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 .”
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 .