1 Corinthians 9:1-23 NKJV
9 Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?
8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?
Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
Paul is free to take a believing wife with him on his missionary journeys as the other apostles do. He has the right to reap material things from his congregations and make his living from preaching the gospel. It is the Lord’s command that “those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” But Paul does not use these rights. He uses his freedom to provide the gospel free of charge to his hearers.
He free from all men. But he uses his freedom to win men to the gospel. When among Jews he lives as a Jew. He observes the Mosaic laws even though he is not under the law. He does this so that the Jews might more readily hear the gospel. When among Gentiles who are not under Mosaic law he lives as the Gentiles. He doesn’t live by Mosaic law among the Gentiles because that would hinder his preaching that faith in Christ alone, apart from the works of the law, justifies. Yet even among the Gentiles he is not without law toward God. He lives under the law of Christ which is the law of love. To the weak, those in yesterday’s reading whose understanding and faith was not strong, Paul condescends to their weakness. He lives as one who is weak to strengthen them in knowledge and faith. He becomes all things to all men that he might by all means save some. He uses his freedom from the law to preach to others in their present condition so that some might be saved by faith in the gospel.
All who believe in Christ Jesus’ perfect atonement and righteousness are free from the condemnation and coercion of the law. We are perfectly free, subject to no one. But believers use their freedom, not as a clock for vice, but to serve others in love. Paul used his freedom, condescending to the spiritual state his hearers, to serve them with the gospel. Christians use their freedom from the law to serve others in their vocations, meeting others where they are as well.
Let us pray: O Lord, grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may understand our freedom in Christ, rejoice in it, and use it to serve our neighbors in love. Amen.