Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


What Good Are You?

1Corinthians 9:1-27

Who are you as a person? Who are you as a Christian? Do those two questions get two different responses from you? I think often times we think that when we come to Christ, Jesus basically considers us to be a blank slate that needs to be redrawn into the character of Jesus and that everything about us will eventually change. It is true that the ?flesh?, which is all that is done outside of Christ, will be replaced with the Spirit as He changes our character.

But much of what makes you?you, will remain. You have a personality, a background, a culture, an occupation. You have events and relationships that have shaped you into the person you are. God is not in the business of changing that, as much as He is engaged in showing you His redemption in your life and then using that to reach out to others in a way that is far more effective.

I look at chapter 9 as a continuation of what Paul was saying in Chapter 8?that the gospel is more important than personal freedom in Christ. In Chapter 9 what sounds like demands for recognition is actually a great teachable moment. Paul was an Apostle of Jesus Christ and could have been accorded incredible honor for that position. Instead, Paul says, he lays down what is his in order to gain what is more important: souls redeemed and brought into the kingdom of God.

1 ? 2

In order to be an Apostle, a person would have had to have seen Jesus. Paul saw him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-18). He would have had a direct commission from Jesus, and he would have had to have performed signs and miracles that attested to his apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:12, Acts 13:9-12). Paul did not plant all the churches he visited, but he did plant the one in Corinth. They if anyone should recognize his apostleship. Sadly, some did not (we get to that later).

3 ? 7

The church was still very young at this point. They didn?t have buildings and full time pastors to support. In fact, in the Greek world, speakers would often accept patronage from the people. Paul accepted help from Lydia in Acts 16:15 but from that point on supported himself in ministry by making tents (Acts 18:3). You could call him a bi-vocational apostle. He had the right to support, but didn?t want to take the young Corinthian Christian?s focus off of the gospel and on to him.

Though Paul himself was not married, other Apostles, like Peter, were?and bringing their wives on missionary trips, supported by the churches, was okay.

Paul and Barnabas may have been the only Apostles who worked while they traveled. Tent making was seen as a lowly job, fit for slaves. The fact that Paul did not accept money could have actually been one of the reasons some thought he was not an apostle. ?He has to work making tents. If he was really a successful apostle he wouldn?t have to do that.?

Paul had the same rights as a farmer, or a soldier?but he didn?t exercise them.

8 ? 14

Even the Law of Moses supported Paul?s point. Deuteronomy 25:4 is the reference he quotes. They cared for their animals by letting them eat some of the grain they threshed. In the same way, Christians ought to care for those who labor in leading the church and preaching the gospel.

It doesn?t mean you have to get paid, which is Paul?s point. But it doesn?t make you less than others who are paid full time wages. Paul did this to further the gospel. Perhaps they might have thought he was only doing what he was doing to earn money (as some today do). His aim was never to make money but to make converts. To that end he was willing to give up his wage so that the focus would be on the gospel, not his salary.

Paul uses one more example in verse 13?the priests. Numbers 18:8-24 talks about how the priests were paid by the offerings brought before the Lord. This was also true in the pagan temples.

15 ? 18

It?s interesting that Paul has to tell them that he is not writing about not getting paid in order to guilt them into supporting him. I guess he figured they would ascribe just about any negative motivation they could think of before believing the truth that he was really just there to serve Jesus in spreading the good news.

Paul says he is merely following orders. He enjoyed it, but couldn?t stop preaching even if he wanted to. What do you enjoy doing? Perhaps there is something there that God wants to use too!

Paul?s reward for not charging them for his services was that it allowed him to show the purity of his love for them and for the gospel!

19 ? 23

This is one of the most beautiful passages of how, as a believer, we can be in a culture without being absorbed by the culture. Paul was great at identifying himself with his audience. With the Jews he could talk about the beauty of God?s Law and how it pointed to Christ. With Gentiles he could talk about the natural laws of the creation and how they point to the Lord who created it all. He became contextually aware but without abandoning who he really was. Even the shipwrecks and stoning and arrests became tools for identifying with others.

This is vital for us as we seek to share the gospel. The message of the gospel never changes, but the means by which it is delivered can change drastically. You would not talk to a jungle native about cell phones or the internet, nor would a city dweller understand how to shape a sharp spear or what jungle plants were edible or which were poisonous.

The point is that God has made you who you are, with a background, a culture, interests, difficulties, education?lots of things?and He can use all of them to become relevant to people He brings you into contact with.

If you used to be a druggie, you don?t light up a doobie, but you talk about how much better it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit than when you used to be filled with other spirits.

When Paul says he wants to become a ?partner in its benefits? it?s like saying ?I?m not counting converts, but seeing the new life in however many I touch.?

24 ? 27

Corinth was the site of the every two year Isthmian games. Athletes would train for ten months prior to the games, denying themselves and going through a rigorous training regimen. Winning the prize meant everything to them. Paul was not saying that we should try to beat out each other for one prize. The beauty of the gospel is that the prize ? obeying God, or coming into relationship with Him, is available to anyone who will apply themselves to it.

By being ?disqualified? Paul is not talking about losing his salvation, but about losing the reward for obeying what God called him to do. That, in the end, is the only measure by which we?ll be judged by the Lord. He knows we are a work in progress.

Even Paul said ?(Phil 3:12-14) ?Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.? NIV

Conclusions 

What is your motivation for serving God?

Motivations other than to see the love of God poured out on the lives of others, and receive the benefits of that both from their lives and from the Lord?should be suspect.

What do you like to do?

It?s possible that your mission from God has been staring you in the face all the time?wrapped up in the stuff you already find yourself doing.

What are you like?

Is it possible that God wants to use what makes you unique to reach a unique audience?

How are you training, or running the race?

The stakes are high and the time short. It?s time we focus on maturing as believers, which includes seeking God for what He wants to do with us and sloughing off how the old ways tend to pull us back, weighing us down and making us less able to be effective ambassadors.

We?re all in the race, but are we in it to win it?