Title: For Example
Text: 1 Corinthians 9:1-27
Truth: The progress of the gospel is more important than my rights.
Aim: To value the gospel enough to sacrifice for its furtherance.
Life ?: What sacrifices are you willing to make for the gospel?
Nantucket, Massachusetts is located next to important shipping lanes running along the East Coast. Toward the end of the 1800s sailing ships were in their heyday. Nantucket Island saw hundreds of vessels passing by each day—all navigating without the advantages of modern technology. Treacherous shoals and stormy weather led to over 700 shipwrecks in the surrounding waters of Nantucket, causing the area to be dubbed “a graveyard of the Atlantic.”
Prior to the advent of organized life-saving, sailors involved in a wreck were likely to perish. Even if fortunate enough to make it to shore, the limited shelter offered by the dunes didn’t significantly improve the sailor’s chances of survival. Faced with the large number of shipwrecks and loss of life, the people of the surrounding communities began efforts to save the lives of shipwreck victims. They built lifesaving huts along the shores, gave swimming lessons to Boston public school students, produced instructional posters on resuscitation methods, and developed volunteer life-savers that would row out to the ships to rescue shipwrecked sailors. They were incredibly brave and heroic men.
On March 31, 1879, a violent storm swept across Nantucket Sound, bringing powerful winds, freezing rain, snow, and heavy fog. By April 1, over sixty-eight vessels lay wrecked or disabled around the island. This led to the largest rescue effort in the island’s history.
Captain Thomas F. Sandsbury and his crew of volunteer lifesavers rowed their surfboat toward the schooner John W. Hail. They rescued the crew and rowed them back to the safety of the shore. Then they went back out to the stormy sea and made their way to the schooner Emma J. Edwards. She was rolling from side to side. Her masts would thrash the sea with every turn, making it impossible to get near her. A sole survivor was visible. George Coffin tied a line around his waist to prevent himself from being swept away and jumped from the surfboat. George Coffin rescued the survivor.
For thirty-two consecutive hours Sandsbury and his crew endured the hardships of the storm, and moving from wreck to wreck they rescued more than a dozen sailors. Other crews were doing the same. By the time the storm began to break, Nantucket’s volunteers had rescued over forty sailors. The U.S. Congress recognized the courage of Sandsbury. Captain Sandsbury was given a gold medal and silver medals were awarded to each of his crew. There’s a museum dedicated to all these brave men that served as lifesavers (www.nantucketlifesavingmuseum.com).
The motto of this group was: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” Though they were never paid, they never lacked for volunteers. They risked everything to save lives.
The apostle Paul was a man like that. He was willing to risk everything for the sake of the gospel. We learn this in 1 Corinthians 8 & 9. He is willing to sacrifice his rights. In chapter 8, Paul is willing to sacrifice his rights out of love for his weaker brother. In chapter 9, Paul is willing to sacrifice his rights out of love for the gospel. If it came to a choice between his rights or loving people for the sake of the gospel, he valued people and the gospel more than his rights.
The whole chapter is full of the gospel. Look at v. 16: Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! Look at v. 23: I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. The good news of the saving work of Jesus Christ dominates Paul’s mind, and he is prepared to make any sacrifice to spread the saving work of Jesus Christ.
What sacrifices are you willing to make for the gospel?
I. ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE FINANCIAL RIGHTS FOR THE GOSPEL? (1 CORINTHIANS 9:1-18)
There were critics of Paul in the church at Corinth. They questioned the authenticity of his credentials to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. He addresses that in v. 1-2. Apostles were those unique men that spoke with the authority of Christ to the first century church. It includes the 12 disciples plus Paul. He had the freedom to require the privileges of that unique authority but he did not impose it upon them for the sake of the gospel.
One of the requirements to be an apostle was to have seen the resurrected Lord. Paul said he met that qualification. The incident where he met the resurrected Lord occurred on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians. The story is recorded three times in the book of Acts. Paul’s conversion was hugely significant for the church.
Another qualification of his authority was God’s blessing on his 18-month ministry in Corinth when these people were saved and the church was established. A seal attests to the authenticity of something. Their response to Christ and Paul confirmed he was a true apostle of Jesus Christ.
Apparently, his critics argued if he were a genuine apostle he would have taken money for his ministry. The others do. In v. 3-5 he asserts he had a right to receive pay for his work in the ministry.
Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
Paul said he had the right to refrain from secular work and be supported by the churches. He had a right to expect them to provide him enough salary to buy food and drink and to care for the needs of a wife and family.
He uses a number of illustrations to prove his point. In v. 7 he uses secular illustrations to prove he had a right to be financially supported.
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?
Do you remember the trouble President Obama got into with veterans when he suggested that soldiers provide their own insurance? Imagine the outrage if a young soldier showed up at boot camp and the government charged him the expense of boot camp and the cost of his weapons and equipment! The farmer has a right to eat from the fruit of his own labor and land. The shepherd has a right to drink the milk from his own flock. Human custom teaches that everyone has a right to enjoy the fruit of their labor.
In v. 8-14 Paul uses biblical illustrations to support his argument that he had a right to expect them to financially compensate him for his ministry among them. He says the Law teaches this and he quotes the passage about not muzzling the ox. A man in Velma occasionally took my family and me out to eat on Sunday. I’d offer to pay my part but he’d always respond with this passage about not muzzling the ox. I was never sure how to take that. The O.T. teaches that men in the ministry deserve to be paid.
A second biblical illustration is the priests and Levites, the O.T. preachers. They kept some of the meat and grain offerings to provide for their family as part of their compensation. A third illustration to prove his point is a command of Jesus.
Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." b Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Paul’s argument is irrefutable. From secular life and from the Bible Paul asserts that he had a right to expect financial support for his ministry.
But Paul didn’t claim that right. Why? Most people stand on their rights, insist on their rights, protect, promote, and educate others about their rights. Some even go on strike to demand their rights. Paul’s behavior is not normal. What would cause a man to surrender his financial rights? There is only one answer—His love for the gospel. He would rather endure anything than put an obstacle in the way of the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said he’d rather do this for free so that his integrity isn’t questioned and the gospel isn’t diminished. You can hear it in his words. He said:
But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
Next to Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen are probably to most recognizable ministers in America. Warren is the author of the top selling hardcover book of all time, The Purpose Driven Life. It sold 30 million copies.
Speaking about his "purpose driven" success, in 2005 Warren told U.S. News and World Report, "It brought in a ton of money. The first thing we decided was that we wouldn't let it change our lifestyle one bit." Even after achieving notoriety and great prosperity, Warren and his family continued to live in the same home and drive the same vehicle. He said, "Next, I stopped taking a salary from the church. Then I added up all the church had paid me in the previous 25 years and I gave it back." Living on only 10% of their income, he and his wife began to give away the rest in a type of "reverse tithing" principle.
Warren told of a reporter who asked him gleefully how much money he had. This was his first interview after having returned to the church all the money they had paid him for over 25-years. He said the reporter was visibly disappointed to learn that the Warren’s had returned all their salary, lived off 10% of their income, distributed the 90% to three different ministries, and continued to live in the same house and drive the same cars. The reporter had nowhere to go to question Warren’s integrity concerning finances.
Why would he do this? J.K. Rowling, the richest woman in England and author of the Harry Potter book series, has not done this. I’m not saying she’s done anything wrong. Al Gore was worth $5 million when he lost the presidency to George Bush. I read it is estimated that he is now worth nearly $100 million due to his campaign against global warming. He hasn’t done for his cause what Warren has done. Why has Rick Warren made such an unusual decision? Like Paul that’s how much he values the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the spreading of the gospel and our own financial gain are in competition with one another, which one wins? Which one is most important to you? What is most important to you, the spreading of the gospel in Norman or your own standard of living? Is your standard of living sustained at the expense of the gospel or is the gospel sustained at the expense of your lifestyle? Which one comes first, your lifestyle or the gospel?
Playing off the motto of the Nantucket lifesavers we might say, “The gospel’s got to go out, but you don’t have to.”
Paul so loved God and he so loved people that he was willing to surrender his financial rights so that the gospel could be spread to others.
What sacrifices are you willing to make for the gospel?
II. ARE YOU WILLING TO SURRENDER PERSONAL FREEDOMS FOR THE GOSPEL (1 CORINTHIANS 9:19-23)
Did you see the joyous, tearful reunion of the two American women journalists freed by North Korea? When the officials came for Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, they thought they were being taken to a hard labor camp. Instead they were taken to a room where President Clinton was waiting for them. Mrs. Ling said, “We knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. Now we stand here home and free.” It’ll be a long time before I forget Mrs. Lee hugging Hanna, her 4-year-old daughter who hadn’t seen her mother for five months.
It’s inconceivable that those women would have refused their release and returned to their cell to remain as prisoners of this wicked, cruel regime. Keep that in mind when you read Paul’s words in v. 19-23. What he says is more shocking than his refusal to receive a salary. He says he was a free man but he willingly chose to be a slave in order to advance the gospel.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 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. 21 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul was a Roman citizen. He wasn’t obligated to do for anyone. Socially, he could do as he liked. Yet, he renounces his freedom. He refuses to live for himself. He determines that he would give his life seeking the highest good for all men and to be their servant. Why? He does it for the sake of the gospel so that he might win some of them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the first example he was willing to lose his money. In this example he is willing to lose his personal independence in order to gain converts for Jesus Christ.
The controlling principle is to do what is necessary to advance the gospel. He claims his rights as a Roman citizen when he is falsely accused of riots in Jerusalem. This gave him the opportunity to take his message to the courts and clarify the message of the gospel. In that case claiming his rights advanced the gospel. In Corinth he didn’t assert his rights as an apostle of Jesus Christ because it could have resulted in the gospel being misunderstood. He is not being two-faced. He wasn’t willing to break the law of scripture to advance the gospel. That’s the meaning of the bracket in v. 21.
He acted like a Jew when he was with Jews. He went along with some of the ceremonies, customs, and practices so that he wouldn’t unnecessarily offend them. He wanted to be accepted so he could share Christ.
When he was with Gentiles he was willing to eat their diet and adapt to their culture. He was willing to forgo any practice that offended the weak so he could earn the right to tell them about Jesus. He was willing to identify with anyone in matters that were indifferent for the sake of the gospel so that he might win others to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit on this point personally rebuked me this week. My experience in Africa was life changing for me. Outside of my salvation and call to the ministry, it was my most moving encounter with the living Christ. On the other hand, I experienced deep depression and culture shock. I came home with no interest in ever going overseas again. The filth and primitive conditions overwhelmed my sensibilities. Since then I have steadfastly refused to consider ever going overseas again.
Matt Hofeld called and asked if I’d be interested in a trip to Panama. I said, “No, I don’t plan on ever leaving the U.S. I’ll do my mission work here.” I did tell Matt that the thing I missed was the openness to talk to people all day long about being saved. I came back home wanting to not lose that. Then I began to interact with this passage.
I heard Paul saying, “I’m willing to give up money in order for people to be saved. I’m willing to give my personal rights so I can serve people who have yet to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ.” Then I realized my evangelism was not very costly to me.
What about you? How costly is your evangelism? Would it be described in terms of a servant? A servant is someone who thinks of others and puts others before himself. It’s a husband who stops working and gives himself to his wife and children. It’s a busy person giving up one thing so he can include a lonely person in his life. It’s a Christian taking on the suffering of foster children so they can have a chance at a happy life.
Paul said he would give up his freedoms and become a slave so that others could know the saving message of Jesus Christ. That’s how much he loved Jesus. The gospel was costly to Paul.
What sacrifices are you willing to make for the gospel?
III. ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE PERSONAL CONVENIENCE (1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
We are soft by nature. Discipline doesn’t come natural to us. Paul uses athletic images to convey discipline, training, and dedication. For example, the athlete runs to win a prize. The boxer is not aimless in his punches.
What’s the point? In order to be a slave to others he has to take his own body and self into slavery. He subdues and disciplines and controls himself for the sake of the gospel. This kind of behavior and discipline proves in the end that he was a genuine Christian.
When you think back to what was involved in your salvation, you will see it involved many people being inconvenienced. There was a radio preacher out of New Orleans I listened to at night when delivering tools to oilrigs. Somebody paid for the cost of that 30-minute broadcast. He put in the hours to preach night after night. Maybe someone gave up an evening to come to your home to share Christ. Maybe a church went to the expense of time and money for a VBS or revival in order for you to be saved. Someone subdued their natural desires and submitted to take the gospel so you could be saved. Are you willing to be inconvenienced to share the gospel?
I was surprised to learn that if you had a museum that contained the world’s stolen art, it would be one of the biggest in the world. It would contain 174 Rembrandt’s, 43 Van Gogh’s, over 500 Picassos, and works by Renoir and da Vinci. You may remember that a few years back someone stole Edvard Munch’s Madonna, valued at $15 million, and “The Scream” estimated at 75 million. With art that valuable why don’t they just lock it away in a safe? Because true lovers of art, long for art to be seen even at the risk of it being stolen.
There is nothing more valuable and beautiful than Jesus Christ and the saving message of the gospel. We long for Him to be seen and worshiped. We will surrender money so that others will see Christ. We will give up our rights if it means others will come to embrace the gospel. We will sacrifice personal convenience for others to be lovers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ. He is our greatest gift to this community. He is more valuable than my rights.