Take your Bible this morning and turn to the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and we’re going to look at look at part two on this message we began last week. I mentioned to you that it’s somewhat difficult to preach a message on this subject. If you were in my shoes, you’d know what I mean, because we’ve been talking about supporting the ministry financially.
As I said last time, please, I’m not speaking for myself. What I will say to you today is out of the Word of God and is for your knowledge and information because it’s God’s revelation. And I do not want you to assume that I am saying these things unto you to get a raise in salary. That is not the point, and that’s an important point to make, and we’ll see it even as Paul refers to that in verse 15. But this is just another step in learning the message of the Word of God, the revelation of God, particularly in 1 Corinthians.
Now, by way of introduction, we’re in the ninth chapter. And chapters 8, verse 1 through chapter 11, verse 1 all deal with the same subject. And we’re in the middle of that subject. So, some folks who are here for the first time this morning are going to be coming in a little uninformed on some of the things that we’ve discussed in the past, but I think there’ll be enough, hopefully, in what we say today for you to put it all together.
Let me introduce the subject by giving you a couple of thoughts. We know that Jesus Christ wants the Church to be one. We know that our Lord desires unity in the Church. The apostle Paul said to the Ephesians, “Please endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He said, “There’s only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope of your calling, one God and Father of us all.” And he was emphasizing unity. There is to be unity in the body.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, when we get there, we’ll see how God designs the body for unity, that there will be a mutual ministry within the body of Christ, and a beautiful kind of unity. This is a very important aspect of the Christian church, and yet it’s one that we see today not really happening in the way our Lord would want. We know He desires unity, and yet there is the absence of it in so much of the church.
And as I was starting to think this through, I realized that just in the letters of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians primarily, we have the reasons that there is not unity in the church. And I’d like to share those with you to begin with.
There are several reasons for discord among brethren. There are several reasons for disunity, several reasons that the fellowship gets fractured, if you will, that communion gets corrupted and broken and violated, and we don’t enjoy the oneness that our Lord designed and intended for us.
One reason is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, and you will remember, as we studied it, I’m sure, when we read, what this reason is. In verse 3 – 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says, “For you are yet carnal” – or fleshly; that is opposed to being walking in the Spirit or led by the Spirit and following in obedience, you are operating on the flesh. We know this because there is among you envying and strife. This proves that you are carnal and walk as men. One of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos.’ Is not this evidence that you’re fleshly?”
The first thing that creates discord in the church, in our little list, is favoritism or cliquishness. Here there was envy; there was strife. Some were saying, “Well, we follow Paul; he’s our teacher.”
“Well, we follow Apollos.”
And, of course, Paul and Apollos didn’t even disagree. It was a personality cult. And so, you had this favoritism that bread cliquishness. And this, in the church, creates discord.
A second thing that I find, in the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians, is that discord comes in the church when Christians attack each other. And in this case, it went so far as to actually get into the court. Verse 6 of 1 Corinthians 6 says, “But brother goes to law with brother and that before the unbelievers. Now there is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law one with another. You should rather take wrong, allow yourself to be defrauded. But you do wrong and defraud, and that even your brethren.”
Another thing that creates a disruption of unity in the church is when Christians fight against each other, even to the extent where they sue each other. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, we find another thing that disrupts the unity of the church. 2 Corinthians chapter 11. He’s talking here about false teachers. And he’s warning them that false teachers are going to come, and in verse 13, for example, he says, “False apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan is behind it. He is manifesting himself as an angel of light” - and so forth and so on.
So, he’s talking about false teachers. And he says amazingly, in verse 20, “You tolerate it. You tolerate false teachers. If a man brings you into bondage, if a man literally devours you, if a man takes from you, if a man exalts himself, and if a man even slaps you in the face, you take it.” You are allowing false teachers. You are letting these people exist in your fellowship. And this was cause of the disruption. It was cause for Paul’s anxiety, when he said in verse 28, “The thing that oppresses me most is the care of the churches.” Trying to keep the churches connected is difficult because of false teachers.
So, disunity in the church comes from favoritism; it comes from fighting; it comes from false teachers. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 and verse 20, we find a fourth cause of disruption in the church. Here – 2 Corinthians 12:20 says, “I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would” – I mean I won’t find what I want to find – “and you’re not going to find me the way you thought you’d find me either. Now, lest there be debates, and envying, and wrath, and strife, and backbiting, and whispering, and conceit, and disorders” – now, all of those are symptoms of disunity; every one of those are talking about the inability of people to get along – “and lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many who have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.”
Now he says, “If there is to be debate, and dispute, and envy, and strife, and all of these things, it will be because you have sinned and not” – what? – “repented.” So, you have, then, favoritism; you have Christians fighting; you have false teachers; and here you have a failure to repent of sin. Sinfulness.
Now, these things create discord in the church. All of them. But there is one more. There is one more thing that disrupts the unity of the believers, and it is this: freedom that is misused. When believers misuse their liberty and don’t take into account how it affects somebody else, that’s going to cause problems in the Church.
Now, this is what we went into in detail last time. Look, for example, and we’ll see this in 1 Corinthians 8, 9, 10. But as another illustration, look at Galatians chapter 5, verse 13, and here we have a graphic picture of it. Paul has just really spent four-and-a-half chapters describing their liberty. Primarily chapters 3, 4, and the beginning of 5, but the whole book really is on liberty.
But he spent all this time discussing their liberty, and now he wants to show them what their liberty does not allow. I mean you’re free and so forth and so on, but here’s where your liberty ends. You have been called to liberty, but not to use your liberty for an occasion to exercise your flesh, but rather by love serve one another for the whole law is fulfilled in one word, and that is love your neighbor as yourself.
In other words, you’re given liberty, but not so that you can run out and in your flesh do whatever your liberty allows, no matter how it affects anybody else. Rather, your liberty is to be limited by – what? – love. If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. If you’re like a bunch of brute beast animals, going around – literally the Greek says biting each to her and gulping each other down – if you go around devouring each other – how? – by a misuse of your liberty, all you’re going to do is destroy the church.
Yes, we have liberty, but we have to limit by love. Now, let me give you a little background. That’s the principle of 1 Corinthians chapter 8. Let’s go to it. We gave you this principle a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the eighth chapter. Let me give you the historical basis for it.
There are things in the Bible stated to be right. There are things in the Bible stated to be wrong. There are things in the middle that the Bible doesn’t say are right or wrong; they’re neutral, like, you know, whatever, eating a ham sandwich, playing tennis, whatever you might thing. There are just some things that aren’t good or bad; they’re just gray-area things.
The Christian, as a liberated Christian who is not trying to merit his righteousness has liberty in that gray area to do whatever he wants technically. But in the exercise of his liberty in that gray area, he must consider how what he is doing will affect somebody else. Now, that’s very important.
Paul uses the illustration of wine, for example, in Romans 14. In some cultures, you could drink wine in front of a Christian and it would be no offense at all. In another culture, you would drink wine in front of a Christian, and it would make him stumble, think less of you as a believer, and harm your testimony.
So, you might say, “I have a liberty in that area, but I will not exercise my liberty in that area, lest somebody who watches me might stumble.”
Now, that’s just a simple illustration. But there is that gray area where the believer has liberty, and yet Paul says, “Do not use your liberty as an excuse for the exercise of your own flesh without considering how it is going to affect somebody else.”
You might think there’s no problem with eating anything, and you might gobble down a ham sandwich, but if you happened to invite over to your house an Orthodox Jew and do that, you are going to really hinder his conscience. And if he’s a Christian, just saved out of Orthodox Judaism, chances are it will still be a hindrance to him, because he’s not yet freed up in his mind to accept those things, because he always thought that pork was something forbidden by God.
So, there are certain conditions – and you can fill in the blanks in your own life, you know, ad infinitum – there are certain things that we have technical right to do, but we fail to do because we choose not to do them for the sake of love for someone else.
Now, in the case of the Corinthians, it was meats offered to idols. The Corinthians were saying, “Hey, you know, these – the meat we buy in the butcher shop, some of it’s been offered to an idol before it gets there. Should we eat it?”
And some of the Christians says, “Eat up, what’s the dif? The idol’s nothing anyway. Nobody’s home there; it’s just a big thing, and there’s nothing there. What’s the difference? God doesn’t care about that. God doesn’t care what you eat.”
But some of the weaker Christians couldn’t accept that because they had just been saved out of that idolatry, and to them it was desecrated meat. Now, the strong Christian had the right to do it technically, but Paul says, “You ought to limit yourself by love for that weaker brother until his conscience can allow him to do that and to accept that as something that’s allowable.
Now, having stated that principle in chapter 8, Paul illustrates it in chapter 9. And he illustrates it from his own life. It’s a personal illustration. Now, I told you last time, and you might look at the outline you have with you, which will summarize last time and give you some blank spaces to write about what we talk about now.
But in this ninth chapter, verses 1 to 18, Paul uses himself as an illustration. He says, “Let me show you how I had a liberty, how I had a right, how I had a privilege, how I had a freedom, but I set it aside for the sake of love. Let this be an illustration to you of what I’m driving at.
So, first of all, in verses 1 to 14, he establishes the right that he has. Then in 15 to 18, he excludes the right. So, you have establishing his right and excluding his right in these 18 verses.
Now, to establish his right – and I’m not going to go over this again because we covered it last time; you have it there on the outline – to establish the right, he spent 14 verses proving to them that he had every right to ask them to give him money as he ministered to them. In other words, “I’m worthy of your support. You should support me in the ministry. I should be able to come into your town, preach the gospel, start a church, and expect you to pay me. I should be able to earn my living out of my ministry.” And he gave them six reasons, and I listed them for you, and I’m not going to go over them, because you already have them.
But he gave them six reason why he had every right to be supported. And it’s a – it’s an absolutely conclusive argument. I mean he had every right to receive support. Beyond doubt, that’s established in the first 14 verses of that chapter. And it’s true. It’s still true today. The servant of God, the missionary, the minister, the pastor, or whoever, they have a right to support out of their ministry.
“But” - verse 15, he starts out by saying – “I have excluded that right, even though I have established it.” And he says, “Here’s an example of somebody who has a right and sets it aside.” Look back at verse 12, because here he introduces the exclusion of his right. Verse 12, in the middle, “Nevertheless” – in spite of all these arguments, in spite of all these reasons that I have this right – “we have not used this right” – or this liberty – “but endure all things.”
You say, “Well, why don’t you use your right?”
“Lest we should” – what? – “hinder the gospel of Christ.”
“I have a right, but I don’t choose to use it, because I feel it might hinder.” Now, notice that verse. “Nevertheless, we have not used this right” – he waived his rights to support. “But we bear” – or – “we endure.” A most interesting word; it means in the Greek literally to bear in silence, to bear without complaint, to endure deprivation without comment. And it’s I the present tense. “We continually endure throughout all our ministry all kinds of deprivation.” Paul had a way of life, and the way of life was self-denial. All through his life he denied himself what he had a right to, which was support.
Do you know what that man would do? That man would work with his hands during the night, in order that he might teach during the day. And did it all through his life of ministry. Why? Look at verse 12, “lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.”
Now, Paul recognized that the claim for support from new converts and infant churches might become a hindrance to evangelism. He was willing to endure anything rather than give his enemies a reason to oppose him or give people a reason not to get saved.
Now, the word “hinder” is a very graphic word. It literally means a cutting into. A cutting into. And it was used in this way. When a – let’s say a city was under attack. You knew the army was ten miles away, and you knew they were marching down the road to your city. One of the tactics that you would use to stop the advance of the machinery or whatever they would have, and the supplies, and all the carts and stuff they’d be carrying it with, you would send your men out, and you would cut up the road, literally breaking up the highway so that they could not have access. That is the way the word was used, breaking up the road to prevent the enemy’s advance.
Now, Paul is using it in that sense. He’s saying, “Look, I wouldn’t do anything to chop up the highway on which the gospel is advancing to you. You see? I don’t want to do anything to make it difficult for you to accept the gospel. And I feel” - he’s saying – “that even though I have the right to your support, I don’t want you to think that I’m in this for the money, so I set that right aside.”
For example, let’s say – let’s say in your shop - or your business or your school, wherever you are - you have a group of people that you know are unsaved. All right? And you pick out one of them the Lord lays on your heart, and you go to that person, and everybody knows you’re kind of witnessing. And you sit this person down, and you explain to them the plan of salvation. And then you say, “Would you like right now to receive Jesus Christ?”
And they say, “I really would.”
And you bow in prayer together, and you lead this person to Jesus Christ. Then as soon as you’ve finished praying with him, you say, “Now, the first thing I want to let you know is that now that you’re a Christian, I’m going to need some money from you for the support of the church.”
Is it right for a Christian to support the church? Is it? Yes. Is it smart to do that? No. Because everybody around is – and you might even add – and come to think of it, I’m a part of the church, so, I’ll just take it myself. Everybody around is going to say, “Oh-ho. Now we get it. This guy is in this just to get people to give him money.” Well, what else would people think?
So, whenever Paul went out and cracked virgin territory, he said, “I don’t want your money,” just to keep the issue clear. Think about it this way: let’s say that God calls me like he called Paul when he was a pastor of the church at Antioch. And He says, “I want you to be a missionary, MacArthur, and I’m going to send you over to Bula Bula land. Here’s your pith helmet, and your boots, and I want you to go over there, and you’re going to be My missionary in an area where the gospel has never gone. You’re going to go to one of the last remaining unevangelized areas.”
And so, I go there, and I learn enough of the language to get by. And I go in, and immediately I begin to share. I’m the great, white bwana dropped out of the blue, and I land on this little aboriginal group of people or whatever, maybe they’re a cultured group unevangelized. And I begin to present Christ. And one by one I see people come to Christ.
And then, as soon as there are three or four converts, I say to them, “Now, folks, I just have to let you know that I don’t have any support, and I’d like you to begin to give me money,” or whatever particular mode of exchange they might have. “I really need support. I’d like it if you could provide me with a home, and if you could do this and this, and then give me some food and money.”
You know what would happen? All the rest of the people in that community are going to say, “Well, this is really a – this is unbelievable. What gall. Who is this guy? I mean where does he come from? He plops in here and starts taking money from everybody.”
You see, the people who don’t understand the transformation of the life aren’t going to understand the thing that’s coming on right behind it. And even the people you’ve just led to Christ are going to scratch their heads a little bit and say to themselves, “I wonder if his motive is pure?”
And you understand that. So, when we send a missionary out to do something like that, who supports him? We support him. Why? Because it would be ridiculous to go out, have him win a whole bunch of converts to Christ, start a little church, and then tell them they had to pay him. That would really become a point of criticism.
Paul was cracking virgin territory, and he was smart enough to know that even though he had a right to be supported, if he used that right, people would start saying, “You know why he’s in the ministry? For money.”
So, you know what Paul said? “Throughout all my ministry, I’ve never taken a penny from you, and I’ve never taken a penny from any church that I’ve ever asked for. I don’t want anything. I’ve never asked for it. I’ve worked night and day with my own hands to supply my needs and the needs of everybody who traveled with me.” It’s incredible.
He didn’t want anybody resisting the gospel for fear that they’d have to give money. You know, you wouldn’t evangelize like that, “Boy, we would love to get you saved, because we know you’ve got a lot of money, and we’d like to get our building built.” But, you know, there are people in the world who do think that already.
Now, I want to add a thought here. Paul later on, as churches matured and grew up, accepted money when it was given freely. The Philippians sent him a gift. He said, “Thanks,” and he took it. The Macedonians sent him a gift. He said, “Thanks,” and he took it, because when the church matures, one of the graces of the Holy Spirit is giving. Isn’t that true? And what’s going to come out of their hearts is giving. You can’t love without giving.
And so, eventually they began to want to give, and the Macedonians gave out of their deep poverty. And Paul took it willingly and said, “Thank you so much.” But in those early years, cracking that virgin territory, he didn’t want to confuse the issue.
You know, what’s amazing about this, that when you study the other apostles, we know of – we have no record at all in the New Testament that any other apostle, or any other evangelist, or any other of the New Testament prophets ever did what Paul did. We have no idea that any of them ever refused support like Paul. The indication, for example, in verse 5, is that Peter did, and the apostles did, and the brothers of the Lord did accept support. But Paul seems to be the only one who didn’t.
Now, I struggled with trying to figure out why if Paul failed to exercise it, why everybody else didn’t. And I think the simplest answer is this: the other apostles and the other men were ministering in the community of Jews. Paul was the apostle to whom? Gentiles. The Jewish mentality was very accustomed to the fact that the priest of God, the man of God, was to be supported out of his priesthood or out of his ministry. That’s the way it had always been throughout the whole Old Testament.
So, when the apostles came along, or when these other folks came along – the brothers of the Lord or whatever – there was a natural response. And when they had needs, the people knew that men of God had always been supported this way in God’s economy. There wasn’t any problem with it. But for a Gentile, this was a new ballgame in a sense. All they knew about was pagan priests who would misuse them, mistreated them, overcharged them, gotten fat off of them and so forth.
And so, I think that that might be the distinction as to why Paul, in Gentile territory, did something that the others in Jewish territory didn’t do.
All right, that takes care of verse 12. Now, let’s begin at verse 15. And again, he says essentially the same thing. “But I have used none of these things.” I have used none of these things. What things, Paul? “The six reasons I just gave you that I should be paid. Although there are six reasons for paying me, I haven’t used any of them.”
Now watch, “Neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me.” And I’m not writing this to start you paying me.
Somebody’s going to say, “Eh, I know why you’re writing this stuff, Paul. You’re saying, ‘I don’t want any money. I wouldn’t take any money. I have a right to money, of course, and I want to give you six reasons why, but I wouldn’t take any.’ And you’re expecting us to say, ‘Oh, come on, Paul, please take it.’ ‘Oh, well, okay, if you insist, I’ll take it. I don’t want to make you feel bad.’ I mean in other words, you’ve got – this is subterfuge. You’re sneaking up on us, and you’re saying something to us that you don’t really mean.”
You know, like when you do something well, and somebody says, “Oh, that was wonderful,” and you say, “It was nothing; it was nothing.” And what you really mean is, “Hit me again; I love this humility.” You know?
You know, it’s that kind of thing. Like, “Paul, you’re saying one thing and meaning something else.”
He says, “I am not saying this for you to give me money.”
And I would echo that; I am not preaching this for you to do this for me. I’m simply telling you what the Bible says. God has taken abundant care of me.
Now, this is something really critical. “I have not written these things that it should be so done unto me” – why have you done it Paul? Why have you written it? “Well, I’m not seeking support. I haven’t changed my approach one bit. I haven’t wanted support in the past, and I don’t want it in the future.”
First Corinthians chapter 4, verse 11 and 12, “Even to this present hour” – he says – “we both hunger, thirst, are naked, are buffeted, have no home or certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands” – right up to present hour. He says, “I’m still doing it. I don’t want it any different; I don’t expect it to change; I choose to do it this way.”
Acts chapter 20, verse 34, “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities and them that were with me.” In other words, I’ve used my hands to work for me and the people with me.” Same idea.
First Thessalonians – and I want to show you these, because I really think they’re helpful in understanding the mind of Paul – 1 Thessalonians 2:9, “Remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” In other words, if he had to work all night, he’d work all night; if he had to work all day, he’d work all day just so nobody would have to activity him so the issue would never be confused in the virgin Gentile territory when the church was being begun.
Second Thessalonians 3:8, this is neat, “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing” - no free meals either; amazing – “but wrought with labor and travail night and day that we might not be chargeable to any of you.” Boy, this must have been a big issue with him. He wouldn’t even take a free meal from the Thessalonians.
Second Corinthians 11:9, he says, “I was present with you, and I lacked” – I didn’t have enough food, or I didn’t have enough clothes; I didn’t have any money – “but I didn’t charge you for it: for that which was lacking to me, the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied: and in all thing I kept myself from being a burden to you” - the Macedonians lovingly and willingly provided it, and I accepted it.
So, here was Paul’s attitude. He wouldn’t hesitate to ask for money for somebody else. He did that. And later on in his epistles, as he writes toward the end, when the churches have matured, he demands that they pay their ministers. But in this virgin territory, he is saying it wouldn’t be sensible to confuse money with the gospel.
Now, go back to 1 Corinthians 9, and I want to show you verse 15. And here we get kind of the heart of this whole thing. Paul, why? Why don’t you take support? Why have you set this right aside? Here it comes, the middle of verse 15, “Because it is better for me to die” – and this is a Greek expression that shows great emotion; it’s a broken expression.
He says, “I’d rather be dead than that any man should make my glorying empty. I would rather be dead than be confused with somebody with somebody who did it for money. I would rather be dead than be accused of being in the ministry for pay. I am not a Balaam. I am not a prophet for hire. I am not” - as Peter said in 1 Peter 5 – “in it for the filthy lucre. I am not in it” - as it says in 2 Peter – “to make merchandise of people. And I don’t want that to be confused with my ministry, and I wouldn’t allow that. I would rather die than make my glorying void.”
You know, I read that. The word “glorying” means boasting in one sense, and I thought, “Well, what in the world, Paul? You’d rather be dead than have an empty boast? What have you got to boast about anyway? Isn’t boasting pride, and isn’t pride a sin?” What is he saying here?
Well, you’ve got to look at this a little bit. Boasting can be a sin, but it can also be a righteous act. It all depends on the reason for the boasting. Now, let me give you an insight into the word. The word is kauchēma in the Greek, and it is used 11 times in the New Testament. Now mark this; 5 of those 11 times it is translated rejoicing. Rejoicing. And that kind of softens the idea of boast. It isn’t, “I would like now to brag.” No. It’s, “I want to tell you what especially thrills me about my ministry, and something that I myself have contributed to my ministry. I mean there isn’t much in my ministry,” Paul says, “that I have anything to do with, but there’s one thing that I have a special joy that I have chosen to do, and that that thing is such a cause of rejoicing for me, I’d never give it up.”
Wow. “There’s something I revel in,” he says. That’s the meaning of the word. “Something I rejoice in.” This is the word rejoice that’s used occasionally in Philippians where it talks about rejoicing. “This is the thing that thrills me,” he said. “This is the thing that blesses me about my ministry.” Well, what is? What blesses you, Paul? What blesses you so much that you’d rather die than get rid of it? Well, verse 16 tells us what it isn’t. “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of” – it’s not the gospel.
You say, “Paul. You mean you don’t boast in the gospel?”
“Well, that’s not what I’m talking about. Yeah, I have a sense of rejoicing in the gospel” - but in the reference to this point, he’s saying – “there’s something special that I’ve contributed to my ministry that I get excited about. And it isn’t the gospel, because I had nothing to do with that; God gave me that.”
You say, “Well, what is it? Is it your preaching?”
“No, necessity is laid on me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” So, he’s saying, “It isn’t the message, and it isn’t the ministry of preaching.”
Now, this is interesting. Paul says, “I’ve got something in my life that I love, that just thrills me. It’s something that I can say, ‘Hey, Paul has a part in this. I had something to do with this. I made a contribution to this.’” Well, what is it? “Well, it isn’t the gospel; I made no contribution, right? I had nothing to do with it. Secondly, it isn’t my ministry. I had no choice about that. I was walking down the road, minding my business on the way to Damascus, and the next day I was in the ministry. One day I’m killing Christians, the next day I’m preaching the gospel. I had nothing to do with it. God slapped me down in the middle of the dirt and said, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ And I said, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’ And he says, ‘I want you to go to the Gentiles to turn them from darkness to light, to give them the message of forgiveness of sins and turn them to the gospel.’ And I was in the ministry, and there’s nothing I did about it.”
In fact, he says in Galatians 1, “It was from my mother’s womb decided before I was ever born.” You know, he says, “The facts are, if I don’t do it, I’m in a lot of trouble. You know, what kind of a deal is that? I got into this – I didn’t want to, and now that I’m in it, if I mess up I’m in trouble. I didn’t even ask for this. And now I’m stuck, and I’m really on a hot spot.”
So, he’s saying, “I have something that I personally rejoice in.” And what he means by that is it has to be something that he was free to do or not to do, something he was free to receive or free to reject. There’s something personal here. Other times he boasted in the Lord. Other times he gloried in the cross. But here he’s saying, “There’s something very personal that I get a special thrill out of. It isn’t being God’s messenger; I mean that was before I was born determined. I had no contribution to that. It isn’t the message I give; that’s divine revelation. I just have to preach.”
You know, he’s kind of like Jeremiah. You know, Jeremiah was chosen by God, and Jeremiah had nothing to say about it. In fact, Jeremiah was undoubtedly chosen in the womb. Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; I sanctified you and ordained you a prophet.” Jeremiah was called to be prophet before he was in the womb. Now, that’s – you know, that’s getting an early start.
He came into the world – little kid Jeremiah didn’t know it, but he was stuck. And you know what happened in Jeremiah’s ministry? God said, “Jeremiah, you’re my man, Jeremiah. You will speak my truth. And listen to Me, Jeremiah, no one will ever listen. Now go out and do it.” That’s precisely the call of Jeremiah.
So, Jeremiah, in chapter 20, verse 7, he’s reached the end of his rope because he’s been giving all these messages, and everybody laughs at him and says, “Shut up, Jeremiah, and go home.” And they mock him, and they chide him, and they ridicule him, and he’s had it.
So, he says to the Lord, in Jeremiah 20:7, “O Lord, You deceived me, and I was deceived. You’re stronger than I, and You have prevailed. Look at me; I’m in derision every day. Everybody mocks me. Since I spoke, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil, because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily.” I’ve been preaching, Lord. And I’ve been crying out, and everybody’s mocking and deriding me, and nothing’s happening. So, I said to myself, in verse 9 – “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more His name. That’s it, God; I’m done. I quit.”
But then you go back to verse 7, where I started, “O Lord, You deceived me, You are stronger than I thought.” I can’t quit. Verse 9 says, “But His word was in mine heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with holding back, and I couldn’t refrain.” I got more tired not talking than I did talking, just trying to clam up and not give the revelation of God. So, I gushed it out all over again. You’re too strong for me, Lord.
Here’s a prophet; he had no choice. Even when he tried to shut his mouth, the pain was worse than when he opened it and got ridiculed. So, Paul is saying the same thing, “Hey, what do I have to say about it?”
Amos – when Amos – chapter 7, verse 15 says, “There I was herding sheep in Tekoa, where I belong, and God says, ‘You are my prophet.’” He says, “Who can resist a lion? What could I do but prophesy?” he says in Amos 3:8.
Paul said the same thing. “I don’t have any choice, so I can’t boast about that. I’m in a lot of trouble if I don’t.”
And I feel the same way. Sometimes a person will come to me, and they’ll say, “You know, it’s – I’m so thrilled, John, that you gave your life to the ministry, and that you chose to serve the Lord. And you’re to be commended, with all of the other options, you know?”
And I always say, “Wait a minute. I didn’t choose this. You know, I had in mind a whole different life, and I had in mind athletics and all this kind of stuff. And one day I was riding in a car, and the Lord threw me out, and I slid 110 yards on my southern hemisphere, and God says, ‘You’re in the ministry, kid,’ and that was it.” You know? And I knew God wanted me there, but I’d fought against it, and finally, when the Lord started playing rough, I said, “I give.” You know? I mean I can’t fight this. Don’t pat me on the back for being in the ministry. I didn’t ask for it, and I’m in a lot of trouble if I don’t do it right. Just pray for me.
The story is told of Ramon Llull, who was a Spanish mystic Christian. In years past, he was living a careless – he said - “Careless, luxurious, and pleasure-loving life,” is the way he put it. And he said that he had a vision of Christ. And Christ came to him, carrying a cross, and offered the cross and said, “Carry this for Me, Ramon.” And he pushed Christ away and refused. The second time, in another vision, similarly, Christ came, offered him a cross. He pushed Christ away. The third time, Llull said, “He took His cross and left it lying in my arms and walked away. What else could I do but pick it up?”
That’s precisely what Paul is saying. “It isn’t as if I had any choice in the issue.” So, he’s saying, “Look, I have a super joy in the ministry. I have something that I have contributed to, that I can say, ‘This is part of Paul in here,’ and not independent of God and independent of the Spirit, but with the Spirit’s power. But I’ve had a share in this. It isn’t the preaching, because I didn’t have a share in that. It isn’t – it isn’t my call to the ministry; those are all from God.”
Well, what is it? Verse 17, he further shows what it isn’t. He says, “If I did this willingly, I should have a reward; but if it’s against my will, a stewardship is committed unto me.”
In other words, you could say, “All right, you’re to be rewarded for being in the ministry.”
“Sure, if I did it willingly. But, friends, it isn’t willingly. Don’t reward me. This whole thing is against my will. I never chose this. A stewardship from God has been committed unto me. Don’t pat me on the back; my boasting is not in my ministry. My boasting can’t be there; I had no choice in this.” Boy, I really read that. Do you hear that? You know, don’t exalt the preacher; don’t exalt the man of God. Listen, this is – he is there because God has put him there. There’s no glorying in that. A man in the ministry is a fool if he does that, and he makes suspect the fact that maybe he’s there apart from God putting him there.
You say, “Well, then, Paul, what is it that gets you so excited here? What is this dispensation that’s been committed unto you?”
“Well, it’s the preaching of the gospel.”
What is this stewardship? The word “dispensation” is oikonomia. It means stewardship. What is this stewardship God has given you? “Well, it’s to preach and to teach His Word, but that isn’t what excites me; that isn’t what thrills me, because – it does thrill me in a sense” - and I don’t mean to say it doesn’t thrill him at all – “but the thing that thrills me that I have a personal part in” - is in verse 18, watch – “What is my reward then?” Synonymous with his boasting – “What is the thing that thrills me? It’s this, that when I preach the gospel, I may” – don’t have to, wasn’t commanded to – “I may make the gospel of Christ” – what? – “free of charge.” You know something? God never told me to do that; I got to choose. That’s the one part of my ministry I chose, and I get excited about that privilege. “And I make the gospel free of charge, that I abuse not my right in the gospel.”
“It isn’t the preaching that I get excited about, when I see it from my perspective. It isn’t the preaching that I thrill over because I’ve made a contribution; it’s the fact that I can preach for nothing, because that’s something I don’t have to do, but I’ve chosen to do.” Paul had to preach. And he had to preach the gospel. But he didn’t have to preach for nothing. That was his special contribution, and in that he had a special rejoicing.
Do you see what he’s saying here? Look at the word “abuse.” It literally means to not use at all. So, he says, “I have not used my right at all. I have a right to support; I have refused it absolutely. I have never made any use of this right. And, you know, that’s the thrilling thing about my ministry.”
Now, you know, that’s the attitude you ought to have when you set aside a liberty. Some people might say, “Well, I have the liberty to do that, but old Joe over here is so weak I can’t do it. So, I’m not doing it because of him. But, Joe, will you get with it and grow up so I can do what I want to do?”
In other words, you can restrict your liberty, but it’s a question of motive. Paul’s saying, “You know what I get to do in my life, and I get to do it all by myself, and I get to choose to do to it? I get to choose not to be a burden to anybody. You know what I get to choose? I get to choose, rather than taking money from anybody, to work night and day. Isn’t that wonderful? I get to choose to do that. And that becomes a source of joy to me. Why? Because it removes a hindrance to the gospel, and the greatest thrill in my life is to see people respond to the gospel. And to be able to remove a hindrance is really exciting.”
You know, if you really want to love the world and win them to Jesus, maybe there’s going to be some liberties you have you’ve got to set aside. And if you want to love your brother and see him grow up, maybe there’s some liberties you ought to set aside and not say, “Eh, I got to set my liberties aside. Why do all these weak brothers have to come to our church? Why don’t they come to another church?” You know?
But instead of that, what you ought to be saying is, “With that kind of privilege, I ought to really have joy in my heart to be able to love people like that.”
He sums it up in verse 19, “Though I’m free from all” – I mean I can do what I want – “I make myself a servant to all in order that I might gain the more.” Now listen, “I’ll restrict myself; even though I’m free, I’ll become a servant if it means somebody’s going to get saved.” Oh, that was so important in the early Church, so important in virgin territory.
Have you noticed, frequently, on the Lord’s Day, when we receive an offering, we’ll say, “If you’re a guest, please don’t feel obligated to give; please be our guest.” We don’t want to charge anybody. The rest of us, we give out of the joy of our hearts. In the fragile days of thee early Church, and even today in a fragile territory of missions, or when you lead somebody to Jesus Christ, or when you first bring them to the church, we don’t want anybody imposing on them the fact that they have to pay money, because that will confuse the issue in the minds of who’s ever watching.
That’s Paul’s particular point here. He’s not saying that you should never pay the preacher. He’s not saying this is the norm forever. I’m not now going to announce to you that I am now going to work to make tents. I’ll tell you one thing. If God sent me to another place, and this was a problem in a virgin territory, I would be willing, in my own spirit, to do that.
Later on, as the church developed, Paul would say to the church, “You’re mature enough now to know your responsibility to give,” and he required that giving. For example, let’s close our discussion by looking at 1 Timothy 5. And again, I have no ulterior motive in showing you this except to pull the whole argument together. First Timothy 5:17. Now, here is the last of the letters that Paul wrote, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The church has grown up; the churches are mature, and this is what he is demanding, “Let the elders” – and that means pastors of the church – “Let the elders” – or pastors – “that rule well be counted worthy of double timēs. Now, timēs is a Greek word for pay, compensation, price. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double pay” – you know, you have somebody who just does a great job in the ministry, double his pay. Is that what it says? That’s what it says.
Now listen to this, “Especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine.” Now, with the emphasis there, according to Homer Kent, in this passage, in dealing with the Greek, the emphasis, he says, is – and I tend to agree – on the word “labor.” “Double pay for a ruling elder who rules well” – and this refers to the pastors of the church, those who are in leadership – “but especially the one who labors in the Word and doctrine.”
In other words, the harder he works, the more consideration he should be given for compensation. Isn’t that interesting, that a man is rewarded for diligence? Now, you know as well as I do that in any business in the world, anybody who’s smart rewards people for diligence. That’s a simple principle.
The ox that does the hardest work is going to get to eat the most grain. And that’s the very principle he uses immediately in verse 18, “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads the grain. The laborer is worthy of his reward.” And so, he is simply saying, “Double pay for the one who serves well, and especially the one who works with great exertion and great effort and great distinction.” And there is built into this, people, I think, the obvious truth that some people in the ministry will work harder than others. And it’s true. There’s no question about it. Just like it’s true in any other area of occupation. So, this becomes, then, in Paul’s final statement to the church, the standard: support the ministry. But obviously, in virgin territory, that’s different.
But the sum of all of this that we’ve said this morning is to say this: Paul has set aside a liberty, and his highest joy personally in his ministry, his most personal satisfaction, because it’s the only contribution he really ever made, was that he chose to set aside that liberty for the joy of seeing people saved, even though he had to work all throughout the life of his ministry to make it possible.
I hope that we have that same kind of love that will cause us to limit our liberty for the sake of somebody else. And that in response our attitude will be one of joy. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You that the Word of God gives us a pattern. I thank You personally for the wonderful privilege that have to serve here along with the staff and those in responsible positions at Grace, and how far and beyond that double honor has been given to us by the graciousness of these people, and how grateful I am for it.
I thank You for that evidence of concern, and care, and love, and response. And I thank You that You’ve put me in this position, Father, where that is provided. But give me a willingness, and give all of us that willingness to say to the Holy Spirit, “If it so be, Spirit, that You want me somewhere where I would have to set aside that liberty, that’s fine. If that’s Your will, and that’s what it means to win someone, then that’s what I’ll do.”
And, Father, help us to catch the spirit of the apostle, who would set aside what would seem to be the most basic need, the most simple demand of life, sustenance, and generate his own just because that would be the most loving treatment of people who needed to hear the Gospel purely and not mix it up with anybody’s ambition or need for money.
Help us, Father, to take the example of Paul, who set aside the primary thing that a man needs for love’s sake, and be willing to set aside things we don’t even need for the love of others. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
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