Scripture
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Date
February 4, 2018
Speaker
Pastor Witt

 

 

Greeting: The person who wins souls is wise.

 

Text: 16) Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  17) If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simple discharging the trust committed to me.  18) What then is my reward?  Just this: that in preaching I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.  19) Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.   20) To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  21) To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  22) To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  23) I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Introduction: The word “obsession” is a very strong word.  When we hear that someone is “obsessed” with something, we think about someone who has come under the powerful influence of something and can’t stop thinking of that thing.   An obsession can be good or bad.   A person can be filled up with thoughts of a noble idea or a worthy goal that drives them in positive directions.  Or a person can be filled up with thoughts of a harmful notion or a improper goal that drives them in negative ways.   In the message for today, we want to examine a very positive kind of obsession – an obsession that God Himself plants in the minds and hearts of His believing people.   It is the powerful wish that as many people as possible would be converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ and preserved in that faith throughout their lives.   In the Epistle lesson for today, St. Paul expressed this wholesome Christian obsession for us to see and examine.   As we analyze this remarkable condition,   may God help us be stronger in this wonderful wish for the salvation of others.

 

  1. Leads Us To Act From Duty And Desire

Paul declares his obsession in verse 19, when he says: 19) Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.    If  you were to ask Saint Paul, what his priority in life was, he would tell you: to save souls by having them come to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior.   Paul’s goal lined exactly with God’s goal for a world of people lost in sin.   In 1 Timothy 2, Paul expressed God’s gracious goal when he wrote: “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”   Paul himself was no stranger to God’s saving work and power.  In 1 Timothy 1, Paul spoke of his own personal experience of God’s salvation in Christ when he wrote: “The grace of our Lord Jesus was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”  And in Christ-like love, Paul declares his love for the souls of His country men and his desire for their salvation, when he wrote in Romans 9: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”   It hurt Paul terribly to know that many of his fellow Jews were not trusting in Jesus as their Savior and instead of sharing in eternal joy in heaven would be suffering eternal torment in hell.   In his heart of hearts, Paul wanted all people to trust in Jesus for salvation.  He was positively obsessed with the idea that all souls should find their spiritual safety in Jesus Christ.

 

This is the desire that God also plants into the minds and hearts of all believers in Christ.   Just as God has no delight in the spiritual death of anyone, He teaches us to be saddened that any soul would end up in hell.  Just as God loved the world and gave Jesus to be the Savior so that none would perish and all be saved – so God instills in us a love for all sinners and the fervent wish that all would trust in Jesus so that all would be saved.   The God who personally showed us mercy by removing our spiritual blindness so we could see His saving love in Christ and who raised us from spiritual death to new life in our Savior moves us to desire that same delivering mercy be shown to others.

 

This Christian obsession for the salvation of souls is a most powerful wish.  As we see in the experience of St. Paul, it leads Christians to take action to do things to help others received God’s salvation.   Paul gives a two-part explanation of the actions He took to save others. 16) Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  17) If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simple discharging the trust committed to me.  18) What then is my reward?  Just this: that in preaching I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. 

 

Paul explained that the many things he did to bring people to salvation were for him both a solemn duty and a delightful desire.   Paul starts by saying that God gave him a command to share God’s Word to bring others to salvation.  This command was a serious responsibility that Paul could not ignore.  So he says: “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”   Paul knew that he would have to answer to God if he did not obey His command.   God commands all His believers to be His witnesses.  He says: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  We may not have the broad commission Saint Paul had to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, but we are to be His witnesses to the people in the part of the world God has placed us in.   Someone has written: “Every Christian is a missionary – if only in the workplace or in the supermarket.”   We may have only limited contacts with a limited number of people.  Yet we are to witness in those places to those people so their souls may be saved.   It is a duty we dare not neglect.   A Christian once said: One thing we cannot do about missions is get rid of our responsibility.”  We have this solemn duty from God.

 

But this solemn duty is also our delightful desire.   We not only must try to save souls, we very much want to.  Paul spoke of preaching voluntarily and offering the gospel free of charge, not insisting on his right to be supported by those who benefited from his preaching.   In his Second letter to the Corinthians, he says: “We believe and therefore speak.  Christ love compels us.”  God works in His believers the desire take action to save souls.   So what is our great duty is also our great delight.   Once we are brought to faith in Christ, God works in us the powerful wish that we do not go to heaven empty-handed and alone, but reaching out to others and leading them to heaven with us.   The Christian obsession for saving souls results in a believer taking action to fulfill a serious obligation to God Himself and to express their delightful desire to bring blessing to others.

 

2. Moves Us To Share The Message Of God

 

As we examine the obsession to save souls, we also notice that this powerful, consuming wish also moves the Christian to speak up and share the message that brings salvation.  Paul says: “I preach the gospel.”   Every Christian knows that the only way that he or she was brought to faith, was through the Holy Spirit working repentance for sin and faith in Christ in their hearts through God’s Word.   Paul points out the path of salvation when he writes in Romans 10: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”   God teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings salvation to a person’s soul by working through God’s true message of law and gospel.  And for the message to come to people, messengers are needed.  Christians are the messengers God appoints and sends to bring that message to the lost.

 

Like Paul, we believe these things.  We know them to be true for ourselves and so we strive to speak the message that the Spirit will use to convince people of their sins and persuade them that Jesus has won their pardon before God.  We use the teachings of law and gospel that have learned and keep learning in our sermon listening and Bible study.  We tell others about their problem of sin and God’s solution of a Savior.  We tell them of the malady of their disobedience and the punishment it brings and the remedy of Jesus’ perfect obedience for them and the punishment He endured in their place.   We tell them of the divine diagnoses of eternal death because of sin and the divine prescription of eternal life because of Jesus Christ.   We share the truth and good news that has saved our souls so that others also may be saved.

 

3. Guides Us To Speak A Language Of Love

 

And as we examine the Christian obsession for saving souls further, we notice that it also guides believers to speak a unique language of love along with the message of God.  Paul describes that language of love when he describes the attitude and action he took as he related to different groups of people.   He wrote: I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.   20) To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  21) To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  22) To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 

 

In these verses, Paul unfolds a key strategy that he employed as he sought to bring salvation to as many people as possible.  In addition to speaking God’s true message of law and gospel, Paul also employed a loving approach.  Paul thought about the different kinds of people he met.  Some were Jews who knew the Old Testament and followed the strict disciplines and ceremonies of the Old Covenant.   Some were Gentiles who were immersed in the worship of idols and had no familiarity with the Bible or God’s covenant.  Some were new believers who were still weak and immature in their faith and had lots of growing up to do.   To better communicate with these people and meet their specific needs, Paul adjusted himself to understand them, meet them where they were spiritually and not put any unnecessary barriers in the way between these people and God’s salvation.   Paul did not compromise any spiritual truth, but he made sure that he didn’t put any man-made impediments in his effort to teach them God’s saving message.   He would not ridicule a Jewish Christian who still found comfort in going to the synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrating Old Testament festivals.  On the other hand, he would not pressure a Gentile to be circumcised or convert to Judaism as a condition for them to become a Christian. He wouldn’t refuse to enter a Gentile home because he had a Jewish background.   In all the ways he could Paul spoke a language of God’s love for people.

 

God teaches us to also speak a language of love as we work with people from different backgrounds.   If we are witnessing to someone who has a strong Lutheran background, we will try to speak to their background of Scriptural training and liturgical worship.  If we are working with someone who has little biblical training and little exposure to church, we will not assume they know much and gently, patiently teach them the basics of the Bible.  We will think about the person and people we are working with and seek to find the most loving way to bring God’s saving message to them.  We do it because we know that love must accompany truth as we lead people to know their Savior.  We do it because we understand that God cares for people through people.  That He would use us to communicate His love and care for them.

 

Paul’s great obsession was saving souls.  Our God also wants it to be ours.  He wants our minds and our hearts to be filled with the great noble idea that the lost should be found, the sinner should find forgiveness, that souls – all souls – should be saved.  Someone said it this ways:  God wants our lives to be a mission, not an intermission.   We know first-hand what it means to be changed from death to life, to be pardoned for our sins, to be loved by our God.  Saving the souls of others is our duty and our delight.  We know the message of God and can share it.  We have learned the language of love and can speak it.  God can use small matches to light great torches.  God can use us to win others.  May God kindle this great obsession in your heart and use you to win as many as possible to Christ.  Amen.