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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 9:22-24 Only one…

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 6, 2023

22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak over. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might at least save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in it. 24 Do you not know that all the runners run in the stadium, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Paul has talked about winning over the Jews, those under the law, and those who are not under the law. Now he talks about the weak. Who does Paul mean by “the weak”? Does he mean weak Christians, or Christians weak in their faith? One commentator insists: “The term ‘weak’ has a fixed meaning in connections such as this: weak and undeveloped in knowledge and in faith, compare 8:10.” Is he right? Remember that besides talking about weak brothers and sisters (8:7), that is, those who have a weak conscience, Paul has also talked about his own weaknesses, which surely must mean physical and not spiritual weaknesses. “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (2:3). And again: “We are weak—but you are so strong!” (4:10). Could Paul simply be talking about those with illnesses? Remember that Paul’s goal has been to work among the unconverted, and so it would be unusual for him to talk about working with the weak of faith or with those with weak consciences before coming here to Corinth. As one of our Professors has said: “Think also of those who are weaker intellectually than others. Then, as now, the missionary would have to vary his approach from that made to the highly intelligent. Again, there would be those who were weaker in their outward morality. To become as weak to such would be to follow closely the example of the Master, who ate with publicans [tax collectors] and sinners. Also falling into the classification of the ‘weak’ would be the emotionally unstable, the high-strung, and the neurotic” (Werner Franzmann, Being Made All Things to All Men).

When we apply this mindset, this gospel motivation to the way we share Christ with our friends and our straying family members, it will mean more than having all of our doctrine right. Of course we begin with the facts of salvation, but we will also want to know the person we’re speaking to. What is his way of thinking? What are his viewpoints, his mental quirks? What is his emotional state? We even do this with children. But in our present culture, we tend to polarize away from anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way that we do. If we feel that someone is “wrong,” then we shut out all of their words. This is not only foolish, it is dangerous, and more than that, it is unloving. It turns every single one of us into a xenophobe, a person who fears and secretly hates “the others.” But being all things to all people, when we pick up the gospel to present it, we enter into their world; we don’t drag them into ours over every single speed bump and stumbling block that might get in the way of the message.

Not that we will use psychology or sociology as our main tools, nor will we embrace their social views or political views or their latest favorite TV show. If I am an introvert who has learned over the decades to be friendly with my own congregation, must I become a bold, splashy extrovert who can slap backs and shake hands without hesitation? That’s not going to happen. I am who God made me to be. But I can at least share my Savior with those who do not know him. Paul also says to us: “Let each of you look carefully not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

But we also remember: to be all things does not mean to veer away from God’s will, or to “be” a sinner in the way that someone else is a sinner. Paul does not say, “To the rapist I became a rapist,” or “to the embezzler I became an embezzler,” or “to the thief I became a thief.” But surely those all qualify as someone “outside the law”? Those are people who are outside the law of man as well as the law of God. We are still under the obligation to live for Christ. Paul is talking about giving up liberties and freedoms, not the Ten Commandments.

We still run the race so as to attain the prize of eternal life, which is why Paul adds: “Do you not know that all the runners run in the stadium, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” We are in the same stadium as everybody else in the world (stadium is the Greek word for the arena where a race was run, on horseback, in a chariot, or on foot). Do not run in a way that gets you disqualified, but in such a way as to get the prize. He is going to talk more about this in the verses that follow (which will end the chapter). But we strive in this life to remain faithful to Christ, to trust in him for salvation, and if possible, to win others over to faith, especially the people closest to us. This is why these words, “But only one gets the prize,” are inscribed on a statue of a Greek sprinter on his marks that is on the campus of our worker training college (Martin Luther College) here in New Ulm. You have the prize, the eternal prize of heaven. Hand it off to everyone you know and love. They are all sinners, whether they agree with your political views or not, and they need the same Savior that you do.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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