1 Corinthians 9:1-19
"Am I not as free as anyone else?...Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:1-19 NLT)
Paul makes a profound statement about how Christians are different from the world. He proclaims his freedom, and then several verses later declares that for the sake of Christ, he has set his freedom aside and become a slave to all people.
As you read this passage, notice the use of the word "right." Paul asks the questions, "Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take a believing wife...is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?" Of everyone in the world, who has the fewest rights? I suggest the answer is a slave. Isn't that the definition of slavery, since a slave is one who is completely subservient; a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them? So for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul has rejected his rights.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 6-8, Paul discusses the issue of rights in each chapter? Since we live in a culture where individual rights are paramount, it seems worthwhile to examine Paul's discussion.
In 1 Corinthians 6:1-9, while discussing one believer suing another Paul says, "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" Rather than suing another believer, thereby demeaning the name of Jesus, it is better to trust God and accept the loss.
Jesus says something similar in Matthew 5:40-45, "If someone would sue you to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven." According to Jewish law (Exodus 22:26), you never keep someone's cloak which might be all he has to keep warm. But Jesus said it is better to display your love for an enemy by giving up both your tunic and cloak "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." It is better to be a son of God and to live like one than to have a cloak and a tunic.
While discussing marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-4, Paul says believing spouses do not even have the authority or right over their own body. That right belongs to their spouse.
In 1 Corinthian 8, Paul examines the right of believers to eat meat offered to idols. Paul begins his discussion by saying everyone has some knowledge about this subject. The important thing for believers to remember is that our understanding can lead to pride which God despises. Instead of our wisdom, we should respond based on God's love.
Since idols have no real existence, eating meat offered to one is not wrong. However, some believers have not come to that understanding. Therefore, acting out of love to protect a "weak" believer, requires a "strong" believer not to eat that meat. Believers have the right to eat meat offered to idols but "take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." Paul goes on to say, eating the meat would be sinning against the "weak" believer which is sinning against Christ.
Since like Paul, I, too, am a free man, how am I to apply my rights? "For freedom, Christ has set us free, stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)
Later in chapter nine, Paul explains how he uses his rights or freedom, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." By that, he means when in Jerusalem with observant Jews, Paul was free to follow the law. In Corinth, he did not observe Jewish law (like circumcision) but lived under the law of Christ. When with those whose conscience would be distressed by eating meat offered to idols, he used his freedom not to eat the meat. With those who understood there was only one God, and idols did not exist, Paul used his freedom to eat meat offered to idols.
As believers, we are free in Christ Jesus, but because of our love of God and our neighbor, we use our rights, not for ourselves but to glorify Him and bless those He puts in our lives.
Loving and Good God, thank You for the freedom I have because of Your grace provided by the sacrifice of Jesus, my Lord, and Savior. His freedom led Him to the cross. May mine lead me to take up my cross and follow Him daily.