One: 1 Corinthians 9.19-27

May 19, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians

Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 9:19–9:27

Intro: You are a minister
In chapters 8, 9, and 10, the apostle Paul instructs the church about the right way to exercise their Christian liberty. For the most part, the Corinthians have exercised their freedom in Christ selfishly. “MY” has become the operative word in all of their relationships, my rights, my benefits, my comfort, my preferences, and my expectations. Their love for their brothers is merely sentimental, their unity only superficial, and their sacrifice for the gospel barely detectable. They are spiritual adolescents trying to masquerade their “spirituality” as genuine discipleship.
To combat this, the Apostle Paul uses his own life as an example for them to imitate. He is a walking example of what happens when someone meets Jesus. It not only transforms who you are, but it complete changes what you do. Your new relationship with God gives you a new disposition toward the church and the world. In a moment, you go from being ministered by the gospel to being a minister for the gospel. Because Christ denied himself everything out of love for us, by His Spirit, we begin to deny ourselves out of love for others. And as the gospel goes deeper, we choose to go with less, with worse, even without all together so that the gospel can go forth.
In other words, ministry is not just the pastor’s job and this passage is not just for professionals. Ephesians 4.1-12a 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry. If you are a Christian here, the Bible says that you are more than an attender. You are more than a member of Damascus Road. You are more than a disciple of Jesus. You are a sojourner in a foreign land, a missionary, an ambassador of the true King, of chosen messenger: You are a minister of the gospel: 2Corinthians 5.18-19. 18 …. Christ has reconciled us to himself and given us the ministry of reconciliation… entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. And you have a ministry you have received. Col. 4.17. “…fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” Our ministry defined simply by what WE DON’T DO to offend, but by what WE DO to save. As a minister of the gospel, Paul gives us an example to follow in attitude and method. A Christian is a particular kind of minister (motivated by Jesus); a Christian minsters in a particular kind of way (modeled after Jesus); a Christian serves with a particular kind of commitment to ministry (empowered by Jesus).
V. 19 A Christian becomes a particular kind of minister (motivated by Jesus). 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. What is the key characteristic of the Christian on mission? Though Paul is free from all, meaning, though he can do what he wants in Christ, he has chosen to become a servant to everyone. Because Christ freed him from slavery to sin, Paul chose to be a slave to others for Jesus. This is the Christian’s essential heart attitude.
The key to unity in the church and an effective mission is to share the one mind of Christ. Having the mind of Christ means acting on the belief that serving others is more important than others serving you. We are servant-ministers, dying to ourselves so that others might live. And this does not only mean serving people who are obligated to serve, like family. This is not only serving people who you love to serve, like friends. This is not serving people who are easy to serve, who appreciate your service, or who reciprocate your service. This is service motivated by your relationship to Jesus and not by your relationship to those being served. Though we are free to serve ourselves or those who we love (or like), in Christ, we become a servant to everyone.
Do you live to be served or to serve? How would others characterize your life? Those who know the gospel, joyfully choose to go with less, to go with worst, even to go without all together so that others might go with more. When his disciples argued over who should serve who Jesus said : Matt. 20.25-28 25 …“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If you want to be a great ____________, then adopt the attitude of a servant wherever you have been sent as a minister. In my family, I am a servant. In my marriage, I am a servant. In my school, I am a servant. In my neighborhood, I am a servant. In my job, I am a servant. In my church, I am a servant. In my city, I am a servant.
v. 20-23 A Christian minsters in a particular kind of way (modeled after Jesus).
My service is not passive or purposeless. Not only do we become a particular kind of minister, we also minister in a particular kind of way. Paul shows us that it is not enough to simply deny ourselves something to serve others; we must BECOME something in order to reach others. Paul says…”I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel….” Does this mean we compromise whatever it takes in order for people to like us? No.
It means that Paul did more than just deny his rights—he took on the freedoms of others. In order to minister to all people, religious and the irreligious, he got close to them, dwelled with them, spoke their language, and even embraced their traditions. In order to reach the religious Jews with the truth of the gospel, he engaged with them with his Jewishness. He followed laws that he knew he had no legal obligation to fulfill as one freed in Christ. But, in love, he embraced their misguided religiosity so that he might have the opportunity to point them to Christ. Conversely, in order to reach the irreligious Gentiles, Paul engaged with them as an irreligious Roman. That does not mean he became a lawless pagan who partied at their temples. But it does mean that he did not stand condemning them for their misguided indulgences. I believed he lived with them so that they might see what they would look like as a Christian. He learned what they enjoyed and enjoyed it with him. He learned what they celebrated and celebrated with them. He learned their language and spoke it to them. Paul used whatever method he could to communicate the gospel clearly. He learned the culture and used the culture as a tool.
He was always risking, always pushing, always asking how he needed to change the way he ministered in order to communicate a changeless truth. For us, this means compromising our language, our technology, our buildings, our events, all as tools to preach the uncompromising gospel. We make idols out of our methods individually and corporately. Our ministries often become governed by what we are used to, what we know, or what we like. Are we willing to be ALL things or just be ONE thing for the gospel? This is not ministry governed by the approval or disapproval of men; it is one that believes ministry exists for the sake of the gospel.
Without doubt, this can be abuse; we can easily attach, “It is for the gospel” to justify any decision we make. We have to be honest about whether or not our ministry is making much of Jesus or something/someone. What is really being elevated? If the method we use is genuinely helping the gospel go forth, then we should not be scared to employ it. But if the ministry method is not helping the gospel to go forth, then we should abandon it, even if it is successful. There is much we have to do as a church, much we must not do, and much we can do.
Paul’s method of becoming all things for all people wasn’t read in a book of church growth experts. Paul did not make up this strategy. On the contrary, Paul simply looked at what Christ did. Jesus is not only the motivation for doing ministry; he is the model for how we do it. The gospel is not just news to believe but news to live. God did not keep his creation at a distance when it broke rather, he entered into our brokenness. Jesus emptied himself and our God got his hands dirty. Though he was nothing like us, he got close to us, close enough for people see and touch. He experienced life. He worked. He felt. He cried. He laughed. He sang. He ate and drank with sinners—both religious and irreligious—denying what was familiar, traditional, or expected.
And when he ministered, he did so by entering into nearly every kind of situation with nearly every kind of person—tax collectors, fisherman, prostitutes, politicians, lawyers, Pharisees, adulterers, wealthy, etc. He engaged with the religious and the irreligious, the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. He employed nearly every form of communication, preaching, teaching, conversation, debate, story-telling, and public praying. Jesus came and served so that others might live. His perfect ministry was hard and uncomfortable. He became all things to all, not because it would make him accepted (it would kill him), but so that he might save many.
v. 24-27 A Christian serves with a particular kind of commitment to ministry (empowered by Jesus). It is noteworthy, that the attacks from Satan were all temptations to reject the way of hardship, discomfort, and self-emptying. In truth, these are the same kinds of temptations we face today. Many of us do not want to become all things, to be actively on mission, because what Christ calls us to is hard, sacrificial, and the rewards are not immediate. Paul compares the commitment this kind of ministry requires to runners—something they would have been familiar with due to the biennial Isthmian games. Our calling as ministers requires the commitment of a runner.
First, a runner give his best…he will run hard. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. The purpose of running is to win. Paul is not suggesting that we are in competition with one another and that there is no salvation for second place. He speaks more to the mentality of anyone in any race. They are running for joy, but they are running with a goal in mind. There is a purpose governing them being on the track, and it’s not just to be able to say, “I run.” It’s to give their best to win.
We run hard in ministry. We do not compare ourselves with other runners, rather, we are to run as fast as God has made us able. God hasn’t made us able to run the same way at the same speed. But however we “run” in ministry, it should tire us out. Does your investment in ministry evidence an effort to win a race? Does it even look like you’re running a race at all? Walking? Sitting in the stands? Are you finishing as well as you started?
Second, a runner exercises self-control in all things. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. We are must exercise discipline with our minds, our bodies, our time, our resources, so as to be effective runners Self-control is more than just PASSIVE RESTRAINT it is ACTIVE INTENTIONALLITY. We control what we don’t do, but also what we do. Runners train and run the course set before them.. Runners are “runners”, even when they are not actually running, because they are always thinking about race. They plan ahead, make decisions in advance, learn new techniques, abandon old ones, all in order to run more effectively. Athletes in Corinth had to commit to training for at least 10 months prior to their contests. For 10 months, they made sacrifices in how they ate and spent their time.
We sacrifice and plan for ministry. Preaching the gospel, loving people, reaching the lost is not an addendum to our lives. Ministry is not what we do with our leftover time, or what we leave to the “professionals”. This is not what we fit into our schedules—it is what we build our schedules around. And we joyfully sacrifice anything that might hinder us from taking our eyes off of Jesus. Heb. 12.1-2 … since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God
Finally, Paul says ministry is not a sprint, it is an endurance run. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. It is not a quick race; it is a marathon that requires a serious commitment. We run until the race is over. We don’t stop halfway. We don’t give up until the race is finished. Even if we have to walk, even if we have to stop for a drink, even if we need a brother to carry us at times, we don’t step off the track and disqualify ourselves.
We commit to ministry. Ministry is not a once-a-week event, or even a series of events, it is a, a way in which to view the world, a comprehensive lifestyle. Reaching people for the gospel takes a commitment because relationships take time. There are no short cuts to becoming all things to the people that God has sent you to. If Jesus Christ is our model, we see that it can take a generation of investment, for he dwelled with people for 30 years. Jesus hasn’t returned…GC is not fuilfilled.
Conclusion: Start…or finish the race
A Christian is a particular kind of minister (one motivated by Jesus). A Christian minsters in a particular kind of way (one modeled after Jesus). A Christian serves with a particular kind of commitment to ministry (one empowered by Jesus). God has made you more than an attendee, who sits, or a member who serves, or even a disciple who follows. You are a minister who goes. And you have a ministry, a people you are called to reach in a particular place and time.
Imagine the transforming power of a church full of servants, devoted to getting close to broken people, and working hard to proclaim the gospel. We want to make it hard for anyone we know to go to hell. They can go if they really want to, but we’re going to make it difficult. And we’re going to do that by loving them, serving them, engaging with them, and dwelling with them. We are either here to serve or be served. We are either striving to be all things to all people; or one thing for ourselves. We are either running hard to win souls for Jesus, or just standing in running clothes looking the part.
We are here to serve. We are here to reach. We are here to run hard that we might come to the end of our lives and say as Paul did in his final letter: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2Timothy 4.7-8

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