Summary: We must learn to become all things to all men, that we might indeed WIN/GAIN some for Christ to SAVE.
A MODEL OF MINISTRY
The Apostle Paul has argued that, as their minister, he had every right to expect a wage from the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:14). However, and somewhat surprisingly, he then turns the idea on its head:
‘Nevertheless, we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel’ (1 Corinthians 9:12);
‘I have used none of these things… for it would be better for me to die’ - than not to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:15)!
We must stress at the very start, that Paul’s position is the exception, not the rule. There may not be many of us who are so impassioned about our vocation that we share in his sense of necessity. Yet share it we do: for “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
To preach the gospel is perhaps one of the greatest of privileges. Yet Paul sees nothing to boast of. When all is said and done, and the dust settles, and the final roll call is read out: we can only say, as the servant in Jesus’ parable, ‘We have done what was our duty to do’ (Luke 17:10).
After all, if we are called by Christ to do anything - whether preaching, serving as a deacon, singing, greeting, ushering, visiting, giving; whether house-building, home-making, community service, governing, ruling; or even working on a production line like so many cogs in a wheel - all of this comes from the grace of God. If we are willing, we have our reward, says Paul (1 Corinthians 9:17).
And even if we are dragged into the ministry ‘kicking and screaming’ (as one brother termed it), it is the stewardship the Lord has entrusted to us, and carries its own reward, whether we like it or not. (What a shame to have such an attitude, and not rather to enjoy the reward NOW, instead of waiting for the reward hereafter!)
Paul’s “reward” is the added privilege of “presenting the gospel of Christ WITHOUT CHARGE” (1 Corinthians 9:18).
This, in turn, reinforced Paul’s authority, contrary to what his would-be paymasters might expect: for, if they didn’t pay him, they couldn’t muzzle him; and if they couldn’t muzzle him, then he was free to speak forth the word of God rather than what their itching ears might desire to hear (cf. 2 Timothy 4:4)!
Of course, in any church, there must be checks and balances. A discerning leadership to sift out the ambitious would-be manipulators from the truly called. But Paul’s authority lay, no doubt, in the gospel itself.
In a familiar metaphor, the Apostle spoke of his “freedom” to become everybody’s “bondman” in order to “WIN/GAIN” the more (1 Corinthians 9:19).
We are reminded of how the Son of Man came, ‘not to be ministered unto’ (to be served), but ‘to minister’ (to serve), and to ‘give’ His life as a ransom for ‘many’ (Mark 10:45).
To the Jews, Paul became “as a Jew” to WIN/GAIN Jews for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20). Not that Paul had forsaken his Jewishness, but rather that he met them on common ground (without, I am sure, violating his own conscience).
“Those under law” may be another name for “Jews” - or perhaps a name for those (of all ethnicities) who were struggling on the boundaries between law and grace. Whichever way, Paul was willing to meet them, too, where they were, to “WIN/GAIN” them for Christ.
Furthermore, Paul was willing to find common ground with those outside the law of God - not as himself outside the law of God, but as one “within the law of Christ” - to WIN/GAIN even these free-thinkers to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21).
The Apostle would no doubt have considered himself as one of the ‘strong’ in the ongoing debate about meat sacrificed to idols (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13); but he was willing to become “as weak” to WIN/GAIN the “weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Indeed, Paul, as every good minister of Christ, was willing to become “all things to all men” that he might indeed SAVE some. Notice the change of verb here. That must ever be our pastoral goal: to GAIN souls for Christ, or to WIN souls to Christ, so that they might be SAVED by Christ.
Now Paul did all this for the gospel. It was an unselfish act, but would have its reward in the harvest of souls to, not Paul, but to our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle looked forward to enjoying the fruits of his labour with those who had been the recipients of his labour (1 Corinthians 9:23) - not only in the hereafter, but in the here and now. (cf. Psalm 126:5-6).
May this stand as an encouragement to us, as we labour with Christ in the gospel. And to His name be all the praise, and all the glory.