1 COR. 9:19-27; 10:31-33; 11:1 - COMMENTARIES
THE BROAD CONTEXT:
Corinth was an important and wealthy Greek city. The Apostle Paul spent 18 months there on his Second Missionary Journey and established a church there. Acts 18 gives us considerable detail about Paul's work in Corinth during that time.
At the conclusion of his visit to Corinth, Paul left to visit Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Galatia (Acts 18:18-23). After leaving Corinth, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians at Corinth warning them "to have no company with sexual sinners" (5:9), but that letter has been lost to us.
Paul is writing this letter in response to two things: The first was a report from Chloe's people about problems in the Corinthian church (1:11). The second was issues raised by the Corinthian Christians in a letter that they wrote to Paul. In this letter, he provides apostolic guidance for dealing with those problems.
In chapters 1-6, Paul dealt with problems brought to his attention by people from Corinth. In chapter 7, he began to address "the things about which you wrote to me" (7:1)-issues about which the Corinthian Christians had written Paul.
The question that Paul addresses in 8:1 - 11:1 is whether it is permissible for Christians to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. In Corinth, much of the meat available for human consumption had been sacrificed to idols. Typically, part of the meat was burned on the altar, part was reserved for the priests, part was consumed by the people making the sacrifices, and the rest was available for sale. Of the meat available for purchase, some would be served, restaurant-style, in temples. The rest would be sold in meat markets throughout the city. While it was clear that meat served in temples had been sacrificed to idols, it would be more difficult-often impossible-to determine the origin of meat for sale in meat markets.
There were two dimensions to the problem for Christians. One was whether it was permissible to eat meat served within the temple precincts. The other was whether it was permissible to purchase meat that had been sacrificed to idols and to eat it at home. Eating meat within the temple precincts could be a particular problem, because neophyte Christians seeing more sophisticated Christians eating meat at a temple would almost certainly conclude that the sophisticated Christians were engaged in idol-worship (8:10). Eating meat at home, even thought it might have been sacrificed to idols, would be less liable to be interpreted in that way. However, if someone happens to interpret it that way, Paul says that the one eating the meat should cease and desist (8:13; 10:28-31).
Chapter 9 is sufficiently different that some scholars consider it to have been inserted after-the-fact. However, that is not the case. We might think of chapter 9 as a sermon illustration. In chapter 8, Paul states the principle that exercising love for one's Christian brothers and sisters is more important than exercising the personal freedom that we have in Christ. In chapter 9, he tells how he has done that. He had the right to marry, but chose to forego that right to devote his full time to preaching the Gospel (9:5ff.). He had the right to require his congregation to provide for him financially, but chose to forego that right for their benefit (9:6ff.). So also, they should choose to forego their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols if someone might misunderstand their behavior and thus be injured.
In chapter 10, Paul returns to the subject of idols. In that chapter, he restates his principle of love as follows: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are profitable. 'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own, but each one his neighbor's good" (10:23-24. See also 6:12).
Eating meat sacrificed to idols was a problem in Rome as well as in Corinth. Paul deals with this issue in his letter to the Romans (chapters 14-15). The presenting problem there was eating meat sacrificed to idols, and Paul's response is similar to his response in 1 Corinthians. He emphasized that Christians should welcome each other and abstain from judging one another, even though they might have differing opinions (Romans 14:1-12). He also emphasized that they should "no man put a stumbling block in his brother's way" (Romans 14:13). He said that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols, but admonished, "Don't overthrow God's work for food's sake" (Romans 14:20)-the work of God being the faith of weaker Christians.
While the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols might seem irrelevant today, what Paul has to say about sensitivity to the feelings of Christian brothers and sisters is highly relevant. He calls those who are strong (in the case of the Corinthian Christians, those who understood that idols did not represent real gods, so meat that has been sacrificed to idols had no religious significance) to defer to those who are weak (in the case of the Corinthian Christians, those whose faith might be weakened by seeing Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols).
What are some real-life situations in which this principle might apply today? The one that seems most obvious has to do with alcohol and alcoholics. A person who is strong (isn't likely to get drunk) could say, "I am free to drink whenever and wherever I choose, because I can handle it. I won't get drunk. I won't lose control. I won't drive while impaired."
While that might be true, in the presence of one who is weak (an alcoholic), the stronger person needs to consider the potential consequences of his/her behavior on the weaker person. If he/she insists on drinking alcohol in the presence of an alcoholic, his/her behavior might tempt the alcoholic to "fall off the wagon"-to take one drink, which would lead to many drinks. In such a case, Paul would call the stronger person to consider the vulnerability of the weaker person and to defer to the weaker person's sensibilities. The principle of love for the other person trumps the principle of the personal freedom that comes with faith in Christ.
There are other situations where the principle would apply. Flirtatious behavior might be innocent, but could lose its innocence in the presence of a weaker Christian who would misunderstand it. Careless attitudes toward money might tempt a weaker Christian to do something dishonest. It is difficult to generalize, because the application of Paul's principle of love for the weaker person is so dependent on the immediate situation-and who might be watching-and how our behavior might affect that person.
In any event, applying Paul's principle of love requires that we be alert and sensitive to those who might be led astray by our behavior. I am reminded of the lengths to which my wife and I went to protect our children when they were young. We inserted plugs into electrical outlets to protect them from electrical shocks. We carefully tested the temperature of bath water before placing them into the bathtub. We made sure that they didn't have access to small objects on which they might choke. We fenced our yard to give them a safe place to play. We kept sharp knives where they couldn't reach them. Being a good parent meant being always on the alert.
Paul calls us to that same kind of sensitivity to other people, both children and adults-anyone who might misunderstand our actions or our language-anyone who might be tempted to emulate our behavior in ways that might do them harm-anyone whose faith might be damaged by seeing us do things that they might believe to be questionable morally.
1 CORINTHIANS 9:1-15. THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT
As noted above, in these verses Paul offers himself and his personal conduct as an illustration of the principle that he established in chapter 8-that the Christian needs to consider the sensibilities of other people. He/she needs to take care that his/her conduct doesn't transgress those sensibilities unnecessarily, causing the other person to stumble in his/her faith journey.
Paul establishes his credentials as an apostle-and notes his special relationship to the Corinthian church, for which he was the founding pastor (vv. 1-2). He then establishes that he has the same rights as others-the right to food and drink-the right to marry-the right to require payment for his services as a pastor (vv. 3-12a).
But then he goes on to say, "Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the Good News of Christ" (v. 12b). That is the point! In chapter 8, Paul called Corinthian Christians to subordinate their personal rights (to eat meat sacrificed to idols) for the sake of the gospel. Now he is saying that he himself has sacrificed certain of his rights to better proclaim the gospel. He is a living illustration of the principle that personal rights are less important than the proclamation of the gospel and the spiritual well-being of people who might hear that proclamation.
He will conclude the next chapter by saying, "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasions for stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the assembly of God; even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ" (10:31 - 11:1).
1 CORINTHIANS 9:16-18. NOTHING TO BOAST ABOUT
vv. 16-18: Paul, like Jonah, is under obligation-an obligation imposed on him by God. He doesn't deserve praise for doing what he has to do. He would, however, deserve criticism (woe) if he did otherwise. In this verse, then, Paul is saying that he is like the slave-steward who has been entrusted with significant responsibility, but who is neither free to say no nor to require payment for his services. Paul is just doing what God has required him to do. But, surprisingly, Paul says that he does have a reward for obeying God's call. His reward is the pleasure of making the gospel free of charge-the joy of making something valuable available to people free of charge-the satisfaction being committed to a high calling rather than to the exercise of his rights. By refusing to exercise his rights, he has avoided putting obstacles in the way of the gospel (v. 12b).
1 CORINTHIANS 9:19-23. ALTHOUGH FREE, I BROUGHT MYSELF UNDER BONDAGE
19For though I was free from all, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law; 21to 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. 22To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 23Now I do this for the sake of the Good News, that I may be a joint partaker of it.
"For though I was free from all, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more"(v. 19). In verses 19-23, Paul explains his behavior, which could seem inconsistent in that his behavior varies according to the company in which he finds himself.
Paul concluded the last chapter by saying, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forevermore, that I don't cause my brother to stumble" (8:13). He began this chapter by asking, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Haven't I seen Jesus Christ, our Lord? Aren't you my work in the Lord?" (9:1)-four questions that expect a "Yes!" answer. As noted above, in verses 3-15, he talked about his willing sacrifice of certain rights, particularly the right to be married (v. 5) and the right to require payment for his services as an apostle (vv. 6ff.).
Now he says that, even though he is free-free to all-he has chosen to make himself a slave-a slave to all. In verses 20-22, he will explain exactly what he means by "slave to all." He has become a slave to Jews by becoming a Jew-and a slave to those "under the law"-and a slave to those "who are without law"-and a slave to the weak. He has done so to eliminate barriers that might hinder his winning people to Christ.
"To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law" (v. 20). In verses 20-22, Paul mentions Jews, those under the law, those outside the law, and the weak.
"To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews" (v. 20a). Keep in mind that Paul is a Jew. He was "circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:5-6). However, Christ revealed himself to Saul (as he was then known) on the road to Damascus, and he became a Christian-a Jewish Christian (Acts 9:1-19; see also Galatians 1:15-17).
In the presence of Jews, Paul becomes "as a Jew...that I might gain those who are under the law"(v. 20b). We can be confident that Paul did not become a Jew in the sense that he denied Christ or any Christian tenets. He surely means that he observed Jewish customs in the presence of Jews to avoid offending them and creating barriers that would make it difficult to reach them for Christ. We can be sure that he would refuse non-kosher food in the presence of Jews. He had Timothy circumcised "because of the Jews who were in those parts" (Acts 16:3).
As I was reflecting on Paul's zeal regarding the proclamation of the gospel, I remembered a restaurant in Berchtesgaden, Germany with a fish tank stocked with trout. Patrons would point to the fish they wanted, and a waiter would use a small net to catch that fish, which would be prepared in the kitchen and served at the table. I ordered trout, which came to the table with head and tail intact-one eye staring lifelessly upwards. Now ask yourself this question. If you were to visit Germany and your host were to serve you a small bowl of fish eyes, would you eat them?
"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" (v. 21). As noted above, "those outside the law" are Gentiles. Paul is known as the great missionary to the Gentiles. The risen Christ personally gave Paul this mission, telling Paul, "Depart, for I will send you out far from here to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21). Paul observed that he "had been entrusted with the Good News for the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the Good News for the circumcision" (Galatians 2:7).
Being "those who are without law" surely means that Paul felt free to eat non-kosher food in situations where refusing to eat those foods would create a barrier between him and Gentiles, making it difficult for him to win them to Christ (10:27). He did not require Gentile men to be circumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18; Galatians 2:3; 5:2-6). He conducted himself in these ways among Gentiles "that I might win those who are without law" (v. 21c)-win them to Christ.
"To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak" (v. 22a). As noted above, the weak are either Christian Gentiles-or all Gentiles-or fledgling Christians who might easily be led astray by the actions of Christians doing something that could be misunderstood, such as eating meat sacrificed to idols. In the presence of such people, Paul accommodates himself to their ways to avoid violating their scruples-so that he "might gain the weak." Winning people to Christ is his mission and his passion, so he will do whatever possible, within the bounds of his beliefs and integrity, to win them.
There were many weaknesses among the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was riddled with divisions (1:10-17; 3:1-9). Corinthian Christians were tolerating sexual immorality (5:1-13) and bringing lawsuits against one another (6:1-11). There was a good deal of conflict in the church regarding eating food sacrificed to idols (chapters 8-10). They were guilty of abusing the Lord's Supper (11:17-22).
So Paul "was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling" (2:3). He became a fool for Christ-weak-disreputable-"hunger, thirst, are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place"-weary, reviled, persecuted, slander, like rubbish and dregs (4:10-13). He did so to "gain the weak."
"I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (v. 22b). Paul's flexibility would not extend to behavior or teachings incompatible with the gospel. However, he would extend himself as far as possible to fit in with people of nearly every stripe "that I may by all means save some." This is merely the extension of the principle that he has been espousing throughout this section.
"Now I do this for the sake of the Good News, that I may be a joint partaker of it" (v. 23). It seems remarkable for Paul the Apostle, of all people, to express any question that he might be eligible to share in the blessings of the gospel. If there is anyone whose salvation would seem assured, it would be Paul, who has sacrificed so much to preach the gospel-who has written so much of what we now know as the New Testament-and who has accomplished so much for the cause of Christ.
However, this verse reminds us that the God who has been so faithful to us expects faithfulness in return. God has given Paul a mission to proclaim the gospel, and Paul must do that to share in the blessings of the gospel.
Bible.org - Guiding Principles Reiterated - (1 Cor. 10:31-33)
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.
Having expressed his commitment not to eat idol-meats at the table of an unbeliever under certain circumstances, Paul now concludes by explaining his response in terms of two guiding principles, principles which should guide every Christian concerning the exercise of their Christian liberties. The first principle governs our actions in terms of our relationship to God. The next governs our actions in terms of our relationship to men.
The goal of history, and of God's eternal plan, is to bring glory to Himself. The guiding principle by which the exercise of every liberty must be determined is that whatever we do, it must bring glory to God. Eating everything set before us at the home of a heathen can bring glory to God because our presence is to be a manifestation of His excellencies to lost men:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
It may be by our witness at the dinner table that we are able to share our faith and be instrumental in leading lost souls to faith in Christ.124
The second guiding principle is that our every action should be done for the edification and upbuilding of others. For the lost, we should act in a way that most facilitates the gospel and the salvation of the lost. For those who are saved, our actions should be those which build up our brothers and sisters in their faith, and which enhance their daily walk with Him.
1 Corinthians 11:1. Be ye followers of me - Carefully, therefore, follow my directions, and imitate my example, in condescension to the weaknesses and prejudices of others, for their good; even as I also - In this, and in every thing else, copy after the perfect pattern of our great Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. This verse evidently belongs to the preceding chapter, where the apostle had proposed himself as an example, and ought not to have been separated from it. (Benson)
2. (1Cor. 9:19-23) Paul's flexibility in ministry.
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
a. I am free from all men ... that I might win the more: Paul was free to do what he wanted, but bringing people to Jesus was more important to him than using the freedom selfishly.
b. To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews: To outside observers, it might have looked like Paul's life was inconsistent. But he consistently pursued one goal: to win people to Jesus.
i. In Acts 21:23-26, Paul participated in Jewish purification ceremonies, which he knew were not necessary for his own life, but he hoped would help build a bridge of ministry to the Jews. As well, in Acts 16:3, Paul had Timothy circumcised - again, not because it was necessary, but because it could be helpful in getting ministry done among the Jews.
ii. "To the Gentiles he behaved himself as if he himself had been a Gentile, that is, forbearing the observances of the Levitical law, to which the Gentiles had never any obligation at all." (Poole)
iii. "Paul sought to win people to Jesus Christ by being sensitive to their needs and identifying with them. We should try to reach people where they are today and expect to see changes later." (Smith)
c. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some: We should not think Paul changed his doctrine or message to appeal to different groups (he denies this in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23); but he would change his behavior and manner of approach.
i. "This passage has often been looked to for the idea of 'accommodation' in evangelism, that is, of adapting the message to the language and perspective of the recipients. Unfortunately, despite the need for that discussion to be carried on, this passage does not speak directly to it. This has to do with how one lives or behaves among those whom wishes to evangelize." (Fee)
ii. "Let those who plead for the system of accommodation on the example of St. Paul, attend to the end he had in view, and the manner in which he pursued that end. It was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save SOULS! It was not to get ease but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls!" (Clarke)
d. Now this I do for the gospel's sake: Paul was willing to offend people over the gospel; but wanted to offend them only over the gospel.
3. (1Cor 9:24-27) Paul's attitude: an athlete's attitude.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
a. I run ... I fight: Sporting events were big in Paul's day as well as in our own. This would have been especially meaningful to the Corinthians, because their city was the center for the Isthmian Games, second in prestige to the ancient Olympics.
i. Paul often uses figures from arena competition (at least twelve different references in his letters), including examples of runners, boxers, gladiators, chariot racers, and trophies.
b. Run in such a way that you may obtain it: Paul is telling us to train the compete as athletes who really want to win. Without effort, nothing can be won in a sporting event.
c. To compete as an athlete, one must be temperate. This term refers to the manner in which Roman athletes had to train for ten months before being allowed in the games.
i. An athlete must refuse things that may be fine in themselves, but would hinder the pursuit of his goal. Even so, the Corinthians might have to refuse things that are fine in themselves (like meat sacrificed to idols), because having them might hinder the pursuit of the important goal: an imperishable crown, a heavenly reward that will never pass away.
d. I discipline my body: Discipline is a weak translation; the word means "to strike under the eye; to give a black eye." Paul didn't want his body to lord it over his being.
i. Bring it into subjection is literally to lead about as a slave. Paul was going to make sure that his body was the servant, and his inner man was the master. The desires of his body were not going to rule over himself!
ii. But Paul did not think the body evil; after all, it belongs to Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:20). Nor would he agree with later ascetics who punished their bodies in a quest for super-holiness. Through the centuries, there have been Christians known as flagellants, who would literally whip, beat, and torture themselves in a misguided attempt to fulfill this verse. Usually, these Christians thought they could pay for their sins through such self-torture, and they refused to recognize that Jesus paid all the penalty of their sin.
e. Lest when I have preached to others: Paul sees himself as both a herald of the games (who announced the rules), and as a participant. Paul told others the rules of the game, and he had to follow the rules himself.
i. Preached: "refers to the office of the ... herald, at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contests, pronounce the names of the victors, and put the crown on their heads." (Clarke)
f. Lest ... I myself should become disqualified: In this context, disqualified probably doesn't refer to the loss of salvation (no Greek's citizenship was revoked upon losing), but the loss of reward.
i. Disqualified: "signifies such a person as the ... judges of the games, reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God." (Clarke)
3. (1Cor. 10:31-33) Concluding principle: Do all to the glory of God.
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
a. Do all to the glory of God: The purpose of our lives isn't to see how much we can get away with and still be Christians; rather, it is to glorify God. If the Corinthian Christian would have kept this principle in mind from the beginning in this issue, how much easier it would have made everything!
b. Give no offense: An offense is an occasion to stumble, of leading someone else into sin. Paul is saying none of our behavior should encourage another to sin.
i. Paul is not talking about offending the legalism of others, something he was not shy about doing (Galatians 5:11-12).
c. Paul's desire regarding men was that they may be saved; more often than we think, low conduct in Christian living is connected to little regard for the lost. Paul's concern was not seeking [his] own profit, but that all may be saved.
1. (1Cor. 11:1) A call to follow the example of Paul.
1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
a. Be imitators me: Paul knew he was following Jesus, so he did not hesitate to tell the Corinthian Christians to imitate his walk with the Lord. He knew the Corinthian Christians needed examples, and he was willing to be such an example.
i. In doing so, Paul was simply doing what he told his young associate Timothy to do: but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
ii. How few today are willing to say what Paul said! Instead, because of compromise and ungodliness, we are quick to say, "Don't look at me, look at Jesus." While it is true we must all ultimate look to Jesus, everyone one of us should be examples of those who are looking to Jesus.
iii. In the specific context, it is a little difficult to know if Paul's words here relate to the context before or after. Does Paul refer back to 1 Corinthians 10, and therefore mean, "Follow my example as I seek to bless others instead of pleasing myself"? Or, does Paul refer to what is to follow in 1 Corinthians 11, and therefore mean, "Follow my example as I respect God's order and authority in the church"? Though he most likely connects it with what went before in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was a good example in both cases!
iv. "Interpreters judge, that these words to properly belong to the foregoing chapter, in the last verse of which he had propounded his own example to them; but whether they be applied to that chapter or this, is not much material. They teach us, that the examples of the apostles are part of our rule; yet the modesty of the apostle is remarkable, who requires of his people no further to follow him than as he followed Christ: nor indeed ought any man to require more of those that are under his charge, than to follow him so far forth as he imitates the Lord Jesus Christ." (Poole)
b. Just as I also imitate Christ: Paul knew he was an example, and a good example at that. At the same time, he also knew that it was not "Paul" who was a worthy example, but "Paul the follower of Jesus" who was the example.
i. This also sets a limit and a direction on the way we imitate others. Just as I also imitate Christ has the idea of "follow me as much as you see me following Jesus."