9:19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
In our text today, Paul asserted that he was free to yield certain rights in matters that did not compromise the gospel message. In such a way, he could vary the style of his message or other minor matters, becoming a slave to his audience so that [he] might win more of them.
Paul’s goals were to glorify God and to bring people to Christ. Thus he stayed free of any philosophical position or material entanglement that might sidetrack him while he strictly disciplined himself to carry out his goals.
By being a slave to all, Paul was communicating the heart of his mission strategy. He had a willingness to accommodate and adjust to different settings. When with Jews, he ate kosher food; when with Gentiles, he ate regular food. In Philippi, he accepted support; in other places, he did not.
Was Paul a chameleon, merely adapting to each environment? In some ways, he was; but his principles were higher than self-protection. He wanted people of all cultures and backgrounds to listen to the gospel. Whenever missionaries go to another culture, they should consciously embrace and adapt to every element in that culture that doesn’t hinder the gospel or violate biblical ethics.
9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
Paul never compromised the doctrines of Scripture, never changed God’s Word in order to make it more palatable to people in any given place. He never went against God’s law or his own conscience. In matters that did not violate any principle of God’s Word, however, Paul was willing to become like his audience in order to win them to Christ. Three groups are mentioned in these verses: Jews, Gentiles, and those with weak consciences. By saying, to the Jews I became like a Jew, Paul was stating that, when necessary, he conformed his life to the practices of those under the law even though he himself was no longer under the law (because of his freedom in Christ; see Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:20–26). If, however, Paul had gone into a Jewish synagogue to preach, all the while flouting the Jewish laws and showing no respect for their laws and customs because of his “freedom in Christ,” he would have offended the very people he had come to tell about Jesus Christ. But by adapting himself to them, by conforming to their regulations and restrictions (Paul had been a Pharisee), he had gained an audience so that he might win those under the law. Again, Paul was careful never to violate any of God’s commands in his attempts to serve his listeners. He never conceded that those regulations had to be kept in order for people to become believers, but he conformed to the laws to help the Jews come to Christ. The line was a difficult one to walk, for the book of Galatians records a time when Paul rebuked Peter for acting like a Jew among the Gentiles (see Galatians 2:11–21).
9:21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. As Paul conformed himself to the Jews, he also conformed to those not having the law, referring to Gentiles. Paul met them on their own turf, becoming like one not having the law. This did not mean that Paul had thrown aside all restraints and was living like a pagan in hopes of winning the pagans to Christ! As he explained, he always remembered that he was not free from God’s law but [was] under Christ’s law. Paul lived according to God’s law and his conscience, but he did not put undue constraints on his Gentile audiences. Unlike some false teachers of the day, called Judaizers, Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Jewish laws in order to become believers (see Acts 15:1–21). Instead, he spoke a message that would win those not having the law (see, for example, Acts 17:1–34).
9:22–23 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. “The weak” refers to those with a weak conscience, a subject Paul had discussed in chapter 8. In that chapter, Paul had explained that believers who were free in Christ ought to set aside certain freedoms in the presence of another believer with a more sensitive conscience. Paul followed his own advice, saying that he became weak when with such people (meaning that he had set aside his freedoms and had lived by their restraints for a time) so that he might win the weak. The “weak” were already believers, but they needed to grow into a deeper knowledge of Christ and a deeper understanding of their freedom in Christ. Paul did this delicately, becoming as they were in order to gain their listening ears. He chose to become all things to all people (the Jews, the Gentiles, and those with weak consciences, 9:20–22) in order to save some. Paul never compromised the gospel truth, God’s law, or his own conscience; in other matters, however, Paul was willing to go to great lengths to meet people where they were. He had one focus: I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Paul’s life focused on taking the gospel to an unbelieving world. He did not preach with pride, counting the numbers of converts; instead, he preached with love for the gospel and for people, so that in the end, he and all believers could share together in the blessings of knowing Christ.
First Corinthians 9 reveals several basic principles for effective ministry:
- find common ground with others
- avoid a know-it-all attitude
- make others feel accepted
- be sensitive to others’ needs and concerns
- look for opportunities to tell about Christ.
Paul immediately practiced his strategy of identifying with his audience by using an athletic lesson. Because Corinth was the site of the Isthmian Games, Paul knew that the Corinthians would be able to understand that winning a race requires purpose and discipline.
Paul used this illustration to explain that the Christian life takes hard work, self-denial, and grueling preparation. As Christians, we are running toward our heavenly reward. The essential disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and worship equip us to run with vigor and stamina.
Don’t merely observe from the grandstand; don’t just jog a couple of laps each morning. Train diligently—your spiritual progress depends upon it.
He wanted every believer to run in such a way that you will win. In other words, every believer should be putting out the kind of effort for the reward of God’s kingdom that an athlete puts out to merely win a wreath. The athletes practiced strict self-control so as to win a prize that will fade away.
Believers, therefore, ought to willingly practice self-control with a focus on bringing others to Christ because they are running toward an eternal prize. They have all already “won”; the prize is not dependent on how they run the race. Because they already are assured of the prize, they should live for God with as much focus and enthusiasm as did the ancient runners at the games.
Paul pointed to the self-control of runners. They must make choices between good and bad. Christians’ choices are not always between good and bad. At times we must even give up something good in order to do what God wants. Each person’s special duties determine the discipline and denial that he or she must accept. Without a goal, discipline is nothing but self-punishment. With the goal of pleasing God, denial seems like nothing compared to the eternal, imperishable reward.
9:24–25 Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Paul’s exhortations in the previous verses—for the believers to give up their own rights, to think of others first, to be wholehearted in their focus on bringing others to Christ—called upon the Christians to deny themselves as they looked forward to future reward. Paul compared this to a race, picturing the ancient “games.” The Olympics were already operating in Paul’s time. Second in popularity only to the Olympic games, the Isthmian games were celebrated every two years at Corinth. Athletes would come from all over Greece, and the winners of the games were accorded the highest honor. To get into the games, and especially to emerge as victors, required that each athlete prepare diligently with self-denial and dedication. Typically, for ten months prior to the games, the athletes-in-training denied themselves many ordinary pleasures in order to prepare and be in top condition for the competition. Each put forth his greatest effort during the contest, setting aside all else in order to win the prize. Everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. The coveted prize, and the honor accorded with it, meant the world to these athletes. They would give up everything else in order to obtain it.
9:26–27 So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. Paul not only preached the gospel message and encouraged the believers to self-discipline and self-denial, he also practiced what he preached. He too had to live by the gospel, and he too practiced self-denial like the athletes just described. Paul did not run the race aimlessly, nor was he like a boxer who misses his punches. Instead, he kept his eyes focused on the goal, running straight for it, with purpose in every step. He did not allow himself to be sidetracked and he did not waste time becoming lazy. He kept on, disciplining and training his body. Paul pictured life as a battle. Believers must not become lazy—for Satan seeks to cause them to stumble, sin continues to buffet, and sorrow and pain are a daily reality (see Romans 7:14–25). Instead of being bound by their bodies, believers must diligently discipline themselves in their Christian lives in order to stay “in shape.”
Whatever happened to self-control? Many books and speakers guide wandering souls to self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, and self-awareness. Not many tackle self-control.
Self-control requires an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses, with emphasis on the latter. It means building the will to say no when a powerful appetite inside you screams yes.
- No to friends or situations that will lead you away from Christ.
- No to casual sex, saving intimacy for marriage.
- No to laziness in favor of “can do” and “will do.”
Self-control is a long, steady course in learning attitudes that do not come naturally, and channeling natural appetites toward God’s purposes.
This passage describes the spiritual maturation process, the period of growth during believers’ lives on earth when they are living “in” the world while not being “of” it.
The time between a person’s acceptance of Christ in that burial in water in order to have sins forgiven….and his or her death is the only time when growth in Christ can occur. Paul wanted to grow diligently and receive a reward from Christ at his return.
WHY WE DON’T GIVE UP
Perseverance, persistence, the prize! Christ never promised us an easy way to live. These verses (9:26–27) remind us that we must have a purpose and a plan because times will be difficult and Satan will attack. We must be diligent, all the while remembering that we never run alone. God keeps his promises.
|1 Corinthians 9:24–27
|Run to get the prize.
Run straight to the goal.
|Deny yourself whatever is potentially harmful. Discipline your body, training it.
|A crown that will last forever
|Don’t become weary in doing good.
Don’t get discouraged and give up. Do good to everyone.
|Sow to please the Spirit.
|Reap eternal life.
|Put on the full armor of God.
Pray on all occasions.
|Use all the pieces of God’s armor.
|Holding your stance against the devil’s schemes
|Press on toward the day when you will be all God wants you to be.
|Forget the past; strain toward the finish line ahead.
|The prize for which God calls you heavenward
|2 Timothy 2:1–13
|Entrust these great truths to people who will teach them to others. Be strong in Christ’s grace, even when your faith is faltering.
|Endure hardship like a soldier and don’t get involved in worldly affairs. Follow the Lord’s rules, as an athlete must do in order to win. Work hard, like a farmer who tends h crops for the harvest God always remain faithful to you and always carries out his promises.
|You will live with Christ; you will reign with him.
Walk in My Shoes” by Victoria T Zicafoose
Walk in my shoes just one step, you will feel my pain and how I have silently wept.
Walk in my shoes just one foot, you will feel how I struggle every day to stay strong and be tough as wood.
Walk in my shoes, just one yard, you will feel my heart ache and be able to empathize how some days are truly hard.
Walk in my shoes, just one mile, you will feel the frustration I feel in having to keep a phony smile.
Walk in my shoes for a day, you will suffer the pain I feel, when the judgment you subtly pass is so obvious to me.
Walk in my shoes for a week, you will then come to realize how much respect you really have for me.
No need to walk any further, for you are able to step out of my shoes. You will now know all the struggles it takes to survive and all the stress that is juggled.
Before you judge me, just try a walk in my shoes, even if it is for a moment.
For you will never know when you will be wearing the same shoes too.