Monday, February 28, 2011

EXPOSITION OF 1 CORINTHIANS : Are our Rights more important than the Gospel ?

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 9 :1-15
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.

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 .  

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!  

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 !

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