The Most Amazing Race
Text: 1 Corinthians 9
Proposition: The Gospel is what God has done and is doing in the bringing of clarity and truth to a world filled with the entitlement that sin proclaims.
Introduction: In a recent interview Spike Lee called Reality TV the plague of our generation because it portrays people in a very negative light in order to create an entertainment for many. From shows about Bachelors to Survivors to Employers to Pickers to Singers to Dancers to Travelers, the popularity of the show is wrapped around the embarrassing qualities of the participants. Yet what people also find compelling, which is what brings them back episode after episode, is the vulnerability of the contestants as they face fears, defeats, rejections and exhaustion. In other the words reality TV pulls on our emotions and opinions and practically pushes us to like or dislike people we have never even met. But to be fair all that reality TV is doing is recognizing the existence of something that resides in each of us whether we ever watch or even own a television. It is the entitlement we have to be right in our opinions. Twice in the Book of Proverbs it makes this statement, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25) Sounds like a caution to me.
We ran into this last week when Paul was being asked about whether it was okay to eat meat that had been dedicated to the worship of an idol. His answer was that an idol was just a chunk of wood or stone so the meat was just meat. Yet, if there was a person who used to be tangled up in that kind of worship then it’s no longer about who’s right but about how to better love one another even if it means laying aside the right to eat this meat. In the next part of Paul’s reply to the Corinthians, he again talks about laying down rights except this time he’s going to talk about his rights, especially his right as an apostle to support. Have a look at 1 Cor. 9.
I. Paul’s Credentials Establish His Authority and Grant Him Rights.
Five times in the next 12 twelve verses Paul uses this word ‘right’, the Greek word ‘exousia’. Literally it can mean, “the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege). Every time Paul uses this word ‘right’ it’s this power that he has in mind and it originates in his credentials, establishing his authority which in turn grants him the right that he is about to refer to. He emphasizes his legitimate credentials as an apostle – the call of Christ upon him, his having seen Christ, the evidence of lives changed because of this call. He even calls the Corinthians “the seal of my apostleship”, the stamp or seal of God that this could only happen by God’s authority over Paul as an apostle. What Paul is about to do is establish what his rights as an apostle are. Then he is going to illustrate six times why these rights are legitimate. It’s kind of like Paul setting up his rights like bowling pins and then… he’s going to knock them all down! Look what he says in verses 4,5,6… “Do we have no right to eat and drink?” It’s reference to the care he ought to be able to expect from a church for the work he does. “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” It’s reference to his right to marry and have his wife with him as he travelled and for her to be cared for as well. “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?” This is a reference to Paul and Barnabas’ equality to the other apostles and to the right to rest in the care of others. Each right is presented as a legitimate response to their credentials as apostles, to the authority they exercise and to the work they do in that authority. To further emphasize this Paul lists six examples or illustrations of things that the Corinthians would just accept as normal. It would be normal for a soldier to be cared for with uniforms and arms and food and shelter. It would be normal for a vineyard keeper to eat of his own produce. It would be normal for a shepherd to benefit from his flock. Even in the Law of Moses it was normal that you would not muzzle an ox while it walked round and round threshing grain. It would be normal for a farmer to expect to eat of the very crop he was planting. It would be normal for the priest who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem to eat of the food supplied in the Temple. So Paul sets up the bowling pins of his legitimate rights and then in verse 14 he bowls them all down, “If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” Paul even goes on to say that Jesus had affirmed this very right of support from a church for those who are its pastors and preachers, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (vs 14), perhaps a reference to what Jesus said in Matt. 10 or Luke 10. The point is clear, Paul had a right to expect support from whatever church he served and yet he willingly laid down that right. He even goes so far as to say that the reason he is telling them this is not to somehow make them feel guilty and thus support him. Look at how he puts this in verse 15, “But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.” His boasting wasn’t that he did this without pay, no he preached because he had to preach. His boasting or glorying was about the fact that he could work with his own hands to support the work which gave greater freedom in Christ to preach.
II. Paul’s Reward, To Give the Gospel Out and to Take the Gospel In.
So how would you define what the word Gospel means? It begins with God loves you but it quickly shifts to how God loves you. John 3:16 right, the way that God loves us is by taking away the things that stand between us and Him. If a relationship has been broken, damaged to the point of people being against each other then the only way to restore it is to bring forgiveness. That’s what God did as the way to love us, He brought forgiveness to us in the person of Jesus. He would be crushed between our sin and the Father’s holiness, he would take away the sin of the world, He would be our forgiveness. Who Jesus is as God and man, what Jesus did and said, why Jesus died and how he rose from the dead all point to the good news that there is an eternity called heaven because of the love of God. That is what the Gospel is. So Paul says in verse 18, “What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.” In other words Paul considered his ability to work with his own hands a key to being able to present the gospel without charge, he saw it as opportunity. So check out the degree of opportunity that he sees for presenting the Gospel, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more…”. He says to the Jew he became like a Jew, to the Greek or pagan as like a pagan in appearance or interest yet still keeping faithful to Christ. To the weak he became weak, in fact he says, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” And then he says in verse 23, “Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” Paul’s reward is to give the Gospel away, like person going through a refugee camp handing out clean water and food and warm clothing and then drinking the very water and food with them and savoring the life it brings them both. Do you think that it’s possible that this might be how Jesus felt as he walked this earth? That He looked upon all those about Him as people in a captivity of sorts, like the way a refugee camp provides yet at the same time encircles and holds people within. They get what they need to live but this is no place to live. Sin in our world is like that, it surrounds and encloses us, it feeds us vacant truth, it offers void hope and holds out vane love. So Jesus became all things to all men… to the Pharisee Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman at the well, to the lepers whose face He touched, to the prostitutes He restored, to your soul He saved.
So Paul says, ‘Run the Most Amazing Race’, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” The great reward is there for you, lay down your right and serve Him.