Obstacles are part of life. No person who has ever lived has been able to escape the reality of obstacles standing in their way. Some of you who are here this morning are dealing with obstacles even now. For all of us, there will be even more obstacles before us in the days, months, and years ahead. Some, like Wilma Rudolph, who won 3 gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter races, and then anchored the USA Women’s 4×100 relay team in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, have to battle obstacles from birth. Wilma was born prematurely on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee. She weighed 4.5 pounds at birth. She spent most of her childhood in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and contracted polio at the age of 5. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was 6 years old.

Wilma grew up very poor, the 20th of her father’s 22 children from two different marriages. All of the 22 kids never lived in the same house, but there were always lots of siblings around to help Wilma with her health problems when she was young. Her brothers and sisters took turns every day massaging her left leg which had been disabled by polio. Once a week, her mother Blanche, who was a housekeeper, rode a bus with Wilma to Nashville, a 90 mile round trip, so she could get the therapy she needed at the Meharry Medical Hospital. 

While Wilma was suffering from polio, she also had to deal with whooping cough, measles, and chicken pox, but none of these were insurmountable obstacles for Wilma. Because of Wilma’s dedication, her mother and siblings, and the help of the medical professionals at Meharry, Wilma learned to walk without a leg brace or orthopedic shoe for support by the time she was twelve years old. Still, winning three gold medals in the Olympics is a far distance from taking those first steps without a brace. Nobody would have ever dreamed that Wilma Rudolph would one day be called the “fastest woman on earth.” 

There are so many other obstacles that people have to face in life. Life is filled with obstacles. Obstacles come our way when we are young, they come our way when we are old, and they will come our way at any time and at every stage of life. I’ve had friends who grew up in broken, troubled homes, who have had to overcome so much chaos and uncertainty in life. I’ve had friends who reached retirement age and were looking forward to doing what they wanted for years to come only to be told they had cancer and needed to plan for their final days. I’ve had other friends who have faced financial ruin. I was talking to a friend of mine just this past week who is going through bankruptcy and he has lost so much sleep as he worries about the future for his family. Some of the obstacles we face in life are placed in front of us by others who tell us that we can’t do “it” and we’ll never amount to anything in life. Those messages can be powerful and shape our own thinking for years to come if we allow them. I’ve barely scratched the surface in describing the obstacles that we can face in life, but in all of the years that I have spent living life and working with people, I have to say the biggest obstacle to experiencing the life that God desires for each and every one of us is ourselves. Let me explain.

When I determine that I am the captain of my own ship, when I think that I know all of the answers, when I’m certain that nobody knows what’s best for me other than me, when I judge my value and worth by what I have accumulated and what I’ve accomplished, and when I make the pursuit of my own personal happiness my greatest ambition–then I am most certain to experience disappointment and despair down the line. It’s not the obstacles I face, but the person I stare at in the mirror each morning that is truly the greatest obstacle in my life. It really makes no sense does it? You would think that there would be no one who would have my best interest at heart more than me, but that’s where we are wrong. If we take aim at the wrong target then we are most certain to miss the bullseye God has set in place. 

If my happiness, my ambition, and my fulfillment is the wrong place to start…then where do I start? What should be my focus? I’m so glad you asked. Jesus was asked by a lawyer one time, “What is the greatest commandment?” In other words, “What should I focus on in living my life?” Turn to Matthew 22:36 and read with me.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-39 ESV)

Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it? That’s it! On another occasion two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus to ask a favor. They sound so much like us when they ask, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37 NIV) The other disciples overheard the conversation and they were ticked off. Why? Because they wanted the best seats in the house, right next to Jesus! Jesus told His disciples, “You want to be great? Then be a servant!” Then Jesus said,

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV)

Do you want to be great? Do you want to truly experience the best of life? Do you want to know what real life, real living, is all about? Do you want to truly be successful? Then get your eyes off of yourself, fix them on Jesus, serve Him with all of your heart, and live for His glory and not your own.

This is a problem not just for us, but it was a problem for those living in Corinth as well. In our last study, from 1 Corinthians 8, we took a look at the controversy surrounding whether or not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. Some said, “Absolutely I can! There is only one God and an idol is nothing at all so therefore I can eat whatever I want.” The other group said, “Absolutely not! No way, no how, never should a follower of Jesus eat anything that has been devoted to an idol!” One group said, “I have the right to eat what I want” and the other group said, “We do not have the right to eat what we want!” 

In  Corinthians 9, Paul weighs in by focusing on some rights he has as an apostle. At first glance it looks like Paul has gotten off topic, but you will see, by the time we reach the end of our Scripture for today, that Paul has perfectly addressed the issue of who-has-the-right-to-do-what. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 9:1-14.

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:1-14 ESV)

Evidently there were those in Corinth who were questioning Paul’s claim to be an apostle. In verse 3, Paul says there are some in Corinth who are “examining” him. The Greek word translated “examine” is “????????” (anakrino). Paul took the word from the law courts and it means, “examine, judge, to investigate, or question.” The same word was used when Pilate examined Jesus in Luke 23:14, when Peter and John were on trial in Acts 4:9, and when Paul was being interrogated by the Romans, in Rome, in Acts 28:18. Paul has already used the word in his letter to the church in Corinth when in 1 Corinthians 4:3 Paul said, “He could care less that he was being examined or judged by them.” 

If you will take a look at the first verse of 1 Corinthians 9 you will see that Paul asks four rhetorical questions: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my workmanship in the Lord?” Paul knew the answer to all of these questions and he knew the people of Corinth knew the answer as well. The answer was “Absolutely!” 

Paul had not gone to seminary and had some church board bestow on him the title of Apostle. He was made an apostle by divine appointment. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Himself. In Acts 22, Paul told an irate mob how he had become a follower of Jesus on the road to Damascus. After he had been struck blind, a man named Ananias was called by Jesus to go and lay hands on Paul to restore his sight and to give him a message. Paul recounted his experience by saying, 

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. (Acts 22:12-15 ESV)

Paul had not been commissioned by a church body, he had not passed a prospective apostles exam, and neither was he chosen because he was the head of his class. God called, He equipped, and He sent Paul to do His work. 

Now, none of us are apostles, but each and every one of us who are followers of Jesus have been chosen by Jesus, He has equipped you and me to do His work with the gifts He has given us, and He has sent us out into the world to share His good news with those He places in our paths. 

In verses 4-6 Paul shares with the people in Corinth his “rights.” As an apostle you would think Paul would have not only rights, but special privileges to be enjoyed wouldn’t you? Take a look at verses 4-6 with me.

4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:4-6 ESV)

Paul and the people of Corinth both knew that he had the right to all of the above. He had the right to have his basic necessities provided for him. He had the right to have a wife. He also had the right to be supported by the congregations he established and continued to minister to during his life. I want to come back to this in a moment, but before I do I want us to take a look at verse 7 where Paul draws from everyday life to prove his point. Read it with me. 

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 1 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)

Here Paul gives three illustrations to prove that paying workers is standard operating procedure in society. Throughout this entire section of Scripture Paul uses rhetorical questions to drive home his point. The answer was as plain as the nose on their face! Can you imagine a soldier who has to work a night job to support him or herself while they are serving in the military? Nobody would expect that would they? Paul adds the illustration of the worker of the vineyard and the keeper of the flock. Everyone knows that they will benefit from the hard work they put in by enjoying the fruit of their labor. Gordon Fee writes,

In everyday life one expects to be sustained by one’s labors. So with the apostle. He should expect to be sustained from his “produce” or “flock” — the church that owes its existence to Him. (Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 447).

Then, in verses 8-11, Paul shows that workers being paid is not just the way of the world, but it is also taught in the law of God. We won’t read the entire section of Scripture, but we can read verses 8-9 together.

8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? (1 Corinthians 9:8-9 ESV)

The quote from the Old Testament is from Deuteronomy 25:4. What’s interesting about this quote is that all of Deuteronomy 25 is dealing with social and economic relationships in society. I don’t know many people who use oxen to crack open the grain husk these days, but in biblical times it was the only way to do it. Here’s how it worked. An ox would pull a threshing-sledge in a circle, round and round over the grain so as to release the kernels from the stalk. The Israelites were prohibited by God from muzzling the ox so that he might have as much of the grain as he wanted while he was working. Paul says this was written for us! 

After Paul lays out his argument from the practice of the world in paying laborers and from the law of God in not muzzling the ox, he writes,

11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? (1 Corinthians 9:11-12a ESV)

Paul has “sown spiritual things” among those in Corinth. Afterall, he was the one who founded the church. He stayed in Corinth for eighteen long months discipling the new believers who had given their lives to Christ. If anyone had labored spiritually on the behalf of the Body of Christ in Corinth it was Paul. Because Paul had sown into their lives, or today we might say that Paul had poured into their lives, and the people of Corinth had reaped of the things of the Spirit.

From verse 12 we learn that evidently there were others who were being supported by them. We don’t know who Paul had in mind when he wrote that others were being supported, but it could have been Apollos or Peter. They were big fans of both men.  

I bet you are still wondering, “How does this have anything to do with the argument about whether or not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols in chapter 8?” Remember, those who Paul called more “mature” were asserting their right to eat whatever they wanted. They based their argument on the biblical truth that there is no God but one, and that idols were nothing, therefore they could eat whatever they wanted–they had every right to do so. 

Well, you now know that Paul had rights as well. He has laid them out in a crystal clear argument for all of the folks in Corinth. Paul had rights, but Paul had a different understanding on the use of his rights than the people of Corinth. This is made clear in verse 12 where, after laying out his right to be supported financially by the church in Corinth, Paul writes,

12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV)

Paul had every right to be financially supported by the people of Corinth, but he hadn’t taken a penny from them. If he had the right, why did he not exercise his right and reap materially from those he had sowed into spiritually? We hear stories today of preachers who live extravagantly from the offerings of people, so why wouldn’t Paul do the same? Paul answers the question for us by saying that was willing to put up with anything rather than allow the sharing of the Gospel to be hindered. How would accepting financial support from people hinder the sharing of the Gospel? To really understand this we have to first understand what was going on in Corinth during Paul’s day. Ciamp and Rosner write,

In Paul’s context, the giving and receiving of gifts was part of a much larger system in which friendships and obligations were established, managed, and maintained. Such friendships and obligations entailed commitments of loyalty, future favors, and privileged status with respect to those who were not part of the relationship. Peter Marshall explains: ‘The offer of a gift constituted an offer of friendship. While in theory it was voluntary and disinterested, it was intended to place the recipient under an obligation to repay. Acceptance was conditional; the recipient must respond with a counter-gift or service, immediately or at some later time, and numerous and popular conventions governed the behavior of both benefactor and recipient. Through this system, people of high status…used their wealth…to form alliances, to secure power, and as a form of protection against personal and political enemies (Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 410-411).

The potential problem that Paul saw is the same problem that is still with us today. If me or any other person who teaches God’s Word is willing to have our pockets lined with the money of those who expect something in return then what happens when God gives us a message that they don’t like? What happens if those who are doling out the money want us to do “this” or stop doing “that?” I can tell you what happens, they threaten to take their money elsewhere. Paul would have none of it. He knew his purpose in life was to share the Good News of Jesus, the sinfulness of humanity, and the saving power of Jesus–and nothing would stop him from delivering that message. He would not be bought. He wrote to the Corinthians, in his second letter,

17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:17 NIV)

Paul would not be bought. You couldn’t pay him too much to share the Good News and you couldn’t pay him so little that he would ever stop sharing the Good News. Paul knew that he brought nothing into this life and the only thing that would outlive him would be the lives changed by the Gospel that he shared with others. 

Unlike the people of Corinth, for Paul there was something that was more important than his rights and that was his responsibility to the Lord. Jesus had saved Paul, He had told Him to go and proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles, and that was what was most important to Paul.

Today we hear so much about our rights, but for the followers of Jesus it is not our rights that are most important, but it is the privilege of serving the Lord that is our greatest ambition. We are called to follow in Jesus’ steps and because of that serving those around us, loving others, counting others as more important than ourselves is our passion. This is the life Paul lived and he was able to live it because he knew what Jesus had done for him. When Jesus changed Paul’s life it had a radical impact on how he viewed everything about his life from that day on. Paul wrote,

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

I have been crucified with Christ as well. You who are followers of Jesus have been crucified with Jesus as well. The life we are now to live is not for ourselves, not for our benefit, not to serve ourselves, but to serve others, and not to pursue our own glory, but to share His Good News. 

We are about out of time, but before we go I want to share with you a couple, a husband and wife, who recognized what the Lord has done for them and they set out to spend the rest of their lives serving the least of these so they might know the love of Jesus. 

Domingo and Irene Garcia were married at a young age. He was an alcoholic when they married, but Irene was in love. Domingo was an angry drunk and for the first ten years of their marriage Irene suffered from Domingo’s abuse and infidelity. Domingo is a mechanic and Irene is a hairdresser. Through the influence of one of Irene’s customers she became a follower of Jesus. Irene began to pray for Domingo. She prayed that he too would become a follower of Jesus and that he would be a new husband, a husband like he had never been. Nothing changed and eventually Irene planned her exit from the marriage. About that time Domingo got arrested for DUI, his third, and he went to jail. 

While Domingo was in jail the Lord humbled him, removed his pride, and he began to see what he had done to Irene and his family. Domingo said, “I was sitting in jail and realizing that I had two boys sitting at home without their father. I was doing the same thing to my boys that my dad had done to me.” Domingo then realized that he needed Jesus. While he was sitting in jail he said, “Lord, if you take this desire to drink away from me, I will follow you.” 

Domingo got out of jail and he told Irene what had happened to him. She was skeptical at first, but her friend encouraged her to give him a chance. Domingo began going to church with his family, he began to pray, and God began to work. God is still at work. 

Domingo and Irene knew how important it was for a child to have a good home and God impressed on their hearts that they needed to reach out to kids who didn’t have a good home. Domingo and Irene are almost sixty years old now and they have eleven children currently living with them. Over the years they have fostered and adopted so many children who needed them. 

Why would a couple who have every right to live their own life and raise their own children give up their rights and pour themselves into kids who needed a home so badly? You already know don’t you? They know how the Lord has restored their lives and their marriage and they want to serve Him in gratitude for the rest of their lives.

How about you this morning? What is your ambition in life? What is it that you are giving your life to at this time? I want to encourage you to consider Jesus, think about Jesus, and make the decision this morning to dedicate your life to serving Him. If you have never given your life to Jesus then make today the day.

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

OKC, OK. 73114

June 13, 2021 

Removing All Obstacles to the Gospel
1 Corinthians 9:1-14
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