Text: 1 Corinthians 9:1–18
Date: Sunday February 5, 2023
Opening Illustration: He is No Fool
Jim Elliot is one of recent history’s most remembered missionaries. He picked up the call to take the good news of Jesus Christ the nations. And the Lord laid on his heart to reach a particular tribe in Ecaudor that had had absolutley zero contact with the outside world. Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries were killed by that tribe one of their first encounters. In an amazing turn of events, Jim’s widowed wife would return to that same tribe and see many of them won to Christ. Seven years before his death, Jim was journaling one day, reflecting on the Scriptures when he wrote some words that have been echoed throughout Christianity ever since. He wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
Our world is full of the temptation to place an oversized priority on those things in life which we cannot keep: Our money, our possessions, our homes, our stuff. Likewise our world is full of the temptation to underemphasize the one thing that will define our eternity—that is our relationship with through Jesus—the one thing we were made for above all else. What would you give up to gain that which you could never lose? Or perhaps what would you be unwilling to give up. After all, many of us know the story of the rich young ruler who was unable to follow Jesus for love of his money and possessions. What has a hold of your heart, your mind, and your grip, more than a desparate desire to follow Christ, and help others follow the same?
Context of Chapters 8-10
We are studying 1 Corinthians, a letter by the Apostle Paul to the early first century in Corinth. And we are in this section of chapters 8-10 which deal particularly with a sensitive question this early New Testament Church had. For them this was a very relevant question because it came up in their lives almost every day. Now that we’re Christians, and we’re no longer polytheists who worship many gods, are we permitted to eat the food that is offered in the meat markets if we know it is meat that has been offered to idols. Now that question sounds so foreign and unrelatable to us. But what we discovered is that while we are not asking that question about food offered to idols, in many ways we are asking very similar questions. Now that I’m a Christian, how ought my life look different from the way it used to look, from the way the rest of society looks. It’s a collision of Christ and culture, and our faith in Jesus will now guide and inform the 10,000 decisions we make on a daily. In chapter 8 we saw that when it comes decision making, our guiding principle is a desparate desire to build others up in Christ. We’re willing to go without, to not make use of our freedom in Christ, in order to never put a stumbling block in front of a weaker believer or even a nonbeliever.
In our text today, Paul illustrates that principle by pointing to his own life. It’s a very particular illustration that is going to serve as a launching pad to investigate our own hearts, our own lives, and our own motivations. The illustration Paul chooses to use to explain this principle is how he handles money. The big idea that I want you to walk away with today comes straight from the pen of Jim Elliot, ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.’
We’re going to begin in chapter 9, verses 1-12. These verse serve as Paul’s setup. He’s going to lay down a very simple principle which forms the backdrop of this idea.
1 Corinthians 9:1-2 “1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”
Paul begins in this section by proving a point. The point is very simple. I am an Apostle. And the proof of my Apostleship is two fold. First, Paul had seen Jesus face to face on the Road to Damascus. And secondly, the Corinthian is evidence of his Apostolic ministry of planting Churches.
An Apostle Has Rights
He goes on,
1 Corinthians 9:4-7 “4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?”
Paul here is speaking in very plain and clear language. He’s not trying to bulldoze anybody, he’s asking a series of obviously rhetorical questions about the simple rights of an Apostle. He has a right to eat and drink. He has a right be married (like the Apostle Peter. And he leans into a point that was probbaly a bit sensitive for the Corinthians that Paul has a right to a paycheck for what he does. ‘Is it only Barnabus and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?’ He’s getting to main point which is that by what is right, what is correct, he should be getting a paycheck from this Corinthian Church.
Even the Law of God Supports This
Then he doubles on down on this logic by referencing the Mosaic Law.
1 Corinthians 9:8-11 “8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
In other words, not only is it obvious that of course I have a right to get paid for the work I do, but even the Mosaic Law is supports these rights. He appeals to a bit of an abscure law in the Mosaic law found in Deuteronomy 25. It was a law about animal welfare and it instructed God’s people in the Old Testament that not to starve their working animals. He takes the civil law of the Old Testament, and he discovers the principle behind that civil law and he applies that principle into his own life. In effect Paul is saying, “The law was good and protected animals, but underneath that law we saw a reflection of the heart of God, namely that a worker is worth his wages.”
What is Paul’s Point?
In the next few verses Paul is going to lay out his case of why he has chosen to give up his rights and not receive a paycheck from them. But I want to first connect some dots for us. Paul is using very Americanized language here. It’s Individualistic. I have rights. And its true. You and I have rights/freedoms/blessings even that are ours to enjoy by right. And in our context in America, often Christians allow the story to stop there. Particularly on the topic of money, American Christians often think very individualistically about wealth, assets, homes, stuff. And the reason we think individualistically is because its not legally wrong to do so. In fact Capitalistic economies were designed by Christians thinking Christianly. But—to use an appropriate pun—the buck doesn’t stop there.
Giving Up What You Cannot Keep
The Apostle now shifts beyond what is legally is, and describes the great blessings of giving up what you cannot keep.
1 Corinthians 9:12-15 “12 …Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.”
Paul’s Working Principle When It Comes to Money
“We have not made use of this right.” In other words, I chose to not put you in a position Corinthian Church where I would take a paycheck from you, and what is his reason in verse 12, “because he would endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is considering how he handles money. And he has this principle he works off of, a principle that is deeper than the letter of the law. His deepest desire is to honor God and build others up in Christ. This is the same principle he was trying to get them to understand in chapter 8. Your decision making on countless day to day choices you will make, must be guided, not by what you’re free to do, but by what will their effect be on others to build them up in Christ.
Why Didn’t Paul Accept a Paycheck
We don’t know exactly why Paul chose not to receive a paycheck from the Corinthians. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings he writes about how he is so grateful for the financial contributions to his work made by other churches. And so likely at this time at least part of his income is coming into him from other Churches around the Mediterranean. We don’t his reasons, what the backstory, but something happening in that place communicated to Paul if he were to receive a paycheck from that Church it could severely hinder people’s growth in the Lord. Perhaps that particular city was well known hucksters who sold fake spirituality in an effort to make a quick buck. We don’t know what it was, but something was communicating to Paul that if I make use of this right of mine to take a paycheck, it’s going to severely limit your growth in Christ. And out of that decision comes this principle that Paul was working off of in verse 15, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.” His boasting here is that sweet and precious celebration of seeing people truly grow in their love and knowledge and effectiveness of following Christ.
Transition: Jesus on Money
The topic of money is one that is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people, and especially in the Church because frankly churches have mishandled money enough times in public ways that a sort of distrust has emerged. What a tragedy. It was a topic that Jesus had no problem speaking about. In fact Jesus spoke about money and the power money has to enslave us, more than he spoke about many other topics. At one point Jesus approached a group of very religious people and he said,
Luke 16:13-15 “13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
According to Christ, a Christian must not permit themselves to be enslaved by money, otherwise we are no Christian at all. There is a good who judges all heart, who sees all, and who knows our true God was.
Money as an Idol
Money can be a great tool if we understand its purpose as Christians. But money also can enslave us as a false god in our life. Our culture is enslaved by money. And now we as Christians, having been called out from the secular culture around us with its views of money, now have to figure out how do we live properly with money. Idols in our culture attempt to satisfy the deepest of human needs, we’re talking about those core inner movements of the soul. The need to be loved. The need to be safe. The need to be known. Money in its own way, offers a false impression those deepest needs can be fulfilled, if you will just worship me.
To be known: Serve me, accumulate me—says money—and people will surround you. You’ll be thought highly of. But it’s a lie right. We know the stories, some of you have lived the stories. This is not the kind of knowledge that satisfies. When relationships are driven by a greed for money, they’re not healthy. They dry up as quickly as the money dries up.
To be approved: Deep down every person longs to be approved of and loved. WIth money you can deceptively surround yourself with shallow love. You can buy gifts upon gifts for people. You can surround yourself allthe stuff that the world tells you need. Softer couches. Nicer rugs. Are any of these things wrong. No—not in an of themselves. Oh but can’ you see, how these things deceive us and lull us into a false sense of approval and love.
To safe and secure: One of the deepest human needs, is to have security. Money promises you safety. Accumulate enough of me, and you don’t need to worry. Whatever happens, natural disasters and all, you’ve always got me. You can buy yourself out of any and every situation. You’re safe. But we know, there is a kind of safetyand security that money cannot buy. There is an aching in the human heart, that no gold can satisfy.
Illustration: Friedrich Nietzche
It was the great Atheist philosohper Friedrich Nietzche who commented Western culture’s obsession with money. He wrote,
“What induces one man to use false weights, aother to set his house on fire after having insured it for more than its value, while three-fourths of our upper classes, indulge in legalized fraud… what gives rise to all this? It is not real want—for their existence is by no means precarious… but they are urged on day and night by a terrible impatience at seeing their wealth pile up so slowly, and by an equally terrible longing and love for these heaps of gold… What once was done “for hte love of God” is now done for the love of money, i.e., for the love of that which at present affords us the highest feeling of power and good conscience.”
Neitzche’s point, in line with much of his teaching is that what was modern culture, which at the time was quickly moving away from God as the centerpiece and foundation of life. Nietzche, you’ve just replaced God with money. You’ve made a new counterfeit God and you’re depending on it in all the same ways you used to depend on God.
Standing in stark contrast, the Apostle demonstrates that he is not beholden to money. He is not a slave to a system. It’s his right to make money. No one doubts that. That’s the law. But he’s not a slave to that right. He has a higher king. And he will joyfully, and consistently go without, release his rights, in order to serve his true Master. What freedom! What freedom does Paul offer a chain bound culture like ours.
Gaining What you Cannot Lose
He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. Paul continues
1 Corinthians 9:15-18 “15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”
If I Preach the Gospel
He says, “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting.” Gospel most simply put, just means ‘Good News.’ For Paul, a proper understanding of the gospel gives no room for boasting in yourself, but only room for boasting in what Christ has done. Paul’s life had a complete 180. He was a man who was powerful, well known, ambitious. He was a Pharises, which was a religious and cultural leader of his day. He had studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel. And then one day Paul met the risen Christ and it changed everything about him. Up until that point he had been antagonistic towards Christians. In fact he had persecuted Christians. But upon personally meeting and encountering the risen Christ, everything about his life changed. What he used to value, he no longer valued. Because suddenly he realized, ‘If Christ has risen from the dead, as he said he would, then that validates every word he ever spoke.’ And therefore he is truly Lord. Therefore his death on the cross was not just a religious martyr dying for a vague belief in god. He was the Son, sent by the Father, to take our place underneath the wrath of God. We discussed earlier how idols promise to satisfy three of our deepest needs (the need to be known, to be loved, and to be secure). But only the true gospel of Jesus Christ (not a vague generality of God). No the true Gospel that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins, to shed his blood, that you may have justification before a holy God, and eternal salvation granted to you on your judgment day. Only that God can satisfy the longings that you were made for.
Known & Loved: To be fully known. The God of the Bible: Father, Son and Holy Spirit know everything about you. Not just the facade we put off to the world. Not the sales pitch we promote on our social media. But we live underneath the sacred inspection of a holy God. And in Christ, there is nothing to hide, because you can’t. And his promise is that His love for you is perfect. Not because you’ve earned it, but because Christ earned it on your behalf.
Secure/Unfailing: Not only his love perfect, it is unfailing. The theologians call this eternal security. The Perseverence of the Saints. He ain’t ever going to let you go. There is no power on this world that can separate you from the love of God once your faith is truly in Christ. Your family may abandon you, but in Christ you are secure. Your neighbors may dislike you. But in Christ you are known and loved. Cancer may threaten you. But in Christ your future is secure.
This is what you cannot lose. It cannot be taken from you. Paul says ‘If I really believe that gospel. If I own it and I live by it, then my greatest ambition, in everythign I do, is not to declare my rights and live by them. Rather, it is to declare the King and live for him. And so Paul says, ‘I’ll joyfully go without a paycheck, so that I don’t put a stumbling block in your way of knowing the greatest news the world has ever known.
Summarize the Principle
Let me see if I can draw this to a close. Paul is using his approach to handling money to make a case for how we make a thousand decision on a day to day basis as a Christian. But in making that case, and using the illustration of money, he invites us to come to a crossroads and examine our own use and handling of money in light of the gospel, in light our faith in Jesus. Has Jesus changed the way you handle money. Let me see if I can give three simple and practical applications
Wise Money Management: Christians must be wise stewards of money. We cannot throw it away or fail to invest well in the right places. Paul utilizes the term ‘stewardship’ in verse 17, and that is an appropriate way to consider all of our money. As a Christian its not yours. Even if you earned it. Even if you own the bank. It’s all the Lords. And a Christian who rightly understands his place underneath the glory and majesty of hte King, ought to from time time consider how he is managing that which has been entrusted to him. Tim Keller says, “If God has become the center of your life, then that dethrones and demotes money.” Are you stewarding your finances in such a way that Christ would be honored.
Radical Generosity: Paul exemplifies radical generosity. He was willing to go without, in order to not put a stumbling before others. Historically Christians have lived utterly sacrificial lives. They’ve built churches, and schools, and hospitals. They’ve housed thousands upon thousands of people. They’ve fed the hungry, provided clothing. Today’s Christians are startling low on their generosity. We do slightly better than the average secular person. And the fascinating thing is, that often those with the most money, give the least percentage wise to the wonderful works of God. And those with the least, tend to give the most percentage wise. We need to restore a sense of radical generosity.
Prioritize Your Local Church: Third, Paul’s primary concern was his local Church, and it ought to be ours as well. This whole section is Paul exemplifying a deep love of this local Church in Corinth, and a willingness to sacrificially provide for that Church. I don’t know how to say this any other way than to say it directly. Christians must be prioritizing faithful sacrificial giving towards their local Church. Financially providing for God’s people is not optional for a Christian. If there is not a desire in you to boldly see this place built up in order to love our community and transform in the name of Jesus, something is not clicking right for you, and it could be that money has a massive space of idolatry in your heart.
This last week, a number of folks from our Church were caring for a mother who needed some help in our community. They took a van around and gathered furniture and supplies for a home in order that this mother could have a home, and a place for her children. One young man in our Church was looking give away some old things to this woman, when he was convicted the Holy Spirit. Why are you giving her used things. And so he went to the store, and spent good money on brand new goods and furniture, to lavishly love on this woman.
Closing & Transition to Prayer
Church, Paul said that he would rather die than put a stumbling block before anybody in the way he handled his finances. can we say the same? Is our love of Christ so wildly counter-cultural, that we would and often do go without what we could have, what we could buy, what we could do, in order to not put a stumbling. This is radical neighboring. This is such a love for neighbor, that you’ll change your money management to see him in Christ. He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose
Transition to Communal Repentance and Prayer