Do What It Takes

Posted: January 11, 2021 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:19-27, “Do What It Takes”

When watching TV as a family, many of us have heard the phrase (or perhaps have uttered it), “You make a better door than a window.” When I was a child, my family did not have a remote control for the television and it was not uncommon for my brother or me to be asked to change the channel. It was one thing to change the channel; it was another to sit right in front of the screen blocking it for everyone else.

As Christians, we might make better doors than windows. Although we certainly want people to see Jesus in us, many times we end up blocking the way. People see far too much of “Tim” and far too little of Christ. We need to find some way to get out of the way, for people to see Jesus instead of us. We need to be as transparent as possible, that the main thing remains the main thing (and the main thing is Jesus).

Paul understood this well in his missionary ministry. This was a man who travelled all over the Roman Empire speaking to everyone from Hebrew-culture Jews, to Greek-culture Jews, to Gentile philosophers, to agnostics, to pagans, to outright deceivers, and more. How could he talk to so many people about Christ? Simple: he was flexible, never allowing himself to get in the way. He could relate to Jews as a Jew and to Greeks as one who was raised among Greeks. He was always willing to do what was necessary for others to see Jesus, even if it meant changing the way he did things for a time.

This becomes evident in the latter half of 1 Corinthians 9. In their back and forth communication, the Christians at Corinth had some questions for the apostle Paul. He already dealt with one, and now moved on to the other which dealt with the issue of idolatry, or what to do with things that had been offered to idols in pagan sacrifices. While, at first glance, it may seem foreign to us (although the typical American Evangelical deals far more frequently with idolatry than we might imagine!), this was a common issue for the Corinthians. Temples dedicated to the Greek/Roman pantheon of gods dotted the city and was a major part of their culture. It could be tricky even to eat a meal that was not (in part) tainted by idolatry. What were Christians supposed to do? (Especially those who had come out of idolatrous backgrounds!)

Paul began his answer by helping the Christians shift their focus. Instead of asking, “what is good for me?” The real question was, “What is good for my Christian brother/sister?” Although there are many practices that might be legal/permissible for us, it does not mean those things are helpful. In fact, they might even cause our fellow Christians to stumble in their discipleship with Jesus, being that they are weaker or more sensitive in these areas. Better for us to forego those liberties than to exercise them to someone’s harm.

Paul went on to provide a personal example. He did not command anything of the church which he was not willing to do. He too, had denied himself something to which he had an absolute right: financial support as a minister of the gospel. That Paul had a God-given right to it was clear from both societal norm and Scriptural practice. But Paul purposefully did not avail himself of that right, preferring his financial independence from the Corinthians which gave him the freedom to preach Jesus without distraction.

With his personal example given, Paul gets back to the overall principle, showing that individual sacrifice is worth it when it comes to the eternal salvation of souls. The commission we have received from Jesus is too important to let anything get in the way. The last thing any of us would want would be for us to block someone from seeing Jesus. We need to be willing to change whatever needs to be changed (within reason, among that which can be changed) if it helps someone know Christ.

We see it in two basic parts of our text: the method and the goal. Although the message of the gospel never changes, the methods we use to preach the gospel do. The goal of that preaching, however, does not. We want people to see Jesus. Do what it takes for Jesus to be known and for people to be saved!

1 Corinthians 9:19–27

  • The method (19-23).

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;

  1. Paul begins by laying out the basic principle: he was free but he made himself a slave. He was truly “free,” just as he mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 9, asserting not only his Christian freedom but also his apostolic authority. Paul was free in the same way that emancipated Roman slaves were free (same word in 7:21-22), without any man holding a claim over him. Although other hired teachers would be considered servants of those who hired them, Paul remained free of those financial ties because he was not reliant on the support of anyone in Corinth. Of course, his simple identity in Christ ensured his spiritual freedom, with also his apostolic calling ensuring his freedom to act and teach what God alone desired of him. Paul, like all born-again believers but especially such as a designated emissary of the Lord Jesus, was free.
  2. That freedom, however, was something Paul was willing to set aside in order to to make himself, “a servant to all,” literally speaking of enslaving himself to all. Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone go from freedom to slavery, and willingly at that? He gives us the reason: “that I might win the more.” The word Paul used for “win” is used five times between 9:19-22, and refers to acquiring, gaining. In other contexts, it might even mean “to make a profit.” Paul was not a businessman but he was in the business of acquiring people for Christ. Just as Peter left the role of a fisherman to become a fisher of men, so did Paul labor for Jesus to win people to the gospel message.
  3. With that in mind, it is important not to misunderstand this. For Paul to write that he would “win” people to Christ does not mean that he was taking credit for their salvation. Rather, it was only an expression to denote the role God used Paul to play. God alone saves men & women, but many times God uses people as His instruments to save those same men & women. The biggest problem with “soul winning” is not the terminology but the lack of participation and availability.
  4. That said, we do need to be careful to give all credit and glory to God. Those who take pride in their soul-winning do not understand what it is about. To win/gain souls for Jesus is not to pitch a sale – it is not to get people to merely repeat a prayer – it is not to argue someone into submission. Those things are human endeavors and techniques, and not a single person is born-again through human means. There are religions that require human intervention as priests for people to assure themselves of eternity, but it is not Biblical Christianity. The Bible tells us that we have but one great High Priest, Jesus, and that His work on the cross is fully sufficient for our salvation. Thus, He cried out, “It is finished!” He did not mean, “It is finished with the exception of the pastor or evangelist or the soul-winner who needs to do more work for someone to be saved.” He said only “It is finished.” Jesus did 100% of the work. All we do in evangelism (or soul-winning, or however you describe sharing your faith) is simply tell people what Jesus has done. We do not add to Jesus; we show people Jesus and get out of the way.

20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;

  1. Example 1: the Jews. It ought to be expected that Paul begins here, as this is who he was. He was born of the tribe of Benjamin, was trained as a rabbi and Hebrew scholar under the famed rabbi Gamaliel, and was a Pharisee among Pharisees. Paul knew the Jewish religion backwards and forwards for he lived it exclusively during his youth and early adulthood. And just as young Saul of Tarsus had a zeal to persecute Christians unto death, the converted apostle Paul had a zeal for his Jewish countrymen to be saved unto life. Thus, he “became as a Jew,” routinely during his missionary ministry. It was not that Paul ever stopped being a Jew (as a born-again Christian, we might say that he was a “fulfilled” Jew), but Paul intentionally put his Jewishness out front and acted as a faithful Jew every time he entered a new city. He would go to the local synagogue attending Saturday meetings and Torah readings, always finding ways to point people to Jesus as the Messiah, showing them the truth through the Scripture. Paul did not hesitate to “use” his Jewishness to draw and “win Jews” to Jesus.
  2. Question: What is the difference between Jews and “those who are under the law”? Likely nothing. There are some who suggest that this might refer to God-fearing Gentiles, or those Gentiles who were not fully converted to Judaism yet still worshipped according to the Jewish traditions and Scriptures. Yet that is not the most natural reading of the term. “Those who are under the law” are almost always those who are under the law of Moses, meaning Jews. If there is any distinction, it might refer to the Jewish customs that were often added on top of the Biblical law, with those customs themselves being treated as law. If Paul was around the Pharisees of his past, he certainly would have washed his hands in the ceremonially appropriate manner, wore his clothing in the culturally appropriate way, etc. We get a glimpse of this in the book of Acts when Paul arrived in Jerusalem to deliver a financial gift from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem Christians. He met with James and the other church leaders who counseled him to go with other Jewish Christians to the temple and pay the expenses for their vow, that Paul might be seen observing Jewish custom (Acts 21). Paul was not under compulsion to do it, but he did so. Why? Because he was willing to do what it took to “win those who are under the law.
  3. FYI: Depending on your Bible translation, you may also see a personal comment from Paul saying that he was not himself “under the law.” This is a phrase included in some of the oldest manuscripts (in some of the most wide-spread geographic traditions) but did not make it into the vast majority of manuscripts that came through the church. Regardless of your position of textual criticism, the idea is clear enough. Although Paul was a solid, law-abiding Jewish Christian, his Christianity freed him from any obligation to the Jewish law/customs. This is the work of Christ. Jesus completes the law for Jew and Gentile alike.

21 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;

  1. Example 2: the Gentiles. As the apostle to the Gentiles, of course Paul would be willing to put aside Jewish customs to speak to the Gentiles and to win “those who are without law.” Remember that Paul was raised in the Roman city of Tarsus, outside of Judea. Although he had a Jewish upbringing, he was raised in a culture of Hellenistic (or Greek-custom) Jews and around many Gentiles overall. Paul knew how to relate to the Gentiles and he used it for the sake of the gospel.
  2. Theologically, this might bring up the question: How might someone be without the law? Doesn’t God’s law apply to everyone, regardless of our recognition of it? We see this in our own civic law, as ignorance of it is no excuse in violating it. Should you come into a great amount of money, you would be responsible for paying the appropriate taxes, even if you had zero idea as to what those taxes were. The IRS does not care about your ignorance; only your compliance. Likewise with the DPS officer who pulls you over on the highway for speeding, even when you didn’t know what the speed limit was at the time. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Thankfully our God has far more compassion than either the IRS or the police department, but He also has far more righteousness. Simply because a person does not know the details of God’s moral law does not excuse that person’s disobedience of it. You need not own a Bible that declares, “Thou shalt not kill,” for you to know inherently that murder is wrong. Whether we know God’s law or not, it must be obeyed.
  3. That said, there is a covenant law of God and a civil code of society that belongs to God’s nation of Israel; not to the rest of the world. The Gentiles were not commanded to keep the Year of Jubilee – they were not expected to wear only like-fibers in their clothing – they were not commanded to abstain from any number of things that were prohibited in the nation of Israel. In fact, not even the Gentile Christians were commanded to keep these laws and statutes. When Paul and the early church was presented with the Judaizing controversy, the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem determined that the Gentile Christians did not need to convert to Judaism to be saved. They were not to discount God’s holiness and righteous moral standard but neither were they bound to the Hebrew ceremonial and civil law/custom.
  4. Paul acknowledges this when he notes that these Gentiles were “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ.” It was not that God left anyone without a witness to His holiness (even the Gentiles show the law of God written on our hearts ~ Rom 2:15); we can and do see the righteousness of God in creation around us and what we inherently know to be universal rights and wrongs. More than that, our faith in Christ does not promote what theologians call “anti-nomianism,” or the idea that the moral law of God does not matter. No Christian (Gentile or Jew) is free to sin with abandon, using the grace of Jesus as an excuse. Paul dealt with this in detail in Romans 6-7. We cannot sin that grace would abound, nor sin because we are not under law but under grace. Those ideas are antithetical to the good work that Jesus has done in us through our redemption and justification. Jesus did not save us so that we could be more sinful. He saved us from sin, that we might glorify God. This is why Paul writes that we are “under law toward Christ.” Gentiles might not be under the civil and ceremonial law of Moses, but we are under the law of Christ. Jesus is our Lord and Sovereign King. We owe Him our allegiance and our obedience.

22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. …

  1. Example 3: the “” Who are the weak? These are the same people Paul has had in mind since Chapter 8. These are those who are spiritually immature or sensitive in certain areas. Keep in mind that the whole context of the “weak” in Chapters 8-9 has been Christians. This shows a slight change from vss. 20-21 with the Jews and Gentiles. In those examples, Paul writes how he changed his methods to win each group to Christ. Here, the weak are already Christian. When Paul writes that he “might win the weak,” he isn’t writing of their salvation because they are already saved. Again this is clear from the context. In Chapter 8, the weak were those Christians who had come out of pagan idolatry and had consciences weak/sensitive to those things. So how would Paul win those who were already won?
  2. Answer: Paul was winning them to a slightly different purpose. Here, it wasn’t winning someone to faith in Christ; it was winning someone as a disciple of Christ. IOW, it wasn’t justification but sanctification. The weak Christian was already justified in the sight of God (had their sins dealt with and made righteous in His sight through faith in Jesus). Yet the weak Christian still needed to grow in his/her faith, continually being conformed into Jesus’ image. This was where Paul accommodated them. Instead of putting a stumbling block in the way of these new Christian believers, Paul set his liberties aside that the weak Christians who were won might not be lost (so to speak). He didn’t want them left along the roadside to fall to trials and temptations – he didn’t want their faith to wither on the vine.
  3. Keep in mind that this does not mean that the weak Christians should always remain weak. The very reason discipleship exists is to strengthen Christians in our faith, helping us grow, to be edifies, to be made strong in Christ. But no weak person becomes strong overnight. Professional bodybuilders develop their physiques over literal years of training; no one steps from a skinny 9th grader to Mr. Universe without a lot of work. Paul was willing to accommodate weaker Christians that they might grow in strength. (We would be wise to do the same!)

… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

  1. This is the principle restated. Paul, though free, made himself a servant/slave to all that people might be won to Christ. Here, Paul writes that he did whatever it took. Be careful not to take this the wrong way. He did not mean that he was willing to do anything and everything, even abandon the teachings of the Bible, so that he could add numbers to a church congregation. Paul was not willing to jettison proper doctrine just to make sinners feel more comfortable and to get them to mentally agree to a milquetoast message. Some have tried this. They say, “Paul became all things to all men, so I’m going to do the same. I’m going to become a drunk for drunkards or a salesman for salespeople. I’m going to make people feel good about themselves just as they are, and get them to pray a prayer for Jesus.” Or they go to the opposite extreme and become legalists to reach other legalists, or religionists to reach religionists. That is not at all what Paul did. Whatever Paul did in practice, he never changed his teaching. Never once did Paul water down the message of the gospel. Any time that he went into the Jewish synagogues as a Jew, he still preached Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (which often caused him to get ejected from the synagogue). When Paul went to the Gentiles, although he may not have paid any attention to how he washed his hands or keeping a kosher diet, he still preached the Holy God who judges sin in righteousness, for which we need a Savior in Jesus. And as with the Jews, many times Paul was ejected and persecuted for his message. The basic message never changed; only the methods were flexible. To “become all things to all men” is not carte-blanche to abandon the Bible; it is only a recognition that we major on the majors and minor on the minors. Biblical doctrine is major; cultural preference is not.
  2. Why would he do it? To use “all means” (i.e. all Biblical means) to “save some.” The “some” is important. Why? Because it is a realistic recognition that not everyone will respond. To accommodate people just for the sake of accommodation is meaningless. The goal in showing people Jesus is not to make everyone feel good about themselves. It isn’t so that people will become more comfortable in their sin, satisfied in their condition as they comfortably head to hell. Rather, it is that “some” would be wakened from their slumber, see their need for Jesus and be saved! And yes, for that, we change our methods when needed – we accommodate different cultural practices. We even temporarily set aside certain liberties. Why? Because the salvation of souls is worth the sacrifice!

23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

  1. Why did Paul do what he did? For the gospel. When Paul changed his methods, it was never to shine a light on himself. Rather, it was always done to get him out of the way and for people to see Jesus. Think of it: if, in front of a Gentile audience, Paul insisted on acting as a Jewish rabbi and Pharisee, he would never even have willingly spoken with them. And if he did, yet maintained all of the customs and traditions, that would have been all the people saw. How could Gentiles hear the good news of Jesus who died for them, when all they could see was a seemingly high-and-mighty Jewish rabbi talk down to them? No wonder Paul became as a Gentile to the Gentiles! His whole goal was to get them to see Jesus, and that meant he needed to get himself out of the way. That was the only way he would be a “partaker” of these things with them. Paul was already in Christ through the message of the gospel, and he wanted all these other people to be in Christ through the message of the gospel. If they were going to partake in these things together – if they were to be joined as one body in Christ – it meant that these people needed to put their faith in That meant they needed to see and hear Jesus.

I cringe thinking about the number of times I might have gotten in the way of the gospel. It pains me to consider how I might have let my preferences get in the way of someone else who needs to see Jesus. Paul was willing to change his methods for the sake of the gospel message. Are we?

I remember one particular friend from college who came from a truly pagan background. At one point he professed to have put his faith in Christ and started coming to church. The only problem? Few people believed him. They kept expecting him to look just as “Christian” as they did. He didn’t dress like they did – he didn’t listen to the same music they did – he didn’t talk like they did. He was just a new Christian, a weak one, but he had a hunger for Christ. He did…until he got fed up of dealing with the people around him. Eventually, his faith withered like the seed in Jesus’ parable that rose up out of stony ground that was scorched by the sun. Whatever happened to him, I don’t know (or can’t remember), but it grieves me as a situation where too much focus was put on the method rather than the message.

May God guard us from such callousness! Where might you have allowed your preferences to be a stumbling block for someone else? Maybe it is a liberty you want to exercise – maybe it is the opposite, a custom or practice you want enforced. Know this: if it gets in the way of Jesus, it isn’t worth it. We want to see people saved; not stumbled.

  • The goal (24-27).

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

  1. As a runner, this is where the illustrations get fun for me. J From the examples here in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in Paul’s writings, it is evident that he was a sports fan. He was familiar with the various athletic games, one of which was famously tied to Corinth: the Isthmian games, named after the Isthmus of Corinth, where it was held every other year surrounding the famed ancient Olympian games. Both Paul and the Corinthians could relate to the idea of sports and the analogy ties well into the Christian life.
  2. Here, the idea is simple: run to win! People today run for all kinds of reasons (health, enjoyment, relaxation…maybe just to get their doctor off their back!). Paul wasn’t writing of casual jogging; he was running a race. At the very least, he referred to competition. The word used for “race” might literally be translated “stadium” (stadion ~ στάδιον) – it could refer either to a specific distance (just under 607 feet) or the arena where a race might take place. This wasn’t a casual jog around the block; this was a track meet, specifically for head-to-head competition. A prize was reserved for the winner and the goal was to win it. Even today, this is still the case. Although there is often a finisher’s medal for anyone who competes in a marathon, there is only one first place overall finish and one specific award that goes to the winner. In our race, we want to run to win.
  3. Question: How exactly does that relate to everything Paul has been writing? How does this fit into the context? Simple: the things Paul did, Paul did with a purpose. The reason he changed his methodology or temporarily set aside certain liberties was not because he was bored and had nothing better to do. He did these things for the prize of the high calling of Christ. He did those things because that was what was necessary to win the race. He did those things because that was what it would take for people to see Jesus and be saved. Some people like change for its own sake. That wasn’t Paul. He changed various preferences and practices for the specific goal of running the race Jesus set before him. Just like a runner goes into a race with different strategies based off the distance and his/her competitors, so was Paul aware of the different situations he faced with different people. He wanted to run to “obtain” that prize.

25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

  1. The wording is interesting here. We could potentially translate it, “And everyone who agonizes for the prize is self-controlled in all things.” The word used for “compete” comes from the same word we get “agony,” and although it can refer to engaging in a contest, it can also refer to a fight or struggle. Olympic athletes do not get to that level without blood, sweat, and tears. It takes agony to get to top of athletic achievement. And for that, it takes temperance/self-control. They have to eat a certain way, follow certain training schedules, stretch, strengthen, and do whatever it takes to hone their skills. More than that, it can all be for naught if they don’t peak at just the right time. It doesn’t matter who the fastest person might be on paper, in theory; it only matters who wins the race that particular day. And for what? Temporary, “perishable” glory. Today, Olympic athletes (and other international competitions) give medals of gold, silver, and bronze, cherished possessions that can get passed down from generation to generation. In the ancient Isthmian and Olympian games, the winners received crowns made out of twigs. For the Olympics, the crowns were made of olive vines; for the Isthmian games, it was of pine trees. Either way, these things would dry out and decay in a matter of weeks or months. It was fine for a moment but it would surely perish.
  2. The contrast with Christian service is immense! We also run and compete in our race, but we do it for “an imperishable crown.” Scripture lists several crowns that await believers in heaven: the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8), the crown of life (Jas 1:12, Rev 2:10), and the crown of glory (1 Pet 5:4). Are they literal crowns? Are they different names for one crown? Scholars debate the question. The main idea is clear enough: we have an award that awaits us in heaven, one that will not fade away. The reward that Jesus gives us at His Bema Seat (Judgment Seat) will last for all eternity!
  3. As for the context, Paul is saying that Christians are self-controlled for a purpose and a goal. Again, we don’t change methods out of boredom or just to rock the boat. Whatever we do, we do keeping our eye on Jesus and the high calling He has given us. We do these things with purpose, as Paul writes in verse 26…

26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

  1. There is intention in athletic performance. Runners that reach the peak of their potential don’t head out the door without at least some plan in mind for their workout. It might change from day to day (sometimes intervals at the track, other days as easy recovery runs), but these athletes understand that every workout ought to have a purpose. There is no benefit from “junk” miles. Likewise with boxing. There is a time and place for shadow boxing in training, but if an athlete wants to win a fight, at some point he/she has to actually get into a ring and spar with someone. There is intention as the person pushes forward to the goal.
    1. I wonder how much intention there is in the average Christian believer? How much is there in me? It is so easy to put ourselves on “autopilot” and just cruise through existence. But has Jesus called us to cruise? That wasn’t what He told His disciples when He ascended to heaven. He sent them out as His witnesses, to make disciples of all the nations. Their calling is our calling. Their commission is our commission. Yes, we do it it in different ways and in different settings. One person is called to be a missionary overseas – one person is trained to be an engineer in a technology firm. Both can be believers and both can be intentional with the time and opportunity that God gives them. 

27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

  1. The primary definition for the word translated “discipline,” is “to blacken an eye.” It literally speaks of physical violence, although it has other definitions depending on the context, such as bringing someone into submission, or putting someone under strict discipline (even punishment or torment). The idea is that Paul didn’t make it easy on himself. To use the illustration of a boxer, Paul didn’t beat up anyone else in a ring; he beat up himself. He was willing to discipline his own body in such a fashion if it meant achieving the desired goal. Like a boxer willing to train to the point of “no pain, no gain,” so was Paul willing to do in his evangelistic ministry.
  2. Why? Because Paul wanted to persevere. He wanted to go all 10 rounds – he wanted to complete the whole race distance, not being “disqualified” – not being found “unworthy” in the end. Again, the terminology is interesting. When Paul writes that he wanted to bring his body “into subjection,” the word comes from the same root as that of “slave.” We might say that Paul disciplined/punished his body to “enslave” it, which brings his argument full circle to verse 19. He was free from all men but made himself a salve to all in the gospel. How did he do it? By beating himself into submission, when necessary. He submitted himself so much so to Jesus as a slave in the gospel that it ensured that Paul never got in the way. He pushed himself down that Jesus would be lifted up.
    1. If we’re honest, this happens rarely for us. It does not come easy. When our preferences come in conflict with someone else, we rarely beat ourselves down; we puff ourselves up. We want to push our way, rather than see someone else’s. But that’s the problem. We want our way, when as Jesus’ servants, we ought to want His And what was Jesus’ own example for us? Talk about subjection! Jesus humbled himself to an amazing degree. Paul (attempted) to describe it to the Philippians: Philippians 2:5–7, “(5) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Jesus could not have set aside more than what He did when He came for us! If He was willing to do that for our salvation, how can we withhold the same for others?
  3. BTW: How might Paul find himself disqualified? Is Paul wondering about his own salvation? He is not worried about being disqualified from heaven. There is, however, a concern from him about being potentially disqualified from ministry. Remember the context at this point is Christian service, the things that Paul was desiring to do to win people to Christ and see them saved. His sincere hope is that this was something he would be able to continue. As great a man that Paul was, he was not perfect – he was not infallible. There has been only one infallible Man in history: the Lord Jesus Christ. As for Paul, he was just like the rest of us. He was fully capable of sin. What if he sinned horribly? What if he damaged his ministry in such a way that he himself became a hindrance to the gospel message? Thankfully, it never happened with Paul…but it could have. It has happened to countless other ministers in the history of the church. It has happened to countless other Christians in the history of the church, who so damaged their own testimonies that no one gave them any credibility in terms of the gospel.
    1. This is not said in condemnation; it is said in trepidation. No one is except from the possibility of disqualifying sin. Not me, not anyone. Thankfully, the blood of Jesus covers all our sins – even those that irreparably damage our credibility with others.
    2. Take sober heed to the warning. Don’t be disqualified!

Paul wrote a lot about sports in the latter few verses but we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Whether the picture was running or boxing, the idea is the same: Christians are in a grand struggle and the prize (the goal) is nothing less than the salvation of men and women to the glory of God. That end was worth the struggle and sacrifice – it is worth the training – it is worth putting forth time and intention.

But there was more. Paul’s goal was not only the salvation of others; it was also his own walk with the Lord Jesus. The better trained he was, the better equipped he was to be used by God in the gospel mission. If we are to be instruments or tools in the hands of the Lord, then we want to be effective, efficient tools. One of the most frustrating thing in DIY home projects is to get into the nitty-gritty, reach for a tool, only to find it busted or too dirty or drained of charge, etc. When you reach for a tool, you want to use it; not repair it. Thankfully, God is better than any homeowner (and can fix any way we have allowed ourselves to be broken!). But we want to be effective, efficient tools for His use. It means we need to be always ready, ever available, and totally flexible to His desires for us.


It isn’t easy to lay aside certain privileges and rights. But it becomes a lot easier when it is done for the right reasons. Paul taught the Corinthians the need to be flexible. When it came to the things that had been offered to idols, some of their rights could be set aside for the greater good of the gospel. Paul did it in his own life. Be it his personal finances or his personal preferences in ministry, he was willing to do whatever it took for Jesus to be made known.

Our context is different but the principle is not. The method of sharing the gospel might change from time to time; the goal of our preaching does not. Do what it takes for Jesus to be preached and for people to be saved!

For some, you might need to examine what needs to be temporarily set aside for the greater good of Jesus’ gospel. The last thing any of us wants is to get in the way of the gospel for someone else. If our demands keeps someone from seeing Jesus, then that’s something that needs to go. Again, we never surrender what is essential, but we do need to distinguish between preference and absolutes. (And if you’re not willing to back down, you need to ask yourself the hard question of why that is.)

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