Thomas Jefferson captured the American idea of freedom in one sentence in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Christian idea of freedom involves more. The freedom that comes with Christ is the freedom to love God and others.
It might seem as if Paul has suddenly changed the subject from questions about eating to the privileges that were his as an apostle. In reality, he is offering a personal example of the kind of sensitivity to others he has urged the Corinthians to follow. Although he had a “right” to be financially supported by the Corinthian church, he preached the gospel “free of charge” and chose not to make full use of those rights (vv.15–18).
To help them understand his point, Paul first makes a biblical case for the rights he has voluntarily set aside. He does this by appealing to a combination of common sense and biblical instruction (vv. 7–11). Paul had the right to expect the Corinthians to provide him with a “living” (v. 14).
The apostle decided not to claim this right “to win as many as possible” (vv. 19–23). The Corinthians were used to seeing philosophers and teachers treated like celebrities and demanding payment for their services. “This whole discussion has underlined Paul’s tender concern for the weak,” New Testament commentator Leon Morris explains. “It helps us to see how he respected their scruples, and conformed his behavior to theirs.” The biblical idea of freedom includes restraint.
>> Can you think of an area where Christ may be asking you to limit your freedom for the sake of the gospel? To do so requires sensitivity to others. To reach them, we must often become like them. Paul shows that it is possible to do this without compromising biblical standards.
Dear God, yesterday we asked for softened hearts; today we ask for alertness to see where we should curb personal freedom for our brothers’ and sisters’ sake. Grant us sensitivity to their needs.