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1 Corinthians 9:19–23 is one of the most revealing passages in the New Testament regarding Paul’s view of the Law.
On the one hand, Paul states that to evangelize Jews he has to become like a Jew; more precisely, to “those under the law” he has to become like one under the Law, even though “I myself am not under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). Thus although Paul certainly recognizes himself as a Jew as far as race is concerned (see, for instance, Rom. 9:3), at this point in his life he does not see himself as being under the law-covenant. When he sets himself the task of winning his fellow Jews, however, he wants to remove any unnecessary offense, so he adopts the disciplines of kosher Jews; in this sense he becomes like a Jew, like one under the Law.
On the other hand, when he sets himself the task of evangelizing Gentiles, he becomes like “those not having the law.” Recognizing that this stance could be understood as simple lawlessness, Paul adds, in a parenthetical aside, that this does not mean he is utterly lawless. Far from it; he writes, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21).
So on the one hand, Paul is not himself under law; on the other, he is not free from God’s law, but is under Christ’s law. What does this mean?
(a) The “law” under which Paul sees himself cannot be exactly the same as Torah (the Pentateuch), or more generally the demands of God from the Old Testament Scriptures. True, Paul elsewhere says, “Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Cor. 7:19). But these are not simply the commands found in the Old Testament. After all, the previous line reads: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” The thoughtful Jew would reply, “But circumcision is one of God’s commands.” Not, however, for Paul: keeping God’s commands or obeying God’s law is not, for him, the same thing as adhering to the Mosaic Law.
(b) What binds Paul and establishes the limits of his flexibility as he strives to evangelize Jews and Greeks alike is “Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21). His statements make no sense if “Christ’s law” is exactly identical to God’s law as found in Torah. He must flex from his “third position” (the position of the Christian) to become like a Jew or like a Gentile.
(c) What the relationship is between the Mosaic “Law of God” and “Christ’s law” is complex and glimpsed, in Paul, in Romans 3:21–26 (see meditation for January 31). Here it is enough to observe that the motive for all of Paul’s magnificent cultural flexibility is that he may “win as many as possible,” “so that by all possible means I may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
According to Luke 8:19–21, “Jesus’s mother and brothers came to see him” but were unable to achieve their objective owing to the press of the crowd. Word was passed up to Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you”—apparently under the assumption that Jesus himself would make his way to them, or use his authority to ensure that a passage was opened up for them. After all, this was a culture much less individualistic than our own, much more oriented to the family and the extended family.
That is what makes Jesus’s answer astonishing: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (8:21). Four things must be said.
First, this is not an isolated passage. Once Jesus begins his public ministry, on no occasion, until the cross, does he betray any slight preference for his own family members, including his mother. In every instance, he either quietly distances himself from them (as here and 11:27–28), or else gently rebukes them (e.g., John 2:1–11). There is no exception. Those who argue that Mary has an inside track into the affections and blessings that only Jesus can bestow cannot responsibly adduce evidence from these texts.
Second, the reasons for Jesus’s conduct are not hard to find. Quite apart from this passage, the Gospels keep drawing attention to Jesus’s uniqueness. In the context of Luke, the familial connection is overshadowed by Jesus’s virginal conception, which is tied to Jesus’s mission and to who he is. Judging by the book of Acts, even Jesus’s natural family had to come to terms, after the resurrection, with who this son and brother of theirs really was, and they became part of the Christian community that worshiped him.
Third, not for a moment does this suggest Jesus was callous toward the feelings of his family. One of the most touching moments in the gospel of John pictures Jesus on the cross, almost with his dying breath providing the care and stability needed to his distraught mother (John 19:26–27).
Fourth, the force of the passage before us must not be missed: Jesus insists that those closest to him, those he “owns” as his, those who have ready access to him, those who are part of his real family, are henceforth not his natural relatives, but “those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (8:21). Unlike many rulers, Jesus showed no interest in a natural dynasty. Nor was his ultimate focus on his tribe, clan, or nuclear family. He came to call into permanent being the family of God—and they are characterized by the obedient hearing of God’s word.
5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many,1 and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”
15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
8:1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them1 out of their means.
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
16 “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18 Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
19 Then his mother and his brothers2 came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,3 which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus4 had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed5 man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus' feet, he implored him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians,6 she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter7 said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
49 While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56 And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.
22:1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:
2 “Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
4 Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
and enters into judgment with you?
5 Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
6 For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
7 You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
8 The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
9 You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
10 Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
11 or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you.
12 “Is not God high in the heavens?
See the highest stars, how lofty they are!
13 But you say, ‘What does God know?
Can he judge through the deep darkness?
14 Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see,
and he walks on the vault of heaven.’
15 Will you keep to the old way
that wicked men have trod?
16 They were snatched away before their time;
their foundation was washed away.1
17 They said to God, ‘Depart from us,’
and ‘What can the Almighty do to us?’2
18 Yet he filled their houses with good things—
but the counsel of the wicked is far from me.
19 The righteous see it and are glad;
the innocent one mocks at them,
20 saying, ‘Surely our adversaries are cut off,
and what they left the fire has consumed.’
21 “Agree with God, and be at peace;
thereby good will come to you.
22 Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty you will be built up;
if you remove injustice far from your tents,
24 if you lay gold in the dust,
and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent-bed,
25 then the Almighty will be your gold
and your precious silver.
26 For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty
and lift up your face to God.
27 You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you,
and you will pay your vows.
28 You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
and light will shine on your ways.
29 For when they are humbled you say, ‘It is because of pride’;3
but he saves the lowly.
30 He delivers even the one who is not innocent,
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”
9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,1 as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,2 lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.