Lesson 24: Relinquishing Rights
I Corinthians 9:15-27
At the conclusion of a concert two ushers were applauding harder than anybody else. People seated nearby smiled appreciatively at the two music lovers until one of them stopped clapping and the other one was heard to say, “keep clapping, you dope, one more encore and we’re on overtime.”
There is an example of motivation – whether legitimate or not. But let me ask you today, what is your motivation in the Christian life? What keeps you going, even when the going gets rough? Well, in the passage before us today, Paul explains what his motivation was – in spite of all the difficulties that he faced. In this chapter he is actually illustrating a principle which he began in chapter 8: the relinquishing of rights in order to meet the needs of others. But to set up the illustration he spends the first 14 verses establishing his right to be supported by other believers, which we have called The recognition of rights. But now in the second half of the chapter he establishes the importance of giving up that right to be supported. But as we look at the passage we are going to see that that is just an illustration of giving up any right to accomplish what God wants you to accomplish; going to any lengths for His honor and glory. As we look at the passage we will see: an example of sacrifice” in verses 15 through 18; The extent of sacrifice in verses 19 through 22; and the enablement for sacrifice in verses 23 through 27. So let’s look at the example of sacrifice which we find in verses 15 through 18. And the first thing we want to notice in that regard is the right being sacrificed in verse 15a
But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me .. . .
The phrase “these things” is a reference to the subject of the first half of the chapter – the right to be supported. He had not exercised that right in the past – he had been a tentmaker while preaching. And he is not announcing the beginning of such exercise now. Well, we might ask the question, “what is the reason for such a sacrifice?” And does this mean that everybody should make a sacrifice like this? That nobody should be supported by other Christians while they do the Lord’s work? Those questions are answered in verses 15b and 16
For it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. (16) For if I preach the gospel I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!
There are two key words in these two verses: look at the phrase “my boasting” in verse 15 and the phrase “nothing to boast of” in verse 16 (the King James Version uses “glory” and “glorying” instead of “boasting”) Paul was willing to forego his right to be supported so that he would have something about which he could legitimately boast. “But, someone says, “is it ever legitimate to boast? Well, he explains that in the next verse:
(16) For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Paul says, “I can’t boast about preaching the gospel – that is God’s doing, and I am obligated to tell about it.” But,” he says, “I can take pleasure in the fact that I have distributed it effectively” – look at verse 18.
What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.
Here is the crux of this whole chapter: Paul could not take pride in the preaching of the gospel, but he could take pride in the fact that nothing that he had done had stood in the way of people accepting it. Now with Paul, the issue was the matter of financial support; with you it may be something else. But the principle of this whole chapter is this: are you willing to give up even something that you might have a legitimate right to, to be able to get the gospel across to somebody?
“Well,” someone says, that’s o.k. in theory, but how far does God expect us to carry something like that? Well, the extent of the sacrifice is outlined in verses 19 through 22. The general application of the principle is in verse 19:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.
He stresses again that he doesn’t have to do this – he is a free man. But even though he has status as a free man he extends this willingness to sacrifice rights to all of his rights. And the reason – to win men to Christ (“that I might gain the more.”). Incidentally, there is another principle that grows out of this one: we need to be careful that we don’t win people to us – that we win them to Christ. Sometimes people are attracted to material or physical things that they like about the one who is witnessing – and they accept Christ so that they can be like that person. But they need to understand that God may or may not want them to be like us if they get saved. They will have the same opportunities, peace and joy and direct access to God, but they may not wind up with the same kind of house or car, etc.
So that is a general illustration of the principle of sacrifice. But in verses 20 through 22 we find some specific illustrations of the principle. First, the Jews – verse 20:
And to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law.
Then in verses 21 and 22 he gives two more specific applications: “the Gentiles” (“those without the law) and “the weak”
To those who are without law as without law (not being without law toward Christ) that I might win those who are without Christ. (22) To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.
Not that he went back to the Old Testament laws for his salvation, or that when he was with gentiles he acted like God didn’t have any standards. But that when he is dealing with Jews he is careful not to flaunt his liberty (about the Sabbath, dietary laws, etc.) And that when he was with Gentiles he didn’t try to convict them breaking the Jewish laws. And that when he was with new or immature believers (whom he refers to as “the weak”) he didn’t try to force them to operate at the same level that mature believers would. There are many situations today in which you could only get a hearing if you accommodated the hearer’s weakness. For example, drinking coffee around Mormons (for as long as you are working directly with them) or flashy clothes around Mennonites. But there is something we have to be careful about here: this is not situational ethics. He is only talking about rights. There are some things a Christian doesn’t have a right to do – getting drunk, fighting, and so forth. And he is talking about relinquishing rights, not appropriating them. This is probably one of the most widely misapplied principles in all of scripture. He is not saying “I will get drunk with people so I can witness to them.” There are many more situations where relinquishing rights will be necessary than where to appropriate them will be. This kind of relationship will demand a situation by situation decision. – not just a sheltered, fearful life, trying to please everybody, but also not just treating everybody exactly the same way.
Now this is a big order! But we can’t leave this passage without seeing the enablement for sacrifice that is brought out in verses 23 through 27. The essence of Paul’s motivation is in verse 23.
Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker of it with you.
The phrase “with you” is the key to understanding this verse. Because it is a reference to standing in the presence of God with other believers – especially those whom you have helped to win.
Then, in verses 24 and 25 we find the examples of the motivation. The first example is the sacrifice of “rights” by an Olympic runner in verse 24
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
And the second is very similar: the sacrifice of rights by the champion athlete in any field. In verse 25.
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
Both of these give up their “rights” to (the right to eat whatever they want, to wear comfortable clothes,) for future goals. And for what? A perishable crown”; a little earthly glory! Now Paul’s point is this: if they are motivated by such a “perishable” (temporal) goal, how much more should we be motivated by permanent goals? Finally, in verses 26 and 27 we find the energy that Paul derived from this motivation.
Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air (27) But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others I myself should be disqualified.
Let me ask you something: how do you live your life? Are you just puttering around, getting by the best way you can? The Christian life ought to be a life of running purposefully – verse 26 even to the point of paying attention to specific activities – verse 27. Notice his terminology carefully – “disqualified,” not “lost”. Loss of salvation would be inconsistent with the rest of scripture. The Greek word translated “disqualified” is “adokimos.” It comes from the word “dokimos, which is translated” “approved” in several other places in Paul’s writings, but with the prefix “a” it becomes negative – thus meaning “disapproved.” So his great fear is that he could stand at the judgement seat of Christ and have a loss of reward because of someone he had not been able to witness to because of his poor testimony.
In this passage we have one of the fundamental principles of the Christian life. And it is the principle of being willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to “win the race” of Christ’s approval when we stand before Him. We have been talking about it from the standpoint of soul winning. But it can be applied in every area of ministry, in marriage, and in the home. And the pertinent question always is: “where where would you and I be if Christ had insisted on His rights?”
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at