For the Sake of the Gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
The eighteenth message in the series on the Corinthians.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
This past week Rusty was telling me that on their vacation he decided to try body boarding and that he got caught in the wave. I told him I refer to that as the spin cycle. I experienced that in a big way when I was 14 or 15. There was a hurricane that came through the Virginia Beach area and it brought huge waves and surf. I had never been in waves life that…
When you’re surfing or body boarding, you’ve got to be going fast enough to “Catch the wave” or it will go right under you, or if you are a little ahead of it, it will crash down on you. One crashed on me and then tumbled me over and over. I lost all perspective of what was up and down. The next thing I knew, I was dumped onto the beach and my board was trying to wash away a little further down. I stood up and said, whoa. That was crazy powerful. Occasionally a passage of scripture will hit me like that- it will be so much more powerful than I was expecting and send me tumbling. This passage has done that to me this week. I hope it hits you hard today, not that you wind up sore, but that you’ll walk away saying, wow that was powerful
Now Paul has just recently talked to them about Money, Meat offered in pagan temples, Marriage, Sex, and each one of those scenarios Paul has explained the issue, then said, now this is what I do, or this is how I’ve chosen to live my life.
Here in this passage he explains WHY
For example he said that it’s right that the church would provide financial support to their leaders, then Paul explains that he doesn’t take any financial support because he can go further faster for the gospel.
Before that he talked about Marriage- that it was a good thing, that people should get married, that it was especially better than to live in immorality, but then Paul explains that he has chosen to remain single because he believes that he is able to give more of himself to the ministry of the gospel that way.
In these instances he doesn’t say that they need to be just like him, but that he has chosen to live this way For the Sake of the Gospel.
Here’s the first main truth this morning-
- Paul devoted his life to the communication of the gospel.
This wasn’t just something that Paul claimed in his letters, it’s what he lived out as recorded by Luke in his history of the early church. What we read about Paul is that he tirelessly went from city to city proclaiming the gospel. He would preach until he was thrown in prison or had planted a church, often he would do both. Then once he was thrown out of a city, he would go to the next city and start sharing the gospel to establish a church there. Paul didn’t just ride in and preach the gospel and ride out, he developed leaders and elders. He set up Bible Studies and Small Groups, he organized a team that would carry on the work once he was gone to the next city.
In Acts 17 we read that Paul was establishing the church in Thessalonica and some people got upset and ran him out of town.
So he went to a place called Berea and started establishing a church there. The people in Thessalonica heard that Paul was in the next city doing the same thing so they came to Thessalonica and went before the officials of that city and began to stir up crowds, so Paul was run out of Berea but he was separated from the rest of his team, they stayed there to continue the work because they were much less noticeable.
Paul is sent to Athens to wait for them.
16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
Paul’s just been run out of two towns and separated from his team. They tell him to wait in Athens and they’ll be there shortly. But Paul can not simply wait. His Spirit Provokes him. He must preach!
Do you remember what we read in 1 Corinthians 9:16 last week? The end of verse 16 Paul says,
“Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Paul was so dedicated to the communication of the gospel because he was so passionate about the gospel.
In verse 23 Paul tells us this, he says, I do all of this because of the gospel. I do all of this for the sake of the gospel.
There’s the passion. There’s the drive. There’s the why. So you need to understand how Paul came to know the gospel. Paul was a religious leader in the Jewish tradition. He was the type that believed in his God and was willing to compel others to believe as well through violence.
When the disciples of Jesus began to share the message of the gospel- that Jesus was not a criminal who had been executed but instead Jesus is the Son of God who died for the purpose of forgiving our sin and offering us new life and now He has risen from the dead demonstrating that He is able to offer forgiveness and restore lives-
When the disciples began to preach this and people were believing in Jesus by the thousands, Paul began rounding up anyone they knew to be a Christian.
He threw people in prison. He stood by while people were executed. He was a hatchet man. He was an old school terrorist. Then he gets permission to expand his mission, he’s going bigger and better after more Christians in other cities and Jesus appears to Paul.
Paul is gripped by the power of God’s grace and this angry, judgmental, cynical, violent man is overwhelmed by the mercy of Jesus- it picks him up and tumbles him over and before he know it, he’s in the dirt of that dirt road asking what he must do to be forgiven of the horrible things that he has done.
Paul’s experience was powerful, but no more powerful than the experience people in this room have had when the love and mercy of Jesus knocked them backwards and left them on their knees asking for forgiveness and restoration.
Paul’s experience was like mine, when God gripped the heart of an angry, arrogant, rebellious teenager and left me on my knees asking God to forgive me and fix me.
Paul’s experience was like that of any sinner who is made a saint by God’s grace. Because it was so powerful, Paul was dedicated to share it with everyone.
Now this is crazy-Look at what verse 19 says.
Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all.
When Paul met Jesus he was headed to another city because he had gotten permission from his bosses. Paul had been living in a system where he was told what to do. Paul had been living in a system that was full of rules and yet he had never done enough.
Paul had not been free. Now he was. He was now free from the rules and the to do lists and even though he was no longer living to please those masters, he felt more at peace than he ever had before…
So he was free. But he chose to live as a servant to take the gospel to all people. Not because he had to in order to feel worthy- but because he had been freed from that life he wanted everyone to be free.
Paul viewed his God given freedom as an opportunity to free others.
So, Paul never made a decision based merely on what he wanted but rather he based his life upon a simple question:
What will give me the greatest opportunity to free the sinner with the gospel?
So when it came to the question of whether or not to eat meat that had been offered in the temple, Paul was asking what will work best for the spread of the gospel?
When it came to the question of whether or not to get married, Paul’s question was which manner of life will best serve the gospel? When it came to the question of offerings, Pau’s question was what will best serve the communication of the gospel? Paul was not as concerned with these issues- to him they were petty religious and cultural issues.
Paul was concerned with reaching people with the gospel!
“We are not keepers of the aquarium. We are fishers of men!”
-Mountain View Church
So that’s the why of what Paul was doing, let’s talk a minute about how Paul was doing this.
There were some Jews in Corinth, but not many. So perhaps in Corinth Paul had done things that would have made it difficult for a Jew to accept as normal behavior, and then when Paul was ministering to Jews he was following their customs and traditions and when this got back to the Corinthians, they were confused. They were wondering why Paul was being a hypocrite.
They wondered why he acted one way with them and another way with other people. Paul wasn’t being a hypocrite, but he was attempting to respect the culture and traditions of the people that he was trying to reach with the gospel. Paul wasn’t sinning- Paul wasn’t participating in sin just to put people at ease, but when it came to cultural and religious issues, he made the gospel the main issue.
Paul never changed the message or faltered in his mission, but he adapted his methods to the culture.
By the way, Paul was uniquely qualified to do this. He was a Jew. A Pharisee of the Pharisees he once said of himself. He was an educated Jew so he was familiar with the Old Testament and Jewish customs. Did you notice what we read about him from when he was in Athens? He reasoned daily in the synagogue. He could be a Jew to the Jews. Paul was a Roman Citizen, which many Jews were not.
He was a Jew, but he had some exposure to the greek culture and way of life. He knew how to talk with Jews and Romans. He knew where to start with each of them. Paul says, to the Jew I am a Jew. To the weak, I am weak. To the strong, I am strong. I am all things to all men so that by all means I might win some.
The Message is sealed in blood.
The Mission is engraved in stone.
The Methods are sketched in pencil.
In Acts 17, when Paul is in Athens and starts sharing with them because his heart is provoked. He shares in the synagogue, which had done before. Then he shares in the marketplace, which he had done before, then he notices all of these idols. They even had an idol to the unknown God. So he called people to this little amphitheater type place to talk to them about the unknown God. Paul had preached in the synagogue before. He had preached to greeks in the marketplace before.
He had never preached like this. This was new.
To reach people who had never heard the gospel before, Paul did something he had never done before.
So what does this look like for us? Several year ago Jim Collins put together a research team that studied companies that were good companies that became top performing, great companies. They put out a book with their findings. One of the principles that they found in each of the companies that made the leap had a similar characteristic. They found the convergence of 3 attributes.
What they were good at-
What they were passionate about-
What was profitable-
Companies that had something they were good at, they were passionate about, and was profitable were incredibly successful. I think that’s just merely a secular illustration of the way God made us. I believe that God has uniquely gifted all of us, given us all a passion, and a mission to share the message of the gospel. I believe that whenever we find the convergence of 3 attributes we are effective as a church-
What we are uniquely gifted to do-
what we are passionate about-
what we are called to do.
Let me give you an example.
Our church is unique in the fact that we have many young kids. We have like 6 kids that are starting kindergarten this year, for a church our size, that’s pretty crazy. So we’ve got young families. We are passionate for young families and about teaching the Bible to children. And we are called to train the next generation- so we’ve been effective at reaching and impacting other young families.
Our church is unique in the fast that we have several people who have been saved from a life of addiction. We are passionate about reaching addicts. We are called to reach addicts… In the convergence of those 3, we’ve found an effective opportunity to reach addicts with the gospel…
We are all called.
We are all uniquely gifted.
But we are not all passionate.
Paul wasn’t more gifted or more called than others, Paul was more passionate.
Passion beats polish!
Paul devoted his life to the application of the gospel.
Quickly lets look at verses 24-27
I think Paul was worried about the Corinthians. If they were not willing to make changes in their lives for the sake of the communication of the gospel, would they willing to make changes in their lives for the sake of the application of the gospel? Would they change when God called them to live differently because it’s what he expected?
Paul gives them an illustration. He points to the greek games. He says, look at how disciplined and passionate they are! What if we worked as hard to apply the gospel as they work to train for the games? Paul says, only one of them is going to win and the prize he wins doesn’t even last! Our reward lasts forever. Even their fitness goes away!
Paul was passionate about the communication of the gospel because he was still active in the application of the gospel in his own life. When was the last time God restored a broken piece of your heart? When was the last time that the gospel reshaped you and molded you?
Paul says here that he isn’t living his life haphazardly or accidentally, but he is intentionally, persistently pursuing the work of God in his own life.
Paul says, God forbid that though I’ve preached to others that I myself would become a castaway- God forbid that I would forget the very truth I proclaim.
If you’re not passionate about the gospel touching new hearts, it’s been too long since it touched yours.