The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 9:15-27
Paul’s Self Denial
1st Corinthians 9:15-27
We have been examining chapter 8 and 9, and we have been concerned with the subject of Christian Ethics, that is, how we take decisions in our Christian lives. What we do, where we go, with whom we keep company, how we think and act; all of these things will have an impact on others.
So it was in Corinth, where the great ethical question that has occupied Paul’s mind is whether a Christian should eat meat that has been sacrificed at a temple of pagan idols. Paul has laid down great principle with regard to this, and it is one that shall inform all of our decisions as Christians.
The principle is this. Whatever decisions we take, or whatever course of action we plan, we must always ask whether that decision will result in the downfall of some other brother. Will it cause another brother to stumble? Will it further, or hinder the cause of the gospel? 1 Cor. 9:12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
In our last study, we noticed that Paul used his own life and ministry as an example of this great principle. (Is it not interesting how Paul keeps going back to his own ministry to find illustrations of the points he makes. Are we living examples of God’s Word? Can people see Jesus living in us?) Paul was an apostle, and he was, by virtue of his apostleship entitled to certain rights. One of these was the right to financial support from the church. But in Corinth, and in other places there were people who disputed Paul’s authority as an apostle, and the local church at Corinth was already split over allegiance to personalities. If Paul had insisted upon his rights, there would have been further division and the preaching of the gospel would have been hampered even more. So, Paul laid aside his right to support, and took a job as a tent maker, and was self-supporting! He uses this as an illustration of how we are to take ethical decisions! You will note that Paul’s own comfort and his own well being are not part of the equation! So Paul establishes for us a pattern of self-denial with which we can associate. Now, Paul describes for us how this ministry of his is applied, and this too will help us with ethical decisions.
Paul – A Ministry of Preaching
* Paul’s ministry was an uncomplaining ministry! neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. Paul was not complaining about his lack of support from the church! How many complaining Christians there are in the church today!
A deacon once said that in his position as head usher, several members of the Sunday morning congregation directed him toward the church thermostat. Separately, three worshippers had informed him that they were too hot. Before he reached the controls, two more members told him how cold it was in the sanctuary. Praying for guidance on the way, he unlocked the protected instrument. he turned the dial down three degrees and up three degrees. As he returned to my position, he noticed all five faces watching his actions. They were all quite satisfied and relieved by the change in temperature.
And this is not JUST today! They have always been there! In the desert, the people complained against Moses, the man who, under God had led them out of slavery into freedom! Exodus 15:24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? Exodus 16:2 Exodus 17:3 Numbers 14:2 Numbers 16:3 Numbers 16:41 Numbers 20:2 Numbers 21:5
* It was also an unavoidable ministry! for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! This is the very HEART of true ministry! The man who is called to preach the Gospel will be able to do nothing else! His heart will ache and long for the opportunity to minister the Word of God, and he will never be content with any other profession, no matter how well rewarded that profession may be! His condition shall be WOEFUL should the Lord call him and equip him for ministry and he fail to obey the Lord. Spurgeon once said that if a man is called to be a preacher, he should never stoop to be a king!
* Furthermore, Paul’s ministry was an undivided ministry! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. The Gospel minister must never set about the task unwillingly!
* Finally, it was an unearthly ministry! What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
John Calvin had been working in the city of Geneva, preaching the Gospel and building the church. The city council did not like his deep desire for godliness among the people. They wanted to retain their worldly ways. Calvin was banished from ungrateful Geneva, and as he left he said, “Surely if I had merely served man, this would have been a poor recompense. But it is my happiness that I have served him who never fails to reward his servants to the full extent of his promise.”
Would it not be a great reward to see some spiritual work done? Some great church built, great numbers professing faith in Christ. That would be a great reward, but if we serve the Lord for those things, albeit that they are very legitimate, we have no reward in heaven! We must be faithful to the Lord, and serve Him FOR HIS GLORY, NOT FOR OURS!
Paul – A Man of the People
Once again Paul asserts the doctrine of Christian freedom. This is now the third time that he has mentioned this concept of freedom in this context. 8:9, 9:1. He has, through Christ been made free. But in that freedom, he has voluntarily become a servant to all! The reason for this is simple. It is so that his witness to the gospel might be all the more effective!
Now notice here:-
* Paul’s Missiolgy Explained! 1 Cor. 9:19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. Paul’s technique was very simple. He learned to empathise with his congregation. When he spoke to Jews, he addressed them, as would a Jew! When he spoke to Gentiles, he addressed them from the standpoint of a Gentile! This applied also to those who are weak! To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. You can see the importance of this statement as regards the problem of the eaters and abstainers! If eating meat would offend the consciences of the weaker brother, and cause him to backslide into sin, Paul would place himself in their position, and would be like them, rather than offend them.
* Paul’s Magnanimity Emphasised! To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. Paul is not advocating some form of hypocritical two-facedness here! He is quick to point out the qualification being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. Some people take Paul’s words out of context and talk of ‘all things to all men’ as if that meant that you had to change your opinions to suit whatever company you were in at that particular time!
I had occasion to have a visit to a church from a prominent preacher a few years ago. He stood in the pulpit and spent a good hour explaining why he would have nothing to do with the wave of charismatic worship which is sweeping across the church at this time. Everyone thought he was just great. A few weeks later, I heard, he was preaching at a big charismatic church. There he was, joining in the dancing and the hand clapping and the so-called ‘praise and worship’ along with the rest. He was being hypocritical!
You don’t preach to suit your audience, you preach to suit the Lord! Paul was EMPATHISING with his audience; so that the Gospel message would be more relevant top them, not compromising that message in any way whatsoever! He was speaking on their level!
* Paul’s Methods Extended! And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. Paul’s methods of mission are to be our methods also! Let me take preaching as an example. Preaching must be uplifting, and thought provoking and stimulating and provocative and inspiring and learned! But what is the point of preaching, if it so technical and theological that it fails to connect with the people in the pew? This was Spurgeon’s great secret. He preached Christian doctrine and challenged men to come to Christ in a way that the common man, ‘John Ploughman’ as Spurgeon might have called him, understood!
Spurgeon told a story of two surgeons. Sir Astley Cooper, on visiting Paris, was asked by the chief surgeon how many times he had performed a certain wonderful feat of surgery. He replied that he had performed the operation thirteen times. “Ah, but, monsieur, I have done it one hundred and sixty times. How many times did you save the life?” continued the curious Frenchman after he had looked into the blank amazement of Sir Astley’s face. “I,” said the Englishman, “saved eleven out of the thirteen. How many did you save out of one hundred and sixty?” “Ah, monsieur, I lost them all, but the operation was very brilliant!”
Of how many popular ministries might the same verdict be given! Souls are not saved, but the preaching is very brilliant. Thousands are attracted and operated on by the preacher’s art, but what if he should have to say of his admirers, “I lost them all, but the sermons were brilliant!”
Paul – His Method of Perseverance
Paul is speaking about Christian example, and not hindering others, and now makes an important point. The Christian who sits in the idol’s temple eating the sacrificed meat, may claim that his habit does no-one else any harm but himself! How often do we try to justify ungodly lifestyles in that way! Paul now says that the Christian should be able to exercise SELF DISCIPLINE upon our bodily life, to bring our bodies into subjection to our spirit, lest having run the race, having witnessed to others, we are disqualified by our own lack of Holiness and Godliness. Paul uses the example of athletes competing for a prize. The Christian is like an athlete! There are many competitors, but only one prize-winner! Know ye not that they, which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain
* And athletes must train! And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I am told that athletic training is very difficult. The would-be athlete must spend hours in the gym, and must rise early to run, and must be totally sold out to the task of training. Even when his body is wracked with tiredness and pain and the sweat is standing on his brow he must never relent. He must drive himself on, always pushing himself to the very limits of his endurance. He deprives himself of luxuries, he keeps to a stringent food regimen, he never over eats or indulges in any activity that would hamper his progress. Here is Paul’s point, their reward is a miserable crown of laurel leaves that will quickly wilt and die! We are to be awarded a CROWN OF GLORY in heaven that will never corrupt!
* But athletes have purpose and goals! I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air. What is the point of a runner who is oblivious to the place where the finishing line is? Or a boxer who just punches the air? You can see Paul’s little hint of sarcasm coming to the fore again here. Are there not so many Christians who rush around in a frenzy of religious activity, which ultimately has little purpose? Again, self discipline is the answer! Our activities must be directed at building up the church and winning others.
* And athletes must discipline themselves! Here is Paul’s summary of all this! But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
The ‘eaters’ at Corinth must exercise self-disciple, for the sake of the church, and so must we.
How many Christians have the ‘eater’ philosophy. I want to do want I want. I’m a free agent. Nobody tells me what to do, so I do what I want. It does not matter about what others think. Well it is time that we started to exercise a bit of self-discipline!
If we are properly self-restrained, our testimony will be better, and our example to other Christians will be helpful, and not a hindrance!