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"For the Gospel's Sake"
1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Wednesday AM Bible Study
Septemer 12, 2007

Theme: We are to discipline ourselves, with respect to our freedom through Christ, in order to win as many as possible to faith in Christ.

Paul was speaking to the problem of how the “more knowledgeable” Corinthian Christians were eating meat that had been served in an idol temple. They were doing so insensitively; in such a way as to harm the conscience of their “weaker” Christian brothers and sisters. Paul's appeal to them was that the “knowledgeable” Christian become willing to abstain from their right to eat such meat out of love, if it would avoid making his weaker brother stumble (see 8:13). And as is so often the case, Paul speaks to this problem in such a way as to broadens his theme beyond the immediate circumstance and to touch on all areas of our Christian life together.

In this passage, Paul first sets forth the principle that he himself follows in the Christian life; and then, he shows how diligently he puts this principle into practice.


A. In verse 19, Paul gives us his fundamental principle in broad form—that he submits the exercise of his freedoms in Christ to the greater cause of winning others for Christ.

1. Paul asserts that he is "free from all". In this context, he means that he is not legally bound by ceremonial or cultural rules and regulations with respect to others. In a strictly moral sense, he can do or eat whatever he wishes. All things are “lawful” to him (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23); and he would not allow himself to be placed into a 'yoke of bondage' (Galatials 5:1). Elsewhere in Scripture, he affirms that the believer in Christ is someone who is 'called to liberty' (Gal. 5:13), who lives not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14), and who should in no way allow themselves to be judged by the 'religious' rules and regulations that originate in the imaginations of men (Col. 2:16-18).

2. But, though he is free, Paul says he made himself a "servant" to all men in order "that I might win the more" (that is, that he might win over more people to faith in Jesus Christ through the message of the gospel). He humbly conducted himself, with respect to his legitimate "liberties" in Christ in such a way as to win others to Christ (see 1 Peter 3:1).

B. Paul expands on his application of this principle with respect to four categories:

1. To the Jews he became as a Jew that he might win Jews (v. 20). He himself was a Jew (Philippians 3:5). We can see him 'becoming as the Jew' in his adherence to the decision of the council at Jerusalem with regard to Gentile converts so as not to offend the Jewish converts (Acts 15:19-21).

2. To those under the law he became as one under the law that he might win those who are under the law (v. 20). In some manuscripts, the words "though not being myself under the law" are added. He submitted himself to the ceremonial law—not as a necessary requirement for righteousness before God, but in order to remove any unnecessary hindrances to the gospel (Acts 16:1-3; 21:20-25). When the gospel message was being attacked by Judaizers, however, Paul made no such accommodation. Instead, he dug his heels in unrelentingly at such times for the liberty that is in Christ (Galatians 2:4-6).

3. To those who are "without law" (basically, Gentiles), he conducted himself as one "without law" (v. 21). He was quick to affirm that he was not an 'antinomian', and that he was not without God's law; but that he was under the law of Christ (Matthew 5:17-20; John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:20-5:5). But when it came to those who were not obligated to the ceremonial laws of the Jews, Paul behaved in a "Gentile-like" manner (Galatians 4:12).

4. And very much in keeping with the problem he was directly addressing to the Corinthians—to those who were weak (that is, weak of conscience with regard to debatable issues—see chapter 8), he became as someone who was also "weak" (v. 22a). In other words, he accommodated himself to their weak conscience in order not to harm them (1 Cor. 8:12-13).

C. Paul summarizes that he becomes all things to all men that he might—by all means— save some (v. 22b). But he does not do this—as many do today—from out of a self- gratifying desire to merely conform to culture. He does this purposefully:

1. In a short-term sense, he does this, "for the gospel's sake" (v. 23a). His motive is higher than merely a desire to conform to the fashion of this world. He carefully weighs what he should or should not do in terms of how those decisions will best advance a hearing of the gospel.

2. In a long-term sense, he does this, that he may be "a partaker of [the gospel] with" those he ministers the gospel to (v. 23b). He seeks to gain the blessing and benefit of their fellowship with him in Christ (Romans 1:11-12; 1 John 1:1-4).


A. In a very real sense, Paul practices what he here preaches by speaking to the Corinthians in their "love language". The Corinthian culture was very much characterized by a love for the Greek games; and so, he illustrates the application of this principle through the analogy of sports.

1. He calls on them to consult their common knowledge of how the athletic games work (v. 24). When runners run in a race (stadion, that is, a foot-race), every runner runs; but only one receives the prize. He transfers this to the matter of the believer denying his or her legitimate rights in order to serve his or her weaker brother; urging the "knowledgeable" Corinthians (see 8:1-13), to "run in such a way that you may 'obtain'"—that is, striving to be effectual in our walk before God with respect to our love for our brother.

2. He then reminds them of how everyone who "competes" (agonizomai, contending diligently in an athletic game), makes himself or herself "temperate" in all things (v. 25). They so discipline themselves—even to the point of denying themselves their legitimate rights—in order to gain a mastery in the game. They do this to obtain a "perishable crown" (that is, a wreath made of pine branches that would soon wilt); but Paul says, "we" (that is, believers) make ourselves temperate "for an imperishable crown" (James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8). How much more willingly we should do so for our imperishable prize!

B. These examples are meant to convey to the Corinthian believers that they should give themselves fully over to the cause of pursuing what is good for their brother and for the advancement of the cause of the gospel—even if it meant great self-denial. In this respect, Paul once again points to himself as an example.

1. Viewed positively, he affirms that he seeks to walk circumspectly and make every action count for the gospel (v. 26). He does not run "uncertainly"; but clearly knows where he is going with respect to the choices he makes. He does not "box" so as to merely "beat the air"; but seeks to make each punch count.

2. Viewed negatively, he affirms that he disciplines his body so as not to be "disqualified" (v. 27). Just as someone who runs in the race must run in strict accordance with the rules (2 Timothy 2:5); so Paul "beats" his body into submission so as to assure that, after preaching to others, he isn't "disqualified"—that is, so that he doesn't, in the end, harm the cause of the gospel or the people of God (see Galatians 5:13-15).

* * * * * * * * * *

Paul himself was a vivid demonstration of this principle. But he was not the most vivid demonstration of it. Jesus was. Jesus—the very Son of God Himself; our Lord and Teacher—arose from dinner and washed the feet of His disciples just before going to the cross for them; telling them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

May we, then, follow the example of Paul—and the even greater example of Jesus. May we learn how best to make ourselves “a servant to all” that we might “win the more”.

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