Continued from here.
Where do we draw the line though? Is Paul infinitely flexible? Just a chameleon with no integrity? No, look at those brackets in v21:
21To 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.
Paul is not just all spin and no substance. Even when Paul enters deeply into another culture there is still something ruling Paul. He says he’s not free from God’s law but he uses a wonderful phrase to describe his relationship to Christ. He is in-lawed by Christ. Not that Christ is like the in-laws – that would not be good! But it’s the idea of Paul kind of sunk down into Christ who is Paul’s law. Christ Himself is the ruling authority in Paul’s life – Christ has en-law-ed Paul. So Paul has not just cast off every rule and authority “Hey – all things to all men – whatever man!” Instead he is ruled, he has a centre, he has integrity. It’s Jesus. It’s the Jesus who hung out with prostitutes and publicans and sinners. But it’s the Jesus who never sinned in those circumstances.
Which means Paul could never say ‘I became a drug dealer in order to win drug dealers.’ ‘I became a drug user to win drug users.’ Or ‘I became sex worker to win sex workers.’ But it will mean some people saying ‘I hang out with drug dealers and drug users to win drug dealers and drug users.’ ‘I hang out with sex workers to win sex workers.’
There’s flexibility, but there’s also faithfulness.
But why Paul? Why go through all of this?? It’s so much easier to stick with people like us.
We’re not even aware of how strongly we just gravitate towards people like us. When we’ve walked into a room we’ve assessed the people there in a nanosecond and we gravitate immediately to people like us. Without even thinking about it, we strike up a conversation with people our age, our race, our tax bracket, our sense of humour, our fashion sense. We’ve made those calculations at the speed of thought, and we slot into cliques with ‘people like us’. Because – we crave acceptance, we deeply want to belong and it’s exhausting crossing social and cultural boundaries.
So how does Paul do it?
23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I read another translation of this verse which I think is a bit better. “That I may be a CO-sharer in the gospel.” Paul shares in the blessings of the gospel. He has the right to be God’s child. But he doesn’t want to enjoy this blessing on his own. He wants other CO-sharers. He wants other children around him.
And that’s the prize he speaks about in v24. In v25 he calls it ‘the crown’ – we might call it the gold medal. The prize Paul is interested in is having MANY other people share in the gospel blessings with him. In Philippians (4:1) Paul calls his fellow believers his joy and crown. And in 1 Thessalonians (2:19) he says this:
19For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
Paul’s vision of the future is not just sitting down at the great feast with Jesus and no-one else. His vision is sitting down at the feast in the new creation enjoying the presence of Jesus WITH the Philippians and the Thessalonians and the Corinthians and with as many other people as possible. That’s a crown worth working for. That’s a prize that can get you excited. And so Paul tells us how this prize motivates him.
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Do you know how much training it takes to run a marathon? Frankly I don’t want to know. Cos it aint happening? I’m out of breath just brushing my teeth. But I looked up a few training regimes this week. And they seem to vary between 14 and 23 weeks. And at some point you’re running 75 miles in a week. Even if I did nothing else, there are not enough days in a week for me to run 75 miles. Where do they find the time? I read one 14 week regime it said: Week one, day one: Run 6 miles. I need a 14 week regime just to get me to that! By day 7 of week one it said: Run 13-15 miles. You’re running a half-marathon by the end of your first week. I thought ‘That’s a bit extreme’ and then I realised that this was the training regime for someone who wants to run the marathon in under 3 hours.
But actually this is the kind of regime that Paul’s talking about because, v24, we run in such a way as to get the prize. In v24, Paul’s not saying ‘There’s only one spot in heaven, I’ll race you!’ He’s saying the way we seek to win others for Christ is not like a fun run. It’s not a saunter in the park. It’s a competitive sub-3 hour marathon regime. And when you’re on this regime you watch your diet like a hawk, you eliminate virtually everything else from your diary and your life is taken over by running.
But you know what? If you are obsessed enough about running a sub-3 hour marathon, your whole life will be brought into line. If the crown is in mind, if the medal is in mind, if the finishing line is in mind, you’ll find that you have the most amazing self-discipline. Unnecessary stuff gets squeezed out and you’ll do it with zeal because you’re looking to the prize.
Read verses 22-23 again:
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul wants to sit down with Christ in the new creation. And next to him is that Philippian jailor he converted. And the Jewish business woman Lydia. And that demon possessed slave girl he met. When Paul was in Philippi he was flexible enough to reach all of them – you can read about it in Acts 16. But there they’ll be the Jail warden, the well-to-do Jewish business woman and the demon possessed slave girl. (Ex-demon possessed). They’ll all be feasting together. What a prize! And opposite Paul will be the very religious Jews he met at the synagogue and across from them the very clever Greek philosophers he converted in Athens, and next to them will be some Corinthians who chapter 6 told us were once sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. They’ll all be there because the Gospel is big enough to meet and change all of them – and Paul was Christ-like enough to be flexible.
Who do you want to sit down with on that day? Jesus’ blood has paid for every tribe, language, people and tongue. Who’s going to reach them? Who’s going to reach Eastbourne? Well – we are. That is, if we abandon our entitlement spirit. If we stop insisting on hoarding time and money and comfort? If we stop sauntering along like a fun run, or like a shadow boxer. There is a race to run and a prize to win. Thank Jesus that we can partake in this great work. And ask Him now for help to sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed so we can run well.