God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 9:19-21 The strategy of love
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 3, 2023
19 For though I am free from all, to all I have enslaved myself, that I might win many more of them. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, in order to win Jews over. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) in order to win over those under the law. 21 To those without the law I became like one without the law (though I myself am not without the law of God but I am under the law of Christ) that I might win over those without the law.
We have seen Paul develop his point:
1, I have the right to ask those who receive the gospel from me to provide me with a living, because those who preach the gospel should earn their living from the gospel.
2, Yet I have always refrained from exercising this privilege so that I won’t put any obstacle in the path of the gospel.
3, This is my glory, my boast: not that I preach the gospel (that’s my obligation), but that I refrain from using my freedom. In self-denying love I preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without any charge.
Now Paul widens this thought to illustrate his whole ministry: In order to win more souls for Christ, I have enslaved myself to everyone…
4, To the Jews, I have acted, behaved, and been obedient to the law like a Jew, to win some of the Jews.
5, To the Gentiles, I have acted and behaved like a man who knows nothing of the Law of Moses, ignoring all of its regulations and forbidden things, to win some of the Gentiles.
And perhaps by including “to those under the law” alongside “to the Jews,” Paul even hints that to those who are under the law but are not Jews, Paul has acted the same way. Who would such people be? Could they be the gospel-twisting Judaizers that gave him so much trouble in Galatia (Galatians 5:1-4)? It’s hard to see how Paul would have condemned them so thoroughly and then hinted here that he also embraced their views to win some over to Christ. But in fact the Judaizers were not being converted to Christianity, they were perverting Christian doctrine from within. So Paul does not mean the Judaizers here. But then, who could he mean?
It’s possible that Paul means the Samaritans, a group who thought they had an alternate view of the Old Testament and who misunderstood many parts of the law. Paul could certainly have reached out to some of the Samaritans as he met them in his travels.
His point is that he, and we, are not subject to any law at all any longer apart from the law of Christ, which is love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; Galatians 5:14), which the Lord’s brother calls “the royal law” (James 2:8). Paul’s mission strategy was not so much a strategy (a plan to achieve a desired result) as it was an application of his own love. A strategy might be changed, such as when an officer on a battlefield realizes that what his troops are planning or doing will not work. But Paul simply loved souls. Therefore he showed love to all, for “those who plan to do good find mercy and truth” (Proverbs 14:22), and “the Lord loves those who pursue righteousness” (Proverbs 15:9).
When we love one another, we are not just trying to make the world a better place. We are not just “paying it forward” or being polite. Those and other examples of altruism are pleasant things, but they are not the will of God. Saving souls is God’s will. Therefore, if you consider doing something nice for someone for the benefit of their soul, that is truly having their ultimate good at heart. This is the kind of good Paul is talking about. This is the kind of good, truly selfless good, that is the will of our heavenly Father.
Or to put it another way: There were two ministers. One took payment from his church for his work, and his preaching and teaching reached their hearts and he rescued many souls. The other did not take any payment from his church, and this delighted them, but his preaching and teaching did them no good, and many were led away from the cross and were misled into trusting in their own good deeds. Which minister did the Father’s will? Which minister truly did the work of a shepherd? Now, neither of these did what Paul is describing, but I want us to remember another point about our own pastors.
The ministry of the gospel is a task given by the Holy Spirit to men. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am also sending you” (John 20:21). The authority to preach, teach, administer the sacraments, and to forgive sins, is given through the call into the ministry. Even if a minister is a scoundrel and a glutton and commits terrible sins in secret or in public and even doubts the presence of Christ in the sacrament or the benefits of baptism, such a man can be of service to the church (at least for a while), if his people believe the truth about these things. For when he consecrates the elements of the sacraments with the word of God, there is Christ’s command and the power of the Holy Spirit in the word, and there is still a sacrament there. Sins are still washed away in that baptism; forgiveness is still swallowed in that Supper. The poor people of the church are still looked after by the word of God and his sacraments. It would be better, better by far, if their pastor loved them, prayed for them, and truly wanted what is best for them. But God will look after them even though the Antichrist himself occupies their pulpit.
Therefore we pray for faithful ministers, and we care for their needs. We want them to love us and to fill us with Christ’s love and forgiveness. And so we also ask God to bless us with his word, to turn our faces toward him, and to fill our hearts with faith.
Pastor Timothy Smith