Epiphany 5b

Preached: February 8, 2009

I Give Up My Rights
in order to Gain Others for Christ
1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit speaks to us is 1 Corinthians 9

For if I proclaim the Gospel, I have nothing to boast about. For it's necessary for me to do it. Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel! If I do it voluntarily, I have a reward. If non-voluntarily, I'm only carrying out the stewardship entrusted to me. Therefore, what is my reward? That as I proclaim the Gospel I present the Gospel freely so that I do not at all use my right in the Gospel.

For being free from all, I enslave myself to all, in order to gain more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain Jews. To those under law I became like one under law (although I myself am not under law) to gain those under law. To those without law I became as one without law (although I am not without God's law but I'm in Christ's law) to gain those without law. To the weak I became weak to gain the weak. I have become all thing to all people in order that in all situations I might save some. I do all things because of the Gospel, in order that I may be a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:17-23)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

“You have the right to remain silent.” How often haven't we heard those words recited as the police officer arrests the suspect in some TV drama or mystery. Since the 1966 Supreme Court decision the Miranda warning has been given countless times advising people of their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. “You have the right to remain silent.” Our society, culture, and politics is focused on this and so many other individual rights, my rights.

But what if in Mark 16:15 instead of saying, “Preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV), Jesus had told his disciples, “You have the right to remain silent”? Their earthly life may well have been a bit easier. Because they preached the Good News, they suffered. The Bible tells us of a few of times that some or all of them were imprisoned and one of them, James, was beheaded. Church history says that all the rest of the Apostles, except John who was exiled, were all executed because of the Gospel, most quite painfully. For example, it is said that Peter was crucified upside-down. And God only knows how much ridicule, slanders, beatings, and injustices they endured for the sake of the Gospel. How much easier their lives would have been if they had remained silent!

But then how would we ever have learned and believed the Good News of Jesus? For these are the men the Lord used not only as preachers and missionaries but also as writers of the New Testament. And without the Good News of Jesus, we are lost and damned to hell. What joy for us that they did not remain silent! They testified, they preached, they proclaimed the Gospel, the Good News of what Jesus, the Son of God, has done to save us from sin and death.

So also, each generation since the Apostles has proclaimed the Good News down to you and me today. Are we going to break the chain? Are we going to stand on our right to remain silent and so avoid whatever discomfort others try to make us feel when we speak God's Word? Not if we take to heart and put into practice these words that the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul to write. For as you live out these words, you too can say like the Apostle Paul: “I give up my rights in order to gain others for Christ.” That's the theme today. I give up my rights in order to gain others for Christ, giving the gift of the Gospel (that's part one) and serving others where they're at. That's part two.

A. Giving the gift of the Gospel

1) Why is it hard to give the gift of the Gospel?

Many people enjoy getting gifts, but giving gifts can be an even greater joy. In fact, sometimes we can be so excited about giving a special gift that we can't wait until the person opens it.

With the Gospel you are giving the greatest gift of all. Every other gift wears out or breaks. The Gospel endures forever. It never wears out. It's worth never goes down, even when the economy sinks. The Gospel brings blessing not only for this life, but unimaginable riches for the life to come. And no matter how often you give it away, it's still there for you to treasure and believe.

But when you're excited about giving and the other person doesn't like the gift or criticizes it or rejects it, that hurts. In a way it feels like our rights have been violated. We put our time, our energy, our excitement into this gift, and they just throw it back in our face.

That's also why it can be hard to give the Gospel. You know how important the Good News is. You know that Jesus is the only way to heaven. But setting aside our right to privacy and opening our hearts to share what is so important to us, leaves us feeling vulnerable because we know that the Gospel gift could be thrown back into our face.

The Apostle Paul knew that heartache. He longed to bring the Gospel to his own people, his fellow Jews, the Israelites. He writes in Romans 9: “I speak the truth in Christ I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:1-4 NIV).

But what happened time and again as he went from town to town, synagogue to synagogue? His fellow Jews would listen for a week or two and then most of them would reject the Gospel. They throw it back in Paul's face. At times some even stoned him. Others followed him to the next town to stir up trouble. Heartache after heartache. We could well understand if Paul decided it just wasn't worth giving the gift of the Gospel anymore. So often it was hard work, unrewarding work, thankless work, even dangerous. He had every right, from our human perspective, to say, “I've put in my time. I've done my share. I'm tired and fed up with all the ingratitude. People just don't appreciate it.”

2) Why did Paul preach the Gospel?

But listen to Paul's words in the text. He wasn't preaching the Gospel to gain some sort of fame or personal reward. He wasn't preaching it because that made him feel good inside. He wasn't preaching it because he wanted gratitude and thanks from others. He wasn't preaching it so that he could boast about the good he had done. He writes, “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! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:16-18 NIV).

Why did Paul preach? Because he had to or to use his own words, “I am compelled to preach” (1 Corinthians 9:16 NIV). Now don't misunderstand me when I say he had to. It wasn't that he was forced to do it against his will. It wasn't that he did it under threat of punishment, cringing in fear, coerced. But his dear Lord had given him this trust, this commission. Think of Joseph in Egypt in Potiphar's house. He was entrusted with the stewardship of the house. He was to manage it well. Although Joseph did it willingly, he also had to do it. He was Potiphar's slave.

So also Paul was entrusted with something much greater than running Potiphar's house. He was entrusted with the treasure of the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus, the only message that unlocks heaven's riches for sinners. How could he keep that message to himself?

And the One who entrusted this to Paul was much greater and dearer than Potiphar. Look at what his Lord had done for him: Gave his life to rescue Paul and save him; called Paul to faith even as he breathed out murders and threats against the Christians; instructed him in the wonders of God's saving grace. How could Paul not carry out the trust that his gracious Lord committed to him? How could he not keep on giving the Gospel? For look at what his Lord had done for him!

3) What gives us the power to keep on giving away the gift of the Gospel?

And that, dear friends, is our power to keep on giving away the gift of the Gospel. At times God may bless you with seeing the powerful working of the Gospel in the hearts of others or to see the video of your mission dollars at work. Rejoice in those times. But don't depend on them as your power or motivation to give. For many other times we may feel disappointed or hurt in giving the Gospel, or just not see any visible results.

Rather, keep your heart set on your Lord. Remember what he has done for us while we were still godless sinners. And remember what he has entrusted to you. Although he is God over all, risen from the dead, he has entrusted to you and me the treasure of his life work, the gift of the Gospel. Freely give it away. Don't think in terms of some sort of right to be happy or right to be thanked. Think of your Lord Jesus and what he has done for you. As our hearts grasp that more and more, our mouths open to speak the Gospel. Our minds open to pray for the Gospel work. Our wallets open as well to support it.

B. Serving others where they're at

1) How did Paul give up his rights to meet others where they're at?

In fact, that Good News of Jesus moves us to give up our rights and to enslave ourselves in order to gain others for Christ serving others where they're at. That's part two. We give up our rights serving others where they're at to gain some for Christ.

Jesus has certainly paid the price that frees us . His blood ransomed and redeemed you. He's freed you from sin's damning guilt. He's freed you from the curse of the law. He's freed you from the terror of death. But when we grasp in faith what this means, we gladly make ourselves slaves to gain others for Christ or as Paul puts it, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19 NIV).

This is the opposite of insisting on our rights, isn't it? Again think about Paul's life. To the Jews who thought they were under all the Old Testament laws, Paul says he became like a Jew, even though he knew that Jesus had freed him from those regulations. Yet in order not to put a barrier up for the Gospel, Paul followed the Jewish practices when he was with them in order to reach them and gain some for Christ.

Likewise with the Gentile who did not use the Old Testament law, Paul became like a Gentile, not holding to the Jewish customs that would exclude the Gentiles. Yet Paul knew that God's moral law still applied. He did not join the Gentiles in their sin. For Paul was in Christ's law, gladly wanting to do God's will because of the love Christ had shown him.

And among the weak, he did not exercise his Christian freedom and rights in any way that would lead them to sin against their conscience. You heard about that last week in the Second Lesson from 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul talked about meat sacrificed to idols. Rather than serving himself by exercising his rights, Paul served others to gain some for Christ. Even though that might gain only a few, he still served all in Christian love. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV).

2) How can you serve all in order to gain some for Christ?

May the Holy Spirit enable us to so set aside our rights and serve others to gain some for Christ. Even though they may be different than us or have a bad reputation or do some things that just don't approve of, they need the Gospel too. And as we set aside our rights to serve others in Christian love, that not only builds bridges to communicate the Gospel, but that also shows the power of the Gospel that changes us to serve in love, even as our Lord served us.

That's why it's vital to serve in Christian love not only those on the outside but also your fellow Christians, your fellow church members. For when we fail to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, then our acts of kindness toward outsiders become hypocritical and showy displays to gain their “business.” If we are to become all things to all men as Paul's example sets before us, that certainly includes our fellow church members.

So don't insist on your rights. Maybe you do, humanly speaking, have a right to receive an apology or a right to be shown more respect or a right to be thanked. Maybe your rights were violated by someone else, even a fellow Christian, and we feel that we should put up a front against them. But Christian love sets aside our rights, so that our weaknesses or our fellow Christian's weaknesses don't destroy our bond of love in Christ, our unity of peace in his blood. Where would we be if Jesus waited for us to apologize before he died on the cross? And how often doesn't our thanks to him fall short!

Rather let the Gospel work in your heart. As you treasure just how great Christ's love for you is, as you stand in amazement at how he has fully paid for your mountain of sin, removing it as far as the east is from the west, carrying it away on his back, bearing it to the cross instead of you as you contemplate how he set aside his rights, the riches of heaven itself, and became poor to make you rich as we treasure the Gospel, how can we refuse to forgive each other, serving one another even as Christ served us, giving himself up for us?

So don't think in terms of your rights or put up a front because you think you're rights were violated. Rather ponder the Gospel. For as you treasure it in your heart, faith will shine brightly strongly moving you to willingly give the gift of the Gospel as you speak it to others and support it with your prayers and offerings. We have no reason to remain silent. And as you treasure the Gospel in your heart, faith will shine out to serve others meeting them where they're at to win those who do not yet know Christ and to bring those who do know him closer. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313