In the preceding verses the apostle clearly shows from "the Scriptures that the Lord's apostles, ministers, evangelists and missionaries (who are engaged full time in the study and preaching of the gospel) should be supported and cared for by those to whom they minister.
(Vs. 15.) "Though I have the right to marry as well as others, to forego secular labour and to expect maintenance by those to whom I preach, yet I have not made use of these privileges; nor am I now writing and suggesting that these things be done for me." Evidently Paul had been accused of preaching for gain and for his own profit and advantage. He continually rejected and denied the charge! That is why he chose to work with his hands, providing his own upkeep and taking nothing from the Corinthians (Acts 20:33, 34; 2 Cor. 11:7-10; 12:17, 18). Paul gloried and rejoiced in the fact that no one could accuse him of using the ministry to get gain, and now he had rather die than be deprived of this personal satisfaction.
(Vs. 16.) "Though I do preach the gospel of God's glory and grace, I have no room nor reason to glory, nor even to feel that I have done anything unusual or commendable; for I am a servant of God, under divine orders, and exposed to severe penalty and woe if I do not preach the gospel."
(Vs. 17.) "If I preach this gospel and endure the trials and labour in the Word with a willing spirit and a cheerful heart, I have great satisfaction and compensation; but if I do so reluctantly and under compulsion, I am still a servant of Christ, entrusted with a sacred and holy commission, whether with pay or without pay, whether willingly or reluctantly. None of these things changes the fact that I am a servant of Christ with divine orders to preach the Word."
(Vs. 18.) "What then is my present compensation and reward? just this: that I am so in love with Christ, so convinced of the truth of his gospel, so burdened for all men, that I surrender my rights and privileges as a preacher of the gospel and give my services free to all. I cannot be accused of profiting from the gospel or abusing my privileges."
(Vs. 19.) Paul declared that he was free from all (the word "men" is not in the original text), from the curse of the moral law, from the yoke of the ceremonial law and from the maintenance and support of believers. Yet he considered himself the willing servant of all, catering to them in every way that he could in order to endear himself to them and bring them to faith in Christ.
(Vs. 20-22.) The ceremonial law died with Christ (Eph. 2:15, 16). Believers are not bound by circumcision, sabbaths and rituals prescribed under the law, but Paul observed some of these in order to have an open door to preach to the Jews (Acts 16:1-3; 21:19-24). To the Gentiles, who were under no obligation to the ceremonial law, Paul could freely discourse and fellowship as one under the law of Christ. With the weak (those without discernment and maturity), who were troubled about meats, drinks and various forms of liberty, he identified, surrendered his liberty and played down his knowledge, that he might gain their confidence. In short, he became all things to all men that he might, at any cost to himself and in any way, bring them to a saving knowledge of Christ.
(Vs. 23.) Paul had two great ends at which he aimed in this denial of himself in these many points of liberty: chiefly, for the gospel's sake, that is, for the glory of God, for the spread of the gospel to the eternal glory of our Redeemer; secondly, that Jew and Gentile (men of all sorts) might share with him in the blessings of eternal life (2 Tim. 2:9, 10).
(Vs. 24.) The reference in this and the following verses is to the Grecian games, such as running, wrestling and fighting. Many start the race, many run for a while, but the one who obtains the prize is the one who finishes the race first. The object of running is to gain the crown given to the victor. Believers are to run the Christian race, persevering with one object in view, and that is to reign with Christ and be made like him (Ps. 17:15). Nothing is to divert their attention or interest from this goal.
(Vs. 25.) Every athlete who competes in the games is mindful of need to discipline himself in food, drink, pleasures and idleness. He restricts himself to temperance and moderation in all things in order to win a temporary and corruptible crown. The believer's faith, dedication, temperance and sacrifice are for a higher and nobler purpose to gain an incorruptible Crown! (Heb. 12:1,2.)
(Vs. 26,27.) "Therefore, I do not run as one who is out jogging with no goal or destination, but as one who strives to cross the finish line. I do not box as a man shadow-boxes, who has no opponent, but only strikes out at the air. I have a real enemy the flesh! So I discipline my flesh, my mind, my body and bring them into subjection to the Spirit of Christ. I subdue this flesh with its desires and infirmities, lest while preaching the gospel to others, I myself should fail the test and prove to be reprobate" (2 Cor. 13:5).