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At Christ Fellowship we are committed to reaching all kinds of people in our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ, including using whatever technology God enables humanity to create. The gospel message never changes, but culture is always changing. We are committed to do whatever it takes to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today we continue our new series “Give It Up”, a study in First Corinthians chapters nine to eleven where we are discovering spiritual wisdom for a foolish world. The Apostle Paul wrote to a culture of people much like us today: focused on personal happiness, sports competition and having fun. Because Corinth was the connection point between Italy and Asia, it was a melting pot of cultures from the East and the West.
We will dig into First Corinthians chapter nine where Paul talks about Giving it Up in two contexts: cultural differences and training for sports. Giving up carries both the meanings of praise – as in give it up for the latest musical superstar and give it up in the sense of surrender. For Paul, the gospel of Jesus Christ drives his life choices. For him, it is worth giving up anything to see more people saved. Begin to think about your own life as you prayerfully anticipate this message from God in 1 Corinthians nine. What culture are you part of? What cultures are difficult for you to enter?
Last week we used Twitter and we are going to do it again. To help each other apply the Scripture you can tweet in ideas using Twitter. During the message, send in Tweets with the hashtag #giveitup. We are going to ask two questions tied to the two parts of the chapter. Here’s the first question: What could you do to identify with someone from a different culture? Someone who lives differently than you do? How could you alter your life to identify with different sub-cultures– from baseball culture to fishing to video-gaming to bowling to tech-nerds to gardeners?
Each of Paul’s two big sections includes the idea of being a slave; that’s a harsh concept. Today, slavery has almost no positive connotations. No one wants to be a slave, but Paul chose to enslave himself in two ways. Open your Bible to First Corinthians chapter nine. We are digging into the second half of the chapter, verses nineteen to twenty-seven. Notice the use of slavery in the first and last verses, verse nineteen and verse twenty-seven. In verse nineteen Paul says, “I have made myself a slave to everyone.” In Greek this is an active verb, literally, “I enslave myself to everyone.” Then in verse twenty-seven he says, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave.” Once again, this is an active verb, literally, “I enslave my body.” I would say that making yourself a slave is a form of giving it up, wouldn’t you? What drives all of Paul’s life is the goal of winning others to Christ. Brace yourself to be challenged by what God says in this biblical text. Paul’s model is intense. Are you ready to step up your game for Jesus Christ? Are you ready to Give It Up at the next level? Ask God to help you hear his word for you today.
In the first half of our passage, Paul addresses culture. Five times he uses the word “win” in listing different groups he wants to win for Christ. He repeats his main point at the beginning and the end. He does it all for the sake of the gospel. Follow me as we read 1 Corinthians nine, verses nineteen to twenty-three.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19–23
Paul again affirms that he is free. He is free in Christ with no necessity to follow the Old Testament law; he is not under the law. He does not belong to anyone so he does not have to conform to what some other person thinks he needs to eat or wear. In America we love our personal freedom: we are free to say what we think; free to put any slogan on our tee-shirt, free to live any legal life-style we choose. The opening line makes total sense to us, but Paul spins our minds in the second line where he says, I have made myself a slave to everyone. In America we do not want to be anyone’s “boy.” We don’t even want anyone to tell us what we can or can’t do. Yet Paul chooses to enslave himself to everyone. Why? Paul is following the model of our Savior Jesus Christ. As God himself, Jesus has ultimate freedom and ultimate power, yet he chooses to accept the limitations of a human body. Paul chooses to restrict himself for others. In our society the preferred trajectory is upward to more money, more power. But Paul chooses the downward path of Jesus Christ, to choose to be a slave of others rather than try to be a king over others. Why? Why would anyone do this? Paul tells us in the third line of verse one: to win as many as possible for Jesus.
To save as many people as possible for Jesus
This is the key point that Paul repeats at the end of the section in verse twenty-two and three: I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel. Paul enslaves himself to others to win them, to see them be saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to “win” them, the word used five times? In Greek the word usually means, “to gain, make profit.” Paul echoes back to his comments about financial pay from earlier in the chapter. In this context what Paul wins or gains are human lives that are saved from God’s judgment. The point is to be part of seeing people find hope and healing in the gospel of Jesus, to see people find real life now and forever.
So if winning as many people as possible is Paul’s driving passion, and should be ours as well, how do we do it? How can we live in such a way as to save as many as possible for Jesus? The point of this passage is to share two important ways we can save as many as possible. Both involve giving up: enslaving ourselves to others and enslaving our bodies. The first point in the opening section we have read is that we can save as many as possible for Jesus by radically identifying with others.
Radically identify with others (19-23)
Paul altered his lifestyle to identify with different kinds of people. To the Jews he was kosher, but with the Gentiles he ate bacon. This is true love, to change your preferences and adjust your lifestyle for the sake of others. I like to eat dinner at 6:30 and don’t like to eat after about 9:00, but in Mexico City we went to dinner at 10 pm; but that’s ok. Of course Paul never changes his fundamental convictions. He always preaches the true gospel without compromise, but he radically adjusts his life to identify with others, no matter what his preferences. He refused to let cultural differences stand in the way of people being saved. As we walk through Paul’s four examples, be thinking of ways you could identify with others. One of our neighbors loves bird-watching; that’s a culture I’ve never entered, but want to. They have multiple birdhouses, birdbaths, and buy massive amounts of bird food. They have an awesome porch from which to watch with binoculars and books to help identify the kinds of birds. So I hope to join them in bird watching.
While Paul does not mention bird watching, his first example comes from his old culture that he left. He says he became like a Jew to win Jews. When you realize that Paul was a Jew, this statement sounds odd. But think about it. He used to live as a religious Jew keeping all the old laws and festivals, part of the whole Jewish sub-culture, but now he has left that for Jesus Christ. However, he is willing to enslave himself to that culture again to see Jewish people saved. What about you? What culture have you come from before you were a Christian? Could you go back to your video-gamers, your book-club, your Harley buddies, your “whoever” and re-enter that culture to win them for Christ? Just be careful that you are strong enough to re-enter that culture without harming yourself spiritually.
Secondly Paul mentions a related group: those under the law. Paul is clear that he personally is free; he is not under the law, but he will adjust. He will avoid pork and celebrate Passover. He will keep the Sabbath and pray in the synagogue, not because he must, but because he chooses to do so to win those under the law. He will restrict his freedom for the gospel out of love.
Thirdly Paul will identify with the opposite group who are not under the law. With this crowd Paul will eat whatever food is put before him. In Uganda and China I’ve eaten all sorts of things and still don’t know what they were. Now he clarifies that this does not mean he will be lawless. While he is free from the Torah, he will be loyal to Jesus Christ. In other words, he will not become a drunk to reach drunkards or gossip to reach gossipers. What about us? We have the freedom to identify with aspects of cultures that do not follow religious codes, as long as we are not violating Christ. For example, you have freedom to part of a skateboard culture, a wine-tasting culture or a marathon-running culture, even when the race is on Sunday morning, for the sake of winning people to Jesus.
Finally Paul gives a fourth example: the weak. As you can read in your Study Guide, this is not a reference to the weak Christians described in chapter eight, but rather to non-Christians who Paul hopes to save through the gospel. The Greek term can refer to the socially lower. Paul chose to do manual labor making tents. The term can refer to vulnerable people, not just the “winners” of the world. Jesus has a special heart for orphans, widows, children, and prisoners. Who are the weak today? The poor, the mentally ill, and the chronically ill. The story of the Gospel is about the Son of God taking on weakness to save us. Paul is willing to identify with the weak of this world to save them, as Jesus did. What about us? Do you only want to hang out with winners, with the up and coming, the beautiful, the powerful? Are you willing to enslave yourself to the weak or to alter your life to identify with the sick, the troubled?
Paul wraps up his first main point in the classic stirring line in verse twenty-two:
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Cor 9:22.
Here is the heart of Paul, his deep motivation. Paul is willing to do anything that does not violate the will of God to save people from eternal judgment in hell. In America we are hardly willing to give up anything. Be serious, in the last week have you had one conversation with a non-Christian that touched on Jesus and the gospel? What about the last month? The last year? Paul gave his life for the sake of the gospel to become all things to all people to by all possible means save some, to win as many as possible.
I can’t help but recall the famous scene from the movie Shindler’s List, recently listed eight on the list of the top 100 American movies of all time. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, in Poland during World War II, greedy German businessman Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Schindler feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews, saving over 1,100 from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Whoever saves one life, saves the world entirely. Oskar Schindler enslaved himself to the Jews to save them. I don’t want to end my life regretting that I could have done more. How much more should we be devoted as Paul was to save as many people as possible? Think of what Jesus Christ gave up to save us? Jesus Christ took on the likeness of sinful flesh. He became human to be one of us so he could save all of us by dying in our place on the cross. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, I invite you to be saved. I urge you to give up your life to Christ. He did what it takes to save you. Your response is to accept his gift, to bow your knee to him in faith, trusting in him as your Savior and Lord. Will you do that? If so, you are saved. If you are not ready, come talk to me or someone here or someone online. We will do whatever we can to help you.
Paul’s point here is that he will make himself a slave to everyone so he can save as many as possible. In so doing, Paul is following the example of Jesus. What are you willing to do? What could we do? Tweet in examples of how we could identify with people today to win them for Jesus.
In the last line of this section in verse twenty-three Paul gives his motivation: 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. The gospel directs Paul’s life. He wants to share in it. More literally Paul says, “That I may become a partner in it.” There is inherent blessing in being part of the gospel work, in seeing people saved. The concept is close to being a teammate. Paul does all this to be a teammate with God, partnering in the work of the Gospel transforming lives, bringing hope, peace, healing and life. The joy of being part of God’s gospel work is simply beyond words.
Contemporary Jewish Christianity helpfully incorporates Sabbath (Saturday) worship, Christianized versions of the major Jewish festivals, folk music and dance, use of key Hebrew terms, and so on, in ways designed to make Christianity seem less Gentile and more true to its Jewish roots.
Contemporary Palestinian and Arab Christianity increasingly recognize the legitimacy of praying at times and in postures common to Islam, using houses of worship that resemble mosques in appearance, and stressing regular times of reflection and devotion over and against the frenetic activity that so often characterizes Western faith and missions. …Ministries to the outcasts and marginalized of our day—the unwed mothers, inner city and ethnic minorities, prisoners, prostitutes, homosexuals, and AIDS victims.
Hunters, tea drinkers in China, Opera, book club, Hudson Taylor, shave head, grow beard and long pony tail in China.
From culture in the first part of our passage Paul moves in the second part to athletics. Here he gives us the second way we can save as many people as possible. Not only can we give it up by radically identifying with others, but also you can give it up by rigorously disciplining yourself.
Rigorously discipline yourself (24-27)
In the sports-crazed culture of Corinth Paul draws images from athletics to help us see how we could give it up for something much more valuable than winning the 100 meter dash. Follow with me as we read, starting in verse twenty-four.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:14–27
Whether as an individual or on a team, have you ever competed in any physical competition? Most of us have or we have seen one. The Corinthians hosted the biennial Isthmian Games, which were second in popularity only to the Olympics, drawing huge crowds to Corinth. Most likely Paul was there during one of the Isthmian competitions in the Spring of AD 49 or 51. Much as we hear during the Olympics, the people of Corinth would hear the behind the scenes, back-stories of the athletes, including the rigorous training regime they endured to get ready to compete, with intense workouts and special diets.
What is the connection between this section of chapter nine and the first one about culture? Paul is saying to effectively be a partner in the gospel work, doing the hard work of enslaving yourself to others, you have to get ready. You must enslave your body by rigorously disciplining yourself spiritually so you are ready to get in the game, to play on the team, to win. The cost of spiritual blessing is spiritual discipline.
Here is the second Twitter question. How might you spiritually discipline yourself to win the prize? How might you enslave your body so you are not disqualified? Of what might you deprive yourself, abstain from? We are not talking about just avoiding immoral stuff, but for the sake of being in spiritual shape for the gospel race, what could you do to rigorously discipline yourself?
The central point of Paul’s sports analogy is in verse twenty-five: “strict training.” The point is not to be the one person who wins the race, because spiritually we can all win and really our point is to win people to Jesus. The point is not competition, but discipline. In ancient Greece, it was required for athletes to commit to ten months of strict training or they were subject to disqualification.
What is “strict training”? The Greek term refers to self-control, including voluntarily abstaining. An athlete abstains from hot fudge sundaes for a greater prize. The best athletes show amazing self-restraint to be in the best shape to compete in their event. They cut out of their life everything that does not aid them in reaching their goal. When you think about classic sports movies, where a guy does what it takes to win, which iconic movies come to mind? I could only pick one. I had to choose between two “R titles”
What are you willing to do to discipline yourself spiritually? How rigorous are you willing to be? We are right back at our central theme: how will you give it up so you are ready to compete in the gospel race? If you are out of shape, you will not be effective for Jesus Christ.
To sharpen the point Paul contrasts the prizes involved. An athlete wins a trophy. In those days it was a wreath that quickly faded; all that rigorous discipline for a pathetic wreath. And yet we run for an eternal crown that never fades. What’s at stake is the eternity of another person. Our reward is that we get to be partners in the gospel with God himself. We get to see God use us to change a person’s life forever.
So what does Paul do to win the prize? He sets an incredible model with four parallel short statements: I run, not aimlessly; I box, not just hitting the air, I pummel my body; I enslave my body. He is serious about being in spiritual shape. As a runner he does not get distracted, but keeps his eye on the finish line and stays in his lane. As a boxer he lands his right cross. The Greek behind the line, “I strike a blow to my body” means to give a black eye. Paul is willing to treat his body roughly to make it serve his purposes for the gospel and not disqualify himself. If in the process of living for the gospel, he gets a black eye, that’s ok. Paul pays any price to win as many as possible for Christ. He knocks out bodily desires for comfort, food, sleep or whatever is necessary. He enslaves his body so he has the spiritual strength to radically identify with others, all for the sake of the gospel, to save as many as possible.
Paul dreads the thought of disqualifying himself, meaning becoming useless in the gospel work. He does not want to be disqualified from the gospel race so that he is ineffective, so that he cannot be a teammate in the great gospel enterprise of God. You see the stakes in this race are so much higher than any sports event.
So let’s get concrete. How might you spiritually discipline yourself to win the prize? How might you enslave your body so you are not disqualified? Of what might you deprive yourself, abstain from? What could you do to rigorously discipline yourself?
Examples: prayer, reading the Word – the whole Bible, fasting, journaling, hour of prayer, denying media, reducing obsession with fitness in the gym, time on video games, playing around, obsession with your landscape, hobby, sports, literally physical shape. Reading spiritual books, group, Church – four practices. Go and Be.
Paul’s point is that although you are free, you can win as many as possible for Christ by identifying with people in all kinds of cultures and by rigorously disciplining your life as an athlete. Then you will share in eternal rewards. Too many Christians are running aimlessly, if they are even running at all. Are you even aware that you are a spiritual athlete? Is the gospel a concern of yours? Why does Paul enslave himself to others and enslave his body? To win as many as possible for Jesus. Does that goal drive you? Are you living for the sake of the gospel? What could you do to save as many people as possible for Jesus? God lays out for us two big steps we can take to save as many people as possible: radically identify with others and rigorously discipline yourself. What are you going to do? How is the Spirit of God convicting you?
Imagine what would happen through Christ Fellowship if we really “Give It Up” for Jesus Christ. Imagine what might happen if we the people of Christ Fellowship really took both of these big steps. What if we radically identify with people in all kinds of culture, as Jesus did? What if we would rigorously discipline ourselves spiritually? My friends, in the power of God, we can change the world, one life at time – save one life, save the world.