This is Love: The Soul-Strategy of Becoming All Things to All People
The apostle Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 19-23 a special way of serving people with the good news. This Christian freedom to serve before God is where we must start before we can make that turn to our theme of love and “the soul-strategy of becoming all things to all people.” October 21, 2018.
Grace and peace to you from him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Take just a peek again at the paragraph that describes today’s worship theme in your worship folder, where you find a quote from Martin Luther that says, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.” Christians are both free lords and dutiful servants - it’s a perfect paradox for us to consider today.
You can imagine how it may have sounded in people’s ears back then to be called lords. Society and culture of the time was much like that of any time with your power players and the lowly ones being played. There was a hierarchical pyramid in society with a clear cut between the haves and have-nots, nobles above, peasants, a much larger percentage of the population, below. So, some had the more important work and decisions to make and others were pawns on the chessboard you could use to move the manure.
What would you think about your importance in the world? What is the value and worth of your daily work? These questions are not tied only to Reformation times, but we all have them too. But then this Luther fellow tells you the significance of your baptism, that you belong to God, and are a free lord! Me, a lord! What do you mean? And you take this step out of social structure, this step out of what your culture values and honors, you step out of how others see your gifts and what you do every day. And the script is completely flipped for what value, worth, honor and glory are. The only question that counts is “what does God think of me?”
Imagine being in the mind of Paul himself - at one point, he had all the world’s labels working for him - he was a Jew who lived in a Jewish culture that valued the hierarchy of Pharisees and priests, and he was the creme of the crop, remember?
All gone for the sake of knowing Christ, as all the rest is just man’s opinion. But Paul has stepped into a new day, a new life. Now he had God’s approval in Christ, forgiveness and sure love for eternity secured by another. AND God called him to preach it and proclaim it as a missionary-apostle. HUGE! God gave him authority to preach and teach, to go and tell, to sow the seed of the Word and work the harvest field.
In such a position he knows two things: both that he is lord in another’s kingdom, he is victorious on someone else’s battlefield, a high up representative of another’s name, and a sinful beggar who got rich because of Jesus’ poverty at the cross. There’s no self-earned pride in any of that. But there was an incredible, undeserved calling!
You see, Paul did not need people to validate who he was or what he did. That cup was already filled to overflowing by God. Paul uses special words to emphasize this: I am free and belong to no one. No earthly motivation, nothing here to gain, but motivated by God and his grace, Paul hade everything to give!
So even though he knows that it is fitting and appropriate for field laborers to eat from the harvest. He has a right, even a command from God, that says believers should support those who share God’s Word with them. Paul says, “Is it not God’s own Word and command that the ox not be muzzled but allowed to eat?”
It was Paul’s duty to preach, but he rightly could’ve expected them to support their preacher! Instead, he didn’t expect that or communicate that right. The new believers there were not ready to support him financially or value him with free monetary gifts. So, Paul met them where they were at. Instead, he worked his tail off on the side as a tentmaker to spare them the expense and offer them the preaching of the gospel freely and without demanding compensation or support. This how he became a “new Corinthian Christian” for the new Corinthian Christians...a special way of serving those people at that time and place with the good news. “We put up with anything like this rather than hinder the gospel.”
Brothers and sisters, this Christian freedom to serve before God is where we must start before we can make that turn to our theme of love and the soul-strategy of becoming all things to all people.
We also get to see this Christian God made us to be, subject to none and yet subject to all. You must see yourself as free, according to God, his children, lords and nobles but wearing the crowns of another’s kingdom and stewards of his gifts, the lights he puts in so many of the world’s dark places, having you share some of his authority as one who uses his Word with others, one who has authority as a parent and deserves honor for that reason, as a community or work leader, one who is entrusted with skills and time for opportunities to work for a company, learn in a classroom, or maintain friendships, or volunteer to play a role in meeting people’s needs. Your daily tasks are all ways God gives you to express your free lordship in his name.
Too often we use status, roles, responsibilities and authority positions as opportunities to serve no one but ourselves. Our eyes are drawn like magnets to look more at beings something in people’s eyes than what we are in God’s eyes alone. Still seeking affirmation from others’ words, others “likes” and “loves” for my posts, others’ opinion. This is the poison of worldly thinking that kills you and deceives you by tasting sweet to our sinful tongues, but it’s all in vain and bound for hell.
But stand up and let God look at you! Only by his own free choice, as Lord of lords and King of kings, yet in eternal love our hell is taken from us. Let God talk about the precious center and apple of his eye. This is what love amazingly is - that desired, chosen, determined will to love you though I’m free to love something else and do something else. This is what God has done for us - sending his Son not to angels, not to do something different, but to save sinners like us. It is the person with your skin color, your language, your upbringing and your place in life who belongs to him and bears his name. You see people walking around with headphones. Put this Scripture in your ears, let Paul’s words beat and sound in your ears as you move through God’s world with God’s Word.
This “who you are to God” is what makes all that you get to do and be in his world among people so important!
Take the task he gives you gladly; Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calleth, “Here am I—send me, send me!”
Before God, we have millions of options for pleasing him, many ways you could use your head and hands to glorify him each day. But here I am in this place and time. Here we are in this city and this community, with these neighbors, in this classroom, with my family and yours.
Let’s restate this. We are so ready for love to pour out - the worth and honor and value we share and bring to each task already ours coming from God who set us free for his service. I get to be his in this world and do his stuff!!! Drink the cup, you will, Jesus told James and John - do the will of God in the world you will - awesome privilege and responsibility, and we carry it out for the good of others.
But now we get to look with Paul at the Jews with a pre-filled cup of calling and satisfaction in Christ. To the Jews, I became a Jew...to those under the law I became like one under the law. Paul knows how the Jews value nationality, how they value the Old Testament laws and he avoids needless offense. All that exists now is how do I take you there too? How can I be your John the Baptist and point you to Christ? In the same way, Paul crowned them as worthy. Because that was the gospel. Where “Jew” only meant so much culturally, nationally, or how they worshiped and viewed their works and sacrifices before God. None of it contributed to their spiritual worth in God’s sight. “You need Jesus for that,” he could say.
We were all dead dogs before God...let’s not leave any “weak ones” in the eyes of the world to be too small for our attention too. In sharp blunt language, Paul knows that to be that kind of proud shames the gospel and risks losing its reward. Parents and knowing you are a two-year-old, you are a teen with raging hormones and identity crisis. “I am free to do so many things before God in this world, but here I am with you and you tie my hands, you constrain my focus, you bind me up inside, so that your needs are served. That is love. That is a soul-winning strategy for outreach and a soul-worthy strategy for love to any person in your life.
Whether you’ve had a best friend in life or not, you know the benefit of having someone around you who “gets” you and knows your sensitive topics, how to help you with your weaknesses and talk to you when you are down. This is the great way Christians get to approach and serve people. We become, as Paul says, all things for all people. We are their greatest ally - “I’m on your side more than anyone else, especially because God was first.” This affects what you learn, how you handle sensitive topics. Our soul-strategy is tailor-made, custom-designed as we receive the needs of others and accommodate them for the sake of sharing Jesus.
Christian or Christ’s stuff - what is Christian language? What is his race? What is his culture? His heritage? His fashion style? Does Grace feel “at home” to only a certain kind of person? What can we do to change the furniture, so to speak, restructure our family life, so everyone knows they are family here?
At the end of the day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if some person in your life recognized the great gift of service you gave them to love them by being all things for them? If they said, “You really cared - I’ve never had someone appreciate me and pay so much attention to me. You did too much and shouldn’t have.” How humbling to think: these are the very things we say to God! It’s how we praise him.” So, we can witness, to win souls, the means of servant love has served this great and glorious end - “you’re welcome. I’m just living the story God put me in. He loves you that much.” Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI, on October 21, 2018