Though I am free of obligation to anyone, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
I. INSTANCES OF MINISTERIAL ADAPTATION. Paul's was a very varied life and ministry; he was brought into association with all sorts and conditions of men. Himself a Jew by birth, he was yet the apostle of the Gentiles, and he was equally at home with those of either race. Himself a scholar, he was prepared to deal with rabbis and with philosophers; yet he delighted to minister to the rudest barbarians. In this passage Paul mentions three instances of his pliancy.
1. To the Jews he was a Jew, i.e. he openly honoured the Divine Law given to Moses; and not only so, in certain circumstances he observed the ceremonies of his nation. This is evident in his circumcising Timothy, and in his shearing his hair and fulfilling a vow.
2. To those without the Law, outside its pale and regimen, he became as one of themselves, i.e. he was superior to many of the petty prejudices and indifferent to many of the customary observances of his fellow countrymen. How he adapted himself to the Greeks may be seen from his preaching upon the Areopagus at Athens.
3. To the weak he became as weak; e.g. in the matter treated in the preceding chapter, he had shown his consideration and condescension in refraining from eating what might possibly be ceremonially defiled.
II. THE PURPOSES SOUGHT BY THIS COURSE OF MINISTERIAL ADAPTATION. He was "free" in so far as, by refusing support from his converts, he left himself at liberty to act as he thought fit; yet he made himself "a slave" for the sake of those whose welfare he sought. The aim he set before him was one which justified the use of the means he describes.
1. He desired to gain some. Whatever he might lose, it was his hope and purpose to "win souls" - a rich recompense and an abundant compensation for all his losses.
2. He desired to save some. This is a stronger expression, for it implies the peril to which the hearers of the gospel were exposed whilst they remained in unbelief, and it implies the happiness, security, and dignity to which those were brought who received the Word.
3. He did what he did for the gospel's sake. For his own advantage he would never have submitted to all which he willingly endured because of his attachment to the truth in Christ Jesus.
4. Yet there was a personal aim before him. He hoped to be partaker himself with his converts of the blessings of the great salvation. His own interests were bound up with theirs, and it was ever his hope to share in the joys of that time when "he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together." - T.
For if I do this thing willingly I have a reward.I. WHEREIN IT CONSISTS.
1. A willing service.
2. Without respect to fee or reward.
3. He may receive but must not bargain for it.
II. ITS IMPORTANCE.
1. If pure, Christ will reward him.
2. If impure, his service is merely professional and has its reward.
III. ITS PRESENT RECOMPENSE.
1. Freedom from all imputation of mercenary motives.
2. The free dispensation of the gospel.
3. The consciousness of his own integrity.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)i.e., if it were optional with him to preach or not to preach, then it would be a ground of boasting; but if he did it unwillingly, i.e., if it were not optional with him (as was in fact the case), he was only discharging an official duty, and had nothing to boast of. That Paul preached the gospel willingly, that he esteemed it his highest joy and glory, is abundantly evident (Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 1:15, 16; Ephesians 3:8). The difference, therefore, here expressed between "willing" and "unwilling," is not the difference between cheerfully and reluctantly, but between optional and obligatory. He says he had a "dispensation" or stewardship committed to him. Stewards were commonly slaves. There is a great difference between what a slave does in obedience to a command, and what a man volunteers to do of his own accord. And this is the difference to which the apostle refers. So Paul was commanded to preach the gospel, and he did it with his whole heart; but he was not commanded to refuse to receive a support from the churches. The former, therefore, was not a ground of boasting, not a thing for which he could claim the reward of special confidence; the latter was. He could appeal to it as a proof, not only of his obedience, but of the purity of the motive which prompted that obedience. A physician may attend the sick from the highest motives, though he receives a remuneration for his services. But when he attends the poor gratuitously, though the motives may be no higher, the evidence of their purity is placed beyond question. Paul's ground of glorying, therefore, was not preaching, for that was a matter of obligation; but his preaching gratuitously, which was altogether optional. He gained something by it. He gained the confidence even of his enemies. But as preaching was not optional but obligatory, he did not gain confidence by it. The principle on which the apostle's argument is founded is recognised by our Lord in Luke 17:10.
(C. Hodge, D. D.)
For though I be free fromI. ITS NATURE. Freedom —
1. As far as possible from personal obligation.
2. In the declaration of Divine truth.
3. In the conscientious discharge of duty.
II. ITS USE. In the service of all —
1. By patient toil.
2. By forbearance.
3. By Christian compliances.
III. ITS MOTIVE.
1. Christ's honour.
2. In the gain of souls.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. It is a service for the GAINING OF MEN. "That I might gain the more." The "more" what? Not the gaining the more wealth, fame, or pleasure; but the gaining of men. Christ says, "Thou hast gained thy brother." There is a way of winning a man. Morally man is lost. No work in the universe is higher than this — to gain a man, to recover him to the true spirit and mission of life.
II. It is a service INDEPENDENT OF MEN. "Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all." Oh, how this high service has been degraded by the crowds of craven and mercenary souls that have pushed themselves into it! I am "free from all men," says Paul. "I made myself servant." I was not made by human authority, I was not pushed into it by others, "I made myself." A man by God's grace must make himself for the work.
III. It is a service for UNIVERSAL MAN. "Unto all." All men, not to any particular tribe, sect, or nation, but to all, rich and poor, high and low, cultured and rude.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
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