1 Corinthians 9:19-27

1 Corinthians 9:19
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
Paul now states that he is free from all. The word “men” is not in the original and was added for clarity. The freedom which Paul speaks of is not that he is free to sin or do anything he wants, but that he is free of the shackles of anyone for the purpose of preaching the Gospel without any dependence on anyone for support. That freedom can also be a freedom from a person who might pay a preacher but might want them to preach a certain message or omit something. A good example of someone being shackled to another for the purpose of pay was Balaam who was hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. (Numbers 22-24) Paul does not take that freedom and use it incorrectly, rather he uses this freedom to be able to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ to be able to serve others. Paul’s desire was never for material gain, it was always for gaining more souls for the Kingdom of God, which is exactly what is in view here.
1 Corinthians 9:20
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
Paul gives the principle of identification in this verse. He has intentionally identified with each particular group so he may reach that group. Paul was a Jew so here he would have been able to witness well to the Jews plus being a Pharisee, he would have knowledge and understanding of how they think and interpret Scriptures. He would have also had knowledge of the Babylonian Talmud which contained much commentary by many teachers. Paul would then have been able to understand all of the customs and predilections that the Jews would have held at that time. From that vantage point, he would have been able to build a good apologetic for the true Gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:21
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.
Paul now claims that he became as one of the Gentiles. This does not mean that he practiced the pernicious ways of the Gentiles but that he did not make the Mosaic Law a basis of his ministry. Rather the Grace of God was the basis of Paul’s ministry. Paul also states that he is not speaking as one who has no constraints on his life in the area of the law but that he has now gone from the letter of the Law to the eternal law of Christ. The ceremonial laws have now been done away with at Calvary. (Gal 6:2 KJV) Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Rom 3:27 KJV) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Paul states that he not only will go to the Jews but he knew that his ministry was also to the Gentiles, those to whom the Mosaic law was not given but the Elect of God was included in the eternal covenant of Abraham.
1 Corinthians 9:22
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Paul now reminds these Corinthians of the weak brethren he spoke of in the previous chapter plus many that are new Christians and still weak in the faith. He identified with these people to be able to grow them in the faith. Paul did not overwhelm those who are new in the faith and neither should we. Then Paul states that he chooses to identify himself with all people for the purpose of bringing the true Gospel to them. The sign of a great missionary is to place themselves on the same level as those which are being witnessed to. Whenever we go out to the streets to witness, we always try to identify with the people that we are trying to reach. We must keep in mind that at one time we were all unbelievers holding to some type of worldly philosophy. By identifying with the group we are witnessing to it keeps our pride from flaring up.
1 Corinthians 9:23
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Paul’s principle of identifying with the group is really him becoming one with that group so he may bring many souls to Christ. It never hurts to have a little versatility in your approach to sending forth the Gospel. What may work in one situation, may not work in another and to be flexible can fill in those gaps and Paul’s desire was to be partakers with them, which means his desire was to see his target audience become saved.
1 Corinthians 9:24
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
Paul brings up a race and this would have been familiar in Greek culture because the Greeks would have games which included a marathon. A marathon run was twenty six miles or 41.8 kilometers in length and a person had to be in top shape to be able to compete, never mind win. Paul states that many may enter a race but only one will win the prize. Paul is telling them to enter the race with the objective of victory in mind. Never go into a race with the mindset that coming in second or third is fine. Strive to be the best that you can be. Of course, Paul is speaking of running the Christian life as a race. Never settle for second best in your Christian life but seek the best God has for you.
1 Corinthians 9:25
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
Temperate - Self-control or abstention
The main principle that any athlete must adhere to is self-control. An athlete in training cannot live on junk food and soda and expect their body to be in the best shape to compete. Paul uses this principle to bring out the fact that there are many strictures placed on Christians so they may run the Christian race. A Christian cannot allow themselves to live as the world and expect to be a strong Christian. This passage is not speaking of anyone having the ability to work for their salvation but speaks of the Christian who lives their life on the narrow road. Those who enter an earthly race can win an earthly crown which will eventually shrivel up but the Christian is in an eternal race which will yield them an incorruptible crown in Heaven. This crown is just symbolic as we do not receive remuneration for earthly works or that would constitute a gospel of works. What is in view here is the crown represents another aspect of eternal life which Christians will eventually enter. This verse speaks of an incorruptible crown which describes our inheritance. (1 Pet 1:4 KJV) To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, When speaking of crowns, we must also realize that God has made us kings and priests, which means Kings wear crowns. (Rev 1:6 KJV) And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. We can say that the incorruptible crown represents an incorruptible eternal life.
1 Corinthians 9:26
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
Uncertainly - Without a definite goal
Paul now combines the realities of the runner and the boxer. First, he states that he does not run the Christian race without a definite goal in mind. Some of the goals that Paul has already shown us are discipline, narrow way living, evangelism, discipleship. All of these dovetail right into the principle of the boxer, where he says that he is not beating the air or shadowboxing, because the enemy that he faces is real. The Christian life is a battle and not an easy walk whereby shadowboxing will be an effective tool. As Christians each of us must carry on our daily warfare with a definite goal in sight. Paul carried on his ministry with the maximum effort that any Christian could. His goal is found in Philippians 3:14: (Phil 3:14 KJV) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Paul even saw the high calling of the Lord Jesus as a prize. From a dead, hell-bound sinner to a Saint of the Most High surely is a great prize. Every Christian needs to take a time of self-examination and see what our goals are in our Christian walk. Fighting a real and vicious enemy requires us to have some type of goal in mind with a strategy to match.
1 Corinthians 9:27
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Keep Under - Buffet or discipline
Subjection - Literally to bring under as a slave
Castaway - Rejected or discarded
If there is one great hindrance to the Christian life it is the flesh and its insatiable appetites. If you are looking for reasons why many great ministries which have been ruined, start with the sins of the flesh and you will probably find that it began with neglecting to bring the body under subjection. In fact Paul tells us that the body is so undisciplined that he needed to discipline it as one disciplined a slave. Now in Corinth, people would have been familiar with that method since whipping was the normal way of keeping someone in line. Now Paul is not advocating flagellating the body but he says the disciplines have to be as intense as one who is being whipped. Paul desired greatly to keep his body under subjection for fear that he would become rejected as a Christian. Not that God would reject him, but he would be disqualified for ministry and everything he built and put his heart into, would be ruined. Many a good ministry has been ruined by indulging the flesh, whether it is sexual or material, anything which is perceived to be an indulgence of the flesh will eventually become a fortress in the lives of that Christian. Paul wanted no fortress of sin to be built up in his life. He was completely sold out to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now Paul was a human being and had the same desires that each of us have, but the key is how do we handle those urges? Do we allow them to fester in us until they become a stronghold? The moment that we have sinful urges is the time to deal with them, not wait until they continue to gnaw at us unto the point that we give in to it. Even one tryst with sin can ruin a lifetime of Christian work. This is what Paul feared because in a place like Corinth where sex was legal in the pagan temples, plus he was single and on the road a lot. This would have added to his desires, but instead of succumbing to them, he quelled them by the power of God.