Attacking the Messenger (part 2)

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Lesson 22 1 Corinthians 9:15-27(ESV)

Attacking the Messenger (part 2)

In chapter 9, Paul was defending his Apostleship.

Some in Corinth were attacking his teachings. They didn’t like the message of the gospel. Often, when people don’t like a message, they turn their attack on the messenger. So they turned their attack to discredit Paul himself. They said he couldn’t be an Apostle because he wasn’t personally called by Jesus, and they disagreed with him about how the Jewish laws applied to the Gentiles who became believers.

But Paul pointed out that he was personally called by Jesus. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to him on his way to Damascus. But now his message about God’s law was being misrepresented.

Then in verses 7-14 Paul supported the idea that ministers should be paid from the offerings given to the church. But Paul explained that he didn’t take the support he deserved. He was bringing the gospel to untaught Gentiles and establishing new churches. He wanted his efforts to be above criticism until God’s ways were better understood. So he at times worked as a tent maker or as a teacher.

Paul knew that in this special case
he had to do something different for is support.

15. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
16. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
17. For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
18. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Paul freely gave up what was rightfully his wages for the sake of God’s honor and for others.

As for his ground for boasting, it was in the truth of the gospel of God’s grace. Back in the first chapter, verse 31, Paul quoted from Jeremiah 9:23-24 saying, “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ ”

There was nothing safe or comfortable about the special work load he’d taken on. He was regularly attacked and persecuted for his efforts. But he did his work willingly, gladly, for the advancement of God’s Kingdom through the gospel. Rights are things that can be set aside, and often are for good reasons

What’s allowable morally and things to which you have a right are boundaries. We can’t go beyond them to do what’s immoral or to deny others their rights. But within those limits we may do or not do things, based on how we can best fulfill God’s calling in our lives. It’s tragic when we demand our rights and our own comforts, but our choices offend God’s children or neglect our testimony for Christ’s kingdom.

Paul understood that somethings rightfully available to him had to be set aside for God’s glory. He said “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Where would his reward from God be if he ignored the stewardship entrusted to him?

There’s nothing immoral about spending time each week watching television, or being involved in sports, working extra hours, or wanting more relaxation time. In moderation those can be good things. We’re free in Christ to do them.

However, they can become things that violate other boundaries God set for us. Do these things become obsessions? Do they keep us from being in worship and Sunday School? and being there on time? Do they make us avoid opportunities to shine as lights to the world? Do they make us avoid uncomfortable situations where we could be the salt of the earth?

These are some of the dangers that might lurk for our souls when we prioritize our safe fun places.

Paul understood that there were greater values
than his own immediate comfort and ease.

19. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Paul was a model Christian. He lived by values higher than his own comfort or advancement in this life. His interest in God’s kingdom made him a willing and eager servant of others, even when persecuted.

To the Jew — Paul was willing to stay within the customs of God’s fulfilled law. He understood that the time when the Jews were a model for the Christian church had ended. But though God didn’t obligate him to limit his diet and habits, he willingly did it out of love for Jews who needed Jesus.

To the Gentiles — Paul didn’t try to force them to adopt the Jewish culture as Christians. He knew that those things we no longer binding, and would confuse the gospel. So he freely enjoyed the Gentile’s customs as long as they didn’t violate God’s moral principles.

This doesn’t mean that Paul saw God’s moral law as flexible. He makes it clear that the laws he was free from were the temporal laws, not the moral ones. He always remained under the law of God and the law of Christ … which are the same.

To the weak — Paul was willing to identify with their weakness. He had just explained who the weak were in chapter 8 verse 9. He wouldn’t eat meat at all if he was with those who were offended by it. As long as there was an offense, he would avoid his liberty to eat all things.

The theme is in verse 22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” This doesn’t mean he did illegal things to win criminals. The context is clear. He was free, but only within the boundaries set by God’s word.

He would lawfully adapt to customs and culture to avoid alienating the spiritually needy.

Imagine how hard this must have been for Paul humanly speaking to lay aside his own customs. All his life he had been a strict Pharisee. Then he learned that Christ set him free from all those restrictions. But considering those he was called to teach, he willingly lived within those same limits among the Jews. Yet at the same time he taught as a champion of our liberty from the ceremonial laws.

Then Paul illustrated his point with a sports analogy.

24. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
25. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
27. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

When you train to do well in sports, you have to give up some things. You need to watch your diet.
For some sports you need to gain weight, for others you need to lose it. You need good foods for strength, to give you energy, and to keep up your immune system. You need to dedicate a lot of time to practice and training. This might mean cutting down on entertainment or just hanging out with friends. You need your sleep so you won’t be tired or show up late for games. This kind of self-control is necessary just to get the perishable trophies and awards in sports.

How much more, to gain the imperishable rewards God promises to those who serve him well, we should be willing to lay aside distractions and even our rights. We need to be on-time, prepared, and focused when we gather as a church for worship. We need to be daily in prayer and private worship of God, aware of his presence in all we do. We need to learn all we can about what he teaches us. We need a good diet of the the meat of God’s word. And we need to take our individual callings seriously, as Paul did as an Apostle. We need to run the race to win. Keep our eyes fixed on the goal. Aim for it. Don’t just aimlessly beat at the air … keep yourself in shape spiritually for your spiritual duties.

How important is God’s work to us? Do we forfeit running the race well just to get more temporal benefits? to enjoy our safe places?

We need to make judgments about what’s best for God’s glory.

Paul countered the attacks on his Apostleship.

His call was legitimate, and he took it seriously. He set aside what he could have had and enjoyed so he could carry out his work faithfully and effectively. As a Messenger of the Message he didn’t give in to the attacks of the enemies of God’s Kingdom and Glory. We need to persist too.

We enjoy hearing about God’s blessings, and its vital that we take time to enjoy them. But basking in blessings isn’t all we are here to do. There’s work to do for Christ’s Kingdom. There’s the work of worship, the work of studying God’s word, the work of the gospel, and all the other duties God assigns to each of us.

We aren’t Apostles as Paul was, but the principle applies to all of us. We’re here to shine as lights to the world. We’re to do good works that show God’s grace at work in us for the Father’s glory. We’re here to be salt to the earth. We’re to influence the world with God’s standards and principles. We’re to make it more flavorful and preserve it by promoting God’s ways.

When challenges come along, we shouldn’t complain about them, or avoid them, or get all settled into what’s comfortable. That’s the danger that lurks in our safe places. Instead, we should try to meet each challenge in the best and wisest way we know how. If someone’s discouraged, we need to find a way to be an encouragement — even if it means giving up some personal time. If you’re tempted to stay out too late on Saturday night having fun — remember your duties to worship God, and to be alert to encourage his people on Sunday morning.

We’re obligated to willingly set aside what we have a right to do,
so we can better do what’s right.

It’s not what we could do but what we should do that ought to drive our heart’s choices.

Paul is a good example. A true hero of the faith. We should read his letters and know his history that’s recorded in the Bible. Get to know him well and follow his careful example and instructions.

With him we should learn to put the more important values first in our lives, and be willing to leave the safe places. We’re called to be all things to all people, so that by all God-honoring means we might save some.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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