Sermon: “Relinquishing our Rights” (1 Corinthians 9:1-14)
Listen to the Sermon:
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, ESV
We live in a nation where we love our rights. In fact, from the very beginning our country was founded on the idea of rights. You may have studied the Declaration of Independence and maybe memorized it. From July 4. 1776, it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Then later on in 1789 when the United States adopted the Constitution, we did not do so without an accompanying document, the Bill of Rights. So, there is something ingrained deep down in us where we think there is nothing more important than to protect and perhaps even die for those rights.
That’s all well and good in terms of a country. I’m not criticizing America, but we have to think about Christianity. We have to think about what the Bible teaches us about how we should live no matter what country we live in or we are citizens of. In the scriptures we are told that we also have rights, liberties, freedoms as it’s often talked about.
In Christ we are given freedom from sin and death and the devil to whom we used to be enslaved, but now we’re free. In Christ we have freedom from the old covenant laws so that we don’t have to follow all of the aspects of the ceremonial law that God’s people did under the old covenant.
Furthermore, we’ve been freed from legalism. I can’t preach to you my private thoughts, for which you should be very thankful. I am not allowed to enslave and bind your conscious in that way. When I come into this pulpit when, anyone comes into this pulpit, we can only preach to you what God has spoken. So, you are free from the tyranny of me your pastor. That’s a good thing.
But there’s a tension here when we think about our freedoms, we think about our rights. There’s an irony in the fact that Christianity is founded by someone who gave up his rights. The fundamental foundation of Christianity is a story about how God the Son relinquished his rights. We are told in Philippians 2:5-6,
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Philippians 2:5-6, ESV
He was fully God, very God of very God, he had all the rights, all the liberties, all the freedoms he was God. Yet he didn’t count that as something that had to be clung to it and demanded upon. He relinquished that right, not by stopping to be God, but by availing his glory, his power. Especially in the way that he took the form of a servant by being born in the likeness of humans, a person like you and me.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave up his rights so that we could be saved. So, Christianity cannot fully be about gaining and preserving and clinging to the rights that we have. Although certainly Christianity should never seek to abolish rights. I can’t say I know you have this right, but I’m your pastor I want you to do what I want you to do. You have the freedom of the tyranny of me praise the Lord.
But in Christianity what we learned is that our rights don’t exist for their own sake. As wonderful as it is that we have freedom and liberties that Paul is going to talk about in this passage, those rights, liberties, freedoms do not exist for themselves. The whole point and purpose of Christianity is not that we can have and exercise these rights. Rather we are told these rights are in the service of something bigger, something greater. These rights are given precisely for the purposes that God has in establishing the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world.
So, what that means is that wherever we recognize that our rights may conflict with and even undercut the expansion and the advance of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ into this world, we should voluntarily follow the example of our Lord to relinquish the rights that we have. Now I can’t go tell you that you should relinquish those rights and just stop. Recognize from this passage that Paul gives us a model here to learn, that will be our big idea for this morning which is this; Christ’s kingdom reigns above our rights.
We see this is three way.
1. Christ’s Reign
2. Apostolic Rights
3. Gospel Reaping
Let’s look at these first two verses where Paul sets out program for establishing God’s reign in this world.
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, ESV
When Paul says, “Am I not free?”, we have to remember that the chapter division between eight and nine wasn’t something that Paul originally inserted in this. What he has just said in eight flows right into this question chapter nine. When Paul asks, “Am I not free?”, we have to ask why he is saying that. It has to do with what he said in chapter eight where Paul took up the question as to whether Christians can lawfully eat meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples.
Even if you had that liberty, freedom, or right, and Paul doesn’t quite say that they do, but for the sake of argument let’s say that you do have this right, this liberty, this freedom. Understand that there are other factors that you need to consider. If exercising that right would cause a Christian with a weaker conscious to stumble by being led back into their old sinful lifestyles, you should willingly relinquish that right and not eat meat to prevent your brother from stumbling. So, Paul makes this declaration in the verse right before the question that he asks it 8:13 he says,
3 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:13, ESV
Of course, that raises the question but why would anyone live this way? Why would anyone relinquish their rights? Paul then sets himself as an example. He is saying, you want to see what this looks like why we ought to live this way as Christians? Consider me. For example, he doesn’t often think about himself but every once in a while, he does, and he does it to really fantastic effect. He says am I not free? Do I not have this right to eat meat? Of course, I do.
But then he goes on to offer up the specific case study that is different than this question from eating meat to illustrate and cast light on why he would give up eating meat. It has to do with his apostolic authority, the office he has as an apostle. Look at the second question he asks, “Am I not an apostle?” What he is going to talk about here is it if I have an apostle, I have these rights these liberties these freedoms. “Am I not an apostle with these rights?” Now the Corinthians would acknowledge that of course he is an apostle, they recognize that that’s not under dispute here.
So, Paul goes on and develops the general nature of apostolic authority and then the particular proof of his apostolic authority. He’s just setting the stage for where he’s going to now. Look what he says, it’s very important, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then the third question he says is, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now that’s important that he refers to this question and it’s not minor, it’s really major to his points.
“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” The primary responsibility that the apostles had, what made them apostles, is that they were able to bear direct, personal, eyewitness testimony to the resurrected Jesus Christ. You and I have not seen the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ; everything that we have is dependent upon the first eyewitnesses who were there, who saw him crucified and bleed out and die on the cross and then three days later saw him resurrected in glory.
We need those eyewitnesses otherwise we don’t have hope that our faith rest on solid historical fact. So, part of the primary responsibility of an apostle is to bear witness to the resurrected Lord Jesus.
We actually see this in Acts chapter one. One of the Apostles, Judas, committed suicide after betraying Jesus to be crucified. So, the twelve was down to eleven. In those days after Jesus had left them on earth and ascended to heaven, but before Jesus sent his spirit and power on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter one, they’re trying to figure out what to do next.
They were studying the scriptures, and praying, and they recognize the scriptures teach two things. Number one is that the betrayal of Jesus was always foretold in scriptures. Number two the scriptures also said that another ought to fill the office. They say okay, we have to appoint another apostle to fill Judas’ place. Again, the issue has to do with eyewitness test.
So Peter stands up in Acts 1:21-22,
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22, ESV
Now the reason this is so important is to understand what Christ is doing to ongoingly establish the rule, that is the government, of his reign as king in the world. What is Christ doing? He’s in heaven, he’s not here, he’s on the throne. How is it that that Christ is going about establishing the rule of his reign here on Earth? It’s by the eyewitness testimony of his apostles, who go around as ministers proclaiming his rule and his reign.
Originally this was done by eyewitnesses, those who went around and not only bore witnesses that Jesus is was alive but bore witness and testimony to everything that Jesus Christ had taught. Again, part of the Great Commission is to teach the disciples of Jesus to observe all that Christ has commanded us. Well where do we find what Christ has commanded us except through his apostles?
Through the apostles we learn what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of us. All of that comes from these original eyewitnesses of these apostles. Everyone after them, including us, has to depend upon those first eyewitnesses. There are still ministers, myself included, that are given to teaching and preaching the scriptures, not my own observations about life.
Again, you shouldn’t be under the tyranny of me, but what the scriptures have laid down by the writings of the apostles and prophets, the Old and New Testaments. To declare the whole counsel of God concerning Christ. And where Jesus is preached and proclaimed in his church, there is the establishment of his kingdom. That’s how his kingdom is rooted and established.
So, the apostolic authority that Paul is putting forward the nature of what this means, and this will become very important as we go. But after establishing the general nature, to bear witness to the kingship of Jesus, Paul then goes on to give particular proof of its own apostolic authority. After all Paul wasn’t there from the beginning, seeing everything during Jesus’ earthly ministry. His own Apostolic authority is unique in that Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection and his ascension. Paul says to prove his apostleship, “Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”
Back in chapter three Paul talked about his work in Corinth as one who planted the church there. Another, Apollos, came to water it. He talked about shifting the imagery to one of a building project, he says I like a chief master builder laid the foundation of Jesus Christ and now other ministers have come along and are building on top of it.
Now Paul is saying is, you know my apostleship you the church are the that I am truly an apostle commissioned by the Lord Jesus. All of this to say that Paul is talking about his own apostleship. We are seeing he is talking it in relation to witnessing to the resurrection of Christ but that has to do with how Christ is establishing his reign in this world. Paul is saying all of this though not to talk apostleship in general, but to talk about the rights that he has as an apostle.
Look at what Paul says in verse three,
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 1 Corinthians 9:3, ESV
You know I’m an apostle, but here’s what I’d say if you wanted to examine the way that I’m living, the way that I am relinquishing this freedom. He then goes on the list all of these apostolic rights that he has. His point in this is that Paul has all of these rights, but that he has relinquished them.
4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 1 Corinthians 9:4, ESV
He’s not just talking about the physical act of eating and drinking. Here he’s talking about the financial support that he has a right to, to cover his basic needs including eating and drinking. Don’t we have a right to be financially supported as an apostle? I will say see more of that when you come back to that later.
In verse five he says,
5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 1 Corinthians 9:5-6, ESV
This is one of those verses where Paul says something, just started offhandedly, you know those apostles and the brothers in the Lord and their wives and Cephas, that’s Peter, and his wife; you do know all them, do we not have the right to this they do? We are like no Paul; we are 2000 years distant from this and we don’t know who these wives are of the apostles. Would you please give us more information? Paul doesn’t and this raises a lot of questions about who exactly he is talking about here.
There are two things that are clear from this. Number one, it is clear that many of the earliest ministers, apostles, and other people who were listed in this were married. And it’s clear that marriage is a right for ministers, although it is not required. Paul himself as single. Paul says I have the right to get married, to take along a believing wife, but this is one of the rights he has relinquished.
Verse six he goes on and talks about the rest of the passage, which has to do with the financial support. Paul did eat and drink while he was in Corinth, but he did so at his own expense. In Acts 18:3, we see that as we’re reading about Paul’s ministry in Corinth is that part of what he did there while he there was to work with his own hands. He was a tentmaker by trade, that’s sort of like a contractor. They’re kind of like ancient houses and they were erected easily. So that’s what he was working at the time and he did so to provide for his own needs.
But he says its fact he had a right to make it otherwise. Is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from a living? In other words, we did have this right, but we refrained from exercising it, we relinquished it.
Paul then goes on to go deeper into this question that we are going to go yet deeper in the next section. It’s the next question about the financial support for ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 1 Corinthians 9:7, ESV
It’s as though he were saying what would be the point if you weren’t getting some of the milk? What Paul is saying here is that in this work, this labor, this ministry that he is called to do, it’s not that he just has a right to be financially supported, but this is an undisputed right. The rest of the world, people are supported by the work that they do.
If Paul is called by an apostle, a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he is insisting that he has a right to financial support. Now Paul is going to later talk about the fact that he doesn’t make use of this and why he doesn’t make use of it. For the moment we have to ask this question, why does King Jesus give his apostles these rights anyway? The points of why ministers, and especially apostles in the early church, ought to be financially supported has to do with sustaining the labor of these ministries. It’s through the preaching and ministry of the word; that’s the method that Christ has chosen to establish his kingdom.
Christ has given his ministers a job of preaching, declaring, ministering his word, and doing this well. They cannot give all of their time to worldly advocations, that’s a world older way of saying normal, common world. There’s nothing wrong with normal common work in the world. There’s so much in scripture that bears witness to what a good thing that normal, common labor in the world is.
If you are a farmer, a scientist, a teacher, those are very good things. But Christ has given his ministers who proclaim his word a specific calling, a specific occupation, to labor and devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. They need financial support, is the logic here that Paul will continue on to unpack, in order to sustain that work so that they’re not distracted from it in order that Christ may establish his kingdom by the preaching of the gospel.
This is also behind verse five, why has Christ given marriage has a right to his ministers? Well it’s so that Christ’s ministers may be devoted to the Lord without distraction. Some ministers, like Paul, have the gift of continency that Paul talks about in chapter seven, where the desires are contained so they are not a constant distraction. But for any other ministers, like the other apostles, the brothers in the Lord and Cephas, Christ has provided wives so that those ministers made better service his kingdom without distraction.
In other words, if we start to take a step back from this, Paul is saying this is the way that Jesus is building his kingdom. Understand this work that I’m doing as an apostle to bear witness to the word of Jesus Christ, this is what I’m doing to build Christ’s kingdom. He’s called me to this, I must fulfill it. Therefore, ordinarily I would have this right to be financially supported in this work.
But again, we’ve got to remember why is he saying this? He doesn’t want to take advantage of the benefits, the rights, the liberties he has. So why is he saying all of this? He does because he’s illustrating how close the situation is to the question about if Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols.
Even if you did have a right to do it, and again Paul will have more to say about it in chapter ten, the fact that you have this right doesn’t mean you have to exercise it. This is about the kingdom Paul is going to say. We need to do whatever it takes not to put a hindrance in front of the gospel. Christ give these rights in order to bring in a great harvest of faith. If that’s the case, then these rights must be relinquished if and when they stand in the way of impeding the progress of that harvest. That’s what Paul turns to next, an agricultural farming metaphor.
Paul says in verse eight, just carrying on this thread,
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 1 Corinthians 9:8-10, ESV
So, what does he mean by all of this? Now it may not be flattering to talk about ministers of the gospel is oxen, but Paul is making a point here. He’s saying if you look at you Deuteronomy you see this law in there about how oxen should not be muzzled as they tread out the grain. In other words, oxen as they’re walking among the grain, you shouldn’t put a muzzle over their mouth that would eat up your profits. They would be eating the grain you’re trying to produce for your profit, if you muzzle them that keeps them from eating in a way that will eat up your profits, but God forbade that.
Paul says, was it really for oxen that God to speaking there? Now the question is, does he mean that they were allowed to muzzle their oxen? No, he’s not denying what’s the plain sense of this. Martin Luther has a really interesting observation about this, he says all of this about oxen, is it really oxen for which God is concerned? No, it’s for our sake. Martin Luther simply observes that oxen can’t read. So, if you’re asking whether an ox would benefit from this? No, oxen cannot read so this is for us.
Whatever we make of this it’s written for us to teach us. It’s about how this labor should be worked out and the principle is at the plowman should be plowing and the thresher should be threshing in hope of sharing in the crop. The plowing is what you do at the very beginning of the crop cycle, you plow the field before planting. The threshing comes at the very end of the cycle, once you’ve actually harvested the grain you thresh it to separate the wheat from the chaff.
So, what he is saying is everyone from the beginning to the end of this process, all those who participates, is benefiting from it. So, Paul’s point here and verse eleven is if we sow spiritual things, the word of God, among you is it too much if we reap material things from you, financial support? If others share this rightful claim on you, and they do, do not we even more the apostles who planted your church?
Now all of this, again you really think Paul is making this huge case like an employee whose mustered his best argument and rehearsed it with his wife before going into his employer to ask for a raise. That’s what it sounds like. Paul is saying all of this because he wants a raise or to get the back pay that he is owed. But the shocking thing is what he says in the second half of verse twelve.
12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:12, ESV
That’s shocking. All that Paul has said, his whole point is that we have these rights that are indisputable and yet we will not make use of them. Why? Because the principal has to do with the kingdom. The advance and the progress of the kingdom of Jesus Christ which is spread through the preaching of the gospel in the world. Paul said when I came among you, I perceived that to ask you for your support as I was telling you to become a Christian would put an obstacle in the way of the gospel.
This word for obstacle is only used here in the New Testament, but as Leon Morris points out that the word that means an obstacle or stumbling block or something that would slow down progress. Elsewhere it’s used to talk about cutting up a road, for example, to impede the progress of an enemy. Paul is saying okay, you’ve got this bridge here and it’s the bridge that I will be blowing up and destroying and dropping into the river, that would stop not an enemy from advancing but the gospel. There’s no way I’m going to do that.
The rights that I was given are for the purpose of keeping those bridges in place, of establishing those bridges, of getting the gospel to you. So, when it gets in the way, the only thing I can do is relinquish these rights for the sake of the gospel of Jesus.
Paul gives a couple more arguments,
13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, ESV
This was true in old covenant worship. The priests gained a lot of their living, a lot of their food from the sacrifices that were offered. Some of it went to God, some of it went to the priest, and sometimes they went to the worshippers for them to feast on together. This is also true in pagan temples; they would do in many cases the same thing. It was a commonly understood principle.
In verse fourteen, in the same way the Lord, that is Jesus, commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. When Jesus sent the seventy-two to go preaching from town to town, he told them not to go bring money but to eat and drink in the home said they visited because, “the laborer deserves his wages”, in Luke 10:7.
So, Paul is saying that while that command is true and good, there places where exercising that right would undercut the purpose for the gospel and in those cases the right must be relinquished.
This is a complicated winding passage because Paul is trying to make the best possible case in favor of the right, in order to show that he has relinquished the right for the same principle by which they should relinquish their rights. For the sake of the progress of the gospel what should we do with this? Especially in a day where we don’t necessarily worry about whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. How does this apply?
1. Support those who proclaim the gospel. Now this is an awkward application point for obvious reasons, this feels self-serving. So, let me start with a few qualifications to this application. I want to say this church supports me and Andrew very well, not only financially but in so many ways.
I want publicly thank-you for your kindness during pastor’s appreciation month. For coming alongside of us during Allison’s recent eye surgeries. For celebrating with us yesterday for Aaron’s adoption. In many ways you have been so gracious in supporting us.
I mention this application not as a scolding, but as an affirmation that by God’s grace you are keeping this commandment well. It means a lot to me, I’ve been bi-vocational before, and I’ll talk about it in a minute, so it means a lot to me and I don’t take it for granted for a minute.
2. I fully recognize the day may come that this church may not be able to support me financially. Heading to the future, I don’t know what will coming. The day may come where persecution restricts giving, where the economy tanks, or tax exemption policies change, or something else that makes it impossible to financially support a minister.
I get that. I go into this call eyes wide open, knowing that is the case. I labored as a bi-vocational in the past for six years. I was a tentmaker, I didn’t literally so tents, you wouldn’t want me sewing together your tent I promise.
I did another job and it was a good job, it was a wonderful job. There were good things about being a bi-vocational pastor. I got to go right into ministry and serve right away without needing to wait for a job, but bi-vocational ministry is very hard.
When you work a full-time job and you’re also tried to prepare a sermon, and I was preaching weekly at times, that’s hard. That’s hard on the family, it’s hard to give enough time to my children and my wife. It’s hard to time to give enough time to the word as you’re trying to prepare it well, you get distract from prayer and all of that. It’s a hard, hard reality.
That’s why, we need to recognize that Jesus commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. Ministry of the word is hard to do. It requires careful study, that requires trying to make some semblance of all of these ins and outs of these arguments to understand what Paul is saying. Then to try to preach it to clear way. All throughout it requires extensive prayer.
So, while there may be times and circumstances and reasons and seasons for having a minister sometimes survive bi-vocationally, we should do everything we can to support ministers who give themselves to this work. That’s not me, I’m not giving you a tyranny of me, I’m telling you what scripture say. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 says,
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18
So, thank you for the generous sacrificial financial support that allows Andrew and me to labor in word and prayer and support our families at the same time. It’s a privileged that neither of us take for granted, it’s a precious thing.
But also, let all of us, me too as I’m continuing to give my own money, we might consider how we might support this work in many areas. People who proclaim the gospel in missions work, in church planning efforts. Those are the means by which King Jesus establishes the rule of his reign, through ministers who declare and minister his word, so that church people are brought up to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Relinquish your rights for the sake of others. Again, all of this is not so much because Paul is trying to go in and demand a pay raise or something like this. All of this is an extended argument about another situation. When push comes to shove, when it is you exercising your rights or leading someone else into sin and avoiding that, you’ve got to avoid leading someone else into sin.
This is about meat sacrificed to idols in the original context, but there so many cases where this is applicable for us. As we consider what we should eat, what we should drink, what we should watch listen to and read, what we should say, what we should do. The question isn’t whether we may do something, this is my right, our savior calls us not to lord our liberties over each other because he himself came to serve not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The question is whether what we would do would benefit ourselves, not that we would gain some pleasure out of it, but for others, whether it would ultimately serve others. Is what you were doing causing someone to sin against their conscience? If so according to 1 Corinthians 8:12 you are not only sinning against your brother, you’re sinning against Christ himself. Relinquish your rights for the sake of others.
3. Relinquish your rights for the sake of the kingdom. Our big idea today is that Christ kingdom reigns above our rights. Again, as Paul talks about his rights as an apostle, he’s talking about the commission that he has been given to establish the rule of Christ’s reign by the ministry of the word.
As an apostle, he has rights that Christ has commanded to support and sustained that labor. What Paul states in his ministry among the Corinthian, he declined to take advantage of those rights. He was willing to endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
The question that all of us have to wrestle with is are we on willing to relinquish our rights for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? Where are we clinging to something from me, where it stands in the way as the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Understand this is actually the initial question we are faced with when we are first presented with the gospel. Are you insisting you are in the right and you don’t need to change so that you were in the right and God is in the wrong, when he declares to you that you are guilty? Or will you relinquish that right, confess your sins, and throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus Christ because he stands willing and able to save.
In the courtroom of God’s righteous justice, it will not be those who can make the most persuasive arguments that they have, in fact through it all been right, who will be acquitted and entered into the eternal righteousness of Jesus Christ. It will be those who are the first to confess I have no rights; I have forfeited all of them because I am a sinner who deserves nothing.
But I have only one hope in this life and in the next, it is my Lord Jesus Christ who gave up his rights for me and that is all I’m clinging to, it’s all I’m pleading upon as I throw myself before your mercy. If you’ve never done that, if you’ve never acknowledged how much you’re in the wrong, if your cling to the fact that you are right no matter what anyone else might say; then the gospel cuts across you to say that you are the obstacle in the way of the advancing of the kingdom. You’re not letting it into your own heart. Drop the defenses. Put the bridge back up. Let Jesus Christ in by the grace of God.
But what about for others? Where are you insisting upon your rights, I know I can do this, I can show you a proof text in the Bible for it, in a way that is preventing other people from coming to know Jesus? That’s such a searching call, because it affects so many things that we do, so many things we say, so many things we don’t do and don’t say.
But we are called to follow the pattern that is established by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It is not just the Jesus Christ who existed in the form of God emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. We’re told at the beginning of Philippians 2:5 we are to have this mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus.
The pattern of life we are given is that we are called not to be served, but to serve, just as our Savior did for us. It’s not that we can save other people, only Jesus Christ can do that, but we are called to be conformed to that image. We are called to be reflections of what that image looks like. When people see us, they see the image of God that we are in Christ. We are made after the image of Jesus Christ who is the only image of God.
The criteria that we are given here is simple; will what you are doing help or hinder the progress of the gospel? This isn’t burdensome, it’s difficult and painful sometimes, but it’s not burdensome because there is such great joy to give up everything for the sake of the king and his kingdom. It’s why Paul was willing to do it and it’s why he has called us to be willing to do it as well. Christ’s kingdom reigns above our rights.
Let us pray.
Father we ask that you would give us grace to know and love you. To love you as you are revealed in your word and particularly as your word reveals to us Jesus Christ. I pray that your Holy Spirit would open our eyes as we look to Christ and him crucified to love him, to adore you, to serve him as the one who in humility took upon the form of a servant for us and for our salvation. We rejoice in what Christ has done for us. Father we pray that by the work of your Holy Spirit you would forgive us of our sins. Lead us to lay down what we have conceived to be our rights, to follow Christ. Also, that we would be conformed more more to his image to live to serve and not to be served all the days of our lives. We pray this in Christ’s name and for his glory. Amen