The All-Consuming Worthiness of the Gospel

1 Corinthians

Key verses in the lesson are 9:23,

Key verses in the lesson are

9:23, “So that I may become a fellow partaker of it;”

9:27 – “so that, . . . I myself will not be disqualified;”

10:31 –“Do all to the glory of God.”


I. The Character of our freedom in Christ. (9:19-23)

A. Paul has no boundary in issues of culture but has become everyman. He will not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). He does not set his mind on earthly things, his citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). In every culture, however, there are things in which one may participate without conforming to worldliness. The gospel has made him a citizen of heaven and free from all men, yet in this world he finds points of identification that do not involve moral evil or present a challenge to true holiness in order that he might “win the more.”

  1. (Verse 20) -To win the Jews Paul went to the synagogue to hear the Scripture expounded and in order to gain his turn in teaching. When he carried Timothy with him, in order for Timothy to be with him in all venues, he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). To avoid the charge that he was antagonistic to the law of Moses he went along with men who had taken a vow during the days of purification, paid their fees, and took vows with them. He did this only to commend himself to the Jews so that they would know that his views of the Messiah were not antagonistic, but congenial to, the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-24).
  2. (Verse 21) – When among the Gentiles he lived as one “outside the law.”
  • Paul would eat what was set before him without attention to dietary laws (1 Corinthians 9:3, 4; 10:27).
  • Nor would Paul consider them as unclean because of their “uncircumcised” status (Romans 2:28).
  • He went to their great centers of conversation and discussion, mixed freely with them, and even reprimanded Peter when he fearfully separated himself from the Gentiles in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).
  • He gloried in his position as an apostle to the Gentiles (1 Timothy 2:5-7; Galatians 2:8, 9), and saw that his message to them was the revelation of a mystery hidden from before the ages (Ephesians 3:3-7; Colossians 1:24-29).
  • His being “without law” referred to the peculiarities of culture that resulted from careful attention to the ceremonial law, dietary laws, and varieties of vows, manners of greeting, etc.
    • Among Jews, to these he would conform. Among Gentiles, from these he could conscientiously dissociate himself.
    • The moral law, however, as it was binding on all men in all places at all times was not to be violated; In fact, its usefulness for true holiness was now enhanced by the gospel of Christ. As Christ has honored the Law, so should we.
    • It is this law that brought the entire world under condemnation (Romans 3:19, 20; Ephesians 5:3-6) and it was by perfect obedience to this law that Christ obtained the merit by which we are justified (Romans 5:18).
    • The Spirit gives us holiness and conformity to Christ by operating in such a way that the law is not violated and its true internal fountain is reestablished in the lives of the saints (Galatians 5:19-23; Ephesians 4:20-24; 5:8-10).
  1. To the weak, he became weak. Paul knew that God had chosen the weak in this world to put to shame the supposedly strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Though he could have been virtually incomprehensible in the intellectual sophistication with which he presented the gospel in the context of world cultures and other learned teachers, he determined to stay with the straightforward proclamation of the events of the cross and their power to forgive sins (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). This in itself, however, was nothing merely elementary, but was filled with eternal wisdom.
  2. Paul did not place any false barrier in the way of a person’s hearing the gospel. He placed no irrelevant barrier either before himself in being able to go to them, or before them in being able to make their way to hear him. His chief purpose was not self-protection of any sort, but that he might establish the opportunity for the salvation that only the gospel brings to as many people as possible.

B. The superiority of the gospel drives him to this course of life. This is what the gospel itself required of him. If he retained any of the self-righteousness, unwarranted separatism, prideful self-accomplishment as giving him any distinction above any other group of people, he had not yet embraced the gospel in its full implications. He must, on that account, consider these things as less than nothing, even damning in their maintenance, if he preferred them to Christ. Both his call to salvation as well as his call to be an apostle involved setting these things aside. Should he refuse, he would show an absence of repentance: “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”


II. Free Grace produces unrelenting labor. (9:24-27)

A. Paul uses athletic analogies to show that discipline is a common commitment for all those who have some uncommon accomplishment before them.

  1. He uses the analogy of a race in which only one person wins. He is not saying that only one person is going to heaven and we should try to be that one person. He is saying that we should treat our lives as if there were only one goal to which we aspired, and nothing should drag us down from that height of desire. No relenting short of the finish line of heaven and the presence of God.
  2. “The games” refers to something akin to the Olympic games. Specific rules for training govern participation; For months, if not years, these athletes allow nothing to interrupt their training so that the wreath of victory may be theirs. If such self-discipline is possible to gain earthly recognition and adulation symbolized in a perishable wreath, by how much more should we make it our one concern in life to be trained in accordance with the principles of repentance toward God, faith in Jesus Christ, and mortification of sin by the Spirit. “If we live by the Spirit,” and the saved do live because of the life-giving Spirit, “let us also walk in the Spirit.” That is, the one who has given us life should be the one through whom we have restored the fullness of true devotion to God, pure praise of his character, and conformity of mind and affections to the hope of heaven (1 John 3: 1-9).

B. (Verse 27) Even though Paul is an apostle, he is not exempt from the normal persevering discipline intrinsic to the Christian life.

  1. Paul himself engaged in such discipline. The special gifts that accompanied his apostolic ministry were not necessarily indicators of his true life in Christ. Even Judas was granted power to preach, heal, and cast out demons. Even so, like all other Christians, Paul must pursue the discipline indicative of a changed heart toward God. Repentance from sin now is a way of life; pursuit of the perfections of Christ is now the highest call that we have; a continuous fight through the power of the Holy Spirit against indwelling sin and all of it subtle, felonious, corrupting deceitfulness we must pursue until the last bell. This is no mere shadow-boxing, not just “beating the air,” but seeking to give a death-blow to a real opponent who is out after our lives. Though an apostle, if Paul himself did not persist in this struggle against the love of the world (1 John 2:15), the corruption of indwelling sin (Romans 7:21-23), and fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16) in the end he would be “unapproved” in his faith, tested and found wanting.
  2. Paul continues this direction in his argument throughout chapter 10 and issues a warning to the Corinthians in 10: 12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” The children of Israel had numerous and highly impressive advantages to know and follow God (10:1-4) but they frittered away the advantages by their love of sin and, therefore, “with most of them God was not well-pleased.”
  3. Many pitfalls confront us along the way, so that those whose repentance is not sincere and whose faith is merely notional will fall away. But for those upon whom God’s converting favor rests Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (10:13). The First London Confession has this lovely article: “Those that have this precious faith wrought in them by the Spirit, can never finally nor totally fall away; and though many storms and floods do arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon, but shall be kept by the power of God to salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being formerly engraven upon the palms of God’s hands.”


III. The Highest good is the glory of God. (10:31 – 11:1)

A. When we use the gifts of God, we must recognize that they are designed to give him glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1); or as Paul reminds us in 10:26 in his quotation of Psalm 24:1, “For the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” When viewed within its proper sphere and utilized for fitting purposes, we celebrate all things as conducting us to celebrate God’s glory. That must be our intention.

B. When we consider other people, we look to their well-being, not ours.

  1. Paul did not seek to give offense to the Jews. His offense to the Jews came only at the point of their rejection of the message that their long-awaited Messiah had come. They missed redemption because they did not view him as a sufferer for sins; they did not embrace their own need for redemption and thus fell short of it.
  2. Paul did not seek to give offense to the Greeks. In all matters of culture that did not involve violation of the moral law of God, Paul mingled among the Greeks and other Gentiles with the intention of achieving a strategic advantage in propagating the gospel among them.
  3. Paul sought to avoid any offense to the church of God. He is expanding the principle announced in 10:24, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” To both the strong and the weak, Paul saw himself as servant. Even if his own conscience was clear concerning certain activities, he would reduce the perimeter of his freedom for the sake of the well-being of one of the redeemed ones of Christ. He would do this even though the conviction of another did not make a thing wrong for him (10:24-30).

4.  (Verse 33) All that he did was done in an effort to optimize his opportunity for preaching the gospel. Even so, the rule of our action should not be to spread our personal freedoms as wide as possible even if others are offended. The foundation should be first of all, living to the glory of God, and then, do all things for the eternal good of our neighbor. This is Paul’s application in gospel ministry of the two great commandments to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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