In-Law or Outlaw?
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
"To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law." (1 Corinthians 9:21)
The preaching of the gospel weighed heavily on Paul, and in this passage (vv. 5-23), as well as surrounding chapters (8:1-11:1), he explained the lengths to which he would go to be able to preach and to avoid being a stumbling block to potential hearers. Since he closes the section with the exhortation "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (11:1), we would do well to observe his methods.
The message of the work of Christ Jesus burned within Paul. "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (9:16). He would preach willingly or unwillingly (v. 17), for no financial gain (v. 18), or personal glory (v. 16), but he had to preach. "I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more" (v. 19), he said. He would even make himself acceptable to the Jews (v. 20) by not breaking their law, even though he knew he was no longer bound by it.
In our text, Paul explains his approach to the Gentiles, those who were "without law." He could not behave in a licentious, sinful, lawless manner, for God's holy nature demands holiness. The Greek word anomos, translated four times in this verse as "without law," is contrasted in the parenthetic comment to ennomos, "under the law." Paul was not lawless. Even though not under the Mosaic law, he had voluntarily, out of a heart of love for the Savior, placed himself under a set of new and better restraints, that of the law of Christ, "that I might by all means save some" (v. 22).
Christians of today have, to a great extent, benefited from Paul's unquenchable thirst for souls. He had partaken of the sweet fruits of the gospel and preached "that I might be partaker thereof with you" (v. 23). Should we not willingly follow his example? JDM