(1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

The highest service of man on earth is sharing the gospel. The Biblical Illustrator, edited by Rev. Joseph Samuel Exell (1849-1909) says, “The services of men on earth embrace a large variety. There is the service of the agriculturalist, the mechanic, the mariner, the merchant, the scientist, the legislator, the king…Men esteem these services as differing widely in respectability and honor; but the service referred to in the text stands infinitely above all.”

Some are ashamed of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They attempt to water it down to make it more palatable to this generation. The apostle Paul shared the gospel willingly, wittingly and winningly. Lexicographers provide the following definitions.

Willingly means “having the mind favorably inclined or disposed.” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16-18: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.”

Wittingly means, “done consciously, with knowledge and responsibility, deliberate.” Paul said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Winningly means, “capable of winning or charming, attractive, winsome.” In the words of our text, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”

From our text we discover three things we need.

I. A God-Given Mission
To win others to faith in Jesus Christ is our God-given mission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 21:47; Acts 1:8). This God-given mission extends in outreach “to the Jews” (and Gentiles), “to those who are under the law” or “to those who are without law,” as well as “to the weak” (and the strong).
Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1898) wrote a helpful book titled The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Savior. Spurgeon affirms the fact that, “He who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30). Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe explains, “The word translated wins means ‘to capture,’ as a hunter captures his prey. Wise people seek to capture the ignorant and disobedient by sharing God’s wisdom with them.”

We are to be on a mission from God and we are to be on a mission for God. Paul’s mission was “that I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22) and “that I may be a partner with you” (1 Corinthians 9:23).

II. A God-Guided Method
To become all things to all men is our God-guided method. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22). This is to meet people where they are with the message of the gospel. Dr. Jerry Vines explains, “Paul is simply saying that in order to win people to Jesus Christ, he relates to them in their particular culture. He is saying, ‘If I am around a Jew, I’m a Jew; if I’m around a Gentile—someone without the law—I’m a Gentile.’ In other words, when Paul talked with a Jew, he said, ‘Oh, I’m a Jew, too. I’m a Hebrew, born of the tribe of Benjamin, and I can speak Hebrew.’ When he talked with a Gentile, he would say, ‘Oh, is that right? I was born in Tarsus, one of the great Gentile cities.’ When he met a weak Christian who didn’t believe in doing certain things, he wouldn’t do them.

“One may say, ‘Paul is being inconsistent. He says one thing over here and another thing over there.’ When we examine Paul’s actions, we learn he is not inconsistent; he is compassionate. He is saying, ‘I find sinners where they are, and I identify with them in order to win them to faith in Jesus Christ.'”

The phrase “All things to all men,” according to the Rev. Joseph Butterworth Owen (1809-1872), “implies no sinking the Christian to meet the worldling. The Christian is no chameleon, taking his hue from every incident he feeds on; but rather like the sunlight of his heavenly Father—the evil and the good are the better for his shining. Apply the rule to places of amusement. Can we imagine ourselves meeting Christ there as He sat at the festival in Cana? We can realize His presence on occasions of innocent festivity, but there are others at which, if we could suppose His eye falling upon us, as it did on Peter in the hall of his denial, we should be ashamed to meet Him. I noticed in France pictures of the Crucifixion in streets and public galleries, in Hotel de Ville and Palois de Justice, but never in a Café Chantant or the opera. As believers, you are Christ’s living images, and would be as much out of place in a Casino or a playhouse.”

Rev. Owen also said, “Paul was a cosmopolitan in the best sense, the world was his country, mankind his brethren, truth his business, the church his family and Christ his Lord.”

Paul exhorts in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

Dr. James A. Stalker (1848-1927) warns, “When a weak or insincere man attempts to be all things to all men, he ends up by being nothing to anybody.”
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.’ If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. If anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD’s and all its fullness.’

“‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? If I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved.”

III. A God-Glorifying Motivation
To know Christ and to make Him known is our God-glorifying motivation. We are to live “for the gospel’s sake” (1 Corinthians 9:23).

These days it is important to ask, “What is the gospel?” Reportedly, someone interviewed people at a Christian bookstore convention and asked that question. Regrettably, only one out of 60 people got it right. Paul clearly defines the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, where he said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to Scripture.” Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “To keep back any part of the gospel is not the true method for saving men.”

On the road to Damascus we see one converted from a self-satisfied persecutor of the church named Saul to a God-glorifying preacher of the gospel named Paul.

Rev. Edward Meyrick Goulburn (1818-1897), Dean of Norwich, said, “While never sacrificing truth or principle, yet, so far as truth and principle admitted it, the apostle wore the guise and spoke in the accents of the persons whom he addressed.”

Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon recalls, “Mr. [J.] Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), founder of the China Inland Mission, finds it helpful to dress as a Chinaman and wear a pigtail. This seems to me to be a truly wise policy. To sink myself to save others is the ideal of the apostle. Never may any whim or conventionality of ours keep a soul from considering the gospel.”

Stan Guthrie, author of many books to include Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, senior associate editor for Christianity Today and a regular commentator on Moody Radio said, “Good news is no news at all if it’s not communicated.”

Larry King of CNN’s “Larry King Live” found himself wading through a sea of sentiments from sympathetic viewers after heart surgery. One package stood out from the others. In fact, it contained something he prizes most of all those received. It contained a leather Bible with his name engraved on the cover with a letter that stated:

“Dear Larry, I am so glad to hear that everything went well with your surgery. I want you to know God was watching over you every minute.

“Even though I know you question that, I also know that one day it will be revealed to you. My prayer is that you will remain open and that God will touch your life as He has mine.

“Once I was a disbeliever. When I could not fill my life with basketball, I would simply substitute sex, drugs or material things to feed my internal, shell-like appearance. I was never satisfied.

“I have finally realized after 40 years that Jesus Christ is in me. He will reveal His truth to you, Larry, because He lives.
“Pete Maravich,
“‘Pistol Pete'”

Larry King received this package on Jan. 3, 1988, the day before Maravich died. Pete Maravich (1947-1988) was one of the youngest players ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Dr. Jerry Vines said, “I don’t know how some Christians can go a lifetime without realizing the Lord Jesus brought them into this world and put them where they are so they might meet lost people and bring them to faith in Him. The ambition of our lives, the passion of our lives, the whole thrust of our lives should be to win people to faith in Christ, and that ambition changes our whole attitude toward life.”

May we live for the gospel’s sake.

The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 552
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary / Old Testament / Wisdom and Poetry (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2003), p. 416
Jerry Vines, God Speaks Today: A Study of 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 142
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 554
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 561
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 559
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 553
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, 1 Corinthians (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1886), p. 560
Stan Guthrie, “Why Evangelize the Jews?” (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, Vol. 52, No. 3, March 2008
Available from: Accessed: 08/25/10
Jerry Vines, God Speaks Today: A Study of 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 143

Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, Ala., is author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice, which is available at and
© August 29, 2010 All Rights Reserved

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