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1 Corinthians 9:19-23
What would you be willing to do for the sake of the gospel? The fact that you are here today indicates that at least you would like to think that you would do just about anything for the sake of the Gospel. You rejoice in the gospel and want the gospel to reach as many people as possible. And you don’t just say that because you think it’s the right, the Christian, thing to say. You put your money where your mouth is. You give generously to mission work; you pray for missionaries. We like to think that we are willingly doing a lot for the sake of the gospel. And that’s a good thing.
Now let me draw your attention to the question I printed in the bulletin, a question one of our presenters asked us at conference. Do you see a visitor/non-member as part of your church community until they prove otherwise, or do you see them as outside your community until they prove otherwise?
It’s a little different to be gung ho for spreading the gospel over there somewhere, in a place you will never visit, than it is in your own city and in your own church. In fact, I have known good people who were gung ho for mission work, who even served on Synod Mission Boards, but, when it came to their own church, they hated these words of Scripture. They wanted the gospel to be spread to others, but, when it came to spreading the gospel at home, through their own congregation, they didn’t want to give up anything they liked. They didn’t think they should have to change worship time, or style of music, or even language in order to reach those who lived around them with the gospel. Yes, share the gospel with them, but if they want to come to church with us they have to be the ones to change and do things our way, including, learning Silent Night in German. After all, they are coming to our church.
What did Paul say? He was the one who was willing to make changes. He was willing to give up some of the things he liked, for the sake of the gospel. Imagine how difficult it must have been for him to become like a Gentile, to eat pork and other things he had always been told were unclean. Imagine how difficult it must have been for him to refrain from eating a nice juicy steak because someone who was weak in faith didn’t understand that the fact that that meat might have been waved in front of an idol before it was sold at the market didn’t mean anything. But, for the sake of the gospel, out of consideration for the person who might reject the gospel if he ate that nice juicy steak, he didn’t eat it. In fact, in his work among the Corinthians, Paul willingly gave up his salary for the sake of the gospel, because although Scripture says that he had every right to be supported by those to whom he was preaching, he realized that many in Corinth would tune him out if he took their support, so he supported himself by making tents with Aquilla and Priscilla. What Paul is saying here is that he was the one who was willing to change, to adapt, to give up things he liked, all for the sake of the gospel.
Now, some people hear what Paul is saying and their mind immediately goes to wild exaggeration. At one church that was trying to reach out with the gospel in the inner city, a person responded to these words of Paul by saying, “so does that mean we are going to start playing rap music with disgusting lyrics on Sunday just to make visitors comfortable?” Of course not. Paul makes that very clear. In becoming all things to all people Paul says, I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law. We don’t ever have the right to join in someone else’s sin just to make them feel comfortable, or because we think that doing so will give us a chance to talk to them about forgiveness in Jesus. Paul is talking about adiaphora, things that God has not commanded or forbidden. Like worship time. We might like an early worship time. Maybe that’s what we grew up with. But it’s not a sin to worship later in the day if that’s what the people we are trying to reach are more comfortable with.
As Paul told the Philippians, it’s really all about attitude. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Think about what Jesus gave up for the sake of the gospel. He left the glory of heaven to come and live in poverty on earth. He gave up his life, not for his friends, but for his enemies, for you and for me who were born in sin. He literally did give up everything for the sake of the gospel, so that there could be such a thing as the gospel, the good news that our sins have been paid for in full. Because Paul knew that Jesus left heaven, lived on earth, and suffered and died all so that his sins were forgiven, Paul was willing to give up his own comfort so that others could know that their sins were forgiven too. He was willing to do anything that didn’t contradict a command of God that might enable just one more person to hear the good news about Jesus. That’s the attitude we want to have as well.
Pastor Matt Frey had a great sermon at conference based on Jonah. His theme was, “Get Over Yourself.” Jonah disobeyed God and ran the other way when God called him to go to Nineveh. Even after the Ninevites repented, Jonah didn’t like it. He didn’t rejoice, he sat alone and sulked, hoping God would destroy them. Jonah needed to get over himself. We need to get over ourselves. Not everything has to be done our way, even if we think we are the ones who are doing the most and giving the most. It’s not about us, it’s about the gospel. It’s not my church or your church, it’s God’s church. And, on the other side, if someone is brought to faith in Jesus, don’t think it was because you were more like Paul than like Jonah; don’t think it was because you were such a kind and giving person. Get over yourself. Only the Gospel can bring someone to faith. God might have used us, but remember that you are a clay pot, a cracked one at that. Conversion isn’t your work, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
What a powerful thing sin is in our lives! One minute we are tempted to be so focused on ourselves that we say, “if they want to be Christians and join our fellowship they have to learn to like 16th century hymns, and pot lucks, and follow the church polity that has been practiced among us for centuries.” The next minute we are tempted to think, “that person is a member here because we are such nice friendly people who are willing to go out of our way for others.” Both extremes come from sinful focusing on self, instead of the Gospel.
How deep are the riches of God’s grace! Jesus demonstrated the selfless love of God. He willingly gave up everything, his throne in heaven, his life on a cross, for selfish sinners like you and me who deserved his condemnation instead. He thought of us before he thought of himself. He didn’t wait until we proved ourselves worthy of his love, he loved us even though we continue to prove that we are unworthy of his love. He was rich
yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Because Paul knew what Jesus had done for him, he was motivated to do what he could for others. When, like Paul, we see ourselves as the chief of sinners who should be condemned by God for all eternity, and then see that he not only paid for our sins, but called us to faith and has received us into his kingdom, we too will be motivated to do what we can for others. We will get over ourselves, and do everything for the sake of the gospel. We will constantly ask ourselves, “what can I do to make sure I’m not getting in the way of the gospel?”
Considering the Holy Spirit inspired words of Paul, how would you answer the question that was posed to us at conference? Do you see a visitor/non-member as part of your church community until they prove otherwise? Are they welcome to participate in things that happen at church, other than leadership or communion for which God requires full agreement, until they state that they disagree with what the Bible teaches? Or do you see them as outside your community until they prove otherwise? Are they required just to sit back and observe silently until they officially join, and, even after they officially join, do they have to be willing to do things the right way, our way, before they are allowed to really participate or speak their opinion about something?
Because Paul knew what he deserved from God for his sins, and what Jesus had given up for him so that he might know the gospel and be saved, he was willing to become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. He was willing to do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. As we are reminded every day how much we deserve God’s punishment for our sinful self-centeredness, and how Jesus unselfishly gave up heaven, and willingly suffered death on the cross for us, we too will be moved to do everything God permits for the sake of the Gospel. We will fight against our natural desire to do everything our way, and strive to get out of the way so that the Gospel can do its work.