Saturday, February 4, 2012

Epiphany 5

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
All things to all people

We continue a reading series in our Epistle lesson, which contains St. Paul’s instruction to us concerning Christian living. The issue in the Corinthian congregation was the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Some believed that if you eat a burger you were communing with an idol since most of the meat sold in Corinth came from pagan temples. Their contention was that eating the meat makes idol worship legitimate. Others said, “The idol is not real, so how could I commune with something that does not exist? I am free in Christ, so my eating should not offend you!”

True, eating meat sacrificed to an idol is not an issue anymore. Nevertheless, there are well meaning Christian who can become just as offended concerning a whole number of issues. For example, certain well-meaning Christians have suggested the targeting and boycotting of certain companies and businesses that engage in purported unwholesome practices. They would argue that if you do not take your business elsewhere you are condoning and consequently joining in that company’s sin. What is the Christian to do?

On a personal level, there are well meaning Christians who would argue that Christians are not to engage in certain behaviors. “Don’t smoke, drink or chew, or date any gal that do!” is an old yarn, which has been used to suggest that Christians are to refrain. How do we respond to such practices such as the playing of cards, playing the lottery, or holding a wedding during the season of Lent for example? Are these practices that are to be strictly forbidden? How do we respond?

Liberty verses License…Freedom from sin verses Freedom to sin.

Where do we go with these issues? In our text for this morning, St. Paul gives us some practical advice on our Christian living as he encourages us to be all things to all people.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has set us free from our sin. Every one of our sins has been forgiven – period! The sins we commit today and tomorrow and the rest of our lives have been forgiven – period! This fact, however, sometimes gives people the wrong idea. They will say, “Let’s go out and sin all we want - because our sins are all forgiven!” This sort of thinking turns “liberty” into “license”. We are forever free from sin but that freedom does not make us free to sin. We can’t go out, sow our wild oats, and then pray for crop failure! We cannot have the attitude that we can sin all we want because God is a forgiving God.

We are called to become all things to all people according to St. Paul. What does that mean? Before we can help people, we must understand their needs. First, we must accept them as persons in need of God’s forgiveness. Before we can win people for Christ, we must identify with them in their situation. We simply cannot win people to Christ unless we first become their friends. Paul gives us the motivation for our behavior. We are to become one with people…

1 We do this first by sacrificing personal freedom to be the people’s servant. Listen to verse 19 of our text for this morning…“Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all that I might win the more…”

I am free in Christ, and under that freedom, I am at liberty and no one should judge me. Yet, Paul will tell us that he willingly makes himself a slave, he abandons that liberty so that he can win others for Christ. The issue is not my freedom and my liberty. Paul makes that point clear.

You are free. No one is to judge you with respect to your observance of certain actions, practices, or behaviors. Yet to win even more people for Christ I make myself a slave. I restrict my Christian liberty for the sake of winning more for Christ. This is not something that is forced upon me like another law. I do this willingly, of my own accord. Paul says, “I make myself a slave…too win the more”

2 To become one with people I identify with people. Listen to verse 22 of our text for this morning “To the weak, I become weak; that I might win the weak I gave become all things to all men that I might by all means win some.”

Why do we refrain when there is freedom? I do this because there are others who might be weak in their faith. There are some, which might not understand. There might be some, which would put themselves under undue duress and pressure. To not mislead them I become weak. Paul reminds us that when comparing another person to our personal freedoms and liberties I give up my personal freedom so that the faith of another might have the opportunity to grow.

Since Paul was not paid for his work, he was not obligated to any person. He could speak freely the truth of God without fear of personal consequences. This enabled him to identify with every class and condition of people. His goal for doing so was to “win” people to faith in Christ. The truth is that we cannot win people to Christ until we first win them to ourselves. If they do not like the witness, they will not like the witness’ Christ!

3 By being all things to all people I am motivated by the gospel. Listen finally to verse 23 “I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I might share in its blessings’

This is what motivates us into action. We do what we must for the sake of the gospel. We will not allow anything to stand in the way of the gospel. Therefore, when we must choose between personal freedom and the opportunity for the gospel to take root, we will willingly give up on our personal freedom so that something better and longer lasting can flourish.

Out of necessity, we are called upon to share Christ with all that we meet. Every single one of us is a “witness”. To win such people for Christ we must first identify with them. We are not obligated to any, but for the sake of the gospel, we make ourselves to be all things to all people. If this means giving up our Christian liberties, we do so, so that some might be saved.

How will this be applied to your life? That’s how the sermon is to be lived in your life starting today. May the Lord enable you to become all things to all people in the hopes that we might win some for the kingdom.

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