In the previous issue we began an exposition of I Corinthians 9:19-23. We believe this passage has much to teach concerning the mission task of the church. Here we learn how the missionary ought to regard himself, his work, and those to whom he preaches the gospel. Continuing this exposition we pay particular attention to verse twenty which reads, “And I became to the Jews as a Jew in order that I might gain the Jews; to those under the law as under the law, [though not being myself under the law], in order that I might gain them that are under the law” (translation mine, R.D.D.).
It ought to be noted that the clause which appears in brackets is omitted in the Ring James Version. We have included it in our translation because it has good support in the manuscripts; i.e., the better and more reliable of the manuscripts include it. To this Charles Hodge adds, “The internal evidence is also in its favor. It was important for Paul to say that although acting us under the law, he was not under it; because it was a fundamental principle of the gospel which he preached, that believers are freed from the law. ‘We are not under law, but under grace,’ Rom. 6:14. It was necessary, therefore, that his compliance with the Jewish law should be recognized as a matter of voluntary concession” (Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 164). With this we agree. It was necessary for the Apostle to make this disclaimer lest the Gentile Christians be left with the wrong impression. Likewise the Jewish Christians must not misunderstand and be led to think that in some sense they were still “under the law.”
It ought also be noted that the second main clause of this explains the first clause. The text, therefore, must be understood as follows: “And I became to the Jews, i.e., to those under the law, as a Jew, i.e., as under the law; though not being myself under the law; that I might gain the Jews, i.e., those under the law.”
By “law” the Apostle does not refer to the moral law of the ten commandments. The law of God in this sense obligates all men to love God with all their hearts, minds, souls and to love the neighbor as themselves. That the Scriptures teach that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (cf. Romans 10:4), no one can deny. But this does not mean that the law of God summed in the ten commandments is abrogated or abolished. Not at all! The moral law of God never had any meaning or significance apart from Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament era it pointed Israel to their sin, their inability to serve God, and thus their inability to save themselves. The law for the Old Testament saint was the schoolmaster, the tutor, which led him to Christ in Whom alone he could be saved! (cf.Galatians 3:24). This same law of God as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Who was delivered on account of our offenses and raised again on account of our justification (Romans 4:25), is a summary expression of the will of God for the redeemed in Christ. The law is the standard according to which the people of God in Christ are called to live in obedience to the God of their salvation. As such, that law of God has become the guide for the Christian’s life of thankfulness to God for the salvation graciously given him in Christ. Precisely because he is a new creature in Christ, saved by grace through faith, the child of God is called to walk in those good works which God has before ordained that he should walk in them (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). The standard by which a work is judged to be good is the law of the ten commandments. This law of God remains in force. When the Apostle says, therefore, “though not being myself under the law,” he does not mean that he is free from the obligation to love God and his neighbor.
By “law” the text refers to the typical civil and especially the ceremonial laws under which Israel, the typical Kingdom of God, was governed in the Old Testament era. That law included the ‘tabernacle and later the temple and its service; the prophets, priests, and kings; the many sacrifices; the typical feasts (e.g. the Passover); and the typical rites such as circumcision. Included too were the laws concerning diet, the distinction between the clean and unclean animals, the latter of which were not to be eaten by the Israelite. All of these pointed to Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. These laws were fulfilled in Christ Who was once offered to bear the sins of many. The types and shadows or pictures of the Old Testament are no longer necessary because the reality to which they pointed, viz., Christ, has come and redeemed the elect in His cross and resurrection. When Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover feast in the upper room in Jerusalem in the night of His betrayal it was the last Passover. In its place our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper. Why? Because Christ, the Lamb without spot and blemish, to Whom the Passover pointed was slain on the cross the very next day. When Jesus accomplished redemption for His people, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Why? Because Christ bad opened the way through His shed blood into the holiest of all. Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit all of God’s people are prophets speaking God’s praises, priests consecrating themselves in God’s service, and kings ruling over the works of God’s hands. No more sacrifices need be made because the sacrifice which forever frees God’s people from sin and death has been made. This is what the Apostle means by “law.” The Jews to whom he preached were “under” that law, which is to say, they were still observing that law. The Apostle was no longer “under” that law.
Even though he was not under the law the Apostle writes, “to the Jews became I as a Jew . . . to those under the law as under the law.” What does he mean by this? Before that question be answered positively it must be understood what Paul does notmean. He does not mean that he accommodated himself to Jewish ritual and practice by compromising the principles of the truth of the gospel either in doctrine or in walk of life! This is something the Apostle never did. This is something no missionary or preacher may do. Consistently and faithfully, often though it meant great peril, Paul preached the whole counsel of God. He never shrank from that. The great themes of Paul’s preaching and teaching were always sin and grace. The record of the Book of Acts and his Epistles bear abundant testimony to this. He did this in spite of bitter opposition. and knowing full well that the gospel which he preached was to the unbelieving Jew a stumbling block and to the Greek foolishness. Even though it meant prison, torture, and even death the Apostle never compromised the truth. Missionaries must follow this example. A gospel of compromise and accommodation is a false gospel. Nothing is ever gained by such a gospel. The gospel must be preached. That gospel always condemns all that is of sin and evil. That gospel never comes with a “both . . . and,” but always with an “either. . . or”—either God or the devil, Christ or Belial, faith or unbelief. That gospel always preaches the name of Jesus, the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. The gospel always demands faith and repentance. The gospel always commands all men everywhere to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. It calls God’s elect in every nation under heaven to come out from among the unbelieving world and be separate. The gospel proclaims that all that is in the unbelieving world is the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life. It demands, therefore, that we love not that world (I John 2:15-17). The absolute sovereignty of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and the total depravity of man outside of Christ is the message of the gospel. It brooks no compromise. This was the gospel Paul preached to the Jews. This is the gospel the church through its missionaries must preach.
Positively, what the Apostle means is that when he labored and lived among the Jews, he lived as a Jew. In matters indifferent (adiaphora) Paul observed Jewish custom. The Apostle taught in the Jewish synagogues every time he had opportunity. He upon occasion went to the temple in Jerusalem. He preached Christ crucified out of the Old Testament Scriptures. In matters of food and drink, circumcision, etc. Paul lived as a Jew. Though he was free to eat whatever meat he wished he abstained from eating that which according to Levitical Law was unclean. According to Acts 16 Paul had Timothy circumcised so as to give no offence to the Jews. On the other hand, because of false brethren who insisted on the necessity of circumcision, Paul refused to compel Titus to be circumcised. Over this issue he had to “withstand Peter to his face” (cf. Galatians 2). To the Jew he became as a Jew even though he had been made free, from all of those laws by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. In this way the Apostle took great care not to offend the Jews, “his kinsmen according to the flesh.” After this example missionaries must conduct themselves. In matters indifferent, in customs not forbidden by the Word of God, they must live as Jamaicans or Singaporeans. They must give no unnecessary offense.
Paul’s purpose in so conducting himself among the Jews was this: “in order that I might gain the Jews, i.e., them who are under the law.” The verb “gain” must be taken in the sense of “save.” The Apostle desires the salvation of those to whom God sends him to preach. He knows only the elect will be saved and the rest damned. Let that be because he does not corrupt the Word of God (cf. II Corinthians 2:14-17).
(to be continued)