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?