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Voluntarily restricting our rights and freedoms is no small matter.   But a person who has been genuinely converted and filled with the love of Christ will have a heart of compassion for reaching the lost.  The main method of evangelism is not some specific program or crusade, but a servant heart that ministers to others in love.  We never compromise the message, the commands of Christ or the priority of preaching the gospel (even in confrontational ways).  But we make every effort not to unnecessarily offend others as we understand the behavioral and cultural issues that are important in whatever context we are ministering and adapt our behavior accordingly.

Anthony Thiselton: Each of the groups cited in vv. 19-23 is an “outsider” from the point of view of the opposite group. The free (v. 19) may not view those in slavery as “one of us.” Gentiles regard the Jews as “other” (v. 20). Jesus regarded those outside the law as “other” (v. 21). The strong regard “the weak” as “other” (v. 22). Hence, to stand in solidarity with all these outsiders and to show them practical love, care, and respect, Paul declares: To them all I have become everything in turn, in order to bring some to salvation (v. 22). This, he concludes, is the nature of the gospel, as he seeks to live it out (v. 23). But this is not easy and demands costly effort and sacrifice. Hence Paul concludes in vv. 24-27 with the analogy of the disciplined, trained runner, who makes sacrifices and shares hardship for the sake of the goal (v. 26).

Daniel Akin: Main Idea: All preferences and rights are worth giving up to bring others to Jesus.

I Deny Myself to Win Souls for Christ (9:19-23).

  1. I willingly deny myself personally (9:19).
  2. I willingly deny myself religiously (9:20).
  3. I willingly deny myself socially (9:21).
  4. I willingly deny myself completely (9:22-23).

Craig Blomberg: Paul understands that with the death of Christ the age of the Law has come to an end (Gal. 3:19 – 4:7). Scripture itself is still relevant for followers of Jesus (2 Tim. 3:16) but only as it is interpreted in light of what Christ has done (Rom. 10:4). Nevertheless, to Jews and others under the Law, Paul at times acts as if he is still subject to all of the laws of Moses (cf. Acts 16:1–3; 21:20–26), so long as it is clear that his actions are not a proof of salvation or spiritual maturity in any way. Hence he is not really “under the law” as non-Christian Jews believe they are. With the Gentiles he does not impose his Jewish scruples or follow Jewish ritual, but he avoids becoming antinomian and is careful not to transgress God’s timeless moral principles.

For Christians, God’s will is now summed up as Christ’s law (v. 21; cf. Gal. 6:2), which probably includes both Jesus’ explicit teachings as well as the laws of the Old Testament as they now apply in light of the work of Christ.  Verses 22b–23 summarize the paragraph, repeating Paul’s principle of flexibility one last time and noting an additional rationale for his behavior. As in verses 15–18, there is inherent blessing in fulfilling his commission and seeing the results—people saved from their sins.

Andrew Noselli: Paul chooses to make himself a servant to all people to win more of them.  For example, he is flexible for Jews (e.g., by following aspects of the Mosaic Law such as kosher rules, Sabbath laws, and circumcision to gain a hearing to evangelize Jews), Gentiles (e.g., by living among Gentiles in ways that could be culturally uncomfortable for an ethnic Jew), and the weak (e.g., by accommodating unbelievers with a weak conscience in a particular area [10:28-29a])

David Prior: Paul clearly exercised the most imaginative and sensitive adaptability in his relationships with unbelievers. He did it all for the sake of the gospel, so that he might share its power and reality as far and wide as possible. Paul was the most versatile of men, never locked into any single way of operating and always listening to God’s ideas in each new situation: I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some (22) – a veritable spiritual chameleon. Paul’s versatility in seeking to win men and women of all backgrounds to Christ challenges us to cross the culture gap between the Christian subculture of cozy meetings and holy talk and the pagan culture of our local community. The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds, is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church.


A.  Freedom in Christ Understood

For though I am free from all men,

No man or no cultural group has Paul as a puppet on a string where they can dictate his behavior.  He is free to personally respond to Christ and live in a way that is pleasing to His master.

Mark Taylor: Whereas 9:17 employs the metaphor of the household manager entrusted with the care of an estate, the image in 9:19 shifts to the slave who accommodates to his surroundings. In 9:17 Paul is the faithful steward compelled to preach. In 9:19–23 Paul enslaves himself to all so that he might make the greatest possible gains for the gospel. Paul’s assertion of freedom in 9:19 not only plays off the idea of freely offering the gospel in 9:18 but also recalls the opening question of the chapter, “Am I not free?” In this instance Paul specifies freedom from all men, which in context may refer to his financial independence that released him from any obligation to wealthy patrons.  Yet, for Paul, the very nature of the gospel obliged him to all men in other ways in order to gain as many as possible for the gospel. To this end Paul enslaved himself to all, and in this way he imitated Christ, who came to serve and to give his life for others (Mark 10:45; Phil 2:5–8). Paul’s stewardship of the gospel (9:17) embodied the essence of the gospel by entailing a complete inversion of the world’s values whereby the slave occupies a position of considerable influence.  Just as God’s folly, the cross, is the power of God unto salvation (1:18) so also is Paul’s enslavement to different classes of men the best possible means for gaining others for Christ.

B.  Voluntary Personal Restrictions Regulating Ministry Approach

I have made myself a slave to all,

Quite an extraordinary condescension and limitation

C.  Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I may win more.”

Paul’s heart and priority for soul winning is the key to the passage.  Not just people have to adjust to who I am with all of my personal preferences.  Instead, Paul was willing to be the one to make every necessary adjustment.  He was flexible where possible to win others to Christ.  He didn’t want anything to unnecessarily hinder the gospel.

David Garland: The verb κερδαίνειν (kerdainein, to win, to gain) appears five times in verses 19–21. It is related to conversion (1 Pet. 3:1) but can apply to winning a faltering believer (Matt. 18:15).  The word is also a business term related to profit (Matt. 25:16, 17, 20, 22; James 4:13), and Paul may be playing on this idea in light of his previous comment about his reward in 1 Cor. 9:17–18. The profit that he gains, his μισθός (misthos), comes from spreading the gospel among Jews and Gentiles. Daube (1956: 349) observes that from contexts where κερδαίνειν is used in the NT for conversion, “they all represent humility as an instrument of conversion.” Courtesy toward those one hopes to win is crucial for success.


A.  Identifying with Cultural Jews (no matter how serious they were religiously)

  1. Target Group

To the Jews

  1. Strategy of Identification

I became as a Jew

  1. No Clarification Necessary – Paul still was a cultural Jew
  2. Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I might win Jews

B.  Identifying with Religious Jews (scrupulous about obeying the Law)

  1. Target Group

to those who are under the Law

Most commentators take this as just further explanation of the same Jewish category above.  I have broken it out because of the parallelism as a somewhat separate emphasis.  Some take this to be Gentile converts to Judaism.  I would apply it to all Jews who were very scrupulous about the requirements of the Law.

Maclaren: The category which he names next is not composed of different persons from the first, but of the same persons regarded from a somewhat different point of view. ‘Them that are under the law’ describes Jews, not by their race, but by their religion; and Paul was willing to take his place among them, as we have just observed.

  1. Strategy of Identification

as under the Law

  1. Clarification

though not being myself under the Law

  1. Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I might win those who are under the Law

C.  Identifying with Gentiles

  1. Target Group

to those who are without law

Gordon Fee: Among Gentiles he behaves as one who is anomos (not under Jewish law), but he is not thereby to be considered anomos (“lawless” = “godless, wicked”; cf. 1 Tim. 1:9), which point is made by adding the qualifier “toward God.”  Indeed, he goes on, I am ennomos (lit. “in law” = subject to law) toward Christ. His point is plain: He wishes no misunderstanding of the word anomos, which would ordinarily mean to behave in a godless way. To be “as one without the law” does not mean to be “lawless.” As earlier (7:19) this is a clear instance in which Paul can distinguish between keeping “the law” and obeying the ethical imperatives of the Christian faith. For Paul the language “being under (or ‘keeping’) the law” has to do with being Jewish in a national-cultural-religious sense; but as a new man in Christ he also expects the Spirit to empower him (as well as all of God’s new people) to live out the ethics of the new age, which are the “commands of God” (7:19) now written on hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek. 36:26–27).

  1. Strategy of Identification

as without law

  1. Clarification

though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ

Andrew Noselli: What Paul says about the law in 1 Corinthians 9:20b-21 is important for understanding how the old and new covenants relate (cf. 7:18-19).  Paul is not under the Mosaic Law, but that does not mean he is free from all moral laws.  To become all things to all people does not mean that to the sexually immoral Paul becomes sexually immoral!  Paul is under Christ’s law – the law of love.  Pul knows when he can adapt for the sake of the gospel and when he must not bend for the sake of the gospel.

  1. Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I might win those who are without law.”

John MacArthur: In other than moral matters, however, Paul identified as closely as possible with Gentile customs.  He ate what they ate, went where they went, and dressed as they dressed.

Paul Gardner: As a servant to all, Paul is first and foremost a servant of Christ. This means, of course, that there are things he will not do even for the sake of “winning” people for Christ. He will not do what Christ would not do! In this context, among other things, he would not take part in idolatrous rites or meals.

D..  Identifying with the Weak

  1. Target Group

To the weak

This illustration seems somewhat ambiguous.  The immediate context has been talking of trying to win different cultural groups to Christ . . . so from that perspective this does not sound here like the contrast between the weaker and stronger brother (such as in the example in Chap. 8 of eating meat).  This group is weak in the eyes of the world: whether in terms of social status, economic position, educational background, intellectual ability, etc.  However, the larger context of the weaker brother from Chap. 8 certainly fits the general thrust of what Paul is trying to communicate about regulating his liberty and modifying his conduct.  In that case one would have to modify the meaning of “win” the weak to have the broader connotation of impact them positively for Christ, improving their spiritual position, or gaining a hearing for the teaching Paul is providing.

Richard Hays: Sometimes it is suggested that “the weak” in 9:22 cannot refer to the weak Christians at Corinth, because Paul speaks here of “winning” or “saving” them. Therefore, it is alleged, he must be referring to non-believers. This is, however, to make too sharp a distinction, as though Paul thought his converts were already “saved” as soon as they professed faith. We should remember that in 1:18 Paul referred to himself and other members of the believing community as those “who are being saved.” For Paul, conversion is a process of having one’s life reshaped in the likeness of Christ, and salvation is the eschatological end for which we hope. The weak Christians, as we have already seen in chapter 8, are in danger — in Paul’s view — of falling away from Christ and therefore not being saved (see also the illustration in 10:1–13). Thus, his continuing identification with the weak aims not only to gain converts but also to strengthen their adherence to the community and to help them along the path to salvation.

Paul Gardner: Paul has used the word “weak” to describe a people who have been made to feel inferior because they are not exercising certain rights related to gifts of the Spirit, such as wisdom or knowledge. These people are looked down upon by the elitists or “knowers” and so have been made to feel weak. Yet, in God’s eyes the so-called “weak” belong to him even without these (merely) human markers, and Paul can happily identify with that! It is to read too much into the text to insist that these people must be poorer people not in receipt of patronage, even though some might be so. Defining them as they are defined in chapter 8 works well in this context and explains why Paul omits the word “like” (ὡς). It would be exceedingly strange if Paul introduced at this point a different set of people known as “the weak.”

Therefore, the word “weak” should not be seen as a derogatory term or even a description of a people who are basically inadequate in one way or another. In chapter 8 Paul sided with the weak, and ever since 1:27weak” has been a term that has been used to contrast one group of people against the arrogant. From the start, Paul has ensured that this has been a contrast that favors the weak. Sadly, though, their self-awareness as members of the body of Christ is depleted and poor. If they also have no status in the world’s eyes, no power, no patronage, no great wealth, then this may make them feel even more “weak” in the church. Yet, for Paul they reflect the very evidence that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1:27 ESV). Indeed, Paul has even called himself “weak” in comparison with the strong in 4:10.

  1. Strategy of Identification

I became weak

  1. No Clarification Given = Paul’s Humility
  2. Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

that I might win the weak

E.  Lesson From These Illustrations = Thesis Repeated

  1. Target Group

to all men

  1. Strategy of Identification

I have become all things

David Garland: The principle that Paul outlines in 9:19–23 is that he “shares the condition of those to whom he ministers, and so is conformed to the pattern of his Lord” (Hooker 1996: 97; cf. Garland 1999: 231–34).   He imitates Christ’s self-emptying humiliation and suffering for others.

  1. No Clarification Necessary
  2. Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I may by all means save some.”


A.  Freedom in Christ Implied

B.  Voluntary Personal Restrictions Regulating Ministry Approach

I do all things for the sake of the gospel

C.  Goal in Ministry of Maximum Evangelism

so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

The gospel is all about denying self, taking up our cross and following after our Lord Jesus Christ who promised to make us “fishers of men.”  If we live selfishly and do not have any gospel focus we give evidence that our lives have never been transformed.  An authentic Christian will serve others in love for the sake of the gospel and thus demonstrate the fruit of genuine conversion.  Only those who live for the gospel actually participate in the benefits of the gospel.

Anthony Thiselton: In our view (with Collins) the issue is neither that of bringing benefits to others (NJB), nor that of sharing in these benefits as a missionary-pastor (NRSV, NIV, REB, Fee). To stand alongside the Jew, the Gentile, the socially dependent and vulnerable, or to live and act in solidarity with every kind of person in every kind of situation is to have a share in the nature of the gospel, i.e., to instantiate what the gospel is and how it operates.