Thursday Bible Study

April 18, 2024

The Rights of an Apostle

1 Corinthians 9:20 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;

To the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might win Jews. This cannot mean that he put himself back under the Law of Moses in order to see Jews saved. What it does mean might be illustrated in the action which Paul took in connection with the circumcision of Timothy and Titus. In the case of Titus, there were those who insisted that unless he was circumcised, he couldn’t be saved. Realizing that this was a frontal attack on the gospel of the grace of God, Paul stoutly refused to have Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3). However, in the case of Timothy it seems that no such issue was involved. Therefore, the apostle was willing that Timothy should be circumcised if this would result in a wider hearing of the gospel (Acts 16:3).

To those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law. Those who are under the law refers to the Jewish people. But Paul had already spoken of his dealings with the Jews in the first part of the verse. Why does he then repeat the subject here? The explanation that has often been offered is that when he speaks of Jews in the first part of the verse, he is referring to their national customs, whereas here he is referring to their religious life.

As a Jew, Paul had been born under the law. He sought to obtain favor with God by keeping the law, but found that he was unable to do so. The law only showed him what a wretched sinner he was, and utterly condemned him. Eventually he learned that the law was not a way of salvation, but only God’s method of revealing to man his sinfulness and his need of a Savior.

Paul then trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in so doing he became free from the condemning voice of the law. The penalty of the law which he had broken was paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

After his conversion, the apostle learned that the law was not the way of salvation, nor was it the rule of life for one who had been saved. The believer is not under law but under grace. This does not mean that he can go out and do as he pleases. Rather, it means that a true sense of the grace of God will prevent him from even wanting to do these things.

Indwelt by the Spirit of God, the Christian is raised to a new level of behavior. He now desires to live a holy life, not out of fear of punishment for having broken the law, but out of love for Christ, who died for him and rose again.

Under law the motive was fear, but under grace the motive is love. Love is a far higher motive than fear. Men will do out of love what they would never do from terror.

Theologian Arnot says:God’s method of binding souls to obedience is similar to His method of keeping the planets in their orbits—that is, by flinging them out free. You see no chain keeping back these shining worlds to prevent them from bursting away from their center. They are held in the grip of an invisible principle.… And it is by the invisible bond of love—love to the Lord who bought them—that ransomed men are constrained to live soberly and righteously and godly.

To those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law. When he was with Jewish people, Paul behaved as a Jew in matters of moral indifference. For instance, he ate the foods which the Jewish people ate and refrained from eating such things as pork which were forbidden to them. Perhaps Paul also refrained from working on the Sabbath day, realizing that if he did this, the gospel might gain a more ready hearing from the people.

As a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul was not under the law as a rule of life. He merely adapted himself to the customs, habits, and prejudices of the people in order that he might win them to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 9:21 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;

Paul is not demonstrating two-facedness or multi-facedness, but rather he is testifying of a constant, restrictive self-discipline in order to be able to serve all sorts of men. Just as a narrowly channeled stream is more powerful than an unbounded marshy swamp, so restricted liberty results in more powerful testimony for Christ.

To those who are without law, Paul acted as one without law (although he himself was not without law toward God, but under law toward Christ). Those who are without law does not refer to rebels or outlaws who do not recognize any law, but is a general description of Gentiles. The law, as such, was given to the Jewish nation and not to the Gentiles.

Thus when Paul was with the Gentiles he complied with their habits and feelings as far as he could possibly do so and still be loyal to the Savior.

The apostle explained that even while he thus acted as without law, he was nevertheless not without law toward God. He did not consider that he was free to do as he pleased, but he was under law toward Christ.

In other words, he was bound to love, honor, serve, and please the Lord Jesus, not now by the Law of Moses, but by the law of love. He was “enlawed” to Christ.

We have an expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Paul is saying here that when he was with the Gentiles, he adapted himself to their manner of living as far as he could consistently do so and still be loyal to Christ. But we must keep in mind that this passage deals only with cultural things and not with doctrinal or moral matters.

1 Corinthians 9:22 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.

Verse 22 speaks of those who are weak or overscrupulous. They were excessively sensitive about matters that were really not of fundamental importance.

To the weak, Paul became as weak, that he might win them. He would be a vegetarian if necessary rather than offend them by eating meat. In short, Paul became all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.

These verses should never be used to justify a sacrifice of scriptural principle. They merely describe a readiness to accommodate to the customs and habits of the people in order to win a hearing for the good news of salvation.

When Paul says that I might by all means save some, he does not think for a moment that he could save another person, for he realized that the Lord Jesus was the only Person who could save.

At the same time it is wonderful to notice that those who serve Christ in the gospel are so closely identified with Him that He even allows them to use the word save to describe a work in which they are involved.

Verses 23–27 describe the peril of losing one’s reward through lack of self-discipline. To Paul the refusal of financial help from the Corinthians was a form of rigid discipline.

1 Corinthians 9:23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

In the preceding verses Paul had been describing how he submerged his own rights and desires in the work of the Lord. Why did he do this? He did it for the gospel’s sake, in order that he might share in the triumphs of the gospel in a coming day.

A Race and a Fight

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

Macdonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.