1 Corinthians 9:16-23
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
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.
Compelled to win them
When I was in year 8 or 9, I met up with a guy the same age as me who used to be a very good friend. I had moved away and we had not seen each other for over a year. But it was holidays and we hooked up and each got ourselves into the city to meet. We saw a movie (I think it was one of the original Star Wars series).
In the time that we had not seen each other a lot had happened to me. By the insistence of my older sister I had made connections with a local church. I went to a camp they held and came back to regular church connection and new relationships with new people who were teaching me Jesus. I was a very different person now. But my friend knew none of this.
It did not take long for me to realise that I had changed a lot. The jokes, the stories, the values he revealed were not mine anymore. They used to be mine. I knew that Jesus had changed me and I had a bigger and better story to tell now.
In that moment I could have used my new hope and freedom to judge my friend as not worth my time or try and make him feel small. But something compelled me to listen, not judge, share what I could share and avoid what I couldn’t. I knew I had to compromise my own rights and feelings and needs for him so that a gospel seed might be planted and grow in time. I knew that this what Jesus had done for me. He used other people to bring me his hope and love.
Same 30 years later in the men’s soccer shed every Wednesday night for 6 years. Kev, Keith, Fulvio, Ken Dave, Justin, John, and the boys were guys I knew well. They had figured out that they could swear and tell off jokes around me and I would not flinch. I would not judge them as they thought I might. I wouldn’t laugh much sometimes and I never use the same colourful language they did. They noticed. The less I judged them the more they tested me and yet the more they in the end respected me. They would often modify their jokes and language for me – which I thought was great.
Eventually when tragedy struck the group in the form of a man lost by fatal car accident, they turned to me to help them through that. I was compelled to hang in there for these men; putting up with their dead-end view of themselves. Eventually, one of them brought his new baby daughter for baptism. That was a heck of a Sunday service.
In this country at every level of our community from the rich to the poor from the employed to jobless, in singleness and marriage there as so much fear, so much addiction, so much lovelessness in families and in marriages and relationships of any ilk. I was compelled by two things: The Call of Jesus to seek out and love the stranger, and compelled to be Jesus’ Good news man in a bad news world.
Is this being all things to all people? I think it is. Ever since coming to a living faith I have been compelled to try and be all things to all people – for their sake.
But please understand, being all things to all people does not mean compromising the gospel hope but compromising myself and my own right and needs.
Being all things to all people is not about blending in to:
• avoid conflict, let the gospel fall to ground; enter into the things of the world for personal enjoyment.
• a means to avoid challenge, difficulty in relationships or avoid conflict.
• save my own bacon or trying to be a witness of Jesus so that I stay in God’s good books.
Paul gives us the heart reason for our withholding of judgement and disapproval as much as we can and for our actions of love and kindness for as long as we can – it is for them! It is “to win them” for the gospel we love and the Jesus we know who is working in us with his mighty resurrection power that raises the dead and brings the lost home.
To a community quite puffed up about their own spiritual and intellectual genius, who are really struggling to be together in unity and love as a result, Paul speaks into their situation and offers himself as an example of what it means to be a gospel man; a gospel woman in the midst of all kinds of people.
He names four kinds of people in his community:
The Jewish people – Paul’s own ethnic group. Practicing Jews at Synagogue every Saturday: For us, Lutheran folks we know in the Valley. Church going and connected.
Those under the law – non Jewish people who resonated with the Jewish faith and were connected to the local synagogue community – at worship Saturday and keen to learn God’s Law as taught by the Jewish rabbis and people. For us the seekers. Those not cold to the church’s teaching, the gospel of Jesus – not born and bred Lutherans but those from with other family names, different faces and stories.
Those without law – not people out of control as we might picture, but those who also resonated with the Law of God as preached by the Jewish people but gentile converts in largely gentile churches who had no need for signs of Jewish culture and faith. They were, like all Christian, to be aware of and live within God’s moral law (10 Commandments), but not Old Testament ceremonial law.
The weak. This is probably in two ways: Those vulnerable to peer pressure who are easily led – especially by the long-time church members, the well-educated and the wealthy. And those who are actually poor in an economic sense.
Paul shows these Corinthian Christians that they are called to live and tell Jesus’ good news to all of them – in whatever ways are appropriate, in the hope that anyone from any of the groups might find hope, love and freedom form all human ties that bind.
Whether we are faithful worshipers of God, Lutheran of Lutherans with a German name and long Lutheran family history; or ring-ins with some strange sounding English or French or Spanish or Irish name and story but have been led here; or seekers looking and interested and longing for the hope that we can see but have not found personally; or wealthy or low in income, highly educated or not overly educated, doing our paid job well or unemployed and doing it tough, wounded greatly by relationships gone bad, unsure, easily led by anyone who looks like they have the good things we think we need, we are here with him – his gospel – his cross, his love, his calling – we are church.
He has “gospelised us” not to “laud it over people”, claiming to that we did any of this or made ourselves anything good, but he is calling us to be everything we can for every kind of person for the sake of the wonderful grace on offer in Jesus and his story, his purpose, his love.
Friends, be a gospel man; a gospel woman. Carefully, patiently, openheartedly adapt your expectations, your behaviour, your words, your attitudes to them all in the hope that you might win them to the good news; the kid at school, the friend you once knew, the lads at the club, the spouse who is unsure, the friend who is in your sphere.
The reward for this? Freedom, hope, his love, his peace, his future seen in part in our lifetime. A church community being his church community – a gospel community – the noble cause, the thing worth giving your life to the release of captives, new sigh for those who can’t yet see, restoration of bodies of relationships, resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come