1 Cor. 9:19ff, application to all
This is an amazing statement from Paul. I am all things to all men. I am free to be whatever I need to be to advance the gospel. This is genuine freedom. There are important lessons here, some things we need to understand. This is a great statement concerning Christian leadership. Christian leadership is totally serving, reaching out to others. Traditions, selfishness, power, ego have no place. I am free, therefore I serve. I choose to help others. Because I am free, I am not interested in self, comfort, the familiar--my interest is in serving others, helping, blessing. This is genuine freedom, but it is not the message popularized in our society and culture, and even in the churches in our culture, this weekend. This version of leadership is not orthodox. This version of Christianity and Christian service is not orthodox. We are not pleasing self, others, one another. We are not committed to comfortable routines, but to reaching out to the most with the best. This is maturity, leadership, church growth always follows this mindset.
I have made a list of our freedoms, but I first make two observations related to this text.1. A faith that does not free us is a false faith. Think with me. This is not to martial people, line up on the issue of the month, this is not a battle for who or what is right. This is freedom in Christ. Faith frees us. If faith binds us rather than frees us, it is a false faith. We are bound to only one, and that is Christ. Our allegiance is to Christ. Our faith is in Christ. Until we get this right, we will find Christianity a burden. If religion is a burden, it is not Christianity. This is our faith; this is our freedom. This is the freeing power of truth, because we identify Jesus as Lord.
2. A church that binds members rather than freeing them is not the Lord's church. The church is not the pope. Nor is any person. Every Christian is a priest, with conscience, responsibility, to go through Christ to God. We go on our own to God, because we individually own God, and God owns us. We are pilgrims, not settlers. We have taken the risk, adventure, and growth out of our spiritual lives as a result of this misunderstanding, and it must not be.
Our lesson then is things that we are free from in Jesus Christ. Until we are free in these areas, we cannot grow and mature.
1. We are free from tradition, culture, cliques, even our own best friends' ideas.
If there ever was a Jew, Paul was. Pharisee, traditionalist, above peers. "I just wasn't raised that way." Did Paul gag on his first piece of pork? Become all things to all men. He was free in Christ. Do we seek to please men or God? The problem with missions continues to be an attempt to Americanize and line up and jump through hoops rather than teach the simple gospel. We must apply Christianity to each individual place and situation. We know there are different ways, lifestyles. Perhaps it contradicts all you have ever known. It is hard to be all things...Acts 10, Gal. 2. We didn't sing off the wall when I was growing up, we sang different songs, we did it differently. Good. That was then, this is now. What does the gospel mean to you today?
In our brotherhood, there are differences that can be charted geographically. These ought not to trouble us. Don't try to line everyone up with you. Differences, but each is before God. Individual autonomy. We have been so excited about congregational autonomy that we have almost undone individual autonomy. I like to attend black congregations. They are different, but it is good. It is hard to be cross-cultural. This is the unique challenge of Christianity.
Don't be enslaved to the comfortable and to the past. We won't ever reach out with such an attitude. "Don't trust the security of your religious ceremonies, trust the living God." Religion is to change our lives.
2. We are free from the fear of failure.
Phil. 2 says Jesus emptied himself. We are afraid to empty ourselves. Most of us are burdened, even enslaved, by the fear of failure. What will others think? What if someone rejects us? What if the door is slammed in our face? What is someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to? What if? Many of us seek safety...we don't want to do something that might not work. One of the great political problems of the late 20th and early 21st century is the tendency against changing the system--we continually get new people in an old system, and then they get mad and quit because it won't work. It's not the people, it's the system. This is true in politics, in business, in education. It is true down at the church house. We must get rid of the fear of failure. We must commit again to doing what will help others. It is not about my preferences, my likes, my dislikes. Forget what I like, forget the past, forget the comfortable. Only genuine freedom in Christ can help us escape the fear of failure.
3. We are free from intimidation.
Critics can intimidate, friends can intimidate. Enemies intimidate. Family, friends, disciples, Pilate, enemies. Jesus offended others. Paul was dogged by critics, the Judaizers. They hounded him virtually all of his life. He had to defend himself--wrote Galatians, maybe some of Thessalonians, 2 Cor., maybe parts of 1 Cor. But he never let his critics set the agenda in his life. He was free. He was going to serve. He was going to do what God called him to do--serve Jew and Gentiles, strong and weak. Each must be his or her own person before God.
4. We are free to love those God loves.
When one talks of personal work, soul winning, evangelism, converting, baptizing, you are talking about wonderful people, but we are homogenous. It bothers us. We cannot seize the opportunities. We can only think about those like us. What if someone different were to come to church? There are some strange people out there. Would we accept them, could we, can you? Can we love? What if someone comes who represents what we are not? We fear those who are different. We fear heterogeneity. God loves everyone, Jesus died for all.
We basically go to people just like us. Paul wanted to go to all. Will we go, to all, become all things to all people. In the body of Christ, we can have everyone. Educated and uneducated, young and old, whatever distinctions you list are gone. We are all together because we are free to love every person God loves. Until we get this on straight, we will not do much in evangelism. We have already culled out 99% because they are not like us.
5. We are free to make commitments.
It amazes me how we are against the world, yet we practice what they practice. We are like them, more than we will admit. This is morality, this is preferences, this is lifestyle. But in a slightly different vein--the world just says, we are not going to get involved. So do most Christians. Don't get married, don't make longterm commitments. We don't commit to businesses anymore--just go where the price is best. We are not really committed to sports teams, nor to friendships. There are lots of fair weather friends, even at the church. In Jesus Christ, we are free to give our own gift, use our own talent, do our own ministry before God. No one has the right to police us. We just can't stand this thought. We want to police the entire brotherhood, and then straighten up the rest of the world too. In our country, we want to police the churches. Then in missions, and tell people who they can and can't baptize. If you every want to climb the heights in Christianity, and then want to go to the depths, analyze the church contribution. You will weep--with joy at the sacrifice of some, with disappointment at the stinginess of others.
6. We are free to disagree.
We basically do not know how to disagree and still love. This is church discipline, which should primarily be a means of reconciliation, but we find enmity developing. Too many are trying to build walls rather than to build love. Too many are trying to get people to line up, to bring them to our demands, our thinking, our way or no way. But that is not the Christian way. We need unity, not uniformity. Not conformity, nor unanimity. We must understand the difference. Unity is when the need for all overrules my own pet notion. That is unity. Everyone will not be 100% for everything that happens, but we can be united. I like living in McAlester, but not everyone does. A good friend at OC said, M&O is good if you can stand living in McAlester. I don't agree with everything that is done here. But I can be a good neighbor. A town is more than disagreements, also a church. Until we have freedom and security, we will fragment, and split, and fuss, and feud, and isolate...
7. We are free from personal ambition.
This touches us all. We struggle to be honest enough to admit personal ambition gets in the way. Look in the mirror. Regardless of what you are thinking, looking out for yourself is natural. Paul was free from personal ambition, and selfishness. Paul didn't act because of Paul. He forgot himself, he went to them where they were. Selfish ambition is a cancer than hinders the cause of Christ. It kills the church. Many are just interested in their way, their project, their needs, their deeds. The bottom line is power. We need the simple lessons--the difference between power and authority. Humanity operates under power, but Jesus operates with authority. We must know the difference. Then we can talk about genuine servanthood, the desire to minister, "I want to be known as a servant, but I do not want to be treated as one." Paul said, "I will be servant to all." He kept that vow, he did the task before him. He was all things to all men. He went where God called him. He wasn't trying to make a name for himself. He was humble, least of brothers, least of apostles, sinner. He was willing to be al things. He was a servant. He cared for others, he was loyal to Jesus Christ.
Are you free? Are you really free? What people do with their freedom is a judge of their character. What will you do with your freedom? Can you escape tradition and culture, fear of failure, overcome intimidate to do what is right regardless? Can you love, commitment, disagree in love, escape self? Why not be baptized? You are free to obey. Some under pride and family pressures cannot act. Only free people can be baptized.
Some need to repent, let others know of their repentance, be restored. Only free people can be restored. Today you can be genuinely free. If you are free, act, obey, be God's, whatever your need.
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Last updated March 20, 2005.