Sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 19-23
Text: Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
We’ve been to those get-togethers where two different groups or acquaintances meet. It may have been at a graduation. You get people from work and have your relation there. They don’t know each other. The only commonality is you. These are events that can bring into stark contrast how much adapting you do, depending on which group you’re with. You find something that you have in common with that person. If they are into sports, you talk about how the team is doing. If you know that they like a particular type of food, your conversation may drift in that direction. You adapt to the person that you are talking to. Paul recognized that the Christian ministry is all about adaptation. That while the message of the Christian faith cannot be modified, changed, or compromised, he notes that we can’t just use one approach when it comes to sharing the gospel. We will want to adapt. But that begs the question here in 21st century America, HOW DO WE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE?
One of the early things that the early Christian church figured out is that to do the work of gospel ministry effectively, they were going to need to specialize. In Jerusalem they realized that they were going to need people set apart for organizing the distribution of food to the poor and people to preach the Word; one person could not do both. So, they designated those people and allowed the preachers (at that time the apostles) to focus on their work.
The work of the gospel ministry was so huge that they needed people to devote themselves fulltime to it. They couldn’t afford to have the preachers working “another job” to make ends meet. They had to take care of them and provide for them to free them to do what was necessary. Paul uses the Old Testament law about care of animals to drive home the point, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” (Verse 9) While the ox is working, you allow him to eat a little bit to keep up his strength and as a thank you for the work he is doing. It’s not kind or wise to prevent him from eating while he’s doing the work you’ve given him to do. If we should be so concerned with an ox, Paul says, shouldn’t we be that much more concerned about our spiritual leaders? “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?” (Verses 11&12)
Allow me, at this time, to thank you for providing me and my family with what we need for our physical well-being. We are well-cared for and are thankful for it. Beyond this, you have been generous with your words of encouragement. I thank you for them and I thank you for the prayers that you have offered on my behalf. It is a pleasure to serve you with the message of salvation.
When called workers are supported, like Paul and his coworkers often would be, that frees them up to dedicate that much more time to the work of the church. But what is that work? What is that becoming all things to all people? Perhaps, it’s easier to start with what it’s not. It’s not changing the message; it’s not compromising the truth of God’s Word to make more people happy. It means adapting an outreach style that is appropriate for the audience.
Paul put it this way: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.” (Verses 21&22) Paul was no longer a Jewish believer. He was not bound by the ceremonial laws that governed the Jew’s daily lives because he knew that those laws had been fulfilled in Jesus. But when he went to the Jewish people, he didn’t offer them pork chops and see if they wanted to do some work on Saturday. No, among the Jewish people, he subjected himself back under the law so that from the vantage point, he could show them their freedom in Christ. Likewise, to the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, Paul did not come with a strict diet of laws and regulations that they had to follow. He didn’t make them feel as though they had to become Jews in order to believe. Nor did he come scoffing at their sinful ignorance. Rather, he came with God’s Word to show them their Savior, and just how dearly they needed that Savior.
Paul didn’t change God’s Word. He didn’t change God’s definitions of right and wrong. He didn’t change that core, unmistakable truth of the complete forgiveness in Jesus. However, he adapted his methods to communicate that rock-solid message to different people.
How do we do that? How do we adapt? We start by looking at ourselves. We start by letting God’s Word address us where we are. We need to hear that message of sin and grace, law and gospel. We need to hear just how horrendous we are. We need to hear, like all people do, how we have violated God’s law time and again. We don’t deserve any good news from God. We deserve to have him throw us into hell. But God changed that. In fact, in the most amazing way, Jesus became all things for us. He became the one that that he wasn’t: sin. Paul would later write to the Corinthians: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And that’s the very message that we get to carry to the world. It’s a message whether through a private conversation with a friend or the work of the ministries that you support with your offerings and your prayers. This is what we work together to spread. We adapt our methods to meet people where they are because we were all there. We were all lost in sin and have been plucked from the fire of punishment by our Savior.
But how do we start? How do we begin? We want to look for ways to meet people where they are at. For example, Paul said that “To the weak, I became weak.” (Verse 22) These would be people who were unbelievers who had all sorts of sinful weaknesses that kept them in unbelief. They need to hear the law, which tells them that their sins have separated them from God. However, this doesn’t mean that we come in, guns blazing, and condemn them. We realize that we also have sinned and, by God’s grace, know our Savior. We can come to them gently and letting that we care about them. Then we have the privilege of sharing God’s message of forgiveness.
Seeking to become all things to all people means that we will have different approaches to the people that we encounter. For example, if someone has absolutely no knowledge of what the Scriptures say, we cannot expect them to immediately catch all the subtle nuances that are found there. They need to be taught the basics of God’s Word, first. Then, you can go into the deeper portions of God’s Word. If someone is an unbeliever, we can’t expect that they will immediately change their entire lifestyle. We need to let the law and the gospel do their work. If someone has some religious background, we can take a different approach. We find out what they know and build from there. If they have some wrong ideas, we do not immediately tell them that they are foolish to believe that. We patiently teach them what the truth is from the Scriptures.
It all comes down to meeting people where they are at. The only way that you can know where someone is at in their spiritual lives is to get to know them on a personal level. You show that you are interested in them. You show that you truly care about them. You aren’t just out to add one more member to the congregation. You care about them on a personal level, and you want them to spend their eternity in heaven. We want to take veery opportunity that God gives to us to share with others what he has done for them.
Does this mean that everyone that we tell about Jesus will be brought to faith? No. Paul knew this, as well. He wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (Verse 22) Note the word “some.” Paul knew that not everyone he shared the gospel with would be brought to faith. Yet, that didn’t stop him from trying. He was going to continue to reach out to as many people as possible so that they might be saved. May the Lord fill us with this spirit, as well!
Ultimately, we want to remember that there is no such thing as a “church person.” The people that we come into contact with may be different from us. They may think differently than we do. They may dress or speak differently than we do. May God help us to see them as what they truly are. They, too, are people whom Jesus loved so much that he came to this earth to be their Savior. You and I have the privilege to tell them about him. May our God fill us with the spirit of Paul when he wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Amen.
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