TITLE: Are our Rights more important than the Gospel ?
DATE PREACHED : The Lord's day 27/02/2011
Last week we considered at the theme "Freedom and sensitivity to others" through the perspective of the 8th chapter. Allow me to briefly repeat the key thoughts under those two headings “ freedom” and “sensitivity”:
(i) Freedom : The New Testament teaches, that God's children have been freed from the justification by the law since Christ has kept the law for them and has delivered them from all accusation and condemnation through His substitutionary atonement on the cross. God’s children are declared righteous by the cross . They are truly free. They are not antinomians ; they do not disrespect the law or flaunt the law of God, which remains holy and righteous . But they are no longer judged by the keeping of the law . In our context here this would apply particularly to dietary laws (food and drink) , where God’s children are now free to exercise their consciences. Therefore Paul can say that “ food does not bring us closer to God” (8:8). Nobody must judge you by what you eat or drink ( Col 2:16) . True spirituality must not be judged by that.
The OT was regulated by strict rules about what to eat or to drink, but there are no rules like that in the N.T. In fact , Acts 10 :9ff (Peter's vision about food) was deliberately written in this regard to teach us that nothing made by God is common or unclean (Acts 9:15) . It also illustrated the fact that the Kingdom of God was is not a matter of eating and drinking , but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). That is what our freedom in Christ consists of . That is our real meat .
(ii) Sensitivity : We also learned that the believer is clearly not free to abuse his freedom with respect to his eating and drinking . Drunkenness and gluttony (overeating) are sins! And beyond that we need to learn to be sensitive to the consciences of our weaker brothers, for the sake of the gospel – for the sake of not putting a stumbling block in their way . So , while it is true that eating meat sacrificed to idols is nothing , yet my weaker brother's sensitive conscience is something to be considered . We applied this particular principle to the use of alcohol in our modern day. Alcohol in itself is a neutral thing ; but remember that there are alcoholics in your society for whom even one drop is to much . Don’t tempt them . You might be responsible and moderate , but you may not tempt anyone to sin!
Now we come to Chapter 9, in which the apostle Paul basically shows us how this principle of restricting his own freedom for the sake of the gospel (for the sake of the progress of the gospel in people with a weaker conscience) applies in his own case . Paul is assuredly no ivory tower theologian - he profoundly practices what he preaches ! Follow his argument closely . First he shows us that in Christ he is free to enjoy every privilege bestowed by God upon people in this world ; but secondly , he shows us that he will not tempt anyone for whom these things are not yet clear , and so he will restrict his freedom for their sakes.
PAUL ASSERTS HIS ENTITLEMENTS TO HIS FREEDOMS : 9: 1 – 12a
1. Firstly he asserts his freedom : 9:1 "Am I not free?" The answer is , Yes, he is free! Jesus has set him free from his former life as a legalistic Pharisee and has given him a new heart to love and serve God and man through this apostolic ministry!
2. Secondly, he asserts his authority and right to certain privileges and support: Yes, he is an apostle . He has seen the Lord ( an important qualification - Acts 1:21,22 ) ; his work shows the evidence of an apostolic ministry (9:1) ; Yes, because he is fully occupied in the Lord's service, he has a right to food and drink (v.4); he has a right to take a believing wife on his travelling ministry ( even though he is unmarried) ; he has a right to be supported by the churches in the ministry. (9:3 – 12 ) . With respect to this last point in particular, Paul makes these 5 observations:
a. Does a soldier or a farmer or a shepherd not benefit from the fruit of their work? Does not their work support their livelihood? (v 7)
b. Does not the Law teach that a worker in God's work ought to be supported by the congregation in which he labours ? (vv 8 - 11)
c. Does not common sense dictate that he who sows, should reap a material benefit? (vv. 11,12)?
d. Does not the O.T. illustrate the fact, that those who work in the temple, were supported by the offerings which came into the temple? (v. 13)
e. Has not the Lord Jesus Himself taught, that a workman is worthy of his wages? (v. 14) see also Matt 10: 8 - 10
These are strong arguments and biblical assertions of the privileges and rights of those who labour in the gospel ministry . The implication of these arguments is that if he insisted on these freedoms or privileges, nobody should have ‘batted an eyelid.’ Biblically everybody should know that he was entitled to this .
BUT PAUL RESERVES HIS RIGHT TO RESTRICT HIS FREEDOMS (9:12b-15)
Despite his rights the apostle does not presume on any of these rights/ freedoms. (See 9 :12 ,15)
He has deliberately chosen to forego each and everyone of these rights. He does not even do this grudgingly . He has the inner freedom to do so, and the reason why he has this inner freedom is because He is so moved by the priority of getting the glorious gospel of true freedom in Christ and the world to come into the lives of the people that he preaches to. In other words , everything else – everything of earthly comfort and pleasure (though they are nice things in themselves) fades into relative insignificance when compared with the glory of the gospel, which frees men and women from the slavery of sin. Paul was passionate about this gospel . His mission in life is the gospel . Later in v 16 we will see that he says this :“ Woe is me , if I do not preach the gospel”!
We are not told explicitly what made Paul give up his freedoms for the sake of the gospel . We must deduce it from the greater context of his Corinthian correspondence. It seems as if the Corinthians (his young converts ) actually seemed to have begrudged him these liberties and rights. It was a strange confluence of many things . We have seen previously that the Corinthian church had questioned his apostleship (see Ch 4 and here in Ch 9). Remember that Paul’s outward bearing was not at all like the professional philosophers and great orators to which the Greeks were accustomed. Their philosophers "peddled" or sold their wisdom, much like the modern motivational speakers or financial or business gurus or marriage specialists who fill hotel auditoriums with fee-paying seekers after wisdom. Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 2:17 “ … we are not , like so many , peddlers of God’s Word , but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God , in the sight of God we speak in Christ .”
Paul did sell the gospel for money. He actually had a skill , a trade. He could make leather products if necessary to support himself , but that did apparently not look very sophisticated. Imagine walking through the craft market in Corinth and saying to someone , "Oh by the way - do you see that guy over there making leather goods ? That's our guest speaker! " These people were looking for a handsome , polished exhibit that could compete with the Greek world . Self centered , boastful men were ruling the roost . That is the human default , and we seek this model instinctively , unless we are helped to see that this way of thinking is actually contrary to the way in which we were originally designed by God . You will remember that Jesus Christ also did not measure up to the expectations of the Jewish people. He did not look and perform the way they expected the Messiah to look and act.
Now , this was clearly due to their "weak or immature thinking" and Paul takes their weakness into account . They are young in their faith ; many of their thought patterns still needed to be renewed ( Rom 12:1,2 – and, thank God under the influence of the Word they do !) and so with patience and in order not to be a burden to them (why is he eating our food ?) , and in order to have free access to their hearts , he supplied his own needs through a “tent making” ministry. He does not want to be a burden to their as yet "weak consciences" , for what is food and support, when compared to the gospel? He will simply not argue about his rights to support, and so to loose the Corinthians for the gospel .
So you see then that this man is so absorbed with the gospel, so passionately gripped by the Lord Jesus Christ, so compelled by the gospel , that he will curb his rights and freedoms for the sake of that gospel!
If you have understood the nature and the weight of the gospel then you will also understand Paul’s reasoning. He is like Jesus in that regard. He is the man for others. He loves the people to whom he brings the gospel , and for their sake he endures all things. That, my friends is “agape – love” . This kind of love endures all things. (1 Cor 13) What a challenge to our often self-centered, need orientated Christianity.
Paul's supreme freedom is to preach the gospel . If anything stood between the gospel and the person he sought to reach, well, then "that thing" had to go . People were more important that things to Paul. Let that be a lesson to materialistic Christians.
And so, if people were not happy to support him, whilst preaching the gospel to them - so be it! He loved them more than for what they could or would supply him with in material means. In this instance he would thus rely on the Lord, and on his God-given talents to sustain him. Only let the gospel be preached to the Corinthians. Only let the gospel be offered to them free of charge! I have maintained this principle over the course of my ministry wherever I have had the privilege of preaching the gospel to non believers , and especially at the funerals of unbelievers!
CONCLUSION & APPLICATION
Do you see what Paul is trying to say here? Do you understand his teaching?
1. Preachers have a right to support . Jesus endorses this and Paul endorses this. However the Christian ministry is not firstly about money. It is about the gospel. And Christian preachers who work in church planting situations , and who work with young converts whose minds are not yet soaked in the authority of the Scriptures must be careful not to make money their right. But, if a congregation matures over time, expect them to look well after their vocational pastor who labours in preaching and teaching. He is worthy of double honour . ( 1 Tim 5:17-18). “One who is taught in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches .” (Gal 6:6) . “The labourer deserves his food “ (Matt 10:10).
Understand then the principle here. Paul is labouring in a church planting situation. But this situation is temporary. Soon, he would expect this church to adequately look after their minister' . By the time he writes to Timothy , the pastor of the church at Ephesus this has already become a settled principle ( 1 Tim 5:17-18) .
2. Churches must be brought from man centered to God centered perspectives: The Corinthians were obsessed with their individuality and with their rights because their society had taught them these values. Remember that people are always converted in a cultural setting . After they are converted it takes time before the Word of God starts to reform their thoughts. So , expect people that are converted to be very self centered , until the Holy Spirit shows them in progressively the way out of their self centered swamp. Unfortunately many so called Christian ministries, who ought to be God centered teach converts to Christ nothing but self centredness, teaching them that they have the right to be healthy, happy and wealthy . They are breeding a society that has an attitude of selfish entitlement, rather than a society of biblically minded , God centered and other centered worshipers Right at this moment we are reaping the bitter fruit of this man centered philosophy ( I cannot call it “theology” , because it has nothing to do with God ). We have so many immature Christians who need to be desperately helped out of this false teaching .
3. The gospel is the important starting point for our sanctification. Without the gospel people are not able to change. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes ( Rom 1:15,16) . We must makes sure that we preach and live (!) the gospel – the good news that Jesus has come to forgive repentant sinners , and to cleanse them , and to call them righteous and just in the sight of God. When a person is converted the Holy Spirit ,by the application of His Word progressively changes their mind , will and emotions and the end product will be an intense love for God , a heightened sense of love for our brothers and sisters and a burning desire to see unconverted men and women plucked out of the everlasting fire .
In that process we will sense a great freedom in Christ but we will also have the maturity to restrain our freedom and not to put stumbling blocks before young , immature Christians . Be patient with them. In a short time they will learn to understand , and you would have been a great example and illustration of Christ’s love and patience with them in years to come . Amen !