Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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A Servant to All

1st Corinthians 9:16-23

 Our Scripture this morning is an aside.  What I mean is that chapter 9 is a sideline to the main thrust of 1st Corinthians at this point.  Specifically, it is an illustration of a point Paul made in chapter 8 and is going to apply to an issue in chapter 10.  The illustration is how we should lay aside our rights for the sake of loving others.  If you were here last Sunday, you will hopefully remember that the specific issue addressed in chapters 8-10 was eating meat because eating meat was very often connected in the first century Greek world to pagan idolatry.  

 Paul responded to that situation by saying that if the exercise of your freedom in Christ is causing harm to other believers, then you should lay aside your freedom.  Paul illustrates that point here in chapter 9 by telling how he laid aside his right to receive support from the churches he served.  

 This chapter may be an aside.  It may not be the main point of what Paul is trying to communicate here, but that doesn’t mean that it does not have value for us as believers.  It can help us answer a question:  How do we best go about sharing the gospel?  

 First things first:  Why do we share the gospel?  Why should we in the first place tell others about Jesus and his love and his work of salvation?  

 Paul makes it clear that he felt a deep compulsion to do it.  He felt he had been chosen by God to take part in sharing the gospel as a sacred trust.  I believe that is true of all of us.  I believe we have a sacred trust to share the good news.  It is both a sacred honor and a great responsibility to be a part of god’s work of salvation.  

One of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament is Ezekiel 33.  God tells Ezekiel that he has been chosen as a watchman for Israel.  The job of a watchman is to keep watch and sound the alarm if the enemy is spotted.  And God enforces the point to Ezekiel that if he fails to warn people of the coming judgment, then he too will be judged.  But if he tells people and they do not heed his warning; he will be saved for his faithful obedience.  In the same way, God has given us a sacred trust to share the gospel.  If we do that faithfully, we are not responsible for whether or not people believe it.  But if we fail to proclaim it, then we are the ones who are in trouble.  

There is also the issue of love in this.  Jesus told us that if we love him, we will obey his commands.  We should be delighted to obey as an expression of our love.   Service to God should flow out of love of God, not just a sense of duty.  

Also, if we have truly experienced the blessings of the gospel for ourselves, if we truly have the joy and peace Jesus gives, then we should be motivated to want to see others experience those same blessings for themselves.  As Paul says in verse 23, we experience the blessings of the gospel even more when we share it.  The gospel is one of the few things that is multiplied when we give it away, not diminished.  If you give away your money, you’ll have less.  Hopefully you’ll gain something better out of it, but you’ll have less of it than you did before.  But if you give away the love of God, you’ll experience it in even greater measure, not less.  

The motivation to share the gospel should never be any kind of material rewards.  As we see throughout this chapter, Paul chose not to accept the financial support of the churches he served.    

At the same time though, he argues strongly that servants of the gospel should be supported by the church in general.  They received food, clothing, and shelter.  He talks about how other apostles received support, and those that had families received a greater share of support.  He talks about how shepherds received a portion of the milk from the herds they watched, and farmers a share of the produce of the ground, and priests in the Temple received a portion of the sacrificial animals.  He recalls the Old Testament law stating that an ox was not to be muzzled while it was treading the grain, but it was to be rewarded for its labor by being allowed to eat what it was treading.  

But Paul himself chose to forego these rights.  He willingly did not accept them by his own choice.  His choice was motivated by the calling God had placed on his life.  He felt he was called to a “tent-making ministry,” meaning that he continued to work at his own trade, tent-making, so as to be able to minister without financial support.  

To lay aside a right is different than giving it up.  We have the right, we haven’t lost it, but we choose not to use it for the sake of others.  We have the right, but we live as if we don’t.  This is the whole point of Paul’s argument on eating meat offered to idols:  A Christian certainly had the right to eat this meat, but they should live as if they did not have that freedom for the sake of other believers whose consciences were troubled by it.  

Well, since we’re talking about Paul’s aside, let me make my own aside.  I have a great respect for those who feel the calling to serve Christ without support and who choose not to accept support from the Church because of it.  I think there is a real advantage to that.  I think there’s a real advantage to the ministry that you have as lay people, which is that you are not serving Christ for the sake of support.  If you go to visit a neighbor in the hospital, if you help someone in need, if you talk about your faith in  Christ, you’re not doing it because it’s your job, but because it’s in your heart to do it.  In a way, I feel like I have a disadvantage being a pastor because I am supported for my service to Christ and his Church.  That’s my aside.

Moving on to the main point of what I want to talk about today:  how do we best share the Gospel?  First, we share the gospel by becoming a servant to all.  Literally, verse 19 says, “Though I am free, I willingly make myself a slave to all.”  

The servants’ heart is the beginning of effective evangelism.  If we have a motivation other than loving and serving others, our witness is compromised from the start.  If we are serving others, we have a sincere desire to see them experience blessing.  If we are truly a servant, then whatever advances the cause of Christ becomes our guiding principle.  

And we follow the example of Christ our Savior, who, though he was Lord of all, willingly made himself a servant of all.  He humbled himself to walk among us.  Though he created human beings, he served them, he washed their feet, and he suffered and died on the cross for their sins.  

As a servant, we do our best to become all things to all people.

Now, lets’ pause for a moment here to talk about what that does not mean.  Let’s be careful not to misunderstand.  “To become all things to all people” can be taken to mean that a person becomes a chameleon who goes along with whatever others want.  Politicians have a way of doing that.  When they’re talking to this special interest group, they say everything that group wants to hear.  But when they talk to a different group, they say everything they want to hear, even if it contradicts what they said earlier.  Frankly, that’s hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is not a good method for evangelism.  In becoming all things to all people, we must keep our center.  We must keep our core intact.  We should not violate

our conscience or compromise our witness or go against what the Word of God clearly teaches us.  As Paul says, I do not discard the law of God, but keep the law of Christ.  

To become all things to all people means that we come to them on their terms rather than expecting them to come to us on ours.  A few years ago, I was at an evangelism conference, and a bishop told a story about a pastor in his conference.  He got a call from the chair of the church’s Pastor-Parish Relations Committee saying, “You have to come here and set this guy straight.  He’s spending all his time in a bar.”  Well, that sure caught this bishop’s ear, so he went to see the pastor.  Yes, the pastor admitted, he had been spending some time in a bar, a couple evenings a week.  “What are you doing in there?”  “Well, I get myself a diet Coke and I sit down.  Whenever someone talks to me, I talk to them.”  “How’s it working out for you?”  “Great, so far I’ve had seven new members join the church.”  Not everyone could do that, but I’m glad he is.  

To become all things to all people means that we try to speak to people in their language.  We get very used to our church-y language.  We can talk about sin and salvation and grace and sanctification all we want when we’re together.  But that language doesn’t resonate with people outside the church.

To become all things to all people means that we have to try to find common ground.  We must have good listening skills.  We must be able to take an interest in what is dear to other people.  

To become all things to all people also means that we are sensitive to people’s needs, be they real needs or felt needs.  And we seek out opportunities to meet people’s needs.

And to become all things to all people means that we remember that nothing is more important to the heart of God than being reconciled to us, not even the traditions that we hold dear.  Sometimes we are unwilling to become all things to all people because we’re bound and determined to hold on to our traditions and not adapt to a changing world.

We should never change the message.  The message is timeless.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to communicate it in ways that are no longer meaningful to the world.

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