LESSON 4 - 1 Cor. 9:19-27; 10:31-33; 11:1
Prayers & Announcements
Last Week: In 1 Cor. 7:1-13, Paul responded to questions about marriage raised by a letter written to him by the leaders of the church in Corinth. From Paul's answer we drew four broad points of practical application:
This Week: We move forward to 1 Cor. 9:19-27; 10:31-33; and 11:1. The background for today's lesson stems from Paul response, in Chapter 8, to a question from the leaders of the Corinthian church about the correctness of eating food that had been offered as sacrifice to pagan idols. This was apparently a ready source of inexpensive food that was regularly eaten by the general Corinthian population. As to the food itself, because the idols themselves were essentially false, non-existent entities, Paul said the sacrificial rites actually did nothing to the food; but on the other hand, because eating such food might be misunderstood or offensive to some Christian brothers or sisters, or even potential converts, they should refrain from eating it. The main principle derived from this chapter is that exercising love for your Christian brothers and sisters is more important that exercising the personal freedom we have in Christ (in this example, to eat food sacrificed to idols). In Chapter 9, Paul follows this with a sermon which illustrates how he has lived this principle. In the first 18 verses, he tells that he had the right to marry but chose to forgo that right in order to devote his full time to preaching the Gospel; he had the right to require his congregation to provide for him financially but chose to forgo that right for their benefit. So also, they should choose to forgo their right to eat food sacrificed to idols if someone might misunderstand their behavior and be upset by it.
Read 1 Cor. 9:19-23 - Although 'Free,' Paul Brought Himself Under Bondage
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Note: In these five verses, Paul explains that his behavior, which at times might seem contradictory or unusual to some observers, is something he does intentionally in relation to the ethnic and cultural environment he finds himself in (i.e., "when in Rome, do as..."-within limits, of course).
v. 19: "though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them" - In saying "I am free of all," Paul referred to his Roman citizenship, his freedom in Christ, and his position as an apostle with all the authority it implied; other than God, Paul was answerable to no one. But instead of exercising this freedom and the power it gave him, he made himself a "servant (slave in some) to all." By this, Paul voluntarily chose to give up his personal privileges and his religious and social preferences in order to win more people to the Gospel. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of evangelistic outreach, Paul is showing us-right now-how it's done.
v. 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" - Keep in mind Paul's background as a devout Jew, a Pharisee, and his heart for his people. When he visited synagogues on his missionary journeys, he did not return to being a religious Jew, but he was careful to observe Jewish customs in their presence to avoid offending them and creating barriers that would make it more difficult to reach them for Christ (e.g., refuse non-kosher food, etc.).
v. 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" - "Those outside the law" refers to Gentiles in general. We all remember Paul as the great missionary to the Gentile world, who had received this mission personally from the risen Christ as reported in Acts 9:15. Referring to himself as "outside" the law" means that Paul was "under the law of Christ" rather than the Law of Moses and probably observed certain Gentiles customs and ate non-kosher food in situations where refusal would have been very rude and would have made it much more difficult to reach these Gentiles.
v. 22: "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" - "The weak" can refer variously to all Gentiles, Gentile Christians, or fledgling Christians of any background who might easily be led astray by the actions of Christians doing something that could be misunderstood, like eating food sacrificed to idols. In a more modern context, this could be something like a Christian saying to a new Christian, who just happens to be a recovering alcoholic, "Oh, sure, I can drink as much as I want...I can handle it." Look at the weaknesses among Paul's immediate audience here, the Corinthians. They were riddled with divisions (10:1-17), they tolerated sexual immorality (5:1-13), they brought lawsuits against each other (6:1-11), ate food sacrificed to idols (8:1ff), and abused the Lord's Supper (11:71-22).
v. 23: "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" - It might seem to us remarkable to hear the Apostle Paul, of all people, express any question that he might be eligible to share in the blessings of the Gospel. I mean, if there is anyone whose salvation would seem assured, it would be him, wouldn't it? Yet, even for a man as great as Paul, this verse reminds us that the God who has been so faithful expects faithfulness in return. God had given Paul a mission to proclaim the Gospel, so Paul must pursue it with all his power to share the blessings of the gospel.
Read 1 Cor. 9:24-27 - Paul's Attitude: An Athlete Running A Race
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Comment: In the next four verses Paul uses athletic metaphors to illustrate the importance of endurance in the Christian life. Although the Bible tells us that our salvation is certain and totally secure, our success in Christian ministries is not. In these passages, Paul coaches us to run and fight for the prize-a simple training tip that will help us live for God's approval by finishing well.
v. 24: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" - Here, Paul is telling us to run the Christian race with the intent to win the prize at the end. A statement prefaced "Do you not know?" is a rhetorical question to which we, as readers, should already know the answer: that in any race there can only be one winner; however, the word "you" (GR. humeis) in the last sentence is plural, meaning that the prize is offered to every believer who runs the race to win. When Pauls tells us "So run that you may obtain it," it's not an option but an apostolic command to Run! Don't walk. Don't stop. Keep running so you can win the prize. The prize is not salvation but the honor and glory of eternal reward, hearing Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" God's race is something we have to think about, to recommit ourselves when we're not running well. If you find yourself falling behind, don't give up. Don't walk. Keep on running and run to win. Live for God's approval by finishing well.
v. 25: "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" - In this context, Paul is relating the idea of self-control in terms the sacrificial discipline required to train for Olympic-style events like the Greek and Roman games of his time. These athletes had to give it their all-strict diet, proper sleep, daily training for particular events, vigorous strength and endurance exercises, etc.-all focused on winning their event. Have you ever watched professional athletes train? They torture themselves-voluntarily-in order to win. This is the mindset Paul is showing us. And the prizes for which these worldly athletes competed were perishable, only to wither away and ultimately be forgotten. For the Christian, the prize is eternal, will last forever. Whatever years we have-70, 80+?-will be invested in eternity. What does this mean? Being disciplined in the Christian life-keeping up your training-doesn't mean being straight-laced, serious, and sad; it means measuring everything you do by the goal of pleasing Christ. That's the prize! Live for God's approval by finishing well.
vv. 26-27: "So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." - In these two verses, Paul is telling us how to avoid losing our Christian race. First, he doesn't run aimlessly; he keeps his eyes and his energies focused on the finish line. And as to "beating the air," the prize only goes to Christians who stay in the ring, duke it out, and make every punch count down to the ending bell. Yes, it's a fight: the "ring" is the real world and the powers that control it. But we have the divine knockout punch-the Holy Spirit indwelling us-use it and Satan will flee. Second, he disciplines his body; his body is his slave, not the other way around. Most people are slaves to their bodies, ie., when to eat, how much to eat, when to sleep, etc. But an athlete decides when to eat, what and how much to eat, when to go to sleep and get up. He runs when he'd rather be resting. He eats a balanced meal when he'd rather have a milkshake. He leads his body; he does not follow it.
Read 1 Cor. 10:31-33; 11:1 - Paul's Example: Copy Him
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. 11 1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Comment: In these last three verses, we see Paul come to his finale on the preceding three chapters (8-10; 11:1 is actually the last verse of Chapter 10), the ultimate how-to for the entire discourse.
v. 31: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" - Having stated his commitment not to eat food sacrificed to idols when it might be misunderstood by an unbeliever, Paul gives us the first of two guiding principles: the goal of God in history, His eternal plan for humanity, is to bring glory to Himself. It's our job as God's chosen instrument, His Holy Nation, to bring salt and light to a lost world in a way that gives Him the glory.
vv. 32-33: "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." - The second guiding principle: on the human level, everything we do should be done both to teach and build-up others. For lost people, we must behave in a way that will best smooth the way for the sharing of the Gospel; for those who are saved, our behavior should encourage, support, and enhance our Christian brothers and sisters in their day-to-day walk with Jesus Christ.
v. 11:1: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" - In the preceding three chapters, Paul has given the people of the Corinthian church a very detailed explanation of his own attitudes and behavior. This last remark-to imitate him-wasn't made to elevate himself as a leader; in fact, he probably cared very little whether or not they approved of him, but he cared deeply about their devotion to Christ. This was important because the Corinthians were a young church, new believers, having no mature Christians in the body to guide and teach them. So Paul says, in effect, I'm doing my best to imitate Christ, so imitate me. I'm trying to think and act like Christ-so should you.