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How to be a Shining Light to Your Neighbors

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How to Be a Shining Light to your Neighbors

 

1 Corinthians 9: 19-23

MARCH 26, 2006

Focus: It takes a servant’s heart to reach the lost around us.

 

<Paragraph:Indent>Introduction: It is said evangelism is like strong horseradish: people praise it with tears in their eyes.  Well, that being said, maybe we should first define evangelism.  What is it?  Like other Christian terminology, the words “evangelical” and “evangelism” may be lost on us.  But shouldn’t we know what they mean?  After all, the word “evangelical” is part of the name of this denomination - Evangelical Free Church.  Now that can be confusing enough, can’t it? Evangelical Free?  As in caffeine-free and sugar-free, we may be accused of being free of evangelism.  Well, I am here to say we are not free of evangelism in our church. 

The dictionary defines evangelism as the preaching of the Christian gospel.  Gospel means “good news” and the good news in a nutshell is that Jesus came, died for our sins and rose on the third day and now sits on the right hand of God.  An evangelist is the preacher of that good news.  If you are an evangelical believer, you will be marked with the fervor and zeal needed to preach that good news. Now, let’s look at what is necessary to live like Paul as an evangelist, as a shining light for Jesus before our neighbors. 

Paul sets out the biblical approach to being an evangelist, a preacher of the good news. In 1 Corinthians Paul is in a teaching series to straighten out wrong thinking in the church at Corinth.  In Chapter 5, he had attacked immorality in the church, in chapter 6 he spoke against taking a fellow believer to court, in 7 he demanded love and fidelity within the bond of marriage.  And in Chapter 8 he attacked unnecessary food rules.  Now Paul begins this 9th chapter defending his authority and rights as an apostle.  He starts by giving his credentials. Read along with me in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not as free as anyone else?  Am I not an apostle?  Haven’t I seen Jesus with my own eyes? (check out Acts 9:3-18 if you want to verify this yourself) Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord?” 

In that first verse, Paul sets the record straight.  He declares himself an apostle -  preacher of the good news - an evangelist. 

In verse 2 he goes on to declare that the Corinthians themselves were living proof that his shining light had brought them to the LORD. Then in verses 3 through 14, Paul challenges his accusers by telling of all he willingly gave up to preach the gospel.  He had gladly given up his right to a wife and a home and a salaried job in order to preach, without hindrance, the good news about God the Father and His one and only Son, Jesus.

Paul was called by God to preach, compelled by God to do it freely.  In verse 17 he calls this a “sacred trust”.  And because he was not a paid preacher, he relied on the hospitality and generosity of those who benefited from his preaching.  He attempted to meet the spiritual needs of those he preached to and in return, they met his physical needs.  In one biblical version it says, “We have planed good spiritual seed among you.  Is it too much to ask, in return, for mere food and clothing?”

Then we come to verse 19 - a pivotal verse where the “why” of his ministry is made clear.  Let’s look at it together: Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.  I like the way the New King James version puts it: Even though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;

What bound Paul to his ministry as an evangelist?  Certainly not the pay scale!  He was bound by love for people.  He declares himself a loyal servant of all.  In the New Living Translation he calls himself a “slave to all people”.  And who are the “all people” he speaks about?  He goes on to tell us in verses 20-22.  They are the Jews, the Gentiles, the weak, and the strong.  All types of people.  They were his neighbors.

Remember  “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself.”  (Deut. 6)  Paul lives by this command.

Most of us are neighbors to someone, aren’t we?  In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” to which he answered, “He who shows mercy.” Paul showed mercy to the unsaved in his path - in this case in Corinth.  They were his neighbors.

For us, evangelism is showing mercy by opening up relationships with our neighbors and making our home a place where God’s character can be on display.  Evangelism is the process of sharing the good news with our neighbors

The word “neighbor” comes from both Greek and Latin roots meaning literally “draw nigh”.  We say we’re nigh to Wetaskiwin.  That means we are close.  To be a “nigh-bor” means to draw near or to get close.  We will have little effect on the lives of our neighbors from a distance.  To be a shining light you must be near! 

The greatest barrier to evangelism is not our belief in Christ; it is our aloofness - our lack of nearness.

Oswald Chambers says, Beware of stopping your ears to the call of God.  Everyone who is saved is called to testify to the fact. Christians are in danger of becoming a little holy huddle, without the ability to bridge into the non-Christian community.  According to research the average Christian has no non-Christian friends after they’ve known the LORD for two years.  Because of that, we must make our contacts with our neighbors intentional.  Are thy going to come to us?  Not likely! We have to go to them - the Jews, the Gentiles, the weak and the strong.  We have to be the bridge-builders.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul gives some clues about how to build that bridge.  Paul became a neighbor to a motley crew in the port city of Corinth.  Now that was quite an undertaking.  Here are some of his principles on how to be a good neighbor as taken from verses 19 through 23.  Follow along as I read:

This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ.  When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ.  When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can.  In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ.  But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.  Whan I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ.  Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.  I do all this to spread the good news, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings.

Now let’s examine those verses to see what Paul has to teach us.

1.   Shining Light People Abandon their Rights

First, IF you are going to be a shining light to your neighbors, and IF you want to hear God say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant’” you are going to have to abandon some of your rights, especially your right to privacy. If you are going to be involved in the lives of your neighbors and other people God puts in your path, you are going to have to make time for them - to be near them, to do things with them.  You can expect if you commit yourself to being intentional with a neighbor that God will bring them to your doorstep at times that may not be to your liking.

Joseph Aldritch, the President of Multnohmah Bible College relates the following story of his commitment to really be there for his neighbors: “When my wife and I went to Dallas Seminary, we decided to live in the high-class red-light district.  If you want to get an introduction to life itself, that’s the place to be!  We made a commitment to take one non-Christian person, couple or individual, out to dinner once a week.  Did we ever get a liberal education!  But what fun!  We had people coming to know the LORD right and left in that place, because we simply loved them.  We opened our home to them.

If you are going to mix it up with people and be a shining light for Jesus, you have to be like our Lord and be with them.  This has to be a  top priority.  Notice how often the issue of rights comes up in 1 Corinthians 9.  In verse 4,it asks, “Don’t we have the right to food and drink”  The answer is “yes”. “Don’t we have the right to have a wife? Yes, again. “ Don’t we have the right to financial support? Of course.

Paul says in verse 12 “ But we did not use this right.  On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”  In verse 15 he says, ”I haven’t used any of these rights.”

We have rights, like Paul did, but we are about the king’s business and we have to be willing to say, “Hey, I’ll set aside some of these rights for the sake of the gospel.”  I will not use my rights as an excuse for any action on my part which may cause my neighbor to not see my shining light. 

2.   Shining Light People Accept Responsibility for their neighbors

Not only must we be prepared to abandon some of our rights, but second, we must accept the responsibility that we are to be a neighbor. You must recognize that you are placed where you are by God for that neighbor.  God probably won’t be shipping a missionary from Japan or India or South America or Tanzania or anywhere else to speak into the life of your neighbor.  You are probably it!  You may be God’s plan A for that neighbor’s salvation.  There may not be a plan B.  God places people in your path for a reason!  He wants you to shine forth for Him in the life of that person.  Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”.

As long as we go around the mulberry bush on this issue of being there for our neighbors, we won’t make the kind of commitment that will move us to become part of their lives.  And this commitment is not something to be feared. 

Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.  Whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life.  Of whom shall I be afraid.”

It is something to be welcomed.  You have the privilege of being the bearer of the best news that any individual will ever receive in his or her entire lifetime.  Remember you are the messenger of good news.  You are told in Matthew 5:16 (which I just read) to be a shining light.  In Ephesians 5:2  we are told to   “Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, because [His] sacrifice was like sweet perfume...”  And in 2 Cor. 3, 2 and 3 we are encouraged to be  a living epistle .  “…Your lives are a letter written in our hearts, and everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. [3] Clearly, you are a letter from Christ prepared by us. It is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on stone, but on human hearts.”

Evangelism is allowing the non-Christian to turn the pages of your life, read the fine print, hear the music of the gospel, and want what you have!

I think of evangelism as opening up your circle of friends and family to include your neighbors in family events.  You can have block parties, summer barbecues, Christmas parties, and do all kinds of things together like fishing or hunting or going to the beach.  In these settings they observe you and get close to you.  Your life is preaching a sermon without saying a word!

They know you are not perfect.  Where two or three are gathered together, someone spills his milk.  It is in our brokeness and failure that we are often most powerful in terms of shining our light.  As they watch Christian responses to the good and the bad which happens to us, they can observe God at work in us.  The Bible does not say to let our perfection be made known.  You will be known by your______(?) Yes, your love.  We are in the process of becoming holy.  We are making progress, aren’t we?  and progress implies we haven’t arrived yet.  So often we try and convince the non-Christian neighbor that we have all our ducks in a row, that our kids were immaculately conceived.  They know better.  They know that’s not true.  Your neighbors want to see somebody who is real, who is making progress in a positive direction. 

So we are to give up our right to ignore our neighbor and accept responsibility to speak into their lives.

3.   Shining Light People Are Servants

The fourth principle is to become a servant.  This is a dynamite way of impressing your neighbors and unsaved friends.  If this principle alone can get hold of you, it will revolutionize your approach toward being a witness for Christ.  In verse 19 Paul says, “Though I’m free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave (or servant) to everyone, to win as many as possible.  Being a servant is very endearing.

 What Paul is saying here is that although he is his own man, he voluntarily submitted himself to everyone.  Why?  To win as many as possible.  There is a direct correlation between my effectiveness in winning people for Christ and my ability to serve. I am not supposed to move into my neighborhood with an attitude of superiority - looking down on them to save them.  No, I am going to move into my neighborhood looking up to them to serve them. 

You must see that it’s worth your time to build relationships with non-Christians in your neighborhood and workplace even if they never come to trust Jesus.  For they are not your project.  Listen, they don’t want to be your project anymore than you would want to be theirs.  It cannot to be a relationship with a “hook”.  It must be unconditional love.  If you will love and serve those God has placed in your path, they will hear the music of the gospel playing softly in the background of your life. And the music of the Lord is very attractive!

The key thing to remember is that because of sin, none of us are servants by nature.  In John 13 we see our Lord wash the feet of his disciples as a vivid example of servant-hood.   We are to be “towel wearers and basin bearers”.  Then we will be on God’s best-dressed list.  Napoleon said, “ A man becomes the man of his uniform.”  Our uniform shouldn’t be a well-pressed suit; it should be a towel draped over our arm. Can we do that?  We are going out to serve.  We are going out to wash feet as our LORD and Savior did!  That is the true message of the servanthood of Jesus.  It is the message of love.

Servant-hood is a vital part of evangelism.  And evangelism is a process - of cultivating, and sowing, and reaping

CULTIVATION is the first necessity if you wish to win a neighbor. Cultivation is building a relationship. It is busting up the soil and removing the weeds. That is just loving people and intentionally being a part of their lives.  It is the first necessary step to being a shining light to your neighbors.

Mormons understand this.  They just developed a program where they monitor the maternity wards of hospitals.  When a mother has a baby, they show up as quickly as they can to say, “Hi, Sally, we just say that cute little baby of yours.  We are from the Mormon church and we would love to bring meals for you and your family for the first week after you come home.”  Those Mormons understand something about evangelism.  You say, “If that’s evangelism, I can do it.  Count me in!”  I believe if our churches would develop that kind of a program, you would see more people come to know Jesus than through any other program.  That is being a shining light for Jesus.

The author of the book “Lifestyle Evangelism” relates this story:

In my neighborhood is a neat couple.  The husband travels a lot so somehow I’ve ended up being Mr. Fix-it at their house.  Twice I’ve been over to fix their garbage disposal unit.  I wish they’d get a new one!  The last time I was there, it was so bad I had to take out the dishwasher to get at the problem.  I was lying on my back, with water and regurgitated food all over me when I started to laugh.  I just said,, “God, you have got an incredible sense of humor”.  I had been praying for opportunities to serve, and God was sure giving them to me. I wish sometimes God would keep His big fist out of that garbage disposal unit.  But I knew good and well why it was clogged.  Servants have no rights.  Servants cultivate relationships through their service.

Once a relationship is established you earn the right to SOW seeds. The good seed.   Some of you are very good at sowing.  I have been watching you.

You give your neighbor a copy of your Chuck Swindoll book - You plant a seed.  You take them to see the “Chronicles of Narnia” - You plant a seed.  You go to a nativity pageant or a Winspear performance together - You plant a seed.  And you are there for them when they ask questions about God, when they become seekers.  You are just planting seeds, and planting seeds, and planting seeds!

The final stage of this shining light process is REAPING. This is the most appealing stage as it culminates with the angels in heaven cheering over a soul won for Jesus.  Where cultivating appeals to the heart and sowing appeals to the mind, reaping appeals to the will.  Reaping looks for a response, a commitment to follow Jesus.  It is here where we often feel like we stutter and stammer or hesitate.  Because we know God has given certain people with the gift of evangelism, we tend to want to leave this step to them.  This is where we may feel inadequate.  But wait a minute.  The Bible says even Paul stuttered and stammered.  In 1 Corinthians 1Paul says, “For Christ … sent me …to preach the good news, and NOT WITH CLEVER SPEECH, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.”  Did you hear that?  It is not the wisdom of our words that God requires, it is our willingness to win that soul for Christ. Our availability is more important that our ability.

Let the wisdom of God lead you to the right time, place and opportunity.  He will provide the words. And you will receive the blessing.

Remember, it is the Father who draws men unto the Savior with Jesus initiating this drawing at the cross.  John 6:44 says,   “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…

Also remember, not all are led to be a reapers. The bible is clear.  Some cultivate, some sow, and some water, and God gives the increase. Look at that passage with me now.  It is also in 1 Corinthians.  Turn to 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 and follow along as I read it in the New Living Translation: (pause to make sure everyone has turned there)

“My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. [7] The ones who do the planting or watering aren't important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow.”

Did you get that.  Some will cultivate, some will plant seeds, some will water, but God will make it grow.  He is way more important than all the cultivating, sowing and reaping we will ever do.  For as I said before, it is only God who can draw people to Himself. 

All of us have a responsibility before God to be shining lights to our neighbors and to love people and to be doing something in that cultivating, sowing, reaping process.  They say that the average person will have about 25 good cultivating or sowing contacts before the reaping can be done.  So do not grow weary in well-doing.  Everything done for God through God’s leading will be used by God for the furtherance of His Kingdom. 

So if you are a mechanic or a seamstress, if you have skills, incredible opportunities are yours by just being available to let God use them for winning neighbors.

But let me tell you a little secret.  Let your neighbors serve you.  It  doesn’t have to be a one-way deal.  Remember the time our LORD was in Sychar at the end of a long, hot day.  He and his disciples stopped by a well.  The disciples went off to the local 7-Eleven for food.  Jesus was left all alone and thirsty.  Now, he could have snapped His fingers and had an ice cold Coke if he had wanted to.  But, no!  He waited for a five-times-married woman to come walking up to the well and he said, “ Would you do me a favor?”

Often we visualize ourselves as the soldiers of the cross who don’t need anybody, particularly our non-Christian neighbors whom we are trying to serve faithfully.  My friends, those same neighbors can contribute a lot to your life. 

Don't be afraid to ask them for a favor.  If they are the mechanic or seamstress and you are not, and your car needs fixing or your pant legs need hemming,  it only makes sense.  You can still be a shining light as you sit and ask intelligent questions while they work.

This brings us the to point 4.  Point one was to be a shining light by abandoning our right to privacy.  Point two was to be a shining light by being a neighbor and Point three was to be a shining light through our service to our neighbors.  Now point 4.

4.   Shining Light People are Adaptable

The fourth principle is being adaptable.  Notice how often the word “become” occurs in the test for today? Paul says to win the Jew, he becomes like a Jew.  To win those under the law, he became like one under the law.  To win those outside of the Jewish law, he became like one who was living outside the Jewish law.  To win the weak, he became weak. 

Maybe this example will help to clarify what I am trying to say. If you go into a neighbor’s house and there are floor-to-ceiling antlers on the wall, and you don’t know what to talk about, look around.  You want to win a deer hunter?  Talk about deer hunting! Be adaptable.

After Joseph Aldritch, the president of Multnomah, left his seminary days behind, he says he taught a Bible study in Highland Park, a well-to-do neighborhood in Dallas.  The president of an oil company was in that study.  So one day he asked him , “Leland, I’d love to go out with you some day and let you teach me all about the oil business.”  So the oil magnate sent his chauffeured Cadillac over to pick up Joe Aldritch.  He taught him about fractional dissolution towers and a whole bunch of stuff about the oil business.  To win an oil man, Joe became an oil man. And because Joe  took an interest in the oil man’s world, he eventually committed his life to Christ.  Can you do that?  Show an interest in your neighbor’s life?  Sure you can. Be adaptable.

We need a few people like the LORD Jesus Christ. Who  are willing to go where the beer cans and the poker chips fall.  People who are willing to associate with those people the religious community can’t handle.  There are lots of neighbors out there with rough edges, and they all need Jesus.  So be adaptable.

The religious community was on Christ’s back all the time because he wouldn’t launder His lifestyle to suit them.  They wanted him to play Pharisee games - and He refused.  He said, “Listen, you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.  So don’t try and put me back into your old wineskins.” 

-19-

This was Jesus’ way of saying, he hadn’t come to patch up the old religious system of Judaism with all its rules and traditions.  He came with something new - forgiveness, love, grace, reconciliation with God.  This good news did not fit into the old wineskins.  It is still good news today and it will remain “new” if it is accepted and applied in each new generation of believers.  When we follow Jesus we must look for new ways to look at people, and new ways to serve them.  Be adaptable - Jesus was.

One of the curses of the church today is legalism.  It is law without grace.  It is old wine. Legalistic people are turkeys trying to clip the wings of eagles so they can’t fly.  And we need to soar like eagles.  God has called you and me to go out where the lost sheep is.  We have the ninety-nine in the barn.  Now we must go after that lost one.  And he doesn’t always go in antiseptic places, does he? 

There is one more point I need to make, a short one. 

5.   Shining People Anticipate Rewards

Expect rewards.  There is a payday.  God has planted carrots all through Scripture ensuring that we will be rewarded for our good deeds.  In verse 18 Paul mentions rewards, “What then is my pay?  It is the satisfaction I get from preaching the Good News without expense to anyone…”  

The NIV version says it this way,

    “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

 And there will be blessings!

 Marcy and I discovered, when we went to serve at Eagle’s Nest Bible Camp a few years back, that if you bless someone, you will be blessed in return. That is God’s economy.  He will do for you, what you do for others.

Now look at verse 24:

    Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. That is God speaking.  You are the runner, and He will provide the prize, the rewards.  Rewards you may not even realize you had earned until you get home to heaven. 

I’m not supposed to think of rewards, you say!!  Why not?  God does!  He just said when you run in such a way you will get a prize. Isn’t that great! You can’t even give a person a cup of water in the name of Jesus without God saying, “I will never forget this.  You have a reward coming. Listen to 1 Cor. 3:8

    The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose. Yet they will be rewarded individually, according to their own hard work.

 

IN CONCLUSION:

    Christ came to save common folks like you and me. When the Pharissees said He came as a drunkard and a glutton and a friend of sinners, they were partly right.  He was not a glutton.  He was not a drunkard.  But He was a friend to sinners.  And if you and I are going to be a shining light to our neighbors and unsaved friends, then we, too, must be a friend to sinners.

   

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