1 Corinthians 9:15-23
When Necessity Becomes Freedom
We have noted before that the only truly free man in the world is the slave of Christ, while the only slave in the world is the man free (i.e., apart) from Christ. In today’s passage, Paul ties up some lose ends regarding his apostleship and hence authority over these wayward Corinthians. Do not doubt for one moment Paul’s love for them; it is out of love that he contended with and for them for so long.
Paul says several things in this passage that should make us all stop and think. The first is: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” You see, Paul felt constrained to share the gospel with others. Now I don’t think for a moment that he meant that this constraint was such that, had he had his way, he would rather not have preached the gospel; Paul wanted to preach the gospel. Indeed, he was so passionate about the gospel that he wanted to be sure that when he preached, there was no cause for someone to mock, in this case, on account of his receiving remuneration there from. Thus, Paul’s constraint to preach the gospel and his passion to do the same went hand in hand: that which bound him to preach the gospel was his very liberty, indeed, his passion.
And this constraint that he felt from his Lord and Master also set him at liberty to “become all things to all people, that by all means [he] might save some.” Thus, since Paul received no patronage from the Corinthians or anyone else, he was free to offer the gospel to everyone without charge, and even free to do so on the terms of his listeners, as long as those terms did not compromise the gospel. So to the Jew (those under the law), he became as one under the law—though not himself under the (Mosaic) law; to the Gentile (those without the law), he became as one without the law—though ever under the law of Christ. To the weak he became weak—though we might add ever strong in the Lord, and to the strong we would have become strong—though knowing that it was only in his weakness that he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The free man has only one passion, nothing else binding him; and the only passion worth binding oneself unto is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This, Paul knew as he did everything for the sake of the gospel; and what’s more, “that [he] may share with them in its blessings,” that is, not they with him, but he with them. What a statement of humility and of love, and it can only come from one with a heart so constrained and so free.