First Corinthians 9.15-27
1. I want you to imagine a beautiful scene. To the left of the scene is a picture of beauty. Itís a little gingerbread house with little children playing out in the back yard.
2. Surrounding the little gingerbread house and the children is a fence that guards the children from wandering too close to the steep cliff which is over on the right side of the scene.
3. At the bottom of the cliff are sharp rocks and crashing waves. If someone ever fell from the cliff to the rocks and the sea below, it would be a great tragedy.
4. Inside the fence the children can do anything they want to. And as long as they remain inside the fence they are perfectly safe. Letís give the fence a name. Letís call it Law.
5. One day the fence is removed and the children are given permission to go anywhere around their gingerbread house they want to go, but they are warned of the danger of being near the cliff.
6. "But we can go anywhere we want to, canít we?" they asked. "Yes, you can go anywhere you want to, even to the edge of the dangerous cliff, though it is not convenient to do so. If you fall off it will be a great tragedy."
7. Ladies and gentlemen, do you see how the children who live in the gingerbread house by the sea parallel the Christian life? The fence called Law has been removed, which prevented us from wandering too close to the cliff called license.
8. But just because there is no fence preventing us from wandering close to the cliff doesnít mean that we ought to do it. Just because we are able to wander close to the cliff doesnít mean that it is wise to do so, or that it is intelligent to do so.
9. If those little children who live in the gingerbread house want to enjoy their newfound liberty to the fullest, now that the fence called Law has been removed, if they want to avoid the tragedy that will certainly come when they wander near the cliff, they will have to exercise something called self-restraint.
10. Friends, do you remember Paulís guideline for the proper use of Christian liberty, in First Corinthians 6.12? You and I can do anything we want to, so long as it is convenient for the cause of Christ, and so long as it will not enslave us.
11. But if youíve been given liberty, and if there is no fence to restrict your activities, what will insure that you donít go too far? What will keep you from doing something that isnít convenient or that will enslave you? Temperance. Self-restraint.
12. Folks, Paul has spent two and one half chapters showing the extent of our Christian liberties. Now he will show us how to make sure that we do not go so far with our liberty that we pervert it into license.
13. Why? Because self-restraint is a critical ingredient to Christian service. Weíll see this in todayís text, which is First Corinthians 9.15-27. Please stand as we read that portion of Godís Word:
"15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
14. Paul stresses the importance of self-restraint in two ways in this passage.
1A. PAUL STRESSES THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF CONTROL IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, FIRST, BY WAY OF INSTRUCTION
1B. In Verses 15-19, Paul Lists The Proper Motives That Encouraged Him To Practice Self-Restraint. Here are the five motives that drive him:
1C. First, there is glorying (9.15)
"But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void."
1D. Folks, Paul practiced self-restraint. And though he wrote about paying the preacher, he would not allow the churches he started to pay him. Why? In part, because he would not risk his opportunity to glory.
2D. To glory is to brag and to boast. But it isnít bragging and boasting on yourself. Paul restrained himself, would not take pay for himself, lest it diminish the effectiveness with which he bragged on God.
3D. He wanted folks to understand that he did not brag on God because he was paid to do it, but because he wanted to do it. Amen?
2C. The next motive that drove Paul was necessity (9.16)
"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!"
1D. Paul is quick to point out in this verse that he has no reason to brag on himself. Indeed, he has nothing to glory of. Folks, donít even brag on him for being such a faithful preacher.
2D. He points out that he preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ because he has to. God has worked in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
3D. Friends, why doesnít this happen more often today? Does God no longer work this way in peopleís lives?
3C. The third motive was responsibility (9.17)
"For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me."
1D. Do you see the word "dispensation" in this verse? It refers to taking care of something which belongs to someone else. Paul had been given responsibility to watch over someone elseís stuff. Whose stuff was it? Godís. Christís.
2D. Paul restrained himself and served God and Christ as an apostle because it was a responsibility entrusted to him and to no one else. He rose to the occasion to fill a need. Why donít more people do that, as well? We have need of more workers in various ministries of our Church.
4C. The fourth motive for restraining himself was liberty (9.18)
"What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel."
1D. Paul knew what liberty was. He who had grown up under the Law of Moses and had been set free from the Law by Christ, knew the exhilaration of liberty. But he had been a Christian long enough to see that liberty is a fragile thing that can easily be abused, or overused.
2D. Ever own something that is so precious to you that you keep it in a special place and use it carefully, so as not to overuse it and make it common and ordinary? Thatís how Paul felt about liberty. Thatís how you ought to feel about liberty. Amen?
5C. Finally, and this is perhaps the most important motive for a Christian restraining himself in the use of his liberty....... souls (9.19)
"For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more."
1D. You see the difference between Paul and someone who does not properly understand liberty? Most people use their liberty so they will not have to submit to others, while Paul used his liberty to make himself a servant to others.....so he could win them to Christ.
2D. Paul restrained himself for the purpose of winning others to Christ. Hold that thought. Temperance, self-control, not as a means to achieving good health, or as an end in itself, but to reach the lost for Christ.
6C. These are the five things that motivated Paul, that moved Paul, that drove Paul, to exercise his liberty with caution, with care, with restraint.
2B. In Verses 20-23, Paul Lists The Parts Of A Methodology That Correctly Involves Self-Restraint.
I want you to notice two things here that are very interesting, and that should be a part of your own life.
1C. Notice the variation in conduct (9.20-22a)
"And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak."
1D. Paul is telling us that he actually altered his behavior around different groups of people. Around Jews he became as a Jew. Around them who were under the Law of Moses he became as one under the Law of Moses. To them that are without law as without law.
2D. Do you see what Paul was engaging in? He was removing barriers between other people and himself. But notice the word "as." Paul did not become a Jew, did not place himself under the Law he had been set free from, and did not act lawless around Gentiles, did not actually become spiritually weak.
3D. What Paul did was conform without compromising. He would never compromise. Never! But he would do whatever could be done to minimize the cultural and religious differences between himself and others, without compromising.
4D. Thatís the difference between Paul and many today. Paul would conform only so long as there was no compromise of Biblical truth, Biblical standards, Biblical convictions. He did not try and force lost people to conform to him.
2C. Next, notice the unchanging conclusion that accompanied Paulís variation in conduct (9.22b-23)
"I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."
1D. Paul would do anything that liberty would allow him to do to win folks to Christ. He always stopped when liberty became license. But short of that Paul would do anything to use his liberty to win folks to Christ.
2D. How differently so-called Christians usually use their liberty nowadays. Nowadays, instead of using liberty to the limit to serve God, people stretch liberty to the limit to avoid serving God. People are more concerned about disappointing the boss than disappointing the Savior.
3C. We have things upside down and backwards. Paulís instruction of verses 15-23 teaches Christians to use their liberty to serve God and seek the salvation of the lost, not to find excuses not to do right. Amen?
2A. PAUL NEXT STRESSES THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF CONTROL IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE BY WAY OF ILLUSTRATION (9.24-27)
Folks, Paul draws a comparison and then a contrast, here, between a Greek athlete and the committed and successful Christian . . . himself.
1B. First, We Have The Greek Athlete
1C. Notice the prize (9.24)
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."
1D. Think about something very sad, indeed. All lost runners run, though only one of them has any hope of winning.
2D. On the other hand, though all Christians are runners who will win, few run. Isnít that a sad commentary on the behavior of so-called Christians? This is why Paul says, "Run, that ye may obtain."
2C. Notice the payment (9.25)
"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."
1D. Hereís the comparison and contrast. Donít the Olympic athletes who really shoot for gold medals practice self-restraint? Donít they watch what they eat, watch how much they sleep, watch their exercise? Sure they do. And they do it for some no account prize.
2D. In Paulís day it was a wreath that turned brown and crumbled after a day or two. Yet men will go to the most unusual lengths to increase their likelihood of winning that race which only one man can win. I call that temperance followed by tragedy.
3D. The Christian life is similar to the Olympianís race in this one respect: We can win a prize, too. But the prize we can win wonít fade in a few days and crumble. The prize that we could win is incorruptible. Thatís temperance followed by triumph.
3C. So, the comparison between the Christian and the Greek athlete has to do with the temperance, the self-control, the self-restraint, that is required for us to accomplish what is set before us. The contrast lies in the prizes to be gained. The runnerís prize will fade, while ours will endure forever.
2B. Next, We Have The Godly Christian . . . Paul
Linking the comparison with athletics to his life, letís see how he got it done.
1C. First, there was his practice (9.26-27a)
"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection."
There are three things that Paul did as he contrasts his life to two kinds of athletes . . . the runner and the boxer.
1D. First, the runner. The word "uncertainly" has to do with unseen and indistinct. I think that Paul is telling his readers that he doesnít run in a way which cannot be seen. The marathon runners, for example, until television coverage changed things, were almost never seen running. They did their running miles away and could only be seen at the finish line. But Paul points out that everyone can see the way he runs. The way in which he lived his life was out in the open for everyone to see. This is the first thing he did. Live openly.
2D. Second, the boxer. "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air." Paul is not throwing punches that donít land. When Paul throws out a left jab it sticks. When he hooked to the body, he simply did not miss. He is like a fighter, in that he seeks to force another into submission, but he is not like a fighter, in that he wastes no movement and makes everything he does count. In other words, he isnít just busy to be busy. This is the second thing he did.
3D. Still with the boxer, the third thing he did was to keep under his body and bring it into subjection. Here is another contrast with the boxer comparison. While most boxers strive to bring another into submission to their will, Paulís goal was to bring his own body into subjection. His body was not his enemy, but his body, as your body is and my body is, was unruly. And it was a constant struggle for Paul, throughout his entire lifetime, to keep his body under his control.
4D. This was Paulís practice. It ought to be our practice.
2C. And what was his purpose?
"lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
1D. The word "castaway" refers to being disapproved, not losing your salvation. The word, literally, refers to not passing a test, to flunking an exam.
2D. Paulís practice was to restrain himself and to make sure that he ruled his body and that his body did not rule him. And why did he do this? He wanted to make absolutely sure that the exercise of his liberty did not get out of control and become license, did not get out of control and discredit his Christian testimony.
1. Folks, letís wrap it up all together in one package.
2. You and I both know that most so-called Christians generally use their liberty, not to serve God and seek the conversion of the lost to Christ, but to avoid service and justify themselves. Amen?
3. I generally think this reflects the fact that most so-called Christians do not have a clear concept of what liberty is and how it should be used, and the necessity of restraint in the exercise of liberty.
4. But that is all past us now. We know that we have liberty in Christ. Further, we know that restraint is absolutely crucial to avoid the tendency to run hog wild with our newfound liberty. Finally, we now know what, ultimately, liberty is to be used for....to seek the conversion of the lost to Christ.
5. With restraint, without compromise, the child of God has the freedom and the flexibility to adapt to numerous situations so that he might more easily bring lost folks to Church so they might come to Christ.
6. Having lunch with a Jewish person? Do without the ham sandwich so you can bring him to Church and eventually see him come to Christ. Traveling through Iran? Put a veil over your face so you wonít offend the person who knows you are a Christian woman, ladies.
7. Dealing with folks who observe the Law of Moses, such as Seventh Day Adventists? Put off the yard work you had planned on doing Saturday. Do it Friday afternoon. You have liberty.
8. Use your liberty, not to get out of responsibilities you have as a Christian, but to more flexibly fulfill your responsibilities as a Christian.
9. Now my friend, think about this for a moment: How might you practice self-restraint to more effectively represent Christ?
10. Some of you need to practice self-restraint by tightening up on your standards of personal cleanliness, personal standards of modesty and dress. Others of you need to tighten up on your control over your emotional life and not allow your emotions to rule you.
11. Still others of you need to move in the other direction. Some of you inadvertently give the impression that a person has to wear a coat and tie to get saved, or that laughter and abundant joy has no place n the Christian life. For you self-restraint is needed to loosen up a little bit.
12. Either way, make sure that you are adapting to the lost, without compromising, and not requiring them or leading them to believe that they must conform to you.
13. Finally, you just need to make up your mind to use your liberty to bring folks to Church where they will sit under the Gospel. Donít use liberty to justify not seeking the salvation of lost folks and serving Christ. To actually get that done, youíll need to practice restraint.