Good morning. It is good to be back and to be in the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church once again. And as I look out on the congregation I recognize many of your faces and you have, over these ten years, been a friend of Redeemer Church and were actively involved in helping us to start that congregation, but you have also, over these ten years, become, many of you have become personal friends. And so it is a joy to be back and to continue our partnership together in the Gospel and to have the privilege of being a part of your 2015 Mission Conference and to bring God’s Word from this pulpit. And so as we begin, would you please join me as we ask the Lord to bless the reading and preaching of His Word?
Our Father and our God, we come again into Your presence. We’re so thankful to be Your people, to be able to come before the throne of grace in Lord, our great need, and to call upon You and have the assurance of Your blessing upon us. And Lord we need that now as we turn to Your Word. We thank You for it. We thank You for the inspiration of the Word of God, we thank You for the inerrancy of the Word of God, we thank You, Lord, that as we turn to it to be read we know that we are reading the Word of the living God. We pray today though that as we look at it and study it that You would help us, Lord. We, at times, struggle to understand Your Word. We, at times, struggle to apply Your Word. And today as we look at this passage and are challenged and confronted with the Gospel, we pray that You would help us to believe it and help us to grow in it and help us Lord to live it out in all of our relationships and in all areas of the ministries You have called us to. And so bless us now. I pray that You would be with me as Your servant. I stand before Your people today in all humility longing to faithfully preach the Word of God. Help me, I ask, to do that. And it’s in the name of our Savior Jesus we pray these things. Amen.
If you have your Bibles with you this morning, would you please turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 9, 1 Corinthians chapter 9, and we are going to read from verse 19 down through verse 23. 1 Corinthians 9 verse 19 through verse 23. The apostle Paul writes, beginning in verse 19, these words:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This is the Word of our God.
As you certainly know and I was so pleased to hear Ed’s challenge to you of all the missionaries that First Presbyterian Church supports, and you know that when we talk about God’s missional purposes in the world we are certainly talking about global purposes, that our God is concerned about and in the process of bringing about the redemption of people that are all over this world. And we rejoice and praise God for the opportunity of being a part of that effort. Also, though, it is true to say that the world we are called to isn’t just simply across the ocean, across the seas, but it is also outside of our doors and in our neighborhoods and in the communities that are all around us. And as we go out our doors and into our communities what we will find is people there who may be very much like us in a lot of different ways. They may look like us, they may talk like us, they may think like us, but also we will find people all around us who don’t. In fact, I think one of the wondrous privileges of God’s providence when He places His churches in cities like Jackson is, is that we get a taste of the world when we just go outside our doors. We get a taste of the diversity of the world that we live in and an opportunity to faithfully minister the Gospel in the midst of people and to people who aren’t necessarily like us.
In fact we are, as Redeemer Church, and I didn’t mention this in the first service for the sake of time, but we are about to plant a church in – and I guess you would call this your front yard because that’s your backyard – your front yard is across the street; it’s in the Midtown area. And as we prepare to plant that church, we see First Presbyterian Church Jackson as a partner of Redeemer in doing that. And when I say that we see you as a partner, we don’t just simply see you as a partner in terms of finances. In fact in most of the conversations that I’ve had with your ministers, have actually concluded this – that we want to be involved, that we want to be engaged in this effort, that we want to be a part of that ministry in the Midtown area. In other words, to take the Gospel to an area of the city of Jackson that doesn’t look a lot like First Pres. looks. We’re called to that.
Now how do we get there? How do we move past what we’re used to and move past what we’re familiar with and have a heart and passion for taking the Word of God to people who need the Word of God who are not necessarily like us? Well I think the answer is some things that we know are true, some things that we already believe. In fact, I think the challenge is to believe what we believe. You know in these messages I’m preaching here – I preached Friday at the Men of the Covenant luncheon, then today these two sermons, morning sermon and then tonight, I’m basically just taking us to some things that we as Bible believing Presbyterians hold to that are dear to us. And so on Friday I talked about the doctrine of election and I talked about, “What does it really mean to believe the doctrine of election in terms of our thinking about our missional purpose?” And tonight we’re going to be challenged to kind of think about Jesus and who He is and how that confronts a lot of the ways that we may think about life and ministry. But this morning, we’re just going to talk about the Gospel. What does it mean to believe the Gospel, and in believing the Gospel, to begin to see how we think about ourselves and think about our calling in the world reformed and reshaped?
In fact, I think that was true of Paul. Let me remind you where Paul was before Paul knew our Savior, Jesus Christ. You may remember in Philippians chapter 3, Paul, he describes himself prior to Christ and one of the things that he says there about himself – he uses this expression – that he is a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Now when you hear that phraseology, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” you need to recognize that there are all kinds of categories that are being pulled into that. Of course there would be religious categories being pulled into a Hebrew of Hebrews, but also in addition to that there would be ethnic categories and cultural categories and nationalistic categories. His fervor for the Jewish people and all those things would have been wrapped up in that description of himself, a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” That was Paul and that would have defined how he thought about his relationships with other people and what it means to treat people who were not of Israel, how he would respond to them and treat them. And yet he came to know Jesus, he believed the Gospel, and then he became, and this is extraordinary, he became the apostle to the Gentiles. The Hebrew of Hebrews became the apostle to the Gentiles.
Now how did that happen? Well it has everything to do with Paul believing the Gospel. In fact, as we look at this particular text that’s before us that I’ve read, which in so many ways is Paul sort of bringing us into his thinking, his way that he sort of perceives and thinks about ministry and mission, his philosophy of ministry if you will, I think what Paul shows us here is how the Gospel reoriented and changed his perception of himself, how it changed his perception of others, and how ultimately it changed his perception of service in general. And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning from this passage.
Now the first thing I want you to see is that Paul’s perception of himself changed, and I think it changed in some very clear ways. It went from Paul prior to Christ, this Hebrew of Hebrews and thinking in those kinds of ways, to actually here describing himself in a language that is somewhat paradoxical. And the reason why I say the language is paradoxical is that he describes himself in ways that take two ideas and put them together that we don’t normally hold together and they are these – Paul says he is a free slave, that’s who he is in Christ. A free slave. Now that doesn’t seem to fit, does it? But that’s what he says. But if you look at the first part of verse 19 again with me he says, “For though I am free from all I have made myself a servant to all” – there’s another translation that sort of brings this out a little bit more in terms of what he’s talking about where it says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all.” So he said, “I am free from all men and I am a slave to all men.”
If you were looking at the Greek text you would notice that the word that is the first word in verse 19 in the Greek text is actually the word, “free.” So it’s in the emphatic position. It stands out. And so what Paul is doing is he’s saying, “I am free in Christ. I am free in Christ. And therefore I can make myself a slave to all.” Now that’s a big deal – coming to terms with being free in Christ. Are you? Are you free in Christ this morning? You know I come out of a little town where Fundamentalism was huge and so one of the things that was attractive to me about Presbyterianism, in fact it was attractive to me before the theology actually got into me. I had problems with the theology for a long time but here’s what I loved about Presbyterianism. What I first heard about it was this – that God alone is the Lord of the conscience. That’s really good! And in all the ways that I was feeling the pressure of tradition and ways of thinking all those kind of things that they may have some weight and some meaning, but God alone is the Lord of the conscience. That God alone is the Lord of my conscience. That the Word of God alone is to reign and rule in my life because I am free in Christ.
Now here Paul says that he is free so that he can be a slave to others. And so what would that mean to be free? What is Paul meaning here? Well I think he’s probably meaning in the broader context a number of things. One of the things I think he’s telling the Corinthians is that he was free from being beholden to them or under their thumb financially. And I won’t go into that much, but if you look back at verses 14 and 15 you will see that. He basically says, “I’m not obligated to you in any way. I’m not beholden to you financially.” In other words, “You don’t hold my purse string so that I am so bound to you in that way that I have to do what you say.” So he’s free in that regard.
But a more important way that I think Paul talks about being free here that’s relevant to what we are talking about in terms of moving towards what the city is and moving towards an area like Midtown and moving away from people who are just like us towards people who may not be like us, is that Paul is clearly saying here that he is free from the things that had entrapped and bound him before, in other words, that whole category of “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He is now free from that. He is free from the bondage of the law. He is free from being utterly defined by ethnicity. He is free from being utterly defined by nationalism. He is free from being utterly defined by culture. He is free from those things. I know that because how else could Paul, the former Hebrew of Hebrews, make this statement in verse 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.”
And here’s what you have to understand – prior to coming to Christ, there is no way that Paul would have said that he was “as or like a Jew.” He was a Jew. Prior to coming to Christ there is no way that Paul would have said that he can do “as or like the law.” He was under the law. But in Christ, he has been freed from that. He’s been freed from being utterly defined by his own culture, freed from being utterly defined by his own ethnicity, his own race, his own identity. All of those things. They matter to him. They were important to him. I’m not saying they weren’t. One of the most startling verses in the Bible is Romans chapter 9 verse 3 where Paul there says this – this is “Wow” when I read it. “For I could wish,” he says, “that I myself would be a curse and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” When he talks about “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” he’s talking about the Jewish people. He wanted the Jewish people to know the Lord. He loved the people that he came from. But at the same time that was true, he knew that he was free from just being defined by that. He was released from that in Christ.
And so here’s what this means. It means that in a very real sense, in Jesus, you and I, all of us, have this wondrous privilege and enablement and power to transcend from where we are and to step outside of it a little bit and then come down into someone else’s world. In other words, to move out of our own context the things we are most comfortable with, the things that define us, and step out of that for a time. And you can step back into it; it doesn’t matter, but you step out of it and you step into somebody else’ world. Why? Because you want them to know Jesus, the Jesus that you know. It is dealing ultimately with the idols, and I’ll be specific with you, the idols that can take our hearts. And race can be an idol that takes our heart. And culture can be an idol that takes our heart. And nationalism can be an idol that takes our heart. And ethnicity. And the deal with idols – you have to have a greater love, and that greater love is the One who’s loved you, Jesus. It’s loving Him most.
And so I can say the obvious thing to you, and that is, here I am, an African American man standing in front of you, and I’m thankful to be an African American man, I’m thankful to be where I’m from and the people I’m from and all of that and one of my longings and passions has been to see the Reformed faith move into the African American community. All of that is wonderful and beautiful but do you want to know something? That’s not ultimate to me. Being a black man is not ultimate to me. And the same should be true for you. Whatever your ethnicity, whatever your culture, whatever your race, being Jesus’ person has to matter most.
Paul’s perception of himself changed and in that his perception of others changed, of others. You know that’s what you see, if you notice in verses 20 through 22, I’ll read verse 20 again and then down through verse 22. “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. 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. 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.” Now one of the things that I want to make sure you’re getting here with Paul’s sort of push towards these people is that he’s challenging us to think about people who are out there all around us who may be different than us in different ways as opposed to thinking about them in negative categories.
And so here’s the way I want to get at this. As opposed to thinking about people who aren’t like you, who are different than you, as being unapproachable or thinking of people who are different than you or aren’t like you as being a threat to you, or thinking of people who are out there as being dangerous or so removed from you that you could never connect into them – and I know that happens; I know it happens because you look at what’s around you, you look at the world around you and you just kind of go, “Man, I don’t think like that. I don’t talk like that. I don’t even have the same experiences. I don’t vote like that.” All these different ways, these ways that we process and we put people on the out, they’re removed from us, they’re unapproachable to us. And to be honest with you, living in a city like Jackson they’re probably scary to many of us. The Gospel has to begin to deal with that, that sense of threat and risk and you find your security in God’s presence and work because what it all does come down to is what Paul is saying – the Gospel moves us, it moved him to seek to identify with others. And so he says to the Jew, as a Jew, to those under the law as one under the law, to those outside of the law as one outside the law, to weak, weak.
You notice what’s happening here is that grace is transforming him so that it really doesn’t matter to Paul anymore who’s out there. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you’re from anymore. In other words, this just challenges some of the pervasive thinking that has been in American Christianity that what we need to do is target people who are like us and you target people who are like you because you’re thinking that that is somehow a means by which the Gospel can be advanced most. In fact, it’s preaching and teaching a message that is counter to the Gospel. The Gospel actually opens us up to whomever. And so if there’s a picture, a Paul in ministry, it’s not a sniper bullet being shot at someone; it’s buckshot. It’s all over.
Why? Because people need to know the Lord. In fact, there’s this repetition of an idea in this passage and you see it over and over and it’s that word, “win,” that word, “win.” So back to verse 19, “that I might win more of them.” Verse 20, “to win the Jews.” Verse 20 again, “To win those under the law.” Verse 21, “to win those outside of the law.” Verse 22, “to win the weak.” He wanted people to be won to Christ! And then he says, “I have become all things to all people.” That’s powerful. All things to all people. Now remember what Paul’s not going to give up. Paul is not going to give up the Gospel. Paul fights for Gospel truth. He stands on Gospel truth. And so when he says this, “I have become all things to all people,” what he’s basically saying is, “I get the Gospel. I know what the Gospel is and therefore I can be flexible and malleable around these things.” That’s very important that you get the Gospel. And you end up doing the hard thinking of taking what is Gospel and culture at times and the way that that gets enmeshed into one thing because we are oftentimes never around people who have other cultural experiences and we do the hard work of listening so that we can bring that apart again and know what the Gospel is so that we can move into other cultures. Why? Because we want to win folks to Jesus! That’s what Paul was about. Why? Because that’s what the Gospel is about. We want these folks to know Jesus, whoever they are, because ultimately what we have is this homogeneous principle. Everybody on planet earth, I don’t care what they look like or where they’re from or what their ethnicity is or what their nationality is, what binds us all together is our sin and need of a Savior. And the Gospel is the answer to that.
And so when we look at our city, I think as opposed to looking at our city and saying this, “Alright, we’re going to look at black sinners and white sinners and rich sinners and poor sinners,” what we’re going to do it this, we’re going to look at sinners and some of these sinners may be black and some of these sinners may be white and some of these sinners may be rich and some of these sinners may be poor and that has to be a part of the cultural conversation but it’s not the thing. You get it? It’s never the thing, the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is Jesus. He’s always the ultimate thing. The Gospel is always the ultimate thing. And it’s so easy for us within the church to get pulled into something else.
Several years ago Billy Graham was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer and in this interview Diane Sawyer asked him this question. She asked, “If you could wave your hand and in waving your hand you could get rid of one problem in America,” and Dr. Graham responded by saying, and I appreciate him doing this but he responded by saying, “If I could wave my hand and get rid of one problem in America it would be racial strife and discord.” There’s a huge problem with that. There’s no waving hands to get rid of this. And the way the world responds to this isn’t the way to get rid of this. And for the church to just act like the world in responding to this isn’t the way to get rid of this. You know the problem, the problem is our alienation. That’s the problem. It’s our alienation from God and our alienation from one another. The answer to alienation is Jesus! Jesus! And nothing else can stop us. Church of God, nothing else can stop us if we would just be about Jesus! And whether it’s Midtown or Eastover, whether it’s West Jackson or Madison, there are sinners who need Jesus. And we have them.
And that leads to the last thing I want you to see – how Paul’s conception of his service changed. And I think that’s what really has sort of shaped everything else with him, whether it’s himself, others, so forth. It’s the Gospel that defined him. And I want you to see this in verse 23. He says, “I do it all for the sake of the Gospel that I may share with them in its blessing.” So he’s saying all these things that he’s talking about before, all the way he thinks about ministry, all the way he thinks about reaching different people, he does it for the sake of the Gospel. It ends, “that I may share with them in its blessing.” And that’s the part that’s a bit tricky because what that literally is saying, if I were to translate this more literally from the Greek, what it’s saying is, “that I may become a joint partaker of it.” In other words, what verse 23 says, he says, “I do all of this for the sake of the Gospel that I may become a joint partaker of it,” and the “it” is the Gospel. So what Paul is saying then is, “I do all of this for the sake of the Gospel that I may become a joint partaker of the Gospel.”
Now the question then becomes, “Well what does that mean?” And the ESV has taken a particular take on it and what they’re saying this means is that Paul is doing all of this for the sake of the Gospel so that he can share in the blessings of other people getting the Gospel and believing in Christ. Some have thought that what this means is that Paul is doing it all for the sake of the Gospel so that he would be a part of the work of the Gospel. But what I actually think Paul is doing here in this context is saying this. That, “I do all of this for the sake of the Gospel because this is the nature of the Gospel.” In other words, when he talks about moving to someone like a Jew or moving to someone like a Gentile or moving to someone who is weak and he talks about sacrificing things of himself, laying particular things down and moving towards another person so that they can get Jesus, the point of all that is this is what the Gospel is! It’s what it looks like! It’s what we know! It’s what we believe!
Let me spell it out for you. You know the Gospel isn’t just something that you and I believe, some truths, and then we can be as sinful and self-centered as we were before but we have our ticket punched for heaven. That’s not the Gospel. You know the Gospel is about one who gave up the glory of heaven and He took on flesh and He humbled Himself and went obediently to the cross. That’s the Gospel. The Gospel is about one who was rich who became poor. I’m just giving you language right out of the Bible. One who was rich and He became poor so that we who are impoverished might become rich. That’s the Gospel. The Gospel is about one who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. What you’re seeing in all of that is a picture of the working of the Gospel. It is about one who sacrificed everything – for what? For our good so that we could be brought back into relationship with God. That’s the Gospel. And that Gospel that we believe is transformative. It reshapes us. It makes us different people. And that’s how Paul could do the ministry he did. And I’m telling you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, dear ones, that Gospel will do that for all of us if we will just simply believe what we believe. Let’s pray.
Father God, we thank You so much for this time in Your Word, this reminder of the Gospel and pray that You would help us, Lord, to rest in it and be formed by it. We love You. Forgive us and the ways that we have not. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
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