July 21, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
For a Higher Cause
1 Corinthians 9



Spokenya run: raised $10,000 for clean water in Kenya.  Shout out to Karen Richardson and everyone who volunteered or participated!  It was hot—but we were doing it for a great cause—and a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s!

When was the last time you sacrificed for a higher cause?  We all do it.  We make financial sacrifices for our kids.  We sacrifice getting our way for the sake of peace in a relationship.  We sacrifice time to volunteer for a cause we believe in.  We sacrifice dessert to lose a few pounds, and we sacrifice sleep to get up and workout.  Or not…

Today, we’re going to read 1 Corinthians 9.  In it, Paul talks about making sacrifices for a higher cause.  



Introduction and offering:

This is a Glorious Mess.  This summer, we are studying Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, one chapter a week.  Paul wrote to address some very messy problems in this church.  While the problems may be different than the ones we face, the principles are still applicable.  So our goal is to understand what Paul was saying and apply it to our context.

Today we’re in chapter 9.  In chapters 8-10, Paul is dealing with the problem of idolatry, specifically, of eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  Corinth was full of temples for various gods, and these gods were worshiped with a sacrifice followed by a meal at the temple.  Part of the sacrifice was burned as an offering to the god; the rest of the meat was eaten with family and friends.  So it was a religious service, but it was also a social event.  When someone had something to celebrate—a birthday, a new child, a wedding, a new job, or a raise at work—they celebrated with a sacrificial meal at a temple.  They thanked the god and celebrated with friends.  These were the restaurants of their day.  Think of going to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate your kid’s birthday—except you think Chucky is a god.  Not far fetched!  

These meals were both social and religious; and that was the problem.  On the one hand, they were worship services for an idol, and the new Christians had left those gods to follow Jesus.  On the other hand, they were social events, and the Corinthians had grown up attending these celebrations—it was part of their culture. Paul will tell them in chapter 10 to stop going to these temple services—no more Chuck E Cheese—it was a huge change!

Paul also addresses another related issue: is it ok to eat meat that had been offered to these gods when it is sold in the market?  Not all of the sacrifices at the temples could be eaten; much of it was sold in the local market and the money went into the temple coffers.  Should Christians eat this meat, knowing that it had been offered to an idol?  Paul addressed that in chapters 8 and 10—Sean talked about it last week.  Paul said it was ok to eat the meat, but if it caused someone else problems, don’t do it.  The idea is that each of us should be willing to restrict our freedom and forgo our rights for the sake of others.   If you do something that harms someone else, you’re not acting in love.  You may eat meat offered to idol and for you, it’s just a steak, nothing more.  But if it causes your brother to slip into idolatry—well, no steak is worth that.

Here’s the big idea for chapters 8-10.

The Big Idea: Christians willingly forgo some freedoms and rights for the sake of others, for a higher cause.

In chapter 9, Paul seems to go off topic and talk about his right for financial support, but as we’ll see, he’s still on point.  He’s illustrating the idea of sacrificing your rights or freedoms for the sake of others, for the sake of the gospel.  

1. Paul’s rights: his right to their financial support. 1-18


1 Corinthians 9 (NIV)

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Paul asserts that he is an apostle, and as such, has a right to their financial support.  He makes a very strong case by citing several examples and a couple Scriptures.  The examples: A soldier doesn’t serve at his own expense; a farmer gets to eat his crops; a herder drinks the milk from his flock; those who serve in the temple are paid from the temple.   The Scriptures: first he quotes:

Deuteronomy 25:4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

He argues from the lesser to the greater: if God cares for an ox, how much more us?  This is written for us, not oxen!  But it’s the second Scripture that nails it.  He cites Jesus. The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.  Paul is citing Luke 10:7 and Matthew 10:10, where Jesus sends out his disciples and tells them to accept support: “The worker deserves his wages.”

So Paul makes a strong case that he has a right to be supported by them, and then boasts that he has refused to use these rights!  He refused to let them pay him, and instead supported himself by working as a tentmaker.  Why is he refusing their support?

12 But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

He was willing to forgo his rights for the sake of the gospel.  He didn’t want to hinder the gospel.  How would Paul receiving support have hindered the gospel?  We don’t know.  Here’s my best guess.  Back in chapter one I told you that traveling philosophers or rhetoricians were the rock stars of the day, and the Corinthians seemed to be treating Paul and the other apostles like them. “Paul’s my favorite!”  “I like Apollos!”  These traveling speakers earned a great deal of money for talking—it was all for fame and fortune.  Perhaps Paul didn’t want to be lumped with them, so he refused to accept any pay.  “I’m not one of them. I’m not peddling anything.  I come with a different wisdom, a message from God.  I’m not here to get something from you, but to give something to you.”  So although Paul had a right to their support, he refused to exercise that right for a higher cause, for the sake of the gospel.

What can we learn from all this?

First, pay your pastors!  Paul makes a strong case that “those who preach the gospel should make their living from the gospel.”  It’s clear that his refusal to accept support is an exception due to their context, not the rule.  

So let’s talk about money for a minute.  Relax—we’ve already taken the offering.  Why talk about this?  Paul did.  And I’m going to share some things that you should want to know if you’re a member here, or if you’re a guest and just checking us out to see how we roll.  

If you’ve been here long, I think you’d agree that I don’t pressure you to give.  We’re pretty low-key about the offering.  But sometimes that backfires on us.

ILL: Recently, a friend of mine was talking with someone who used to go to Life Center, and now goes to one of our daughter churches.  She told him, “I feel so good knowing that I’m giving my tithe to a church that really needs it.”  Evidently, she didn’t think we needed it!  We do.

Perhaps some people look around and see a big church, nicely appointed, running smoothly and think, “They don’t need my offering.  They are doing fine.”  We do need your offering, because without it, none of this would be here or be running smoothly.  

Let me tell you where your offering goes. (These are approximate figures—they are accurate to within a couple percent.  I wrote this message on Friday—too late to get the latest numbers.)

  • 50% goes to staff salaries and benefits.

  • 20% we give away to other ministries.

  • 20% goes to facility expenses: mortgage, utilities, maintenance, etc.  

  • 10% goes to program expenses.

Let’s talk about the biggest piece of the pie: salaries. Why is this by far the biggest expense?  We invest in people because people do ministry.  We have 65 people on staff, and these folks oversee everything that happens in our ministry.  They don’t do all the ministry—we all do ministry.  We all serve.  There are hundreds of you who serve in our church, and hundreds who serve in our community, and many of you who do both.  We all minister; and these folks oversee and equip and support our ministry—the work all of us do together. Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus.   Our staff helps you find and follow Jesus so that you can help others find and follow Jesus.  And we pay them to do that.  

How much?  We use a national church salary survey put out by NACBA: the National Association of Church Business Administrators.  This survey gives salary ranges for every position in a church, and breaks it down by region, denomination, church size and budget.  Our church council—9 members of our church who serve 3-year terms and oversee our finances and set salaries—decided to set our salaries in the middle of the scale.  That felt right to us—not at the top of the scale, and not at the bottom (Praise the Lord!), but right in the middle.  So we are paid an average wage for someone doing our job.  

Why am I telling you this?  I’d like you to give with confidence.  I want you to give with confidence that it is needed.  Our offerings have been down the past few months.  We don’t know why, but we have been considerably below budget.  Even the coffee bar donations are down!  When I heard the comment about giving to a church that really needed it, I wondered if that could be part of it.  I don’t pressure you for money—maybe some people take that as a sign that we don’t need it.  We do need it.  

  • 65 people on our staff are counting on it to eat this month!  

  • Many others missionaries and ministries are counting on it to do their ministry.  

  • Washington Trust Bank, who holds our mortgage is counting on it.  

  • The people sitting next to you are counting on it so they can keep coming.  

  • And perhaps most importantly, there are many people in our community who don’t know Jesus yet that are counting on it so they can meet Jesus!  

All the people who have come to Christ in this church, and all the people in our community and around the world who have been helped by this church are the fruit of your investment.  And there is so much more to be done.  We have at least three church plants in the hopper that all need to be funded.  There are so many people in our community who need to know the good news of Jesus.  This is why I give my tithe and an offering to this church—I believe in our mission: help people find and follow Jesus.  That’s what I’m living for and that’s what I’m giving for.  And is that needed?  That is the greatest need of all: to find and follow Jesus.  I want you to give with confidence that it is needed.

And I want you to give with confidence that it is well managed.  We pay our staff an average wage.  I want you to know that because some pastors and evangelists take advantage of the right to be paid, and live extravagantly.  I think that hinders the gospel, the very thing Paul was trying to avoid, so we don’t do it.  We are fiscally conservative.  We are planning to have our mortgage paid off in ten years.  We budget to our mission, and we consistently live within our means.

2 Corinthians 8:20–21 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

Paul wrote that about the managing the Corinthians offering to help the poor.  That is how we feel about handling your offerings.

I hope all this helps you give with confidence.

The other lesson from this is that we willingly forgo some freedoms and rights for a higher cause. Let’s talk about that cause.

2. Paul’s cause: to win as many as possible. 19-27


19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To 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. 21 To 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul states his cause up front: “to win as many as possible.”  This is the cause, the purpose that drives Paul’s decisions: to win as many as possible to Jesus.  To do this, he willingly adapts to others.   

  • To the Jews I became like a Jew to win Jews.  

  • To the Gentiles I became like a Gentile to win the Gentiles.  

  • To the weak I became weak to win the weak.

  • I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

What does it mean to become all things to all people?  Certainly Paul didn’t compromise his convictions; he wasn’t a moral chameleon.  But he was willing to adapt himself culturally, sacrifice his personal preferences in order to win others to Christ.  Winning others to Jesus was more important than his culture, his preferences, and even his rights.  He put the gospel and the salvation of others ahead of himself and his own rights and preferences.  He sacrificed for the good of others—this is love.  Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.

And this is the way of Jesus.  It’s what He did for us. Jesus became one of us…to win us.  God became a human being and lived among us…to win us.  We call it the Incarnation—God incarnate, God in human flesh.  

So Paul is simply imitating Jesus. Paul becomes one of the people he is trying to reach, just as God became one of us in Christ.

ILL: Father Joseph Damien was a missionary in the nineteenth century who took the gospel to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.
One morning before Father Damien was to lead them in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water fell onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever.
Father Damien immediately knew what had happened. When he delivered his sermon that morning, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with, “My fellow believers.” But this morning he began with,
“My fellow lepers.” (second picture)

He became one of them to win as many as possible.

This is what Paul did, and what Jesus did—and what Jesus calls us to do.  We are to find ways to connect with people to win as many as possible.  We are to remove every obstacle to Jesus, except the cross.

ILL: Let me tell you a Noel story.  Pastor Noel is my father in law, and one of the most godly people I know.

When one of his teenage sons, Greg, strayed from his faith, Noel wanted to help him back to Jesus.  But how?  Noel was raising six children alone after the death of his wife.  He worked long hours as a pharmacist, and was deeply involved in youth ministry.  What common ground could he find with his son and where would he find the time?  

Greg had an early morning paper route—really early—3:30 AM.  Noel decided to get up and walk the route with Greg, just to be with him.  It wasn’t long before Greg came back to Jesus.

To the paper boy, become a paper boy.  Noel sacrificed some sleep to win his son.

It’s the Jesus way.  It was Paul’s way.  It’s got to be our way too.  To be all things to all men doesn’t mean moral or spiritual compromise; it means being with someone and finding a way to connect with them.  

This is why missionaries spend years learning the language and culture, why they give up everything that is comfortable to embrace something strange and different.  They become one of the people they are trying to reach, to win as many as possible.  And we are missionaries—every one of us.  We are missionaries right where we live.  So we sacrifice our personal rights and preferences, and we serve others to win as many as possible.

It’s not only what we do individually; it’s what we do as a church.  We design our Sundays with our seeking friends in mind.  We are willing to sacrifice some of our preferences to win as many as possible.  Here’s an example.

ILL: James Emery White wrote:

I was leading a conference in Florida in which I touched on the issue of contemporary music in churches as a means to reach those exploring the Christian faith. An elderly woman approached me afterward. It took her some time to reach me at the front of the auditorium because she walked with a cane. When she got to where I was, she said, “Young man, I want to have a word with you about what you said tonight.”

I thought to myself, “Oh no, here it comes.”

She said, “Are you trying to tell me churches should use contemporary music to reach people today?”

Now I had just spent forty-five minutes saying that, but I saw that cane, chickened out, and said, “Well, ma’am, I don’t know, it might help–what do you think?”

She said, “Young man, I want you to know that about as contemporary as I get is Lawrence Welk!” Then she took her cane, held it up, and pointed it right at my face as she said, “So if rock and roll is what it takes to get people back to church, all I’ve got to say is, ‘Let’s Boogie!’”

Then she said something I’ll never forget. “It’s not my style of music, but if it will reach people for Jesus, I like it. Besides,” she added, “the church doesn’t exist for my needs. It exists to win the world.”

May her tribe increase!  “It’s not my style,” she said, “but if it will reach people for Jesus, I like it.”  That’s the spirit!  Be willing to sacrifice your personal preference to win as many as possible.  If you grew up in a church with an organ singing hymns, our music may not be your style either, but I think you know pre-Christian people who would love it.  Bring them with you!  

She said, “The church doesn’t exist for my needs; it exists to win the world.”  That’s exactly what Paul is saying here.  “It’s not about me.  It’s not about my preferences, or rights, or freedoms.  I’m willing to sacrifice those things to win others.”

It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus, and helping others find and follow Him.  It’s about winning as many as possible!  This is the cause Paul lived for, and I believe it is the cause that every follower of Jesus lives for.  To do that requires some personal discipline.

24 Do 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. 25 Everyone 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Here’s another example of all things to all men: to teach the Corinthians, Paul uses a Corinthian illustration. Corinth hosted the biannual Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympic Games in size and importance. Athletes would train hard in order to win the prize at the Games, which was a floral wreath.  Flowers wilt.  Months of training for flowers that wilt!  

Just like athletes train and discipline themselves and deny themselves for a higher cause, we do the same.  We train to win.  We discipline ourselves for a higher cause—not to win flowers that wilt, but to win people who will live forever.

Saying no to my preferences, my freedom, my rights for a higher cause takes personal discipline.

ILL: My son-in-law, Zac, has been doing an early morning training session for people who want to get in shape.  5:30 AM.  You gotta want it!  I don’t want it that badly!  But I admire those who do!

It’s hard.  Sacrifice is hard. Taking up my cross is hard.  Putting others ahead of myself is hard.  I’ll never do it if I don’t have a prize I’m shooting for, a higher cause I’m living for.  You won’t say no to yourself unless there is something greater to say yes to.  

Saying yes to Jesus gives me the power to say no to myself because I’m living for something greater.  Saying yes to Jesus gives me the power to discipline myself for championship performance—to run to win the prize.