A sermon on I Corinthians 9:16-23 for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, February 1 and 4, 2018.
We will go the extra mile for you. Businesses want this as their motto. Managers will drive the point home to always please the customers. We do not want to frequent a restaurant where the service is slow. It takes five minutes for someone to refill our drink. The food comes out cold or the wrong order. Businesses want their employees to go the extra distance for the customer. It can be a simple smile. The employees will be polite. They want to make the experience as pleasant as possible, so the customer will return. If customers leave and never come back due to poor service, the place of business will not be open very long.
It should be the same for those who proclaim the gospel message. They will go the extra distance in sharing the good news about Jesus. How does this look? Well, Paul provides some insight into that for us. God’s workers will most certainly go the distance because they have the best news to tell.
How far was Paul willing to go to proclaim the gospel message? Paul was willing to not use certain freedoms given to him. Paul had every right to make his living from the gospel. Earlier Paul spoke of the rights of an apostle. God’s workers should be paid for their work. Paul could have used his freedom to tell the congregations that they should pay him a salary. However, Paul knew this would cause more harm than good.
Some of Paul’s enemies lied about his motives. They claimed Paul was only in it for himself. He preached to not only make a name for himself but to get rich. Well, Paul was not independently wealthy. Most of the time he never took payment from congregations. He preached free of charge to the church in Corinth, so that his enemies did not have a leg to stand on. Paul set aside his freedoms so the gospel might be shared.
If he was not doing it for the money, why did he preach? Paul said he was compelled to preach. In the Greek it said it was necessary for him to do this. God appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. A bright light blinded him. God knocked him down flat on his back. God revealed to Paul his new life’s work. Paul would serve as God’s spokesman to the Gentiles. The ever widening circle of the reach of the gospel began to grow and grow.
As Paul went from town to town, it would have been easy for him to boast. Everywhere he went, he gained a following. Most people, many never heard of Jesus before, came to faith when they sat at Paul’s feet. All this fame easily could have gone to his head. Paul could have shouted how great he was. Paul never pointed to himself. He always gave all glory to God.
“You see, if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast about, because an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:16)! Paul did not do all this work to boast. Paul preached because he was commanded to. Paul had to preach. God laid an obligation upon him, so he went out putting aside his freedoms in doing so.
Yet, there was a reward. “What then is my compensation? To present the gospel of Christ free of charge when I preach it, instead of making use of the right I have when I preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:18). Paul gave thanks for the fact that he could preach the gospel. Paul wanted to lay out before the Corinthians the wonderful truths of Scripture. He did not want money to get in the way. Paul wanted the beautiful message of Christ and forgiveness to be in the forefront.
We do not have the same command from God as Paul. God did not appear to us in our cars, as we were driving down the road, to go to some far off country to proclaim the gospel message. God does, however, command us to spread his Word. In the Great Commission God tells us to baptize and teach God’s truths to all nations. This is our charge to go out to our families, community, and yes even with our mission monies to the ends of the earth to enlarge God’s kingdom.
When we do preach, is it easy to boast in ourselves? Satan would love it if we did this. He lurks around every corner wanting us to think our powerful delivery made a believer out of someone. He wants our sinful pride to rise up focusing only on numbers to gauge success. All of a sudden we pry ourselves away from the gospel.
Our boasting is in proclaiming the gospel message. Our boasting is in the fact that Jesus freed me from the chains of sin and death. Our boasting comes that Jesus made me, a sinful human being, his own child. Christ is our all in all. Christ is our everything. We will no longer boast, but we will try anything and everything to win souls for Jesus.
Paul went into detail in how he did his mission work. “To the Jews, I became like a Jew so that I might gain Jews. To those who are under the law, I became like a person under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might gain those who are under the law” (I Corinthians 9:20). When Paul worked among the Jews, he lived like a Jew. He would not eat pork, bacon, or shellfish. He worshipped on a Saturday. He discussed circumcision and sacrifices and holy days. Even though he was no longer bound to those laws, he did not want to offend and put a stumbling block in the way to his gospel outreach.
“To those who are without the law, I became like a person without the law (though I am not without God’s law but am within the law of Christ) so that I might gain those who are without the law” (I Corinthians 9:21). When Paul worked among the Gentiles, he exercised his freedoms. He could eat meat considered “unclean” by the Jews. Sacrifices were not a prescribed part of worship. All the ceremonial laws were a nonfactor. “To the weak, I became weak, so that I might gain the weak” (I Corinthians 9:22). Paul did not want to put any obstacle in the way of the gospel.
Paul wanted to make sure the gospel message shined through in everything he did. “I have become all things to all people so that I may save at least some” (I Corinthians 9:22). What was the reason for all of this? He wanted to reach people where they were at. He wanted the door to remain open to speak to them about Jesus before it quickly closed. He desired that all would know Christ’s love and forgiveness.
Paul never wrote one sermon for all occasions. Paul looked at his various situations and applied the gospel to where the people were at. Even though his methods changed, one thing remained the same. The message never changed. Paul continued to speak about Jesus. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. He taught about God’s grace to a sinful world.
We too will enslave ourselves so as not to put unnecessary burdens on people. The devil puts enough obstacles in people’s way that we do not need to help him. We cannot think that our way is best. We cannot become so entrenched in one way of doing things that it becomes the only way. We cannot wait for people to come to us, but we have to go to them and reach them at their level.
Our message will never change. The message proclaimed from this pulpit has not changed since this congregation has been established. We proclaim the very same truths Paul did to the Corinthians and Moses to the Israelites. We preach Christ crucified. We proclaim Christ as the only one to change hearts.
Our methods will change over the years. We will speak differently and use different terms to a person who has never heard about Jesus than to someone who has been a believer their entire life. The format of the service will change as new songs are introduced, and God’s people use their gifts to put new music to those treasured texts. Music will vary from our location to inner city Milwaukee. Technology will be used in various ways.
This does not mean one way is better. It does not mean we can look down on someone doing things differently. As long as Christ is preached, that is the important thing. As long as the truth of the gospel is going out, that is what we rejoice in with our fellow brothers and sisters. We need to take a backseat and let the gospel go out to do its work.
The reason for all of this is simple. “And I do everything for the sake of the gospel so that I may share in it along with others” (I Corinthians 9:23). How far will a person go to gain something? A parent tells their child that once they clean their room they will get ice cream or go mini-golfing or something else. That child will quickly get the work done, albeit not very well, to get their reward.
How far will we go for the gospel? We will want to put our best foot forward. We will meet a person where they are at. We will put aside our freedoms so that the gospel will be heard. We will find some way to tell others about Jesus.
How far will we go to help family and friends? We will go to great lengths to help them out. We will do anything for them. We want them to be happy and joyful. When a grandchild calls up grandma and grandpa to tell them they got straight A’s on their report card. The grandparent will not hang up with a gruff voice saying, “Big deal!” They will join in the happiness.
How far will we be willing to go for the gospel? We have the greatest news that anyone can ever share. We will not keep it to ourselves. We will find a way to get it out. We will share it with others. We want others to know the blessings Jesus won for them. Let’s get out and share that gospel message. Amen.