5.5 1 Corinthians -- Free From All, Slave to All

Paul was declaring the characteristics of his ministry, and the necessity he was under in preaching the Gospel.

           "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.... I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:19-22).

 

But isn't this dishonest?  Isn't he misrepresenting himself?  If you act like a Jew in order to convince Jews to believe in Jesus, aren't you a fake?  And the same in regard to Gentiles.  Does the end (saving some) justify any means (becoming all things)?  This is not a theoretical question, as we read in Acts 21, when Paul undertook Jewish purification rites at the urging of the Jerusalem Church elders.  That plan didn't work out so well.

          

But there is a sense in which Paul's conduct is modeled on Jesus' own life:

           Who, being in very nature God,
           did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
           but made himself nothing,
           taking the very nature of a servant,
           being made in human likeness (Phi 2:6-7).

Jesus was not nothing or a servant, but he made himself like us, not in condescension but in bearing the load with us and for us.  I think this is what Paul was attempting, rather than dissimulating.  Again in Acts, we see how he made a great effort to frame the Gospel in terms that the Athenians could understand and respond to, rather than coming at them with Jewish history and eschatology.  It is in this sense that he sought to "become all things to all men."  

        

The Gospel and its representatives cross all racial and national boundaries, compelling Paul to forsake his natural ties.  This makes him "free" of all men and of all human law, because his submission to Christ's law trumps all lesser loyalties.  This is true for all believers, then and now.  Membership in the Kingdom of God is a greater calling than ties to one's family, tribe or nation.  Every Christian is given a "passport" to represent Jesus Christ to people outside his own family and neighborhood.   This was Paul's conception of his own ministry:

          We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:20).