November 13, 2005

All Out For The Gospel

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians


All Out For The Gospel

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith

During Judah's darkest days, God in His infinite mercy sent the nation one of her finest prophets. The man's name was Jeremiah. Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God's Word for 40 years, but experienced intense persecution from the hands of his own countrymen. On a grand scale, both he and his message were rejected. The people refused to believe that they had fallen out of favor with the Lord. They refused to believe that God would use the wicked Babylonians to overthrown their nation.

Jeremiah was driven to utter despair and experienced waves of depression. He experienced more than what he believed his soul could bear. He cried out to his God: "I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long" (Jer. 20:7b-8).

He knew the quickest means to relief was to cease from proclaiming an unwanted prophecy. If he would stop proclaiming the word of the Lord, his problems would immediately disappear. He considered this option, yet immediately concluded: "But if I say, 'I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,' then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it" (Jer. 20:9). The prophet knew that greater internal agony and greater judgment would result if he refrained from serving as God's mouthpiece. So he continued despite the pain and despite the rejection from his audience.

The apostle Paul was no different. At the end of verse 16 in chapter 9 he had strikingly similar words. "I am under compulsion; for woe to me if I do not preach the gospel."

Like Jeremiah, all of Paul's troubles would have disappeared if he had simply refrained from proclaiming the truth. Yet Paul clearly understood his divine responsibility and the mandate upon him to preach the gospel. Quit preaching and his earthly afflictions would disappear, but the internal anguish of a seared conscience and the divine judgment for disobedience to his heavenly calling (Ac. 26:19) would only begin. Elsewhere he concluded: "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory" (2 Ti. 2:10).

Halfway through verse 12 of chapter 9 Paul said, "We endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ." Far from this man desiring to keep his mouth closed, the opportunity to declare the gospel frequently, accurately and effectively permeated every decision he made. Despite the consequences, his world revolved around any personal sacrifice that was necessary if by God's grace he may be obedient and some may be saved.

We learned last week that several in Corinth cast doubts on Paul's apostleship because he refused to receive financial support from the church. So after a rather lengthy defense of his right for support in verses 4-14, he told the church in verses 12, 15 and 18 that he waived his rights and denied financial support in order for the gospel to go forth with greater clarity and effectiveness. In other words, Paul labored in a second job and placed himself in a situation where others would doubt his authority in order to more effectively minister to others. He followed most closely in the footsteps of Jesus - self-sacrifice for the eternal well being of others.

As Paul continues writing chapter 9 I believe he anticipates how another personal decision of his will also cast doubts on his apostleship. He could hear their accusations already:

"You can't be an apostle because you are too 'wishy-washy.' You act one way around the Gentiles and a different way around the Jews. At one moment you are eating meat from the marketplace with the pagans and then the next you are observing holy Jewish celebrations at the temple. Apostles should be unwavering and firm, not men of compromise and inconsistency."

Once again, similar to last week, couched in the general context of a willingness to forsake one's freedoms for the sake of another, Paul explains his chameleon-like stance when it comes to social relations. Again, what his opponents used against him as a weakness was in reality a strength and a clear example of mature Christian living.

He begins in verse 19 by saying, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more."

Paul knew as long as he followed Scripture and his conscience he was free to make any decision without the fear of dishonoring God. These were his freedoms in Christ. Yet quite often many Christians cherish their liberties to enhance their own comforts and cling to as much worldliness as possible. "Self" seems to be the dominating factor in most of the decisions they make. Such an attitude is often devoid of the Spirit of God (Jude 1:18-19).

Paul was well aware of his liberties too, but in verse 19 it seems all his decisions ran counter to self-advancement. Rather than pursuing his freedom and doing what was best for him, he chose to make himself a slave (figuratively speaking) to all. He considered the spiritual needs of others more important than his own comforts and customs and circumstances (Phil. 2:3-4). He was willing to forsake his rights if it meant others, in this case dirty, unloving heathens off the streets of Corinth, might be given an opportunity for salvation.

What a paradox! Paul used his freedom in Christ to make himself a slave to all.

The verb that Paul chose to speak of his slavery is a strong word in the Greek language only occurring seven other times in the New Testament. In Acts 7:6 it speaks of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt. In Romans 6:22 it speaks of our slavery to God. In 1 Corinthians 7:15 it speaks of the marriage bond. Here in 9:19 Paul uses this word to speak of the obligation he has to the needs of others.

Back in the ancient world the freeman was defined as one who did as he wished without regard for others (cf. Epictetus, Diatr. 3.24.70). Paul reversed this principle. He willingly had taken upon himself a tremendous burden by exchanging his position as a freeman for that of a slave (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5).

In doing so he followed his own teaching from Galatians 5:13: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." In doing so he followed the teaching of His Lord, Jesus Christ: "And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all" (Mk. 10:44). And in doing so he followed the example of his Lord as well: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." My friends, this is the principle of the cross!

For what reason did he make himself a slave to all (note: "all, " not "some" - this includes even his enemies)? Look with me at the end of verse 19. It is there he said he makes himself a slave to all "so that I might win more." Paul always wanted "more" converts. This was a time for him when coveting and discontentment were not a sin.

So he endured hardship after hardship, inconvenience after inconvenience, others over himself, slavery over freedom in order that the gospel may gain a greater audience and more converts drawn to Christ. Paul was so consumed with seeing people saved (Pr. 11:30) he did whatever it took, even if the expense forfeited his freedom in exchange for being a "slave to all."

What self-denial! What a love for others! What a concern for those without Christ!

A clear example of this principle comes from the old Moravians. While Paul made himself a figurative slave to save more, one missionary trying to share Christ made himself a literal slave to save those in the West Indies.

As this missionary attempted to share Christ, he could get no access to the natives because they worked all day as slaves. When they returned to their homes at night they were too tired to be receptive to the gospel. After he had tried every conceivable plan and failed in each of them, Romans 12:1 came to his mind. "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice."

The man took drastic action. He literally sold himself into slavery! A plantation owner drove him each day with the slaves into the field to work. Though immersed in hard work, the chance to be with the slaves afforded him the opportunity for communication concerning the work of Christ - all this to win souls for Christ. He forwent his rights and freedom for the sake of the gospel.

This is a rather extreme example of Paul's principle in verse 19, but it shows what those empowered by the Holy Spirit can do for the sake of loving and winning those without Christ. We may never be called to make such a sacrifice, but are will willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of the gospel? Are we willing to forsake our freedom if it means the opportunity to see people trust Christ? Maybe God wants you to set this example for the church. You would be surprised at how many would follow your lead.

One commentator, Gordon Fee summarized it well: "The greater difficulty for all who would so preach Christ is our inherent resistance, due to the Fall, to the imitation of Christ expressed in verse 19, that freedom leads to making oneself the servant of all in order to win them. Unfortunately, freedom too often is abused in the direction of self-interest rather than expressed in terms of concern for others and for the progress of the gospel" (1 Corinthians, 433).

This morning as we dive into Paul's argument we will see three specific examples of how Paul implemented his principle for the sake of those without Christ.


Point one: How did Paul act around the Jews? Verse 20, "And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law."

Two years ago some brothers in the community began a Christian surfer's club. Their intent was to model this very principle. Who can better win surfers to Christ than other surfers?

Now I am not saying that we can improve upon the gospel or that the Holy Spirit needs our assistance if the gospel is to go forth with greater power. What I am saying is that our adaptations to specific cultures and segments of society has the ability to gain a greater hearing for the truth by making people more receptive to the gospel. Businessmen have the best ability to reach businessmen. Stay-at-home moms, the best ability to reach stay-at-home moms. And in the case of this verse, Jews have the best ability to reach Jews.

As verse 20 teaches, though Paul was freed from all the food (Gal. 2:10-13; Rom. 14:17) and ceremonial (Col. 2:16) aspects of the law, he maintained these observances when in the company of other Jews in order to win Jews (Ac. 18:18; 21:20-26). These were not necessary for salvation, but they were a means to open doors for the message of salvation.

For example, consider the Jewish requirement of circumcision. You will remember in Acts 15 that Paul went up to Jerusalem to argue passionately that circumcision was not required for salvation among the Gentile converts (Ac. 15:1-2). The other apostles agreed and a monumental decision was reached at that Jerusalem Council that would settle a major debate in the first century.

But if we keep reading in Acts, the third verse of the very next chapter says, "Paul wanted (Timothy) to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him" (emphasis added). Did Paul forget the previous decision? Did he concede with the Judaizers? Absolutely not! Paul would never have circumcised Timothy if it was in any connection with the man's salvation (cf. Gal. 2:1-5). Such an action would have compromised the essence of grace, the free unmerited saving nature of the gospel (cf. Ac. 15:11)! No, Paul circumcised Timothy for the effectiveness of their gospel witness. Verse 3 of chapter 16 continues, "(Timothy was circumcised) because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" (emphasis added). Here is Paul's principle in action: "To the Jews I became a Jew so that I might win Jews" (1 Cor. 9:20). I'd say Timothy made a rather great sacrifice for the sake of the gospel too!

How much did Paul love the Jewish people who rejected their Messiah and thereby forfeited their salvation (1 Jn. 2:23)? Paul was willing to forsake even more than just his rights. He was willing to forfeit his own salvation if it meant eternal life for them. In Romans 9:3 we read one of the most remarkable statements in all of Scripture. Paul says, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separatedfrom Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." If it were possible, Paul would be anathema, accursed by God, subjected to the eternal torments of hell, if it meant the Jewish people might find eternal life in Christ. Love almost unbelievable! In Romans 10:1 he said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation."

Another verse that gives evidence of his desire to see the Jews saved, even at his own expense if necessary, is hidden away in 2 Corinthians 11. When boasting of his sufferings, Paul says, "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes" (2 Cor. 11:24). Lashing, whipping, was a penalty handed down by the Jews. The law permitted a maximum of 40. When they wanted to fulfill the maximum they gave 39 just to be safe if someone miscounted. Obviously the Jews could only whip those within their jurisdiction. So why would Paul remain connected to the synagogue if he was a Christian? Answer: He remained connected and accepted the punishment for preaching Christ for only one reason. He did it all so that he might not lose his ability to influence the Jews for Jesus. Remarkable!


Another group that Paul frequently confronted was the Gentiles. A Gentile was anyone who was not Jewish. Paul as you know was a missionary to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16; 2:9). What was Paul's strategy with them, as we move to our second point? Verse 21, "To those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law."

When among the Gentiles, Paul lived as one "without law" (anomos). Since many would have understood this term at this time to mean Paul lived in an ungodly or lawless way, he quickly clarifies himself that he is "not…without the law of God but under the law of Christ." Paul followed God's commandments and expected his Gentile converts to do the same. He didn't go and sin with sinners to get them saved! What he did do was abstain from imposing upon the Gentiles the national and cultural elements of the law that were required of the Jew still living under the Old Covenant. So while he followed these practices while witnessing to the Jews he forsook them while witnessing to the Gentiles. The reason? So that he might show heathen Gentile sinners how to find salvation entirely under the grace of God trusting solely in God's righteous merit. The goal? The bottom of verse 21, "that I might win those who are without law."

The summer before I was married I loaded my Jeep with a tent and a few items of clothing and took a two-week solo vacation out West. Hundreds of bikers were coming out of Sturgis South Dakota for an annual celebration. I will never forget one of them that I met at Mt. Rushmore. He had a long gray beard and was decked out in black leather. He had just finished officiating a wedding between two fellow bikers.

I approached him, introduced myself and spoke to him for a while. He explained to me that it was his ministry to lead "outlaw bikers" as he called them, to Christ. He told me that many have questioned his attire and lifestyle. They assumed that once he became a Christian he should change. He tells them that he did change once he became a Christian. Before being saved he was a clean-cut businessman. But his calling to reach bikers compelled him to change his appearance in order to find a better acceptance with this particular segment of society.


The final group that Paul mentions is found in verse 22. "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak."

Who exactly the "weak" were is a matter of speculation. Although the context nudges us to identify this group with those weak in faith introduced in chapter 8, such identification is probably incorrect since those were already in the faith and Paul's concern here is evangelism. Most likely these were people who were weak socially or theologically. Whoever they were, once again, Paul lowered himself to their status in order to aid winning them to Christ.

The remainder of verse 22 and verse 23 conclude this section with those popular words. "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it."

A few years ago a man got down on me because we have artificial plants in the front of the sanctuary. He read a book about making the church "seeker-sensitive" and noted that artificial plants were included as a major force in helping new attendees feel welcome in the church. Even though these plants outdate me and could probably use a change, are we being "seeker-sensitive" because we have artificial plants in the sanctuary? Are we for that matter "seeker-sensitive" because we want clean bathrooms and friendly nursery workers which both make a big impression on visitors to the church? Are all of these elements of compromise?

In the same vein, did Paul as his opponents asserted, compromise because he changed his approach when witnessing to different segments of his society? The answer to all of these questions is clearly, "no."

As one author said, "Paul was flexible but not infinitely elastic." Paul was the last man that would ever dilute the truth in order to make it more palatable. He would never water down the gospel to make it less scandalous to the Jews or less foolish to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23).

We too should never negotiate on the fundamental demands of Scripture as we encounter various circumstances. What we are talking about in all this is a willingness to change the method without compromising the message. What we are talking about is taking advantage of every opportunity, oftentimes at our own personal expense, so the gospel may go forth with greater receptiveness and clarity.

I want to close this message with the story of a man who took these principles of Scripture to heart. The man's name is Hudson Taylor, commonly known as the father of modern missions.

Hudson Taylor, a British missionary in the 1800's, went to China at the same time his country declared war on China. His intentions were to share Christ, but many viewed him as going to help the enemy. After a short time in China he became even more controversial. Taylor began to dress and look like the Chinese. We could say he became a Chinaman to Chinamen so that he might win the Chinese. He shaved the top of his head and grew a small ponytail that went down his back. He wore the traditional Chinese dress, the long gown and robe.

His actions were shocking even to many missionaries of his day. He lost support and was labeled a traitor for denying his Britishness in order to win the lost. Why would he endure such reproach by being enslaved to these Chinese customs? For the same reason as the apostle Paul, his love for them and consequent desire for their salvation was greater than his pursuits of personal freedoms and Christian liberties.

Paul made himself a slave to all so that he might win more. He became all things to all men so that some may be saved. I personally have a long way to go to see this principle implemented in my life. I can't even get the gospel to my neighborhood. But how are you doing? Are you willing like the apostle Paul to forfeit your freedoms in Christ if it means a greater opportunity to save others? Are you willing to set aside your rights if the gospel goes forth with greater effectiveness?

We have a little saying around here that says we do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)? That's a good principle to live by. Yet often those words taken by themselves make for a good Christian cliché and very easily leave us in a state of selfishness.

How about following the two principles were learned these past two weeks. Maybe we should ask, "How can I limit my personal desires if it helps to serve others in the church." And "how can I limit my personal desires if it furthers the gospel of Christ." I believe if we consider both of these questions we will show the greatest love possible for believers and unbelievers and then we will truly do all things for the glory of God. There is a world of difference between living for self and living for Christ.

other sermons in this series

Apr 22


Edification or Self-Exaltation

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1–40 Series: 1 Corinthians

Apr 15


Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 18


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Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:21–27 Series: 1 Corinthians