1 Corinthians 9:19-23
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more.
Paul's resolve to preach the gospel without charge was but one instance of the general rule which guided his life. Though under obligation to none, he yet became the servant of all - "all things to all men." He accommodated himself to the Jews (ver. 20), as when he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3) and purified himself in the temple (Acts 21:26). He accommodated himself to the Gentiles (ver. 21), by refusing to impose the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:5) and by meeting them on their own ground (Acts 17:22-31). He accommodated himself to the weak (ver. 22), as when he abstained from meat because of their scruples (1 Corinthians 8:13). Consider -
I. ACCOMMODATION AS A RULE OF MINISTERIAL PRACTICE. There is a high sense in which every minister of Christ is called to become "all things to all men." We are to adapt ourselves to the circumstances, modes of thought, and even the harmless prejudices of those among whom we labour. In dealing with human souls, we must not stand upon points of etiquette, but be ready when occasion requires to sacrifice our preferences and sometimes our rights. This principle will cover matters of dress and modes of living, as also our choice of recreation and amusement. William Burns, missionary to China, adopted the Chinese dress that he might the more easily gain access to the people. On the same ground we shall present the truth in language which our hearers understand, whether they are children or adults. This happy faculty of adaptation has frequently proved of great service to the gospel.
II. LIMITS TO BE OBSERVED IN FOLLOWING THIS RULE. The highest things may frequently be mistaken for the lowest. Christian accommodation may be confounded with time serving, but nothing is more unlike. The man whose principles are flexible, who trims and carves to serve his purpose, who is a devout Christian in this company and a railing scoffer in that, may be said to be "all things to all men;" but such a man is a mere jelly fish character, a mass of moral pulp. For such accommodation as Paul practised there is needed the highest principle, the strongest consistency; and in order to this, certain limits are to be observed.
1. It must not lead us to do or tolerate that which is sinful. This limit is transgressed by Jesuit missionaries when they suffer their converts to retain part of their old idolatrous worship.
2. It must not lead us to keep back any essential truth because it is unpopular. This were cowardice and infidelity to cur trust.
3. It must not lead us to do anything which would compromise the Christian name. "Let not your good be evil spoken of" (Romans 14:16).
III. MOTIVES THAT PROMPT US TO FOLLOW THIS RULE. These are:
1. A desire to save others. It is not a wish to please men, but a desire to remove every hindrance to the reception of the gospel. With this end in view, we shall not find it difficult to become "all things to all men." A human soul is not too dearly won at the cost of a little self sacrifice. In this aspect the rule we are considering is but a faint copy of the great accommodation - the incarnation and work of Jesus Christ.
2. A regard to our personal salvations. (Ver. 23.) Paul connects his work "for the gospel's sake" with his being a "joint partaker" of its blessings. In work for the good of others we must not be unmindful of our own good; and there is nothing more conducive to our spiritual benefit than faithful, self denying service for Christ. "Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16). - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.