All Things to All People to Win Some

What does it look like for us to be all things to all people? Paul models that for us in 1 Corinthians 9. He says when he was with the Jews, he became like a Jew; when with the Gentiles, he became like a Gentile; when with the weak, he became like the weak (1 Cor. 9:21-22).

What, however, does it look like in practice for us to be all things to all people? I believe it works out differently for each of us because we all run in different circles. Let me, however, give you some general principles to operate under.

(1) We must present the gospel in a way people can understand.

Presenting the gospel in a way people can understand doesn’t mean we water down the gospel. Paul sure didn’t. Even though he knew the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, he boldly preached the cross. We must do the same.

Knowing we can’t eliminate the offense of the cross doesn’t mean we can’t present the gospel in a way that makes sense to those we are trying to win to Christ.

In the mid 1800’s Hudson Taylor went to China as a Christian missionary. While he was there he also founded the China Inland Mission.

Taylor argued, from the example of the Apostle Paul, “Let us in everything not sinful become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some [1].

In saying that Taylor was taking a different line than most of the missionaries at the time. Instead of expecting the Chinese to adopt western christendom, he adopted Chinese culture. He grew his hair out, ate Chinese food, wore traditional Chinese clothing, and learned their language and stories.

Taylor recognized forcing his culture on the Chinese wouldn’t work, so he became like the Chinese as much as he could without sinning, just like Paul became like the Gentiles as much as he could without sinning. Taylor’s unusual move allowed him to do something different than those who had come before him. He was able to use language, stories, and metaphors that resonated with the Chinese people.

That is what we have to do. We have to work to understand the culture of those we are trying to reach, so that we can present the gospel in an understandable way.

Not only do cultural difference exist abroad, but in the States as well.

City and Country

I experienced this personally when I moved to Decatur, TX. While Decatur is not too far from the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, it is still a rural town. I didn’t grow up in the country. I grew up in the city, and I have always lived in the city.

When I moved to Decatur, I had to start working, and I still am working, to understand the culture, so I can present the gospel in an understandable way to those who live here.

Generational Differences

Cultural divides, however, don’t just exist between the country and city. There are also cultural differences between generations.

There are certain stories, metaphors, and environments that resonate with the older generation that just doesn’t resonate with the younger. If you are in the older generation and you want to reach those in the younger generation — say you grandkids or even your kids — you have to learn their culture. Vice versa for those who are younger.

Now parents this doesn’t mean that you have to start dressing in skinny jeans and cool graphic tee’s. That is probably taking it a little too far. Just understand where they are coming from.

Church and Unchurched

There is also a cultural divide between the churched and unchurched. I believe those of us who were raised in the church either forget this or don’t know it exists. I say that because we often expect those outside the church to understand our churchy language, stories, and metaphors.

We don’t give second thought to using phrases and terms like:

  • Jesus lives in my heart.
  • That was a God thing.
  • That is what sanctification is for.
  • Jesus has justified you.

While there is nothing theologically wrong with those phrases and terms, to those outside the church, they often don’t make any sense. Since they don’t make sense, they don’t get what we are trying to say.

Which means when we are talking with the unchurched we have to use language, stories, and metaphors that resonate with them, as well as we have to define our terms, in order to help them understand the good news of the gospel better.

Again that doesn’t mean we water down the gospel, it just means we speak in a way that makes the most sense to those who haven’t had the opportunity to grow up in the church like most of us.

(2) We must be a living incarnation of gospel values.

Paul was a living incarnation of the gospel. We must be the same. We must incarnate or live as an example of the gospel. People should be able to look at our lives and say,

If I were to become a Christian, that is what my life would look like.

The way we give them that picture is by living out the gospel’s values of grace, mercy, love, justice, compassion, and mission, just to name a few.

Our neighbors should be able to see the gospel’s values worked out in a:

  • A stay at home mom as she cares for her children, husband, and house.
  • A business man as he deals with his clients, employees, and finances.
  • A farmer as he cares for his animals, his workers, and business.
  • A teacher as she interacts with the kids, the parents, and the administration.

The examples could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. The gospel should permeate our lives so that we are a living incarnation of gospel values.

It is one thing to preach the gospel, it is another to live it.

Living out the gospel’s values, along with preaching, has to happen. If we don’t, the message we preach will fall on deaf ears.

(3) We must discipline ourselves to live as Christ has called us to live

We all know Tiger Woods is a great golfer. You can’t deny it. The man has won 105 tournaments, 4 Masters, and 4 PGA Championships. He has won 132 billion dollars in total prizes [2].

While he has real talent, he doesn’t just walk out on the course the day of the tournament and win. He trains almost everyday for 12 hours a day – working out, playing golf, and eating well [3].

Tiger’s talent takes him a long way, but what makes him a great golfer is his discipline and self-control.

Like Tiger, Paul tells us we must exercise self-control, we must be disciplined, if we want to be all things to all people, while remaining faithful to the gospel.

In chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians he uses an athletic metaphor derived from those who participated in the games held in Corinth — the Isthmian games. He says,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

Then he starts to tell us how we are to run:

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it, Paul tells us, to receive a perishable wreath, but look what we are striving for – an imperishable wreath; an eternal reward. Because our reward is so great Paul says,

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:25-27)

With that Paul gives us the secret to remaining faithful to the life God has called us to live; the secret to being all things to all people is self-discipline, self-control.

Those are needed in order for us to be all things to all people, because we have to have walk a fine line between giving up our rights and adhering to Christ’s law.

As Christians we have rights, but we have to be willing to give those up at times. As Christians we have freedom to live as others do, but we can’t take that too far.

The only way for us to find the sweet spot, so that we can be all things to all people, while remaining faithful to the Law of Christ is to be disciplined, is to exercise self-control.

Question for Reflection

  1. How has God used you as you have been all things to all people?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon All Things to All People to Win Some, which you can listen to by clicking here.

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[1] James Hudson Taylor’s reflection on 1 Corinthians 9v19-23
[2] http://www.tigerwoods.com/about-tiger#biography
[3] http://www.youmotivation.com/motivational-articles/tiger-woods-daily-schedule-12-hour-routine-7129

Missional Contextualization for Gospel Transformation

Paul’s determination to adapt himself to the different cultures and contexts in which he would work established a basic mission strategy reflective of an important understanding of the relationship between the gospel and culture that has been essential to effective mission work throughout history.

What Could Have Been the Strategy

The Christian church could have simply decided that the gospel was a Jewish message sent throughout the world and that a proper response to the gospel should result in adopting the same cultural incarnation in all places. In that way Christians would all look and act the same, all have the same culture, wherever (or whenever) they lived.

What is the Strategy

Paul understands that the gospel does not belong to any particular culture.

As the gospel takes root among different peoples and cultures, its essence will remain the same but its “look and feel” may be somewhat different.

Why Contextualization is Important

Paul’s ability to adapt his life and culture according to the context in which he worked would have been strategic not only for the initial communication of the gospel but also for the ability of his converts to understand what it would look like for them to become members of Christ’s body. Gentile converts would not have to adopt Jewish culture to be members of Christ’s community, and Jewish converts to Christ would not need to become Gentiles or reject their Jewish heritage and lifestyle as part of their recognition of Christ’s lordship.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you expect the lost to adapt to your culture? If so, why could that be an unnecessary hindrance to salvation?

Resources

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Text from Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians (PNTC), 425-26. Headings are my own.

Who are We in Christ? – Part 3

Jesus on the Cross

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus after he heard of some issues plaguing the church. The issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians are the same issues we deal with today, which is why this is such a good book for the modern day church to study.

However, before Paul dives into the issues, he reminds the Corinthians, and subsequently us, of who we are in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, the second thing we learn is that:

(3) Those who are in Christ are Saints

In the middle of verse 2, Paul says that we are:

called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Cor. 1:2c)

Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. He flat out says that we are all called to be Saints.

What does it mean to be saint?

The Catholic Church doesn’t have the market cornered on saints. A Saint is someone who is set apart to live for God. Since all Christians are set apart to live for God, all Christians are saints.

Saints because sin no longer holds us back

We are all saints — we all can live for God — because sin no longer holds us back.

When I was in college, I had a passion for rock climbing. We had a nice climbing wall in our Rec Center at the University of Georgia, and we lived within a few hours drive of the best climbing in the Southeast. Needless to say I climbed all the time.

I remember one day I was climbing on a route in Tennessee at Foster Falls. A route that was a too advanced for me, but one I attempted anyways. While working the route, I hurt my shoulder. Not real bad, but I hurt it. Instead of resting my shoulder for a week or so, I decided to climb the next day. When I did, the small shoulder injury I had turned into a major shoulder injury. One that kept me from climbing for a long time.

Just as my shoulder injury once held me back from climbing, our sin once held us back from living for God. No matter how hard we tried, before we turned our lives over to Jesus, we couldn’t live a life that pleased God. It was impossible because our sin held us back.

Set free to live for God

When we became Christians, however, Jesus sets us free from sin, so that now we are able to live for God. That is exactly what God expects from us. He expects us to live for Him, to desire to and strive to become more and more like Christ each and everyday. Which is possible because we are saints who have been freed from the grip of sin.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you think of yourself as a saint?
  2. Do you believe you can live a holy life?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Who Are We In Christ?

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Who are We in Christ? – Part 2

Jesus on the Cross

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus after he heard of some issues plaguing the church. The issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians are the same issues we deal with today, which is why this is such a good book for the modern day church to study.

However, before Paul dives into the issues, he reminds the Corinthians, and subsequently us, of who we are in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, the second thing we learn is that:

(2) Those who are in Christ are free from God’s punishment.

If we are going to be God’s people, who are on His mission, something has to have happened so that we are free from God’s punishment because in our natural state we are sinners, who deserve God’s wrath, not His grace and mercy.

What is a Sinner?

I am sure you have heard that word — sinner — all your life if you have been in the church and probably if you haven’t been in the church.

What it simple means to be a sinner is that you have rebelled against God. As our Creator, God has the right to tell us how He wants us to live. We, however, don’t want God to tell us how we are to live. Instead, we want to call the shots, we want to direct our own lives. When we place ourselves in the drivers seat, we are living in rebellion to God. In other words, we are living as a sinner.

Bad News/Good News

The bad news is everyone is born and lives as a sinner, which means we all deserve God’s punishment. The good news, however, is that those who are Christians are free from God’s punishment.

How is that? How are we freed from God’s punishment?

In verse 2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are

…sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:2b)

And then in verse 3, we learn Christians have received God’s

Grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:3)

Finally, in verse 8, Paul says Christians will be:

guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:8)

These verses come together to tell us Jesus frees us from God’s punishment.

How exactly does Jesus free us from God’s punishment? 

You can think of it like this: On March 11th 2014, Glenn Ford was released from Angola State Prison. He had spent the last 30 years on death row, awaiting his day of execution. His day, however, never came. Instead he was set free because the courts realized he was an innocent man, who hadn’t committed the crime of which he was convicted. So instead of facing the death chamber, he walked off death row a free man never having to fear being put to death by the State again.

Christians, like Mr. Ford, have also been set free from death row and no longer live under the threat and fear of God’s punishment. However, unlike Mr. Ford our freedom wasn’t gained because God received new evidence of our innocence. We are and have always been guilty of rebellion against God and deserve His punishment. So we weren’t set free because our innocence was proven. Instead we are set free because Jesus took our seat on death row and died in our place.

What a wonderful thing that is — because of Jesus’ sacrifice we now experience freedom from God’s punishment and we have peace with God.

You Can Experience Freedom and Peace 

The way you can enjoy freedom and peace with God is simply by believing you are a sinner who needs a Savior, and Jesus is your Savior. He is the One who died for you to take the punishment you deserve.

When you believe that, when you confess that, and when you repent of your sins to follow Jesus, you will experience the same freedom and peace that all other Christians experience.

So if you haven’t repented of your sins and professed Jesus as your Lord and Savior, do so today. Don’t wait any longer. Experience God’s freedom and peace today. Quit living under the fear of punishment. Quit living under the uncertainty of not knowing if you have done enough to please God. Turn to Him today and experience freedom and peace.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have you turned to Jesus?
  2. Do you long for freedom and peace?
  3. Are you uncertain about your eternal future?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Who Are We In Christ?

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Article: Glenn Ford’s First Days of Freedom after 30 years on Death Row

Who are We in Christ? – Part 1

Jesus on the Cross

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus after he heard of some issues plaguing the church. The issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians are the same issues we deal with today, which is why this is such a good book for the modern day church to study.

However, before Paul dives into the issues, he reminds the Corinthians, and subsequently us, of who we are in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, the first thing we learn is that:

(1) Those who are in Christ form a church that is set apart and set on mission by God

Notice Paul calls the Corinthians “the church of God”. They are called the church of God to distinguish them from any other gathering, which is an important idea because the church is unique. We are formed and led by God. As well as we are a people sanctified by Jesus. He makes us holy and sets us apart as God’s people.

In Jesus, sinners are made righteous. They are made Holy. They are set apart as God’s people to accomplish His mission — To make disciples.

I think we often forget how much of a privilege it is to be on God’s mission. We are sinners, who have rebelled against God. However, despite who we are, God sees fit to call us to Himself, makes us holy, and then employee us in His mission.

Thinking about God not only saving us but using us — sinners who at one time rebelled against Him and set themselves up as His enemies — is simply amazing to me. It is amazing that God would care enough to rescue His enemies. It amazes me further that He doesn’t set us on the shelf afterwards, but He actually empowers and allows us to participate in His mission.

So the next time you have an opportunity to have a gospel conversation with someone, don’t shy away. Instead praise God for saving and using you to accomplish His mission — To make disciples.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do recognize the immense privilege it is to be used by God?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Who Are We In Christ?

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Trust God Will Use You

Work Construction

I just finished preaching a series over the Genesis 1-12. In the last chapter — Genesis 12 — we encountered Abram (Abraham). He is a great example of someone who had to trust that God would use him.

Abraham’s Hindrance

Remember the promise God made Abraham — to make him into a great nation. That is a great promise to hear and believe if you already have a large family of 10 kids.

However, consider Abraham, he is 75 years old and doesn’t have any children. In Genesis 11:30, the text tells us:

… Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (Gen. 11:30).

Sarai’s barrenness wasn’t for lack of trying. Abraham and Sarai weren’t late bloomers who married later in life, nor did they use birth control. In fact, according to Jewish custom, they probably had been married since they were 13 or 14, which means they had been trying to have kids for 60 years without any success.

So when God told Abraham that a great nation would come from Him, he had to really trust that the Lord would use he and his wife, because so far they hadn’t produce one child, let alone an entire nation.

Our Hindrances

In the same way we have to trust that the Lord will use us to advance His Kingdom. Trusting the Lord to use us sounds a lot easier than it really is. There are a lot things that have the potential to hinder us from believing God will use us to bring another to faith in Jesus.

(1) For some that might be your knowledge of God’s Word. Maybe you don’t believe you know enough to talk with someone else about the gospel, or you are concerned you won’t be able to answer their objections.

(2) For others that might be your past. Maybe your past was hard and difficult. You were known as a trouble maker. Maybe you even spent some time in jail. Now you can’t imagine that anyone would listen to you.

(3) Still for others it might be your ability to connect with others. Maybe you are different than those you live around and you can’t imagine how God could use you to speak into their lives.

These are the end-all-be-all of hindrances. There are many other things that may hinder us from believing God will use us to expand His kingdom.

Believing You Can’t Be Used is a Lie

However, believing you can’t be used by God to further His kingdom is a lie. Starting in 1 Corinthians 1:27 Paul writes,

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

You see, if God saves us, He will use us. No matter what abilities we possess, or what we have done. God will use us. So don’t doubt. Instead, trust that God will use you to further His kingdom.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you trust that God will use you to further His kingdom?

Resources

Post adapted from the sermon: God’s Reclamation Project

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