Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon text 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

            So, good morning.  I'll be working out of 1Corinthians 9:19-23, though I will bounce around a bit. For now though, let's just read this one together

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

            What are some things that traditionally, stereotypically, Christians can't or don't do? (pause for responses)

            There's a rhyme in the more conservative baptist circles that I travel in: “We don't drink, we don't chew and we don't go with girls that do.” It's an archaic expression, but it still rings with truth. Christians don't drink, we don't smoke, or chew and we don't swear. At last that's the stereotype. I know I don't live up to the expectations that many people I come into contact with have of me once they find out that I'm a Christian. I'm a beer snob, which means, obviously, that I drink beer. I smoked a cigar with my uncles when my daughter was born, and much to my own shame, I'd be lying if I said I never swore though I usually do it in French...because fewer people understand me then....When I'm visiting Quebec, I suppose I'll have to switch to English.

            So what Paul here is talking about is how Christians are to behave around people who are not Christians. We're going to look at these all, but let's start off with the one Paul knew the most about.

To the Jews I became like a Jew:

            This first category wasn't all that difficult for Paul since he was, ethnically, Jewish. So for Paul to “Become Jewish” wouldn't have been a big deal because to most of the Jews of the day, he was. He was already Jewish. He was Hebrew. Now the difference comes in the book of Acts when Paul wants to take Timothy, a Greek, and Paul's student out with him on a missionary journey where they would be interacting and ministering to Jews. Timothy, because he was Greek before converting to Christianity, was never circumcised. Now Paul is known in other places in scripture to be adamant that circumcision is not necessary to be a Christian. He goes so far in the book of Galatians as to encourage those that do believe you need circumcision to just go ahead, finish the job and castrate themselves! So it should come as no surprise to anyone, that in this case, Timothy WAS circumcised!


            So Paul is adamant that circumcision is not necessary yet Timothy is circumcised just to appease the Jews on the journey? Why the double standard? Because there's a difference between can, and must. See the pressure that was coming from Galatia was coming from other Christians who had been Jews and now wanted all new Christians to be circumcised as well, because they believed that you must be a part of the old covenant in order to be a part of the new one. They were adding circumcision to the Gospel, to the completed and complete work of Jesus. In Timothy's case, both Paul and Timothy knew and understood that whether or not Timothy was circumcised did nothing to change or improve his standing with God but they did know that as a gentile,  his status would bar him from many opportunities within the Jewish community, even if he was travelling with Paul. So he went ahead and got circumcised, because he could, not because he had to. Timothy flexed, and gave up some of his rights, and freedoms o that he might have the opportunity to teach the Gospel.

To those under the Law, I became as one under the law

            So right now the guys in the room are probably wondering how many more times I'm going to say “that word” this morning, and I think, or now at least, I'm done with it. So I'll move on to another topic, one that we men will enjoy a bit more, I think, meat. So it's a new school year at Heritage, where I went to college, and the kids will have probably, by now, moved into residence. I can almost guarantee you, that at some pint in the next eight months, this question will be thrown around in dorm, probably at 3am: Is it appropriate for a Christian to eat Kosher or Halal meat? On the surface it seems like a pretty simple question, Acts 10 effectively changed all of the dietary laws so that Christians are free to eat any animal which is great because I am glad God made pigs out of bacon. In the next chapter, Paul explicitly says that we can, as Christians eat food sacrificed to idols because we know that that idol is just a thing that was created by God and made into an idol by man. After all, if a man builds a statue of Athena, or Molech, or any other god, who made he wood? Who created the metal? God did.  But only four verses earlier, Paul says that to eat food that is sacrificed to idols is to share in the worship of demons! Not to mention that in Matthew 15 Jesus Himself says that it doesn't matter what you eat because it's what comes out of the mouth that matters, not what goes into it!

            So can I eat the Halal cutlets or not? Maybe, because again, there is a difference between can and must. If it's just me, and Cody, sure, eat the halal, though I don't know why, it's more expensive and tastes more or less the same. But let me ask you this, would you have a beer with an alcoholic? Of course not, that's irresponsible. Now, would you eat halal with an ex Muslim who is now a Christian and may have reservations about eating what he may consider to be food sacrificed to an idol? Moving on. But if someone comes up to me and says that all Christians can not eat halal and be Christian, geuss what I'm having for lunch. (laughter?) And I’m not being a smart alek. They are adding to the completed work and sufficiency of Jesus and the Gospel.

To those outside the Law.

            Now here is where we can get tripped up. Because this is where people get the idea of Christian freedom all messed up. Some people hear “outside the law” and think it's a moral carte blanche to do whatever they want in the name of “evangelism”. The problem with this is that there's no limit. To the drunk I became a drunk, To the adulterer, I became an adulterer, to the child molester, I became a child molester? No. Brothers and sisters, this is not what Christian freedom is. Christian freedom is the freedom to do ALL things to the glory of God because when you're a Christian, your desires should only be to glorify God. Not that any of us are perfect, we all fail in many ways at many times, but when we are talking about Christian freedom and the law of Christ; we talk about the freedom to do anything we want because all we want do to is glorify the Father. Because there's a difference between can and must. Just because I can exercise my freedom here, doesn't mean I must nor does it mean that by exercising it I glorify God. Besides, when Paul talks about those outside the Law, he's not talking about criminals, he's talking about people outside the law of Moses, he's talking about Gentiles, non-Jews he's talking about you and me.

To the Weak I became weak

            Last group. To the weak I became weak in order to win the weak. Does that sound really strange to anyone else besides me? When you're trying to present something to someone who is weak, you want to come at it from a position of strength don't you? You don't want to appear weak to the weak so that the weak don't trust you do you? You want to have it together so that the weak say “Wow, look at him, he's strong, I want what he has.” Paul says no, to the weak, become weak to win the weak from out of their weakness. So who are the weak here? Well that's the beautiful thing about the continuity of this passage. See, where the top two categories are Jews and God-fearers, that is Ethnic Jews and uncircumcised gentiles who have converted to Judaism; The second two sections are Gentiles (those not under the Law) and the weak. These weak ones are different than the weak in chapter 8, in that they are not Christians, we know that because Paul says he still wants to win them. These weak ones are probably the kind of people we see here in churches today, they come to church, they have good morals, and they're really uncomfortable with other religions, but they're not Christians yet. They're like the people who show up on Christmas and Easter, or Republicans. They’re not Christians so much as they are “religious”

I have become all things to all people...

            Do you see what Paul is doing here? He's gathering together ALL people for the Gospel! The Jews, Those under the Law, who were probably God-fearers and Jewish by religion and not ethnicity, and those not under the Law, the gentiles and the weak ones. That's everyone! I have become ALL things to ALL people that by ALL means I might save some. Paul is saying what I hope by now is rather obvious. The methods you use in ministry to get the gospel out are flexible, and it's you that does the flexing. YOU flex, don’t water down the message, but tailor it to your audience. And here's why Paul even says it.

Participate in the Gospel

            Paul says “I do it all for the sake of the Gospel” and most English translations here probably read “that I may share in it's blessings” or something similar. I learned something, however, when I was researching this sermon, that the original Greek is a little more ambiguous and translates literally to “That I might participate in it.” so: “ I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I might participate in it.” and what is participating in the Gospel all about if not all about doing what Jesus himself did and identifying with those he came to save. Jesus, the second part of the trinity, God, from eternity past perfectly holy, perfectly righteous, comes down to earth to identify with us. To the Humans, I became a human in order to save humanity. And not only become human, Jesus identifies with us so much He went as far as the cross, dying our death in our place to save some of us. I know that there are a lot of things that River City does to help you identify and be able to communicate the truth of this Gospel to the people around you. To help equip you to explain the story of the God who identified with us. We just finished a series on movies, and film, and how the stories we watch and are entertained by fit into the Biblical story. And I hope that you see that not just as light summer church fare because there's fewer people around in the summer, but take it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and grow as a Christian. Think of areas you may need to flex when it comes to the Gospel. Ask yourself what all things to all people looks like to you, and how can you live out the call that God has placed on your life as well as mine. Let's pray