With this article we conclude our brief series on I Corinthians 9:19-23. The passage reads: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”
This passage teaches a number of truths applicable to the office of the minister of the Word, especially the missionary pastor. Though he was under obligation to no man the Apostle Paul has made himself a slave to all (I Cor. 9:19). The Apostle’s credentials were impeccable. God in Jesus Christ had called him to preach the gospel, and this he has faithfully done. In all his preaching and work the Apostle has provided for his own earthly needs even though he had every right to the support of the churches. He has given his entire life to the cause of the gospel and of the church of Jesus Christ. Freely he has made himself a slave to all classes of people. To the Jews the Apostle became as a Jew. He conformed to Jewish civil and ceremonial law, living as a Jew. On the other hand, when the Apostle labored among the Gentiles (“them that are without law”— I Cor. 9:21) he became as a Gentile. He refused to be encumbered by Jewish tradition, custom, and law and he refused to burden the Gentiles with Jewish law. To the weak (i.e. those who could not in good conscience eat meat sacrificed to idols, cf. chapter 8) the Apostle became as weak. In all of this the Apostle never compromised the truth of the Gospel. Both in doctrine and in life Paul insisted on the truth of the Gospel. He was not as many who corrupt the Word. Rather he faithfully preached Christ crucified to whomever God led him. Publicly and privately, in synagogues and streets, in private homes and by the river’s side, to the common people and to the learned on Mars’ hill, from Jerusalem to Rome, the Apostle as a slave to all declared the whole counsel of God. In matters indifferent, matters not affecting the truth of Gods Word, the Apostle lived as those to whom he was preaching. His purpose was to give no offense. His heart’s desire was to save those to whom he preached.
In I Cor. 9:22, 23 the Apostle sums the whole matter. He writes: “. . . to all I have been made all things, in order that by all means I might save some. But I do all these things for the benefit of (or for the sake of) the gospel, in order that I might become co-partner of it with you” (translation mine, R.D.D.). That the Apostle was made all things to all men does not mean that he compromised the truth of the Gospel or excused or ignored ungodly living. Nor does this mean that Paul ever “watered down” the message of the Gospel. Certainly the Apostle adapted his preaching to those to whom he preached. When, for example, he preached in a Jewish synagogue he expounded the Old Testament Scriptures. To the Jews he preached Christ from the law and the prophets showing them that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of the types and shadows, “the end of the law to everyone that believeth.” But when Paul stood on Mars’ Hill in Athens preaching to the learned philosophers he pointed out the foolishness of their idolatry, proceeding from the truth that God is the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe in whom “all men live and move and have their being.” He fed those not able to bear the strong meat of the Word the milk of the Gospel. But, let it be emphasized once more, the Apostle never compromised. He was adamant in all his preaching and teaching. In the sharpest of terms and without fear Paul pointed to the sins and weaknesses of Gods people. He insisted on the sound doctrine of God’s infallible Word. He commanded those to whom he preached to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in the way of forsaking their idols and ungodly ways. His preaching always presented Christ crucified as the only way, truth, and life. In all matters indifferent and with all classes of people Paul was made all things.
This Paul did “for the benefit of the gospel” (I Cor. 9:23). He lived and labored and literally spent his entire life for the sake of the gospel. The cause of the gospel dominated the entire life of the Apostle. No sacrifice was too great for the sake of the gospel. To these same Corinthians Paul wrote: “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (II Corinthians 11:22-31).
Let every missionary and minister take to heart this confession of the Apostle. It came from the Spirit-inspired lips of one who received not a penny in salary from the churches though he had every right to “live by the gospel” which he faithfully preached! Sometimes, perhaps often, we who are called to preach the Word are inclined to complain. (The “we” is not editorial, I include myself.) Our workload is too great, or so we think. We do not appreciate living in the “glass house.” Our congregations expect too much from us. We have all kinds of meetings and classes to lead and teach during the week, yet the congregation expects two very good sermons Sunday after Sunday. There are sick to be visited, sorrowing saints to be comforted, weddings to perform and funerals, those in trouble or distress of one sort or another need pastoral care. There is other work such as writing for the church papers, serving on denominational committees, attending classis and synod, etc. All this and more is expected of us. And our salaries barely cover our needs. In the light of the example of the Apostle and the teaching of Scripture itself, dare we complain? As ministers, whether serving congregations or on the mission field or teaching in the Theological School, we are slaves (douloi) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. As slaves of Christ who laid down His life for His sheep we are slaves of those whom we serve. This means that our lives as ministers are not our own. We belong to Christ and to His church. Let us put away our complaining and make ourselves all things to all men for the benefit of the gospel. Let us do so even if it means we must lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel. For many of Gods faithful servants in the past this is the price they paid for the sake of the gospel. Think of the Apostles, the early church fathers, Martin Luther, Calvin who did much of his work in Geneva in bed because he was too sick to be up and about, Guido de Bres, De Cock, Van Raalte, Machen, et al. All these and more were by God’s grace slaves of God and His people for the gospel’s sake. They were willing to stand alone for the sake of the truth of the gospel. Where would the church be today had not God raised them up? The same may be said for our own Protestant Reformed fathers: Ophoff and Hoeksema, Vos, and the other older ministers who fought valiantly for the truth at great personal sacrifice. Shall we today complain? God forbid! Let us upon whom God has laid the sacred charge preach the Word. Be slaves of God and His church. And let us become all things to all men for the gospel’s sake.
The Apostle’s purpose in becoming all things to all men was twofold: “that by any means I might save some” and “that I become a co-partner of it (the gospel) with you.” This simply means the Apostle would do nothing to offend those to whom he preached. His overriding concern was that God would use him to save some to whom he preached. Along with that he was concerned that he himself in the way of faithfully preaching the Word would become partaker of the benefits of salvation with the saints.
This must be the attitude, the concern, the purpose of all of God’s servants in the ministry. When by the grace of God it is, God’s servants confess with the Apostle: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).