I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (NASB 1 Cor. 9:22b–23).
Mission is a very popular theme in the church. It has been for centuries; however, in the last few years there has been a higher level of interest in the topic. Some of the main questions in the discussion on mission are:
• What is the mission of the church?
• How is that mission to be accomplished?
• Who is responsible to fulfill the mission?
• Where is the mission taking us?
The passage of scripture we come to this week is one of the classic proof texts for Christian mission. When Jesus commissioned his disciples in Matthew 28, he told them to go into the entire world and make disciples. This Great Commission given by the Lord himself answers at least a few of those main questions. The church’s mission is to make disciples. The disciples of Jesus are responsible to make more disciples of Jesus. And the mission is both local and global in its scope.
This leaves us with the one question remaining: How is that mission to be accomplished? This is the question that we seek to answer from the second half of 1 Corinthians 9.
One thing that we must know before we can understand Paul’s logic in this text is that the Church’s mission is not separate from God’s mission — they are both the same thing. The God of the Bible is a missional God. It was Francis Thompson who rightly called God “The Hound of Heaven.” God is on a search for his people and is relentless in his efforts. Therefore, if we are going to understand how the church is to be on mission, we should learn how God accomplishes his mission.
The clearest example that we have is in the person of Christ. Jesus, God’s Son, came on mission into the world. And how did he come? Well, He didn’t come in the way that he previously existed while in Heaven. He took on a new form. He became one of us. The technical term for this is the incarnation — when God became a man. He smelled our air and tasted our water; he felt the earth and heard its sounds — He saw the world from our perspective. God became like us.
That is one of the amazing claims of Christianity. That God is not some distant deity, unaware and uninvolved in our human experience. Instead, He faced all the same things that we face: hunger, thirst, poverty, homelessness, pain, suffering, and death. He even knows the lure of temptation; however, unlike us, he never once gave in — he never sinned.
Knowing this is foundational in understanding Paul’s view of how the church is to accomplish its mission and how individual Christians are to live out their witness to the world. You see, just like Jesus, Paul saw his ministry as incarnational — meaning, he needed to become like those he sought to witness to. He needed to immerse himself in their life so that he can know who they are — their fears, hurts, insecurities, desires, and goals — and from this knowledge, contextualize the unchanging truths of the gospel to them.
I am not saying this is easy. To be a Christian on mission requires that you lay aside personal rights, liberties, and preferences for the sake of winning the lost. It requires intentional relationships — a lot of listening, learning, adapting, and loving. It involves both sharing the gospel with words and modeling a life transformed by the gospel. None of this is easy, but we have a call, a mission, and an example in Jesus.
[This is Real]
The Age of Entitlement
*Please read 1 Corinthians 9:1-18
“If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (NASB 1 Corinthians 9:11–12).
We live in what many have come to call, “the age of entitlement.” People are passionate about receiving what they feel is owed to them. They believe that they deserve a special kind of treatment because of the color of their skin, social-economic status, age, or sexual orientation. At the heart of this belief is a blind narcissism that thinks the world revolves around that individual; that all of society owes them something.
Entitlement is a huge problem in our culture. Let me clarify what I mean: I am not saying that people shouldn’t feel entitled to equal treatment under the law, or a fair/competitive wage, or not to be discriminated against. There are inalienable rights that every human has. But, many people are out of balance and think that people owe them something simply because of who they are or what they represent. This is what I mean by the term entitlement.
Young people today are often labeled as being entitled. The popular hashtags “#thestruggleisreal” and “#firstworldproblems” epitomize this belief. When a kid gets mad at his parents because they didn’t buy him the right color car he wanted, he’s acting entitled – like they owe him a car in the first place.
But young people aren’t the only ones that feel entitled. Older people feel entitled because they think the world owes them something for all the hard work they did in their younger years. Ethnic minorities and the LGBT community feel entitled because of bad treatment in the past. The examples and illustrations abound.
So how does this idea of entitlement relate to our text? Well, like many topics we’ve already seen in this letter, the same issues that we have today existed in this first century church in the city of Corinth. Just as entitlement exists now, it existed then; and it has impacted how this church views the world. Primarily, this is seen in how they view their founding apostle, Paul.
The Corinthian believers were not impressed with Paul. They didn’t like the way he did things. They felt entitled to have a certain kind of apostle. One that spoke powerfully and dramatically, like the professional rhetoricians common during this time. So in this text, Paul confronts them on the issue of entitlement hoping to provide for them a paradigm shift of their worldview.
You see, Paul knew that he had every right to live as any other apostle – even to receive wages from this church for his evangelistic and discipleship efforts. But he refused to take it, why? Because Paul knew how entitlements work. If he started receiving payment from them, then he would become dependent upon them. And once that happened, they could pressure and manipulate him to be the kind of apostle that they wanted. Paul was avoiding this often-used political scheme. He was not willing to be dependent upon these entitled Corinthians by his own sense of entitlement. Instead, he laid his rights aside so that the gospel would shine even brighter.
There was a time in Paul’s life where he felt a sense of entitlement (Phil 3:4-7), but upon encountering the risen Jesus, his paradigm shifted. In that moment, his view of self as the center of his life’s narrative was radically recalibrated and Jesus took center stage. And Paul’s desire for these Corinthians is that they would have the same paradigmatic experience upon embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is the paradigm shift for Paul: Jesus was more entitled than anyone else in human history, and yet he chose to lay all that down for us. But in the irony and economy of God, after Jesus gave it all, received it all back and more when he rose from the dead and ascended back to the Father. This goes against all human logic and sense of entitlement, which makes it the good news that we need.
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. NASB 1 Co 8:1–3.
Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. NASB Rom 14:20–21.
We have already seen in this Church at Corinth the major divisions of theology and Christian practice that existed amongst them. We learned last week that this letter was written as a response to some of these debates that existed among them. They wrote to Paul asking for his advice on certain issues. This week we come to the issue of whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to eat food that had been offered to idols. The question they seem to be asking is this: How should the members of a gospel community exercise their Christian liberties?
Now, obviously, we do not have this same specific predicament in our culture. Rarely, if ever, do we know of someone who eats food previously offered to a pagan idol. But we do ask this same generic question when it comes to those “grey areas” in the Christian life.
For example: How should a Christian handle…
• Friendships, etc.…
There are usually a variety of opinions on how a Christian ought to navigate through these grey areas.
However, in the text this week, we find the two primary ways that the Church in Corinth was dealing with this question, which is how many believers still respond today. The extreme descriptions would be legalism and the other, licentious. The legalists would argue that nothing good could come from those “things” so stay away from them all together. While the licentious groups would argue the opposite, most likely ending up in abusing those liberties.
Both groups have their verses in the Bible that they can cite and their own experiences as well. So the question is: how do you reconcile these two groups back to a gospel community? Paul would say it is only through love.
Paul said at the beginning, “knowledge puffs up, but loves edifies.” Here is the question Paul is asking both groups: What is more important, your Christian liberty or your Christian Brother? What matters most, the conscience of the newer convert or the ability to eat, drink and do whatever you want? Which do you love most, your brother or yourself?
His point is simple, don’t let your liberties or your legalism shape the way that you handle these grey areas; instead, let love be the guiding factor of how you live your life. That is what it means to be a member of a gospel community.
After all, Jesus was the greatest example of this. The eternal Son of God laid down all of his rights, privileges and entitlements to come and be one of us. He gave up everything for love! The love he had for those who would eventually come to believe in him motivated him to lay aside his divine rights. If Christ can do that for us, certainly we can do it for our fellow brother and sister in Christ.
A challenge: If you find yourself in the freedom camp, just know this — you are only truly free if you can set aside your freedoms for the sake of others. If you instead find yourself in the legalistic camp, please know that the Pharisees were legalists and the very thing you are so against could be a barrier for evangelism and a law created by men, not by God.
Everyone wants to be married, until they get married. Then they want to be single again. At least, that is how the expression goes. Really, this popular saying springs from the delusion that all your dreams will be realized once you get married. But then, once the honeymoon is over and reality sets in, you begin to realize how difficult marriage is, how it has a unique ability to expose your selfishness and pride, how that girl you dated actually looks in the morning without her makeup on, how that guy actually looks after too many hours playing video games and not in the gym. Marriage—this is real!
Don’t get me wrong—marriage is a wonderful thing. There is no relationship on earth that someone can have that is as intimate, secure, and edifying as a union between husband and wife. Paul talks a lot about the blessing of marriage throughout his epistles, including here in chapter 7. But here, Paul uniquely talks about a very sensitive issue both in the church and in society: singleness.
In the Ancient Near East, to be unmarried was a tragic situation. If you were a single woman, it meant that you had no opportunity to be a mother, you had no real social standing, there was no financial security, and a plethora of other negative effects. If you were a single man, it meant that you had no opportunity to carry on your family legacy; a man’s social status depended much on if he was married and to whom he was married. Socially, marriage was important.
In the church, unfortunately, people tend to view singleness in two ways: either there is something wrong with you and/or God has “blessed and called” you to singleness (though they make you feel like it is more of a curse), or you are just in a “season of waiting” (whatever that means) and you just need to be patient and wait on the Lord to bring you that “perfect person” (again, whatever that means).
Though these two responses to singleness by others sound very different, the core misunderstanding is the same. What both opinions are doing is making marriage the chief and highest end of man; therefore, the greatest thing a person can achieve in life is to find a spouse.
Sadly, many people have wasted their singleness by caving in to the social pressures. In the first century, they would respond by quickly getting married. In our culture, people don’t necessarily get married, but girls go from boyfriend to boyfriend and guys go from girlfriend to girlfriend. They feel incomplete or embarrassed socially if they aren’t currently “in a relationship.” All this stems from a very low value people have toward singleness.
Paul writes the words at the top of this page as a completely antithetical* opinion. His opinion is that he desires his readers to be single so that they can freely serve the Lord and advance His kingdom on earth. Naturally, if you are married and have a family, you can’t just pick up and go somewhere that has a need for the gospel. You have committed yourself to your family. But the single person doesn’t have these limitations. The single person can go anywhere, do anything, and take massive risks for the kingdom of God.
Far from the cultural pressures that push people toward relationships and marriage, Paul’s greatest pursuit for himself, and his desire for his readers, is to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NASB). Therefore, singleness should be considered a wonderful gift from the Lord.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything… Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:12&18 NASB
Sex has become a “touchy” issue in the church — I use the adjective touchy with a measure of irony. Sex has become so convoluted in our culture that many churches don’t want to touch it for fear of offending people. Some pastors don’t touch it because they themselves are oscillating on issues of sex and sexuality – both in thought or practice. Even congregants don’t want their pastors and leaders to touch the topic of sex for a variety of reasons. Sex is a touchy issue – This is Real!
But even though our church culture is skirting the sex conversation, the Bible does not! As the church’s voice grows more faint on the topic and the secular culture’s voice is getting louder, the Bible’s teachings are to be upheld as the standard for a Christian’s sexual ethic.
Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers in chapter six are as relevant for us today as they were for them two thousand years ago. And here is the summation of Paul’s ethic on sex: Sex is not as casual or as common as people treat it; instead, it has powerful implications for our most important relationships – God, neighbor, and ourselves.
In the city of Corinth (and in many parts of the Ancient Near East), sex was considered a basic human function, like eating food or playing a game. Sure, people would marry, but these marriage contracts were mostly for tribal alliance and family security – not love or romance in the way we think of marriage today. Men would often visit a prostitute causally, not much different than how men today go to a bar after work to unwind. Sex was causal, common, and inconsequential.
Is this not how our culture sees sex today? Of course there are some variations but the essence is the same: It doesn’t matter who you sleep with. Having sex is simply fulfilling a primal human instinct – nothing more.
In today’s culture, secularists are constantly trying to promote sex as something causal. A prime example of this was when one of the largest porn websites strategically placed an advertisement in the middle of Times Square in New York City. The billboard shows nothing more than a pair of hands put together to form the shape of a heart, and the copy said, “All you need is hand.” The line was a rephrasing of a Beatles tune, “All You Need Is Love.” The subtle, but obvious message this sign makes is the epitome of secular culture’s opinion of sex – it is not that big of a deal.
But friends, no matter how casual the culture tries to categorize sex, no matter how powerful those human urges may become, the Bible is timeless and true when it affirms: Any form of sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship between a husband and his wife is a deviation from God’s original design; therefore, it is sin!
There are two ways to respond to sex outside of marriage. The first (and most important thing) is that you confess it as sin and, since many fail in this area, you trust in what Christ has done for you on the cross. You do this to be forgiven and to be washed clean of your sin. Second, you flee from it. You don’t continue in it and pray for more forgiveness – that is cheap grace! Instead you run away from the hazardous condition. You don’t put yourself in situations that have the potential to lead you to stumble and fall into sin.
For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake (NASB1 Co 4:9–10a)
Let me start with a controversial statement: Christianity is NOT cool! Now, before you rip this paper up and call me a heretic, let me explain. What I mean is that Christianity is not cool in the eyes of the world. Generally speaking, the world hates Christians. And as we learned in chapter one of 1 Corinthians, they think that the gospel itself is foolishness and repulsive. Even Jesus said “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Christians have historically been one of the most persecuted and oppressed people groups. Therefore, something that we need to come to grips with is the reality that in the opinion of the world, Christianity is not cool — This is Real!
However, if you look at the church culture of the last few decades, you will notice some who have tried to make Christianity “cool” in the eyes of the world. The thought is this: if Christianity looks cool then maybe more people will embrace it. The heart behind this thought is noble — it just isn’t biblical or realistic. Sure, thirty to forty years ago, with an evangelical president in office and mega-churches springing up everywhere, you might have been convinced that Christianity was finally being invited to eat their lunch at the cool table. But those days are long gone here in America.
Of course, even today we still see some groups trying to make Christianity more palatable to the eyes of the world. But in order to do this, the gospel itself is compromised. And in their pursuit of being cool in the eyes of the world, these groups often lose their effective and powerful witness because they sacrificed their core principles and beliefs.
So what is the result: A group of people who are still uncool to the world and also shallow in their faith and witness. Here is the real: Christians will never be invited to the “cool table” — As Paul wisely put it, “We are fools for the sake of Christ.”
But let me qualify all of this by saying something that might sound like an oxymoron given all that I have previously written: Christianity is the best and coolest way a person can live. The gospel is the coolest message a person can believe. Jesus is the coolest person who ever lived.
Now, hopefully most of you who are reading this will agree with that affirmation. Those of us who have come to know Christ personally after experiencing his grace, love and forgiveness, we define “cool” differently than how the world does. Being cool to us is living under the reality of who we truly are — sinners saved by grace — and not pretending to be something we are not — cool, hip, and popular.
The world will look at us and think we are strange and foolish. Unbelievers will think that we are naïve, brainwashed, and weak. Haters will call us bigots, intolerant, and old-fashioned. But we know that in the end there is nothing in this world worth pursuing and no worldly population or affirmation worth achieving. The coolest thing we can do is to pursue hard after Christ and be engaged in his mission of saving the world. To do this, we need to abandon the delusion that we can be cool in the eyes of the world and embrace the position that Paul himself took in verse 13, “we have become as the scum of the world, the residues of all things, even until now.”
In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been unrelentingly addressing the first of two major issues that plagued the newly established Corinthian Church — Disunity. The lack of unity that existed amongst these believers was reaping tragic consequences. Therefore, Paul needed to spend significant time on it. As we arrive now at chapter five, Paul transitions his attention onto the second major issue — Purity.
Tragically, sexual immorality existed in this body of believers; after all, how could there not be? Remember, the city of Corinth was an epicenter for travelers and worshippers of a variety of Greek god’s. One of which was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whose temple housed 1,000 prostitutes. And then there was Apollo, Greek god of music and poetry, whose worshippers would engage in homosexual acts at the temple devoted to him. So in a culture saturated in pursuing sexual pleasure, to the point that it’s a part of their formal worship, it would be understandable that this would be a major issue in the life of the church.
We see similar effects in our culture today. In America, we are bombarded with sexual images and information. Anything coming from the TV or magazine racks has blaring images containing sexual content. And what are the effects of this on society? Well, there are many consequences for this that is still be researched, but one thing it does is normalize sex outside of God’s design.
When a TV show portrays a homosexual relationship as something normal and healthy in society then the viewers are deceived into believing that seam-sex relationships are a viable option for the family. When people see billboards on the side of the freeway advertising a nearby strip club they begin to think that it is normal to treat women as objects for sexual pleasure. And this list of the types of media that is normalizing the pursuit of sex outside of God’s design could go on and on. But the point is that this immersion of sexual content in society affects the culture of the world and the church.
The church is simply a people group called out of the world and into a countercultural community through a countercultural message (gospel), to worship God and then witness to the world through a countercultural lifestyle. Here’s the problem, this transaction/transformation is both instantaneous and a process. We are immediately changed and transferred from darkness to light. Yet we still need to fight sin, flee immorality and put off the worldly behaviors that previously defined our lives.
Sin is a devastating thing, but in the church sin that is not dealt with is even worse. The reason for this is because sin, like a disease, spreads. It affects everyone around. Therefore, like a disease, it needs to be treated and at times, like a cancer, it needs to be removed completely.
Jesus Christ came and died to liberate us from the effects of sin and to reconcile us back to the Father. As a mark of genuine conversion, a person needs to fix their hope solely on Christ and live a life of repentance from sin. God uses the church, fellow believers in Christ, to help in this lifestyle of repentance as the Holy Spirit transforms us more into the image of Christ.