For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, 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 not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV
Paul knew his rights all too well. But he didn’t let his rights get in the way or become a hindrance to his God-given assignment to share the gospel. In fact, Paul says that he made himself a servant to all. The Greek word he uses is δουλόω (douloō), which means “to make a slave of” (“G1402 – douloō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 16 Aug, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org). Metaphorically, which is how Paul uses it here, it meant to “give myself wholly to one’s needs and service, make myself a bondman to him). As far as Paul was concerned, he would rather consider himself a slave to everyone, than to demand his rights or selfishly flaunt his freedoms in Christ. In fact, while he understood himself to be “free from all”, free from their judgment, criticism, demands, legalistic requirements, false accusations, and unrealistic expectations, he willingly chose to serve them. He even describes what he means by that. When he was with the Jews, he lives like a Jew, even though he was free from having to do so. When in their company, he would keep the law, out of a desire to win them to Christ. When he was with Gentiles, he would set aside the law of Moses, because they were not obligated to keep it (and neither was he). Instead, he would live under the law of Christ – the law of love. Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). This is the exact opposite of how the Pharisees lived. Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4 ESV).
Paul’s philosophy of ministry and life was simple: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV). His ultimate goal was their salvation. His freedoms took a back seat in order that he might see them find freedom from sin and death through faith in Christ. Everything he did was for the sake of the gospel. To him, it was unacceptable to think of putting his needs above those of others, either the saved or the lost. He spent his life selflessly sacrificing himself and putting his needs and rights in second place. He describes the impact this attitude had on his life in his second letter to the Corinthians:
I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
Why was Paul willing to go through all of this? So that he might share the gospel with those who had not yet heard it. As he so clearly states, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV). He had experienced the blessings of the gospel first hand and was not willing for anyone to miss out on hearing the same message that had radically transformed his life. It is interesting to note that many of us, while highly appreciative of what the gospel has done for us, are unwilling to share it with others. We allow our rights and freedoms to get in the way and hinder us from telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ. We feel we have a right not to associate with those who don’t believe as we do. But Paul would ask us, “how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT). We are not free to do as we please. We have an obligation, an assignment from God, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have been given a job to do. “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT).
We exist for the sake of the gospel. We sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. We die to self for the sake of the gospel. We give up our rights for the sake of the gospel. We forego our freedoms for the sake of the gospel. We do all things for the sake of the gospel.