Stretching and Sharing in Gospel Joy

Three Reasons for Christian Cultural Flexibility in Making Disciples

To win more 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV)

“Save some.” Paul realized that in spite of our best efforts many will not believe and will reject Jesus. But humanly speaking, by stretching ourselves and flexing into the life and culture of anyone, God can and will use it to save some.

What price can we put on the eternal soul of any person? I’ve mentioned before a man I knew who was complaining about all the trouble in the world and my response to him was, “It’s almost as if the world needs a Savior.” That man died recently, and it rattled me. If we could just glimpse eternity, we would realize that the things we care so much about don’t matter and the things we often overlook matter more than anything else. This calls us to go to them with language and love that speaks to their hearts rather than them accommodating us. 

“He is not concerned with staying within his own “comfort zone,” but about overemphasizing artificial barriers inhibiting those who have not yet responded to the gospel from coming into the life of Christ.”[1]

I recently was in our kids’ wing one evening. I went into one room and I noticed a local bank executive. What made me notice was that he was on the ground crawling around ministering to the children still in his bank executive clothes. He had gone there directly from the office. Let me know when you go into a bank building and see an executive crawling around in his bank executive clothes with the children. It won’t happen. But in the church there are no executives too high and mighty to not become like a child in order to reach more children. He went to their level.

I hope this truth is ringing in your heart. Setting aside personal comfort for gospel purposes sounds vaguely familiar. While not a Christmas message, isn’t this the message of Christmas?

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11–12)

Christ the Lord lying in a manger? What? Why? If the baby Jesus could have talked and those shepherds asked why, would he not have said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some?” (1 Corinthians 9:22) It would be a sad church that celebrates Jesus stretching to us at Christmas but won’t flex themselves to reach their community.

To share in gospel blessing

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23)

What is Paul referring to here? The gospel has blessings, doesn’t it? Think of everything we receive both now in terms of our new life in Christ and our future eternal blessings that boggle the mind. For Paul, the joy of sharing these blessings and sharing in these blessings with others was a powerful motivation.

As a parent I find this to be true. Things that I loved in my childhood I now want my daughters to experience. The first gift I gave to Kiralee her first Christmas was a basketball hoop with suction cups. It lets you shoot baskets in the bathtub. Why? I like basketball. To share that with her even on that level is a joy to me.

Basketball is a tiny thing compared to my desire to share eternity with God with her. The deepest longing in my heart above all others is that my daughters would share in my faith and future. I want to share forever with them in gospel blessings.

The more we love people the greater desire we have to share Jesus with them. Yes, family members and dear ones to us. But Jesus loves red and yellow black and white; they are all precious in his sight. We should love them too. Why? The joy of sharing in gospel blessings with them.

To receive a reward

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

Corinth was the host city for the Isthmian Games. They rivaled the importance of the ancient Olympic Games in Athens. Corinth was a sports city and I think Paul might have been an ESPN sort of guy. He often uses athletics as illustrations in his writings. Here he refers to running. All the runners run but only one receives the prize. There’s only one winner. Apparently, in the first century, there were no participation trophies.

What he highlights here is the exertion of the runners even in their training. They exercise self-control in all things. All other priorities and desires are submitted to the goal of winning. Think of runners pressing with all they have to the finish line (see picture below).

Athletics, runners at finish line, overhead view (Digital Composite)

Paul makes his point. These athletes do what they do for a wreath. Or in our day, a medal or even for money. Same point. They show incredible effort for something that passes away.

Shouldn’t we exert equal or greater effort for the eternal reward God promises to us for faithful and sacrificial effort to make disciples?

How about you? When it comes to gospel ministry or your spiritual walk, would you describe it all in terms of sweat or pushing yourself to finish line? How about our church as whole? Are we a sweaty, go for it, all in, group of Christians?

[1] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, p. 430.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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