1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
In Matthew 20:25-27, Jesus tells his disciples “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” In these verses in I Corinthians, Paul expresses how he has followed Jesus’ instructions—and Jesus’ example.
Notice first what Paul says about himself. He says he is free (vs. 19); in other words, he is not under obligation to others for his livelihood. He further says he is not under the law (vs. 20); that is, he is not under the dietary restrictions, washings, and ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law. Finally, he says that though he is not free from God’s law, he is under Christ’s law (vs. 21); that is, he is not a lawless person, and “he no longer seeks salvation in relation to the law but now he wants to keep the law to show his gratitude to Christ”. (Simon Kistemaker) That is a great example for us to follow!
But notice how Paul uses his wonderful freedom. He makes himself a slave to everyone (vs. 19); he conducts himself like a Jew (vs. 20); he becomes like one under the law (vs. 20), and like those without the law (vs. 21); and he becomes like those who are weak (vs. 22), which could encompass both those weak in conscience and those weak in resources. And why does he so subject himself, why does he so humble himself, why does he not take advantage of his privileges and position but in fact almost throw them away (see Phil. 3:7-9)? His purpose and his passion are to win people to Christ (vs. 19, 22), for the sake of the gospel (vs. 23). “That is, he is a humble servant of the gospel who will go to any length, descend or ascend to any level of society, perform any menial task as long as the gospel is proclaimed to all people.” (Kistemaker)
As rich as this example is, we need to see how Paul the humble servant points us toward Jesus the humble Savior. Immediately after giving the command to his disciples to be servants and slaves, he told them that he himself “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus, who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, who accepted water and conversation from a Samaritan woman, who touched lepers, who welcomed little children, who healed the servant of a Roman centurion and the daughter of a Canaanite woman, came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), wherever they might be found.
Note: Each day’s devotional is written by a different member of the GRC family.