But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:15-23 (ESV)
What are you willing to give up in order to help unbelievers come to Jesus Christ? The Apostle Paul was willing to give up a great deal. N.T. Wright explains the Apostle’s words and actions this way:
Paul describes the ways in which he has become ‘slave to all’ – the ways in which, in other words, he has happily curtailed his own complete ‘freedom’ for the sake of the gospel. The point is that there are people out there, beyond the present Christian fellowship, who need to be ‘won’ – a word he uses five times in this passage, before finally changing it to ‘save’ (verse 22). The word is used not so much of winning a prize, but of making significant profit on an investment: God has ‘invested’ everything in the gospel, including his own very self in the person of Jesus his son. Now he wants to ‘gain’ something back from it, namely the people of all sorts and conditions whose lives will be ‘won’ through the gospel.
Paul beings, astonishingly, by describing how he had become ‘as though a Jew to Jews’ – astonishing, because of course Paul was himself a Jew, and was capable of making quite a point of this on occasion (e.g. Romans 11:1). He could not have put it like this if he regarded Christianity as simply a sub-branch of Judaism; it is a new thing, a fulfillment, no longer bound by ethnic or geographical identity. But what does he mean by saying that he became ‘as though a Jew to the Jews’? Presumably, that he has continued to go to the synagogue and take part in the prayers and liturgy, using the opportunity to tell them about Jesus as the Messiah. That, indeed, is the only explanation for why he continued to be beaten, accepting the official discipline of the synagogue for the sake of the opportunities it afforded (2 Corinthians 11:24). Had he not gone, the beatings would not have occurred; synagogue authorities had no right to beat someone not under their discipline.
His next line is similar, but more focused: ‘to those under the law, I became as one under the law, even though I am not myself under the law’. This means, more specifically, that while presenting the gospel to Jewish people and groups he was prepared to observe customs and key commands of the law, and the food-laws. Paul knew that his justification, God’s regarding him as part of his true people, didn’t depend on these observances. If anyone tried to suggest that they did, Paul would have been ready with the entire argument of the letter to the Galatians. That’s what he means when he says that he is not himself ‘under the law’. But once that was clear, Paul was ready to submit to any restrictions upon his liberty in the Messiah if it would bring the gospel to more people, and ‘win’ them for God’s kingdom.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 9
Q. 9. What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.