Sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Text: For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
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.
Why did you do it? Depending on the circumstances, you will get a variety of answers to that question. If you were to ask a child this question, after they got caught doing something that they were not supposed to, you might get the answer, “I don’t know.” If you were to ask a person who just climbed a mountain that question, you might get the answer, “Because it was there.” This morning, I am going to change that question just a little bit and ask, “Why do we do it?”. The “it” that I am referring to is speaking the gospel to others. WHAT COMPELS US TO SPEAK THE GOSPEL? First of all, we take note of God’s Call to do so. We also see Man’s Need that we speak the gospel.
First of all, what do we mean when we use the word “gospel?” The word, literally translated, means “good news.” As Christians, we use this term to denote the greatest news that the world has ever heard. It is the news that Jesus Christ came to the earth to rescue us from a certainty of eternal punishment for our sins. Each little infraction against God’s law would have been enough to separate us from God’s love for all eternity. You and I would have to plead “Guilty” to these charges against us. Yet, Jesus came on a divine rescue mission. Through the perfect life that he lived, by the innocent suffering and death that he endured, and in his glorious resurrection, he has done everything to set us free. This is the gospel that has been shared with us. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit has created a faith in our hearts that trusts in Jesus as our Savior. As a result, we have eternal life to look forward to. This is also the gospel message that we are compelled to share with others.
Just prior to our text, Paul was speaking of the rights that were his as an apostle. One of those rights was the right to seek financial support from the people he was serving. However, he did not make use of that right among the Corinthians. He preached the gospel without cost to them. He did so in order that they might not look at him as though he had ulterior motives in preaching to them, as if he was only preaching for what he could get out of them. The fact that he preached the gospel message to them without cost was a picture of the free gift of salvation that God had to give them. This is what Paul says in verse 18, “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.”
Because Paul saw the importance of the gospel message, he said, “When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” He felt compelled to preach because he had been blessed to know that Jesus was his Savior. It was such great news that he could not keep it to himself. He felt compelled to share it with others. It is like when we get a great deal on something at a store. There is just something inside of us that compels us to tell others about the great deal we got. We share the news with our friends and family, so that they might enjoy the same benefits that we have enjoyed. If that is true of a buy 1, get 2 free sale at a store, how much more to tell someone of the eternity in heaven that Jesus has won for them?
In addition, Paul writes in verse 23, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul’s first concern was to share the gospel with others so that they might be saved. He, also, had a concern for himself. He wanted to know the sweet joy and comfort of the gospel as he proclaimed it to others. We can hardly have a healthy concern for the salvation of others unless we are concerned about our own salvation. Every time that we proclaim the gospel to others, we are also reminding ourselves of the sweet message of Christ’s redemption at the same time. We are called to share the gospel message with others.
We, also, take note of the fact that sharing the gospel message is also a command that came from Jesus himself. He gave this command to the church before he ascended into heaven: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Note that the word is “go.” It is a command, not a request. Out of thanksgiving for all that Jesus has done for us, we want to obey him. We, also, sin when we do not carry it out. May God forgive us for the times when we have been given opportunities to share the gospel and we did not. May he give us renewed zeal to speak the gospel to those around us. This is the first reason why we are compelled to spread the gospel message. God has called us to do so.
The second reason is the absolute need of people around us. People cannot save themselves. By nature, they, like we are dead in trespasses and sins. They can only be saved through the work of Jesus Christ. However, they cannot learn about Jesus Christ unless they are told about him. Paul wrote in Romans 10:14, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Out of love for those whom Jesus died, we want to tell them about what he has done for them. How exactly is this done?
Paul gives us this model, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 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. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.” In other words, you meet people where they are at in their religious life and you go from there. When Paul encountered fellow Jews, he did not flaunt his freedom from the Old Testament ceremonial laws. That would have put a road block in his sharing the gospel with them. When he dealt with the Gentiles, who did not have the background of the ceremonial law, he approached them differently. He sought to understand them and identify with them as much as he could. In this instance, Paul says, he was under Christ’s law. That command of Jesus is found in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He was going to love them with the same sort of love that Christ had shown to him.
Paul said “to the weak, [he] became weak, to win the weak.” These people would be the unbeliever who had all sorts of sinful weaknesses which kept them in unbelief. They needed to be approached in such a way that understands why they yield to their sinful weaknesses. They needed to hear the law, which told them that their sins separated them from God. They needed to hear the gospel so that they could be converted and saved. In summary, Paul says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul took the salvation of others in a personal way. While he knew that he was not the cause of their salvation, he knew that God was giving him opportunities to share the good news of what Jesus had done for them. For that reason, he was going to meet people wherever they were at, so that he could share with them the gospel message.
Would that we had such concern for others that we are willing to do whatever we can to share the gospel message with them! May we seek to become all things to all people so that we can save them! This means that we will have different approaches to the people we come into contact with. For example, if someone has absolutely no knowledge of what the Scriptures say, we cannot expect them to immediately catch all of the subtle nuances that are found there. They have to be taught the basics, first of all. Then, you can go into the deeper portions of God’s Word. If someone is an unbeliever, we cannot expect that they will immediately change their entire lifestyle. We need to let the law and the gospel do their work in their lives. 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 wrong. We teach them from the Scriptures what the truth is.
It all comes down to meeting people where they are at. The only way that you can know where they are 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 them that you care about them. Someone once said that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care for them. The more that we understand where people are at in their religious life, the better we will be prepared to speak to their real needs. We can talk all we want to about the weather or sports, and that is a nice beginning. However, we want to take every opportunity that God gives us to share with others what he has done for them.
In addition, we want to be reminded that there is no such thing as a “church person” or “our kind of people.” Jesus loved them so much that he was willing to come to this earth to be their Savior. May we exhibit that same sort of love to those around us. May it be that we keep the words of Paul as our own personal motto, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” They may be different from us. They may think differently than we do. They may dress differently from how we do. Yet, they still need to hear this life-giving message of what Jesus has done for them. That is why we are compelled to share the gospel message with them.
“Why did you do it?” As we saw at the beginning of our sermon, there are many answers to that question. Now, we do we do it? Why do we share the good news of the salvation that Jesus won for us? There are many parts to the answer to that question. We do so, because Jesus loved me so much that he came to be my Savior. We do so, because God has called each of us to share this good news with others. We do so because people need to hear this message and it is the loving thing to do for them and for God. We pray that God would give us many opportunities to share the gospel with others, so that they might share eternal glory with us. May God help us to this end. Amen.
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