19.--For though I be free; rather, though I was free. He has voluntarily abandoned this freedom. The true rendering of the verse is, For being free from all men [Gal. 1:10], I enslaved myself to all. In acting thus he obeyed his own principle of not abusing his liberty, but “by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
20.--Unto the Jews I became as a Jew. When, for instance, he circumcised Timothy (Acts 12:3) and probably Titus also (Gal. 2:3); and he was continuing this principle of action when he took the vow of the Nazarite (Acts 21:21–26), and called himself “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). To them that are under the Law. That is, not only to Jews, but even to the most rigorous legalists among the Jews. It should be carefully observed that Paul is here describing the innocent concessions and compliances which arise from the harmless and generous condescension of a loving spirit. He never sank into the fear of man, which made Peter at Antioch unfaithful to his real principles. He did not allow men to form from his conduct any mistaken inference as to his essential views. He waived his personal convictions in matters of indifference which only affected “the infinitely little.”
21.--To them that are without law, as without law. In other words, I so far became to the heathen as a heathen, that I never willfully insulted their beliefs nor shocked their prejudices, but on the contrary, judged them with perfect forbearance and treated them with courtesy. Paul tried to look at every subject, so far as he could do so innocently, from their point of view. He defended their gospel liberty, and had discussions with Gentile converts on terms of perfect equality. Not without law to God. Not even “without law”. Much less “opposed to law”, though free from it as a bondage. Even the Gentiles were “not without law to God” (Rom. 2:14, 15). So that Paul is here using language which base opponents might distort, but which the common sense of honest readers would prevent them from misinterpreting.
22.--To the weak. His whole argument here is a plea for condescension to the struggles of weak converts. A similar condescension to their prejudices might be necessary to win them to Christianity at all. Paul often touches on our duties to weak brethren (Rom. 14:1; 1 Thess. 5:14; Acts 20:35). All things to all men. He repeats the same principle in ch. 10:33, “I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved;” and once more, at the end of his course (2 Tim. 2:10). This condescension laid him open to the malicious attacks of religious enemies. But not on that account would Paul ever be led to abandon the fruitful aid of that universal sympathy and tolerance which is one of the best tests of Christian love. That I might by all means save some. He adds this explanation of the motive of his condescension to various people lest any should accuse him of men-pleasing, as some of his Galatian opponents had done (Gal. 1:10). In his desire to win souls he acted with the wisdom and sympathy taught by experience, suppressing himself.
23.--And this I do. The better reading is, and I do all things. For the gospel’s sake. This is a wider feeling than even “for the elect’s sakes” of 2 Tim. 2:10. With you. The “you” is not expressed in the original, where we only have “a fellow-partaker of it.” But the word illustrates the deep humility of the apostle.