The Great Commission Life Principle :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

The Great Commission Life Principle

Forrest McPhail
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“I must be all things to all men with all discipline of body and spirit that I might win some.” This central principle for Great Commission living is a summary of the Apostle Paul’s teaching and is illustrated vividly by his life. He explained and illustrated the concept in detail in 1 Corinthians 8–10, where the Holy Spirit made it clear through the Apostle Paul that the Great Commission is for all God’s people in every context. Paul urges the Corinthian believers to live according to love and self-control for the Gospel’s sake. We previously wrote a series unpacking these chapters that can be accessed here.

A Guiding Life Principle for Missionaries

While Paul’s words in these chapters obviously apply to all believers, they particularly apply to servants of the Gospel, and even more so to cross-cultural servants whom we commonly refer to as missionaries. Paul shows us, especially in chapter 9, how those who labor for the Gospel must apply this key principle to everything in their lives. They must do this in order to be all they can be in service to Christ and to remove unnecessary obstacles to faith, resulting in greater effectiveness in winning people to Jesus.

How did Paul apply “be all things to all men with all discipline” in his own life and ministry? He tells us in chapter 9 that he chose not to marry in order to better fulfill his ministry in very challenging circumstances. He argues extensively that there are times when remaining single is strategic and necessary for effective gospel ministry.1 He does not address one’s desire to marry but the need to sometimes choose not to for the better advancement of the Gospel.

He declined regular financial support throughout his ministry so as to avoid unnecessary offense and keep his motives in preaching Christ above reproach.2 He also did this to be an example of hard work for believers in Thessalonians who were given to laziness.3 While he argued that full-time support was to be the norm for gospel laborers, he urges us to consider giving up this privilege when doing so would be advantageous for the Gospel.

Penetrating Questions

As we read of these voluntary sacrifices of the Apostle Paul, we have to ask ourselves some penetrating questions: If I am single, am I willing to devote myself to a life of singleness in order to more effectively serve Christ in difficult places? Am I willing to work full-time or be bi-vocational in order to serve Jesus Christ where there is no real hope of full support later? Am I willing to work full-time or be bi-vocational in places where that is required to gain access for gospel ministry, or wherever secular employment would be important for my testimony?

Paul made many other sacrifices beyond these. We all know of the extensive persecution, physical suffering, spiritual oppression, and multiplied trials of life he faced for years as he faithfully fulfilled his ministry.4 His example forces us to face the question of whether or not we are willing to suffer in these ways for Jesus’ sake. We must ask questions such as these:

  • Am I willing to go somewhere to preach Christ knowing full well that to do so will likely result in direct persecution, physical suffering, insecurity, and spiritual warfare beyond anything I have previously known?
  • Am I willing to take the Gospel somewhere even if I know it may result in my torture or death?
  • Am I willing to say to God without reservation: Where do you want me to go for your Name’s sake?  

But there are further applications to this principle that Paul explains for us. Paul tells us that he gave up his right to eat and drink,5 that he became a Jew to win the Jews and a Gentile to win the Gentiles,6 and that he became weak to win the weak to Christ.7 We will look into the meaning of these words and how they apply to gospel servants, especially cross-cultural missionaries, in future articles of this series. 

The Importance of Discipline

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, one of the most well-known passages of these chapters, must be understood within the context of this emphasis on how to live a life given to Christ and His Gospel.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.8

Self-control, motivated by love for Christ and love for others, is an absolute necessity if we are going to make hard life decisions about advancing the Gospel. Indispensable to this self-control is grace from God to enable us to obtain and maintain it. We often speak of the need for God’s grace, but we tend to avoid the manward side of the equation, which is self-discipline. Great Commission-centered living is absolutely impossible without grace-infused self-discipline. A thoughtful reading of 1 Corinthians 8-10, with a slow meditation on chapter 9, will show how important this principle is for a Christ-centered life.

“I must be all things to all men with all discipline of body and spirit that I might win some.”

This study of 1 Corinthians 9 continues with the next article, Surrendering our RIghts.


1 1 Corinthians 9:5; 7:25-35

2 1 Corinthians 9:6-18

3 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

4 2 Corinthians 1:5-10; 4:7-18; 6:3-10; 11:21-33; 12:1-10

5 1 Corinthians 9:4

6 1 Corinthians 9:19-21

7 1 Corinthians 9:22

8 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.