Monday, March 19, 2007

For the Sake of the Gospel, Part One

Reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:19, 23.

"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more...I do all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it."

Now, in between these verses are some well-known lines from Paul. You know, "To the Jew I became a Jew, so that I might win Jews", and he goes on to talk about those under the Law, those without the Law, and the weak. Then, he says, "I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." It would definitely be worth your personal time to study and meditate on these verses, being challenged by Paul's adaptability in order to win souls. Also, check out Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31, to see him in action...being all things to all men. Maybe I'll write on that another day.

What compelled me in my recent study of the two verses given above. These are not the kinds of verses that make you go "Hmmm" and then move on with your life...they have a deeper impact than that. You'll see what I mean as we go.

Paul writes that he is free from all men, and freedom is a main "food group" in the writings of Paul. For example...

Galatians 5:1 - "It was for freedom that Christ has set us free."
2 Corinthians 3:17 - "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"
Romans 8:2 - "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death."

Not only this, but in Romans 14, Paul spends time talking about our freedom as Christians. In the gray areas of life (food, drink, and days to be celebrated), he says that we should have convictions but not hold to them like we hold to the deity of Christ or the exclusivity of the gospel. So, here in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, "I am free from all men..." He has no earthly master...he is enslaved only to One. The Master. Jesus Christ.

In the same sentence Paul declares his freedom from all men, he goes on to say that he makes himself a slave to all people. He enslaves himself. He surrenders all that he is to the service of others. Why? Keep reading the verse..."so that I may win more." He is not saying that nobody will be saved without this attitude. We all know this from experience. It is not that arrogant evangelists (whether pastors or laypeople) don't see fruit in their ministry. If the gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit empowers it, then people will come to faith in Jesus.

For Paul, this isn't enough. It's not enough that some people will be saved...he wants more to be saved; if possible, how would want all to be saved. He wasn't satisfied with being a famous preacher and seeing only a few converted. He longed more than anything to see masses of people come to Christ. You see, clutching to pride, self, "my rights", and other personal treasures will hinder the full effectiveness of our evangelistic efforts.

Here, I write primarily because of the conviction about my own life...if the Lord should encourage you as well, then praise be to our God. Many long to see these same masses come to Christ today, but too often, clutching to our own personal treasures has hindered our effectiveness. The phone call on Saturday from a person who is lonely or in need or just wants to talk is too often met with resistance in my heart; after all, isn't that "family time?" The 9 PM visit to the emergency room is too often "because I feel like I have to". I'm sure we could all provide examples from our own lives and ministries, and we might take up blog after blog doing so. The point happens far too much.

If we are to become more effective, we must say along with Paul, "I make myself a slave so that I may win more." This means the giving up of personal rights in order to serve those around us. In the midst of the many, many bad examples from my own life, let me share one good moment in this regard. Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would do...I stood up and explained to my congregation that we are planning to adopt from Liberia, that we must all prepare our hearts for this child to come because some in society look down on interracial families, and that they should know where we got our funding. Whoa! I was with you until that last part. Why would you tell them about that? That's none of their business!

You're right. It is none of their business, but without making myself a slave to my congregation, there may be assumptions about how we got so much money. Some people make it their business. Why? Because the phrase "the Lord's provision" is sometimes sinfully used to cover up unethical financial decisions. Plus, other pastors in the history of this church have been unethical in the way they handled money, purchasing procedures, reporting receipts, etc. They weren't stealing, but it was unethical. Not everyone in the church knows this, but I'm certain that some do. Also, some may believe that I am taking advantage of the church, being overpaid in a time when the church is struggling financially.

Such situations, along with the announcement that the pastor is using thousands of dollars to adopt a child and travel to get the child from their home country, can lead to rumors, gossip, and a people who do not trust the man God has given in leadership. Hiding how we got the money could be a hindrance to the gospel being heard because of a wrong view of the messenger. I want to remove all such hindrances. I believe this was an application of what Paul said, "Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more...I do all things for the sake of the gospel..."

Do you see that? You see that rabbit? I've got to chase it...I've just got to. Just for minute...maybe two. Bring a shotgun.

There is a feeling among many in church leadership (mostly pastoral, but also lay leadership) that value secrecy. I know that things involving people's life situations should remain secret unless we come to the unfortunate situation of having to "bring it to the church" (Matt. 18). Apart from this, though, how much secrecy do we really need? You know what secrets foster? Rumors, gossip, and distrust.

I remember when my pastor in Indiana stepped down suddenly, and the rest of the staff (including me) thought it would be best to keep the details to ourselves. We wanted to protect the church and our friend and try to maintain order. How I wish I could go back to that Wednesday night and say, "Though we love him and pray for him as he leaves, you must know why our pastor is resigning, so that there will be no rumors or gossip, and so that you will know how to pray for him and for our church as we try to move forward." That's not what happened. We believed that the congregation should trust us with the details. You know what? They didn't, and trusting the pastoral staff is still an issue today for some in that church. Maybe we should rethink secrecy between leadership and congregation.

If you are a pastor (as I am), then these words are especially important for us. Whether it is the kind of secrecy or immorality mentioned above, laying out a legalistic ethic by which our people must live to be "really spiritual", or just being insensitive to our audience in how long we preach, we cannot hinder the gospel. Following up on that last phrase...maybe our congregations should learn to listen longer, maybe not. But when their brain shuts off, they're not hearing the gospel anymore. They hear "blah, blah, blah" and can't wait to hear "let's pray". This is especially true of weak Christians, but what did Paul say? "To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak." Food for thought.

For those who are not pastors, don't copy, paste, highlight, and send those last words to him. Love your pastor, encourage your pastor, and pray that the gospel will be unhindered, so that more may be won to Christ.

Just a time to chase the rabbit farther than that...just something to think about at the next red light. Back to the text at hand. We are from sin, free from death, free from the ultimate authority of any person on the earth. Christ is our only Master. However, if we want to win more, then we must make ourselves slaves to all. Do you want to win more? Set aside your personal pride and your rights and become a slave. Adapt to those around you so that you might meet their greatest need in life...the need to be saved from their sin.