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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.
In chapter 8 our Apostle Paul has taught us that no Believer has the right to injure another person’s faith or spirit by exercising their liberty. We don’t have the right to make it difficult for a brother or sister in Christ Jesus to grow spiritually because of something we choose to do. If we do that, we not only sin against our brother or sister, but we also sin against the Lord. Paul calls every Believer to exercise self-control or to take care with their liberty in adjusting to the needs of someone weaker than ourselves.
In chapter 9, Paul is dealing with the Corinthian Believers who are struggling with this teaching. There were people in Corinth, as I am sure there are people today who are saying, “Well, I am not going to give up my rights. I’m free to eat and to drink and to attend various social gatherings. If this bothers some legalistic brother or sister or if they’re “hung-up” on these practices that’s not my fault; I’m going to enjoy myself.” These folks are actually saying they are too spiritually mature; too advanced in Scriptural knowledge to make any adjustments like that – too bad, so sad, about all the others who can’t catch up.
Last week we left Paul speaking of his joy in going about the Roman Empire giving lost people something for nothing. Paul shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest gifts God has given mankind, freeing them from bondage, healing them, helping them, and making them whole, if they would only believe. He did this without asking for a single penny from those he ministered to, that, says Paul, was his delight.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 9:19:
1 Corinthians 9
19: For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20: To the Jews I became as a Jew, so I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21: to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22: To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23: I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
The primary reason Paul’s did not take full advantage of his liberty in Christ Jesus was that he might win more (v19). Paul was schooled in the O.T. Scriptures and is clearly drawing wisdom from Proverbs 11:30, as if from a well: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls. In any case he was willing to do anything and to sacrifice anything to win lost souls to Jesus Christ.
As far as his rights were concerned, he was free from all men, but because of his love for all people he gladly limited those rights for their sakes. Speaking figuratively, he had become a slave to all. This means he modified his daily habits and his choices if necessary should any of these cause someone to stumble, to be offended, or to be hindered from coming to the Lord. Paul was free to do as his believing conscience allowed, but his sincere concern and love for others would not permit him to do anything that might harm a weaker member of the church, Jew or Gentile, or an unbelieving pagan.
Under the Mosaic Law every Hebrew who was enslaved by another Hebrew had to be offered his freedom after six years. But if the enslaved person loved his master and preferred to remain in that household, he could become a permanent slave. If this was the case, his ear was pierced as a sign of his voluntary enslavement (Exodus 21:2-6).
In a figurative way Paul made himself such a slave to other men saying, “I have made myself a slave…” This is actually only two words in the Greek (Enoulosa) “I enslave,” and (Emauton) “myself.” That word for enslavement is very strong. It is used to describe Israel’s 400 year experience in Egypt (Acts 7:6); the marriage bond (1 Corinthians 7:15); an addiction to wine (Titus 2:3); and the Believer’s new relationship to righteousness (Romans 6:18). To be sure, it was no simple thing for Paul to enslave himself to all. But the Lord had taught: whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. (Mark 10:44)
To illustrate his voluntary slavery to all Paul mentions three ways in which he adapted, and would continue to adapt his life-style in order to help others be more receptive to the gospel. Take note: each one of these illustrations, like the principle statement (v19), ends with this reason, “that I might/may,” indicating his heart’s desire to win lost people to Christ.
To the Jews I became as a Jew – (20) this was within Scriptural limits, of course. Note his usage of the word “as” in verses 20-22. This doesn’t say Paul became a Jew, but as a Jew. This means he became as Jewish as necessary when working with them without disturbing his conscience. In Christ Jesus, Paul was no longer bound by the ceremonies, the Law, the rituals, or the traditions of Judaism. In other words, whether or not he followed a “special day” had no affect on his spiritual life, but if this simple act would open a door for his witnessing to a Jew Paul gladly obliged them.
If you were here for our study of Romans, then you’ll remember Paul saying this about his fellow Jews, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayers to God for them is for their salvation (Romans 10:1). Even if his preaching to the Gentiles caused some Jews to accept Jesus Christ because they were jealous, that was a good thing (Romans 11:14). Earlier in this letter Paul had wrote: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9:3). Paul was willing to “lay down his life” for his kinsmen.
If Paul was willing to do that for the sake of his brethren, he could certainly abide with their ceremonial regulations, observe a special day, or refrain from eating a certain food every now and again, if doing any of these things would help win those under the Law. We have some examples of Paul doing these very things in this book. When Paul wanted to take Timothy with him in his ministry he had him circumcised, “because of the Jews who were in those parts” where he intended to go (Acts 16:3). Timothy’s circumcision was of no spiritual benefit to him and certainly not to Paul, but it could be of great benefit to their ministry amongst the Jews. Therefore, it was a small “price to pay” for the hope of saving some.
Here’s another example – at the advice of James and other leaders of the Jerusalem church, Paul willingly paid for and participated in a Jewish purification ceremony with four other Jewish Christians. He took part in the ritual in order to prove to the Jewish critics of Christianity that he was not teaching Jews to completely abandon Moses in the O.T. law (Acts 21:20-27). I think we have time for one more: the special Jewish vow Paul took in Cenchrea may have been for the sake of Jews also (Acts 18:18). See also: Acts 16:3, 23:1-6.
To those who are without law – (v21) before the cross of Christ, mankind was divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. The O.T. and the N.T. both make very clear what caused this distinction: it was the covenants the LORD God had made with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob (in that order) and with their descendants through a man the LORD God called named Moses. These covenants were for the nation of Israel alone and separated her from all other nations on the earth, making her God’s chosen people.
Israel was “set apart” from other peoples by the Mosaic Law and by her special relationship with the One who calls Himself, “the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob” (Exodus 33:16; Leviticus 20:26; 2 Chronicles 17:21-22; Ephesians 2:11-12). After the cross, and after the conversion of our Apostle Paul, a new entity came into existence, one that had been kept hidden in the mind of God since the “foundation of the earth” – the church, or the Body of Christ. As a result, there are now three divisions of mankind: Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:32).
If you want to understand what you’re reading in your Bible, it’s absolutely essential to understand that these three groups coexist in the Dispensation of Grace. You also need to distinguish the differences between them and to recognize that God the Father deals with each differently. Essential also is an understanding that the church was created through offering to both Jews and Gentiles a New Covenant relationship with God. This did not bring the Gentiles under the Mosaic Law (as some teach), but delivered from it those coming into the church, through faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work of the cross, both Jew and Gentile alike, “for now there is no difference” (Romans 10:12; Ephesians 2:11-22).
Paul was willing to live like a Gentile when he working among the Gentiles. Paul makes it clear he’s not ignoring or violating God’s moral code. The Ten Commandments and all of God’s moral laws have, if anything, been strengthened under the New Covenant. For example, not only is it sin to commit murder but also to be angry with your brother or sister, calling either one a fool (Matthew 5:22). Not only is adultery sinful, but so is lust (Matthew 5:28). Love fulfills God’s moral law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 13:8, 10). Every single Believer in Christ Jesus is under the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). (Agape) Love and not the law is our guiding force.
As without law – this means Paul did not practice the special rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law among the Gentiles. He did not insist on them, or urge them, but showed that these had been done away with and they were no longer binding (Acts 15:10; Romans 3:20, 4:14-15, 6:14, 7:7:1-12; Galatians 2:19; Colossians 3:14).
Though not being without the law of God – here Paul is saying he does not regard himself as being absolutely without law or “free” from his obligation to obey God in all things. Paul didn’t want it said that he despised or disregarded God’s laws. Paul wants every Believer in Christ Jesus to know they are not “outside” or without the law of God, but rather they are under the law of Christ.
Although the Bible does not specifically say what the law of Christ is, it is generally understood to be found in Jesus Christ’s statement: AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ’YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28-31) The law of Christ is to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, which means we ought to be seeking each other’s “highest good.”
This is agape love or unselfish love. It can’t be learned. It must be discovered in God’s exceedingly great love for us and nurtured in family relationships. It is not a product of the natural man or woman; it the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It only comes from the abiding presence of the Lord. He expresses His love through us toward others. Love is a verb and is spelled COMMITMENT! Love is something God did (John 3:16). He verified His commitment to a lost world!
Various New Testament Scriptures state Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law, bringing it to completion and conclusion (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-26; Ephesians 2:15). In place of the Old Testament Law, Believers are to obey the law of Christ. That would be focusing on loving God and others, as He commanded. If we can do that, we would then be truly and wholeheartedly obeying these two commands and we would then be fulfilling what Jesus Christ asked us to do.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; – the term weak connects with what Paul had previously said regarding those Believers whose consciences were weak due to spiritual immaturity (8:7). Paul said he was willing to adapt his life-style (surrender his liberty) in order to identify with both Jew and Gentile, if they did not have the maturity of understanding to grasp the implications of the gospel. Paul became weak, meaning he stooped to the level of their comprehension. To those who needed simple or repeated presentations of the gospel message, that’s what he gave them (2:1-5, 3:1). His purpose in doing so was to save some.
Summing up, Paul said: I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. Notice the number of “all's” in this verse. We take note of the transformation in Paul from self-centered to gospel-centered. He exercises self-control in freely serving the Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel, and the Kingdom.
I do all things for the gospel – here we catch a glimpse of the passion that motivates Paul’s life for the work God had commissioned him to do. He did not compromise the gospel. Paul would not and did not change it in any way in order to satisfy anyone, including the weak. But he gladly and humbly restricted or surrendered his liberty in Christ Jesus in order not to offend either Jew or Greek, or those weak in understanding.
Let’s go to verse 24:
1 Corinthians 9
24: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
Our Apostle Paul is using the illustration of the Isthmian Games, which were held in Corinth every two years during the spring in honor of the sea god Poseidon. Men and women competed in these games. The events included: boxing, chariot racing, discus and javelin throwing, footraces, the long jump, wrestling, poetry reading, and singing. Every athlete was required to prove they had rigorously trained in order to compete in these sporting events.
Run in such a way that you may win – this is actually a command from God through Paul. The implication being you will not win, if you do not carefully train and condition your body, and practice self-control while in training. The words prize and win are connected to the idea of the Believer’s reward received for performing the good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10b; 1 Cor 3:8, 14, 9:17-18).
25: Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we (receive) an imperishable (crown).
26: Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27: but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
I think Paul’s meaning is pretty clear here, but for those who are unsure of what he’s saying, I’ll use an illustration. If a person was planning on entering the 100yd dash in an upcoming event but did not discipline their bodies (exercise self-control) in their eating habits, maintaining a regular sleep regimen, refrained from smoking and drinking alcohol, and only exercised when they “felt like it,” do you see them finishing in front of the pack on race day or somewhere in the rear… exactly…
The word self-control in the Greek language is Egkrateuomai (pronounced: eng-krat-yoo’-om-ahee), Verb, and it means – to exhibit self-government, to be temperate (Egkrateuetai); in a figure drawn from athletes, in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence. (Strong’s Greek - #1467)
Contestants in the games had to prove they had trained rigorously in preparation for their event(s). Therefore they abstained from all that would excite, stimulate, and ultimately weaken them in the long run (no pun intended). This means they did all they could do make their body strong and vigorous.
By using this race analogy Paul is saying the Believer cannot limit or constrain their liberty in Christ Jesus without practicing self-control. A person’s “old man” or our “old Adam,” which is our corrupt, sinful nature which we inherited from Adam, and we can refer to as our sinfulness, resents and resists restrictions no matter our good intentions (Romans 7). It’s one thing to acknowledge the principle of (agape) love for God and others for example, but it’s another thing to put this principle into practice. Paul trained his body continuously; he exercised self-control daily, putting this principle into practice, because he wanted to win the prize.
The phrase in all things (v25) means this course of abstinence wasn’t confined to any one thing but to every kind of food and drink, and every indulgence that might render the body weak and ineffective.
The footrace was always a major attraction at the games, whether it was the Olympic Games or the Isthmian Games held at Corinth, and that is the image Paul chose to use to illustrate the faithful Believer’s life: those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize. No one would train so rigorously, for so long, without intending to win. Yet with many people running, only one finished the race a winner.
Compare that to the Believer’s race and we find there’s quite a difference. Every Believer, if they are willing to “pay the price “of careful training can win the prize. We’re not competing against other Believer’s though. Our competition is against the physical, practical, and spiritual obstacles we encounter on a daily basis that would hinder us. Paul counsels Christ’s followers to run in such a way that you may win, by setting aside anything that might hinder another individual’s acceptance of the gospel (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Holding tightly to one’s liberties and rights is a sure way to lose the race of soul-winning. Many of the Corinthian saints seriously limited their testimony because they would not limit their liberty; they refused to curtail their rights, and in so doing they won few and offended many.
If the Olympic and Isthmian athletes exercised such great discipline and self-control, in all things, Paul asks, why can’t Believers? They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we (receive) an imperishable (crown). The prize offered in the Isthmian Games was a pine wreath. The athletes competed for more than that actually for the wreath represented acclaim, fame, and hero worship. Winners were immortalized by their fans, much as they are today. But that fan-worship was just as temporary as the wreath sitting atop their head, lasting only a while longer, meaning both prizes were perishable.
The Believer does not run to win a perishable wreath or short-lived fame. True Believers already have immortality, so they run in order to receive “a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award – on that day (2 Timothy 4:8). This crown is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).
Paul had a purpose in running. He was not without aim. His goal, which he stated four times in 9:19-22, was that I may by all means save some.
Changing metaphors, Paul now says, I box in such a way, as not beating the air… He did not shadow box; Paul was always fighting the real fight – the good fight (1 Timothy 1:18). You see Paul recognized his enemy and engaged him in spiritual warfare.
He said he accomplished this by disciplining my body and make it my slave. This is the direct opposite of most people today, including Believers, who choose to become of slave of their own bodies. Their body tells their mind what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, when to sleep and when to awake, and so on. An athlete in training cannot permit this. He or she follows the training rules. They are training when their body is telling their mind to “take a long break,” “go to bed instead of stay up,” and “eat a balanced meal instead of a bag of chips and a chocolate bar.” An athlete controls and trains his body, they don’t follow it.
Paul practiced self-control rigorously; make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. This is another metaphor from the Isthmian Games. Any contestant who failed to meet the training requirements was disqualified. He or she could not run, (compete) much less win. Our Apostle Paul did not want to spend his life preaching the requirements to others and then be disqualified for not meeting the requirements himself.
Many Believers begin their walk with the Lord with great enthusiasm and devotion. They train carefully but soon tire of the effort and “break training.” They return to the “old ways” belonging to the world. Before long, they are disqualified from being an effective witness. They simply lack what it takes, because they are unwilling to “pay the price.” Their flesh, the everyday hustle and bustle of life, personal interests, peer pressure, and simple laziness hinder their spiritual growth and preparation for service.
*If you have any questions about this Bible lesson or one of the previous lessons, please submit them to: TruthisTold3@GMail.com I will respond.
(To be continued)
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