January 27, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #7: Questions Concerning Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 8.1-11.1



Lesson 7.5: Renunciation By an Apostle
1 Corinthians 9.15-23

1 Cor 9.15-23 (KJV)

15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the Gospel.
making himself, rather, the servant of all
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the Gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.


A casual reading of this passage brings to mind four words which may reveal the objective of the Apostle for writing this section of his first epistle to the Corinthian Church.

SELF-DENIAL—the act of refusing to partake of anything not necessary for life or service to God. Sometimes self-denial can become extreme, in which case it is called asceticism. Paul denied himself support from the Corinthians.

ZEAL, ZEALOUS—enthusiastic devotion; eager desire; single-minded allegiance: “And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)” (2 Sam 21:2; KJV). The psalmist wrote, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up” (Ps. 69:9). When Jesus cleansed the Temple, His zeal reminded the disciples of the psalmist’s words: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17; KJV). Even before he became a Christian, Paul was zealous toward God and the Law of Moses: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3; ASV).

MINISTER, MINISTRY—a distinctive biblical idea that means “to serve” or “service.” In the Old Testament the word “servant” was used primarily for court servants. During the period between the Old and New Testaments, it came to be used in connection with ministering to the poor. This use of the word is close to the work of the seven in waiting on tables in the New Testament (Acts 6:1–7).

EVIL—a force that opposes God and His work of righteousness in the world (Rom. 7:8–19). The word is also used for any disturbance to the harmonious order of the universe, such as disease (Ps. 41:8). But the Bible makes it plain that even these so-called “physical evils” are the result of a far more serious moral and spiritual evil that began with the FALL of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).


15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

But I have used none of these things:
Here Paul repeats what he had said previously in verse 12: “If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the Gospel of Christ.” He did not take maintenance from the Church at Corinth, although he did accept gifts from other assemblies: “Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the Gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:14-19; KJV). The Philippians had sent Paul monetary gifts while he was ministering in Thessalonica, and here he shows his deep appreciation for their support; but notice that he declares, “Not because I desire a gift”—meaning that he had not solicited a gift from them. In 2nd Corinthians we are told that the Church at Corinth was the only one where he ministered, but did not accept maintenance. Why did he refuse their support? “Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (2 Thess 3:8; KJV). Paul is saying, “We paid for what we bought, and worked with our hands so that we might have money to buy what was necessary.” He believed that by not taking anything from them, he could do more to honor the Gospel and save souls.

Paul had issued two challenges for the believers in Corinth, as well as for Christians today:
1. For them to support church workers with a fair wage. They must be able to support themselves and their families comfortably.
2. Workers are not to let their attitude toward pay and benefits hinder the effectiveness of the Gospel. This happens when the piano player discovers that she is paid less than the organist or the pastor finds out that he makes less than the pastor of the church down the street.

Paul believed it was a privilege to preach the Gospel. He had to do it, because like Jeremiah the Prophet he had a burning fire that would not allow him to do anything else: “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer 20:9; KJV).

neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me:
Here Paul makes it clear that he is not now writing to them so that they would begin to support him. He could have used his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ to criticize them and perhaps make them feel guilty for their lack of support. Actually, some had used the lack of support against him by saying that if he was a true apostle he would have support from other sources. Paul had two reasons for supporting himself: First, he wanted to avoid giving anyone a reason for saying that his only motivation for preaching was monetary; and Second, to affirm his commitment to the ministry. That commitment is evident in these verses from his second letter to the Corinthians: “And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we” (2 Cor 11:9-12; KJV). Here, his words are for the false teachers in Corinth, who did take maintenance from them, but Paul did not and that would embarrass those false teachers.

for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
The Greek word translated “glorying” means “the grounds for glorying,” and the meaning of the word rendered “void” is “to empty.” Paul is saying that he would rather die than for his ministry to be made “void;” or “of no effect.” Certainly, Paul suffered for the Gospel, even coming close to death; he faced shipwreck and spent several nights in the sea, he was beaten, thrown into prison, suffered from cold, starvation, etc. He could speak of his personal sacrifices while the “super Christians” there in Corinth bragged about eating meat that had been offered to idols, to the detriment of weaker brethren. It is difficult to find where the apostle may have boasted about anything, but in 2 Corinthians he makes a boast that is very different from the Corinthians: “At least we don't go around selling an impure word of God like many others. The opposite is true. As Christ's spokesmen and in God's presence, we speak the pure message that comes from God” (2 Cor 2:17; GW). The “many” are the false teachers, who like today’s religious hucksters corrupt the Gospel so they can sell their prayer cloths, etc. The whole Gospel must be delivered, without making concession to men's corruptions, and without selfish aims, if it is to be blessed with success: “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27; KJV).

16 For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!

For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of:
In verse 15 Paul said that he had a reason for “glorying” (being full of joy), but he doesn’t say what it is. In this verse and the two that follow he reveals the ground for his glorying. It is clear from this clause that his preaching is not the source of his joy, because he preached out of “necessity;” he couldn’t do anything else; it was his duty. He was called and commissioned to preach by God; he did not choose to preach the Gospel, rather the Gospel chose him: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal 1:15-16; KJV). Paul was humble and he couldn’t glory in himself because he thought he was not worthy of the call God had placed on his life. He was a “bond slave” and a chosen vessel to bear the good news to those who were without Christ, and he felt joy when his teaching was used to lead someone to the Lord.

Paul had a right to demand support from the Corinthian Church, but he chose not to, because he did not want to give some there the opportunity to declare that the only reason he preached was for monetary gain. This may be a clue to his reason for “glorying;” he could glory because he did not charge for preaching the Gospel, like the false apostles and teachers. He preached for the sheer joy of winning souls for Christ; he did not entertain any mercenary desires. And he could also glory because he denied himself and voluntarily submitted to trials and hardships.

for necessity is laid upon me;
“Laid upon me” literally means “captured against his will (as it previously existed). Saul (his Jewish name) had been a Judaizer and a zealous persecutor of Christians. He was given authority by the religious leaders in Jerusalem to search for Christians, whom he would arrest and take to prison. Once, we are told in Acts, he “consented to the death of Stephen,” who was the Christian Churches’ first martyr. His life was changed forever while traveling on the road to Damascus; there Jesus blinded him: “And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes…And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:3-15; KJV). Paul said that he ministered out of “necessity;” he didn’t have a choice, and he feared what might happen if he quit the ministry. Today there seems to be an epidemic of ministers leaving the churches to return to secular work. It is mostly young men and the principle reason seems to be debt which they have built up while in school. Many of them are miserable, because they should be preaching, and they are out of the will of God.

Paul was not a volunteer; we might say he was drafted by the Lord; but many do come voluntarily into the ministry, like some of Jesus disciples: “And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:37-39; KJV).

yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!
If the apostle was a type of any Old Testament character it would have to be Jonah, since He like Paul did not have a choice when it came to doing God’s will. Jonah’s story certainly illustrates how God can force any man into compliance with his will for their life. In Jonah’s case He used a “great fish” that He specially prepared to capture and hold Jonah, until he changed his mind. Perhaps, when he says “woe is me, if I do not preach the Gospel” he is worried that a similar undescribed calamity could happen to him. But do not think that Paul did not love to preach, because he did, and he preached with a zeal that must have been obvious to all who heard him. He was so impressed by the impending end of the age and the return of Christ that he set aside all inhibitions, and preached all the word of God.

Note: If you serve the Lord in some way, you are doing your duty; but should we expect a reward for just doing our duty. No! Salvation and the promise of heaven is all of grace.

17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me.

For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward:
If Paul had “willingly” chosen the ministry for his business and the sole work of his life, then he would be paid for his labor. But in the previous verse he emphasized that he did NOT come to the ministry willing, instead he preached as a matter of necessity; his heart was on fire with desire to serve his Master, the Lord Jesus. He was a debtor to Christ for what He had done for him; granting him salvation and committing to him the Gospel ministry. The Gospel is essentially God’s Word and Paul treated it with all the respect and honor that it is due. The apostle could not bring himself to accept pay for simply discharging the trust committed to him, and that is something that brought him great joy. His reward was not monetary, but the joy of serving Christ without pay and bringing many to faith in Him. 

but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me.
“Dispensation” is not the best translation, “stewardship” is better. The position of steward is one of the oldest professions, and it is mentioned near the beginning of the Old Testament; Abraham sent his steward to get a wife for his son Isaac, and Joseph was Potiphar’s steward. The steward was the manager of his master’s household. During the period between the Old and New Testaments it came to mean “the manager of property belonging to another.”  Since Paul was doing God’s will he could say, “A stewardship is committed to me.” Stewards were usually slaves and did not receive a wage; Paul did not take a wage when he preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, because by doing so he would lose his joy; his pay was that he served Christ without pay.

18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the Gospel. making himself, rather, the servant of all

We have here another one of Paul’s questions: “What is my reward then? Am I preaching for money?” Or am I preaching for the Lord Jesus?” Then as was his custom, he answered his own question. In essence he said, “My reward is in the joy I receive in my heart by refusing that which I could rightfully claim—gifts and money from the believers, to take care of my daily necessities.

God would not give Paul any special reward for preaching to the Corinthians without charge; that had been Paul’s choice. Then, did Paul have a reward? Yes; in fact he had several. First, he had his boast (v.15) that he offered the Gospel free of charge, and no one could deny that: “When I was with you and needed something, I didn't bother any of you for help. My friends from the province of Macedonia supplied everything I needed. I kept myself from being a financial burden to you in any way, and I will continue to do that. As surely as I have Christ's truth, my bragging will not be silenced anywhere in Greece” (2 Cor 11:9-10; GW). Second, He had the opportunity to see the Gospel at work among those to whom he preached: “Although I'm free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers” (1 Cor 9:19, 23; GW), and these results, the believers themselves were his reward: “I'm not saying this to condemn you. I've already told you that you are in our hearts so that we will live and die together. I have great confidence in you, and I have a lot of reasons to be proud of you. Even as we suffer, I'm encouraged and feel very happy” (2 Cor 7:3; GW).

The word translated “reward” (misthos) may also refer to a wage. Paul had shunned material compensation, but he was not without a reward or return for his labor. He had the joy of reaping. To widen that harvest he would happily give up certain “rights,” among them the right to material support, in order to enjoy both the integrity of his boast about his ministry and the results of his ministry: “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:36; KJV). His reward came in being able to show the genuineness of his love and concern for these Corinthians. Paul spent himself for others, but he does not ask others to spend anything for him.

Just as the priest who served in the temple lived off the things of the temple, “even so” God has ordained that the ministers be taken care of by those to whom they minister. Just as God gave commands concerning the priests and Israel, the Lord Jesus gave instructions concerning His servants: “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt 10:9-10; KJV). “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you” (Luke 10:7-8; KJV).

This, of course, is not the principle to be applied to all preachers of the Gospel. It is the voluntary choice of one, who, although having a right to support, was compelled to proclaim the truth through a supernatural vision of the ascended Savior. But if Paul preached on the basis of his own initiative, he would feel differently about receiving pay.

Paul was only a vessel yielded to God for service. (All that we do to please God and render stewardship to Him is really His working in us and through us.) All true ministry is the work of the Holy Spirit, in us, yet the Lord God is pleased in grace to recognize the willingness and devotion of any of His servants who will allow the Holy Spirit to use them, and will reward these individuals for their willingness to be used. By contrast, if the Holy Spirit does not work through the minister, no good will be accomplished.

The fact that the Lord Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners and saved us from sin is sufficient to make us eager to do what he leads us to do and serve him in complete devotion and with all our might. Paul never sought glory for himself. He wanted all the glory and honor to be directed to the Lord Jesus, the One worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.

Paul’s “glorying” can be ours if we just keep this in mind: “To have mended one shattered life, to have restored one wanderer to the right way, to have healed one broken heart, to have brought one soul to Christ is not a thing whose reward can be measured in financial terms, but its joy is beyond measurement.”

19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

For though I be free from all men,

What a contradiction in terms: “free from all men,” yet the “servant of all men”! “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Cor 4:5; KJV). Because he was free, Paul was able to serve others and to set aside his rights for the sake of others. Paul was careful not to be brought into bondage by man; he was free from all men in that none could coerce him to do something he didn’t want to do or make demands on him. He depended on the Lord, not on men; but though he was free from all men, he had made himself “servant unto all,” that he might “gain the more.” Paul had not shackled the exercise of his rights in the area of food and drink alone (as he had intimated that the knowledgeable Christians should do, 8.8-13), but he had applied it to numerous facets of his ministry. Paul could truly say, “God has made me a truly free man by emancipating me from slavery to sin.” (See Rom 6.6-14). Christian freedom involves a new bondage; Paul said he was a “slave of Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s goals were to “glorify God” and to “bring people to Christ.” Thus he stayed free from any philosophical position or material entanglement that might sidetrack him while he strictly disciplined himself to carry out his goals. In verses 9.24-27, he emphasized a life of strict discipline. For Paul, both freedom and discipline were important tools to be used in God’s service.

In verses 19-22, Paul asserts that he is free to yield certain rights in matters that did not compromise the gospel message

yet have I made myself servant unto all,
When I call myself a “servant” (or slave) to all men, I mean that I strive to be a servant to all men. I do not mean that I permit all men to control my life. Only God does that through Christ. I make myself a slave, or servant, in order to “win the more” and introduce them to salvation.

By being a “servant” (or slave) to all, Paul was communicating the heart of his missionary strategy. He had a willingness to accommodate and adjust to different settings. When with Jews, he ate kosher food; when with Gentiles, he ate regular food. In Philippi, he accepted support; in other places, he did not. Was Paul a chameleon, merely adapting to each environment? In some ways, he was; but his principles were higher than self-protection. He wanted people of all cultures and backgrounds to listen to the Gospel. Whenever missionaries go to another culture, they should conscientiously embrace and adapt to every element in that culture that doesn’t hinder the Gospel or violate biblical ethics.

How Paul made himself a servant to all men is explained in the next three verses. He had denied himself, he had denied his rights as an apostle, and he had resorted to hard labor to obtain his livelihood. He had therefore obtained a greater result in the Gospel and in his stewardship.

that I might gain the more.
Throughout this section “gain” (or win) is used as a technical term with the meaning of “missionary preaching.” By choice, Paul set aside his right to be supported, and thus “enslaved’ himself to self support, in order to remove a potential offence and to win more people to Jesus Christ: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (Prov 11:30;KJV). Paul’s guiding principle: motivated by love. Nothing less could enable one who was free (see v. 1—not only in matters of support, but in all aspects of Christian experience) to make himself a slave to everyone. Here Paul returns in thought to verses 8.1-3. His love which surrendered all rights would save, where their knowledge tenaciously defended would destroy.

20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews;
Paul was a Jew who had a great burden for his own people: “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1; KJV). But his special calling was to minister to the Gentiles: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; KJV). Whenever he went into a new city (and he always went where the Gospel had not yet been preached)—“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation” (Romans 15:20; KJV), he headed straight for the synagogue, if there was one, and boldly shared the Gospel. If he was rejected by the Jews, then he turned to the Gentiles.

What was it that separated the Jews and Gentiles in that day? The Law and the covenants: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Eph 2:11-15, KJV). In his personal life Paul lived so that he did not offend either the Jews or the Gentiles. He did not parade his liberty before the Jews, nor did he impose the Law on the Gentiles.

Paul never compromised the doctrines of Scripture, never changed God’s word in order to make it more palatable to people in any given place. He never went against God’s Law or his own conscience. In maters that did not violate the principles of God’s Word, however, Paul was willing to become like his audience in order to win them to Christ. Three groups are mentioned in these verses: Jews, Gentiles, and those with weak consciences. By saying to the Jews I became like a Jew, Paul was stating that, when necessary, he conformed his life to the practices of those under the Law even though he himself was no longer under the law (because of his freedom in Christ: see Acts 16.3; 18.18; 21.20-26). If however, Paul had gone into a Jewish synagogue to preach, all the while flaunting the Jewish Laws and showing no respect for their laws and customs, because of his “freedom in Christ,” he would have offended the very people he had come to tell about Christ.” But by adapting himself to them, by conforming to their regulations (Paul had been a Pharisee), he had gained an audience so that he might win those under the Law. Again, Paul was careful, in order for people to become believers, never to violate any of God’s commands in any of his attempts to serve his listeners. He never conceded that those regulations had to be kept, but he conformed to the laws to help the Jews come to Christ. The line was a difficult one to walk, for the book of Galatians records a time when Paul rebuked Peter for acting like a Jew among the Gentiles (see Gal. 2.11-21).

Was Paul behaving in an inconsistent manner? Of course not. He simply adapted his approach to different groups. When you read his sermons in the New Testament you will see this wise adaptation. When he preached to Jews he started with the Old Testament patriarchs; but when he preached to Gentiles, he began with the God of Creation. Paul did not have a stock sermon for all occasions.

When Paul says, “I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews,” he means that he tries to understand how a Jew would regard a Jew who preached that Jesus was the Messiah. He would attempt to emphasize with him, and get alongside of him. He had the advantage of having the same legal attitude toward the Law of Moses that another Jew would have. “I mean I try to place myself alongside the Jew I yearn to win, and take a look at Christianity from the vantage point of Judaism.”

In acts we can see the illustrations of “becoming a Jew.” First, there was the circumcision of Timothy—“Paul wanted Timothy to go with him. So he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in those places and because he knew that Timothy's father was Greek” (Acts 16:3; GW)—to avoid offending the Jews. Second, there was the taking of a vow before his trip to Jerusalem—“After staying in Corinth quite a while longer, Paul left {for Ephesus}. Priscilla and Aquila went with him. In the city of Cenchrea, Aquila had his hair cut, since he had taken a vow…” (Acts 18:18; GW).  Third there was the Paying of the expenses of a Nazarite group—“The next day, Paul took the men and went through the purification ceremony with them. Then he went into the temple courtyard to announce the time when the purification would be over and the sacrifice would be offered for each of them” (Acts 21:26; GW).

Paul himself was a servant of the Jews, but he did not compromise with their demands upon the Gentiles: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal 2:14; ASV).

to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
This refers to the whole Mosaic Law. This is not a mere repetition of the first part of the verse. The difference is that “to the Jews I became a Jew” is referring to nationality, Not religion. The Apostle was ready to yield at every issue where Christ was not concerned. “Under the law” means that Paul took his position alongside of the Jews by submitting to certain restrictions of the Law in order that he might gain their confidence and preach the grace of God to them. He did Not compromise with the law in that he mixed law and grace, as evidenced by the following passages from his writings:
•  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. Romans 6:14 (KJV)
• But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Gal 5:18 (KJV)
• For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Romans 10:4 (KJV)

“Those under the law,” as distinguished from the Jews, are all who had accepted the Jewish religion, even Judaizing Christians, who considered themselves bound by the Law of Moses.

Paul felt free to take part in things defined by the Law; such as ceremonies, which at that time were not repugnant to Christianity. Perhaps the reason for distinguishing “them that are under the law” from the Jews, is because Paul himself belonged nationally to “the Jews,” but did not in doctrine, creed, and faith, belong to the class of “them that are under the Law.”

The principle that Paul espoused was mobility in methods, not mobility in morals. After the words “as under the law,” the Greek text adds, “though not being myself under law,” a remarkable statement which emphasizes how deeply Paul had broken with the Law of Moses.  It is not possible to find a stronger statement than this anywhere in his writings.

I believe this is how Paul would summarize this verse: “There are times when I keep the Jewish law myself, but I no longer live by the law in an effort to earn my salvation. I live now by faith in Christ. ‘Not being myself under the law,’ I keep some of its provisions at times in order to show my sensitivity to the Jewish interpretation of religion and to ‘win those under the law.’ I consider their outlook in life in order to lead them out of it. But I do not ever sacrifice any basic principle of the Christian gospel: ‘Titus was with me, and although he is Greek, no one forced him to be circumcised. False Christians were brought in. They slipped in as spies to learn about the freedom Christ Jesus gives us. They hoped to find a way to control us. But we did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the Good News would always be yours’ Gal 2:3-5; GW). I am under no obligation to keep the law. I am saved by grace through faith alone (Rom 10.4). But I try to empathize with those who believe differently.”

21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

To them that are without law, as without law,
“To them that are without law” does not mean that they were breaking the law or that they were “lawless.” Paul is referring here to those who were outside the law, as he did in Romans 2.14: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” “As without law” points to the Gentiles—those who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants.

Paul “conformed” himself to the Gentiles, “them that are without law,” just as he conformed himself to the Jews. Paul met them on their own turf, becoming like one “without law.” This did not mean that he had thrown aside all restraints and was living like a pagan in hopes of winning the pagans to Christ. As he explained, he always remembered that he was not free from God’s Law but was under Christ’s Law. Paul lived according to God’s Law and his conscience, but he did not put undue constraints on his Gentile audiences. When he was among the Gentiles, Paul was willing to set aside past scruples concerning those things morally indifferent, such as eating meat offered sacrificially to pagan idols. Unlike some false teachers of his day, called Judaizers, Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Jewish Law in order to become believers (see Acts 15.1-21). Instead, he spoke a message that would win those not having the Law (see, for example, Acts 17.1-34). But we should not believe that the apostle ever compromised on the essentials of the Christian faith; the virgin birth, the sinless Savior, salvation by faith alone, the divinity of Christ, etc. There are many things about our faith that can’t be set aside for even a moment or for any reason.

It is worth noting that our Lord followed the same approach. To the highborn Jew, Nicodemus, He talked about spiritual birth (John 3); but to the Samaritan woman, He spoke about living water (John 4). Jesus was flexible and adaptable, and Paul followed His example. Neither Jesus nor Paul had an inflexible “evangelistic formula” that was used in every situation. Peter was another that used this approach of conforming to those to whom he ministered, which is evident from this passage in Galatians: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I had to openly oppose him because he was completely wrong. He ate with people who were not Jewish until some men James had sent {from Jerusalem} arrived. Then Cephas drew back and would not associate with people who were not Jewish. He was afraid of those who insisted that circumcision was necessary. The other Jewish Christians also joined him in this hypocrisy. Even Barnabas was swept along with them. But I saw that they were not properly following the truth of the Good News. So I told Cephas in front of everyone, “You're Jewish, but you live like a person who is not Jewish. So how can you insist that people who are not Jewish must live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14; GW).

(being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,)
Paul’s freedom from the Law of Moses did not give him the right to live as he pleased, or to please himself. Of course, he always made it his aim to be in complete subjection to the will of God.

The Greek word translated “under law” is ennomos, the literal meaning of which is “in law.” The deep meaning is not the condition of being subject to or under the power of a law, but rather suggests intimacy—a relationship or union established between Christ and the believer. We love Him because He first loved us. Since He loved us enough to die for us, now that we are believers we love Him with complete devotion—heart, soul, strength, and mind; we are “in law” to Christ. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3; KJV).

The Christian, though no longer subject to the literal law, which can only restrain him from without, is subject to an inward principle or law, the spirit of faith in Christ, acting from within. Christ was responsible to the law for us, so that we are no longer responsible to it “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal 3:13; KJV). We no longer serve God because the law commands us, but rather, we serve Christ out of love and gratitude for what God has done for us.

The law of love for Christ is a stronger motivation for righteousness than the fear of breaking a law. Those who, while not under the Mosaic Law, walk by the Spirit of God with love toward the Lord Jesus Christ will fulfill the righteous requirement of the law: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3; ASV).

that I might gain them that are without law.
It takes tact to have contact with unbelievers. A preacher gave a good example of what that means. He said, “When people I witness to tell me about their experience of confirmation, I tell them that I too was confirmed. I express my appreciation for the pastor that taught me and prayed with me. Then I tell them, “A year after I was confirmed, I met Jesus Christ personally and was born again.” A good witness tries to build bridges, not walls.

22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:
 “The weak” refers to those with a weak conscience, a subject Paul had discussed in chapter 8. In that chapter, Paul explained that believers who are free in Christ ought to set aside certain freedoms when they are in the presence of another believer with a more sensitive conscience. Paul followed his own advice, saying that he became weak when he was with such people (meaning that he had set aside his freedoms and lived by certain restraints for a time) so that he might gain (win) the weak. The weak are not those “without Christ,” they were already believers, but they needed to grow into a deeper knowledge of Christ and a deeper understanding of their freedom in Christ. Paul’s desire was to gain (win) them not in the preliminary sense of justification as in the case of the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, but to win the Corinthians in terms of sanctification and maturity in Christ—and so to save THEM FOR God’s ongoing work in their lives: “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5; KJV). Paul did this delicately, becoming as they were in order to get their attention.
The weak were disturbed by things like eating meat, and many other frivolous things that have nothing to do with the grace of God. Paul knew that these things were not important in salvation, yet for the sake of others he abstained from things which the weak considered wrong, a view which is sustained by the following verses.
• Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don't get into an argument over differences of opinion. (Romans 14:1; GW)
• We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1; KJV).
• When anyone is weak, I'm weak too. When anyone is caught in a trap, I'm also harmed. (2 Cor 11:29; GW).

Paul stooped to make the Gospel clear to the lowest level of comprehension, which he no doubt had done often while dealing with the Corinthians themselves (see 1 Co. 2.1-5). But the apostle is not speaking of his past ministry; the sense of this verse is that it is something that still continues to govern his life.

To immature people, Paul’s lifestyle probably looked inconstant. In reality, he was very constant, because his overriding purpose was to win people to Jesus Christ. Consistency can become a very legalistic thing, and a man can become so bound by man-made rules and standards that he has no freedom to minister. He is like young David trying to battle in Saul’s armor.

I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
The literal Greek reads, “I am become all things to all men.” He chose to become “all things to all people” (the Jews, the Gentiles, and those with weak consciences) in order to “save some.” Paul never compromised the Gospel truth, God’s Law or his own conscience; in other matters, however, Paul was willing to go to great lengths to meet people where they were. He had one focus: I do all this for the sake of the Gospel that I might share in its blessings. Paul’s life focused on taking the Gospel to an unbelieving world. He did not preach with pride, counting the number of his converts; instead, he preached with love for the Gospel and for people, so that in the end, he and all believers could share together in the blessings of knowing Christ.

Paul believed in and practiced the use of any and all things permissible, any method which was honest and aboveboard that might cause men to stop and listen to the Gospel, think about it, and be saved. He knew that even if he employed every conceivable method, did everything within his power, and sacrificed in every way possible, only “some” would be saved; the majority would continue to travel the broad road to destruction.

We have here the method of Paul’s ministry, which was to become all things to all people. This is not a case of being hypocritically one thing to one man and another to another. It is the matter of the modern phrase, of being able to get alongside someone. The man who never can see anything but his own point of view and who never makes an attempt to understand the mind and heart of others, will never make a good pastor or an evangelist or even a friend.

There is another view of this verse that is held by Alford (and others), with which I do not agree, but you have the freedom to choose the version you feel is the right one. Alford thinks the weak are not Christians at all, because these have already been “won;” but those outside the church; who are yet without strength to believe.

“That I might…save some” does not remove responsibility from the hands of God, it merely emphasizes the human cooperation of God’s servant in the ministry of the truth.

23 And this I do for the Gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

And this I do for the Gospel's sake,
The literal translation is “And I do all things for the Gospel’s sake.” Paul’s entire life was dedicated to the work of the Gospel, pointing men to the grace of God. The ministry of the Gospel, the proclaiming of the good news of God’s grace, meant more to Paul than anything else on earth—not only because of his delight in the Gospel and his joy in the grace of God, but because of the effect of the Gospel upon the lives of those who heard it. Paul also knew that all stewards will be rewarded according to their faithful stewardship, and he considered the effects of his ministry in light of the coming day of reward.

A Christian who loves others has the freedom to employ his love in ways that show that he really cares for others enough to strive to understand and appreciate them. The apostle could say, “I exercise my love in freedom and my freedom in love for only one reason: ‘for the Gospel's sake.’”

Wycliffe believes that this phrase does not mean in order to advance the Gospel, but because of its preciousness to the apostle; but this is a view held by very few.

that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Paul was Not thinking of his partnership with the believers in the assembly at Corinth, but of his cooperation with the Gospel of the grace of God in its activity. He is thinking of the great eternal issues and of the effects of taking his share of the work of the ministry—the proclamation of the good news of the grace of God to all. It was his divine duty to preach the gospel; and wherever he went, in whatsoever he participated, he did so for the Gospel’s sake, so that he might have the widest possible hearing for the Gospel and be a joint “partaker thereof” (of the Gospel).

Paul could say “Winning others through the exercise of preaching that asks for No monetary reward is a way ‘that I might be partaker thereof’ (that I may share in its blessings), fulfill my calling as an apostle, and share in the benefits of the Gospel of Christ, as God’s fellow worker: ‘For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building’ (1 Cor 3:9; KJV) reaping the joyful harvest of many won to Christ: ‘And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together’ (John 4:36; KJV).’”

Note: “With you” can be omitted since it is not in the original Greek.

Do you have any questions of comments?

 Everet Storms was a schoolteacher in Kitchener, Canada, when he took the challenge to discover how many promises were in the Bible. For a year and a half he scoured the pages of Scripture and took detailed notes. During his twenty-seventh reading of the entire Bible, Storms concluded that the Bible contains 7,487 promises by God to man. We are reminded in 2 Peter 1:4 that God’s promises are “precious and magnificent,” and Romans 3:4 assures us that God can be trusted to deliver on his promises.   -All the Promises of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, 1962, p. 10