Last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day. I’ve known fathers who have made incredible sacrifices for the sake of their family. Like many kids, I didn’t realize it growing up, but my own dad made huge sacrifices to be able to support our family while I was growing up. My dad worked in a machine shop running a lathe and turning parts for Halliburton. It didn’t pay as much as we needed so dad would finish his shift and then head to another machine shop in Duncan where he worked a second part-time job. On top of that, Dad wanted to watch me play sports and watch my sisters participate in their after-school activities so he worked midnights for years and years. He would go to work at midnight, work an 8 hour shift, head to his second job, come home and take a nap, and then I’d often see him at one of my practices and he would always be in the stands when I was competing.
When I was getting ready to go to high school Halliburton voted in the Union. Things went south and the UAW voted to go out on strike. Dad said that Halliburton had put food on our table for his entire career and he wasn’t going to go on strike and get paid $40 a week when that couldn’t feed me, much less the rest of our family. So my dad and his buddy, Willie Taylor, rode together every day and crossed the picket line so he could support our family. Those who were manning the picket line called him every name in the book, they threw stuff at his car, but dad continued to cross that picket line every day until the strike was over. Why would he subject himself to such horrible treatment? He did it for the sake of our family.
I bet you have your own stories of how your dad or your mom made sacrifices that they would not have normally made if it were not for the sake of their family. I know some of you are making huge sacrifices for those you love even now. You are working long hours. Some of you are working two or even three jobs. You deny yourself things that you would like so that you can provide for your family the basic necessities of life. Why do you do what you are doing? I know the answer to that–you are doing it for the sake of your kids, for the sake of your family, because you love them so much.
We are going to go back to 1 Corinthians this morning and pick up where we left off two weeks ago. At the heart of our Scripture for this morning is the same kind of self-sacrificing love demonstrated by the Apostle Paul, not for his biological family, but for the opportunity to share the gospel with everyone he meets. Let’s read together 1 Corinthians 9:15-23 and then we’ll talk about it.
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:15-23 NIV)
I’ll have to refresh our memory just a bit since it has been two weeks since our last lesson from 1 Corinthians. If you will remember, Paul had refused any payment for preaching the gospel to the Corinthians. It is interesting that Paul worked as a tentmaker and leatherworker to support himself while he was ministering in Corinth because he knew that the practice of paying gifted speakers in Corinth was widespread. He also knew that in Corinth, those who were doling out the money to those who were gifted speakers also controlled much of what the speakers had to say. Money is a powerful tool that has been and is still being used to control the message. Paul would never have the message of the Cross compromised and therefore he let everyone in Corinth know that he would not take a dime.
It is interesting to me that we still have a version of this practice taking place in our own day. Sponsorship is huge in our day. There are high profile people who rake in millions of dollars each year to wear a logo on their uniform, make commercials for their sponsor, or make appearances on behalf of those they are representing. If those who are being sponsored step out of line–if they say the wrong thing or do something that their sponsor doesn’t approve of, then they can lose their sponsorship in a heartbeat. It happens all of the time. When you are having your pockets lined by others it will no doubt make you think twice about what you say and do. This is exactly what was taking place in Corinth and Paul would have none of it.
Paul had the right to be paid, we saw that in our study of 1 Corinthians 9:1-13 where Paul went into great detail to lay out his rights, but here in 1 Corinthians 9:15, Paul writes,
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. (1 Corinthians 9:15 NIV)
What was Paul’s boast? Paul said he would rather die than have people believe that he was a hired gun, that he was doing what he was doing, sharing the good news of Jesus, simply as a means to make money or that his message was being shaped by some deep-pocketed sponsor.
If Paul was not in it for the money, then why did he devote his life to traveling around from city to city, subjecting himself to harsh treatment by those who didn’t like his message? That’s a great question and he answers it for us in verse 16 where he writes,
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16 NIV)
Paul said he had no choice but to preach the gospel. Paul couldn’t boast about his message because it wasn’t his message, it was the gospel, the good news of God concerning the salvation and reconciliation that is found in Jesus alone. Paul had to share that message!
Many years prior to Paul’s writing the letter we are now studying, Paul was no fan of Jesus. As a matter of fact, Paul was the number one persecutor of the followers of Jesus, In Acts 9, Paul was headed to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus when he was struck blind by Jesus Himself. The men who were with Paul led him into the city not knowing that the Lord had already gone before them and called a faithful servant named Ananias to go and lay hands on Paul so his sight would be restored. Ananias had heard of Paul, who was then called Saul of Tarsus, and Ananias didn’t think it was such a good idea. Ananias was explaining to the Lord why Paul would not be the best choice to join the team…
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 NIV)
Before Paul’s vision was even restored, Jesus had a plan for Paul’s life and it was to proclaim His name to Gentiles and Jews. That message was a fire in his belly and he could not hold it back. This is the way the Lord works in those He redeems. Let me give you just one more example. Turn with me to Jeremiah 1:5-8 and let’s read together the conversation the prophet Jeremiah had with God.
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:5-8 NIV)
And Jeremiah went and he spoke to the people the Word the Lord would give him. It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah. His obedience came at a great cost. He suffered ridicule and scorn everywhere he went and whenever he opened his mouth. There were times in Jeremiah’s life when his call to go and speak weighed so heavy on him. In Jeremiah 20:8-9, you can hear the anguish flowing from Jeremiah’s pen. Listen to this.
8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. 9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:8-9 NIV)
Jeremiah couldn’t keep quiet. Paul was compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Here’s something we need to know, these guys weren’t outliers, they weren’t the exception to the rule, they were and continue to be the norm for those whose lives have been radically changed by Jesus. “Radically changed” doesn’t mean that you were once living a life of crime with a rap sheet as long as your arm and Jesus changed your life. “Radically changed” means that you and I, all of us, were lost, we were dead in our sins, and destined to eternal separation from God when Jesus stepped in and rescued us, redeemed us, reconciled us to God the Father. If you are a follower of Jesus then He has radically changed your circumstance, He has redeemed your past, transformed your present, and secured your future. When we become aware of what He has done for us then there is no way we can keep that to ourselves. When we become aware of what Jesus has done for us then we want others to experience that same redeeming, transforming love for themselves–so we tell them. We have to tell them!
I want us to get to the heart of our Scripture for this morning so let’s jump ahead to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and read it together.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)
Paul has already made it clear that he is free. He did that in 1 Corinthians 9:1 when he asked the rhetorical question: “Am I not free?” Here, in verse 19, Paul makes an astounding announcement: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” John MacArthur writes,
As far as his rights were concerned he was free from all men, but because of his love for all men he would gladly limit those rights for their sakes. He had, figuratively, become a slave to all. He would modify his habits, his preferences, his entire lifestyle if any of those things caused someone to stumble, to be offended, or to be hindered from faith in the Lord (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 211).
“…I have made myself a slave to everyone…” What an unbelievable statement! In a day in which everyone is so concerned about their rights, who in their right mind would willingly forsake their rights to become a slave of others? In a day in which everyone is willing to do almost anything to get to the front of the line, to get ahead of others, who in their right mind would willingly put on an apron and become a servant? Why would Paul do such a thing? Afterall, Paul had an impeccable pedigree. He didn’t have to elbow his way to the head of the class, he was already there. How do I know that? Well, he told us as much in his letter to the church in Philippi. In Philippians 3:3, Paul let the people know that he put no confidence in the flesh, his hope was in Christ alone. Then, in verse 4, he writes,
4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:4-7 NIV)
There it is again– “For the sake of Christ.” All that he was, all that he had attained, all that he could have accomplished, it all meant nothing to Paul any longer now that He had met Jesus. So, this Paul, the man who had every reason to be at the front of the line, followed in the steps of his Lord, the One who took a tub of water and a towel and washed the feet of His disciples. Paul made himself a slave of everyone. We still haven’t answered the question: “Why?” He tells us in verse 19.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19 NIV)
Paul’s purpose in making himself a slave of others was to win them to Christ. He repeats his purpose over and over again in this section of Scripture. In verse 19, he writes, “to win as many as possible.” Then, in verse 20, we read, “to win the Jews,” and a little later in the same verse, “so as to win those under the law.” In verse 21 he writes, “so as to win those not having the law.” Last of all, in verse 22, we read, “to win the weak” and “so that by all possible means I might save some.” Making himself a slave to others, meeting people where they were, was done by Paul for the purpose of having the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others so that they too might come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives.
In verses 20-23, Paul identifies three groups of people and what he did to come alongside them in such a way as to eliminate as many barriers as possible so he might share the gospel with them in a way they could hear it. The first group of people Paul identifies are Jews. Paul writes,
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20-21 NIV)
Paul was a Jew by birth so why would he write, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” Paul was a Jew by birth, but there was a cultural distinctiveness about the Jews and their faith. Paul was no longer under the law. He no longer followed a kosher diet, he no longer followed the religious ceremonies and traditions of Judaism…unless…unless not following them would erect a barrier between Paul and his Jewish audience.
Paul would never walk into a group of Jews eating a bacon and tomato sandwich. He would never show up to a Jewish dinner party and not wash his hands. In Acts 20:20-26, Paul even went so far as to participate, along with four other men, in a Jewish purification ceremony in Jerusalem. Paul was willing to go along with the suggestion of James and the elders in Jerusalem so he might gain a hearing with the Jews there. Paul knew that keeping the law could never put you in right standing with God, but he had no problem following the law if it would help to eliminate barriers for the Jewish people to hear the gospel.
The second set of people Paul identifies for us are the Gentiles, or as Paul describes them, “those not having the law…” Paul writes, in verse 21,
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:21 NIV)
Paul was willing to live like a Gentile when he was with the Gentiles in order to share the gospel with them. I do need to point out something for us that is so important for us to understand. When I say Paul lived like a Gentile I don’t mean that he lived an immoral life while he was living in Corinth which was full of all kinds of perversity. Paul said he “became like one not having the law,” but then he was quick to add “(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.)” If anything, God’s moral law has been made even more explicit under the Cross of our Savior. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 5 when He was speaking about the 7th of the 10 Commandments. Jesus said,
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)
Do you see how in Jesus we find the true heart of God’s law, which is really the heart, your heart and my heart, isn’t it? Jesus did the same thing with the Commandment, “You shall not kill” in Matthew 5:22. The law is more than a cold, sterile, set of prescriptions for life and Jesus shows us that so clearly. So Paul is not free to live life however he chooses, but he is free to adapt to his surroundings in such a way that the gospel can be heard by those who need to know Jesus.
The last group of people Paul identifies for us are “the weak.” The weak were, and continue to be, the powerless among us. Those who have been marginalized, those on the outside, those no one else goes out of their way to care for, love, or include. Paul says, “to the weak I became weak.” Paul identified with them, he went to them, valued them, and shared the gospel with them so they might come to know Jesus.
Paul knew that all people had inherent worth and value. God had made them, Christ had died for them, and therefore Paul was willing to meet them where they were so he might share the most important truth in the history of the world with them– “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So, Paul told the people in Corinth, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
I love this passage of Scripture so much and I believe it is vitally important for you and me to spend time praying through it, meditating on it, and then implementing this same method into our daily lives. This Scripture shaped me while I was a student in college living in a dorm with the other guys on my football team. I could walk from my dorm room at one end of Shepler Center and hear Hank Williams Jr., Black Sabbath, Run DMC, Motley Crue, Queen, Willie Nelson, and The Sugar Hill Gang blasting from my teammates dorm rooms before I ever made it to the elevator. There were guys from small towns in Oklahoma as well as Hollywood, Florida and Los Angeles, California. I had teammates who were Asian, Mexican, white, and black. God gave me opportunities to share the gospel with those guys and with my coaches during the four years I played with them on the football field and lived with them in the dorm.
I had no idea at the time, but those four years of being around such a diverse group of guys would prove to be the best education and training for when Connie and I would come to Britton Christian Church, situated in such a wonderfully diverse community. I was told more than once that an old “white church” can’t make it in “that” neighborhood. I totally agreed with them back then and I still agree with them today. Britton Christian Church is not a white church, it’s not a black church, nor a Hispanic church. We’re not a rich church or a poor church. Britton Christian Church is God’s church and we’ve been called to be a “lighthouse of hope to our city.” We’ve been called by God to share the hope that is found in Jesus with all people, people from every walk of life, and by God’s grace we will continue to do that for many years to come. How do we do that? By meeting people where they are. I don’t know where you have come from this morning, but boy am I glad the Lord has brought you here!
I’ve got to ask you one question before we leave here this morning: Has the good news of Jesus changed your life? If so, then what are you willing to do for the sake of the gospel? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and allow the Lord to use you to share His love with others? Are you willing to step outside of your circle of friends and allow the Lord to use you to impact the lives of others? If so, I’d love to visit with you to help you plan how to go about that with intent and purpose. If you are here this morning and you have never made a commitment to follow Jesus then I want to urge you to take that step today. Just confess to the Lord that you’ve been living your life for you up until now, but today you want to begin to live your life for the sake of the gospel.
Britton Christian Church
June 27, 2021
1 Corinthians 9:15-23