Read verses 19-23
Q: Although the translators are correct in using the term “slave”, what does it actually describe?
A: Slavery in modern times became a horrific institution which did not mirror what took place in ancient times. A slave was far more likely to be someone who went to work exclusively for their master, living with him and tending to his business. In return, the slave was taken care of, educated, and may have even achieved elevated success in his master’s household or business. In modern English “slave” might better be understand as “servant”, which is also Jesus’ standard for New Testament leadership.
And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
— Luke 22:25-27
Q: Is Paul actually teaching the modern equivalent of, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do?”
A: We have to understand this within the greater context of the overall teaching leading into these verses. Paul was not compromising by lowering his standards, but was relating to people by setting aside his personal privileges. He tried to meet the needs of those needing Christ by sympathizing with their experiences.
Q: How are these different types of people listed actually reflected in Paul personally?
A: Paul was both a Jew and a Roman citizen. In other words, he had the personal ability and background to identify both with “those who are under the Law” (the Jews) as well as “those who are without law” (the Gentiles). It testifies that he does not merely relate to them from an earthly perspective but in terms of their spiritual perspectives as well.
Q: Is Paul saying there are situations where he sets aside obedience to God’s Word and ways?
A: Paul qualifies that he is always “under the law of Christ”. He is speaking more about each group’s earthly traditions, that he could use the Law of Moses as a key to open the Jewish heart just as he could use the moral law as a key to open the Gentile heart.
Q: What is the third group identified by Paul?
A: “The weak”. (v.22) It describes people who are not very observant of their own traditions whether they are Jews who are not Torah observant or Gentiles who put little stock in their own faith or values. Paul recognized their spiritual condition as rooted in a different set of issues requiring an appropriate approach.
Q: What is Paul’s overriding goal and concern?
A: “That I may win more”. (v.19) He set aside his privileges as a Jew “that I might win Jews” (v.20), he set aside his privileges as a Roman citizen “that I might win those who are without law” (v.21), and set aside his privileges as a person of education and faith “that I might win the weak” (v.22).
Application: True ministers of the Gospel sacrifice their own privileges in order to win the lost.