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  Sermon of the Week

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  Freedom to restrict our freedom - Guerin Tueno 1 Cor 9


  A Small Confession...
  I have something to confess to you today. Something that may forever change the way you look at me. Something that may lower me in your esteem. I like to watch Jerry Springer.
  What really interests me is how the participants see their right to free speech. Because they have the right to say whatever they want, they believe it's their duty to do so. No matter how offensive it gets, Jerry keeps saying "well that's your view and you've got the right to say it."
  Rights can be a good thing. In the Hunt for Red October Sam Neil's character was looking forward to defecting to America. In Russia he could only live where the government told him to. He could only travel with the government's permission. But in America he had the right to live and travel as he wanted to.
  Rights can be good, they can protect us. But just because we have a right to do something, should we do it?
  In today's passage Paul's giving the Corinthians, and us, a model of how to use our Christian freedom and rights. And he invites them to start, by considering his own example. How he tempers his freedom with love.
  Paul the Apostle.
  9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
  Do you feel the weight of his words in these first two verses?
  This is not how Paul usually writes. He doesn't like to make a show of his authority except when he's forced too. But that's what he's doing here. He's insisting that he's free. That he holds the God appointed position of an Apostle. One sent from God. And even if other churches or Christians don't acknowledge Paul as an apostle, the Corinthians have to – Paul was the one who planted the church in Corinth. He is their Apostle. And in 9:2, he says that they are the seal of his Apostleship.
  When I graduated from Uni, I received a piece of paper, with some words on it, something along the lines of Guerin Tueno has spent long enough here, eating junk food, going to lectures, and writing essays. He is hereby awarded this degree. What makes this paper special is that it has the seal of the university on it. A special mark to show that the authority of the University is being used in awarding the degree. I could have written my own degree up, but without the seal it'd be meaningless.
  In the ancient world, kings, and governors also had seals to mark documents as legitimate and authoritative. Paul's saying that the Corinthian believers are nothing less than God's seal of authority upon him. Their existence testifies to the Paul's position, authority and mission.
  Paul starts like this because he wants them to remember the full weight, and power of his apostleship. The Apostles are special people. Surely if any one should insist upon their freedom as Christians it's them.
  That's what the Corinthians were thinking, and yet Paul brings up his Apostleship for precisely the opposite reason. He's thinking of the Apostles, or at least himself as among the strong that he talked about in chapter 8. They know that its OK to eat meat offered to idols, because idols aren't really gods. The Apostles have knowledge, something the Corinthians prized. But this Apostle is driven by love, not simply by the exercising of his freedom or rights.
  Within his rights, but... (9:3-18)
  What Paul gives them in a list of unused rights he could claim as an Apostle.
  V4 The right to be fed and watered by the Churches.
  V5 The right to be married and have his wife travel with him.
  V6 The right to be paid by the churches.
  And its not just that human authority says it – the Old Testament has principles that would establish it too. If an ox gets to eat some of the grain it's helping to grind – surely Christian leaders should be supported by Christians in their ministry?
  So why has Paul turned them down? Why has he refused and gone without. v12 – "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything for the gospel of Christ."
  Paul's prepared to go without his rights, because he doesn't want to let money get in the way of the Gospel. Imagine Paul coming to a town. He gives an evangelistic talk, some people became believers, and then he passes the hat around. People inside and outside the church would be asking some serious questions. Is this message for real, or is he only in it for the money? It wasn't a invitation for reconciliation with God, it was a performance. And Paul wants to avoid that above all else.
  In v14 he says that God has commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should be paid for it. He says the same thing in 1 Tim 5:17. He'll insist on it for others, but not for himself. He'd rather support himself with his business as a tentmaker, than ask the Corinthians for money and murky the waters about his motivation.
  Paul's life was utterly consumed and motivated with proclaiming the good news from God about Jesus. He couldn't not do it. v16 – an obligation to proclaim it has been put on him. He is required to do it. And vs 17-18. If he proclaims it out of his own free desire, then his reward for doing so is that he makes it free of charge.
  On one hand, Paul is like every other Christian – he'll say in 11:1 to imitate him as he imitates Christ. If we can't be like him, what's the point of imitating him? But on the other hand Paul is utterly unique. For him, his conversion to Christianity, and his commissioning to Apostleship were one and the same event – you can read about it Acts chapter 9.
  But even in his unique role, and despite being an apostle, he won't make use of his rights as an apostle – he wants to make it easier for people to believe, not harder.
  A Slave for others. (9:19-23)
  Paul's refusal to utilise his right to pay, is part of his broader understanding of his mission.
  V19 – "I am free with respect to all, but I have made myself a slave to all in order to win them."
  If I act one way here at church, and another way among my non-Christian friends you'd call me a hypocrite. That I'm two faced. But that's not what Paul is doing. Paul's not one thing pretending to be another. Paul's free from their categories. He's free to act in the most helpful way in each individual setting. He wont eat non-kosher food in front of the Jews. He wont tell them that Jesus loves them while he eats a bacon burger. He wont eat meat from the pagan temples with those who are still in awe of idols as gods.
  Paul's primary allegiance and identity in with Christ. His particular actions with anyone group wont betray Jesus. But he will act in ways that make it easier, not harder for others to come to faith in Jesus. And he doesn't pretend that he doesn't acts differently with different groups. This is Paul as the caring pastor, and sensitive evangelist. He won't sin – he won't become like a liar to the liars, or a murderer, to the murderers. But he will act appropriately for the needs of each group.
  As he says in v22 – he has become all things to all people, that he might save some. Paul's burning desire is to see people be saved, not to stand proudly on his rights. He'll gladly not insist on them if it helps others to believe. Paul's driven by principles – not the principle of exercising his rights, like Jerry Springer, but by salvation. For Paul, his rights in the gospel are a wonderful, God given blessing, but one he'll gladly go without for the sake of others. Paul's no hypocrite. Neither is he a legalistic rights lawyer.
  What's always there is his love for God, his desire for others to hear, and his sensitivities to the needs of each group. Paul tempers his freedom and rights with love. This requires discipline.
  The Need for Discipline. (9:24-27)
  In these last three verses he's saying that although he's free, he lives a disciplined life. Like runners in a marathon, or Olympic gymnasts, Paul goes about his mission with iron discipline. A runner who stops to enjoy the view won't win the race.
  Paul's single minded in his life. He's prepared to go without, not insisting on his rights, if that will help him to achieve his mission. Paul's running to win. He's under no illusions about how hard it will be, being a slave to all; conforming rather that insisting on his rights. Going without, so that others gain from the gospel. Its hard work. But if one of the revered, and important Apostles can do this, so can the Corinthians.
  He's giving them a gentle nudge – if I can do it, so can you. If I can go without insisting on my rights, and being correct and free to do something for the sake of another. How about you give it a shot.
  Rather than the Strong insisting on their way because it's their right. Try tempering your freedom and rights with love.
  Christian maturity consists not of knowing your rights and freedoms, but on giving them up for others
  There are two principles from Paul's example.
  Paul uses his tempers his freedom, and gives up his rights to win people for Christ. And he tempers his freedom and gives up his rights as an act of love towards other Christians.
  Free to win others for Christ
  Paul's primary application is about using winning people for Christ. He wants to make it as easy possible for people to become Christians, and refuses to let his own rights become an impediment for them. In verses 12 and 22 Paul opens a window into his heart for us. What drives him, what moves his to give up his rights is his desire to see people become Christians.
  Whenever he came across a people group, or a town, Paul saw people in need of the gospel. People for whom he'd be willing to give up his rights if it would make it easier for them to come to faith. And he scrupulously avoided the impression that all he really wanted was their money.
  I can't answer for you, but we need to ask ourselves what rights do we have as a church or individuals that we cling to and protect, when they can actually get in the way for people to come to Jesus?
  We're within our rights to do them, but if the Apostle Paul could refuse his rights, so can we, if it will help others to faith. And what Paul did, and calls us to, is nothing less than the example of Jesus himself. In Philippians 2, Paul calls the church to consider Jesus. If anyone had rights it was him. God himself, and yet he didn't stand on his rights, but became a servant for our sake. Taking on the role of a servant. God humbled himself, even to the point of death. If no-one less than Jesus can do this for our sake, we can do it so others can benefit from his death and resurrection for us.
  Free to love other Christians.
  His other concern, is about using our freedom and overlooking our rights for the sake of other Christians.
  This is hard for us – our society treasures individualism – I'll fight to protect my right to do something even at the cost of hurting others. Like people on Jerry Springer, saying the most appalling things, our rights are sacrosanct – inviolable.
  But Christians have been given a different model. Last week Chris opened a can of worm asking about what are some of the issue today that divide Christians into the weak and the strong. Alcohol and gambling were high on the agenda. For those who know that alcohol is not inherently bad, and that Christians can drink it in moderation, the right to drink is a good thing. But when it will hurt other Christians, or cause them to lose their faith, its a right we should be willing to pass over. I enjoy Role-playing games.
  But its not something I'll insist on with my Baptist friends from school because it would upset their faith. While I thank God for it, I won't do it with them, or force them to join in. But I will do when it wont affect them.
  One more thing I want to say is that Paul doesn't view Christians just as individuals, with their individual rights. In chapter 12 he talks about the church as a body, and individuals as parts of the body. You can't be a lone wolf Christian – Paul's view is that to be a Christian means being part of a church. That communal aspect to being a Christian is why Paul's example of how to maturely handle Christian freedom and rights is so important – its only in the context of a community, a church that how we exercise our rights and freedom becomes so important. Going to church doesn't save you. But the church is the body of saved people. And Paul's appeal is for Christians to behave in a mature loving way together.

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