|The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 233)|
Commission, Compassion, Compulsion
1 Cor 9:16-23
The Gravity of the Lord’s Commission
When we read the New Testament, it is evident that the Apostle Paul was compelled by the love of Christ to bear witness for Christ. Paul used harsh language to portray the weight of the Great Commission pressing upon his soul, “for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel”. He considered himself accursed if he did not share the good news of how Hell-bound sinners can be reconciled to the thrice-holy God. If he kept quiet, his heart would tear apart, and his soul would be in intense agitation. This is a bit like Jeremiah, who wrote, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer 20:9). When you hold the Gospel in and do not preach Christ, it should feel like you are holding a fire within your bones.
Let us pray that the love of Christ will compel us this way, that is, we would suffer pangs of pain in our souls when we find no opportunity to share the Gospel; or when we have the opportunity but let it pass us by lightly.
Denying Oneself to Preach the Gospel
Paul was a free man and even had privileges as a Roman citizen; yet, he willingly placed himself under a strict obligation. Free to choose, he paradoxically chose to be a slave to all. This is the principle of self-denial in practice; in this matter, Paul had the supreme role-model to follow: Jesus is King, yet made Himself a slave so that He might save His own.
This is an astounding evangelistic strategy. Paul concerned himself with the will of others – their desires, their needs, their concerns – so that he might lead more to Christ. He was consumed with soul-winning, to the extent of being willing to deny himself. He was glad to give up his rights and be a slave to all, just to see men repent and believe.
As those saved by grace, this should also be our life goal. The more we die to self, the more we take up our cross daily and follow hard after Christ, the more fruitful we will be as soul-winners.
Preaching the Gospel to All Kinds of Persons
Paul showed us what self-imposed slavery involved; he accommodated himself to various social settings to share the Good News. As a missionary, he frequently made dramatic lifestyle changes, not due to whim and fancy, but to effectively reach four different groups of people.
Prior to conversion, Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, living the model Judaist life; but after he was born again, he was free of the shackles of Jewish Law-keeping. Yet he was willing to return to that lifestyle when proclaiming Christ to the Jews. In the course of his Gospel outreach, he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:1-3), and he himself went through a ceremony to discharge a Nazirite vow (Acts 21:20-26). These actions, in Christ, were totally unnecessary; but Paul still did them to assuage Jewish prejudice against him, so that his Gospel ministry might not be hindered.
In returning to a Judaist way of life, Paul was not denying Christ. His outward actions may have been identical to the Jews, but his inward motives were entirely different. The Jews kept the laws to earn Heaven, but Paul did it to win souls for Christ, knowing that his actions gained nothing for salvation. Paul was prepared to eat what they ate, refuse what they refused, and refrained from working on the Sabbath so that a bridge to their hearts might be built for the Gospel.
Nevertheless, this accommodation, necessary as it is, must also be very carefully done. Paul never allowed his attempts at cultural blending to affect the Gospel message in any way. He wrote in Gal 2:3 that, “not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Timothy was circumcised but not Titus – why? In Timothy’s case, it was to avoid any offence that could hinder Gospel-preaching to the Jews. But in Titus’ situation, the Judaisers were insisting that circumcision was necessary for salvation. This was an attack on the Gospel itself, so Paul staunchly refused to allow Titus to come under any pressure to be circumcised. Be careful that your evangelistic accommodation must only be a means of preaching the Gospel; the Gospel itself cannot be changed.
In all this, we see Paul astutely navigating Gentile-Jewish tensions. In Jerusalem, he observed the Law; in Antioch, he refused to live under the Law; in Galatia, he rebuked Peter for hypocritically keeping the Law. But we note that through all these, his missional accommodation was carefully done; he says of himself, “though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ”. Paul set strict limits on blending his lifestyle with the Gentiles. Even as he ministered to those without the law, Paul recognised that he himself was under the Law of Christ, and never departed from it.
The civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law were fulfilled in Christ and were done away with, but the moral law remains. Paul did not allow himself to violate God’s moral law in the name of accommodation. In the same way, one does not have to do drugs to reach drug addicts, nor be immoral to reach prostitutes, nor dress immodestly and sing lewd songs to reach the world for Jesus. Paul was willing to do whatever was not forbidden for Christians as long as it was advantageous for reaching the Gentiles.
Preaching the Gospel with All Consuming Passion
Paul’s singular focus was to lead men to Christ. In fact, in vv. 19-22, he kept repeating “… that I might win … that I might win … that I might win …”. Paul did not forget that salvation is the work of God, and that man cannot save either himself or others. But he knew that God is “well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). God’s means of bringing the Gospel to others is human witnesses – us!
The heart of the Apostle throbbed with the heartbeat of God for missions. He was not content to just preach the Gospel; he earnestly yearned that souls be saved through the proclamation of the Gospel. This was no cold performance of duty even though he knew that the outcome was in God’s hands. God is glorified when a sinner repents so he faithfully preaches with a passion to see God exalted. Paul said, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” – this touched every decision he made and affected every facet of his life. This was not something he did grudgingly but was the singular focus of his life. Why? – “so that I may become a fellow partaker of it”. Paul anticipated that as he poured his life out in the work of the Gospel, he would also one day share in the joy of the Gospel’s fruitfulness.
When you are in Heaven next time, and you meet someone who believed in Jesus through your sharing of the Gospel, you will rejoice in the fact that God used you to make an everlasting difference to that person. As we bring joy to others through the Gospel, we ourselves will enter into that same joy eternally as we see the fruit of our Gospel ministry. This is but one aspect of what it means to be a “partaker” of the Gospel – but how glorious it is!
For example, you have worked hard the whole day, would you assert your right to a restful evening, or join the church prayer meeting to plead for lost souls? Life is hectic, weekends are precious – yet, will you take some of that time to invite the neighbourhood to the Gospel Meeting? Will you surrender your rights to proclaim the Gospel, or will you surrender the Gospel to preserve your rights?