Many people in the United States (and in the West more generally) are used to having certain rights and even demanding those rights. Even as Christians, we can begin to view the world as if God owes us certain things. However, for those who have been freed from sin through Jesus Christ, life is no longer about our preferences, our comforts, and our rights. As David Platt points out from 1 Corinthians 9, followers of Christ live for God’s glory and for the good of others. We are to lay down our rights in order to lead people to Jesus.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does—let me invite you to open it to 1 Corinthians 9. As you’re turning, I want to welcome you who are here, watching online or reading this transcript. Every week we’re opening up more opportunities to come together in person and we invite you to do that. Go to the website each week to find out where you can be part of one of our gatherings in person.
This Wednesday marks the 36-year anniversary of the day I publicly declared that I am a follower of Jesus through baptism. I was thinking back this week to my youthful zeal to follow Jesus, to lead other people to Jesus, and I pulled out an old yearbook of mine. Yes, this was one of those weeks around my house with my kids when we walked through stories from high school. I’ll put a couple pictures up here for your mild entertainment.
First, there’s yours truly right there in the middle, during my senior year. Here we were at my house, making a homecoming float. We were playing a rival school called the Patriots. So we made a big toilet bowl on the back of this trailer and wrote “Flush the Patriots.”
I will refrain from showing you the picture of me and some buddies painting our school’s name on our chests at the game later that night. That would not be appropriate.
Then I came across this picture of me leading a Bible study one morning at school. I remember deciding to carry that Bible in my hands everywhere I went in school, because I wanted to share Jesus with everybody I could. I remember taking this yearbook at different points and praying over every single person. “God, I pray for an opportunity to share the gospel with that person. I pray that this person would come to faith in Jesus.”
In addition to that Bible study at school, I remember starting a Bible study at home and inviting friends to come over one night each week to come and hear the gospel. Sometimes we’d have a big event in our yard with a bunch of pizza. It was really humbling, looking back through this book and seeing friends who came to faith in Jesus during those days.
So why do I share this with you? Why do I go down a high school memory lane? So you might think I was some giant of the faith in grade school? Certainly not. I’m sharing this with you because in the years since then, I have found it is a fight to keep that kind of perspective in my life, to keep that kind of zeal, that kind of urgency, for the names and faces of people right around me on a daily basis. I think about that urgency I had to lead every person I knew to Jesus. I knew I had just a little time with them before we graduated, so how could I make the most of that time?
Now I think about my life today. So often the busyness of life clouds that perspective and drowns out that urgency. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. I’m guessing we all get caught up in so many different things every day. Maybe it’s school for you as a student. For others it’s work to do, meetings to have, money to earn, appointments to make, assignments to complete, errands to run, boxes to check, people to see, mouths to feed, diapers to change. It can go on and on with so many things in our lives every day that we can lose perspective on what’s going to matter ten trillion years from today. Do these people around me know Jesus? Do these people I work with or go to school with or live next to—or even just run into at a store or a restaurant—do they know Jesus? That’s what’s going to matter forever for them.
So today I want to call each of us, based on God’s Word, to live for what is going to matter forever, to rise above the day-to-day perspective of all our lives and live for what’s going to matter ten trillion years from today. To be clear, I don’t want to cause us to add something else to our already full plates, but for us to see everything on our plates from a different perspective. I want us to see that we are surrounded every single day by people who need Jesus and to have this constant filter in our minds that thinks, “How can I best lead them to Jesus?” When we have this filter, it will radically change the way our lives look every day, and it will radically change the lives of others for all eternity.
We’re now in week three of this series on the conscience, looking at three questions we need to ask as we make decisions on a daily basis. The first question was, “What does the Bible say?” If we want to live with a good clean conscience and experience all that comes with that—intimacy with God, true success in life, unity in the church, living for what matters forever in this world—then we need to align our conscience with whatever God’s Word says.
Then, when the Bible is not clear on what to do in a certain situation, we need to ask the second question, “What does my conscience say?” What do I sense, as best I can, is right or wrong, good or best, in a specific situation? Then we saw last week in 1 Corinthians 8 that if we stop with these first two questions, we won’t have a good clean conscience, because we’ll be totally focused on ourselves. This is not the way God has called us to live. So we need to ask a third question. I’ll phrase this one a little bit differently than I did last week, after thinking about it more. I really want to get to the essence of what 1 Corinthians 8 teaches us.
So the third question is, “How can I best build up other Christians?” I think the way I phrased it last week was, “What is the effect on other Christians?” That’s certainly true generally, but a more specific question is, “How can I best build up other Christians?” There may be a situation where I can do something with a good conscience, but if that will cause my brother or sister in Christ to stumble, or it will tear them down in some way, then I will choose not to do it, because I want to build up others in love. We used the illustration of holding ropes with one another while holding on to our convictions, without getting puffed up by those convictions.
Let me add that it’s been encouraging this week to get emails from parents who went out and bought their kids those bumper-whatever-balls that we were using last week. So I’m glad I was able to fuel kids’ fun this week with a sermon illustration.
So how can we build others up, hold on to our convictions, while loving one another? The Bible makes it clear right after 1 Corinthians 8 that there’s another question we need to ask. I’m going to give it to you, then I want to show it to you in God’s Word. We need to ask a fourth question which is, “How can I best lead non-Christians to Jesus?” How can I best lead people who don’t know Jesus to a relationship with Jesus?
Asking this question takes our lives to an entirely new level. As part of the filter that affects everything we do, every day, in all kinds of decisions, we should ask, “How can I best lead people who don’t know Jesus to know Him?” If my conscience says it’s fine to do something, but if it may hinder someone from coming to faith in Jesus, then I won’t do it. I’m to do everything I can to lead people to Jesus. This, God says, is critical to a good conscience. Let me show this to you.
The Holy Spirit Inspired Paul to Write 1 Corinthians 9
We’re going to read all the way through 1 Corinthians 9. Try to follow along and get the feel of what Paul, who wrote this word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying. If we will realize what the Bible is saying here, it will revolutionize and radically change our everyday lives in ways that will yield fruit for trillions of years in other people’s lives. I can’t emphasize how important it is for us to hear what God’s Word is saying today, not just for you, but for people all around you—. So let’s hear 1 Corinthians 9, then think about what God is telling us through Paul’s words.
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? 2 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.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 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? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 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?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 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? 10 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. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 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. 13 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? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
15 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. 16 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! 17 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. 18 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.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
24 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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
God, please help us understand what we just read and apply it to our lives every day, starting today. We pray that, in the next few minutes, You would supernaturally reorient the way we view our everyday lives, so that more people might experience eternal life with You. We pray that You would speak to us now in a way that would change others’ lives for all of eternity. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
There’s a ton in what we just read, but if you’re taking notes, here’s the main truth I want to show you in 1 Corinthians 9: God calls you to reorient your conscience around how you can best lead people who are near you and far from you to Jesus. I’m trying to make this as personal as I can for each of our lives, and I include myself because I need to hear this, too. “David (or insert your name), God calls you to reorient your conscience so you can lead other people near you and far from you to Jesus.”
Now, we’ve got 27 verses in 1 Corinthians 9. What I want to hone in on from the start is the one word Paul uses to describe himself—and not just himself, but you and me as Christians. So for every follower of Jesus, this is the way 1 Corinthians 9 describes you. In verse 19e Paul writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.” The word Paul uses for servant was a common word for a slave in the first century. This is Paul saying, as a follower of Jesus, “I am a servant, a slave, to others, specifically to people around me, in order that ‘I might win more of them.’”
He starts using this language of winning people, so we know he’s talking about leading them to Jesus. In verse 22, he says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means” —whatever it takes“—I might save some.” Now, this may sound like old-school religious language here, like “I want to win people” or “I want to save people.” For some of you who aren’t Christians, this language may actually sound offensive to you. “A Christian wants to save me?” I get how this language can sound old-school or even offensive, but think about it this way. Especially if you’re not yet a follower of Jesus and may not believe it yet, just imagine for a moment that the message of the Bible is true, that God created all people—including you and me—for the purpose of knowing and enjoying Him forever. We were all created to find ultimate meaning, joy and fulfillment in relationship with God. That’s what the Bible teaches.
But, we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23). You have, I have. We’ve turned aside from God and His ways to ourselves and our own ways. Our sin separates us from God, so if we die in this state of separation from God, we will spend eternity separated from God in judgment due for our sin, like forever and ever and ever when we die.
However, the message of the Bible is that God loves us and has not left us alone in this state of separation from Him. God has come to us in the person of Jesus, Who lived a life of no sin, then died on the cross for the sins of anyone who trusts in His love. Then Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin and the grave, so that anyone anywhere, no matter who you are or what you have done, can be totally forgiven of their sin and restored to relationship with God to have everlasting life with Him—forever and ever and ever through faith in Jesus.
So imagine for a moment that this message in the Bible is true. If it’s true and you’re not a follower of Jesus—which means you’ve not placed your faith in Jesus—then you are separated from God on a road that leads to eternal judgment due your sin. Again, I know it may sound like it’s a stretch at this point, but just imagine that’s true. If that is true, wouldn’t you want someone to share this message with you? If that is true, wouldn’t you want someone to say, “I live to serve you with this message. I want to make this message known. I’m going to reorient my life around getting this message to you.” Of course you would!
When you think this message is true, then what would you think of a Christian if they didn’t share it with you? If they just focused on what was best for themselves? If they just spent all their time around other Christians and never shared that with you? You would think, “They clearly don’t love me. They clearly don’t care about me.” You’d think they must hate you, in order to keep this message from you.
I fear this is how many Christians are living, maybe not intentionally but implicitly. We spend all our time around other Christians. Meanwhile, there are people around us, scores of them, millions of them in this city, who right now are on a road that leads to eternal judgment. If we believe this message is true, then we will share it. We exist to serve people around us with this good news.
1 Corinthians 9 Reveals that Love Requires Self-Sacrifice
That’s what Paul is saying here. He’s saying, “I love the people around me so much that I’ll do whatever I can to love and serve them, sharing this message with them. I’m going to reorient my conscience and decisions on a daily basis in order to share about eternal life in Jesus with them.”
This is the posture of a Christian: a servant of people who are without Jesus. What does this mean practically? If we think about how this played out practically in Paul’s life, we’ll start to think about how this plays out practically in our lives—in at least two ways.
We relinquish our rights in order to lead people to Jesus.
First, the Bible says that as a servant of people without Jesus, you relinquish your rights in order to lead people to Jesus. Let me be clear what I mean and what the Bible means by this word rights. The Bible is not talking primarily here about rights in a governmental sense, which I’m guessing is where our minds most quickly go, to the rights we may have as citizens. That’s not what Paul is talking about here. As important as those rights are, think more in a godly sense, not just in a governmental sense. The Bible is talking about the rights that are given to us by God. Paul is saying in this passage, “As a follower of Jesus, I relinquish the rights I have from God in order to lead people to Jesus.”
Let me show this to you. Just look at how many times, particularly in the first half of this chapter, Paul uses the word “right” or “rights,” starting in verse four: “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?”
Then jump down to verse 12: “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.” Verse 15 says, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.” Then verse 18 states, “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.”
That’s seven different times where Paul is talking about his rights. The point he’s making here goes back to what we saw last week in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul was encouraging Christians not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols because, even though they may have a right before God to eat that food, if doing so would cause other Christians to stumble in their faith, then they don’t eat it.
Now we come to chapter nine and in verse four he starts talking about his right to eat and drink. In verse five he starts talking about his right to have a wife. In verse six he talks about his right to be paid for what he does in serving the church. He camps out on that all the way down to verse 18, basically talking about how a leader in the church has a right to financial support from the church.
Now, I’ll be honest, this is a little awkward for me to talk about. But it’s in the Bible, so God’s Word teaches that the church should support various leaders, based on all kinds of pictures we see in 1 Corinthians 9. God uses images of soldiers, farmers, shepherds—even oxen—receiving support for their hard work. This a pattern the Bible says the church should reflect. In our whole-church Bible Reading plan, we’re reading right now in Numbers about how God made provision for Levites and people who work in the temple in different ways. Then in 1 Corinthians 9:14, the Bible says, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” That’s a reference to places like Matthew 10 and Luke 10, where God called His people to provide for those who were leading the church in different ways.
1 Corinthians 9 Encourages Us to Support Others Generously
Let me pause briefly at this point, based on what the Bible is saying here, and thank you on behalf of staff in this church family, to whom you support generously. Be encouraged that this is a biblical thing to do in right and appropriate ways.
The point Paul is making here is that he had this right to financial support from the church at Corinth. After all, he planted this church. It’s interesting that there were other times when Paul took financial support from churches, but here in Corinth and some other places, he relinquished that right for the spread of the gospel in that city. We’re not exactly sure if that was the case here in Corinth, but look at verse 12 where he said, “I’m not making use of this right, because I don’t want to put any obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” So apparently Paul discerned that there might be some obstacle to the spread of the gospel if he was taking financial support in Corinth. So he said, “I’m going to relinquish that right. Even though I could take it, I’m not going to do that.”
Let me be clear, I’m not putting myself on the level of Paul in any way, so please hear my heart in this. As a contemporary example this is one of the reasons why I personally have made a decision not to take any profit from the books I’ve written up to this point. That’s not me saying that every pastor, or every Christian for that matter, who writes a book should do the same thing. I don’t believe it’s wrong for me to benefit materially from what I’ve written; so in that sense I have a right to be compensated by it. At the same time, I don’t believe that would be best for the message I’ve written in these books. So I’ve come to the conclusion, at this point, that it’s best for the sake of that message not to take profit from those books. I’m not saying I won’t profit from anything like that in the future; I don’t know. The point is, and what the Bible is saying here is, we need to look at everything we do through the lens of what is best, not just for the building up of the church, but what is best for the spread of the gospel message. That will inevitably involve all of us relinquishing different rights we have.
So what does it mean to relinquish your rights? Think about the rights in your life. You have a right to friends, marriage, family, safety, security, health, happiness. You have a right to eat, drink, watch, wear, read, study, listen to, say whatever you want. You have a right to organize your schedule, spend your time, choose your career, make your money, use your money, take your vacation and plan your retirement. Then you have a right to do what you want to do, go where you want to go and live how you want to live.
After all, we’re Americans, right? Maybe more than any people in any other country or culture in the world today, we’re familiar with our rights. We cling to our rights. That’s why this text is so important, especially for us, because God calls us to relinquish—let go of—various rights in order to lead other people to Jesus. That is a very different way to live in this country, this culture, this world. According to the world around us, we have a right to make a lot of money and use it however we want. Right? We have a right to be safe and secure. We have a right to do what we want to do in this world. But Jesus actually calls us to let go of some of these rights for the sake of others in the world who don’t know Jesus.
So let me give you just a few practical examples. How do I see this playing out right now in our church family, even over the last week or two, in small and big ways? Just yesterday, some of you in our church family had a right to a nice, comfortable, restful Saturday morning. But instead you relinquished that right to go to one of our outreach sites to share the gospel with people in our city.
I also think about the approximately 100 people in our missionary pipeline right now, who are working to move to another country for the spread of the gospel. Some of them spent all day in this building yesterday, doing missionary training. They know that what they’re doing will involve relinquishing rights to safety and security in this country to go to places of great risk to share the gospel.
About the 50 people have been meeting together over Zoom for a couple of weeks, all considering how to foster or adopt children into their families, knowing they’re relinquishing a variety of their rights to lead children in need to Jesus. I meta couple and their kids last week who are downsizing from their nice house to live in an RV park, at least for a while, to free up more resources for the spread of the gospel.
I met with a doctor this week who has relinquished his right to make a whole lot of money here in the U.S. Instead, he’s about to get on a plane, go to an unreached part of the world and use his medical expertise to share the gospel there.
I’m not saying, and the Bible i’s not saying, that every person needs to do all these things, that you need to feel guilty if you don’t do this or this or this. But the Bible is saying this is what it means for all of us to be followers of Jesus. It means we gladly let go of our rights in order to lead people to Jesus. So now we’re starting to see how revolutionary this passage really is and how radically different it is from the way of this world—and the way even the church world often thinks. We’re not just playing a game here Sunday by Sunday. We’re giving our lives for what matters forever. In a world that says you have a right to all these things, God’s Word is saying, “You let go of those things in order to lead people to Jesus.”
This really isn’t radical as much as it is biblical. This is the gospel, isn’t it? Jesus laid aside His rights to come to this earth, to die on a cross for our sins. So Christians in America, it makes no sense for us to stand beside the cross of Jesus Christ while we insist on holding on to all of our rights. No, we relinquish rights in order to lead people to Jesus.
We rearrange our lives in order to lead people to Jesus.
Keep going practically here in 1 Corinthians 9. Right after Paul talks about being a servant to people without Jesus in order to lead them to Jesus, he says in verse 20, “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.”
What he’s saying is, “I don’t live under the Old Testament Jewish law. But to the extent that I can obey God under that law, then I’ll follow that law when I’m around Jewish people. I’ll eat what they eat and abstain from what they abstain from, if it will help me lead Jewish people to Jesus.” Then he says in verse 21, “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.” Now he’s talking about Gentiles, saying, “I’ll eat something different there. I’ll do whatever it takes, as long as it’s not sin.” Obviously he’s not going to sin in order to lead people to Jesus, but under the law of God, what does God’s Word say that’s driving everything? “As long as God’s Word allows it, I’m going to rearrange my life in every way I can to lead Gentiles to Jesus.”
Then he gets to verse 24 and starts using this imagery of a runner in a race. Corinth hosted Olympic-type games. Listen to the language he uses in verse 25: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” In verse 27 he says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control.” Think about an Olympictype athlete. Read these verses and think about Michael Phelps, who won more medals than any other athlete in Olympic history—28 of them. If he were a country, he would have more medals than 75% of the countries in the history of the Olympic summer games.
Think about his training regimen to get those medals during peak seasons, swimming 80,000 meters a week, twice a day, for hours and hours each day. At one point, he trained in the water for 1,800 consecutive days. That’s almost five years with no break from the water for a single day. That’s in addition to weight-lifting and other strength training. And that’s in addition to eating 12,000 calories a day. For breakfast, it was three fried-egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayo; two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of maize or grits, three slices of French toast and three chocolate chip pancakes. Just for breakfast. Then for lunch it was a pound of pasta, two large ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread with mayo, plus about 1,000 calories’ worth of energy drinks. For dinner it was another pound of pasta, a meat pizza and another 1,000 calories of energy drinks. That’s not to mention the chips, Oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups throughout the day as snacks.
Some of you kids are like, “All right, I’ll take it. Mom, I want to be an Olympian. Chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, Reese’s peanut butter cups throughout the day and pizza every night!” But that’s not what the takeaway is from this. Suffice it to say, Michael Phelps has rearranged his life around winning medals in the Olympics.
In the Bible, God is saying to us right now, “Athletes will do that to get a wreath, it’s perishable.” In the first century, it was a crown of leaves. Today it’s a circular medal. It’s about the same. They will rearrange their lives for something that will perish, that will fade away, that won’t last. So why are we not rearranging our lives for that which will never, ever perish, for a prize that will never perish? You ask, “What’s the prize?” I wish we had more time to go into the biblical teaching about rewards in heaven, but here in 1 Corinthians 9 there is a twofold picture. One, it’s the reward of other people’s salvation. Picture a crown of leaves, a little medal. Then, instead of that, picture the faces of people in your family, your friends, your coworkers, people you see every day experiencing eternal joy in heaven instead of everlasting suffering in hell. Christian, would you rearrange your life for that? That will never, ever fade away—ever!
Then when Paul talks about him not wanting to be disqualified, he’s talking about the very purpose of his salvation. Are you hearing what God is saying to us? You and I have been saved from our sin by Jesus in order to lead other people to be saved from their sin by Jesus. This is why we’re here, right? If God just intended to save us, He would immediately bring us to Himself, where we could be free from all the evil, sin, sorrow, and suffering in this world. But He hasn’t done that. He’s left us here. No, He’s put us here.
He’s put you in that school. He has sovereignly put you in that workplace, that apartment, that home. He’s put you in that restaurant this week or that store. He’s put you in this city right now. Why? So that you might be a servant, pointing people all around you to eternal life in Jesus. This is why you are here.
See how fundamentally important this is and that we so often miss this. There’s an adversary who wants us to miss this every single day, who wants us to get so busy doing all kinds of good things that we forsake what matters most in eternity. God calls you to reorient your conscience around how you can best lead people near you and far from you to Jesus.
Here’s what I want to do before we close. I want us to think about practically reorienting our consciences in these ways. I want to give us two challenges and a couple minutes to write down reflections to think about. I want you to not just to hear this word, but to think about how you are going to do this. Let’s start by thinking about people who are far from us. At Secret Church a couple weeks ago, we launched a tool called “STRATUS” for the broader church.
STRATUS stands for SRATegy for Unreached Synergy, basically helping the church think about people in the world—over three billion of them, men, women and children just like us—who have little to no knowledge of this gospel right now. It’s not that they’ve heard it and rejected it; it’s that they haven’t even heard it. Many of them are living amidst urgent physical needs, amidst a lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of education or medical care, or they are in the middle of war—many, many things that are making it harder for the gospel to get to them.
You can go to www.stratus.earth and learn all kinds of stuff about this. Basically the way this tool works is it takes data from various sources—world health organizations, United Nations, Global Terrorism Index, OPEC—on physical needs in the world. It then combines this with data on where the gospel has gone, from Joshua Project or Open Doors, and where the church is being persecuted. It combines all this data and creates what’s called a “STRATUS Index.” Basically it ranks the countries in the world, based purely on data, on where the most urgent spiritual and physical needs are.
On this globe the places where the most urgent spiritual and physical needs are show up in red— the darker the more urgent. The places that are not as urgent spiritually or physically are more green. It’s not that there’s not need anywhere in the world. It’s all relative.
You’ll see all across north Africa, the Middle East and Asia the places where most of the three billion people who have never heard the gospel live, many surrounded by urgent physical needs. You’ll see over on the right a ranking of these different countries. When you think about urgent spiritual and physical need in the world, think about Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Maldives, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Mauritania and Mali.
You can zoom in on any of these countries and find more information about what it’s going to take to get the gospel to Afghanistan. What are the needs in Afghanistan, etc.? As you focus on that country, you can start to see all the different needs, all these different data points broken down into what is keeping people in Afghanistan from hearing the gospel. You can click on and see a picture of the people groups in Afghanistan. You’ll notice these countries are dark red on the map, meaning none of them have access to the gospel right now.
You can do this for any country in the world. Let’s look at India, which has been in the news a lot recently, especially in light of challenges with COVID. There are a ton of people groups in India with little to no access to the gospel. This site is intended to open eyes in the church to where the gospel has not yet gone and what it’s going to take to get the gospel there. If we’re going to make the gospel known in each of these countries, what are the things that are going to have to happen there?
One practical way you can use this on a daily basis in your family is to watch a video that will lead you to pray for each of these countries that are at the top of this list. You can walk through each video as a family, taking five to ten minutes around the table to pray. In your life, your marriage, your family, just start to be a part of what God is doing among the nations through praying.
There’s so much we could walk through here. If somebody is going to reach India with the gospel, then they’re going to have to serve the people of India. Somebody needs to rearrange their life to get the gospel to them. Somebody has to relinquish some rights if we’re going to get the gospel to Afghanistan.
1 Corinthians 9 Presents an Opportunity to Lead People to Jesus
Now let’s come back to this text. Based on that, I want to challenge you to think through two or three practical ways that God is calling you to reorient your conscience around leading people in places like that to Jesus. You might immediately be thinking, “What can I do?” That’s what I want you to think about! You can pray. You can wake up five to ten minutes earlier, you can spend some time at the dinner table or before you go to bed, doing this. You can be part of what God is doing in North Korea right there. You can reorient your life around what God is doing in different places in the world.
You can think, “Well, I have money God has given me. How can I use it for the spread of the gospel in places like that? How can I relinquish my rights to get more stuff in order to get the gospel to places where they haven’t even heard the gospel?”
This is one of the things we talked about in Secret Church. We give billions of resources as the broader church to all kinds of things—buildings, staff, programs and more. But we give a tiny percentage of those resources to work around the world. Then out of those resources that we give around the world, 99% goes to places that are green on that map. We give about 1% of our mission resources to places where the gospel has not yet gone. That needs to change! What we were saying during Secret Church is we want to be a part of changing that. We want to be involved in what God is doing in Afghanistan, India, Somalia, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and North Korea. We can give in different ways and maybe we can go on a short-term mission trip when those start again. Maybe God is calling some of you to talk to our global team about getting into that pipeline and learn more about moving to one of these places.
I know that just be mentioning this, some will sigh and say, “We talk about global missions too much in church.” But brothers and sisters, with over three billion people who have no knowledge of the name of Jesus, we’re far from talking too much about how to get the gospel to them. Far from it! When you read about and see pictures from India and Nepal of makeshift funeral pyres with burning bodies of people who have not heard about the gospel, you won’t think, “We need to talk less about getting the gospel to them.” No, this is what Jesus has told us to talk about: making disciples of all the nations. This is what we get to be a part of—making the greatest news in the world known to everybody in the world. Yes, we talk about this a lot and we talk about doing this right here.
So now let’s make the connection. If we’re going to reach people in Afghanistan with the gospel, we’ve got rearrange our lives and relinquish some rights. In order to do that, we’ve got to eat different things. The Muslim people groups don’t eat pork, so leave the barbecue behind. We’re going to dress differently. We’re going to learn to speak a different language. Now transfer that same mindset into the way you think about your workplace, school or neighborhood. “What can I do to lead these people to Jesus? What do I need to do differently?” This is where you identify two or three practical ways that God is calling you to reorient your conscience around leading people near you to Jesus. Now think about what God is calling you to do in your home, school or workplace? What intentional steps is God calling you to take with this particular person or that group of people? Maybe God is calling you to pray over every single person in your school, workplace or neighborhood every day, every week.
Maybe you can start to proactively look for opportunities to share with them. This is what we do as Christians. This is what we do with the greatest news in the world. We relinquish our rights and rearrange our lives to make this good news known. So if you’re a Christian, I want you to start thinking and writing down two or three practical ways to do this. What’s coming to your mind right now?
As you do that, I want to speak especially to those of you who may not be followers of Jesus. I hope that in all this talk about leading people to Jesus, you hear my heart, our hearts and the heart of God today. He loves you. God loves you so much that He has given His Son to die on the cross for your sins. He wants you to have a life in Him. He wants you to be saved from your sin forever. He wants you to be forgiven of all your sin and have eternal life in heaven with Him. He wants that for you.
So we, as people who worship God, want to be a reflection of His love. We love you and want nothing more than for you to experience eternal life in Jesus. We want to give our lives toward that end. I would be remiss if I didn’t urge you with everything in me to trust in Jesus today. Experience eternal life in Him. Then, become part of the people who see ourselves as servants in this world with that good news.
If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, let this be the moment when you just say this to God: “God, I need You to forgive me of my sins. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I put my faith in Jesus today. I want eternal life with You.” This is what it means to enter into relationship with God, to place your faith in Him. Let today be that day.
For all who know eternal life in Jesus, can we just pray, “God, help us reorient our consciences, rearrange our lives, relinquish our rights so that other people might know this good news. God, remove fear from us. Help us see with an eternal perspective and live every day this week toward that end. We pray that the fruit would be many people coming to know You. We pray for friends, family members, coworkers, and classmates. We pray for neighbors, for people we’ll meet this week we haven’t even planned on meeting.
I think about one store I was in recently where You had clearly arranged that meeting. We pray that You would arrange those meetings all over the city this week, that people might come to know You. God, we pray that You would use McLean Bible Church for the spread of this good news to the ends of the earth. We pray for people in Afghanistan, India, Somalia, and Pakistan. We pray for the spread of this good news through our lives—here and there. Help us live for what matters forever. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.