Freed to be a Slave
Freed to Be a Slave (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
The gospel is filled with paradoxes. To live you must die. To be filled you must be empty. To be exalted you must be humble. To be the chief one must be a servant. Paul touched on one such apparent contradiction in 1 Corinthians 9:19. The Christian is free from all people but a voluntary slave to all people. The motive for this voluntary servitude is to win more for Christ. The Christian willingly surrenders personal freedom to attract non-Christians to Christ and the gospel. The Christian accommodates himself/ herself to the race, customs, and peculiarities of other people to advance the gospel. The Christian chooses to be enslaved to the needs of others to bring them to Christ.
The Authentic Christian Experiences Liberation
You can know the reality of freedom. Paul asked, "Am I not free?" (v. 1). It is an axiom of Christianity that Jesus Christ emancipates, frees. The scope of that freedom is, "all things," "all persons." The Christian is extricated from all entangling ties. The believer is free from all ultimate dependence on other people. The Christian is free from guilt of the past, the tyranny of sin's power in the present, and fear of judgment in the future. The Christian is free from the written law code of God (Eph. 2:15). The Christian is free from every human being in a direct relationship with God. Paul experienced and you should experience the gospel as an exhilarating freedom.
You should know the reversal of that freedom. "I make myself a slave to everyone" (v. 19). You cannot surrender what you never really had. The Christian is actually free but deliberately becomes a slave to others. The Christian, while free, nevertheless serves others in love (Gal. 5:13), bears with the failings of the weak (Rom. 15:1), and even washes the feet of the disciples (John 13:12). While free from all things and all people, the Christian submits himself to others.
You should know the reason for this reversal. The Christian does not serve others out of a weak self-image or a guilt trip. The believer serves others with a very precise goal— to win more people to Christ than otherwise would be possible. We do not practice service for service's sake. We submit in order to win people to Christ.
The Liberated Christian Practices Accommodation
In order to win many to Christ, you may accommodate yourself to the tradition, religion, and even the superstition of others. Paul gives tangible evidence of his willingness to surrender rights, to adjust behavior, and to bend his life-style to reach others with the gospel.
You may accommodate yourself to tradition. "To the Jews became like a Jew" (v. 20). Paul had been freed from the narrow, cramping, confining trivia of Jewish religious tradition. He was so free he felt as if he had lost a dead body tied to his very back (Rom. 7). Judaism was no longer real to him, but he would have dumped certain Jewish traditions to win a Jew to Christ. Thus, Paul was willing to circumcise Timothy (Acts 13:3), shave his head as a Jewish vow (18:18), or join four Jews in a temple ceremony by paying for their sacrifice (Acts 21:17-26). Although he was free, Paul subjected himself to personally repugnant religious customs to reach others for Christ.
You may accommodate yourself to religion. When Paul desired to win those who kept the strict code of Moses, he observed the details of the law. He did this even though he was dead to the law (Rom. 7:4), knew the law was abolished (Eph. 2:15), and cancelled by being nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). On the other hand, when Paul was with pagans who had no written law from God, he lived as if there were no written law. He quoted pagan poets, took as his text a pagan inscription, and appealed to nature and common sense. He even changed his own name from the Hebrew Saul to the Greek Paul in order to connect with the pagan world (Acts 13).
You may accommodate yourself to superstition. "To the weak I became weak" (1 Cor. 9:22). To those who abstain from certain foods, beverages, and days out of superstitious scruples, Paul adapted his personal behavior. Even though he was free to eat, drink, or do anything moral on any day he bent to the needs of the timid and half-enlightened. He had the right to give up his rights.
The Genuine Believer Shapes Life for the Gospel's Sake
Paul enlarges his frame of reference. He not only does some things but all things for the sake of the gospel. He decided where he goes, with whom he spends his time, when he does things, and how he does them—only as this is measured by impact on the gospel.
This willingness is not unrelated to personal salvation. Paul spends everything on the gospel in order that he "share in its blessings" (v. 23). It is necessary to live for the gospel in order to be a partaker of the gospel. If you refuse to accommodate yourself to anything or anyone for the gospel, you give evidence that you have no share in the gospel. Where does your life bend for the sake of the gospel? It must bend indeed if you partake of the personal blessings of the gospel.