Summary: The charge of hypocrisy, of not being sincere and genuine, of not practicing what we preach, is a charge that continues to plague the church
Once there was a pair of identical twin brothers; one was a pastor, and the other was a physician. It was almost impossible to tell the two men apart. A woman approached one of them on the street and asked, "Are you the one who preaches?" "No," came the answer, "I'm the one who practices." Practicing what we preach; it has always been a challenge not only for pastors, but for all Christians. The charge of hypocrisy, of not being sincere and genuine, of not practicing what we preach, is a charge that continues to plague the church. Though Christians who don't practice what they preach may indeed be genuine believers, sinners saved by grace, they are not usually effective servants of Jesus Christ. Though God can overlook sin in our life because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imputed in our place, other people don't do that. What makes a credible testimony of faith in Jesus Christ? When folks around us can see that we practice what we preach. Other people can't see the cleansing from guilt that the blood of Jesus brings to the soul of all who trust in Him. What they can see are changes in the way we live which are a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. No one will be impressed if there are no changes to see, but a transformed life is a credible testimony to the truth and reality of the Christian Gospel.
Let's say, for example, that a fellow named Joe gets up and says, "I was once the town drunk, but then I received Jesus Christ as my Savior and now my sins are forgiven. I am still a drunk, but I'm a forgiven drunk." Friends, you are not going to hear Joe's testimony either on "unshackled" or even from this pulpit. A testimony like that doesn't have any credibility. If, however, Joe was able to say, "Yes, I used to be the town drunk, but then I received Jesus Christ as my Savior three years ago, and I have not had a drink since." Then we would pay attention. A testimony like that has great credibility. It may even cause some people to consider Christianity in a fresh way. When we practice what we preach, people are much more likely to listen to what we preach.
Friends, our journey through 1 Corinthians brings us today to Chapter 9:1-18. Though this passage addresses specific concerns between Paul and 1st Century Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, it clearly shows that Paul was a man who practiced what he preached. In this text the Lord has some very important lessons for us as well, so let's pause and pray that He would help us to learn them today.
Let's take a look at this situation between Paul and the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? In this verse Paul asks, "Am I not an apostle?" That raises an important question: What does it mean to be an apostle? The Greek word simply means "one who is sent," thus in the Christian context it refers to one who is sent by the Lord, commissioned by God, for a particular task. In the New Testament, it is the title taken by the men who were commissioned by Jesus Christ to establish His church. That includes the twelve disciples, Paul, James, the brother of Jesus, apparently Barnabas and maybe one or two others. Now, there are folks today who want to use that title as well. In fact, Pastor Chris found a place on the Internet (ordained.com) which for a small fee will send you a certificate which will say, "Apostle Dan Erickson," or whatever name you want to use. I don't suggest you order that, though I don't think it is necessarily wrong to use "apostle" with a small "a" to describe some folks today. For example, missionaries such as Carrie and Blair were "sent" by this congregation and by the Lord to serve in Vanuatu this summer, so in a sense they are apostles, small "a." But "Apostle" with a capital "A" is a title reserved only for the 1st Century. One of the qualifications Paul refers to is seeing the Lord Jesus with one's own eyes. That is, of course, what happened to Paul when he was converted on the road to Damascus. I believe he was the last person to have an encounter which qualified him to be one of the apostles.
In this role, Paul represents Jesus Christ. The people in Corinth should have understood that. 9:2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. Paul was the spiritual father of the church at Corinth. Yet, in the church, Paul's authority is questioned. Is that surprising? If you've been following along as we have gone through the first eight chapters, you probably realize that it is not. Paul has been giving the Corinthians instructions on all sorts of controversial issues and that is going to continue throughout the Book. He knows that within the Corinthian church there are going to be some folks who will say, "Wait a minute. Who is this Paul fellow anyway? Why do his views on subjects like sex or divorce carry any more weight than mine? Why should we do something just because he says so?" He also anticipates that some who don't like what he says will try to undermine his authority by questioning his sincerity. They will claim that Paul is not really concerned about the church in Corinth and probably has some ulterior motives for being involved in Christian ministry. Paul's answer to his critics is this: "I am an apostle of Jesus Christ, His representative. I have just told you in Chapter 8 that a Christian needs to be willing to give up rights and make sacrifices for the sake of other Christians. I am doing that. I practice what I preach. My life demonstrates that I am sincere and genuine in my commitment to serve both the Lord and you. That is why, when I speak, you'd better listen."