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1 Corinthians 9 sermon – part three

...Continued from here.

To offer the gospel for free and for everyone requires huge sacrifices on our part.  To offer it for free will put great pressure on our time and money - Paul had to work a second job.  To offer it freely for everyone will require huge sacrifices of personal comfort.  It will require that we leave our own comfort zones of 'people like us' and enter deeply into the cultures and sub-cultures of others. 

That's what Paul addresses from v19:

 19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

And then Paul gives some examples:

20To 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.

Paul grew up Jewish.  He called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews.  Circumcised on the 8th day. Of the tribe of Benjamin.  Paul was a Pharisee.  You know those pious religious types who kept every law and made up more just for fun?  Paul was one of them.  But then, as v1 reminds us, Paul met Jesus.  Jesus turned Paul’s life around.  And Paul realizes it’s not about the law.  It’s not about legal obedience.  It’s not about circumcision or eating the right food or observing special days or jumping through any of the hoops of the OT law.  It’s about Jesus.  To be saved – to be right with God - trusting Jesus is IT.  It’s not: trust Jesus and do your best.  It’s not: trust Jesus and be circumcised.  It’s not: trust Jesus and take a pilgrimmage to Bognor Regis.  It’s: trust in Jesus.  Full stop.  And all that religious stuff has every danger in the world of getting in the way of simply trusting Jesus.  And so Paul writes the most damning critique of Jewish practices in all the bible.  He says ‘If you think Jewish practices and religious observances get you to God, you’re headed for hell.’  It’s Jesus and only Jesus.  The book of Galatians is all about this.  He even says at one stage: ‘If you think getting circumcised will bring you closer to God – I hope the knife slips.’  (Gal 5:12).  He actually says that.  You couldn’t find a person more opposed to Jewish practices as a road to salvation.

But what does he say in v20 here?  He says when I’m with Jews, I’m like a Jew.  I dress like a Jew.  I eat like a Jew.  I go to all the Jewish festivals.  I even pay for others to go to Jewish festivals.  And here’s how much Paul is flexible.  In Acts 16, Paul goes with another gospel worker called Timothy into a predominantly Jewish area.  Timothy’s mum was a Jew, but his dad was not.  So Timothy had not been circumcised.  You know how flexible Paul is?  The man who wrote: “If you get circumcised to get closer to God – I hope the knife slips”- he circumcised Timothy.  Not to get closer to God, but to get closer to the Jews.  Not to save Timothy – to save those Jews.  Paul didn’t want all his conversations with the Jews to be ‘Why isn’t Timothy circumcised?  His mother’s a Jew, don’t you care about the Old Testament?’  Paul didn’t want his conversations to be about foreskins – he wanted his conversations to be about Christ.  So he said, “Timothy... mate. You’re going to have to take one for the team here.”  That's the kind of costly flexibility that's called for.

Imagine I’m invited to a high Anglican church to preach – and I say ‘I won’t wear your priestly robes, because wearing robes doesn’t get you closer to God.  And so I show up in a T-shirt and shorts.  I might think I’m demonstrating the gospel to them: “It’s not about robes, it’s about Christ.”  Are they going to listen to a word I say?  No and actually my refusal to wear robes makes robes the big issue.  Robes don’t get you closer to God no.  But not wearing robes doesn’t make you closer to God either.  So wear the robes and preach the gospel.

I once spoke to a group of Muslims from the bible.  After I read from the bible I didn’t have anywhere to put the bible and so, I put the bible on the floor by my feet.  Every widened eye was fixed on my bible and jaws were on the floor.  This was how the Christian treated his holy book??  And they didn’t listen to a word I said.  I might think I’m prioritising Christ by being careless about my religious and cultural practices.  Actually when I’m careless about my religious and cultural practices, THOSE practices become the issue and no-one listens about Christ.

How far do you go?  Well if you were living among Muslims and everyone fasts at Ramadan, it’s the holy thing to do, would you fast?  Would you fast to Jesus, while they fast to Allah?  That's an issue to seriously consider.  If you’re a woman and all the Muslim women wore a burkha, and to wear less than a full burkha was to cause offence. Would you wear a burkha or at least a hijab or some other headscarf?  You'd have to seriously consider that woudn't you? 

Again, here’s the fascinating thing.  If you don’t fast, all your conversations are going to be about fasting.  If you don’t wear a head covering all your conversations are going to be about clothing.  If you do fast, if you do wear the clothes – then any conversations about food and clothes get off on the right foot.  Because you say, ‘I’m doing it for Jesus, let me tell you about Him.’

To be conitnued...

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