Win: Soul Winning Strategy
"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" (1 Corinthians 9:21-22).
Win: Soul Winning Strategy
These verses tell us Paul's strategy for soul winning. Paul was already a Jew, so when he said that he "became as a Jew, in order to win Jews" (1 Corinthians 9:21), he didn't mean that he had petitioned the local synagogue for membership. Paul was speaking culturally. He meant that when he was with Jews he behaved as they did. Paul observed the laws and customs they observed because he didn't want anything to get in the way of his presentation of the gospel. He didn't want them to discount his testimony for any reason. He wanted them to think well of him.
Win Under the law
Next, to those "under the law" -- he already mentioned the Jews, so who was he talking about here? Paul clearly understood that there were only two classes of human beings -- the saved and the lost, covenant keepers and covenant breakers. Thus, he was extending the reach of the gospel by defining and using the terms (words) he defined. He could act like a Jew because he was a Jew. He didn't say that to the Egyptians he would become as an Egyptian, nor to the Greeks that he would become as a Greek.
Rather, he was saying when he was with those who obeyed the law and used obedience to the law as a fellowship shield, or a symbol of community identity, he would then also obey the law. What law? God's Old Testament law. Even though he understood himself not to be under the law, he obeyed it because obeying it in their presence would further the gospel.
To those who were "outside the law," those who rejected strict obedience to God's law -- not criminals, not rapists, thugs and murders, but people who didn't believe that complete conformity to Old Testament law was a requirement for salvation -- to these people Paul became as one outside the law. He agreed with them that obedience to the law was not a way of salvation. And yet he understood himself not to be "outside the law of God but under the law of Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
He was not under the law, nor was he outside the law. Rather, he was under the law of Christ. It wasn't that Paul agreed with various people as they spouted the so-called cultural wisdom of whatever social or ethnic group they identified with, not at all. Paul was not being culturally relative. He was not suggesting that all cultures are equally valuable. Rather, he was saying that there are some elements of Jewish practice and culture that are okay in Christ. The Jewish culture provided the context for these comments.
Jews did not have to give up everything Jewish to become Christians. Those who found life in obedience to God's commandments do not have to give up God's commandments to be Christians. And those who were burdened by the law, burdened by trying to live in obedience to every detail of the Old Testament law did not have to accomplish every jot and tiddle of the law to be Christians. Salvation was not a function of being Jewish, nor a function of obedience to the law, nor a function of the disregard of the law. Salvation was a function of Jesus Christ, period.
These verses reflect Paul's understanding of how Jesus Christ changed the relationship of God's people to Old Testament law. It is beyond our purposes here to discuss how Jesus Christ's fulfillment of the law effected the relationship of God's people to the law. But suffice it to say, as Paul says here, that Christians do not need to be Jewish, they do not need to be slaves to Old Testament law, but nor are they completely free of God's law because Christians are under the law of Christ. Christ changed the relationship of the Christian to God's law, but He did not negate it. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ," (Galatians 6:2) Paul wrote to the Galatians. The relationship between God's people and God's law changed with the propitiation of Christ on the cross. That is what Paul was talking about in these verses.
Win those who are weak
He went on. "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" (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul became feeble, impotent, sick, and without power or strength in order to win to Christ those who were feeble, impotent, sick, and without power or strength. Paul was a superstar, but he didn't act like a superstar. He always acted with humility. So, when he was with the downtrodden, he could relate to them because he was also downtrodden.
Yet, Paul was a superstar. He went on to talk about running a race, and that only one person would win the first place prize, only one person would wear the first place medallion or wreath. Comparing the walk of faithfulness with a foot race he encouraged believers to train hard, to exercise self-discipline in all things as both a method of training for faithfulness and as a lifestyle of faithfulness.
"So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air" (1 Corinthians 9:26). The walk of faithfulness was not without purpose or aim. It was not a matter of working for a goal that was out of reach. Unlike a foot race where only one runner would win, in the race of faithfulness, all who ran in faithfulness and righteousness in Christ were winners already. Nonetheless, Paul encouraged believers to put all of their strength and energy into their exercise of faithfulness. Don't slack off because you know that in Christ you cannot lose, but rather pull out all the stops and run as if your very life depends on winning the race -- because it does!
Christ expects His people to give themselves fully to the task of faithfulness. You may fool me. You may fool your parents or your boss that you are actually doing your very best, but you cannot fool God. He knows when you are holding back, when you could do better.
Finally, Paul said "I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). He was not saying "do as I say not as I do." But rather, he made himself a model of Christian behavior. If you want to know what Christian faithfulness looks like, look at Paul. He knew that people would not listen to him if he failed to model in his own life what he preached to others.
Does this only apply to preachers, only to those called into ministry? Not at all. Paul said that all Christians are called to the high calling of faithfulness. Mediocrity is not an option for Christians. Rather, Christians are called to be ordinary, not ordinary in the eyes of the world, not ordinary in the eyes of fellow Christians, but ordinary in the eyes of God. Living in faithfulness, running the race with all of our might and winning the imperishable wreath of salvation in Christ is exactly what ordinary Christians are called to.
If you really want to go for the gusto, go for Christ. Christ calls us to do more than we think we can. He calls us all to exceed our own expectations because He has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell with His people to accomplish for them -- for us -- what we cannot of ourselves accomplish. The church and all of God's people are one of the means that God uses to accomplish His will, and God will not fail. Praise be to God!