Surrendering Everything to Win Something
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
On Sundays, I will be using this space as an opportunity to reflect publicly on the sermon presented.
Over this summer, our regular teaching pastor, Andy Davis, is on sabbatical, working on a number of writing and ministry projects. As such, the other pastors have been rotating through1 and working through 1 Corinthians. Today, Ron Halbrooks taught through 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, in which Paul famously traces out the ways he surrendered his own rights for the sake of the gospel and encourages the Corinthians to imitate his example. Ron focused on three points:
Paul made himself a slave to all. Paul’s surrender of his own rights was one of the means by which he advanced the gospel: he made sure there was nothing – really nothing! – of his own preferences that he would not give up for the sake of people’s believing in Christ. Though he refused to compromise when people wanted to add requirements to the gospel, he refused to let any non-essential get in the way of his ministry. Ron exhorted us to follow Paul’s example, and especially to consider the preferences we struggle to overcome in reaching out to those who do not yet follow Christ.
The cultural setting: Paul was sensitive to the particular areas in which he needed to make changes. There were plenty of things neither Jews nor Gentiles cared about, and areas where one group was fixated on things the other was not. As Paul went about his ministry, he paid attention to these differences and adapted accordingly. When he was with the Jews, he carefully followed the law; when he was with Gentiles, he had no such concern (how would they have known one way or the other?). Ron pointed out that we need to do the same: do we need to overcome language gaps or be thoughtful of the kinds of food people like? Can we set aside preferences we hold strongly that are merely cultural in order to win others to Christ?
Save some. The goal of Paul’s ministry was to save some. He did not make these sacrifices just because he could (who would want that?), and he did not take the salvation of souls lightly. He aimed to bring about people’s salvation, not merely to educate or inform the world. As such, there was an urgency and an intensity about his actions we would do well to imitate. Because Paul’s goal was not mere education or even cultural change, but eternal salvation, he was moved to take significant or even drastic measures in pursuit of that goal. We, too, ought to consider the goal sufficiently significant as to motivate us so deeply.
Ron concluded by exhorting the congregation to take a number of practical steps forward in response to Paul’s example. First, he challenged the congregation to intensify its efforts in sending members out on mission to the world, whether as international missionaries or as domestic church planters. Second, he exhorted us all to intentionally reach out to those in our community who are unlike us – whether internationals with whom we do not share even language, or simply people from a different cultural background (e.g. white folks having black folks over for dinner and vice versa).
I am also translating the sermon passage from Greek whenever applicable sometime Saturday or Sunday morning for my own profit; I will supply these translations, with some brief commentary, at the end of my reflections in case anyone is curious and wants to see my progress.
1 Corinthians 9:19–23
Chris Krycho’s translation
For, though being myself free from all, I made myself a slave to all, in order that I might gain many. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under the law as under the law (though not myself being under the law), that I might gain those under the law; to those outside the law as one outside the law (though not myself being outside the law with respect to God, but rather subject to Christ) that I might gain those outside the law; I became weak to those who are weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. And I do all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might become a participant in it.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 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. 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. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
You will note that the translations overlap quite substantially. Both the ESV and NIV add periods and fill in the phrase “I became” where I used semicolons and left the phrase out in most cases. My translation is more “literal,” but it’s not more accurate. The sentence I wrote is better Greek than English; that sort of “piling on” of phrases was good form for them, but it’s what we call a run-on sentence in English. Even with semicolons, it’s just not the best way of putting it; if I were to go back and smooth this out I’d add those in just as the ESV and NIV have.
You can see, though, that this is a pretty straightforward passage, and not particularly contentious. The ESV and NIV, though they have somewhat different translation philosophies, ended up with very similar results here, and even my own rough, first-pass translation came fairly close to their carefully studied work. Some passages are like this – they make for a nice change of pace from those which are difficult or ambiguous.
The final sentence is most interesting: I’ve left it rough on purpose, but it’s clear that something is sort of missing in my translation. Both the NIV and the ESV supply “blessings” and translate the sentence accordingly, with some variations as to the syntax. This is interesting, because it’s being inferred from the text. I’m quite curious about why they’re inferring this, as the UBS4 Greek New Testament simply doesn’t have a word for “blessing” present. I’ll probably go look this up in a commentary somewhere to see, because I’m curious.
- I think this is great. Given a choice, I would advocate strongly for much more frequently pulpit rotation, and for that matter against the idea of a “senior pastor” at all. As I often say in these short devotional pieces: more some other time. ↩
- Yes, I know the SBC passed a resolution arguing against the NIV2011. While I have concerns with certain interpretive moves the NIV2011 made, I have nearly identical concerns (albeit in different places and different directions) with some of the translations the ESV has made – and the same with the HCSB, the NASB, the NKJV, and so on. No translation is perfect, and the NIV2011 is in general a very good translation. ↩