviously no multiple choice questions.

The Bible is a book in which many questions are being asked. The questions are often not that difficult. Also the answer is often simple. Yet, we may want to avoid the good answer, because we sense that otherwise something has to be changed in our lives. We see a very striking example of that in Matthew 21 (Mt 21:24-2724Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.25The baptism of John was from what [source], from heaven or from men?” And they [began] reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’26But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.”27And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.). When the chief priests and the elders had given the right answer (and they knew the good answer!), they also had to accept the Lord Jesus, but they didn’t want that. Here you see that the answer to a question depends on the condition of your heart. The point is if you are willing to accept the consequences of your answer.

V33My defense to those who examine me is this:. The next questions of Paul are addressed to the people who wanted to show Paul in a bad light to the Corinthians. But the Corinthians (and you) hear these questions too. Those are the questions that indicate how Paul had behaved himself among the Corinthians.

V4-64Do we not have a right to eat and drink?5Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?6Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?. In the first place he asks questions that are connected to the rights he had. He assuredly had the right to get food and drink from the Corinthians, had he not? Wasn’t he allowed to live from the gifts that the churches sent him? And in case he had been married, wouldn’t he then be allowed, like many others, to take along his wife on his journeys? His wife would then also have had the right to get a loving care from the church. And concerning his social occupations (he was a tentmaker by profession; that is said in Acts 18:33and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.), he was, just like Barnabas, certainly not obliged to work to earn his own living, was he? They were entitled to be supported by the churches for their living.

V77Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?. Later, in verse 1212If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ., he clarifies why he did not make use of this right. Here he only points out his right to be provided by the church with food and drink.

To reinforce this right, he gives three examples from daily life, which confirm what he said. To the commander of an army this is not a question, but a clear case. Just take a soldier as an example. The only thing he has to focus on is the war. That is the reason he is employed for (2Tim 2:44No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.). He has to fight, he has to win. Nothing of that would have happened, if he also had had to care for his food. Somebody had to bring him that food, even if he is engaged in the fiercest battle. In this way the soldier gets power to continue the battle.

The two other examples come from agriculture and cattle farming. He who has a vineyard, wants it to bear much fruit, for the more fruit, the more wine to be sold and the bigger the returns and profits. Does that mean that he who has worked in the vineyard for another person, he himself will not profit from the fruit? Of course he himself will also make use of it. The same goes for watching over a flock. He who is occupied with that flock the whole day and takes care of it, is also allowed to take some of the milk of that flock for his own use.

In many companies it does work the same. The products they deliver are allowed to be taken home by the employees, for free or for a low price.

Why has Paul chosen these three examples of a soldier, a vine dresser and a shepherd? It is because these examples are also meaningful to you. You could recognize yourself in these examples. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul calls Timothy “a soldier of Christ Jesus” (2Tim 2:33Suffer hardship with [me], as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.). You must have experienced that you find yourself on a hostile territory. You are surrounded by many enemies. But the Lord Jesus is your Commander in the battle. He assures you that you’re able to withstand as long as you trust in Him.

The second example also applies to you. In Matthew 20 the Lord Jesus uses a parable about workers who are sent into a vineyard (Mt 20:1-161“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.2When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.3And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place;4and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And [so] they went.5Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.6And about the eleventh [hour] he went out and found others standing [around]; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’7They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last [group] to the first.’9When those [hired] about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.10When those [hired] first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.11When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,12saying, ‘These last men have worked [only] one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’13But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?14Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.15Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’16So the last shall be first, and the first last.”). You also are such a worker who is allowed to work in the vineyard. You can be sure that the Lord Jesus shall give you a reward for your work “whatever is right” (Mt 20:44and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And [so] they went.). But isn’t it the case that you already enjoy now the things you can do for Him?

The third example, from the flock, has to do with taking care of believers. In John 10 the Lord Jesus talks about the one flock of which He is the one Shepherd (Jn 10:1616I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock [with] one shepherd.). That flock consists of all sheep that belong to Him and which He calls “My sheep” (Jn 10:2727My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;). You belong to those sheep too.

Therefore when you see a believer going astray, you might pay him a visit. You can try to bring him back to the flock on the basis of the Bible. Try to feed him from the Bible and by that way have him get the taste for the Bible again. In 1 Peter 2 the Bible is called “the pure milk” (1Pet 2:22like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,). When you let your brother get the taste of it, you yourself will also be strengthened.

In this way you see how you are provided by God Himself with everything you need in the ministry of God, and every believer has received a ministry from God.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:1-7 again.

Reflection: What is the connection between chapter 8 and chapter 9?


God’s Concern For His Servants

8I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher [to thresh] in hope of sharing [the crops]. 11If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the [food] of the temple, [and] those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

V88I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?. Paul is still busy to prove his right to support by the churches. In verse 77Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? he has given three examples from daily living. By doing so he had, as he says here, spoken “according to human judgment”, thus according to what was common in society.

V99For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He?. He doesn’t stop there. He even goes a step higher and quotes something from “the Law of Moses”. He uses an example from the Word of God and of course that is more powerful than what is common with people in society.

The instruction he quotes, regards “the ox while he is threshing”. An ox that was threshing the grain was not to be muzzled. That was an instruction from God, because He knows the heart of man. A relentless and greedy boss could have muzzled such an animal to prevent it from eating the grain. He would then have had more grain to sell on the market and therefore earn more money. Nevertheless, God had determined that an ox was allowed to eat from the grain he was threshing.

So God cares for the oxen. God is concerned about the well-being of all animals (Psa 104:27-2827They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.
28You give to them, they gather [it] up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
). In Jonah 4 God also considers the cattle when He decides to spare Nineveh (Jona 4:1111Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”).

V1010Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher [to thresh] in hope of sharing [the crops].. Behind this instruction of God’s concern for the oxen, a higher instruction is hidden, which is God’s concern for His servants. It has been written for them in the first place. Very directly Paul wants to say here that he, as a sower and plowman – thus as an evangelist – and as the one who is permitted to see the fruit of this work, certainly can expect that food is given to him. Whether a servant is plowing or treading, he can be sure that his work will be fruitful.

The plowman is preparing the soil so that the seed can be sown on that soil. The thresher processes the harvest after the seed has grown and has ripened. A person may be standing at the beginning of the work of God, when he, for example, preaches the gospel to another person. Even so a person may also be standing at the end of that work when he, for example, can bring another person to the Lord Jesus. In both cases he is sowing something spiritual.

V1111If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?. God shall provide for the means that are needed for the work. You can also provide other servants who have served you spiritually, with something material. Actually it is something you ought to do. Yet it is more beautiful to look at it as a privilege. When brothers have to travel often, you might provide them with money for those journeys. Or others who distribute much literature, you can provide those with money for literature. But even if they don’t have that much expense, you might also support them financially, so that they are able to buy food and drink and pay their housing costs.

Here it is about people who have resigned from their job in society in order to spend their time henceforth on spiritual sowing-work. They are entitled to be provided by us in their living. This is how God has ordained it.

V1212If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.. Paul presents once more that he is a partaker of this right over the Corinthians in this respect. He says that if others were partakers of this right, he was even more. After all, they owed to nobody as much as to him, did they? Nevertheless he had not used this right. To him the gospel of Christ was more important than all the rights he owned. He would have abandoned anything that would have been a hindrance for preaching the gospel.

He preferred the endurance of being falsely accused by other people rather than that the progress of the gospel would be stopped. Imagine what would have had happened if he had insisted on his rights towards the Corinthians. Then they would have provided him with money and goods, but at the same time they would have boasted about that, as if the great apostle owed it to them that he could do his work. They could have even thought that they had bought the gospel. Paul made every effort to prevent that.

V1313Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the [food] of the temple, [and] those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?. Before he goes further, he remembers something else. There is one more example in the Old Testament from which it appears that a person who is in the service for God, receives something through that same service to support his life. It is about the priests and Levites. In the Old Testament the priests and Levites were a special class of people among Israel. They had to do tasks in the tabernacle (when the people were still in the desert) and later in the temple (when the people lived in the promised land).

When an Israelite wanted or had to bring an offering, he gave that to the priest. The latter slaughtered it and put it as an offering on the altar. But God had ordained that the priest was allowed to keep a part of some offerings for himself to eat. In Leviticus 6 for example you read that the priest received a portion of the meat offering (Lev 6:1616What is left of it Aaron and his sons are to eat. It shall be eaten as unleavened cakes in a holy place; they are to eat it in the court of the tent of meeting.). In the same chapter it is written that the priest who brought the sin offering had to eat of the sin offering (Lev 6:2626The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting.). The priests put the offerings on the altar and the Levites helped them thereby. In Numbers 18 you find something like that. The priests receive the breast and the right thigh as food (Num 18:1818Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.). With the Levites it was something different. Also in Numbers 18 the Israelite received the order to donate their tithes to the Levites as an inheritance in return for the work which they performed (Num 18:2121“To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.).

In Deuteronomy 18 you read once more the way God had ordained how the tribe of Levi had to be provided for. The whole tribe of Levi, so all priests and Levites, had no inheritance in the land like all the other tribes. The other tribes were able to farm on the land they received as an inheritance and provide themselves with the crop of their land. But the tribe of Levi had no piece of land to receive an income from. Concerning them, the Lord was their inheritance (Deu 18:22They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.). Therefore the Lord ensured them – through the means of instructions to the people – that the tribe of Levi would receive what they were entitled to.

V1414So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.. The conclusion Paul draws from this, is as follows: “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Therefore do not shirk your responsibility to support brothers and sisters who go forth for the work of the Lord without receiving a permanent salary.

In the third letter of John you find a nice example of someone who acted that way. Gaius supported brothers – whom he didn’t even know – because they “went forth for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (3Jn 1:77For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.).

If you would look at your involvement, concerning the work for the Lord in that way, you will also be fully blessed. Just read what is written in Malachi 3 (Mal 3:1010Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.). If you start to give for the work of the Lord, God will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings abundantly over you. Herein lies, as it were, a real challenge from God’s side. Do you dare to accept this challenge?

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:8-14 again.

Reflection: The law says that you should give your tithes. What do you think ‘mercy’ says?


Win More

15But 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. 16For 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. 17For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18What 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. 19For though I am free from all [men], I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20To 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; 21to 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.

V1515But 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 has proven his right for support by believers clearly and extensively. Now he senses the danger that the Corinthians would be thinking that he had written all those things to get money from them. That was certainly not his intention! In the past he never accepted anything from the Corinthians and that was still the case.

Some of the Corinthians thought that Paul only preached for his own benefit. To nip this thought in the bud, he says that he would rather die than that he created that impression. He would very much want to have glory, not for himself, but for the gospel. He didn’t want to be obstructed by anything at preaching the gospel (verse 1212If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.). The gospel had to be brought in all its clearness and without any restriction.

Money can play an obstructing role at preaching the Word. There is a saying that sounds: ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune.’ That indicates that you are inclined to say what people like to hear who give you a lot of money. You might become fully dependent on them. It is a danger that threatens each preacher who preaches on demand to people who also pay him. You may think on what is written in 2 Timothy 4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim 4:33For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,). But a servant of the Lord must speak the Word of the Lord, without having thoughts about whether or not he will receive a reward from anyone.

V1616For 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.. When Paul was preaching the gospel, it wasn’t something he could boast of in terms of: ‘I’m doing a pretty good job, aren’t I?’ He owed that to the Lord, for He was the One Who commanded him to do it. He talks about the necessity that was laid upon him, not by people or by an organization, but by the Lord. He even speaks “woe” about himself if he doesn’t preach the gospel.

V1717For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.. To him preaching the gospel was not a kind of voluntary work. In general voluntary work is being appreciated well in our society. Such an appreciation would also be his reward, in case he worked as a volunteer for the Lord. But Paul was not willingly or voluntarily a preacher of the gospel. “A stewardship” was “entrusted” to him by the Lord. Paul was aware of his responsibility. Therefore he did not want to connect the gospel with money nor goods anyhow.

V1818What 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.. His “reward” consisted of the assurance that his Master approved what he was doing. That ‘reward’ was sufficient for him. He didn’t need a reward from the Corinthians. He wanted to preach the gospel for free and did not want to make use of his right for support. In that way he remained free from all men.

V1919For though I am free from all [men], I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.. That freedom concerned only his work. Concerning himself, he wanted to be a servant to all men, in order to win through the gospel as many men as he possibly could for the Lord Jesus. How much, in that respect, does he resemble the Lord Jesus Himself, Who also did everything without asserting His right for compensation. Who was as free as He was? He did not allow anyone to tell Him what He should do. Though, who was a servant like Him? He came, not to do His own will, but the will of His Father.

V2020To 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;. Paul made himself a servant to all men willingly. His desire was to serve every man with the gospel. He adjusted himself as much as he possibly could to meet his listeners. When he was preaching to the Jews, he adjusted himself to the habits of the Jews. That implies that he wouldn’t eat pork when having a meal with a Jew. He wanted to use every opportunity to win the heart of the Jew by fulfilling, as much as possible, all external demands that were of importance to the Jews. He considered the commandments from the law if he could win the heart of a Jew for the gospel.

That didn’t mean, however, that he intended to preach the law again. He himself was free from the law and he wouldn’t permit to be brought back under the yoke of the law again. Only if the situation demanded that it would serve the advancement of the gospel, he adjusted himself to it.

When he preached the gospel to the Gentiles, thus to people to whom God had not given the law, he operated differently. Then he descended to their level of thinking. In Acts 17 you read about a speech of Paul that hooks up to the thinking of the people from Athens (Acts 17:22-3422So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.23For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.24The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all [people] life and breath and all things;26and He made from one [man] every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined [their] appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’29Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all [people] everywhere should repent,31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some [began] to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”33So Paul went out of their midst.34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.).

In our days other ways of adjustment are also possible. Just think about the missionaries who go to the inlands of Africa or who travel to other countries with totally different cultures to preach the gospel. The best way for them to introduce the gospel is to live among these native people by adjusting themselves to the same habits and ways they do.

V2121to 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.. The fact that he was “without law” did not mean that he behaved himself lawlessly. At approaching the Gentiles he stayed subject to Christ. He would have never acted in a way that was not in accordance with his Commander.

Some nice examples of the way to approach people, you find in John 3 and 4. In John 3 the Lord Jesus speaks with a high-placed spiritual leader of Israel. In John 4 He speaks with a woman who was through and through sinful. It is wonderful to see how the approach of the Lord is adjusted exactly for each person (Jn 3:1-121Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;2this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God [as] a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”3Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”4Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’8The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”9Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”10Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.12If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?; 4:7-267There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus *said to her, “Give Me a drink.”8For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.9Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)10Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”11She *said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?12You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?”13Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again;14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”15The woman *said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”16He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.”17The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’;18for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”19The woman *said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.20Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you [people] say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”21Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”25The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”26Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am [He].”).

The lesson is clear. Adjust yourself as much as possible to your conversation partner, whom you want to win for the gospel’s sake, but keep your eye fixed on the purpose. Towards somebody who has placed himself under the law, as many reformed Christians do, admit the good things of the law. In that way you can keep the conversation going on with them. Try to demonstrate what effect the law has had (death and judgment, 2Cor 3:7,97But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading [as] it was,9For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.) and what God’s solution is for this problem (Christ, Who suffered the curse of the law, Gal 3:1313Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—). Stay conscious of being free from the law during the conversation and do not give the other person any room to bring you under the influence of the law.

In your conversations with worldly people, who have nothing to do with religion and who waste their lives with hunting for money, drink, drugs and sex, you act differently. Stand beside them and tell them that you can understand them in their desire for happiness. Make yourself a friend of them; the Lord Jesus is called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 11:1919The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”). You can tell them about the happiness you have found in the Lord Jesus. During the conversation stay conscious of being legally subjected to Christ and don’t let yourself be tempted to a worldly way of thinking and living.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:15-21 again.

Reflection: Do you also have the desire to win people for Christ?


All Things For the Sake of the Gospel

22To 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. 23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 24Do 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. 25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

V2222To 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.. You understand now that Paul’s life was fully dedicated to the gospel. He subordinated everything to it. In order to succeed he was willing to serve all men. There was one person whom he did not serve and that was himself. Additionally he considered every man as a creature that has a soul to lose and who has to be won for Christ. He responded to the other person as far as he could in the situation this one found himself. Even so he approached the weak as if he himself was weak. He considered the conscience of the weak and was careful not to do anything that might cause the weak to turn away from the message of the gospel.

You would venture to say that he wriggled every which way to win one person. He did that, because every man is invaluable to God. The more you are aware of that, the more you will be engaged with preaching the gospel to your fellow men. “Save some”, that’s what it was all about to Paul. An important condition to do that is self-denial, not to think of your own concern or to be occupied with yourself.

V2323I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.. Paul made every effort for the gospel’s sake, in order to be a partaker of it. He presented the gospel as a person whom you know. When someone is important to you, you would do everything for him or her. The gospel was such an important ‘person’ to him, for whom he did everything.

V24-2524Do 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.25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.. To illustrate that, Paul uses some examples from the world of sports. He more often uses examples from the world of sports, because they are very suitable to make a clear comparison with the life of a Christian. Some matters that are at issue with both the sportsman/-woman and the Christian, are:
1. the training,
2. the competition and
3. the prize.

To be able to participate in the competition, you first need to train. The more important the competition is, the more intensive the training will be. The more intensive the training is, the better the preparation. There are societies of all kinds of sports where the only important thing is recreation. Especially older people are trying to stay in good health in this way. Then the training is very sociable and is not focused on achievements. The competition is also for fun and it is very nice when the game is won. There is nothing wrong with this, but Paul is not looking at the race of the Christian in this way.

The picture Paul has in his mind here and what he also presents to you, is the picture of an athlete who is fully in control of his body. The athletes, who in his time, participated with the Istmian games (later called the Olympic Games) that were regularly held in all big cities of Asia Minor, needed a period of ten months for preparation. During this time of preparation the athlete freely subjected himself to a hard training. Great trainers from that time always taught their pupils: ‘You need to have an orderly life; with little food and the abstention of sweets; training on a steady time, whether it is hot or ice cold weather’.

Horatius has said: ‘The youngster who wins the race has suffered a lot and has done a lot. He has had an awful sweat and suffered cold. He had abstained from love and wine.’ The period of training was for the Greek athlete a time of living in isolation. It was a time of abstention from things that were good in themselves, but would be a hindrance for him to achieve optimal results. He abstained from everything that could be harmful for his achievements.

When Tertullian applies the example of the athletes to the persecuted Christians, he says: ‘They are tormented, exhausted, worn-out.’ Would you be able to apply this picture to nowadays Christians? I venture to say that we as Christians in the western world live a flabby and easy-going life.

Just take a careful look at such a Greek athlete (and at many of the nowadays top athletes): a long period of intensive training, a great deal of self-denial and suffering much inconvenience for a competition that will last for only some minutes or even seconds to a couple of hours (dependent on which kind of sports) with as the highest result a perishable wreath.

Ask yourself now: if they could yield to that, shouldn’t I submit myself freely to such a similar severe discipline and self-denial to serve the Lord Jesus in a way He is worthy of? When we Christians would surrender ourselves with as many efforts as the Greek athlete, to a life of isolation, how much power and blessing would our life reflect to the honor and glory of God?

A competition also clarifies that there are competitors. Paul was very aware of the opposition in his race. In his letter to the Philippians he also writes about that (Phil 3:1414I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.) you can picture it before you: Paul flashes through the race-track. He forgets everything behind him, because looking back for a moment, can be fatal. In that way he runs off to the purpose.

Paul doesn’t mean here that we should not think about the sins we committed formerly, although they are forgiven now. The sins from the past have to keep us humble. He thinks here about his service for Christ. Therefore he certainly does not lean back complacently in an easy chair and glorify himself for everything he has done. He hasn’t reached the goal yet and therefore he runs off to it.

The first verses of Hebrews 12 shows the same picture (Heb 12:1-21Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.). Paul sees the mobs that populate the stadium, while the athletes prepare themselves for the race. Everything that could be of hindrance to devote maximum effort has to be put aside. The Christian also has to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin”. You still might have things in your life of which you know that you should settle. They trouble your conscience like a burden. Make sure that you get rid of this burden. You should confess certain sins you might still have in your life and which you haven’t abandoned yet. Confess them! Then you will be able to continue the race unhindered. And thereby look unto Jesus continuously.

V2626Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;. The latter brings you back to this verse in 1 Corinthians 9. What is mentioned there is also important to bear in mind. I hope the final goal of the race is clear to you. You know, to speak once again in terms of Philippians 3, in which direction you walk (Phil 3:1414I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.). Otherwise you look like a racing cyclist who got disjoined from the platoon and because of that lost his way. He cycles as fast he could to join the platoon again, but in the wrong direction. That is a waste of energy!

Like the one who is boxing Paul talks about, who beats in the air. He pulls out to deal a hard blow, but the opponent avoids him nimbly. The blow becomes a wasted effort and the power behind it dissolves in the void without any effect on the opponent. A Christian should be directed on his target and should be conscious of that target.

Finally the prize, because that is what it is all about. The Lord Jesus has put crowns ready for Christians who have dedicated themselves fully to Him. He will dispense those crowns when we will be with Him. Can you imagine a more precious reward than that He would say to us: “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:2121His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’)?

V2727but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.. There is another thing why Paul is that fully committed to preaching the gospel: he doesn’t want to be disqualified himself, after having preached to others. He would have become disqualified if he would have only preached, without having lived a life accordingly. He didn’t want to be someone who could just tell a nice story with a message for others to sacrifice everything, while he himself lives an easy-going life. Therefore he applies to himself what he just said about the athletes.

Literally it says that he beats his body. With that he refers to the heavy training as a preparation for the Games. Paul submitted himself to a tremendous self-discipline. The word ‘disqualified’ doesn’t mean that Paul could perish. It indicates that a person, who truly loves the Lord Jesus and sincerely wants to live for his Lord, is aware of his responsibility. Such a person would do everything to reflect in his life Whom he lives for. A person who is only a Christian by name, or formally, will not be able to do that. That will be paid attention to in the first part of the next chapter.

Now read 1 Corinthians 9:22-27 again.

Reflection: How is your training schedule?

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