1 Corinthians 9:19-27: “For the Sake of the Gospel”
Sunday morning worship, July 21, 2019
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
It would be easy to focus on Paul’s actions in this passage. But to do so, I believe, might cause us to miss the real genius of this passage. Instead of focusing on Paul, focus simply on the Gospel itself. The Gospel message is for the Jews. The Gospel message is for “those not having the law” or everyone who is not Jewish. The Gospel message is for the weak. The Gospel message is literally for “all people.” The word “Gospel” simply means “good news.” So the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the God-Man who lived, died, was buried, and was resurrected as a man, is good news to every person who ever lived. For that statement to be true there has to be something intrinsic in every human being that one antidote can cure. In Biblical terms, that intrinsic truth is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But the fact that all of us fall short of some standard doesn’t sound like good news. There is a somewhat modern proverb that states 2nd place is really only the first loser. When we apply for a job or a promotion, being the runner up doesn’t get us the job or promotion, though it might later mean something. Missing the winning kick in a soccer match by inches still doesn’t win the game. A putt in a golf match that completely circles the hole and then still hangs over the edge means we still have to take another stroke to put the ball in the hole; that less-than-an-inch putt still counts the same as a 300-yard drive. Being told by a member of the opposite sex that he or she really loves and cares about us, but still wants to live with another person doesn’t end in a marriage for the runner up.
So how is Gospel message “good news” when we all fall short of the glory of God? Try thinking of winning and losing from a different perspective. If another player on your soccer team makes that winning goal, whether you are the one who makes the kick or not, even if you only rode the bench and never played in the game, you are still a part of the winning team. Even if the promotion went to another person in the company, if the person chosen grows your company, your present job gets more secure. Even if the person of the opposite sex rejects you for another person, you’ve been loved and cared for by another person. When we learn to somehow shift the focus from our individual feelings to what we can win or accomplish or enjoy as a part of a winning team, we can all share in something very special.
The Gospel message is good news for all of us because only Jesus could do what Jesus came to earth to do. When Jesus confirmed from the cross that “It is finished!” (John 19:30), we all won. When Paul became “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might same some,” we all won. We aren’t asked to do what Jesus did. We aren’t instructed or even asked to “be all things to all people.” That was Paul’s life. Paul put it this way: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin,and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 11:24-30; 12:10).
Matthew 10:41 teaches a principle we must all learn to accept. It says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” The history of the human race is vast and beyond our ability to place all of the factors in place that have led to what we are experiencing today. The Bible contains stories of parts of some people’s lives, in greater or lesser detail. Sometimes names are mentioned without comment or even nearly without context. What space is devoted to the life of Jesus dwarfs all others. But each and every human being, and even members other species of the animal kingdom, have played a role that has either moved the coming kingdom of God closer to realization or caused a setback that required others to get mankind back on course. That is why it is so important to realize the truth of Ephesians 2:10, that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Both what we ourselves do and when we “welcome the prophet as a prophet” helps our team win. We are specifically and adequately equipped to play our part, but we are rewarded for all our brothers and sister in Christ also do.
Right now, instead of focusing on the good works part of Ephesians 2:10, focus on the “created in Christ Jesus.” Look at all we gain for welcoming Jesus into our lives, for accepting the Gospel message as the Good News Jesus came to proclaim, for living by the faith the Gospel asks us to live by. Galatians 2:20 says we “have been crucified with Christ…(and) Christ (now) lives in us.” Because Christ now lives in us, Christ’s very own righteousness was “imputed” or put into us, “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). Being made righteousness in Christ also completely reconciles us to God (Romans 5:11) and gives us the very “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). Listen to all these other things that are also now true of us: (1) “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16); (2) We “have been made holy” (Hebrews 10:10); (3) “We have an advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1); (4) we “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5); and (5) we “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
There are two reasons the Gospel message might not be good news. The first is obvious: there are consequences for refusing to accept the Gospel message as good news and rejecting Jesus as the Christ. The second is less obvious: we fail to accept what I’ve just shared and we continue to live ignorant of what we have in Christ. While all of the above statements are true in the relationship with Christ we have in the Spirit of Christ, they are not necessarily true of the life we live in the flesh, in our physical bodies. Paul makes this clear. He has to “urge [us] to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1) because we have not “already obtained all this, or have already arrived at [our] goal” so we must “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of” us (Philippians 3:12). And this is where we usually fall back into the bondage of the law. In pressing onto our goal of Christlikeness, too often we focus on the glory of Christ we continue to fall short of. Even though our sins have been forgiven, we will continue to sin. Our sins will still need to be confessed, but they do not need to bring condemnation, only forgiveness. But the guilt that accompanies our continued failure can keep us from continuing on the journey to which we have been called.
I learned to ride my bicycle in our backyard. It was encircled with pine trees and had 3 plum trees in its center. It also sloped away from the house. My first task was learning to keep the bicycle upright. Then it was to make it down the slight grade. Then it was to learn to turn back toward the house so I didn’t keep crashing into the pine trees. Then it was to make the turn and learn to pedal back up the hill. It took a good couple of hours and more than a few bruises along the way, but I accomplished the goal before dark that evening. It would have been easy to quit, but I had my mom and dad by my side to encourage me with every attempt. I was bruised, but their encouragement kept me going until I could complete the trip.
The Good News of the Gospel message is that all of us can learn, but we must learn as part of a team that knows how to win. We may ride the bench for a while as we are learning. We may or may never play a leading, starring role. But we all share in the same rewards: we all become saved, righteous, holy, and have the mind of Christ. There is a gap between when we first are put by our parents on the bicycle and when we have learned enough to encourage others by sharing our stories with them and encouraging them until they, too, have learned to ride a bicycle. There will always be the naturals and those who struggle. For some of us our bicycle may always remain a tricycle. But we can all ride in the parade in which captivity is led captive (Ephesians 4:8, KLV). That’s why the Gospel is good news for all of us. We share in the same story and share in the same rewards.