Are you a follower of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved for a purpose: the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth. In this message on 1 Corinthians 9, David Platt calls us to rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel among the nations.
- Let’s relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel.
- Let’s rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel.
- Let’s run this race together for the glory of our God.
The Cross and Christian Community
The Cross and Christian Mission
Dr. David Platt
August 4, 2013
The Cross and Christian Mission
1 Corinthians 9
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 9. In addition, I invite you to pull out the notes you received in your Worship Guide when you came in that will guide our time together. I want to get right to the point, so once you’ve got the Word and the notes, I want to invite you to look up here. I just want to speak candidly and pointedly to each of us, all of us from the start. So find 1 Corinthians 9, and then I invite you to look up here.
My heart is particularly heavy, burdened. I usually sit down when I preach, but this morning, I was looking over this, and I thought, “I just can’t sit down. I have too much in me that I can’t stay still.” So here’s the deal. We live in a world where we are bombarded by the temporal and the trivial in the day-to-day routine of life. We go to work. In a couple of weeks, many will go to school; we go home. We do this during the week; we do that on the weekends; we spend time with family; we spend time with friends. We have things to do, meals to eat, errands to run, boxes to check, money to make, responsibilities to take care of, people to provide care for, mouths to feed, diapers to change. I’m not saying that any of these things are bad. Some of them are more enjoyable than others, but this is the inevitable reality of everyday life.
However, if we are not careful, we can get so caught up in the temporal (the today) that we can miss, we can forget, we can ignore the eternal (that which lasts forever). Maybe another way to put it: If we are not careful, we can get so caught up in the daily routine of living that we actually miss the ultimate reason for life. We can get so caught up in our daily plans and our daily priorities that we actually miss the fundamental purpose for which we are on the planet in the first place.
I am zealous this morning to call you not to forget, not to ignore, not to miss the ultimate reason for your life. I am zealous to call you (and me) to lift our eyes for just a few moments this morning from the temporal to see the eternal, to lift our eyes up from today, to see that which lasts forever, and in so doing, to let that which lasts forever affect, change,
transform the way we live today.
Here’s maybe one more I way I could put this. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize I missed my whole purpose for being here. And I don’t want you to get to the end of your life, look back, and realize you missed your whole purpose for being here. I’m convinced that if we are not careful, even as Christians, that is entirely possible. It is entirely possible for any one of us in this room to get to the end of our lives, look back, and realize we missed the whole point. I’m zealous for that not to be the case in your life or my life.
I want to bring us to a passage in the Bible that tells us the point of why we’re here on the earth. Now this is not my attempt to say, “Here’s how I think you can make your life count.” No, that would be a waste of your time this morning. No, this is God—the One who made you, the One who created and crafted you, the One who knows you better than you know yourself, and the One who loves you more than anyone or anything else in this world could ever love you – this is God saying, “Here’s what I created you for. Here’s why you are on the earth. Here’s your mission.” I know that’s a loaded term, particularly if you’re not a Christian, but think “mission” here even in a general sense—mission, assignment, task, purpose. Think Apollo 11 lifting off from earth with a mission to go to the moon, journey to the moon. That was the mission. So what’s your mission? What’s your purpose on this earth? Because I don’t think any of us want to miss it.
Are you a follower of Jesus?
I want to start by asking a pretty fundamental question that’s going to divide us, in a sense, all across this room, into two groups. I want to ask this question because the answer to this question will affect the way you hear this word from God this morning. I’ll explain more in a minute, but let me go ahead and ask the question. It’s simple, yet significant: Are you a follower of Jesus?
Now notice that I didn’t ask, “Are you a Christian?” All kinds of people today say they’re Christians, but they’re not followers of Jesus. All kinds of people say they’ve been forgiven of their sins, they’re going to heaven in eternity, but they’re not following Jesus on earth. I have news for you. You don’t get to heaven in eternity if you don’t follow Jesus on earth. He’s the way to heaven. No one else, nothing else, including religious routine, is sufficient. Jesus himself says that many, many religious people—kind, decent churchgoing people in churchgoing cultures—will miss heaven because they didn’t know Jesus. Because they weren’t followers of Jesus.
So are you a follower of Jesus? Have you come to the point in your life where you have realized that you are a sinner before God, deserving of His eternal judgment, yet realizing that God is also merciful and gracious, and He has sent His Son, Jesus, to bear His judgment for your sin (in your place) on a cross, and Jesus has risen from the dead in victory over sin? Have you, in your life, turned from your sinful, selfish nature and trusted in Jesus as your Savior and as the Lord of the universe and the Lord over your life in such a way that your life now belongs to Him, and you follow Him? Are you a follower of Jesus?
Now I know that there are many of you who, if you’re honest, would say this morning, “No, the truth is I’m not a follower of Jesus.” If that’s the case, I want to ask you to hold on with me for a few minutes while I speak to those who are followers of Jesus. I don’t want you to tune me out because what I’m going to say to followers of Jesus has huge implications for you. Eventually we will get to the main exhortation, even invitation, that this Word will put before you this morning.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved for a purpose: the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth.
The passage that we’re about to read—1 Corinthians 9—is written to followers of Jesus. So, they’re the main audience in this text, which leads me to those of you who would say, “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus,” which I suspect is many of you in this room. If that’s the case, if that’s you, then this morning, (it’s bold in your notes at the top) I want to show you in God’s Word that: If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved. And “saved” is the right word there. I know that to some today this sounds like an old-fashioned religious word,
but this is the reality. You were dead in your sin, destined for eternity apart from God, and by His grace, He pursued you and saved you from your sin, from yourself, from the road you were on, and He brought you into a relationship with Him, a relationship that will last forever and ever and ever. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved.
Now keep going with me here. Why have you been saved? You have been saved for a purpose, and here’s the purpose: You have been saved for the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth. There it is. That is your purpose. That is your mission. Follower of Jesus, this is the purpose of your life on the earth: To enjoy God as you spread His gospel. You and I are tempted to miss that purpose at every turn.
Here’s how we’re tempted to miss it. We are tempted to take that sentence and put a period on it after “the enjoyment of God.” You have been saved, I have been saved, we have been saved to enjoy God, period. So we sit back in our supposedly Christian lives, and we enjoy God. We pray to God, we read God’s Word, we worship God in a church, we talk about God with other Christians, yet we rarely talk about God and the gospel with people who are not Christians. We live in a Christian bubble, and we’re quiet about Christ around our non
Christian neighbors and employees and friends. We don’t have an urgency to tell them how they can be saved from their sins. We’re not waking up in the morning, thinking, “How am I going to spread the gospel today?” That question isn’t driving us, and we’re not living all day long, trying, working hard to lead other people to Jesus. That’s an afterthought for us, at best.
The reality is (and I say this with as much compassion as is in me), if I were to ask the followers of Jesus in this room who have led someone else to Jesus over the last year to stand up, the overwhelming majority of followers of Jesus in the room would stay seated. And the reality is, some of us have been followers of Jesus for a year, 2 years, 3, 4, 5 years, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, and have never led one other person to Jesus or maybe have led only one or two people to Jesus.
Please hear me. I say that not to heap guilt or condemnation upon you, not to make you feel bad, but to help you, to help all of us to realize that if we’re not careful, our salvation can subtly and inadvertently turn into self-consumption where we receive amazing grace from God in our lives, yet we keep it to ourselves. If we’re not careful, Christian, we’re going to get the end of our lives and look back and realize that we missed the point.
God has given us a command: Make disciples of all nations. Are we going to get to the end of our lives, stand before God, and say, “I didn’t do the one commission you gave me to do on earth. I didn’t make a disciple”? Or, “I made a disciple here or there.” Oh God, may that kind of casual commitment to the commission of Christ not be true in our lives on that day! Oh God, help us not to miss the whole point of our salvation, the whole point for why He has left us on the planet. Think about it. If the ultimate purpose of our salvation was just our enjoyment of God, then as soon as God saved us, He would take us out of this world of sin and suffering and pain and death and bring us to be with Him. But He has left us here for a reason.
Follower of Jesus, you are on the earth for a mission, for a purpose: The enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel. This means, yes, you were created to enjoy God, and you will enjoy God most, you will get most out of life with God, as you spread the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth.
This is exactly what 1 Corinthians 9 was written to say. This chapter was written for Christians who were consumed with, centered on themselves, who were not living for the spread of the gospel, who were missing the whole point and purpose of their salvation. Paul writes this chapter to say, “Don’t miss the point. Don’t miss your purpose. Give your life to this one purpose: The enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel.” I want to read the chapter, and then I want to exhort us as followers of Christ in Birmingham today in the same way the Bible exhorted followers of Christ in Corinth 2000 years ago. Let’s read the chapter. First Corinthians 9:1:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
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 receive 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. (1 Corinthians 9:1–27)
1 Corinthians 9 calls us to relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel.
I want you to see three exhortations for followers of Jesus across this room tonight. Number one, followers of Jesus, let’s relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel. The key word in this chapter (particularly the first half of it) is “right” or “rights.” You might circle it every time you see it. It’s in verses 4, 5, 6, twice in 12, 15 and 18. Paul refers to his rights seven different times.
He’s making a point here that goes back to where he left off in 1 Corinthians 8. We talked last week about how Paul was urging Christians not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, because even though they had a right to eat such food, doing so would cause others to stumble in their faith. Paul said, “Instead of clinging to your right to eat that food, you need to think of others and what is best for them.”
So here we come to 1 Corinthians 9, and I want you to see the example of Paul as he basically takes an illustration from his own life to show how it’s possible to have a right to something, but to relinquish that right, to not use it, for the sake of the gospel. He talks in verse 4 about his right to eat and drink, in verse 5 about his right to have a wife, and then in verse 6 about his right to be paid for his work as an apostle. This is where he camps out in the verses that follow.
From verse 6 all the way down to verse 18, Paul makes clear that he had a right to financial support from the church at Corinth. In this passage, he gives one of the most concise yet clear explanations for why some who preach the gospel and lead the church should be financially supported by the church. Let me just pause here and put out on the table that
this is kind of an awkward passage for me to talk about. This is me showing you in the Bible how it is right for you to financially support me as one of your pastors. It’s kind of awkward for you, and it’s really awkward for me, so I’m just going to make this real quick.
Paul gives five reasons why it’s right for some to make a living by leading the church. Paul points first to common practice. He gives three illustrations in verse 7. A soldier, a farmer, and a shepherd all receive compensation for their work. These are three hardworking professions where Paul says, “If you work long and hard at something, it is a common and acceptable practice to profit reasonably from that.” Not extravagantly in any way, but reasonably.
Then, you have biblical precedent. Paul quotes in verse 9 from Deuteronomy 25:4 to talk about how an ox is able to eat crops in the field where it works, and how much more so, then, an apostle (in Paul’s case) who founded the church at Corinth and preached there for a year-and-a-half could and should be provided for materially by those among whom he is working. Third, Paul points to a universal pattern in verses 10–11 of sowing and reaping. It’s the same idea he develops in Romans 15:27 where he talks about how Gentile churches who benefited spiritually from the church at Jerusalem should support the church at Jerusalem materially. Paul goes so far as to say that they owed material support for the spiritual blessings they received.
Then, Paul references Jewish custom down in verse 13. By God’s design, those who served in the temple were sustained by food in the temple. Finally, if none of the above made it clear enough, Paul points to Christ’s command. Verse 14, “…the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). This is a reference to instructions Jesus had given for the provision of His disciples as they went out to start and lead the church (in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 in particular).
Obviously, none of this is building a case for the kind of extravagant abuses of pastoral compensation that are evident in various circles today. And this is certainly not me preaching a sermon, saying, “Hey, we need to pass the plate and get some more money for me and other pastors.” On the contrary, this is an opportunity for me to thank you as a church for the way you do support me and other pastors in the overall ministry of this church. We work hard to have the highest of integrity with how we use the financial resources of this church for the spread of the gospel in the world, which includes provision for various pastors and staff members and their families, who I pray and know are working hard to lead this church for the spread of the gospel in the world. I praise God for how you give toward that end—even this summer your giving is up (in the middle of the summer). I just want to affirm you in how you are doing what Paul is saying the church should do.
Notice that Paul’s whole point here is not to say to the church at Corinth that they need to support him financially. No, Paul’s whole point is to say that he had a right to financial support from the church at Corinth, but he surrendered this right for the sake of the gospel in Corinth.
It’s interesting. Paul took financial support from other churches at other times. We know from 2 Corinthians 11:8–9 that Paul took financial support from other churches in order to serve the church at Corinth. In Philippians 4:15, he talks about how the church at Philippi financially supported him. But in Corinth, and in other places for that matter, there were many times when he surrendered this right to financial support from a church for the sake of the gospel in that city.
We don’t know why specifically he chose not to take advantage of this right in Corinth. Clearly in this passage, he’s saying that he thought it would have jeopardized his preaching of the gospel there—maybe because of abuses of other supposed preachers and/or spiritual leaders in that city, maybe because potential new Christians in Corinth would have perceived him as needing pay for preaching the gospel to them. It likely had something to do with being in a pioneer area where there weren’t many Christians. So, he worked another job while he led people to Christ in order to get the church started. We don’t know all the specific circumstances in Corinth that differentiated it from other churches that Paul did receive financial support from. But the point is Paul believed that receiving financial support in Corinth would not be good for the gospel in Corinth, so he surrendered this right to financial support. That’s the point.
Paul is showing the Corinthians an example of how you can have a right to something, but in some circumstances one can (and should) yield that right for the sake of the gospel. That’s the key—“for the sake of the gospel”—that’s why Paul surrendered this right. Paul isn’t surrendering this right just because he wants to. He’s doing it because it would be good for others to hear and believe the gospel if he surrendered this right.
That takes us back to the point of 1 Corinthians 8. Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to eat certain meat. No, he’s going to down a steak with the best of them—unless eating the steak will hinder someone else’s faith because of the steak’s association with idols. If that’s the case, he’s going vegetarian that meal. The point is, follower of Jesus, we have rights, but we are willing to lay aside those rights in circumstances if we can better serve the church, and in this case better lead people to Christ, by surrendering that right.
What Paul is saying here is one of the reasons why (it’s not the only reason, but it’s one of the reasons why) as I’ve shared with you before, I’ve personally made the decision not to take any profit at all from any of the books that I’ve written. I’m not saying every pastor – or every Christian, for that matter – who writes a book should do the same thing. No, I don’t believe it’s inherently wrong at all for me to benefit materially from what I’ve written, and in that sense, I have a right to be compensated for it. But I don’t believe that would be best for the sake of the message I’m communicating, so I’ve come to the conclusion at this point that it’s best for the sake of the message that I preach not to profit from those books. I’m not even saying that I’ll never profit from anything like that in the future. I don’t know. The point is Paul is saying, “We always look at whatever situation or circumstance we’re in, and instead of clinging to what rights we may have, we ask the question, ‘What is best for the sake of the gospel?’”
So bring this into your life, and then hear the exhortation to you based on the example of Paul. You have rights in Birmingham and the world around you. I put in your notes some tangible examples, but there are obviously tons more of them. Think about it. Follower of Jesus, you have a right in Birmingham and the world around you to life, friends, marriage, family, safety, security, health, and happiness. You have a right to eat, drink, watch, wear, read, study, listen to, and say whatever you want. You have the right to organize your schedule, spend your time, choose your career, make your money, use your money, take your vacation, and plan your retirement. In the end, you have the right to do what you want to do, go where you want to go, and live how you want to live.
We are Americans. Maybe more than people in any other country or culture in the world today, we are familiar with our rights. We cling to our rights, so this text is huge for us today. Because, follower of Jesus, the cross compels you to surrender your rights for the sake of the gospel in Birmingham and the world around you. This is where I want to challenge you, Christian, to live radically different than the culture and country around you. According to our culture and our country, you have the right to make a lot of money, and you have the right for your family to be safe and secure. You have a right to do what you think is best for you life. But in the middle of all of that, the cross is beckoning you to surrender those rights for the sake of the gospel in Birmingham and the world around you. You say, “What do you mean?” Let me point to some examples of brothers and sisters among us. Let me point to individuals and families who used to sit among us but are now sitting in East Lake or Gate City (one of the most dangerous parts of our city) this morning, where some of them are serving and others of them have moved for the sake of the gospel. Or others who are sitting in the Middle East this morning, where there are serious threats to the safety of Westerners according to the State Department. These are brothers and sisters who have a right to safety and security for them and their kids, but they have relinquished that right for the sake of the gospel in the Middle East.
Let me point to brothers and sisters sitting in this room who have re-organized their entire families to care for foster children who need a mom and a dad to love them. Let me point to brothers and sisters who have surrendered their time to serve different groups and different needs all across the city of Birmingham. Let me point to brothers and sisters in this room who have completely revolutionized their lifestyles and drastically reduced their standard of living in order to be able to give more away for the sake of the gospel in Birmingham and the world around them.
This is the point. This is why we use language all the time around here like “blank check.” Because this is what we do as followers of Jesus. We put it all on the table—all of it—our schedule, our time, our career, our money, everything we have and everything we are, our safety, our security, our family, our life, and we say, “God, here I am. Use me however you want, wherever you want, in whatever way you want, for the sake of the gospel. If that means I pack the bags and move to the Middle East, then I go; we go. If that means I stay here and reorganize and readjust every part of my life for the sake of the gospel, then I do it. My life is not about what rights I have to this or that; I gladly surrender all my rights,
including my right to life itself, for the sake of the gospel.” This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Christians in America, it makes no sense for any one of us to stand beside the cross while we insist on having our rights. We stand beside the cross, gladly willing to surrender all our rights for the sake of the gospel where we live and to the ends of the earth. Why? Because this is our purpose on the planet.
1 Corinthians 9 calls us to rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel.
Which leads right into the next exhortation. Followers of Jesus in this room, let’s relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel, and let’s rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel. In verse 19, Paul moves from language about rights to language about freedom. He says in verse 19, “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all…” (1 Corinthians 9:19). The word there for “servant” is literally “slave,” so he is saying, “I have made myself a slave to all.” Why? Follow it here. Here’s the purpose: “I have made myself a [slave] to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19). What does that mean? Win them?
He goes on to say, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law that I might win those under the law…To those outside the law I became as one outside the law that I might win those outside the law…To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak” (1 Corinthians 9:20–22). Then, he clarifies what he means by this “win” language. He says in verse 22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Do you realize what Paul just said? Again, it may sound like old-fashioned religious language to some, but it’s biblical reality. Paul knows that there are all kinds of people around him. Jews and non-Jews alike, people of different ethnicities and different backgrounds in different situations. But what unites them all is that they need to be saved from their sins. Paul knows that all kinds of people are on a road that leads to an eternity apart from God. So he says, “I do whatever it takes. I flex my lifestyle; I make adjustments; I rearrange my life in order that they might be saved. I’m a slave to this purpose.”
See it, followers of Jesus in this room. See how Jesus saving you frees you to be a slave. Now that sounds backwards to us, but it’s true. Mark this down in your notes, followers of Jesus. First of all, we are free to be slaves of God. If I could just back up in the chapter for a minute to remind you what Paul said back in verse 16 when he was talking about preaching the gospel and not being paid for it. He said, “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Then he says, “If I do this [if I preach the gospel] of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a stewardship” (1 Corinthians 9:16–17).
Do you realize what Paul just said? He said, “I’m not preaching the gospel because I chose to do this. This is God’s will for me to do. It’s a necessity that is incumbent upon me, and condemnation upon me if I don’t do what I have been commissioned to do by God. I’m His slave!” That’s exactly what Paul calls himself throughout the New Testament: Literally, a slave of God. Followers of Jesus, this is what we are.
To use language from 1 Corinthians 6 that we read a few weeks ago, Christian, you are not your own. You have been bought at a price. You belong to God. We belong to God as slaves of God, which means (follow this) when it comes to this commission to spread the gospel, we are obligated to obey. We don’t have a choice. Necessity is laid upon us. Woe to us if we don’t spread the gospel.
This is language Paul uses back in Romans. He says, “I am obligated, both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish…that is why I am eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome.” (Romans 1:14–15) Paul says he’s obligated. Because Christ owns Paul, Paul owes Christ to the world. Though Paul’s call as an apostle is in many ways unique,
this same truth applies to every follower of Jesus in this room. Because Christ owns you, you owe Christ to the world. We are under divine obligation to spread the gospel.
If we are not careful, this can sound like this is something we have to do that we don’t really want to do. That’s the way “obligation” language can sound to us, but this is not the way Paul uses this language. This is not Paul reluctantly saying, “Well, I’m a slave. I don’t want to be a slave, but I am. So, even though I don’t want to do what God has told me to do, I have to do it.”
No, that is the farthest thing from what Paul is saying. Paul is saying for him—and Paul is making clear for us—that God’s gracious conversion of us creates a gospel compulsion in us. Paul is driven to spread the gospel of God to others because he is overwhelmed by the grace of God toward him. For Paul, there is no disconnecting salvation from mission, and I pray that the same would be said of followers of Jesus all around this room, that you and I would refuse to disconnect our salvation from our mission. Meaning, that every single one of us who has been saved by the grace of God would be compelled to spend our lives spreading the gospel of God.
Follower of Jesus, you have not been saved to sit on the sidelines. You have been saved by the immeasurable, incomprehensible, inconceivable grace of God, and His grace now compels you—wake up!—His grace compels you to spread the gospel He has given you. You are a steward of it, end of verse 17. We are stewards. We have been given something great! There is nothing greater than the gospel of our God, so do not keep it to yourself! This mission, this purpose is all about being a steward of what’s been given to us.
By the gospel, we are free to be slaves of God, which leads to the next part. This then means that we are free to be slaves of others. “I have made myself a slave to all,” Paul says, “so that I might win them to Christ.” Is this how you see the people around you in Birmingham? And the people around you in the world? The people you work with, and the people you live next to, and the people in this or that community of Birmingham, all across this city, and the people of North America, and terrorists among the nations for that matter? Do you see yourself as peoples’ slave, willing to rearrange your entire life to spread the gospel to them?
What does this mean? This means that as followers of Jesus we willingly commit our lives, our families, and our church to this mission. Verse 23, we do whatever it takes “for the sake of the gospel, that [we] may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23). Meaning, we know people around us in Birmingham and in the world need to be saved, and we want them to experience the blessings of the gospel. We want to know God with them. We want to enjoy God with them, not just for ourselves.
So we lay down our lives, and we lay down our families, and we lay down this entire church for this mission in our culture. We rearrange our lives right here—where we work and where we live—and we say, “What’s the best way for me to live for the spread of the gospel in Birmingham?” Then, we do whatever it takes.
For this mission, this purpose, in our city, in our culture, and across other cultures. This is where I want you to see mission in terms of both/and, not either/or. Don’t say, “Well, I’m not involved in mission because I’ve not moved overseas.” Follower of Jesus, it doesn’t matter where you live, you have been commissioned, sent out on mission. This starts in the culture where we live, among people who are like us, who are similar to us. We do what it takes (we arrange our schedules, we adjust our lifestyles) in order to win people to Christ around us. This is what we do.
To come back for a minute to those of you who aren’t followers of Jesus. You might be thinking at this point, “This is getting really weird. This is Christians going out and saying, ‘I need to work to save some people.’” This kind of language may be creeping you out a bit, but I just want you to hang with me. Think about it this way. Assume for a minute that it’s true, assume for a minute that apart from Jesus, you are guilty before God and deserving of eternal judgment, and the only way to be saved from that judgment is to hear and believe the gospel—the good news of God’s great love for you. If that’s true (which I realize for some of you may be a huge step, but just assume for a minute, if that’s true), then don’t you want people who care enough about you to rearrange their lives and commit themselves, no matter what it costs them, to share this gospel with you? Wouldn’t it be the most hateful, unloving thing in the world, if this is true, for people who know this is true, to keep it to themselves? God forbid that followers of Jesus would do anything less than commit their lives and families and the church to spread this gospel—here and around the world.
Across other cultures. That’s what Paul’s saying here, and it’s what’s creating all these problems at Corinth. The reason they’re having all these discussions about what food to eat and how to handle this or that situation is because the gospel is going across cultures, and it’s providing new challenges. So Paul says, “You do what you need to do in a certain culture in order to spread the gospel.” If that means you eat different foods or you abstain from different foods, you do what you need to do. You rearrange your lifestyle for the spread of the gospel. When I’m around Jews, I do what Jews do. When I’m around Gentiles, I do what Gentiles do. I willingly do whatever it takes to accomplish this mission, this purpose wherever I go.
Now, as soon as I say “whatever it takes,” I need to make some immediate caveats, and that leads to the next part of your notes here. Yes, we willingly commit our lives, families, and church to this mission, and as we do, we wisely contextualize the gospel in this mission. That word “contextualize” is not a word that we use often, but it’s a good word to know because it’s something we all do as followers of Jesus with the gospel. To contextualize is to take the gospel and to make it as clear as possible in a specific context. You do different things in different contexts in order to make the gospel clear in that context.
This simply means that if you’re going to share the gospel in the Middle East, then you need to get to know the Middle Eastern context. What do they wear there? What do they eat? How do they greet one another? What are their customs that you need to adopt in order to be like them? I go to some parts the Middle East, and I need to learn real quick how to greet men with a kiss on the cheek. Sometimes it’s one kiss on one cheek; sometimes it’s a kiss on two opposite cheeks; sometimes it’s a back and forth for a few kisses. This is going to be important for your building of friendships in the Middle East, for the spread of the gospel. Back here in this context, though, if I go up to men everywhere and started kissing them back and forth on the cheeks, it’s not going to be good for the spread of the gospel.
In whatever culture we’re in, we are constantly contextualizing the gospel. Even our worship gathering this morning is contextualized. This whole scene would be completely foreign— and actually inappropriate—in many Middle Eastern contexts. It wouldn’t even be appropriate for men and women to be sitting in the same room next to each other like this. Now does that mean it’s bad for men and women to sit next to each other in worship? No, it’s a different context.
There’s so much we could talk about here, but the point Paul is making is that in any context we’re in, with whoever we’re around, we remove all obstacles to the gospel. That’s what Paul’s saying. This is why he didn’t take money in Corinth—because he believed taking money in Corinth would be an obstacle to the gospel in Corinth. Paul says, “I do whatever it takes.” Verse 12, I “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). I get to know the culture and the people around me. Follower of Jesus, get to know the people around you who don’t know Christ. Don’t isolate yourself from them. Get to know them, understand them, and serve them by working to remove any and every obstacle there is to the gospel in their life.
At the same time, remember that we never remove the offense of the gospel. Meaning, do everything you can to remove unnecessary barriers to the gospel, but don’t remove anything from the gospel itself because in any and every culture, the gospel itself is going to be offensive. The gospel proclaims that people are sinners apart from God, in need of grace, and there are many things in every culture and every context that people are going to have to turn from in order to trust in Christ. We must be careful in our efforts to lead people to Christ to never minimize the realities of the gospel.
If you’re in the Middle East, you don’t minimize the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, even though that truth is offensive to Muslims. You share that truth with grace and love, and you show how and why it’s true, but you don’t shy away from that truth. In the same way that in America, you don’t shy away from the truth that to follow Christ costs you everything you have. Christianity is not some cultural routine where you just go on living like you did before. To be a follower of Jesus is to put your life as a blank check on the table before God, willing to go, do, be, sell, give away whatever He says.
We work to remove all obstacles to the gospel, but we never remove the offense of the gospel. Another way to put this: We lay aside all of our comforts for the spread of the gospel. We don’t look at our schedule this week, at our lifestyle as a whole, and say, “What is best for me? What is most comfortable for me? What is easiest for me?” No, we think about our schedule this week, every day, and we look at our lifestyle and ask, “How can I best spread the gospel in Birmingham and the world around me?”
Think about it. Is your current lifestyle, your current schedule, your priorities, your spending, your use of time the best way to spread the gospel in Birmingham and throughout the world?” If not, then no matter how uncomfortable it may make you, you make changes— whatever it takes—no matter how far outside of your comfort zone it takes you. You make changes in order to lead people to Christ.
Again, don’t miss the caveat. We lay aside all of our comforts, but we never lay aside any of Christ’s commands. Paul makes clear here in the parentheses in verses 20 and 21 that this doesn’t mean he sins in order to spread the gospel. You don’t sin in order to reach sinners. You don’t become a prostitute in order to reach prostitutes. But do you know what you do? You do what members of this faith family do. You go and be with them and you get to know them and you identify with their hurts and with their pains, and you make sacrifices in your life in order to serve them as their slave as you share this gospel with them.
Church, let’s do this all across this culture. All across this city, brothers and sisters, let’s rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel in Birmingham. Spend time this week in your small groups talking with each other, asking each other, “How can we do this? What rights can, should we relinquish for the spread of the gospel in Birmingham?” Get practical, and put it into practice. Ask each other, “How can we rearrange our lives and our families and our schedules and our lifestyles for the spread of the gospel in Birmingham?” We’ve got to ask each other these questions and then help each other answer them.
Then, Church at Brook Hills, let’s do this across other cultures. You have in your Worship Guide a list of first quarter mission trips to other cultures for 2014. Our goal is to start releasing these more periodically so that you can think through options for going into other cultures. These are just the trips that are planned. You’ll notice that there’s information there about how you can plan your own trip, as a small group or whatever it might be, to go any number of places where we have partners. Over the last year, you as a faith family have gone out on 45 different trips into different cultures and contexts, from cities like Atlanta and New York, to countries from Latin America to every part of Asia to the Middle East and Africa. Providing health care, teaching education, training pastors, doing orphan care, providing water, and all sorts of other things as you have spread the gospel across cultures.
Every year, we challenge one another, and I want to challenge you today: Consider giving two percent of your life over this next year to spreading the gospel in another context. Two percent of your life works out to about one week of your life. We want to work with you. We have a whole team that is ready to work with you to make that happen in one of these places or through a variety of other avenues that are out there. Church at Brook Hills, we have been given a commission, not just to make disciples in our culture, but across all cultures, and we’re all involved in this. This is our mission, so let’s go. Go to that website (brookhills.org/go) or contact Fox (let’s inundate his inbox). Let’s sacrifice our time and our money and our preferences and our comforts, and let’s fan out over the next year across other cultures for the spread of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 9 calls us to run this race together for the glory of our God.
Followers of Jesus, in the end, third exhortation let’s run this race together for the glory of our God. Paul closes out this chapter with a powerful picture of runners in a race, imagery that would have been familiar to the Corinthian Christians, as Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games every two years. Think Olympics in that day. He uses runners in a race to parallel what is he is saying about this mission, and all he does is point out the obvious. Runners run for a purpose, for a prize, and they work hard. They work really, really hard. They relinquish all kinds of rights and they rearrange their lives to get that prize. What is that prize? It’s a perishable wreath. They do all that they do for a crown of leaves, for a measly medal. How much more, then, should we work, should we relinquish our rights, and should we rearrange our lives for a reward that will last forever?
Think about the requirements in this race that we have been commissioned to run as followers of Jesus. The spread of the gospel from where we live to the ends of the earth, this purpose, this mission requires sacrificial self-denial. Just like a runner doesn’t indulge himself in anything that will hinder his training, we deny ourselves any right and anything that is not best for the spread of the gospel.
This mission requires stringent self-discipline. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Literally, the language there is, “I make my body my slave.” This is the same root word that’s used for slave back in verse 19. How do we work for the spread of the gospel from where we live to the ends of the earth? With stringent self-discipline. We fast and we pray, we study and we work, we love and we serve, we spend and we sacrifice, not because our culture says to live this way and not because our comforts say to live this way, but because our commission demands that we live this way. Discipline yourself, follower of Jesus, to share and spread the gospel. This is the end goal.
Sacrificial self-denial, stringent self-discipline, and single-minded devotion. Paul says, “I’m not, we’re not running aimlessly.” Then he switches the athletic metaphor slightly to say, “I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26). There’s a purpose for my boxing. There’s a purpose in our running. This is not self-denial for the sake of self-denial or self
discipline for the sake of self-discipline; this is self-denial and self-discipline for the sake of spreading the gospel.
Paul is fixated on that. He says in Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Did you hear that? Paul says, “My life is worth nothing to me if only I may finish this task, complete this purpose, run this race.” This race drives him. Why?
Because the rewards of this race are huge. They’re high. The rewards of this race and the stakes in this race are infinitely high. If you and I run this race together well for the glory of our God, then others will experience the eternal joy of salvation. We’re not talking about a crown of leaves here or a gold medal; we’re talking about people who will be saved from eternity in hell to experience eternity in heaven. We’re talking about people being saved from the hurt and the pain and the eternal consequences of sin.
Follower of Jesus, have you any compassion in you for the souls of the people around you? Then, run this race together for the glory of God in the salvation of their souls. Lay aside your comforts, put aside your preferences, relinquish your rights, rearrange your life so that others will experience the joy of salvation, and so that we will fulfill the earthly purpose of salvation.
“Lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). There is a lot of debate over what that phrase means at the end of this chapter. Is Paul saying that he would be disqualified as a Christian altogether if he doesn’t share the gospel of Christ? Or is Paul just saying that he would miss out on rewards in heaven from leading people to Christ? We could go into that debate and into that discussion, but for the sake of time, let’s just land on what is absolutely clear from all that we have seen. It goes back up to where we started.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved for a purpose. This is your purpose on the earth, and it misses the point of your salvation to disconnect it from this purpose. You have been saved to enjoy God as you spread the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth. God is saying to you today: Don’t miss your purpose. Don’t get to the end of your life and look back, not having done the one commission Christ has given you. If that is the case, then what will that say about your relationship with Christ in the first place? If you don’t do the one purpose He left you on earth to do, then what does that say about your relationship to Him? Can you really say you were a follower of Jesus when you disobeyed and disregarded the one commission He gave you to do on the earth? Church, may this be a wake-up call to you and me today: To realize the purpose of our salvation, our mission on this earth and to do it together for the glory of our God. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved for a purpose: The enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth.
If you are not a follower of Jesus, be saved today for a purpose: the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth.
Which then brings me back around to those in this room who are not followers of Jesus. I would miss the point of this passage that we have just studied if I did not do everything in my power to say to you in this moment that this gospel is true.
You are a sinner before God (we all are), and you (like all of us) deserve eternal judgment before God. You are (we are) infinitely guilty before a holy God, but He loves you. He has sent His Son to pay the price for your sins on a cross, and He has risen from the dead in victory over sin, so that you might turn from your sin and yourself and trust in Him as Savior and as Lord. I invite you, I implore you, I urge you, if you are not a follower of Jesus, be saved today for a purpose: The enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth. Non-Christian, call out for Him to save you.
Christian, let’s celebrate this meal together as a people who are freed to be slaves—slaves of God and slaves of others. Together, compelled by grace, let’s resolve to run this race, to obey this commission, and to accomplish the purpose for which God has left us here on the earth.
The Cross and Christian Mission
1 Corinthians 9
Are you a follower of Jesus?
- If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved for a purpose: the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel from where you live to the ends of the earth.
- Let’s relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel.
- See the example of Paul…
- He had a right to financial support from the church at Corinth.
- Common Practice
- Biblical Precedent
- Universal Pattern
- Jewish Custom
- Christ’s Command
- He surrendered this right for the sake of the gospel in Corinth. Hear the exhortation to you…
- You have rights in Birmingham and the world around you…
- To life, friends, marriage, family, safety, security, health, and happiness.
- To eat, drink, watch, wear, read, study, listen to, and say whatever you want.
- To organize your schedule, spend your time, choose your career, make your money, use your money, take your vacation, and plan your retirement.
- To do what you want to do, go where you want to go, and live how you want to live.
- The cross compels you to surrender your rights for the sake of the gospel in Birmingham and the world around you.
- He had a right to financial support from the church at Corinth.
- See the example of Paul…
- Let’s rearrange our lives for the spread of the gospel.
- We are free to be slaves of God.
- We are obligated to obey.
- God’s gracious conversion of us creates a gospel compulsion in us. We are free to be slaves of others.
- We willingly commit our lives, our families, and our church to this mission…
- In our culture.
- Across other cultures.
- We wisely contextualize the gospel in this mission.
- We remove all obstacles to the gospel…
- We are free to be slaves of God.
- But we never remove the offense of the gospel.
- We lay aside all of our comforts…
- But we never lay aside any of Christ’s commands.
- Let’s run this race together for the glory of our God.
The requirements in this race…
- Sacrificial self-denial.
- Stringent self-discipline.
- Single-minded devotion.
The rewards of this race…
- Others will experience the eternal joy of salvation.
- We will fulfill the earthly purpose of salvation.
- If you are not a follower of Jesus, be saved today for a purpose:
- the enjoyment of God in the spread of the gospel
- from where you live to the ends of the earth.