Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:21-23, The best retirement plan of all

1 Corinthians 9:21-23

21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In verses 21-23, Paul continues to explain his statement I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). The phrase those not having the law (1 Cor. 9:21) is clearly a reference to the Gentiles, who do not live by the Law of Moses or the interpretation of those laws by Judaism.

Even though Paul is a Jew by birth, he has already said, I myself am not under the law (1 Cor. 9:20). While discussing his approach to the Gentiles, Paul adds to his previous statement by saying, I am not free from Gods law but am under Christs law (1 Cor. 9:21). David Garland helps us see this change in Paul as a matter of identity when he says: [Paul] is speaking theologically about living under grace. Previously, his self-understanding as a Jew was bound up with his obedience to the law (cf. Phil. 3:6); now it is bound up with his relationship to Christ (Phil. 3:7-11).[1]

Gordon Fee adds some new elements when he says, For Paul the language being under (or keeping) the law has to do with being Jewish in a national-cultural-religious sense; but as a new man in Christ he also expects the Spirit to empower him (as well as all of Gods new people) to live out the ethics of the new age.[2] For another glimpse of the phrase the law of Christ, Paul says in Galatians, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). We who follow Jesus are to obey the law of Christ. As to what that means, we can look at what the apostles understood Jesus to mean as recorded in the New Testament.

In regard to the identity of the weak, we must exercise due diligence. In 1 Cor. 8:7-10, the phrase the weak refers to believers who are overly conscientious or believers who feel insecure about the exercise of their freedom in Christ. In the context of chapter 8, Paul identifies the weak as believers in 1 Cor. 8:12. However, in chapter 9, Paul seeks to save those he describes as the weak, and that means they are unbelievers. Anthony Thiselton describes the weak in chapter 9 by saying, In this context the weak may mean those whose options for life and conduct were severely restricted because of their dependence on the wishes of patrons, employers, or slave owners (emphasis his).[3] Garland agrees by saying, The weak in this verse represent non-Christians whom he seeks to win for the Lord.[4]

The second half of verse 22 is famous and widely quoted. What did Paul originally mean by it? Garland says that he is explaining how in his apostleship the principle of [self-denial] — in short, the principle of the cross — operates in his own experience.[5] Paul could have lived in one of the finest houses in Corinth, could have been revered as one its greatest orators, and could have enjoyed its finest banquets — although held in idol temples — every night of the week. All this he could have done while being financially supported by the Corinthian believers. But, for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:23), he made sure that even the weak were not left out by working among them as a man of the cross.

Given the choice between pleasure and profit now in the ranks of the upwardly mobile Corinthians or honor and glory later with Christ in the age to come, Paul chose to share in the blessings of the gospel. He shows us the path we must choose to take.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 431.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 430.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 705.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 434.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 435, quoting D.A. Carson.

Culture: Trust God or trust technology and markets?

In his notable book Bad Religion, conservative columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times has recounted how many Americans seem to have lost confidence in God or at least in the churches and denominations that represent him. It is a sad tale.

Of course, the Bible calls on us to trust God not only with our physical lives but with our eternal destiny. To do so requires confidence in God’s truthfulness and faithfulness. Let me say at the outset that we can rely with utmost confidence on the truthfulness and faithfulness of Jesus Christ!

 An alternative to trusting God: Technology-trust

But what are the alternatives that some Americans seem to be preferring to trusting God? It seems to me that many people think their iPad, their Facebook account, and their Wall Street Journal are the sources of all wisdom required for life. We increasingly opt for a real-time feed of information provided by high technology. A smart phone is a mark of an informed person. We might call this approach to life Technology-trust, and its adherents think it to be rock solid.

Oh really? Well, one measure of how reliable Technology-trust might be is to consider the inside story of how some of the most sophisticated, experienced and technologically advanced organizations on earth failed to accurately communicate the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. [For those who are bound to wonder, I support the Act.]

In great detail, Tom Goldstein of the highly esteemed SCOTUSblog explains how some well known wire services such as Bloomberg, AP and Reuters correctly analyzed the Court’s landmark decision, Bloomberg doing so just 52 seconds after Chief Justice John Roberts started reading his summary of the case. Other technology giants such as Fox News and CNN erroneously reported that the most disputed provision of Obamacare, the individual mandate to buy health insurance, had been overturned as unconstitutional. It took CNN about 15 minutes to change its screens and Fox News performed about as poorly. CNN apologized for their error, but Fox News never did.

At the White House, several groups were initially informed at various degrees of accuracy. President Barack Obama was first looking at Fox News and CNN after stepping out of his daily briefing. In another location, Press Secretary Jay Carney had gathered his staff, and they had the erroneous Fox News and CNN reports along with slightly slower but completely accurate analysis by the SCOTUSblog. White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler hosted a policy team in a third location focused on the authoritative SCOTUSblog and they were initially unaware that the cable networks had completely misinformed millions of people, including the President. It took 5.5 minutes to sort out the confusion and inform the President that he had won.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, behind the US Capitol Building, stands the US Supreme Court Building. Court officials had waived away warnings about a likely overload of their website, which was to upload the Court’s decision about two minutes after the Chief Justice started reading his summary. The site immediately crashed under the crushing load and did not provide the crucial opinion to anyone until about thirty minutes later. The White House could not get the opinion, the news media had to rely on the print copies made available in the Court’s press office, and no one off-site had any chance of seeing the opinion until the dust began to settle.

SCOTUSblog, whose conference call and blog did so much to right the ship, had troubles of their own. At the hour when the Supreme Court’s long-awaited opinion was being released, hackers were trying hard to take down the blog with a distributed denial of service attack. The attack failed. Had it succeeded, the confusion probably would have lasted a lot longer, not least at the White House. At least a million people were monitoring SCOTUSblog.

The whole fascinating story, with many more embarrassing twists, may be found at SCOTUSblog. The story does not inspire confidence.

MORAL: Those following the path of Technology-trust are betting their lives on something that can fail them at the critical moment. They will get burned.

Another alternative: Market-trust

Some among us, especially the affluent, are relying on investments to get them through life comfortably. “The markets” are said to be the secret to almost any problem; just let the markets work — they say — and keep government oversight out of it. I’ll call this one Market-trust, though we might equally name it Money-trust. Its adherents swear by it! You, on the other hand, may have reason to swear at it! (Just ask God “to break the teeth of the wicked,” as David did in Psalm 3:7.)

Just emerging is a story that is hard for most of us to understand. It seems that an obscure number called Libor is used by banks around the world to set the variable interest rates on loans, credit card rates and derivatives. Libor means “London interbank offered rate,” and it has a fundamental influence on trillions of dollars in market transactions. Additional details on Libor may be found here.

Who sets this number? The British Bankers Association, an unregulated association in Britain. They use numbers supplied to them by the largest banks in the world. But the banks have been lying to manipulate this number in a way to favor their trades in the financial markets. Barclays, a British bank, has just agreed to pay a penalty of $450 million dollars for lying about their interest rates over several years, and experts think they got off easy by confessing first. Much more is coming.

This debacle of worldwide market manipulation has just gotten started, even though we have all been unwittingly participating in the mess though our home and auto loans, credit card agreements, and even our pensions and investments. The financial markets are being used to systematically rob us, and a relative few are skimming the cream for themselves. More details can be found in a recent panel discussion.

So, how is Market-trust working for you? Why would you want to bet your life on a crooked game? Jesus warned us about all this: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). He also said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24).

MORAL: Market-trust is dangerous and unreliable. Only God will tell you the truth and provide a way to secure your future. He has done so through Jesus Christ.

In a world full of trouble, God is the one to trust.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Poverty caused by misfortune

This post discusses a Christian response to poverty caused by misfortune such as disaster, death of a spouse, job loss, war-trauma or illness. (I am not talking about those who prefer a life of drug abuse or petty crime.)

I am glad to report that my home church does far better than most in caring for the poor and disadvantaged. Our pastor and elders have led the way in this effort since our church formed. However, I still believe that concern for the poor is the number one disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and most evangelical Christians today. Sermons on this subject seem few and far between.

Since I live in Texas, it has occurred to me that Texas culture may bear on the issue. Historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote a history of Texas published in 1968. One of his conclusions was that Texas has the ethos of the frontier, where the strong live and the weak die. As a man born and raised in Texas, I have come to believe he is right about that. While his description of Texas values is accurate, that does not make this compassionless stance right in the sight of God.

If God had adopted this attitude toward sinners, then Jesus never would have been sent to die for our sins and reconcile us to God. Before our salvation, the Bible describes us as helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), even enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). By the frontier values of Texas, we would have been left to die in our helplessness. But God apparently does not favor certain Texas values, because he demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for us that we might be reconciled to him (Rom. 5:8).

That is what the Bible says, but I may not be wise to publish these views in Texas!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.