Paulís Voluntary, Limited Liberty

Motivating Christians is a big challenge. "Reprove, rebuke, exhort," were Paulís words to Timothy, encouraging the younger preacher to do his part in motivating the brethren in Ephesus. The dark prince of the power of the air is constantly doing everything he can to get inside the brains of brethren, and begin to twist their perception and their thinking so as to get them off course. The mental mountains which must be moved as the saint ceases to be conformed to this world and becomes transformed into the image of Christ cannot be thrown into the sea by mere human effort. So the saints fight their intense battles. And in the midst of these battles, they could use motivation. Thus preachers and teachers of the word of God are exhorted to lead by example, backing their exhortations with lives that exhibit the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

Brethren do need to be motivated. In hopes that the more arrogant brethren would get off their high horses and abstain from meats offered to idols for the sake of weaker brethren, the apostle is offering illustrations of how he limits he liberty. His good example would motivate the honest ones!

Plowing in Hope, Threshing in Hope

The test of many a character occurs when the exchange of money is involved. Abraham, for example, would not take any of the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah after he rescued them from the kings of the east, saying to the king of Sodom, "I will not take a thread or sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ĎI have made Abraham rich.í " (Genesis 14:23). Abraham had a right to the spoils, but he would not bend his principles for the sake of the money. He would willingly refrain in order that he might further the purpose of God; the result of Abrahamís successfully passing this character test is that in the next chapter God implements the beginning of the eternal covenant with him. Similarly, men such as Barnabas and Paul had passed Godís character test and were entitled to support from congregations such as Corinth, and the apostle is going to take some time to drive this point home. Then he is going to show that he was willing to forego money that was rightfully his in order to demonstrate to the Corinthian brethren that they could forego the eating of meat offered to idols.

Paul, with his usual insight, clear reasoning, and inspiration, is making his case that he has the right to share in the material side of the Corinthians commitment to God. But his ultimate point is that he is not going to use this right in the case of these brethren, according to the wisdom granted him by the All Wise God.

No Hindrance to the Gospel

There were those who were working inside the church at Corinth in order to achieve position and a market share of the church finances. The apostle Paul, by contrast, had made the point that "I preached the gospel to you without charge" (II Corinthians 11:7). "But what I am doing," he stated, "I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting" (II Corinthians 11:12). Strong words!!! Because of these opportunistsí desire to get their mitts into the treasury, Paul was willing to demonstrate in a clear way that, although he had the right to compensation, he was willing to forego that right. And he is bringing it to their attention here in order that the brethren might forego some of the things they could do for the sake of weaker brethren. In making his presentation, he argued first from the perspective of what he called "human judgment," pointing out that it naturally makes sense that a soldier would have to serve for pay, or that a farmer would have to expect a return on his harvest. He further argued that even the Law of Moses had that the statement that the ox was not to be muzzled while it threshed out the grain, and that those who preach the gospel have to "plow" in hope of being able to use some of the produce of their labor.

The apostleís earnest desire was the salvation of souls. He did not want there to be any confusion as to what his purpose was in preaching the gospel to those who might possibly become Christians; he did not want any intimation that his motive was money rather than their eternity. It was at Corinth he worked as a tent-maker, waiting until Silas and Timothy could come from Philippi in Macedonia, bringing assistance from that congregation and enabling him to begin preaching and teaching full time. "We endure all things," he states, "that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:12). Paulís track record in Corinth and elsewhere demonstrated to any objective observer his willingness to endure whatever persecution and privation that might come his way in order that the gospel go forward. And he is making this point that the brethren might have a similar attitude in demonstrating their willingness to forgo the eating of meats offered at idol altars. In this way, the weaker brethren would not have cause for stumbling, and the gospel could go forth unfettered.

The Lord's Directive

The warfare for the soul of one single individual is intense. Multiply that thought by billions, and the nature of struggle of the gospel against the forces of darkness somewhat comes into view. Saints must be reminded that the lock-down Satan had on each member of the fallen race was so great that deliverance could only be accomplished through the death of Godís only begotten Son! Hence it is that serious brethren and sincere proclaimers of the gospel must want to conduct themselves in such a way as to generate no true impediment to the word of God. "We endure all things," the apostle Paul had stated, "that may no hindrance to the gospel of Christ." "If food causes my brother to stumble," he had also noted, "I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble." Money is a major issue among the Gentile peoples of the world, who always seem to be in a mad scramble for the stuff, and Paul doesnít even want that to become an issue. Hence he spends a sector of his letter explaining in detail his and othersí right as preachers to receive material compensation for spiritual work done. By somewhat belaboring his point on this matter, then his willingness to forgo such return from the congregation at Corinth will stand as an even higher point.

The apostle, however, demonstrated his willingness to set that directive aside as it applied directly between him and the church at Corinth. For him to make that sacrifice and "endure," as he put it, there must have been some greater issue at stake. "But I have used none of these things," he animadverted. He wanted to "offer the gospel without charge," and for the brethren likewise to put aside personal rights so as not to hinder the forward progress of the gospel, or put a stumbling block before weaker brethren. This is Christianity in action!

Preaching the Gospel

"The world through its wisdom," stated Paul, "did not come to know God." The peoples of the world can and must draw the conclusion that the universe was created by God, and through that conclusion be able to know that God is a God of order. But to know of His love and mercy and grace requires the gospel, information given by revelation. And that is where preaching comes in! "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching," was the apostleís foundational statement, "to save those who believe." A person may argue with God, but not successfully. If God is pleased to have the message delivered through preaching rather than through song or dance, then that is how God is "well-pleased"! "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Paul had queried, concerning the masses huddled in the darknesses of this world. "And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" was his follow up question (Romans 10:14,15). It takes money to send them, and thus the record of the Lordís instruction: "So also the Lord directed those who preach the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). Preaching is the critical part of the spread of the gospel.

The desire of Paul ó his compulsion to preach ó stands as a great example to moderns. The same concern for lost souls must still be there. The same desire to get people to understand the word of God and the gospel of glory must be there. The same desire to endure for the proper motive must still be there. From the pen of this man flowed this continuing challenge: PREACH THE WORD!

Stewardship of the Gospel

"Regard us in this manner," the apostle had exhorted, "as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." The apostle thus often refers to himself and his fellow workers as these "bond-servants of Christ" Ė slaves of Christ by choice. He also uses words like compulsion to describe his condition subsequent to his decision to follow Christ. "For the love of Christ controls us," he noted in another place, "having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (II Corinthians 5:14). The apostle, then, is indicating how driven he is to preach the gospel, and that he will respond in any circumstance by teaching and preaching about Jesus the Christ. Others are not so driven; therefore he has to describe the condition of his mind and the habitual action that he will always take.

The context of the apostleís remarks must not be forgotten. He is still writing under the general heading of encouraging the brethren to set aside their "right" to meat which had been left over from pagan sacrifices and which had been offered for sale in the meat market. The brethren "in the know," of course, had the knowledge that pagan gods were not gods at all, but that the whole package of these sacrifices had been implanted in the minds of Gentiles by Satan. The concern of the apostle was that weaker and newer brethren would have their consciences weakened by these stronger brethren who would purchase and eat such meat. He therefore encourages the more knowledgeable brethren to forsake their "right" to so eat, and offers himself as an example of someone who also would forego ó and had forgone! ó his "right" to compensation. The goal of all such setting aside of "rights" is either the conservation of the saved or the salvation of the lost. "For though I am free from all men," he asseverates, "I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more" (I Corinthians 9:19). May we all follow in his footsteps!

By All Means, Save Some

It takes tremendous desire to seek and to save the lost. The beginning of this desire, and its ultimate expression, are exhibited in the great golden verse of the Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). In a few simple words, the awesomeness of the gulf between sinful man and the righteous God, the incomprehensible gap between heaven and hell, and the yawning chasm between eternal life and eternal condemnation are pictured by Jesus Himself. In this way, the driving desire of God to save mankind is graphically illustrated. This earnestness of the loving Father is therefore to be passed along to His children. "We love," said the apostle John, "because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Hence it is that the entire body of Christ is infused with a love for the lost; it exerts itself mightily, it sacrifices greatly, and inconveniences itself tremendously for the sake of getting the gospel to a dying world. And one of the greatest examples of such love is the apostle Paul.

"To the weak," he said, "I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:22). By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö By all means save some Ö !!!!!

Fellow Partaker of the Gospel

"While we are in this tent," averred the apostle Paul, in reference to dragging the physical body through life, "we groan, being burdened" (II Corinthians 5:4). Feeding the body, sweeping the domicile, keeping the stall for the donkey transport system Ö these all require time, energy, and some focus. Hence it is that the necessities and distractions of earth can blur the saintís vision, and cause him not to focus enough the value of the eternal things. Not so with the apostle Paul! He clearly grasped the eternal value of each soul, and reordered his lifeís priorities accordingly. "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some," was his commentary. Through persecutions, threats, slanders, dangers, and physical challenges, he did whatever it took to rescue the next soul held in captivity by Satan. "I do all things for the sake of the gospel," he added, "that I may become a fellow partaker of it." Having, in his own words, "been caught up into Paradise," he had a perspective on the unspeakable value of being a partaker of the gospel; therefore, he threw himself into the work of seeking and saving the lost for their sakes, for his own sake, and for the sake of the name of the Lord.

"I buffet my body," is the apostleís salient point, "and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:27). Words are the primary tools used in the salvation of others; for the salvation of self, actions are the requisites. Advice is easy to give, but not so easy to implement. Hence it is, that the saints have to buffet their bodies and make them their slaves in order to be qualified for "so great a salvation." It is worth the effort!