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A Life That Reflects Gospel Priorities

Sermon passage: (1 Corinthians 9:1-23) Spoken on: September 8, 2019
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth, young adult and young families ministries in Jubilee Church.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: A Life That Reflects Gospel Priorities
Date: 8 Sep. 2019
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

The passage that we read last week concluded with these words, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (8.13) Paul wrote these words in response to Corinthians Christians who had no qualms eating meat associated with pagan worship, even when doing so would cause others to stumble in their faith. Paul, totally unlike the ones he was writing to, was instead ready to give up eating meat altogether so that none would be stumbled. We see in Paul’s declaration a Christian who is sacrificial and selfless; although we may also find him a little too radical and extreme.

Paul then continues the letter and he wrote “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?” (v.1) Why are there so many “I” and “my” that crop up so suddenly? Enough to make one imagines a person that is self-seeking, and totally out of sync with the Paul we see from the previous verse.

What’s going on here?

Paul is now into the second part of his 3 part response to the question on whether Christians should eat food associated with pagan worship. Do we still remember from last week’s sharing who his primary audiences were in writing this reply? The strong, of course. They are the ones who are rich and educated, and may we add to list, powerful.

It is truly a blessing for churches to have members who are rich, educated and powerful. Churches of all ages have gotten so many things in order with the help of such individuals. But as with most things, such as money, it can work for the good, or otherwise.

In Paul case, it would have been great if the rich, educated and powerful were also people that were as sacrificial and selfless. But as we already know, that wasn’t the case in the church of Corinth. The strong were instead inward looking and self-seeking. They were converts of course, but not every aspect of their lives has undergone transformation. One such area would be the way that they view friendship.

Back in Paul’s days, it was not uncommon for friendships to be viewed as something transactional. Research on cultural practices in the first century Greco Roman world tells us that people in those days, especially the rich and powerful, would often give money, gifts and favors in order to gain ‘friends’. People who had received such gifts knew well that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that he or she is expected to give something back either sooner or later, in term of material things or some forms of services.

Paul would never allow himself to be tied to such obligations and constraints. He is one that is compelled to speak up for the weak, compelled to push the rich, educated and powerful to become more and more godly, and compelled to share the gospel with just anyone, no matter if the rich, educated and powerful in the church are happy to see them worshipping in their church.

And so, when the strong wanted to reimburse Paul for his pastoral work, Paul said, “No way!” He needed to be free to do all that he is compelled to do. Paul is super adamant and charged up in this matter. We can’t see it from the English and the Chinese translations of the bible which have smoothened out the phrasing of verse 15 to make it more readable. But the second part of the verse in the original language actually goes something like this, “I would rather die then -” And the sentence suddenly broke off mid-way. It’s like him having an adrenaline rush as he thought and wrote on the matter. Then, he realize that he had become too charged up, stopped writing, and having paused for a moment, he started a new sentence, “Well, no one shall invalidate my ground for glorying!”. That’s how much Paul feels for the gospel.

But in the real world, you and I know that a deep love for the gospel is not enough. The real world is one where not everybody does everything with pure motive. In Paul’s case, he would need courage, determination and clear thinking on top of his love for the gospel. Because to reject the offer made by the strong, is to ‘not give them face’ and to greatly offend the rich and powerful. In other word, Paul has invited himself into a hot button situation. The rich and powerful then turned against him, they questioned his legitimacy as an apostle. They argued that true spiritual leaders would not have taken up low-status occupation like tent-making, and a true apostle would have taken a firm stand on the issue of eating meat, which Paul did not. So, they concluded, that Paul may not be a legitimate apostle at all. We may ask, Pastor Enoch, if they were attacking him, why then did they bother to write to him to ask for opinions. This is just my guess work: that for all you know, writing to Paul may be the last chance that they were giving him, to see if he will finally toe the line.

We asked earlier, why Paul suddenly begins to sound self-seeking once he crossed from chapter 8 to chapter 9. We are now ready to answer the question. Paul is trying to kill 2 birds with one stone. First, faced with the situation, he was putting up a strong case for the legitimacy of his apostleship, with the intention to make clear that he has all the rights just like other co-workers. But the point that he really want to put across is that he has chosen not to exercise any of these rights, for the sake of the others. Second, he hopes the strong would see that they are to also do what he is doing if really considered themselves to be evangelical Christians.

To live lives that reflect gospel priorities. That’s what Paul is doing here and he is urging Christians to do likewise.

I believe that “to live lives that reflect gospel priorities” is what we have been trying to do, but to forgo our rights is indeed difficult, and it only gets more difficult since ours is an ever more consumeristic lifestyle.

So, how can we do better at forgoing our rights for the sake of the gospel? Let’s see if this idea might help.

Someone suggests that we see ourselves as an agency instead of an agent; agency for the gospel instead of an agent of the gospel. Let’s try to make this understandable with an example, family service centers. We see them all over Singapore. When we imagine ourselves as an agent, let’s says a social worker or a counsellor in a family center. What then would we be focusing on? Helping the people and supporting them in terms of physical and emotional needs. We would also be thinking about work performance and personal upgrading won’t we? But if we are to imagine ourselves as an agency, a family service center – ya, I know it’s a little strange to do something like that, but – what then will our focus be? Family centers are agencies recognized by the government, they exist in order to help the people in the community. They exist to perform that very role. And very much just that . So, if we are willing to see ourselves as agencies for the gospel, that our role is to live lives by pointing to Christ, and very much just that, then forgoing right is likely be less difficult. Agree? And living lives that reflect gospel priorities would also start to look much a lot possible. And should we try this out together?

Back to Paul, let us see to what degree he reckoned himself as an agency for the gospel.

In verse 19-22, he says that to the Jews he became as a Jew, to those under the law he became as one under the law, to those outside the law he became as one outside the law and to the weak he became weak. All this tells us that Paul as an agency was ready to be flexible and adaptable, for the sake of the gospel. But there’s something really worth taking note here. Look at the first phrase in bold fonts in the PPT slides, “to the Jews I became as a Jew”. Wait a minute, isn’t Paul a Jew? How can he say of himself becoming a Jew to the Jews?

By making such a statement, Paul is telling us, that nothing is ever the same again for him once he became a Christian. In Christ he is now truly free, he is no longer bounded by Jewish custom and culture. But yet, he would joined the Jews and do what they do, for the sake of the gospel. In Christ, his primary identity is no longer Paul the Jew, not even Paul the apostle, but really, he’s Paul the agency for the gospel.

We say this not only based on this passage on the other letters he wrote. Paul was in the prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. In chapter 1 he affirms those who preached the gospel out of love as well as those who preached out of selfish ambition, he simply rejoices that Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:15-8). He’s an agency, the purpose is Christ proclaimed and he is happy as long as that purpose is being accomplished. In the first 2 chapters of Galatians, Paul recorded that he picked a fight with Peter of all people, because Peter was not willing to eat with gentiles when the Jews visited the city of Galatia. Peter had deviated from being an agency by closing the door towards the gentiles, and Paul would not let things carry on in that manner.

Because in the eyes of one who is an agency of the gospel; nobody is to seen as an outsider. And it can only be so, because an agency point to the one who has called him into service, who himself considered no one as an outsider. He ate with the marginalized. He touched the outcast with bare hands. He spoke the will and the grace of God to the masses, where therein were the righteous, unrighteous and semi-righteous. In the eyes of one who is an agency of the gospel; nobody is an outsider

Such a thought leads me to reflect on our bilingual worship service. What’s the purpose for this service to exist? To be able to sing songs in 2 languages? To hear sermons preached twice over in 2 different languages? There must be better ways to use our time then to spend extra 20x52 minutes per year in hearing repetitions.

This service proclaims Jesus in English and in Mandarin, anyone who knows either language can come and know Jesus here. But one thing tends to get in the way, that is, if we are very strong in English, we tend to be less ready to welcome and befriend Chinese speaking folks, and vice versa. But friend, ours is a bilingual service, to me, this service that we are in, is born to reach out to more than those who speak the language that we are at home with. The question now may be, do we concur with Paul that we are agencies of the gospel; people of God who would view no one as an outsider but we would instead be all things to all man, so that the gospel may take root and bear fruits in their lives. If so, I believe this service will fulfil its purpose to a much greater extent sooner than not.

I need to go back to what Paul writes for one last time this morning.

Paul not only considers his primary identity to be an agency of the gospel, but says in verse 18 that his reward is to offer the gospel free of charge. I for one have been scratching my head for the longest time why he says such things. True enough, there’s joy in sharing the gospel and seeing someone come to Christ. Yes, we shouldn’t expect anything when we share with others. And yes, to offer the gospel free of charge fits very well with his argument against the strong. But still, why? Why say something that sound so aloof?

I think I finally know why, as I was struggling to prepare for this morning’s sharing. Paul see something that most of us may not see, that ‘something’ is the reason for him to be such a happy agency for the gospel, that ‘something’ that Paul sees is put into a long paragraph 1500 years later by John Calvin, which i would now share with us. My hope is that we will be happy and active agencies of the gospel when we see what Paul and also Calvin had seen.

“If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” [I Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth… If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion;

If acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal. 3:13]; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same;

If inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.” ("Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics)" de John Calvin, John T. McNeill, Ford Lewis Battles) Battles, Ford Lewis, The Library Of Christian Classics, Vol. XX: "Calvin: Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Vol. 1", The Westminster Press: London, 1967. p. 527-8.

Paul wasn’t being aloof, he was only being perceptive in knowing that all of life and goodness is in Christ, of whom he is an agency. Question, would this enough for us to want to be happy and active agencies of the gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:1–23 (Listen)

9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 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.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 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 (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.