Summary: In today's lesson we learn that we must forsake our rights and serve others for the sake of the gospel.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of Christian liberty. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Paul’s Pattern of Serving All Men.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
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. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
In her book, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, church historian Ruth A. Tucker says, “No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.” He was born in Yorkshire, England in 1832. By the time of his death in 1905 he had recruited more than 800 people to go and share the good news of the gospel with the people of China. The missions organization that Hudson Taylor started was known as the China Inland Mission and shortly after his death became the largest missions organization in the world. In 1964 its name was changed to the Overseas Missionary Fellowship to capture better its expanding focus on East Asia.
There are many reasons why Hudson Taylor is regarded as the greatest missionary since the apostle Paul. He had an unswerving faith in God, a laser-like focus on reaching the unreached millions of people in China, a magnetic personality that drew people to his cause, and a knack for organization.
But there is another reason for Hudson Taylor’s success as a missionary in China. Listen to how Ruth Tucker puts it:
Early in his travels, Taylor discovered that he was a novelty and the people were far more interested in his dress and manners than in his message. To him there was only one logical solution: to become Chinese, to adopt Chinese dress and culture. Jesuit missionaries had long taken up Chinese ways and had ministered with great success, but most Protestant missionaries considered such behavior a radical departure from acceptable missionary methods. For them, Christianity was not “kosher” unless it was clothed in Western culture.
Hudson Taylor was simply doing what the apostle Paul had done as he evangelized the Mediterranean world. Paul adapted to the culture of the people to whom he was ministering. He believed that in varying cultural settings he should forsake his rights to pursue his own cultural preferences in order to minister to others for the sake of the gospel.
Let’s briefly review how Paul arrived at that conviction.
You may recall that The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians was in fact Paul’s response to a letter he had received from them. Six times in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul said, “Now concerning. . . ” (7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; and 16:12). And six times Paul responded to a question or issue raised in the letter that he had received from the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul said, “Now concerning food offered to idols. . . .” This was the third of six issues. All of chapter 8 deals with the issue of food offered to idols. The Corinthian Christians were engaged in a debate about whether it was okay to eat meat offered to idols.
This was an issue on which God had not clearly revealed his will. It was therefore a debatable matter, and the Christians in Corinth were divided over the issue. Some said it was okay to eat meat offered to idols; others said it was not okay.
Paul responded to their question by setting down a foundational principle in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Paul would never do anything to cause his brother in Christ to stumble. He was willing to limit his Christian freedom in order to love his brother in Christ. His principle was that Christians must deny themselves their rights for the sake of the gospel.