Text: 1 Corinthians 9:1-23
Here we are again talking about meaty issues. If you remember last week we talked about 5 reasons that Christians don’t see eye-to eye on things. Nothing to get bent out of shape about or lose your faith over. The Bible give principles, not detailed instructions. It may not speak clearly or at all to an issue. We are human and our interpretation might be wrong. And we have to work these principles out in different cultures and from our different personal journeys. We then looked at 1 Corinthians 9 to see Paul’s response to an issue that Christians in the Corinthian church were battling over – to eat or not to eat that was the question. Paul’s answer to the people who wanted to eat the meat was basically this – you’re exactly right, but don’t eat it if you’re going to hurt someone else.
Don’t win the argument and lose the person. Win the argument, and then say, you know what, it’s not worth it. You can tell your vegetarian friend that you don’t believe that there is any thing in the Bible that forbids you from having a hamburger, but you don’t invite him over for steak, instead you prepare a great salad. This makes sense. We make concessions to our freedom daily. Instead of sending my kid to school with a peanut-butter sandwich, I just give her jelly because some other kid could die. I don’t lobby the city so I can bring my dog onboard OC transpo, I should recognize that others are allergic to fluffy. My dorm or apartment may have quiet hours posted, but if my neighbor comes over and says he had a late night and a cold and is trying to get some rest, I don’t blast my music in a defiant show of my rights. Paul is saying, do the loving thing even if, no especially when, you are free to do something else.
Of course there is an objection. Paul knows these guys in the Corinthian church and he knows that they always have an objection, they like to argue. Here’s there objection – its not stated in the text, but you can kind of see it in verse 4: Don’t I have the right to eat and drink? = Don’t I have the right to enjoy my freedom in Christ?
Ok, Paul, you just told us to give up our rights for our weaker brothers, but when does it end? Surely for every issue there’s got to be a weaker brother somewhere and if everyone else has to limit their freedom for the sake of these few people then how can we honestly say we have freedom in Christ?
Ooh, Paul loves a good argument. You can see him frothing at his lips ready to tear into them.
First, Paul Points to Himself as a Champion of Freedom!
1 Cor 9:1-2 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 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.
Paul says, “You’re going to charge me with being a legalist? Dude, I am the apostle of liberty!” Am I not free? Hasn’t the liberty of the believer been one of the core teachings of my ministry? Aren’t I free to formulate and live by my own convictions by the power of the Spirit under the word of God? Am I not an apostle? If the regular Christian has these freedoms, should I as an apostle have the grace to exercise even more freedom? For goodness sakes, I wrote half the New Testament! Even if you don’t think I should exercise my freedom because of my position, haven’t I earned some grace in your eyes – you who are my very workmanship in the Lord? Look – others think I am too free. They say I’m not a real apostle because I take the gospel and offer it to people like you! So if there is anyone qualified to talk about freedom in Christ, its me.
Second, Paul Argues for His Rights Using an Extreme Example.
1 Cor 9:3-6 This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 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? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
You want to talk about rights? Don’t I have rights to? Surely, if you think you have the right to eat and drink, you would extend to me even more basic rights, like the right to marry and to work for a living. You are arguing for you right to partake of a luxury, meat. What about my right to a family and a living? These are far more necessary than your “right” to eat meat. You want to talk about rights? I’ll talk about rights. And with that Paul goes on to an extended discussion where he gives support after support of his right to earn a living from his work laboring for the gospel. He wants them to fully get their heads around the fact that yes he does have rights to these things. He wants to fully establish his freedom in Christ and he does it masterfully.
So here’s Paul’s case for the right to make a living from the gospel.
1) Reason: Analogy to other vocations. 1 Cor 9:7 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? Would you make a soldier pay for his own flak jacket, or gun or Humvee? Does the farmer or vinedresser neglect his own hunger or thirst? Possibly, but even then only in extreme conditions.
2) OT Law: Ooh, now you gotta bring Scripture into it Paul. 1 cor 9:8-12 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 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? Does he not speak entirely 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. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 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. The Scripture taught that even the animals should make their living from their labor. So get this, in Jewish law cattle had more rights than people were willing to extend Paul.
3) Jewish precedent: Analogy in which the pastor/missionary is considered like unto a Jewish priest. 1 Cor 9:13 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? Here we are getting a little closer to home, because here we have a precedent from another religious vocation. The priests make their living from the temple. Now we Christians don’t worship at the temple, so what do we do to take care of those who do God’s work among us?
4) The Words of Jesus: When in doubt, go to Jesus. 1 Cor 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. That should be the final answer. Nobody argues with Jesus. This goes back to the sending out of the apostles way back in Matthew 10 when he sent them out with no money, no bags and extra clothes and said “for the laborer deserves his food” Preachers get paid.
So there! Paul vehemently argues for his rights. You don’t want to get in a theological argument with Paul, because he will beat you every time. But here’s the kicker. Why did Paul feel it was so necessary to so carefully articulate his argument? It is not so that the Corinthian church will pay him! That is not why he makes this argument and he says so in 15: I am not writing these things to secure any such provision. I’ve heard preachers preach this passage out of the context of the argument of 1st Corinthians and use it to practically make the opposite point of what Paul intended. I have heard missionaries say that their churches are obligated to support them because of this passage. But that is not the reason Paul wrote this passage. If you want to preach that, go to the OT passage that Paul refers to, or go to the passage in Matthew. Here Paul is not speaking to the church to pay their pastors more. In fact if you want to apply this passage more correctly, it would speak to the pastors in not insisting on their rights. This is what Paul wants you to hear, yes I have the right, I have every right, reason gives me the right, the Scriptures give me the right, legal precedent gives me the right, The lord himself gives me the right, but (verse 15) But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. Boasting? What boasting? Paul’s boasting is this, when he preaches the gospel, noone can charge him of being in it for the money. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Here is the principle: We are free to give up our rights
Whatever the issue, whether it is me giving up my right to be paid a salary as pastor, you giving up your right to eat meat, her giving up her right to listen to her music loudly before quiet time in the dorm, him giving up his right to drink alcohol because he is working with youth and doesn’t want to send mixed messages, we are free – not compelled, but free – to give up our rights in order to win people to Christ.
You see, when you give up one right, there has got to be something that you value more than that right. You give up rights for something greater. This was the big debate after 9-11 in the states, are we willing to give up some of our rights for our security? So what is it, what is it that you are willing to give up your rights for?
For the gospel. I don’t want anyone to lay a charge on me that I am preaching the gospel for financial sake. I want to make it free of charge so that the gospel can go out more clearly.
Here is the principle: Though I am free from all I make myself a slave to all so that I can win more (Verse 19). My freedom, my rights I gladly give up, if it means I have the opportunity to win more people to the Lord. I give up my preferences, my rights, my liberties in order to make the gospel attractive to all.
Here’s the good question for all of us: what wouldn’t you give up for the sake of the gospel? Would I, like Paul, give up my salary as pastor if it meant I had more credibility with unbelievers? Would you give up eating meat if it meant that you could mingle with a crowd of vegetarians? Would you give up a little bit of your reputation at school if it meant that you reached out to a girl from another clique with the gospel?
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. – Paul’s talking about the Jewish law here, you know the one that had a bunch of restriction on food and holy days and all that. It’s not like, hey I’m gonna hang out with drug dealers to I buy a gun and join there posse.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
See Paul’s not talking here about compromising your morality or engaging in sinful actions – he’s still under God’s law. But he is not putting a whole bunch of other laws in the place of God’s law to serve as a barrier between him and the world. We want you to come to church, but you gotta dress like this and act like this and talk like this. Adults, do you know that youth are really good at exposing hypocrisy – that’s like what they do best – they’re not always great in the wisdom department, but they are really good at pointing out when we are doing things that put up barriers for people.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (ESV)
We have a lot of cookie-cutter Christians out there and we need to do a lot better job about reaching out even if it means I limit my rights as a Christian. So yeah, I have complete liberty and freedom in Christ, but I will not use that liberty to destroy a brother, and I will let go of my rights if it means that I can better reach out with the gospel.
So how are we doing here? How much are you willing to give up your comforts and your rights to reach out to others?
How do we as a church reach out to our culture? Would you be willing to try?