A reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, February 7, 2021
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (NRSVA)
Paul is at work. The Apostle has been, as he says, ‘entrusted with a commission’.
Clearly he believes this is sourced beyond himself. He cannot boast about his accomplishments for they are primarily ‘obligation’.
Paul is compelled.
As such his reward is far beyond financial incentive. Payment is found in his provision of the gospel ‘free of charge’.
And in all this Paul knows he has the ‘right’ to be paid. Yet strangely, he delights in ‘not’ making ‘full use’ of this entitlement.
Predictably for those who know Paul, this curbing of his God-won freedom for the sake of others, in not limited to payment. It is a way of life – one that extends from his commitment to follow the God he has come to know in Jesus.
Jesus gave himself for others out of love. His Apostle will do the same.
So Paul can claim that he is both ‘free’ and a ‘slave to all’. This taking up of the servant’s role is genuinely done for others. He desires to ‘win’ over every person he comes across. Jews. Those living under the Mosaic law. Those beyond the law of Moses. The weak.
Paul is prepared to ‘become all things to all people’.
It is his act of service – to God and to others. His reward is simply ‘…to share in its blessings’.
What freedom the apostle must enjoy!
As you read this passage, what aspects of it make you appreciate the freedom Paul claims? What aspects of it make you question his level of freedom?
What do you believe true freedom is? How can the Apostle see freedom as service to God and others?
When do you feel most free?