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1 Corinthians 9:16–23

4 February 2024

Exploring the Scripture

If one wants guidance on what it means to be a church planter, pastor, or teacher of seekers and new Christians, the letter to the Corinthians is an excellent place to begin. A consensus of biblical scholars is that this is a letter written by the Apostle Paul with the help of a scribe, possibly Sosthenes. It was likely written from Ephesus around 53–54 CE in response to reports of a crisis in this congregation located some 180 miles north on the Peloponnesian Peninsula in southern Greece.

Paul received troubling news the Christians in Corinth were embroiled in jealousy, iniquity, and disunity. Questions regarding Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle were also being raised. Having founded the church at Corinth 3–4 years earlier, Paul was deeply concerned about his faith family. He had to give direct guidance on several practical life matters as a Christian community. He had to make clear once again the freedom, hope, and new life promised in the good news of Jesus Christ.

In verses 16–18, Paul tries to reclaim his legitimacy as an apostle of Jesus. But that claim was not for some external reward. It was not about Paul demanding to be placed on a pedestal. His apostleship was initiated by the presence of God in Christ manifest to him on the road to Damascus. He cannot but share the resurrection faith that transformed his life. 

Paul is trying to help them reestablish relations with the God of love to return to the Spirit of love on which they were founded. Sharing this message is his duty. It is his assignment. It is where his meaning and freedom are found. Such is all the reward he needs, all the reward any congregation needs.

In verses 19–23, Paul, with a missionary hat on, explains his strategy for reaching people and inviting them to Christ. Still proclaiming his legitimacy before the Corinthian saints, he highlights why he approaches ministry as he does. He is commissioned to “become all things to all people” (v. 22). The gospel sends him out to honor both poor and rich, slave and free, weak and strong, Jew and Gentile.

He must meet people where they are and honor who they are. His words to the Corinthians are reminiscent of what he wrote to the church in Galatia 4–5 years earlier: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Paul, a cross-cultural, multi-lingual missionary, is uniquely qualified to understand and take a spirit of inclusivity to a larger circle of community. His strategy, borne of Christ-like principles and values, has been studied for centuries and used as a model by missionaries and teachers worldwide to share the story of Jesus.

Project Zion Podcast

Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.


Central Ideas

  1. We are not to boast about our authority as followers of Christ. Such authority is a gift given; a gift received. It is both duty and privilege.
  2. Telling the story of what God in Christ Jesus has done is reward enough. Our joy and purpose are in living Gospel values and principles.
  3. Paul’s effort to “become all things to all people” is an invitation to “go and do likewise;” to meet people where and as they are; to listen to them; eat their food; “speak their language;” walk with and learn from them.

Questions to Consider

  1. How did the life and ministry of Paul shape the emerging church in the 1st century? How has Paul shaped your life and ministry?
  2. When have you or your congregation/mission center responded to the obligation of the gospel to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote the kin-dom of God? What was the result?
  3. When have you, or your congregation, practiced the principle of “being all things to all people”? What was the result?
  4. When did a minister or messenger of God enter your ‘world’ and meet and accept you as you were? What happened to you and them?

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