Summary: This message addresses the blessing that comes to those who as disciples of Christ embrace personal discipline.
Introduction: Bill Cowher took over as the head football coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1992. He quickly showed himself to be a man with a future. In fact, he currently enjoys the longest tenure in the NFL as a head coach with the same team -- which now stands at 14 seasons. Under his guidance the Steelers have captured eight division titles, earned ten postseason playoff berths, advanced to six AFC Championship games and made two Super Bowl appearances, winning the last one over the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10...sorry Jim Gwinn! One thing that has made Cowher successful has been his ability to stay focused on the most important things. After almost every game, every practice, Coach Cowher drives straight home to his wife and their three daughters. By his own choice, He does very few ads for cars or frozen yogurt. He exists inside his two passions...family and football. Cowher is so focused that after having spent several years as the coach of the Steelers he was invited to a civic luncheon and sat next to a woman he did not know. In an attempt to make conversation he asked, "What do you do?" She replied, "I’m the mayor of Pittsburgh." Oops! Yet, it is this kind of discipline as a football coach that has made Bill Cowher a winner. Did you know that God expects believers to exercise similar discipline as followers of Christ? This is what we discover from the passage that we’re studying together this morning.
Background: To better understand the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9, it will help us to grasp some of the troubles the church in Corinth was facing. They were a body riddled with conflict. Besides badly mishandling an immoral situation in the church, they battled over many issues including church leadership and questions concerning marriage, food, worship and the resurrection. Some of these latter concerns were not necessarily of a moral nature, yet they divided the church. It seems like things haven’t changed much in the last 2,000 years have they? Christians are still arguing over similar kinds of issues: our position on the consumption of alcohol; where we can and cannot hang out; clothing and hairstyles; and even various forms of recreation (i.e. movies etc).
With this background in view, Paul explains that as an apostle of Christ he has great freedom to exercise his authority over the Corinthians believers. He was, in his own words, ’free from all men,’ yet amazingly he made himself a slave to all men (See 1 Corinthians 9:19). Why did he do this? What purpose did he have in mind?
Though many people believe that verses 24-27 relate to the passage that follows about avoiding temptation, it most certainly relates to the preceding verses as well. All along Paul has been calling attention to the Corinthians improper exercise of freedom. They failed to grasp what was so clear to the Apostle, that his freedom extended only so far as it was exercised "for the sake of the Gospel (See 1 Corinthians 9:23).’ Just like Bill Cowher, this singular focus is what made Paul immensely effective and serves as our example as we seek to advance the kingdom of God on earth. Here are two principles for us to consider this morning:
I. We must exercise freedom for the sake of the Gospel (See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). I think the best way to look at this is to differentiate between "freedom for something" and "freedom from something." Clearly Paul has in mind the latter. In order to avoid any sense of controversy or obligation, the Apostle deliberately refused support for his ministry from Christians living in Corinth. "I am free and belong to no man," he said. It was his choice to preach the gospel ’free of charge’ (See 1 Corinthians 9:18), though Paul had every right to accept financial support (See 1 Corinthians 9:3-6), and even did so from Christians in other cities (See 2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15-16). So the freedom that Paul exercised was freedom from enslavement or bondage to anything or anyone that might prevent him from fulfilling his call as an apostle (See 1 Corinthians 6:12). This allowed the Apostle to become all things to all men that he might win some.
A. To the Jews (those under the law), he became like a Jew. To put it simply this means that when Paul was with his fellow Jews he was kosher. He conformed to the practice of the Jewish Law in non-moral matters (See Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:20-26) so that he could gain an audience for the gospel. This was very different from what Peter did when he sided with Judaizers who sought to impose certain laws on those who sought salvation (See Galatians 2:11-21).
B. To the Gentiles (those not having the law), he became like a Gentile. The Law was given to Israel, so Paul could not expect to reach Gentiles through an argument using the Law. Instead he immersed himself in their culture to increase his opportunities (See Acts 17:22-23).