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Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

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The Mystery of Submission August 23, 2015

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Ephesians 5:22-33

Proper 16

August 23, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us a Groom, that is, Christ.

Function:  That the hearers submit themselves to the love of Christ.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Mystery of Submission

 

I want to begin today by calling out all of you Packer fans.  You’ve had a good run, but it’s a new season, and I want to see some respect.  So this season, when the Packers play the Vikings, out of respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. John’s, I want you to wear purple to church, and if you win, which isn’t too likely, don’t rub it in.

Now all you Vikings fans, I know it’s been a tough few years, but it’s a new season.  To show that you’re good sports about all this, when the Vikings take on the Packers this season, I want you to find a Packer family here at church, and have them over to your house where you’ll eat lunch together and watch the game.  And don’t make fun of them for the silly yellow triangles on their heads, or whenever you see another State Farm discount double check commercial.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on with the sermon.  Ephesians 5.  Admittedly, I love this text.  And part of that is because it ruffles feathers.  This text, more than most, turns people off.

Singles tune it out as soon as Paul begins because he’s just talking about marriage again, and that has nothing to do with them.  Women tune it out because Paul tells them right at the start to submit.  And modern, civilized, egalitarian American ladies want nothing to do with that.  And men either tune out as soon as Paul’s done addressing the women, or once they realize what’s being asked of them.

This is a tough text.  This is a counter-cultural text as much today as it was 2000 years ago.  This text makes us uncomfortable.

So let me tell you why you should still be paying attention.  We have a diverse family here at St. John’s.  Singles of all ages, men and women.  Some have always been that way and like it that way.  Others wish to be married someday.  Some are still hurting and suffering the pains of divorce, and others still are grieving the loss of their spouse.  We have husbands and wives who love each other dearly, and we have husbands and wives who would rather spend most of their time apart.  And yet, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re the church.

To all of you who are single, this text matters to you because of this verse: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  Wives, every woman, this text matters to you because it helps you to see and truly appreciate the gifts Christ has given to you.  Husbands, all men, this text matters to you because it teaches you what it means to be a leader.  This text matters, for all of us.

Keep the text open, whether you’re in your bulletin or in the Bible, keep it ready.  You’ve got the NIV in front of you, I like to preach from the ESV translation.  And that’s a good thing as noticing differences between them can help you learn more about the Bible.

As we get ready to dig into the text, let’s first notice how Paul gets their attention.  Maybe you caught it, maybe you realized that the start of the sermon today wasn’t just meant to be goofy in honor of the upcoming NFL season, but it was meant to draw your attention.  And more specifically, it was meant to get you familiar with Paul’s technique.

Now, for those of you who’ve been in one of my Bible classes on marriage, or to my pre-marriage counseling sessions, we’ve gone over this.  But I want everyone to see it.  This is a great technique.  The authors of Scripture weren’t fools!  They had the Spirit of God guiding them.

Paul knows his audience, and he plays a trick on them to get them to pay attention.  He speaks first to the women in a male dominant society.   He addresses them and tells them how to live, how they should treat their husbands.  And how do you think the men respond?  What do you think they were doing when they heard “wives, submit to your own husbands,”?  They were listening.  They might even have started cheering, or egging Paul onward.  They were hooked.  Just like you Vikings’ fans when I was telling all of Packerdom to wear your colors on game day.  You loved it.

But then I turned it around.  It’s one level of difficulty to put on a different color shirt, it’s a whole nother level when we start talking about hospitality, about hosting a rival, about cooking them a meal, about being nice to them even if the game goes south.

Paul had the men’s attention, and then he turned it on them.  He tells them what their role in the marriage is to do.  And there’s a lot more responsibility, and it’s a lot harder.  If you don’t see it, don’t buy that Paul knew what he was doing, just keep reading into chapter six, as he pulls the same technique twice more, with children and parents, then slaves and masters.

Anyway, let’s start with Paul’s mystery.  Christ and the church.  So we go back to verse 25, and we look to what Christ did:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

 

That’s us!  We’re the church, we’re the bride of Christ.  We are the ones who are in need of washing, cleansing.  We’re the ones in need of sanctification.  We’re the ones that need wrinkle removers and cleaning companies so that we might be presented as pure.

We’re not even close.  You and I know it.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it.  We know our mistakes, we know our faults, we know when we fail to listen to God and instead put our trust in earthly things, whether it’s a relationship, money, a job, or raising kids.  We all do it.  We all fall short.  There’s not one of us who’s blameless, spotless, and wrinkle-free.

And yet Christ loved us so much that He came for us.  In the midst of our filth, He calls us His bride.  And more than that, He gives up His own life for us.  We didn’t deserve it, we certainly aren’t worth it, but He loved us so much that He gave us everything, even His own blood shed for us on the cross, that we might be forgiven, healed, cleansed, indeed presented before the Father as holy and without blemish.  Christ did that for us.

So what’s this got to do with marriage? With husband and wife?  Paul tells us this is an analogy.  Paul calls upon this relationship to help us understand our relationship with God.  So he begins with wives, although the order doesn’t really matter.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

 

Now I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you and say this is easy.  I’m not going to do that because we’re all the bride.  Each and every one of us, as the church, is the bride of Christ, and we’re not blameless.  We struggle to submit to the Lord, to admit that He knows what’s best for us, that He wants what’s best for us.  We hear His commands and sometimes we do them, but other times we question them, and wonder if God really knows what He’s doing.  Sometimes we just plain ignore it.  But nonetheless, this is where Paul points.  That wives follow the leadership of their husband, as husbands follow the leadership of Christ.

And then as I mentioned, it gets harder.  Husbands love your wives, even as Christ does the church.  Ladies, don’t take offense, because we’re all sinners.  But husbands, you are called to lead your family, to lead your wife, to present her in all splendor, without spot or blemish, cleansing her, washing her, sanctifying her.  There’s no going to our buddies and sharing the dirty secrets of our relationship.  When your wife mistakenly says something foolish, you forgive her, and you forget it.  Your coworkers don’t need to know the latest gossip.  Your friends don’t need to see your wife’s flaws.  It’s your job to cover them up.  To present her as nothing less than a precious gift from the Lord.

But more than that.  Husbands, you are called to love your wives just as much as Christ loved the church.  You are called to give yourself up for her.  That means dying for her, if it comes to that.  But in the present it means humility.  It means casting off yourself, your interests, your desires, and instead treasuring your bride.  Doing whatever it takes to care for her, and to prepare her to meet her true groom, Jesus Christ, in Paradise.

You see, the word submit doesn’t mean women don’t matter.  In fact, if we take an honest look at Scripture it’s just the opposite.  Christ gave everything for His bride.  And we see from Genesis 1 that woman was created to be man’s helper.  If a husband lords himself over his wife, refusing to accept her influence, denying her thoughts and emotions, not considering her input in decisions, he’s removing her creative function as God designed her.  He’s calling her worthless, and there’s nothing loving about that.

And in the same manner, when wives desire the role of their husband, the role of leader in the home, when they fight for it, when they oppress him and overtake him, they are removing his created function.  They are calling him worthless, and there’s nothing respectful about that.

Again, singles, I’m hoping you didn’t tune me out, because all of this matters greatly to you.  I need a volunteer couple, I just need one married couple to stand up for a minute or two.  Single brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to want this for yourselves.  In fact, Jesus and Paul both talk in the New Testament about what a blessing singleness can be.

But whether you want it or not, you do need to understand it.  Because this is the analogy that God has chosen to use to help us understand our relationship with Him.  In this relationship, God wants you to see Him.  And you can take part in this.

If you wish to remain single, that’s a good thing.  But you can encourage your friends and community to be faithful in their marriages.  You can encourage them to be good parents.  You can help them raise their children to know the Lord.

If you want to be married someday, you can begin to show this to others.  You can show faithfulness by waiting for marriage as the Lord instructs.  I won’t pretend that’s easy, but it’s faithful.  It’s what God wants for you.  You can pray for your future spouse, even if it’s someone you haven’t met, you can pray that they would know the Lord, and have a strong relationship with Him.  You can learn more about your relationship with God, so that when marriage does come, you’ll be all the more prepared for the role God gives you.

And husbands and wives, I hope you caught that.  If we don’t model this well, we’re preventing people from seeing their Lord and Savior.  If you’re struggling, don’t hide it.  Please, please, please, I’ll beg if I have to.  Come talk to me.  Let’s build your marriage on the rock of Christ.  Let’s build you up so that you can more clearly see Christ and show Him to others.  This matters.  Let couple sit down.

We can’t give up on our spouses.  This is why the Bible speaks this way on divorce.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Mark 10:9.  We are told this because we are the bride of Christ.  And despite our atrociousness, despite our unfaithfulness, Christ, our groom, never gave up on us.  He constantly gives, constantly calls us back to Himself.

If you’re struggling with divorce and the pain that it has brought into your life, please come talk to me.  Let’s sit down, let’s pour through the Word of God.  Let’s work on healing, and if at all possible, let’s work toward reconciliation and forgiveness.

This is our witness, that we would love and respect one another.  We live in the midst of a culture that is drowning, it has no clue what marriage is about.  God is calling us to be a city on a hill, to be transparent, to be fish in a fishbowl, that others might see us, and they might see Christ in us.

This is why marriage matters.  Because through it, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, we see Christ!  We see love, sacrifice, and service.  We see humility, contentment, and respect.  We see forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we submit ourselves to Christ, to His authority, to His leadership, to His love, and to His sacrifice.  We are His bride, we are forgiven, and He is presenting us as holy and blameless in the sight of His Father.  There’s never been, and will never again be, a more selfless deed than that.  Our groom has given us life.  Amen.

 

Love Each Other May 10, 2015

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2015

An updated version of the sermon from: May 12-13, 2012

 

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture, especially in John’s writings.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

We all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  If it’s well done, we can get lost in the story for hours and not even notice that time has gone by.

Most of these stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious: love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or two in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.  That’s what happens when two sinners live together.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, as they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  And while that certainly is a gift of God and adds to a marriage relationship, you won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  We don’t usually say we love someone else unless that relationship has some benefit to us.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  I want to do a men’s retreat sometime soon looking in depth at God’s calling for men; being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  There’s no shortage of Scripture to back this up.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  We’ve already looked at fathers, and we can look at mothers, too.

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Mothers and fathers both have that willingness to go through just about anything for their children, making sacrifices, enduring the lack of respect and appreciation that too often comes when their children hit puberty.

Most of us could come up with examples of agape love, of unconditional love that we’ve been given in our lives.  We could certainly share stories together about the kind of love many of you have given to someone else.   It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.

Setting Aside Our Rights February 8, 2015

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1 Corinthians 9:16-27

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 8th, 2015

 

Focus:  God, in His love for us, set aside His rights as He saved us.

Function:  That the hearers set aside their rights out of love for one another.

Structure:  Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Setting Aside Our Rights

 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”  Paul’s words from our epistle reading today are arguably some of the best advice about mission, about evangelism.  In order to better reach someone, be a part of their culture.  To the Jew I became a Jew.  To the weak, I became weak.

This is part of the thinking behind career missionaries who go overseas, who immerse themselves in other cultures, learning their language, learning their customs and traditions.  It’s a wonderful way of using relationships to share the gospel.

But that’s actually not why Paul said it.  If we see that as the point of what he said, then we’ve missed the point entirely.  It would be like walking away from my sermon a few weeks ago only remembering the Doritos commercial and the snowglobe.  Or from Pastor Fritsch last week and only remembering that he dressed up some of our kids.  Those were illustrations.  We use them because they’re helpful, they help us better understand the main point.

That’s what this was for Paul.  It was an illustration from his own life to help us better understand what he was trying to say.  The missional life that he talks about is an illustration of something bigger.  It’s not primarily a text on mission, but on the attitude of Christ.

Paul’s evangelism was rooted in Christ’s willingness to set aside His rights, His claims.  This is something that Paul spells out for us entirely in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

We see this struggle for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He prepares for that night, for that sacrifice.  He had every right, every ability, being God, to not go through that.  But in His love for us, He cast aside His rights, humbled Himself, and surrendered Himself to save us.  Christ set aside Himself to serve us.

That’s the point of really the whole Bible, but that’s what Paul’s getting at for us.  That’s why he starts our text by talking about his own paycheck.  He has the right to be paid for his work in the gospel and yet, in that particular community, both he and Barnabas refused.  They set aside their right for the good of the people in that city.

Paul goes on to illustrate with the idea of becoming all things to all people.  That’s firsthand experience for him.  To the Jews, Paul was a Jew, he witnessed to them.  He had the chance to witness to the Gentiles, those outside the law.  He had the chance to go and serve the antimonians, those without the law.  He laid aside himself, his own culture, his own rights, in order to better serve those people.

It’s a reckless generosity, that we set aside our rights, our authority, for another.  We can look in the writings immediately around chapter 9 to see more of what this looks like and how it plays out.

1 Corinthians chapter 6 is all about lawsuits.  This one certainly hasn’t changed today.  If someone totals your car, if they cause you personal injury, or have taken money from you, or slandered you, or there was a medical malpractice, you have every right to sue.  In fact, that list goes on and on, and we might even be more sue-happy than the Corinthians were.  You have the right to compensation.

But the Scriptures tell us otherwise.  We are commanded not to sue a fellow Christian.  In suing them, you are causing great damage to them.  You might be taking house and home from them.  You likely are destroying any relationship that was there from before.  And although the Bible doesn’t forbid suing a non-Christian, ask yourself if it’s worth it.  Is any amount of stuff worth severing the relationship, damaging the opportunity to serve another, for them to hear about the love of Christ.  Paul encourages us to be willing to suffer wrong and to forgive it as Christ did for us.

In Chapter 7, Paul goes on at length about marriage.  So many of our problems today, and theirs then, revolve around putting me first in marriage.  My needs, my wants, my job, my paycheck.  I want to relax when I get home from work, I want to go out tonight, I want to use the money I earned to buy something for myself.  And you have that right.  But if ever there was a human relationship that depends on loving someone else, it’s marriage.  To put your spouse and their needs before your own is the ultimate expression of Christ-like love.  That we would willingly sacrifice for each other.  That’s what marriage is about.

In Chapter 8, Paul discusses food.  For them, the issue was about meat being sacrificed to idols.  Paul was clear on this: you can eat whatever you want.  There’s no harm in that.  If you want to eat meat, go for it.  If you only like vegetables, more power to you.  If you want to eat food that’s been sacrificed in honor of a false god, they don’t exist, so that really does no harm.  But if someone is watching, if eating that meat given to false idol would cause harm to your brother, then don’t do it.  Set aside your rights out of your love for them.

The examples can continue on in our own lives.  It is your right to have your weekend off from work.  But if your coworker desperately needs it either from exhaustion or to care for a family member, or maybe even just for the chance to go on a trip or do something special, set aside your right and cover their shift.

In any relationship, it your right to hold a grudge, to keep a record of wrongs, to be fed up with the fact that they’re late for the third time this month.  But the Christ-like thing to do is to forgive and forget.  To set aside our right to anger and instead choose to value that relationship.

Among siblings, it’s our first amendment right of free speech to go on Facebook and blab about the latest dumb thing they did.  But rather than harm them, we love them, and we leave it off of the internet.

When we start thinking through these things, they start to sound like some of the Commandments, which just goes to remind us that the Commandments are there to show us what loving our neighbor looks like.

In all of these things, the general application for Paul isn’t about his example of evangelism or preaching.  It’s bigger than that.  If I focus on myself, if I hold on to my rights, to what I deserve, then that only goes to puff me up.  But loving someone else, builds them up.  It’s the transforming love of Christ, that He set aside His rights, His needs, to save us.

And so Paul wraps up this section of the letter:

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.

 

Run the race.  That’s what ties all these different things together.  It’s our vocations, it’s doing what God gave us to do to the best of our ability.  If that’s preaching the good news, then preach it.  If it’s being a brother, be the best brother you can be.  If it’s being a husband or a wife, do that to the best of your ability.  Coworker, friend, neighbor, boss, burger-flipper, do not run aimlessly, but discipline yourself.

Paul doesn’t boast because he knows it’s not about him.  It’s about what Christ has done for us.  It’s about loving others.  He even says he has no choice but to do what God has entrusted him to do.  And so he sets himself aside and becomes all things to all people.  It’s a reckless generosity, to set aside my authority, my rights, for you.  And in doing so, it is my hope that you will see Christ and what He has done for you.