This morning we are continuing with our studies in 1 Corinthians. And we have got to chapter to 9 and we will be looking at verses 15 to 27. Paul is discussing the limits to Christian freedom. First, Paul discusses this in relation to what you eat - an important issue at Corinth. Then he discusses it in regard to his own practical support and his rights as an apostle. Look at 1 Corinthians 9 verse 4:
Don't we have the right to food and drink?
And then verse 12:
If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
What is the problem? Well, Paul is being attacked by some in the church in Corinth. So he didn't want to let them accuse him of preaching for money. That was, and still is, a charge levelled against Christian workers. This has been an issue for Billy Graham. But he followed Paul and never received any money from his Crusades. Rather, as I understand it, he was paid a regular salary by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that was in line with American clergy salaries. So all the money given in the Crusades went to the costs of the Crusades.
But Paul couldn't win. By his not taking the money, his critics then seemed to be saying: "Oh! you can't be a true apostle because you are not being paid. Proper apostles like Peter are paid. You must be refusing money because you know you are not genuine."
Whatever Paul did would be wrong. However, Paul is not going to be bullied. Look at verse 14:
the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
That is where we left off last time we looked at 1 Corinthians 9. But see how Paul goes on with the first verse of the section we are looking at this morning - verse 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. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.
If Paul would "rather die" than concede a principle, something very important must be at stake. So what is this principle? Answer: it is the principle that the person who preaches the gospel is not a hired hand. Paul, and any other minister of the gospel, is to preach not for money, but because the gospel is true and because God has called them to preach. Yes, Paul needs money like any one else to pay his bills. But he is more concerned at this point to establish the principle than with his own needs.
This relates to the "stipend" principle of the modern church. What is a stipend? A definition that came across my desk only recently says: it is "not a reward but rather a means of releasing someone to give all of their time to the ministry". And Paul is saying here that he is preaching the gospel not in return for money or support. He is not preaching because he is an employee of the Church of Corinth. No! he is an employee, or better "a steward", of God who has entrusted the gospel to him. So he must preach it, come wind come weather. In verse 17 he says:
I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
Well, so much by way of introduction. And you'll see from the sermon outline that I want us to think of this passage under three headings, First, "I AM COMPELLED TO PREACH" (v 16); secondly, "ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN" (v 22); and thirdly, "A MAN RUNNING AIMLESSLY" (v26).
First, "I AM COMPELLED TO PREACH" (v 16)
Look again at verse 15 and then the verses that follow (16-18):
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. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for 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 use of my rights in preaching it.
This is a bit complicated but in the light of the context, the gist is clear. Nor does Paul mince matters. He speaks with authority. So should every preacher who follows in his footsteps. However, in the modern world for someone to speak with authority it is felt to be arrogant and lacking humility. Listen to G.K.Chesterton on what he called "the dislocation of humility":
"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful, about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."
Paul was not modest about the gospel.
There are two questions we now need to ask. And the first is this: "what is the nature of preaching?"
We must forget what is commonly understood by "preaching" in the modern world. I once heard a sermon that was all about "roses". It was quite entertaining. However, preaching is not mere entertainment. Nor is preaching just passing on information, even Bible information. Yes, preaching can and should be, if not entertaining at least interesting, and certainly informative and involve Bible teaching. But it is something more - it is preaching the gospel.
The word here translated in verse 16 "preach the gospel" is one word in the original. It is the verb from the noun "the gospel" - the good news. And that good news is the good news about Jesus Christ. And what you do with this good news is "announce it". So in verse 27 of chapter 9 the word translated "preached" is the word that means to "announce" or be a "herald".
You see, preaching in Paul's thinking is not so much exposition of "words" - though words have to be used as is obvious. No! it is more the announcing or the proclamation of deeds or of what God has done. It is the announcement of God's supernatural intervention in human history, supremely in the death and resurrection of his Son, for the salvation of the world. We are not talking primarily about propagating ideas but proclaiming the mighty acts of God but with words - God's words - necessary to explain those acts.
If that, then, is the nature of preaching, a second question is, "what is, or should be, the content of preaching?"
The simple answer is that the content should be "the person" and "the work" of Jesus Christ. To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. Paul writes (in his second letter to the Corinthians chapter 4 verse 5):
we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.
He preaches Jesus Christ as Lord - the Lord from heaven, the divine Lord, the Lord now risen and reigning, the Lord the agent in creation who now holds all things together by the word of his power, the Lord at whose name one day every knee will bow, the Lord who will come again to judge the world, and the Lord who every individual at this present moment should submit to as their personal Lord and Master and to whom human societies - from families to nations - corporately should submit. We should preach Jesus Christ as Lord.
But Paul has already written in this letter in chapter 1 verse 23 that we should also ...
... preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
That is to preach the Cross - the supreme part of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to preach that this world is in a mess and you are in a mess, even if you think all is well at the moment. And it is to preach that this life is soon going to be over as those poor people in Erfurt tragically learnt on Friday. And then you are going to face God's assize. The good news of the Cross is that Christ, the Lord of glory came into the world to die and he can, so to speak, now stand in your place - and himself bear the punishment you deserve - if you trust him. For that is what he did on the Cross. But if you don't trust him, what are you going to plead on that judgment day - that you tried your hardest?
On Wednesday I had to be down in London and needed to get back for the 8.30pm session on the Day of Prayer. Well, I had a ticket for the 3.30 train from Kings Cross. So I left my meeting before the end at 3.00 pm. I tried to get to the tube as fast as possible; then I tried to get up the escalator at Kings Cross as fast as possible. I, indeed, tried my hardest to get to the train in time. I was there on the dot of 3.30 but the doors were already shut. I had tried my hardest but to no avail. And it didn't matter that it was not all my fault - that the tube had stayed at London Bridge station for 5 minutes because there was a points failure further up the line. I knew, at the end of the day, that if I had been sensible, I would have left my meeting at 2.45 to make sure of getting to Kings Cross on time. I knew it was my fault although others had certainly contributed to my problem.
That is a parable of our lives. We are not all very bad at every point, but an accumulation of little acts of defiance of God means failure over all. All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory says the Bible. But the great work of Christ is that he has been a sacrifice for our sins. He paid the price on the Cross we should pay, in our place. And that is what the world needs to know.
So to recap - to preach the gospel is to preach the person and the work of Christ - to preach Christ as Lord and that he died for your sins and mine.
Is there anyone here this morning who needs not only to hear that message but then to accept Christ as Lord? Why not do that at this service? Let's move on.
Secondly, "ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN" (v 22)
Look at verses 19-23:
19} Though I am free and belong to no man, I make 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 men 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.
Paul was adamant over the essentials of the gospel, but he was flexible over secondary issues. He was so concerned to see people converted and churches growing. The fundamentals were not for negotiation, but other things were. So he says he was willing to "become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." Notice three things.
First, while the gospel is a divine stewardship and we cannot tamper with it, it is a stewardship that human beings steward. Yes, the gospel is all of God's grace. Yes, Christ is the Saviour who came to seek and save the lost. But notice Paul's language here - he says "so that by all possible means I might save some." Paul knew that God alone saves. But Paul is making an important point. He is saying that while God saves, he uses human beings in the process. God could have written in the sky.
Driving back on Friday evening from a conference in Doncaster. I was on the Western-by-Pass before coming home across the Tyne Bridge and there were two "bi-planes" over the Whickham area sky-writing - or at least leaving patterned sky trails.
Well, God, presumably, could have written and still could write in the sky somehow, "Jesus of Nazareth is the answer to the world's problems." But he didn't and doesn't do that. Nor did he or does he use an army of Angels to walk down Northumberland Street or to be on the pitch before a match at St James' Park making the gospel known somehow as they undoubtedly could. Just to think about such ways of communicating the truth about Jesus Christ makes us realize how bizarre they would be in the light of what we know about Christ and the way he lived and worked.
So how else is God going to get the message out? Answer: by men and women like you and me. If we don't act as God's agents of communication, generally the gospel will not be heard.
Secondly, notice how Paul refers to what communicating achieves - it achieves the "salvation" of men and women and that includes saving them from a Godless eternity. Let's never forget hell. It is not the only motive for evangelism, but it is one very important motive if you love people. There is a coming wrath. And "Jesus ... rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thess 1.10). So, of course, we must pray and work for people to be converted and for churches to grow.
Then, thirdly, we must be adaptable. This is the obvious message of these verses. There must be no one style of evangelism. The message must never change. The gospel must never change. But how you go about winning your friends and colleagues is to be so varied. Never compromise on fundamental principles, but be prepared to give up everything else, "so that by all possible means you might save some." And remember God relies on you and me in this period before Christ returns.
Thirdly, and finally, "A MAN RUNNING AIMLESSLY" (v26)
Look at verses 24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Perhaps you are saying, "but if the gospel is true why aren't more people saved through the preaching of the Gospel?"
Yes, salvation is a sovereign work of God. Yes, it is only when the Holy Spirit convicts men and women and opens their blind eyes that they see the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. But Paul here is asking us to think about the human factors and causes why the gospel doesn't get out (and why, of course, other wrong things happen). And he uses sporting analogies.
Athletes have to keep the rules, train, be serious and get really involved. And they do that, says Paul, for "a crown that will not last". But what he is talking about (and what we are to be concerned about) is "a crown that will last for ever" - something not only infinitely more important than the NE Christian Fellowship Charity Shield but more important than the FA Cup and the World Cup. So how we need to discipline ourselves. Nor is Paul talking about self-flagellation. He is speaking figuratively. He is implying that the reason the gospel does not get out may be because some of God's people are too indisciplined.
Some are just too lazy - (so what about Parish Visiting when that comes round?). Some are drifting spiritually. Others are getting too concerned with this world and this life and forgetting eternity. And there are those who have no compassion for the lost. Paul, therefore, says, as we can freely translate it,
"I discipline myself and control my natural desires and preferences so that, having preached to others in the past, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
Let that be a challenge to us all this summer of 2002.