Isaiah 40:21-31, I Corinthians 9:16-23
February 5, 2006
I’m sorry to tell you that this will not be a “Superbowl Sermon.” Nope, there will be no football references, there’ll be no team analogies, and there’ll be no “Dropkick me Jesus through the goalposts of life.” Is anyone disappointed? (You are troubled!) We’ll be talking instead about the apostle Paul, and this ninth chapter of First Corinthians.
As we look at this passage, let me first talk about what’s happening at this point. Paul was being scrutinized. It was being brought into question by some people whether or not he was actually an apostle. They questioned it because he was not one of the people who had actually walked and talked with Jesus. That was a requirement for being an apostle, which would make sense. The people chosen to carry on Jesus’ ministry were the ones who had been with him.
If you read the first chapter of Acts, you would find that the remaining 11 apostles themselves actually chose a replacement for Judas. They took a vote among all the early believers and they named this guy named Matthias as the new apostle. But it wasn’t to be. Later in Acts we would find that God had another idea. He would take his most bitter enemy, and make him the 12th apostle. Is God amazing? Does God have a sense of humor!?
So, there were those who didn’t believe Paul was an apostle. And in this chapter he was defending his position. No, he was not with Jesus in his lifetime, but he met him on the road to Damascus. No, he wasn’t chosen. But there on the road he was “commissioned” by Jesus. He was sent to preach to the Gentiles – of all people!
Remember, Paul was a Pharisee. And they were the ones who worked all their lives to be as “righteous” as possible. And Paul considered himself to be among the best. He was a “Pharisee’s Pharisee.” He saw himself higher in that way than all the other Jews – let alone the non-Jews, who were really looked down upon! God has an incredible sense of humor, doesn’t he?! And he has unbelievable wisdom!!
So to these Corinthians he writes. “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” In other words, “Let’s not worry about what others are saying. Let’s just think about what is the most important thing.” And for Paul, the most important thing was the preaching of the Gospel.
That’s the message for today. I tell you the background because it puts even greater focus on that message. As we go along we read these words, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. [And] I do it all for the sake of the gospel…” (I Cor 9:19-23)
Paul had the right attitude! He didn’t let little things – or even the big things – get in the way of the good news of Jesus Christ. That to him was the bottom line. And I ask you, is that how we think about it? Do we see the Gospel as the most important thing? Or do we let other things get in the way? That’s what I’d like us to consider. I’d like us to understand things the way Paul saw them. I’d like us to see the Gospel – the good news – as the most important thing – the bottom line. I’d like us to try our very best not to let things like time constraints, fears, differences in approach, bad feelings, personality conflicts, or anything else get in the way of the Gospel.
There’s another thing I’d like us to do, and it goes along with how we share that Gospel with others. Listen again to these words, “I have become all things to all people, in order that I might win some.” In saying that, Paul is doing what has been called “meeting people where they are.” And Paul was very good at that. Whenever we find him speaking to people in the book of Acts, we see him meeting them where they are. When speaking to the Jews, he used their terms. When speaking with non-Jews, he left out the Jewish references and used examples that would be meaningful to non-Jews. He met people where they were.
We need to do that, too. We live in a society where many people are “unchurched.” They haven’t been exposed to the Church and it’s teachings. So, they don’t know the stories. And if we use the stories, they might not get it. They don’t know the doctrine. And if we talk doctrine, it may be meaningless. They don’t even know the terminology. So even the way we speak and the words we use may get in the way of the message. The challenge of bringing the Gospel to this world is that we may need to be prepared to set aside some of those regular ways of looking at things. We may need to save them for a later time, and simply concentrate on loving people and living the faith.
I know that’s not easy sometimes. We get very set in our ways – and our beliefs. And both of those things are very comfortable for us. When we set aside the familiar, we step out of our “comfort zone.” And we don’t like to do that – even in sharing what is important to us!
Just imagine those people in Paul’s day. They were very comfortable in their beliefs and their doctrine and their practice. They were very much steeped in their faith and their religious life. I daresay they were much more so than we are. Then along comes this Jesus, and he changes everything. Just imagine how reluctant they might have been to set aside their favorite beliefs and understandings and accept his teachings! Yet he got through to them. And we need to do so, too.
I’m not suggesting that we set aside our faith. I am suggesting that in being all things to all people we might need to be willing to change our approach if necessary – depending on who we are talking to. For example, if we’re talking to someone whose experience of Christianity is all “hellfire and brimstone,” and they get a knee-jerk reaction to anything like that, we may have to realize that talking with such people about “sin” might not get us anywhere. We’d better be prepared to take a different approach, perhaps one where we set that aside for the moment and talk more about the love of God and the fellowship of God’s people. That may be the way to “meet them where they are.”
While you’re consider that, think about it this way. What’s worse? Having a Christian who doesn’t have all the “proper beliefs” or having a person who wants nothing to do with the faith at all? I realize that is not so easy a question as it sounds. But I am suggesting to you that it is a question from which we need to learn as we seek to promote the Good news of God’s love.
Think about ourselves. Do any of us have the perfect understanding? Does any one of us understand the Christian faith completely? As Paul would say later in this letter, “we [all] see in a mirror dimly.” What “being all things to all people” often means, is not just “meeting them where they are,” but “loving them where they are.” And I think you’ll agree, that’s even harder. But it’s what God calls us to do!
God so loved (who) the world – not just certain people. Not even just “loveable people.” God so loved all people. How we approach the “all people” is a very important consideration for us. How we show respect and love and caring to everyone reflects the love of God.
Do we think about that? Do we think about how we are representing God and his love, every time we come into contact with another person? I know I forget! It’s too easy to forget. Let us try to remember. Let us strive to think about that more and more. We represent God to all people. Like Paul, let us consider how we are to become “all things to all people.” How do we show people our love and hence the love of God, the Gospel, the “good news?”
That should be our bottom line.
Eternal God, we love you and we ask for your help to love others. Help us tell others about your kingdom. Teach us so to live our lives that people will see our light and give glory to you, and want to know you more. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.