Summary: Here is the mission statement for all preachers and churches.
1 Corinthians 9:19-27 For the Sake of the Gospel
1/11/04 D. Marion Clark
Why do you act the way you do? Why are your priorities what they are? Businesses, corporations, and even churches have mission statements to explain their reason for existing and why they do business or ministry the way they do. Paul gives his mission statement in this passage. He even has a motto, a trademark. If he had had a good marketing department, he could have worn a logo on his clothing that identified his mission. Let’s see what it is.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
Paul is speaking of his financial freedom. He is free from benefactors, although I should qualify that statement. He did receive some donations. He thanked the Philippians for support they sent to him while in prison (Philippians 4:10ff). Nevertheless, his normal practice was to provide for his own livelihood. This freed him from obligations that money often places on the receiver and removed the taint from his labor that receiving from the persons he is bringing the gospel to might give.
But this freedom may be extended beyond financial support. As he noted in chapter 7, as a single man Paul was freed from marital obligations. In chapter 8, he confirmed the freedom Christians have not to be bound by superstition, and he in other letters champions the freedom Christians have from the law. He would agree with Martin Luther’s motto: “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none.” But his verse makes clear that he would also agree with the second half of that motto: “a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” Let’s repeat the full motto: “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
How does this statement fit Paul? In the gospel, he is now free from trying to win favor with God by obeying regulations and hard work. In his gospel ministry, he has further freed himself from the obligations with which marriage and financial dependency on others would have encumbered him. The value of this freedom is that he can more effectively serve the Lord and the Church. He is flexible enough to meet the different circumstances that he faces and minister to the different types of people he encounters. He explains himself in the next verses.
20 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.
Paul, of course, had always been a Jew. What he means is that when he received the gospel, he became a new man in Christ, in one sense neither Jew nor Gentile. He certainly was freed from the law obligations that distinguished Jewish life. Even so, in order not to give needless offense, he observed Jewish regulations when ministering among the population. Thus, he would practice their eating laws. If attending synagogue services, he would abide by its worship tradition. In Jerusalem, he even took a Nazerite vow, a temporary vow to practice a kind of Jewish asceticism, in order not to offend his Jewish brethren.
He had limits. He would not forsake befriending Gentiles and even rebuked Peter once for doing so. In Antioch, Peter with Paul freely ate with their Gentile brethren until church leaders came from Jerusalem. Then he backed off. Paul rebuked him for it. The issue with Paul primarily was the message it sent about the gospel, that one must still live like a Jew in order to be saved. You see the determining factor. If the issue at hand does not affect the gospel, then there is flexibility; if, however, it compromises the gospel, then there can be no ambiguity about what is right or wrong.
Why does Paul willingly subject himself to laws that no longer control his status before God? As he says, that I might win those under the law. To win them to the gospel. That is his mission. That is the end which controls his means.
21 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.
Here Paul speaks of the Gentiles. In bringing the gospel to them, he shed himself of needless Jewish customs that might affect how the Gentiles received the gospel – dietary laws, certain Sabbath restrictions, and particularly their restrictions about how they related to Gentiles. Thus, he is outside the law. He is also outside the law in the sense of earning righteousness before God. Salvation by obedience to the law does not apply to him as one who is in Christ.