1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If I preach the gospel, I have no reason to brag, since I’m obligated to do it. I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel. 17 If I do this voluntarily, I get rewarded for it. But if I’m forced to do it, then I’ve been charged with a responsibility. 18 What reward do I get? That when I preach, I offer the good news free of charge. That’s why I don’t use the rights to which I’m entitled through the gospel.
19 Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them. 20 I act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). 21 I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I’m not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ). 22 I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. 23 All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.
Turn to page #65 in your hymnal “¡Santo ¡Santo ¡Santo.” Shall we sing it? Oops, it’s in Spanish! We could muddle through it trying to pronounce words that are unfamiliar, but we wouldn’t know what we were saying. Page #65 has nothing but the Spanish words on it. If you are observant you might realize that it is … “Holy, Holy, Holy!” from page #64. If we don’t understand the language the song won’t have much of an impact on us.
Now turn to page #123 “El Shaddai.” If we sang it right now it might be difficult since some of the words are in Hebrew. Our singing would be uncertain. How do you pronounce some of the words? What do the words mean? Now look at the bottom of the page. It includes the translation of the unfamiliar words to help us understand the Hebrew. El Shaddai means God Almighty. El Elyon means the Most High God. Na Adonai means O Lord. And Erkahmka means we will love you. So the with the unfamiliar phrases translated, it goes like this: “God almighty, God almighty, the Most High God O Lord, age to age you’re still the same by the power of the name. God almighty, God almighty, we will love you O Lord; we will praise and lift you high, God almighty.” It is still no help with the pronunciation, but at least we would know what we were singing. Since I know how to pronounce the words, I can lead you in the singing.
All this is to say, If we don’t understand what is being said or done it won’t mean much to us.
That is the essence of what Paul is saying in 1 Co. 9:19-23. I would like to read it in The Message for you. “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” What a difference it makes when we hear it a different way. This is a great example of translating church.
This morning, it would be good to start with what we take for granted in the faith. Words like salvation, incarnation, transfiguration, resurrection. Concepts like grace, forgiveness, regeneration, … eschatology (got you on that one!) Salvation is probably the biggest one. Outsiders to the faith probably won’t understand salvation. Since it is a foundational concept in the faith we have to somehow make it real to a person coming to faith.
This isn’t just the courteous thing to do. Paul’s calls it a responsibility for getting the message out – translating church. He even says, “I’m in trouble if I don’t reach the gospel.” If this is just his call, I firmly believe it wouldn’t be recorded in scripture. No, it’s our call! We have a responsibility to help connect with and understand the faith.
Let’s try another example. I am a “tech immigrant.” Most of us in the room today are “tech immigrants.” What that means is that I grew up with something different. When I was in college chemistry, I was still using a slide rule! I still do math in my head. I’m only beginning to realize that if there is something I don’t know how to do there is probably a You Tube video to show me how. Now, think about our young people today. They are “tech natives.” They have grown up with computers and cell phones. If you want to understand what a tech native looks like, just ask a teen to show you how to do something on your phone! In three easy taps they have done it and you still can’t figure out the first step. They will probably become frustrated with you if you don’t get it. It’s natural to them, it’s foreign to us.
In the scripture this morning Paul says, in four distinct sentences, “I act like … so I can …”. First he speaks about those who are Jews (which, by the way, he is one!). Then changing it only slightly, he speaks about those who are under the Law (this now includes the Jews plus those Gentiles who follow God). Third, he speaks about those who don’t follow God (are outside the Law). Finally, he speaks about those who are morally or spiritually weak. All this involves learning how another person or group thinks and sees the world in order to present the attractive and powerful gospel to them. Paul wants us to ask some questions about those who are outside the faith. What’s important to them? What isn’t important?
There is an important caveat to all this translating church. This isn’t a call to water down of the gospel and its call on our lives in order to attract people to the faith. Peterson says it best as he translates the passage. “I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.” This isn’t a “join the fad” evangelism.
What can we do as a church to respond to different worldviews, generations, and needs? For one, I am so excited about PTL (Praise the Lord) in the Hall. It is fantastic to see the young people it is attracting. Last week we had ten children in Music and Bible Stories downstairs. We are attracting families through PTL. It is a relaxed atmosphere that begins around the breakfast table. It is full of fellowship. Yet, thanks to Ryan Williams, the teaching is anything but watered down. The videos he shows tackle contemporary life with the power of the Bible. There is a deep spiritual nourishing that happens each week for those who attend.
That’s not to say that we, here in the traditional services, are not being fed spiritually. It is just that the young people seem to connect better with the format and style and content of PTL.
One concern I have is how to re-start the youth program in some form – how do we reach that generation? With all of the competition for their time, where and how can we fit into their priorities? How will we need to translate church for them?
Finally, Paul places a standard before us. In verse 22 he uses the phrase “I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means.” Paul indicates we need to do everything possible to reach the unreached. In the text, verse 19, it says, “I make myself a slave to all people.” A slave, or servant as Peterson translates it, is a difficult concept for us to connect with. Paul frequently refers to himself as a slave for Christ. This is not a cruel bondage but is characterized as “one who gives himself to the will of another.” We are to give ourselves to the will of God. We voluntarily become a servant to all in order to reach them. In Ephesians 6:6 it says, “Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart.” It points to our commitment to bringing persons to faith in Jesus Christ.
Some time ago I came across a “breath prayer”. A breath prayer is something you can say in one breath. It’s simplicity makes it easy to remember. It also makes it east to use the breath prayer to hep focus throughout the day. This particular breath prayer is already familiar to you. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” It is the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer. It focuses me on God and keeps my bearings on Christ. It reminds me of why I do what I do. It is for God’s glory and God’s purpose that I seek to bring people to Christ.
So, my questions are, “What do I need to do in order to present the gospel to people in different generations or mindsets?” This is going to take some serious consideration. Are there things I take for granted that people outside the faith are going to need translated for them? How do I do that with integrity to the gospel and God I love? And finally, “How far am I willing to go?”
Think about it. Talk with others about it. Then do something about it. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman