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10.03.21 1 Corinthians 9.19-27 We Are What the World Needs Sermon Summary

by on October 5, 2021

The Apostle Paul was always something of an enthusiast. As a Pharisee named Saul he sought to glorify God in everything he did. Then as a persecutor of the church he sought to extinguish the Jesus-heresy. After his conversion he became an evangelist, and he sought to go anywhere and do anything to win converts.

Enthusiasts are often admired because they inspire common folk. They can become egoistic. Paul even writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 

They are also often attacked because they are easily misunderstood and sometimes make common folk feel guilty. So enthusiasts can become defensive. Remember when Paul said, “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you”? In other places he wrote, “I was personally commissioned by the Resurrected Christ.” “I didn’t consult any of the original disciples.” “I work harder than anyone else.”

It’s easy to forget that enthusiasts, like everyone else, are human. This includes Paul. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s challenging to know how to read enthusiasts.

When Paul writes, is he referring to himself? To his audience? To a wider audience? If a wider audience, is it just the churches of his time? Or the churches of our time, too? And if the churches of our time, to each one of us?

Here are some examples from sermons over the past several weeks of statements that make it hard to know about whom Paul is referring. “You are the Body of Christ.” “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” “We have the mind of Christ.”

Last week I offered one path forward—to look for principles. I suggested by considering the illustrations Paul uses, we might be able to discern the principles that apply to our lives. 

One of the illustrations in this chapter is the athlete running in a race. Sometimes I run as my exercise. I’m not running to win a prize. I’m just running—sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. I look around. I listen to music. 

But let’s say there’s a prize—like dessert after dinner. Then I run with a purpose. I’m excited and focused. I run like an athlete in a race.

This is how Paul thinks about his job as an evangelist in the church. Everyone has a job in the church. It may be giving for the needs of others, or encouraging people when they feel bad, or helping with the church building. The job may be praying with others, playing music or teaching, or listening and studying. 

Each of us has a job in the church. We don’t all have the same job. We don’t all have Paul’s job. Paul’s job was to be an itinerant evangelist. He was to convert as many people in as many places as fast as he could.

He did his evangelist job as an athlete running to win. “To the Jews, I became as a Jew” (easy for Paul). “To the non-Jews, I became as a non-Jew” (he had to learn this). “To the weak I became as one who is weak.” In fact, Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul does his job like an athlete competing to win: “I exercise my body and bend it to my will.” “Athletes compete for a perishable prize,” he says, a prize that fades away. We do our jobs in the church for an imperishable one, a prize that lasts forever.

And what is that prize? Paul writes, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. . . so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”

The prize Paul wants is to share in the gospel he proclaims. It is the gospel of reconciliation: Because of Jesus Christ, God and God’s creation are at peace, humans and God are together again, humans can be together with each other again.

Paul received this gospel from Jesus and he shares this gospel with the world. He shares it like an athlete running to win the prize. That’s his job as an evangelist. And that’s the principle we can all apply to our lives

What’s your job in the church? What has God given you to do? Maybe like Paul it’s evangelism. Or maybe it’s one of the gifts listed by Paul and his disciple in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, or Ephesians 4. Or maybe it’s something not on the lists.

But you have one. You have a job. And once you figure it out, do it like Paul did his job. Do it like an athlete competing to win. For the more you do that, the more you’ll receive the Gospel. You’ll feel more reconciled to God. You’ll feel closer to your fellow humans. 

Paul went to the world with his job like an athlete competing to win. The other illustration in this chapter is the slave. Paul served the world with his job.

The world needs us to do the same. It needs us to do our job, whatever it is, like an athlete competing to win. The world needs our service. We are what the world needs.

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