Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Sharing the Good News (2)

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Sharing the gospel is both a great privilege and a serious responsibility.

It’s a privilege for us. God invites us to be a part of his work in the world. And there is a great reward for us sharing the gospel: We have the opportunity to see lives transformed. We get the joy of seeing hurting and needy people receive the news that God loves them and there is hope for all.

But it’s also a serious responsibility. I like that word better than duty or obligation. Sharing the gospel with others is part of how we respond to what God has done for us. We have received a gift. We respond in a way that demonstrates our sincere gratitude.

Frankly, I think the word “responsibility” is a word that we should use more often. It’s a better word than “right.” “I have a right to free speech” doesn’t sound as good to me as, “I have a responsibility to speak the truth in love.” “Healthcare is a right” doesn’t sound as good as, “We have a responsibility to ensure that people receive care when they are ill or injured.” But that’s enough of me touching on politics for one day.

If the stories from Scripture about God calling people, people like Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and the Apostles, teach us anything, they should teach us that God’s calling must be answered even if we do not feel adequate or prepared for it. And there is a calling on all our lives to share the gospel. It’s not the responsibility of just the pastor or lay leader or only a few, all Christians, all who have experienced the joy of the good news, also have a responsibility to share it with others. This is God’s free gift to the world, and he intends it for all. It’s our job to be sure all hear it.

Paul’s governing principle for sharing the gospel, and so much of the reason for his success, is summarized by his phrase, “I have become all things to all people. When I am with the Jews, I become like a Jew. When I’m with the Gentiles, I become like a Gentile. When I am with the oppressed, I become like one who is oppressed.”

But it’s easy to misinterpret that statement, “I become all things to all people.” It doesn’t mean that we should be chameleons, changing our colors to fit in wherever we are. Or to choose an even more insulting word, it doesn’t mean that we should become politicians, always telling people what they want to hear. I once heard someone describe a church leader by saying, “He’d be a perfect politician. You have no idea what he really thinks or believes. When he talks to this group, he sounds just like one of them. When he talks to that group, who are the exact opposite, he sounds just like one of them.”

“All things to all people” doesn’t mean that we lose our center, the core of our being. It doesn’t mean that we violate our conscience and do what we know to be wrong just to fit in. It doesn’t mean that our loyalty to God is compromised. It doesn’t mean that we change the message, that we make the gospel something it isn’t just so people will listen to it.

What it does mean is that we change our presentation of the gospel so that it will be heard. The content remains the same, but we speak it in a way that it can be heard and understood by our audience.

This means that we must be adaptable. We must seek out common ground with people. We must be humble enough to listen to people. How might they be able to hear the gospel? It means we must learn the “art of accommodating oneself to others,” as one Bible commentator said. Being a good listener is more important to sharing the gospel than being a good speaker. What are the concerns and needs others have? If we don’t know that, then how can we talk about how Jesus being the answer they seek.

“Being all things to all people” means that we must go where people are, both literally and metaphorically. This was so much of the reason for Paul’s success as an evangelist. He spoke the gospel where people were.

He did that literally. In the book of Acts, we find him talking about Jesus in synagogues, in marketplaces, in Temple courtyards, in the court of a governor, on a riverbank, in jail, and in other places. Where people were, he preached the good news of Jesus Christ to them.

Paul also went to where people were metaphorically. He spoke in a way to be heard by Jews, Gentiles, slaves, the wealthy, the educated, the uneducated, Greeks, Romans, and so on.

The gospel is a message of God’s love. Love engages people where they are, not where we want them to be. Likewise, if we want to be effective at sharing the gospel, we must speak to people about Jesus where they are.

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