Introduction, Outline, & Prayer
There are some things in the Bible that are hard to understand. Even the Bible itself makes this claim, through Peter about Paul’s letters: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16–17). Often ignorance and instability described me in my spiritual infancy. I am still prone to wander into ignorance and instability when I’m lazy and want my own way. As I attempted to humble myself to this text and compared myself to how I’m being obedient to the Word of God, I realized I fall so short.
I’ll be preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 but let’s begin by looking at some of the details of the letter. From the first and second verse of chapter 1, we find that Paul wrote to a church…a group of people…a group of Christians calling on the Lord in becoming saints. However, Paul’s motive for writing was that there were contentions and divisions among them: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you…that there are contentions among you.” Paul names several contentions throughout the rest of the book: to wear or not wear head coverings; can you eat food offered to idols; and finally the seemingly controversial topics prophecy, tongues, liberty and law in Christ. However, the most alarming one for him was divisions within the church. To put it in a modern context from verses 12 and 13, the followers of Christ at Corinth and the postmodern church would say: “I am of Cephas. I am for black lives. I am of John MacArthur. I am of Barack Obama. I am of Dan Shambro. I stand for refugees. I am of Apollos. Or I am of Christ.” To both them and us, Paul asks then: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” Or is asking now: “Were you baptized in the name of John Calvin?” Do you confess Francis Chan as Lord and Savior? I can only assume that this letter is Paul’s answer to that list of doctrinal disagreements to churches like ekklesia and the one at Corinth. Corinth wasn’t a healthy church, and we aren’t sinless people. The modern church isn’t healthy either. We can follow after all these doctrinal truths and absolutes, in which I wouldn’t be at ekklesia if we didn’t have them.
So hear me out: all these examples can be heightened or lowered to the realms of licentiousness or legalism. However, I want to challenge us how to love in light of what we believe. Even more importantly than preaching those doctrinal contentions, we must preach Christ crucified, the love that God showed all people (from verse 23).
We as a church lean toward a set of doctrinal distinctions, but the other guys do, too. And what is cool about those that may contend with our beliefs—they are probably preaching Christ crucified, also. We are of Christ, first and foremost! And that is what matters.
So with that in mind, let’s read the text, as you can find it in chapter 9 verses 19 through 23. There are Bibles for you to take in the back of the sanctuary as a free gift to you, if you don’t have one. You can also follow along behind me on the screen as we read the text together:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Let’s pray.
Point 1: Being Free From All Men (v. 19)
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
What does it mean to be free from all? In the next chapter of 1 Corinthians, in the second half of verse 29, Paul writes, “For why should my liberty (or freedom) be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29).This is a rhetorical question. He already knows the answer because he answered it with the statement from the verse we are looking at. Why should the ability to do or not do something be controlled by the thoughts and opinions of others? They shouldn’t; “I am free from all.”
Am I to be pleasing God or am I to be pleasing others? I think the answer to this question is a “both-and” type an answer. Let me explain: I am BOTH a son to my parents AND a brother to my sister. I am to be pleasing to BOTH God AND others. I am BOTH free from all AND servant to all. We are to love BOTH God with all of our heart, soul and mind AND our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t walk in fear of the people around us because they are different from us. We are called to love our enemy, despite our contentions with the ways of the world. We may contend on the eternal, spiritual and religious things, but we must realize we are more alike than we are different—we are both made in the image of God. We are to be BOTH a servant to all AND also a servant of God. Becoming a servant to all is part of our new, re-created souls, which gives glory to God.
Since Dan asked me to BOTH preach from the Word of God AND share my personal testimony let me try to illustrate point #1 with a little bit about myself.
The most important people in my life are my church, my parents, and a few of my best friends scattered across the world. If I haven’t met any of you yet, know that I will because that’s the way God created me to be. I am 100% extroverted and love meeting new people. Uncomfortable situations are comfortable for me. My parents adopted me from the Philippines when I was 1 year old. I always remember growing up being there for BOTH the people in proximity to us, our neighbors, AND those in relationship to us, our family. At different times, I recall us opening our home to one of my best friends who was without a home and one of my drug addicted cousins and her children. My parents seemed to have always made it to my sister’s and my sporting events. I remember my dad flying to bring back my sister from the Philippines. I remember all the long telephone conversations my mom had with her parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, trying to console them in their circumstances. I’ve learned so many invaluable traits from my parents. I’ve heeded many life lessons from them but also from the new found faith in Christ throughout the past 9 years.
Then in college, I really took pride in thinking independently. I’ve slowly grown to think in an opposite direction other than what I was taught. I adopted stances in opposition to what my parents thought on issues like multiculturalism, politics, and the contentions among the Christian faith. My head puffed up; I know more! I received one of the first college degrees in my family. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt more distant with the two earthly people who exemplified Christ-likeness and taught me how to be all things to all people. There was a distance that has grown when I acquired this puffed-up knowledge. Until recently, I realized I wasn’t being like a son to my parents, but yet I wanted to be all things to all people. Some may say, I’m an adult and can think for myself. I would get contentious with them over trivial things, though: how they organized their basement, how Donald Trump claimed this or that, or how we should advise our parentless 17-year-old cousin. I’d get so upset about those things that when conversation did happen it was shortened by anger because I didn’t want to listen. Rather than being gracious, I was contentious. I was positionally a son to my parents through adoption but not spiritual brother to them. My withheld actions were demeaning to them. Not being able to be all things to all people, I couldn’t even be something to someone. I needed to be BOTH their son AND their brother-in-Christ. I definitely did not love them with the love of Christ. I couldn’t have consciously preached on this passage unless I sought reconciliation and forgiveness in my relationship with my parents.
As the Apostle Peter has called out in me, “There are things from God’s word that will be hard to understand, or more accurately put, challenging to apply to my life. And because of my blinded eyes through self-righteousness, I would be ignorant to his Words.” By the grace of God and after all of this internalized failed communication with my parents, I was backed into a corner with nothing to do but turn from my ways. I needed to go to them, love them, confess to them how I’ve abused them with my words and was thankless for all the acts of kindness they’ve shown. I realized I needed to bestow honor onto my parents. Despite all of the self-absorbed knowledge I learned, I needed to learn how to love like Christ loves. I need to BOTH be a son to my parents…positionally AND sacrificially love them…actually. I needed to relearn how to be something to someone so God can help me to become all things to all people.
Let’s move on to verse 20-23a, which states...
Point 2: Becoming All Things to All People (vv. 20-23a)
“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. 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. 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.”
Let’s dig into the word “all” from the passages we’ve read thus far. “For though I am free from all (people), I have made myself a servant to all (people)…I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” Here’s a rule of thumb I learned from my pastor when I lived in Appleton: “All does not mean all, all the time.” Just like when I tell you that I’ve been ALL over the United States, that doesn’t mean I’ve been to ALL of the 50 states or reached every square inch of land but several/most or some key areas of most states. For those of you that know me, I get excited about life in general. When I say I’ve been this way ALL my life, it doesn’t mean every waking moment. I’m not excited in my bed. I’m unconscious and sleeping. I’m not excited when something gets me sad. More accurately it’s something that describes me for the duration of my life, thus far. A big chunk of my life is either sleeping or sad. But when I say I’ve always been this way ALL my life, it actually means just most of it. It also doesn’t lose it’s emphasis or truth value.
We will discover that this is true when we look at the immediate context of this passage.
All people – Jews, those under the law, those outside the law, weak, African Americans, the sexually impure, young professionals
(To become) all things to all people – to partake in the things that the groups of people like to do, to relate to these groups of people without insulting or showing an agenda to ultimately save some.
This means that we truly enjoy the things others enjoy for the sake of enjoying them. And when we are fully of Christ in all the things that we do, we will love our neighbor for who they are, made in the image of Christ, rather than what they do, the sins that we can have the tendency to accuse them of.
What I am saying all things to all people IS - for example:
Jews – understand the Jewish traditions: celebrating a seder or a Jewish holiday with them.
Those outside the law – relate to them with what lawlessness you were once in and saved from, share how you learned life lessons from your lawlessness; then, despite the unjust world we live in, share what justice is and if the opportunity arises share about who is most just, but also gracious-Our Heavenly Father.
Those under the law – understand the law, following along with another Christian’s dietary restrictions when eating with them. I know going without that cheeseburger would do me good, anyways.
The weak – become weak and dependent on others and God
African Americans – understand and relate with our cultural differences, ask questions about the other person, don’t be offended when they ask about you.
Young professionals – being able to relate to that stage in life
We may someday be there, are there already or have been there in the past.
The sexually impure – understand the culture, circumstances that the impure might be numb to. We were probably there or even struggle with the same things, ourselves. So relate to them!
What I am saying all things to all people IS NOT – for example:
African Americans – if your lineage traces back to Ireland, Denmark and England or the Philippines you can’t become African American
Young professionals – If you are 70 years old and retired, by definition, you can’t become a young professional, again.
The sexually impure – if God commands the believer to be pure, through the blood of Jesus Christ, we can’t become impure by our own doings. Christ has purely forgiven every past, present and future sins. This doesn’t mean participating in the same sins. To love our neighbors in the balance, we need to become like those people in non-sinful ways—to relate to them as fellow image bearers of God.
(That) I might save some – So Christian, “to save some” is our end goal. Who does the saving you might ask? If you are born again, you know Jesus did something so we can commune with and know Him. That I might save some means that I have some sort of responsibility: sharing that gift of salvation. God is the source of it; He causes it to grow and become. But I am responsible in sharing it. For example, if I was in my boat sailing along and I noticed Ray in the water struggling to keep his head above water and he wasn’t yelling for help. I would hopefully think to throw him one of those cool floaty rings in my boat that could save him from drowning. He doesn’t know this yet, he keeps flailing away with no avail. I was responsible of throwing that ring to him to notify him of the danger he’s in. And he’d be responsible for grabbing that livesaver to not drown. If I was to throw the lifesaver to any person that was in this situation, some will grab it but not all. So let’s conclude this point by spiritually connecting it to Ray’s life. I know he doesn’t drown. And I hope as we dig a little deeper, that you would take this lifesaving floaty ring too.
Point 3: Benefiting from Sharing in the Blessings of the Gospel (v. 23b)
“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This sermon series is called Unsearchable. How unsearchable are God’s ways? He loves us when we were still enemies of His. How unsearchable are these blessings of the gospel? God doesn’t promise more wealth or better health. He does promise unspeakable and unsearchable joy that we will have for all of eternity despite troubles on this side of heaven and in lieu of spending an eternity in paradise with our maker.
Let me share one last blessing with you. After high school I moved to the Fox Valley in Oshkosh and Appleton for about 10 years. And just like any other college student, I was trying to find myself. I thought I was a good person. I always had the desire to help people, and since then, God has only multiplied that desire in my life. I had a passion to go into the Peace Corps and serve somewhere around the world, and for those of you that know me, know God has not removed that desire from my heart either.
Growing up I recall being in the church; we went to a little United Methodist church with my grandpa, and I thought “I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart” in a Pentecostal church when I was a child. However, in retrospect, I have noticed so many inconsistencies in my public, outward life, revealing that every good deed I did was to please people to gain their favor, friendship and laughs. Through my time at UW Oshkosh, I started a fraternity, was the student liaison between the multicultural students and university faculty, was part of AmeriCorps, and even went on multiple missions trips with a campus ministry and a local church providing Hurricane Katrina relief and building churches. I had all this preconceived notions that I had to just to love everybody. I became all these things to all these people…but as an end of itself.
I did not have the Spirit living in me. However, I did not have the gospel as my banner and at my disposal to save some (v. 23a) and share in its delightful blessings (v. 23b) of being all things to all people. I was able to please people with opportunities for impurity, drunkenness and dishonesty, to gratify the desires of my flesh with instant pleasure. I then found myself asking, “Is this all there is to life?” I was helping the needy, providing for the poor, ultimately finding happiness in my job well done. My testimony is an example of what Paul is NOT talking about. Becoming all things to all people, whether it’s the Jew, hippie, weak, drunkard, lawless, homosexual, or legalist, doesn’t mean idolizing the actions these groups of people are defined by. In 2008, I came to the understanding that doing all these good things didn’t equate to obtaining God’s favor. Jesus Christ BECAME to me what mattered most to me. He could do the good work I could never do. God became a man to meet us in our humanity and sin, died on a cross, rose again from the grave all for the Glory of His father. He has become all things to all people, that some might come to know Him. And how thankful I am to share with you in the blessings of the Gospel, so that you might know him too, for the first time or the 1000th time. My prayer is that He’d become to you what He is to me.
BEING Christ-like is more of a testimony than BECOMING a Christian. If God has changed your life, we need to share in the blessings of the gospel with others even if they don’t respond to it. Just like offering the lifesaver to Ray, it is of no value if we don’t share our lives with others. Share it with actions in service to your family, neighbors and coworkers. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Then when God provides the opportune time, share your life, your gospel story.
What is a fence’s purpose? It is to keep people out.
Why do we want to keep people out? We don’t want to let people in.
Most Americans don’t want to let people into their lives. Christ’s love doesn’t invade our lives without His patience and kindness. When we are vulnerable with those around us, and we love them with no agenda but rather because Christ showed this real love to us, those fences around their heart will come down and the veils over eyes will dissipate as Christ’s love will permeate their soul. We don’t love our neighbors for the sake of suburban recreation; we love them because we want them to get in on the blessings. Be bold! I know many in this church know their neighbors well, so share with one another how to do this. Become vulnerable by sharing the things that may hurt your ego but speak to someone else’s circumstances for their benefit. Listen to their situations, problems, fears. I know families are doing this already! Go find them!
We tend to put up fences around some pockets of our lives. Someone in our church and I had conversation a few weeks ago. Because of what Christ has done in both of our lives, were not only able to clear the air about how we approached one another in fellowship, but also shared how to tear down the fences that prevented us from evangelizing and sharing Christ with the people around us. When we first met, this person was really dumbfounded because I seemingly didn’t take a certain doctrinal stance on my beliefs. I have experienced through my short walk with Christ I am not genuinely being all things to all people by holding the predestination of all men as the banner of my faith. Not all people need to know why I don’t believe in the 5 points of Arminianism. They need to see Christ crucified by the patient and selfless love that I show them, whether it’s offering to mow a neighbor’s lawn, helping them with their brakes on their Jeep or just expressing condolences to a neighbor’s lost loved one. So start BEING.
If we are all things to all people in all situations we will share in the blessings of the gospel. Start in your neighborhood.
Who are my neighbors? Who are the neighbors I don’t know?
What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?
What doesn’t it mean to love my neighbor as myself?
As you begin to answer those questions, look for opportunities to love your neighbor in the ways examples you write down.
My hope and prayer is that with me, you will wrestle with these questions. I want to invite you to meditate over the message 1 Corinthians over the next week and join us on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday nights as we work through not just reading but doing The Art of Neighboring. We will learn how to love one another better in community. When we are living, doing, sharing and speaking the gospel to another we will together reap the unsearchable blessings of together. Let’s pray.