Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EXPOSITION OF 1 CORINTHIANS : For the Sake of the Gospel !

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 9 :16-27
TITLE:  For the sake of the Gospel
DATE :  06/03/2011

We are   still in the middle of a section dealing with a  controversy in the Corinthian Church. Some  of these newly converted  Christians  believed that it was sinful  to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols,  whilst more mature Christians saw right through the issue and  knew  that  the Kingdom of God was not about  what you ate or drank  .  “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off   if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” ( 8:8)   Paul  puts  all of this into  a truly Christian context in Ch 8  when he reminds us   that  above the  matter of  eating and drinking  there was this superior  duty   of loving our Christian brothers  and sisters. This is the  heart of his argument in 8 : 9-13 .  When love is at the heart of all we do  , we don’t tear each other down . We build each other up !  Thus,   Paul  shows  that all the  hot air  generated in the Corinthian church over these questions had  actually exposed a more  serious  problem in the church , something which he will ultimately address in  those powerful words in 1 Corinthians  13.  It was a deficiency  of  Christlike  love  in the church .
As we make a our progress through this great letter  we  shall see that  Love  must  be  at the heart of all that we do for God  and for each other  : Love the Lord  your God … love your neighbour,  as you love yourself . ( Mk 12 :30,31)
In practice  ( and in this context) that means  that  any Christian should be willing to give up his or her  rights  for the sake of loving  their  neighbour , by not putting  a stumbling block  in the way of their younger and weaker Christian brothers and sisters .
In chapter 9: 1-15 , Paul  shows us  that  this is the way in which he thinks and acts . He is no Ivory tower theologian . He has sacrificed his own  rights to  financial support  from the Corinthian church  , because he has seen that they are still  so young and immature  in their thinking  , and he does not want them to loose  the gospel  in the process of thinking about  his physical needs  . He loves them more than he loves his own needs . Do you see the Lord Jesus Christ  in the apostle Paul ?

Chapter 9: 16 -27
We note firstly  that the gospel  of Christ is Paul’s life  ! The   ‘gospel’ ( Gr.   euaggelion – Good News )  is  referred to 9  times  in this chapter, and mostly  in this section that we are dealing with now !
The urgency of this gospel work  for Paul is  clearly seen  in  the latter part of v. 16. “…For necessity it is laid upon me. Woe ( Gr. “ouai ! ”- an  interjection )  to me  if I do not preach the gospel!”
He was so overwhelmed  by the privilege of being a bearer of the good news, that he  regarded the idea  as abhorrent that  a man can do God any service and expect to get paid for it .  The preaching  of the  gospel is not a means of  income for Paul . It is a privilege  !
Now let us give attention to the rest of the chapter . 

Verses 19-23  .
It seems as if  that some had criticized Paul concerning his  freedom in this matter of eating meat that had been offered to idols . Paul , you remember,  had freedom to eat  whatever was set before him ( this thought is repeated again here  in v. 19  “… I am free from all…” ) .  Yet  , he was very sensitive not to make food a matter of offense , so that the  progress of gospel would not be hindered in these young Christians   lives   (learn  this from Paul ! ).  
He  was probably accused that he was being inconsistent (and perhaps even hypocritical )  in the application  of things . That is why it is important that we must pay very   careful attention  to what he says in vv 19 -23 , and learn from him . 
He  explains  by way of  three examples of how he  surrenders  his freedom for the sake of the gospel !  He applies this to the Jews (v20)  ; to the gentiles  (v.21)  and to the weak  (v.22)
(i) In v. 20 , he explains  how he , in his freedom would deal with Jews for the sake of the gospel . When  he  is among Jews he  is careful not to give offense to  their  traditions  and laws  (though he was free from them) . This would have meant in this case  that he would have observed Jewish food laws ( no pork ! no  unclean foods) . He  would not have eaten  food that had been offered to idols when he was eating with Jews. (Note : On this basis  Paul also had Timothy circumcised )
(ii) In v.21  he explains how he would deal with the Gentiles (those outside the law) . When he  is  among them he  is not  making it know  “ I only eat kosher ! “  He  eats what they set before  him , without asking  many questions .   (see   10:27 !)   But  he is quick to add  that he is not acting as a lawless ( antinomian) person . The apostle Paul is always conscious  that he is under law – “under the law of Christ!”  By  this he  reminds us that Christians  are not free to live as the Gentiles do, in disobedience to God. No!  What he  is referring  to  here  are  the expectations of culture.  Culture or taste  in itself is  matter  of  preference . You may like (or not  like)  pork . You may enjoy  some wine with your meal  , or you may have  no taste for it .  It is  a matter of preference. It is  not sinful in itself  . What matters for Christ’s sake  is who we eat with . If my brother is offended by alcohol or pork , I leave it , for the sake of Christ  ; for the sake of the gospel ; for the sake of the higher  law of love! (iii)  In v.22  he mentions  the  "weak" Christians ( already  referred to  in 8:7-13). What  does he mean  by   ‘weak person’? He means people with an  overly sensitive conscience. They have had cultural experiences  that were strong  but  not yet tempered  by a biblical worldview .  In all likelihood , Paul is  bringing the argument back to the present and to the church itself.
The key motive  in  bringing  the gospel  to Jew , Gentile and the weak   was to win  each class of person  .  This , by the way did not  only apply "winning" people  for Christ ( as in conversion )  , but  also in terms of  building up Christians.
This is what  Paul is talking about.  For the sake of the gospel Paul is  willing  to enter into another person's world, and  to respect that person's culture and personal preferences ( provided that they are not sinful) .    
And that is precisely what he affirms in v. 23 :  “ I do  it all for the sake of the gospel , that I may share with them in its blessings .”

Vv 24-27
These verses  are a conclusion as well as an introduction  to the warnings  which will follow in  chapter 10.
He is urging these Christians to take seriously the necessity of following Christ in an obedience that involves self-denial and self-control and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.  In explaining this he uses athletic metaphors – such as running a race or boxing.  Winning a race , winning a boxing  contest   means utter   commitment  to winning.  The key discipline for this purpose  is  self control ,  which in itself  is  a fruit of the Spirit -  Gal  5:23  .
Olympic runners  do it because  “  they do it to receive a perishable wreath “ , but  Paul says  that we Christians  have a higher motive: “ we  do this to receive an imperishable wreath.”  (v.25)  
Self-denial is  the principle   here by which the gospel is promoted in others .  So , he   urges   his  disciples at Corinth  to deny themselves , their rights and some of their preferred practices for the sake of the spiritual welfare of their fellow Christians.   Paul is no Ivory tower theologian. He  practices what he preaches . He disciplines his bodily appetites  so that  his preaching would not disqualify him  before them  (v.27)
Jesus  repeatedly emphasized the importance of self denial  in His teaching:  “ If anyone would come after me , let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ( Matt 16:24) .  He said,   "If anyone comes  to me and does not hate his own  father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes and  even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever  does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple " ( Lk  14:26,27)  . The Lord Jesus  used such provocative  language to  jolt us  - to  make us face the  reality  of the demands of the gospel .  Like Paul , Jesus  made self denial  a mark  of a true Christian . The way  to heaven  is trodden by self denying disciples .Mark this !
Peter  was helped to see  this  point at one stage . In Mark  10  ,  the rich young ruler had  walked away from  Jesus  so disheartened ,  because he had realized that he could not deny himself ,  by selling  everything he had to follow Christ.   Peter  and the disciples  were  in quite a different category . They could say :  “ We have left everything ( our nets , our fathers and our families)  and followed you. We have denied our own rights for your sake  .” And Jesus  was able to comfort him  and the disciples  with this thought , that they had really not lost anything  , but  that in fact  they would gain everything in time and, more significantly    gain   eternal life!

It is very hard  to deny  yourself  , but  the Bible is full of examples  of such people : Abraham left the comfort of his home and family  in the Ur of the Chaldees to follow  God’s call.  Moses  struggled to become the leader of  Israel . He had many initial excuses , but he denied himself and followed the call of God . There were the prophets  Elijah and Jeremiah  and Hosea . What  painful and costly self-denial for God's sake and for the sake of the salvation of others they  had  experienced . What  sacrifices the disciples made  . What sacrifices the Paul made. We have not even  seen half of their self-denial.   The unseen part  of the self denial  of God’s servants   is not the physical deprivation  which  they experience , but  what they suffer in their own hearts as they refuse to surrender to selfishness, faithlessness  , unbelief, the love of ease and  pleasure. That is the way of the cross . Christ’s greatest sufferings were not His physical  sufferings  (terrible as they were). They were His inward sufferings – emotional and spiritual !    Christ denied himself  the  possibility of escaping the cross . He drank the full cup of God’s fury  and wrath  and  bore  it , brothers and sisters , for you !
Greater love , greater self denial  for the sake of the Good News  has no man . “ For  while we were still weak , at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -  but God  shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners , Christ died for us .” ( Rom 5:6-8)

Too often we miss the point of this summons to self-denial because we define self-denial  merely in terms  of  the suppression of  our physical  appetites.  Remember  that  the apostle  Paul was not an ascetic . He ate fine meals with  Jews and Gentiles. Neither  was this true of Jesus . At times  He was even accused of being a  drunkard  and a glutton.   He frequently  ate with sinners .That sort of self-denial is not Paul's point here.
He is talking about the suppression of one's own rights and wishes for the sake of the spiritual welfare of others – for the sake of the gospel – that the gospel  might be established in  others . That is  why  Jesus  came , and that is why He came as a servant   ( see Philippians 2: 1-8)  

So then , this is written for our benefit  and  as a caution  not to take these things lightly . This is the stuff  which proves us to be a Christian . So , ask yourself then  :  Is my life  lived in consideration  of others ? What  have  I  given up for others , so that the gospel might be established in them  ?  Have I recently surrendered my rights , my freedom  for the sake of someone else , so that they might see Christ more clearly  through my self denial ? Or am I obscuring the gospel  through my selfishness ? Oh , I have prayed that the Holy Spirit might be pleased to act in our souls upon these words to love Christ and our neighbor as  we love ourselves.  This all for the sake  of the Gospel which truly sets mankind truly free. Amen .

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