What DID Jesus Do? He modeled a servant's heart.
1 Corinthians 9:7-12; 19-23
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
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.
Some of the most famous words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From that moment on one of the concepts that has been part of our lifeblood here in America is the concept of “our rights”...and the defense of “our rights”. The defense of that which we perceive should rightfully be ours for moral or legal reasons.
When my wife and I were in D.C. for a year, it seemed like every weekend, there were multiple rallies or protests or gatherings of people who were taking up a particular cause or position. They were defending their rights. Republicans marching their rights. Democrats marching for their rights. One of the non-dominant political parties marching for their rights. And then of course, all the marches from the hundreds of various groups as they defend the rights that are important to them….
And we would be silly to think that as people who live in this country that this concept of “our rights” isn’t also deeply ingrained in us. And so the Biblical concept that is laid out before us today is not a popular one. It’s one that can even be foreign to us as Christians who live in America. The concept is this: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS. That’s right, you heard correctly: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS.
Alright, Let’s jump into our 2nd reading and see just what that means. If ever there was a character who pretty consistently did a great job of mirroring the servant heart of Christ, it was Paul. And we see that servant attitude in the reading we have before us from first Corinthians. In that first section (verses 7-12), Paul makes a logical argument about how a worker should receive his wages. Yet, he says, he never came with the intention of exercising this workers’ right. At times in Paul’s ministry, he had a side job to make ends meet. At other times in Paul’s ministry, he didn’t need a side job because other churches he had visited provided for his needs and so he was able to give himself fully to the work of the Lord. We often see Paul giving up his right to wages for young and budding Christian congregations. He gives up his right to wages for the sake of the gospel. Paul certainly hopes that they will give eventually...but he wants that giving to be properly motivated after they hear and believe in the gospel.
Now in this second paragraph, we again see Paul’s servant heart come out. We again see him giving up his rights for the sake 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.
Sometimes I hear the question, “Why do we still observe some of God’s commandments in the Old Testament, but not all of them?” So right now we’ll briefly answer that question because it has to do with what Paul is saying here. In the Old Testament we see 3 types of law: moral law (like the 10 commandments), civil law (the governing of the nation of Israel), and the ceremonial law (the festival days and the regulations God had given his people). Today we still uphold the moral law (once again, think about the 10 commandments). However, it is made clear in the New Testament that Christ upheld all of the law perfectly, and in doing so, we are no longer bound to the civil and ceremonial law. Some examples of that would be...We no longer have to sacrifice animals. We no longer have to obverse all the special religious holidays that had been given to the nation of Israel. We no longer have to observe the Old Testament regulations on what we can and can’t eat.
So here is what Paul is saying: as a Christian, he is no longer bound to all those laws that were specific to the nation of Israel. BUT… he gives up that right for the sake of the gospel. So even though he did not have to, in order to win over the Jews, in order to win over those still under the law, he lived like one of them. He observed the Sabbath on Saturday—the original day of the Sabbath. He observed the festival days. He followed the Old Testament regulations regarding the eating of things like pork and shellfish. He observed the right of circumcision. He didn’t have to do those things. It was his right as a Christian to NOT do those things. But he did them anyways so that he might have an opportunity to being the message of Jesus to his Jewish brothers.
Then it was just the opposite for those who were never bound by the ceremonial and civil law—those who were not of Jewish descent. He lived like one who was never bound by the law. Again, he’s not talking about the moral law—God’s moral law still stands. So that means Paul wasn’t going to the tavern to get drunk in the name of reaching the other drunks. That’s not what Paul is talking about. He IS saying, and we see this in his writings, that he is not going to burden non-Jewish Christians with all the regulations of the Old Testament that were specific to the nation of Israel. They can be Christians without doing those things! They can be Christians without being physically circumsized. They can be Christians and they can eat the foods they want. They can be Christians and worship God on whatever day and in whatever location they would like.
Okay, up to this point it has maybe felt like we’re talking about a bit of an abstract concept. The culture Paul lived in looked different than the one we live in. But regardless of that, the truths he talked about still stand and have application. So now, with the rest of our time here today let’s pull out the principles that Paul gives us and ask what application they have for us in today’s world.
So first let’s pull out some of those timeless truths Paul relays to us. We’ve already hinted at one a number of times: GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS for the sake of the gospel. Another would be, don’t put any kind of unnecessary hindrance or stumbling block in a person's way that is going to turn them away from the gospel. And I’ll give you one more—and this one is maybe the easiest to understand—don’t let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing the gospel with other people.
For high school I attended a public school with somewhere around 2000 students. And today I would like to first apply this concept in a high school setting—you’ll see why in a minute. High schools tend to be notorious for divisions. Those divisions are called, cliques. You’ve got your athletes. They all hang out. Then you’ve got your studious and straight A students. Sometimes you find them forming a group. You’ve got your arts and drama people that tend to form a group. You’ve got your choir people that tend to form a group. And the list goes on… Now, remember our truth: When you let the earthly definition of who you are get in the way of sharing Christ’s love with others, you’re doing something wrong. As a volleyball player, you’ve earned the right to be a part of the volleyball group. But when that earthly definition of who you are begins to interfere with you showing love and concern for everyone in every other group, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let your straight A’s define you to the point that you forget to show love to those who are struggling, you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people. If you let being part of the popular group define you to the point that you forget to show love and kindness to every single person, then you’ve lost your focus—you’re not being all things to all people.
Alright, here’s why I started with high school as an example. As adults, we like to think that we grow out of those things. But the truth is? We don’t. We too have things in our lives that define us to the point that they get in the way of us sharing God’s Word and his love with others. We’ll go through just a few common ones today.
We’ll start with the most fun one first: politics. Do you ever let your political leanings get in the way of showing Christ’s love to others? Maybe you’re a Democrat. Maybe you’re a Republican. Or maybe you identify with another political party. But now the real question is this… Do you let that earthly identity—that earthly label—outshine your identity as a child of God? Do you let it outshine your identity as servant to all? When we let that earthly identity outshine our identity as child of God, we end up alienating a significant portion of the people we are trying to reach with the gospel before we even get a chance to tell them about Jesus—before we even get a chance to show them his love.
What about race? Do you let your ethnicity define you to the point that it gets in the way of you showing love to others? If you’re in the majority, do you let that identity cause you to become insensitive and calloused to the struggles of minorities? If you’re in the minority, do you let that identity cause you to become suspect and skeptical of the entire majority? When we forget to let our identity as Christians be our primary identity, then we forget the importance of seeking to show love to all humans, regardless of race or nationality.
And we can ask the same question for all the things we tend to get wrapped up in here on earth. Status, friend circles, net worth, the sports teams you follow, how well you have your live together compared to others… you name it. Do we get so wrapped up in those things that we forget our purpose of showing love to ALL people?
Praise be to God that Jesus didn’t come down here and get wrapped up in earthly identities. He didn’t come down to earth to establish or identify with any one political party. He didn’t come down to earth to set up a dominant race or nationality. He came down to earth to meet us where we’re at. He gave up his rights. As the king of the universe, he didn’t need to come down to earth...But he did. As the only perfect human to have ever lived here on earth, it was his right to not suffer and be punished… but he gave up that right for us. As true God, the good creator of life, it was his right to never experience death… but he gave up that right and he gave his very life for us.
When it comes to showing love to others, follow Jesus’ example, follow Paul’s example: Give up your rights. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we not let the things we associate with here on earth consume us to the point that we begin to alienate entire groups of people rather than look for ways to bring them the gospel. Christ had every right to turn his back on a world of sinners, but he gave up that right. Instead, he lived amongst us as a servant. May he give us that same servant heart. May our Christian identity shine forth more powerfully and more brightfully than any other identity as we serve and love others with the very love of Jesus that lives in our hearts. Amen? Amen.