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Defending Against the Abuse of Scripture: 1 Cor 9:20-21

Rev David Silversides, Loughbrickland RPCI, defends the Reformed understanding of the Moral Law and corrects the antinomian abuse of this passage during his sermon, The Christian and the Law (delivered at Templepatrick & Doagh Conference, 22nd May 2011). The relevant portion of the sermon is transcribed below.



““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. 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.” (1Cor 9:20-21)


This has been fearfully abused. The Apostle is dealing with his willingness to give up legitimate things for the good of others. Freedom from the ceremonial law was a freedom that he used consistently with seeking the good of others. Did he here go beyond what was required of him?


No, he did not. The use he made of his freedoms under the first table of the law were consistent with his duties under the second table of the law.


For example, when he did not eat meat sacrificed to idols so as to avoid offending the weaker brother he was not doing something beyond what is required under the Law of God, he was doing something that the first table, our duty directly to God, sanctioned, but he was abstaining from it out of love to his neighbour. When the Apostle gave up legitimate freedom it wasn’t a work above and beyond what the Law of God required, but he used what was legitimate, in terms of the first table of the law, in a manner consistent with the second. His love to God required under the first table of the law taught him that eating meat offered to idols was not sinful, it was not a breach of the first or second commandments, but knowing it would harm others he has regard to the second table of the law - his duty to his neighbour. So he would do without that food rather than breach the second table of the law, even though he didn’t break the first by it. He had regard to love his neighbour and not break the sixth commandment by that which was destructive of his neighbour.


So there is no addition to the the moral law in the apostle’s abstaining from legitimate things for the good of others he is simply observing the second table of the law ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’.


Vs 21 “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ”:


What does it mean?


Antinomians have it to mean whatever they want it to mean, but it actually means this:


First, he did not try to keep God’s law to merit acceptance to God, he trusted in Christ’s merit.


Second, he knew that Christ fulfilled the types of the ceremonial law and these types in themselves were no longer required.


Thirdly, he was under the law as the direction of how his love of Christ was to come to expression - I am under law to Christ.


Those aspects of God’s law which are consistent with belonging to Christ are my rule of obedience so he rejected works salvation, that was a misuse of the law. He understood that the types of the ceremonial law had been fulfilled and that he wasn’t automatically obliged to keep them, but the Moral Law he acknowledged and sought to keep out of love to the Saviour, who had redeemed him from his sins. In other words he kept the moral law the ten commandments from gospel motives. Love to Christ, in whom in trusted for his acceptance with God, caused him to observe the moral law and where necessary caused him to give up legitimate things for good of his Jewish neighbour.