The Gospel and the Passion to Share It

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 9:22-23

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law – though not being myself under the law – that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law – not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ – that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23, rsv

“. . . though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.” Here one of the most remarkable human beings who ever lived opens a window into his inmost soul. He lets us see the secret of his life-changing ministry. He gives us a clue to the understanding of his entire career.

FREE FROM ALL

It was the apostle Paul. He knew himself to be free from all men. He was no one’s slave. He often celebrated his liberty as a Roman citizen. Further, he had incurred no financial obligations. No one could bring pressure on the apostle because of some outstanding debt. None could hold him hostage because of princely favors they had bestowed upon him. He had steadfastly refused to receive financial support from the churches, even though he was entitled to it as a minister of the gospel. Deliberately, the man had kept himself clear of entanglements.

Further, he was not subject to anyone’s scruples. As one who had been brought by grace into the freedom of the gospel, he acknowledged Christ alone as the Lord of his conscience. No human opinion, even the most widely and strongly held, kept him enthralled. He was the Lord’s free man, subject to none. If any such being ever lived on the earth, Paul was a “liberated” man, a soul set free. He rejoiced in that and was determined that no one should rob him of his Christian liberty.

A SLAVE TO ALL

“But,” he said, “I have made myself a slave to all.” Paul announces now that he, the Lord’s free man, who is subject to none, is also a slave to all. He has not one master but many. He is engaged to serve and please everyone – and this by his own considered choice. No one has subjected him to this bondage. He has placed himself under it. He has made himself everyone else’s bond slave.

What do you mean, Paul? He proceeds to illustrate. “To the Jews I became as a Jew.” That sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? In one sense Paul was a Jew, and in another sense he was not. He was Jewish by race, by birth, by upbringing. All that was undeniable.

But because of Jesus Christ, Paul’s Jewishness was no longer the center of his being. He was convinced that in Jesus Christ Judaism had been fulfilled and the law brought to its intended goal. He was no longer a Jew in the sense that his unbelieving countrymen were. He had a new identity within the body of Jesus Christ. When he was among Jews, he chose to be one of them. He could abide by their dietary laws. He could undergo their purification rites. He could accommodate to their ways of worship. He could have his young son in the faith, Timothy, circumcised according to age-old Jewish custom.

Now Paul was no chameleon when it came to the doctrine of the gospel or the imperatives of the moral life. If the Jews around him had insisted that their Jewishness was essential for salvation, he would have resisted to the last drop of his blood. But when it came to non-essential matters, to culture and custom, Paul was amazingly accommodating. Insofar as obedience to Christ would allow him to do that, he subjected himself totally to the expectations of his Jewish countrymen.

Again, to those under the law, he became “as under the law.” He hastens to add that he was not himself under the law. The law could never again be an external obligation for Paul. Christ was for him the fulfillment of the law. Paul was no longer related to God in legal terms. He was related to God supremely through Jesus Christ, so that no room is left for law. Yet Paul can act at times as if he were under the law. One example of this is in his consent that Timothy, his son in the faith, should be circumcised. Paul did not believe that such an ordinance was required of Timothy by God, but he consented to it, subjected himself and Timothy to it, as if under the law.

Now comes something even more surprising. “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law.” He’s speaking of Gentiles now who have never known the Jewish law nor acknowledged its claim upon them. When Paul is among such people, he can adopt their outlook and their lifestyle. He hastens to guard against misunderstanding at this point. He emphatically does not mean that he is lawless, without moral standards, that is, without obligation to God. He was “in the law,” he says, or “under the law to Christ.” Christ had brought about for Paul an entirely new situation. Everything was still of God’s mercy. God’s claim to obedience was as absolute as ever. But Jesus had achieved that toward which the law could only point. He was “the end of the law” in that He fulfilled it. Representatively, on behalf of all mankind, Jesus had offered to God a perfect obedience. And, risen from the dead, He has sent His Spirit to the hearts of His people to renew them after God’s image.

Paul could be like the Gentiles in the sense that he did not owe absolute obedience to a code. His allegiance was entirely to a living person. Where Gentile ways of thinking and behaving did not conflict with the lordship of Christ, Paul could freely identify himself with them.

Further, he says, “to the weak I became weak.” The apostle is speaking now of some of the members within the Christian church who had strong scruples about what was allowable for them. The apostle was not subject himself to these scruples. He knows that in the gospel he is gloriously free. “All things are lawful” for him. Yet when he is with those who are held by such inhibitions, he can put himself in their place. He can allow himself to be governed by the restraints they feel. If they fear that eating meat, for example, is spiritually damaging for them, Paul will cheerfully forego his right to eat meat as long as he lives.

There seem to be no limits to this self-subjection of the apostle. There is no group, no culture, no outlook to which he’s unwilling to accommodate. “I have become,” he says, “as all things to all men.”

How do we understand this? Total freedom and total subjection. Strong conviction about truth and morals along with a total identification with others. Paul seems able to accommodate himself to any one of a number of groups and cultures without a loss of his essential identity.

Paul’s model in all this is not far to seek. It is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Lord. The Word becoming flesh in Jesus of Nazareth was the most spectacular instance of cultural identification in the history of the world. The Son of the Almighty, remaining truly God, yet became one of us. He identified Himself with us here in our world and placed Himself in our situation. He did not stay in the safe immunity of heaven. He entered our history, took our nature, lived our life, endured our temptations, experienced our sorrows, carried our sins, and died our death. He could not have identified Himself with us more closely, more completely, than He did.

Paul is an authentic follower of this Master. He wants to enter the worlds of others. One is the world of their philosophy or ideology. He wants to understand how these people think and believe, to grasp how the world and life look to them. He wants also to enter the world of their alienation and pain, their struggle and searching. But he’s determined in the midst of that never to forget who he is and whom he serves.

Anyone who does this is almost certain to be misunderstood. Remember how it was with Jesus? What happened when He stepped across the barriers and identified Himself with groups on the outside? How did people feel when He chose to go through Samaria, land of the hated half-breeds? How did they react when He ate in the homes of tax collectors and sinners, when He treated women with dignity, when He reached out to touch lepers, when He brought good news to the poor? Someone always got angry. Someone always called Him by an unpleasant name. They didn’t understand.

Many of His contemporaries couldn’t understand the apostle Paul either. They thought he was a turncoat, a vacillator, a man who spoke out of both sides of his mouth. He was stoned by Jews and Gentiles alike. They wanted Him in prison, both in Jerusalem and in Rome. They described Him as someone who was turning everything upside down. They judged him unfit to live.

Why do you do it, Paul? Listen to the refrain: “. . . that I might win the more . . . in order to win Jews . . . that I might win those under the law . . . that I might win those outside the law . . . that I might win the weak . . . that I might by all means save some.” What was behind all this accommodation, this self-subjection to the cultures and consciences of others? Nothing but this: a great, yearning love. Paul wanted to win people, to convert them, to save them. He longed to bring them to Christ, to see them repent and believe, to have them find forgiveness and new life. He wanted them to belong, in body and soul, in life and in death, not to themselves but to their faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul’s behavior must have looked to his enemies like time-serving or duplicity. But his whole manner of life amid its kaleidoscopic changes was governed by a simple, practical aim: “for the gospel’s sake,” to catch men, as it were, to win human beings. What accounted for the bewildering variety of means was the intensity with which the end was sought. Strange, wasn’t it? The most determined of all men, when in a complex human situation, becomes of all men the most adaptable, the most versatile, the most ingenious in identifying himself with others.

This had been God’s way in the sending of His Son. This was the aim of the Incarnation. Listen to Jesus: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost . . . I came to call sinners to repentance. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly . . . God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”

What we see in the apostle Paul is the vast love of the Lord inflaming a human spirit, Jesus’ passion to save gripping the heart of his man, the Lord’s own caring embodied anew. The passion to share the gospel is ever the burden of the Lord.

TO SHARE IN THE GOSPEL

Paul has one more thing to say here. “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessing.” He affirms once more that he does everything he has just described in order to further the gospel, to see it spread and prosper. He loses himself for Christ and the evangel, but in doing that, he expects to find himself. “I do it all,” he writes, “for the sake of the gospel `that I may share in its blessing.’” He seems to be saying that to partake of the gospel we need to share it with others, that seeking the salvation of others is the sign that we ourselves are among the redeemed, that we only discover the fullness of what it is to be saved when we give of ourselves to win others.

Samuel Rutherford once said to the beloved congregation among whom he labored, to whom he preached, for whom he prayed and wept, “Your heaven will be two heavens to me.” That’s the spirit; that’s the authentic burden to share the gospel. The apostle Paul declared that his hope and joy and crown of rejoicing was that others too would be in the presence of the Lord at His coming.

Let me ask you today: Have you received the gospel? Have you put your trust in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord? Now, through His word of invitation, He seeks for you, calls you to Himself. If you’ve never done so, welcome Him now as your Savior and Lord. Say to Him from your own heart, “Jesus, come now into my life. I confess my sins before you. I commit myself entirely to You. Thank You for hearing me.”

And if you do know the gospel, will you make it your steady purpose in life to win other people, to gain them for Christ? The good news of God’s love in His Son will be truly yours only as you seek lovingly to share it. God bless you!

RAYER: Father, let it be so. Let every one of us trust in Christ from the heart and then have a great passion in our lives to communicate His love to others. In His name. Amen.