Forsaking Our Rights for the Sake of the Gospel

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

(1 Corinthians 9:1–19, ESV)

Living in America, the lens that I and most Americans look through is determined largely by our own experience in a nation that has determined certain rights and freedoms for its citizens. It is largely a privilege and blessings to living in the United States and to enjoy the freedoms that were won and defended for us.

And this outlook of freedoms and rights makes for a particular challenge at times when it comes to understanding the tension between being an American citizen and being a Christian. The Apostle Paul understood the unique opportunities that were afforded to him as a Roman citizen, and at times he made good use of those rights in order to carry out the ministry he had received from God. But at other times, Paul understood that asserting personal rights is not the way of Christ, and that sometimes the Christlike thing to do is to forego those rights in order to serve others and the gospel.

In the passage above found in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is writing about the claims made by the false teachers who were benefiting financially from the church. He is turning their claims on their head in order to show the contact between Paul’s servant attitude and the self-serving attitude of the false apostles.

Paul had not taken advantage of any of the reasonable advantages, such as support of a wife, and financial support; although the false teachers had done so. Since Paul was their father in the faith, he not only had the right to financial support as their pastor, but even more so as the one who was the founder of the church in Corinth.

Yet, as he says in the second half of verse 12, the Apostle has been willing to forego this rightful claim because he loves the church too much to risk there being any sort of obstacle to the gospel. This truth extends Paul’s words of exhortation about the need to give up liberties in the name of love, and it further shows his heart as compared to the hearts of the false teachers. “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1Cor 12:9b).

Paul’s liberty refused, he goes on in the rest of verses 10-19 to demonstrate that his self-sacrifice and self-constraint is one more way that he can see the progress of the gospel go forth with greater vigor. Every obstacle, including denial of support and marriage, was worth it for Paul since it meant greater gospel effectiveness. Paul doesn’t say that all must do this, but he is compelled by zeal for Christ and joyfully gives up his rights for the Corinthians. How then could they say that Paul was the one who was “using” the church?

Paul was on a mission, in the truest sense. He wouldn’t let anything deter or damper progress for the sake of the gospel. For Paul, onward and upward was his motto and his aim was pure and his desire true.

Today in many ways it feels like the ministers of Jesus have lost much of this same focus and zeal. Administration, programs, buildings, budgets, church politics, self-promotion, and all other sorts of distractions have filled our time and stolen our focus. Paul was willing to leave it all behind in order to see people come to know Christ as Savior. Do we do the same? If we stripped back everything other than gospel ministry, what would be left? Maybe we should ponder this question as we prepare to enter into a new year, praying that the Lord would help us to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,” and let us once again run with a freedom and with endurance the race that our Savior has set before us. That is true freedom.

Hurl Grenades into the Enemy’s Ranks

That is what you must do with your sermons, make them red-hot; never mind if men do say you are too enthusiastic, or even too fanatical, give them red-hot shot. There is nothing else half as good for the purpose you have in view. We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy’s ranks.

—C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour; Fleming H. Revel edition, 69.

We Will Not Be Silent and We Will Not Bow Down

“In a time of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Let us determine that we will not be shamed into silence or inaction. We will speak, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel, let us resolve that we will not bow.”

Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced, 38.

It is interesting to read about the Apostle Paul’s experience in Jerusalem in Acts 21-26. In these chapters, Paul is constantly allowed to share with different audiences his testimony in one way or another. Incredibly, in many instances, he isn’t allowed to finish his explanation of why he believes in Jesus Christ.

At first, Paul is seized while worshipping in the temple and dragged outside of the temple grounds so he can be stoned to death. By the providence of God, he is rescued by Roman soldiers whom he asks for permission to speak to the angry mob because they don’t seem to agree about why they want to kill him. But before Paul finishes his explanation, the crowd erupts in rage and he is once again needing to be rescued by the Roman soldiers and carried away to safety.

Again and again, Paul speaks: to the Sanhedrin, to Felix the Governor, before Felix’s wife Drusilla. Following Felix, Paul was allowed to speak to the incoming Governor Festus, and in frustration and to seek justice, he finally appealed to Caesar himself.

In each of these interactions, Paul spoke the truth—whether about his beliefs, his experiences, the deception of his enemies, or the truth of the gospel message and Jesus Christ. And in each opportunity, he found that most of those that called him to speak the truth were not actually interested in hearing the truth. And he also found that when he spoke the truth, those who claimed to want to hear the truth did not actually want the truth spoken. Many responded with violence and murder.

Dear Christian, do you not see that this attitude is similar to the one we face in our world today, and it is growing stronger? Many people speak about wanting the truth—but they do not want it when we speak it. Some want a version of the truth that suits them and their version of reality. Some truly want to hear it but are seriously disappointed that it is not what they had hoped. Some respond with calls to silence the truth and truth-speakers.

But like Paul, we cannot be silent. And like Jeremiah before him, we must say, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” Jeremiah 20:9.

In today’s world, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. May we speak the truth no matter what. Don’t forget that we are a city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.

The Rage Against Truth (weekend repost)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Read the rest of this post here: The Rage Against Truth

The Rage Against Truth

These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”” (Acts 19:25–28, ESV)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Instead, Demetrius did what so many others do when they cannot refute the truth of the gospel–they resort to emotional appeals that focus on rage and victimhood. The best response that these tradesmen could come up with was to whip themselves up into a frenzied mob and shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours (Eph 19:34). After all, they reasoned, everyone knows this is true! Why answer questions, and why reason or have a civil conversation? Raging anger, shouting, and mob violence were all they could come up with.

I wish I could say that society has become more “civilized” in its response to contrary ideas and viewpoints, particularly about religion–but it hasn’t. Emotional responses completely devoid of reason, civil conversation, and informed information are harder to find than ever.

As a Christian, I do not claim to know all the answers, but I am more than willing to sit down and talk to someone about what I believe the Bible and Christian faith teaches, and if they are truly sincere, I would invite a discussion of their challenges to my faith. Since I believe that the Christian Scriptures are utterly consistent with the laws of reason and logic, I am encouraged and even compelled to sit with those who might want to discuss the most important matters in life.

When people resort to mockery, ad hominem attacks, filthy language, and an unwillingness to honestly look at the evidence, there is little hope that a genuine conversation can occur. Christianity is not against reason and genuine dialogue with those who have questions, but instead invites it. After all, I serve a God who is willing to reason with sinners who are sincerely looking for truth: ““Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

Dear Christian, I would invite you as well to, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)