This sermon is number 22 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 22
"The Wisdom Of A Master Soul-Winner"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 9:15-23
First Corinthians chapter 9, 1 Corinthians chapter 9, beginning to read at verse 15 - and we're looking at these verses under the title tonight 'The Wisdom of a Master Soul-Winner'. Verse 15, trying to remember, at least, if you were with us the last couple of weeks, what we have studied hitherto: "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. 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! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation", or a stewardship, "of the gospel is committed unto me. 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. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 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: 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" - and we finish our reading at verse 23.
If we have anything in these verses that we have read together this evening, one thing that we do receive is a picture, a portrait, even a self-portrait of the apostle Paul as a soul-winner - and I would go as far as to say, as a master soul-winner. We're going to see this evening, as we go down these verses, that Paul knew what Solomon said in Proverbs 11 and verse 30, that 'He that winneth souls is wise'. That doesn't just mean that it's a wise thing to go after souls or the lost and seek to win them, but I think the inference is in that verse also that you need wisdom, a certain amount of wisdom, in order to win the lost for the Lord Jesus Christ. It's not just all about the sovereignty of God, and we need to be very careful that we don't make this mistake - and although we stand very firm and square on the sovereignty of God, in all things we must remember that God has left with His church and with His disciples the responsibility to go and win the lost. It is significant that Paul himself said that he longed to save some.
Of course, we know that salvation is of the Lord, and the Lord alone can save men and women, but yet Paul uses this phrase because there is a human responsibility in all of us as believers to go after our kith and kin, our brethren in humanity, and seek and save the lost. We will see tonight the wisdom Paul had in this regard, but what we also need to see is that this wisdom of soul-winning is found in the context of the weaker brother, and forgoing what is your right and liberty in Christ for the weaker brother, who may stumble seeing your liberty. We're going to see this evening, as we did last week, that Paul forfeited the right to be paid for his Gospel ministry in order that the gospel that he was preaching might have greater success. Remember that, he had foregone any wage, even a meal on the table of Corinthian homes, in order that no one could point the finger and say: 'Paul's in it for the money'. So he had foregone these things in order that the gospel might be spread without any hindrance whatsoever.
But the point that Paul was making, as he made these Corinthians aware of his own sacrifice, was that they too ought to forfeit their right to eat this meat sacrificed to idols that they talked about in the first few verses of this chapter, they should avoid it in case they injure the weaker brother, in case they offend the brother for whom Christ has died. What he's really getting at is this: the testimony of the believer, the testimony of the church, and the testimony of the witness of the gospel is much more important than the liberty that we have in Christ. Although the Corinthian's theological viewpoints were 'A1', they were absolutely correct, Paul had to point out to them that love was to regulate their liberty even when their liberty was theologically accurate.
Now we're going to see tonight that Paul cites two reasons why it's important to forgo your right, and in his case personally to forgo his right of payment for his ministry. The two reasons really, if we were to summarise it, can be given like this: one, you're to forgo your right in the gospel, for the gospel's sake, because of the reward that you will have one day in eternity. The second thing is this: if you are to win souls, it will be called upon you at times to forgo your rights and your liberty for the gospel's sake in the very medium of winning the lost for the Lord Jesus. So, one: because of your reward; and two: because of the necessity of soul-winning, and soul-winning with wisdom.
Let's look at this tonight, because it's particularly informative to all of us who are believers, those involved in so-called - I don't like this phrase, but at times it's hard to get round it - 'full-time service', and those who are involved in all sorts of service - every individual Christian will get some kind of an application from this study tonight. The first thing that Paul talks about is the soul-winner's motivation, the soul-winner's motivation, verses 15 to 18. Really the summary of what he's saying in this is: 'Your serving is not all that matters'. Now if I could get everybody in the Iron Hall to serve the Lord, I would be really chuffed - but once you get to that point of doing something for the Lord, Paul is saying that that's not the be all and end all of everything, but what really matters is how you serve the Lord - specifically the motivation with which you serve Him.
There are three things I've outlined for you in your notes with regards to the soul-winner's motivation that Paul teaches us here from his own personal example. One: there is a high motive, verse 15; two: a passionate motive, verse 16; and three: a rewarded motive, verses 17 and 18. Let's look at verse 15 first of all: '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'. Of course he's talking about what has already come, he was talking about how he had a right to be paid for his Gospel ministry, and we looked at the various evidences, and he made a watertight legal case in this regard, appealing to law, appealing to custom, and appealing even to our Lord Jesus Christ to show that he was worthy - the labourer - of his hire. You're not to muzzle the ox as it treads out the corn. But Paul is pointing out to them again that he waived that right of wages in reward, financially, for his labour - the reason being, and let us not miss this, that he didn't want to give any of his enemies, or the enemies of the gospel, an occasion to charge him with using the gospel in a mercenary way for his own personal gain.
Now we hadn't time to do this last week, but we want to take the time just to show you that this is right, this is a consistent pattern in the life of the apostle throughout the epistles. Look at 1 Thessalonians for a moment, chapter 2 verse 9, Paul says: 'For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God'. In order to be answerable only to God he didn't want the people of God in Thessalonica to have any ties financially upon him. Turn to 2 Thessalonians 3 verse 8 to see the similar sentiment: 'Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you'. Do you see this? That Paul would even go to the extent of refusing a meal in order that none could point the finger at him and say: 'Look, he's only here in Thessalonica to be fed, to be watered at our expense, to be looked after by the church of God - he's a sponger!'. But because Paul wanted the gospel to stand out above everything else in his life, he made sure that there was never once an occasion of finger-pointing of blame toward him that he was in it for the money.
Now the interesting thing is that Paul receives support from the church of Thessalonica after he left them, but he never received any support when he was labouring among them. I think, without doubt, that the church of Thessalonica was among those Macedonian churches that helped support the apostle, ironically, when he was in Corinth labouring among the Corinthians. Let me show you this, 2 Corinthians chapter 11, and it's narrowing it down to see that it was when he was among the people ministering the gospel that he didn't take this money, but when he was in Corinth the Thessalonians, being of Macedonia, helped him - chapter 11 verses 8 and 9: 'I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man', no man among you that is, 'for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself'.
Why? Why was he so particular and pernickety? I imagine that some of the brethren in the churches today would have sat down with Paul and said: 'Now Paul, you're going against your own teaching: the labourer is worthy of his hire' - Paul would say: 'No, you're missing the point, that is my right, and if I want it I can have it; but what is more important for me is the gospel! I want only the gospel to be seen'. That's why he says in verse 15: 'For it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void' - I would rather die! Now I'm led to believe that this is not a single sentence as it appears to us in the English verse here in our Authorised Version. In the original the phrase could be read like this: 'I would rather die than', and then it stops - 'I would rather die than', it's an incomplete exclamation. 'I would rather die than', and then it's interrupted by this statement, 'no one will deprive me of this boast' - do you see it? 'I would rather die than', and then he pauses, 'no one will deprive me of this boast'. Now we haven't got time to look at this, but you can go through the Greek New Testament and you can find that on occasions Paul didn't complete his sentences - he was a bit like me at times! He didn't complete them, he got so worked up in an exclamation of emotions that he was overcome, and he stopped dead in the middle of sentences. He couldn't finish this particular sentence because he was overwhelmed by how important the preaching of the gospel was above everything else, even above the very bread that he was eating and the water that he was drinking, and it didn't matter that he suffered and had to work in the backstreets of Corinth with his hands making tents - it didn't matter, as long as the gospel was not hindered!
This is tremendous stuff, and we need to really note this: he never...'I will never let anyone deprive me of the boast that I preached the gospel voluntarily, not for what I could get out of it'. Now friends this evening, Paul, when he's boasting, isn't sinning - because we'll see later that his call to preach the gospel was nothing to do with him in one sense, it was of God entirely, but what he's trying to point out to them is: 'I'm not a prophet for hire, like the prophet Balaam in the Old Testament that was in it for the money. I am in it for the gospel, and the glory of the gospel'. This is what we need in our hearts today, although if a church like this church is able to keep a man like me that's tremendous and commendable, and I'm very thankful for it, but if there ever came a day when you couldn't support me, or when I wasn't here for whatever reason - I would have to preach the gospel, no matter what was on the table, or no matter what I could drink, or where I could live!
We'll see this, because Paul says it's a necessity, but let's look at one more passage to show you how this was ingrained within Paul - Acts 20 - when he's talking to the Ephesian elders. This was the commitment that he declared to these Ephesian men of God, verse 35: 'I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive' - it's more blessed! Verse 33: 'I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me' - do you see it? It is more blessed, this is his thesis of ministry if you like, his motto: 'It's more blessed to give than to receive, and if I'm called upon to give the gospel and get nothing back in return but suffering and anguish from the people of God and the enemies of Christ, so be it!'.
I'll tell you, this is what we need today, and if we could sum it up we could sum it up in this statement: Paul's purpose and motive in ministry was men, not money. What a refreshing statement that is in the light of all the television evangelism that goes on and goes over the satellite - isn't it amazing? It's remarkable that the elect of God are deceived, sure the world can even see through it all! My friends, as one man said: 'If Paul was more concerned about money than he was, his stature would have shrivelled and we would not have heard of him except for a passing mention' - and I believe he's right. Paul stands out because he was different in this regard, he had a high motive - not for money, not for his welfare, but for the gospel!
Secondly he had a passionate motive, a passionate motive which was his soul-winning motivation. Verse 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!'. Now that seems quite complicated, but what he's really saying is: 'The driving force of my ministry is a compelling conviction'. In other words: 'I have been sent of God', now we know that he was an apostle - and we looked at this last week, that there was a uniqueness in how an apostle was sent of God, but in one sense we can understand it generally: all of us who go to preach the gospel are sent to preach the gospel on the great commission of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 28. So we are all sent, and 'It's not as if I'm just going of my own free will', Paul is saying, 'but there's a compelling conviction in me'. He actually uses this statement: 'For me it is a necessity - and it's not a necessity that's my doing', look at the wording, 'for necessity is laid upon me'. 'I didn't ask for this!' - now he's not complaining, but what he's doing is retorting back to his Damascus Road experience when the Lord led His hand upon him and He saved him, and Paul said: 'What wouldst Thou have me to do?'. There the Lord Jesus ordained him, he was ordained in his mother's womb, but there the Lord put His hand upon him and called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and do the work he's actually doing here. For him it is a necessity to do this, it's a necessity to go, and then we read on: 'But woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!'. So it's a necessity to go, and it's a woe if he didn't!
That's why Paul says: 'Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory in. I'm running all round the Mediterranean world', but do you know what he's saying in colloquial terms? 'I have no choice, I have no choice. This wasn't something that I sat down by the fire one day and thought, 'Well, I better make a new religion, or I better go around preaching this gospel of Jesus because I think it's right'' - necessity was laid upon him! He had a compelling conviction, a compulsion on him, so much so that he was cursing himself if he didn't fulfil it: 'Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!'. Now don't misunderstand me, we know that he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, and there was a choice that he had to make - I'm not saying that he could have refused to obey God, but what Paul wants you to see is that he was compelled. If he had not fulfilled his ministry that God was calling him to, there would be the woe of chastisement - I believe that word 'woe' means the severest of judgments promised on unfaithful ministers. In James 3 verse 1, James says seek not to be many masters, for you bring yourself under greater condemnation - that really means: teachers, don't seek to be a preacher unless you're prepared to go and preach the gospel, unless you're prepared for necessity to be laid upon you, unless you're prepared to be judged if you do not do it!
For Paul preaching was not a profession, there is no such a thing as the preaching profession! For Paul preaching was not a pastime that he did on nights and got a brown envelope for it, but preaching was a passion, it drove his whole being and existence. He's saying: 'You can't just choose to be a preacher the way people choose an everyday profession, for it's not really a matter of your choosing, it's a matter of God's choosing!'. I think we would do well, perhaps, if there were fewer men in pulpits who were not called of God; men trying to fill the place - and I do not stand on a high horse when I say this, I've a lot to learn and a lot of ground to cover in my life yet - but surely we have to acknowledge in this day of apostasy that men ought to stand up and open their mouths when they're called of God, and when they've got a message from God! An old preacher said to a young man contemplating service: 'Don't enter the ministry if you can help it son'. That's what it's like! Don't enter the ministry if you can help it! I can testify in my own life that I was compelled, there was nothing else open for me, men told me: 'Why not do a degree in teaching?' - if you'll excuse the personal illustration for one moment, but I know that this is true. 'Do a degree in teaching, and if it doesn't work out you can fall back upon it' - that's not a call from God!
Paul had this compelling issue of necessity upon him! One writer put it: 'If the modern ministry is to be adequate to the tremendous days ahead, it needs to be the ministry of a master passion'. Do you know what's wrong a lot of the time? There's too little passion in our pulpits! Do you know what that communicates? 'That man doesn't believe what he's saying!'. I hope I can remember this illustration right, but it was a very famous actor who was asked the question: 'What is the difference between you and a preacher?'. He answered something like this: 'A preacher is a man who preaches truth as if it was fiction; I am a man who acts fiction as if it was truth'. God forgive us if this is the case with us - sometimes I know I get excited, and I know I go overboard at times, but I can't help it! Because necessity is laid upon me - woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel! I can't talk about the blood of Christ, and the cross of Christ, and the nails of Golgotha like an icicle! This is what Paul was saying, the great preacher C. H. Spurgeon said: 'The man who says, 'God has chosen me', can afford to let others think and speak after their own nature. It is in his business to take his stand separately and deliberately and distinctly, to do what he believes to be right and let the many or the few do as they will - but he is to preach the gospel, even if he doesn't get fed for it!'.
It's a passionate motive. Speaking about modern ministers, a Christian editor said: 'A man who is forced to preach in order to save himself always makes a fervent preacher' - do you see it? To save yourself from judgment: 'Woe is unto me!' - the philosophy of the watchman, that when he cries and puts the trumpet to his mouth and blows the warning in the city, and the people don't heed it, the blood is off his hands - but if he falls asleep and doesn't put the trumpet to his mouth, the blood is on his hands, and Paul could say in Acts: 'I am not guilty of the blood of any of you', because he preached unto them the gospel. He was driven to preach, and he preached with passion - God give us more passionate preachers, passionate evangelists, and passionate Christians as they seek to win the lost.
Thirdly, a rewarded motive, verses 17 and 18: 'For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward', this is remarkable, 'if I do this willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation', or a stewardship, 'of the gospel is committed unto me. 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'. Paul is saying: 'I can't get reward for something I'm compelled to do' - do you see what he's saying here? 'Necessity is laid upon me, I've been called to be a preacher of the gospel, and I can't get rewarded for something I have to do'. Now don't think Paul's saying that he'll not be rewarded in any way for his preaching of the gospel, but the main point that he's making here is that 'It's not the actual preaching of the gospel I will be rewarded for, that's a dispensation, it's a stewardship, and if I don't do it I'll not be rewarded, I'll be punished! Not in the sense of wrath, or hell, or judgment, but in less reward when I get to the Judgment Seat. So I'm not being rewarded for doing something, this is my responsibility, but what I will be rewarded for is preaching the gospel without charge, preaching it when there was nothing in it for me but suffering and hell, and anguish and torment, and tears and fastings day after day, days and nights in the deep'. When you're getting nothing out of it only glorifying Christ, Paul says when it's that motivation you'll be rewarded - it will be a rewarded motive to do it not for your own gain, but for the gain of the glory of Christ.
Paul's reward was not just preaching the message, but for taking no payment and continuing to preach it anyway. Oh, we can learn so many lessons from the soul-winner's motivation: a high motive, a passionate motive, a rewarded motive. But let's move on, because we need to get to this: the soul-winner's adaptation - not just his motivation, but his adaptation, verses 19 to 23. Really this is, Paul is saying, the primary reason for not taking money - what is it? 'To win the more!'. I love that, to win the more! Sometimes people take pity on me because we don't see so many people getting saved in these days, and it's a real burden upon my heart, and I hope it's on yours too. Some people mean well, and I know where they're coming from, because I have to remind myself of this too: that you've to be faithful - we learnt this in this book - you've to be faithful, and you've to sow the seed. To a certain extent you have to leave the results with God, but please do not miss the point that it wasn't just this issue with Paul - that you just preach and leave the rest with God - no! He had a greater hand in it than that, he desired that he might win more, win the more!
I don't think it's wrong to want many people saved, do you? We're not in the numbers game - bums on pews, if you'll excuse the expression - that's not what we're into, or how many's on the role, but I'll tell you this: I would rather go to the Judgment Seat with more souls, under my preaching, saved than less - would you not rather lead more than less to the Lord Jesus Christ? Paul, this was his desire, this was the reason why he adapted his whole lifestyle to see more won for Him. So he speaks of the need for this worker's willingness to adapt himself - adapt himself to what? Adapt himself to the conditions of the men, the needs of the men and women who need the gospel, in order to come into this flexibility towards them that he may save some. This isn't universalism now, all are not going to be saved - and there's people preach this, that because Jesus died and shed His blood that the world will be saved - that's not what that means 'the world will be saved'. Although He's the Saviour of the world that is not talking about the whole world, that every single sinner that's in it is saved without repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ - it can be seen clearly here, because Paul wanted to save some, because only some would be saved.
How did he do it? Well, he definitely believed that he that winneth souls is wise, and he shows this. He illustrates it in three types of people who he witnessed to and worked among. There's two of them, the first is the Jew and the second is the Gentile, look at this verse, verse 20: 'And unto the Jews I became as a Jew', then in verse 21 'To them that are without law', that's a Gentile, 'as without law'. Now you, I would say, couldn't get two more diverse groups of people in the ancient world than these two groups - Jews and Gentiles - they detested one another. Yet Paul was able, as a soul-winner, to adapt himself to both of them, and offend neither of them, but reach, and win, and save them - both of them! They're different in all sorts of ways: in clothing, in their holy day, holidays, in their eating habits, in their family practices and their religious rites and ceremonies and all the rest, in sacrifices - it must have required tremendous flexibility, but Paul was able to drive himself to that. Incidentally, remember how we applied the area of eating meat that's sacrificed to idols a couple of weeks ago, and we applied it to grey areas that are in believer's lives even today, things that the Bible doesn't speak about, there's no revelation on - we don't know whether to do them or not to do them, whether it's sinful or not sinful. Well, we can apply this here: that if there's anything that is doubtful - as someone said to me after that evening: 'If in doubt, cast it out' - but certainly in this regard, if in doubt that it will affect the gospel in detrimental ways, cast it out! That Paul's point.
Paul, even when he had a right to be practising as a Jew, forwent it in order that he might witness to the Gentiles; when he had a right to be let go of all the ritualistic ceremony of Judaism, he had forgone that right in order to win those among the Jews. Isn't that tremendous to see this? He didn't want to offend one who he was witnessing to, and the reason why was that his love for the lost regulated his liberty in Christ - do you see that? 'I have made myself a slave', that's what verse 19 really means, 'For though I be free from all men - I'm liberated like the rest of you - yet have I made myself servant', the word is 'slave', 'unto all, that I might gain the more'. Now there's only two words in the Greek used for that statement 'I have made myself a slave', and it's the Greek word 'agulosa' (sp?), 'I enslave'; and 'emoton' (sp?), 'myself' - I enslave myself. The word 'enslavement' is an extremely strong Greek word, it's actually used to describe, in Acts 7, the 400 years of enslavement of the children of Israel in Egypt! Do you see that? Paul says: 'In that way I enslave myself'. In chapter 7 verse 15 of this book he talks about the bond of marriage, 'But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases' - it's talking about they're not required in such cases to try and keep a marriage relationship, not a marriage, but a marriage relationship going in such circumstances, they're to let them go. They're not bound - it's the same word used, 'But I do bind myself to these lost people, to the way they are'. It's used in Titus 2:3 of addiction to wine, a binding like that, an addiction to wine - to be enslaved. It's also used in Romans 6:18 of the relationship that Christians have now through Christ of righteousness, of righteousness to God - and it's so binding that we'll never be lost, once we're saved we're always saved. It's the same word 'to be enslaved' to that relationship where he talks 'I have made myself a slave that I might win some' - isn't that remarkable?
You can talk all you like about 'just sow the seed and let God to the rest', but that's not what Paul did. Paul did more than sow the seed, and in Mark 10 verse 44 we find the reason from the Saviour's lips: 'Whosoever wishes to be first shall be the slave of all'. You might want to call it, in the modern term, pre-evangelism - in other words, things that we can do that are apart, nothing to do with the gospel, but help unbelievers to listen to the gospel - a sort of methodology in how we present it, that we adapt ourselves to their needs and even their way of life up to a point of sinning. Let's show you how this bears out in the moments that remain, let's look at the first example he makes, verses 19 and 20 - the Jew: 'For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 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'.
Now this is real adaptability, he's flexible to the Jewish conscience within - and this is important to know - within scriptural limits. Paul would be as Jewish as was necessary to win the Jew. Do you see that? Was he not a Jew? Of course he was a Jew, but when he got saved he let go of all the ritualistic ceremonial rites and so on and all the rest of it. As far as is scripturally possible in the gospel, within the limits of the Bible, he worked as a Jew among the Jews; and if they had a feast day, a fast day, if they had a religious ceremony or rite, if they insisted on him being cleansed - whatever it was, even to the extent of traditions of Judaism - he followed them in order that it would create an open door for the gospel, witnessing to Jews. He gladly accommodated these things, and was flexible to them to win them. What had once been - and this is the point I want you to see - legal restraints in his life when he was a Jew, now had become love restraints - do you see the difference? He didn't have to do it, he would have been right not doing it, but because he loved them so much and there was nothing wrong in doing it, in fact it opened the gospel to them and give an opportunity to win them, he did it! He did it because if he had brazenly blasted the Jews and the way of the Jews, both their custom and conscience, he would lose all hope of winning them, wouldn't he?
There's some wisdom here about soul-winning. Soul-winning, you're trying to win people, win people. You see it in the Gentiles, to the Gentile outside the law he did the same, verse 21: 'To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God)', he doesn't want you to make the mistake of thinking that he's talking about sinning here, he's not talking about sin, he's under the law to Christ - incidentally that means the moral law, he's under the law to Christ. He has to obey the Decalogue and so on, apart from the Sabbath which is reciprocated in the New Testament, 'that I might gain them that are without law'. What does that mean? Well, he doesn't want to be misunderstood, saying that you go and you sin with the sinners to get them saved - he's not violating God's law, but he becomes conventionally correct to those around him in their ways and in their ideas, perhaps even in their practices that are neutral. He did not expect these Gentiles to be regulated by Jewish customs and ceremonies and rules; he sought to understand their background, where they were coming from, even respect their opinions to an extent and be sympathetic with their convictions. As Warren Weirsbe put it well: 'It took tact to have contact'. That's his point.
To the Jew he became a Jew, to the Gentile he became a Gentile, because these things aren't important any more. 'To the weak', he says, verse 22 and 23, 'he became weak', to those who are weak without understanding. I think he's talking about those within the church, verse 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'. It doesn't mean 'When in Rome do as the Romans', so many people - even Christians today - have taken this verse and made it so flexible, that believers are actually sinning trying to win those who are lost, which is absolutely ridiculous. What he's saying is: Paul, where things were without moral significance, was flexible; he was rigid when there was a moral conscience about a thing, when it would have violated Christian morality and truth, but when a thing was cultural Paul was flexible. He let his love overrule his liberty in order that he might win some. As one scholar put it: 'It was not looseness of life that Paul advocates, it was rather liberty of action with a lofty object' - the object was that he would by all means save some.
Now don't misunderstand me please, because there's a lot of dilution of the gospel going on today - and what we need, if anything, as we have said, 'Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel' - we're not talking about making the gospel acceptable to those around us, or changing it, or diluting it to satisfy them, because Paul said already that he was an ambassador, not a politician! He had to give what God had give to him, but what he's talking about here is not the message but the method, and in his method he was able to condescend in any way it took to see people brought to Jesus Christ. He never ever set the truth of the gospel aside, but he was willing to set aside his own personal liberty in the gospel that he would win some. I think John MacArthur puts it very well, he says this: 'If a person is offended by God's word, that is his problem. If he is offended by Biblical doctrine, Biblical standards, or church discipline, that is his problem. That person is offended by God. But if he is offended by our unnecessary behaviour or practices, no matter how good and acceptable those may be in themselves, his problem becomes our problem - and it is not a problem of law, but the problem of love'. That's it in a nutshell, because for Paul nothing meant anything apart from the gospel. What a statement! 'I do all things', verse 23, 'for the gospel's sake. I'm willing to set aside everything but the gospel, for the gospel, in order that the gospel's influence cannot be hindered in my life'.
How refreshing this is, how challenging it is. I've been referring lately in my preaching to Hudson Taylor because I've been reading, on and off, his biography. You may not know this, but Hudson Taylor went to China at the same time as Britain had declared war upon China. It was like going to the enemy, and if that wasn't stigma enough Taylor also decided, when he was out of China for a while, that he would take upon himself the dress and the look of the Chinese - and this was something unique and monumental, it had only been done a few times before by gospel missionaries, but he did it. If you like, he became a Chinaman to Chinamen, that he might win Chinamen. What did he do? Remember now that this is the 1800s. He shaved off all his hair - now some of you don't need to do that! - but he shaved off all his hair, apart from one ponytail that went down his back. He grew it because that was Chinese custom, to have this ponytail from your head - I can't remember the technical name for it, but he did this. Then he dyed that ponytail black, because the Chinese all have - as far as I know - black hair. He nearly blinded himself with ammonia, and he was a doctor, as he tried to dye his hair; and he got scars over his face as he tried to do it. Then he took upon himself Chinese traditional dress, the long silk gown and robe. He bound himself, he loosed himself of liberty to dress whatever way he liked, and coming from the West they dress in a three-piece suit or whatever it was, he had forgone this - why? Because in the Chinese mind they believed that a white man's dignity rested in strict adherence to British dress and British western habits. When Taylor decided to don this Chinese look, and look in all intents and purposes just like a Chinese man, it was deeply shocking, first of all to the Chinese, and then to the British, some of the missionaries.
We're not in the 1800s, but what would you do if on a missionary Sunday we had a missionary from China, and he got up into the pulpit in a dress with a long ponytail down his back? Come on now, what would you do? Hundreds of years ago this man of God, and I hope you would agree with me that he was a man of God, he had gone native - and as far as the British were concerned, it's on record, that he had lost his credibility as a missionary for doing it. He even lost support, and they even labelled him a traitor because he was going to those whom they were at war with, and he was denying his Britishness in order to win the lost - but he set aside his liberty and he became enslaved to these Chinese customs, why? To win them! Because his love for them was greater than his desire for liberty in Christ! Why was that? Because he had a passion for the lost.
Now come on friends, what are we doing that we by all means - not sinful means now, don't misunderstand me - but by all means save some? Do you know that we need to? Do you even know that we need to? What are we doing? Can we even bring somebody to the gospel meeting? It seems not!
Hudson Taylor was preaching on one occasion, and a man called Nee Yung Fa, who was a Ningbo (sp?) cotton dealer, was converted. He had also been a leader in a reformed Buddhist sect. This Buddhist sect believed that you shouldn't worship idols, they were reformed in that sense - they opposed idolatry, and they were really trying to search for the truth. At the end of Hudson Taylor's sermon, Nee stood up and he addressed the audience and said this: 'I have long searched for the truth as my father did before me, and I have travelled far but I haven't found it. I found no rest in Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, but I do find rest in what I heard tonight. From now on I believe in Jesus'. Nee took Hudson Taylor to a meeting of the sect he had formerly led, and was allowed for a moment to explain the reason for his change of faith. Taylor was so impressed with the clarity and power with which he spoke that he addressed him afterwards, and spoke to him personally. Another member of the group was converted that same evening, and both Nee and the new convert were baptised that moment. Then Nee asked Hudson Taylor: 'How long has the gospel been known in England?'. Embarrassed, he said: 'For several hundred years'. 'What!', exclaimed Nee, 'And you have only now come to preach it to us? My father sought after the truth for more than 20 years and died without finding it! Why didn't you come sooner!'. The author says: 'For Hudson Taylor, it was a difficult question to answer'.
May we be, as Paul says in verse 23, partakers together in winning the lost by all means, and saving some. Friends in the assembly, elders, deacons, members, is there not more we can be doing to win the lost? I'm not talking about dressing up like a clown and swallowing a goldfish, I'm talking about in the realms of liberty that we have in Christ, can we not be doing more? May we do more, may the Lord give us a passion after the lost.
Father, help us to save with fear, to have compassion making a difference, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garments spotted by the flesh. Give us a heart that the Saviour had as He stood over Jerusalem and wept for their souls. Give us the compulsion that He had to set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem, to say: 'I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how I am straitened until it be accomplished'. Let us be like Paul who said: 'Oh, that I would be accursed for my brethren, accursed from Christ that I might win them. My heart's desire', he said, 'and prayer for Israel is that they might be saved'. Oh Lord, would You save our friends, our loved ones, this neighbourhood, those around that have no hope. Lord, let us by all means biblical and necessary, seek to win them for the time is short, and there's no time to be playing around with the eternal souls of men and women. So hear us Lord, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-second tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Wisdom Of A Master Soul-Winner" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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