1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 58
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998
|I want you to know at the outset that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to choose to deny what you know is right, your own right, your own privilege, for the sake of your brother unless you’re filled with the Spirit of God. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the cluster. He says, “For the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Now, these other things are a part of that love. You can’t have one without the other.
1 Corinthians 9:1-14
Denying Self for the Sake of Others – Part 1
In 1 Corinthians 9 we’re going to be talking about, “Denying Self for the Sake of Others.” This chapter is just beautiful in what Paul is going to bring out. I want you to know at the outset that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to choose to deny what you know is right, your own right, your own privilege, for the sake of your brother unless you’re filled with the Spirit of God. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the cluster. He says, “For the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Now, these other things are a part of that love. You can’t have one without the other. They all come into cluster. The fruit of the Spirit is love. It is not natural to the flesh to love somebody unconditionally to where you would even lay down your own rights for them. It is natural, however, to God and to His Spirit. So you must be filled with the Spirit of God. No matter what you know or understand, it has to be mixed with the love of Christ in your life.
It’s the love of Christ that motivated the apostle Paul. Second Corinthians 5:14 says, “For the love of Christ controls us.” The King James version says, “constrains us.” The word is sunecho. It comes from the word sun, which means together with, an intensive, and the word echo, which means to have or to hold. Figuratively it means to compel somebody, to press on. It’s a motivating force when the love of God is manifested in your life. It moves you towards your brother. It’s not something you even have to think about as much as it’s a reflex of the divine presence of God within you.
That’s what Paul is driving at in chapters 8 and 9. It doesn’t matter just what you understand. Yes, knowledge matters; yes, you must be in the Word of God; but you must mix that with the divine love that God has within you.
The Corinthian church of all churches needed to hear this message. They were immature believers who refused to grow up in the Lord. They refused. They would rather suck on their little pacifier and stay over in the nursery, attach themselves to preachers, to whatever else they could attach themselves to, instead of attaching themselves to Christ. They needed to hear this message.
In chapter 8 the believers had written him a question as they had done in chapter 7, but in chapter 8 their questions were all concerned about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul took some time in explaining his answer to them, but in doing so wrapped up a beautiful principle that carries right into chapter 9.
Paul had learned to make conscientious decisions, and he’s going to show this in chapter 9. He had learned to deny himself for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of his brother. He takes the theme of chapter 8 and just expands it in chapter 9. At first when you first start studying chapter 9 you wonder, what in the world Paul is doing, because he starts proving his apostleship. What’s he doing that for? Then he comes around and talks about the privileges of his apostleship. Why is he doing that? Then he comes in with the passion of his apostleship. The whole thing becomes crystal clear. He’s trying to illustrate the principle. Even though you have a privilege and a right and understand all these things, the love of Christ may motivate you to give that up for the sake of your brother.
It had become a way of life to Paul. My prayer is it will become a way of life to me and to you and to all of us so that we might live that way. It can be if we’ll attach ourselves to Christ and just let Jesus be Jesus in us. We must always remember, folks, when we get to Heaven one day, the only thing that’s going to be there are people; not ministries, not buildings, nothing else, just people. May I just give it from the heart again? You don’t burn bridges in the Christian life, because the bridge you may have just burned with your brother, you’re going to be reminded of it one day when you stand next to him in glory. Understand this, no matter what our rights are, no matter what our privileges are, no matter how much we understand, no matter how much knowledge we have, if the Holy Spirit of God is not empowering our life, producing the love of Christ in us, then everything we’re doing, as 1 Corinthians 13 says, is nothing more than a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. It means nothing to anybody. It’s the love of Christ that makes it work and that only comes when you’re living a surrendered life to Him, attached to Him.
As we enter chapter 9, it seems obvious to me that Paul had his critics. It always makes you feel in good company when you study Paul. You know, whenever you find him he would either be in jail or a fight or something. Where’s Paul? I don’t know. Where’s the noise? Or if there’s no noise, check the jail. That’s usually where he was. The people who were constant critics of him were people who I think had the gift of being offended. Do you know anybody who has the gift of being offended? They’re offended at everything. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, they’re going to be offended by it. Paul, obviously, had his critics. As he starts the chapter it appears to me he seems to start answering these critics.
The proof of Paul’s apostleship
There are three things that I want you to see. First of all, the proof of Paul’s apostleship. Like I said, at first you don’t know what he’s doing, but hang on. It will become crystal clear. Verse 1 reads, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” The New American Standard starts off with “Am I not free?” The King James starts off with, “Am I not an apostleship?” I think that’s the better reading, because that’s his main focus. So for that reason I want to go that route.
It’s like Paul is saying, “Hey, you’re talking about privileges, your privileges which you understand. Now wait a minute. Just back off for a second and look. I’m an apostle. Do you know what an apostle is? I want to talk to you first of all to make sure you understand that I’m an apostle,” Paul says. Then he’s going to start talking about the privileges that an apostle has.
- The will that determined his apostleship
It’s a little different when you talk about an apostle. These apostles were appointed and commissioned by the Lord Jesus Himself. Did you know the word “apostle” never appears in classical Greek, so evidently it had to be a word that Jesus Himself coined of the people that He Himself commissioned and gave authority to. Paul said, “I’m one of these guys, folks. I want you to understand that I am an apostle.” As he proves his apostleship the first thing he does is the will that determined his apostleship. I want to look at that. Whose idea was it that Paul become an apostle?
Look back in 1:1. I think you have to do this to kind of get in the feel of what he’s saying here. Where did this come from? He didn’t go to school studying to be an apostle. I promise you he didn’t. But this was God’s idea. He says in verse 1, “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” It was God’s divine will that Paul be an apostle. As a matter of fact, to add to that understanding, in Galatians 1:15 it says, “But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace.” Paul was set apart in his mother’s womb.
I got to thinking about that one day. Here’s God in Heaven looking down and says, “Do you know what we need? We need the message of grace to the Gentile world. Let’s see, I think what I want is a man who understands the Law, every jot and every tittle. I want a man who understands it better than any man alive. Then I want to meet with him one day and change him and show him how to add the grace into it so that we can have a balanced message to the Gentile world.” So He created Paul in his mother’s womb. He was already called and set apart. Paul had no idea. He grew up under a legalistic, Jewish home. He was schooled by Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the Law in the New Testament times.
Then one day he’s a Pharisee. He says in Philippians 3, “I was found blameless according to the Law.” Of course he was talking about the 612 laws that they put in the Talmud that they used to justify themselves. Here was the most religious man, I suppose, on all the earth at that time, and God was saying, “Everything’s right on target. Everything is exactly right.”
Then one day on the Damascus Road he met the Lord Jesus, and Jesus called him and set him apart to be an apostle. In Acts 13:2, when the church was meeting together to pray, the Holy Spirit of God spoke and it says, “And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” He’s already called them. He was set apart in his mother’s womb. Jesus commissioned him as an apostle. So there should be no doubt that the apostle Paul was there not because of his own will but because the will of God.
- The way of his apostleship
But now that he was an apostle, Paul begins to move into the way of his apostleship. In other words, what way did he live now that he was an apostle? Is there something different in the way the apostles lived? Well, we know this about Paul. He was not bound to any man, not bound in any way to any man. He was just simply bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “Am I not free?” The word “free” is eleutheros. It means to be free. That’s where the word comes from. It means capable of movement, the free one. In an absolute sense it means free, unconstrained, unfettered, independent, one who is not dependent upon another.
That’s a very key meaning of this word for Paul in this text. In a relative sense it means free, separate from or independent of. You see, Paul’s idea narrowed down to this context. Paul did not live dependent upon any man for his support. Paul lived totally free from any other man. He was a tentmaker by trade. That’s how he got over to Corinth to begin with. He went over and found Aquila and Priscilla. They were tentmakers. They began to make tents together. Why? Because the Isthmian games were coming in a few years, and the people, when they came in, stayed in those tents. So he was just sort of by vocation making the money to support the ministry that God had given him.
Timothy and Silas came over, and when they got there Paul quit making tents and started sharing the Word. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, was the first one saved, and a church was born in Corinth. So Paul said, “Hey, I’m not dependent on you, this church, or any other church. I totally depend upon the Lord Jesus Christ. I am free.”
In 9:19 he says, “For though I am free from all men.” I think that narrow context is as an apostle he lived totally dependent upon God and he depended upon no man or no church for his support. This is the way that he lived.
- The witness required for an apostle
Thirdly he speaks of the witness required for an apostle. There was one thing you had to have done in order to be an apostle, to qualify as an apostle. Aside from being commissioned by Christ, you had to be a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says in verse 1, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” The word “Lord” shows you immediately he’s talking about the resurrected Christ because he has a name. He is our Lord the name above every name. He uses the word horao for “see,” which is different from blepo, which is the normal word for “see” or “to look at.” Yeah, I saw something or I saw Him. But the word horao has the idea of to see, to comprehend, and to fully understand exactly who he was seeing.
He puts it in the perfect tense. In other words, something happened back here. “I am what I am because of that.” He puts it in the active voice. “I was involved totally.” He puts it in the indicative mood. He says, “write it down and take it to the bank. It happened.”
When did Paul see and understand that Jesus is Lord? Look back in Acts 9:1. I want you to understand from this text Paul was not looking for God. God was looking for Paul. That’s funny. People say, “I found Jesus.” Have you seen that little sticker? I want to tear every one of them off the bumper when I see them. You didn’t find Jesus. The Scripture says no one seeks after God, no, not one. You say, “I was.” No, you were seeking after a better life or another church or whatever, but nobody is seeking after God. It’s God seeking after us. We didn’t find Him. He found us. He certainly found Paul. His name at that time was Saul of Tarsus.
Verse 1 of Acts 9 says, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest.” Here’s the most religious man in the world and what is he doing? He’s persecuting believers of which he is to become; and not only become one of them, but an apostle to the whole Gentile world. Verse 2 continues, “and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” I’ve always loved this passage. He was going to arrest Christians and he got arrested by the Christ of Christianity. He ran into something he didn’t think he was going to run into.
Verse 4 says, “and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” That’s so significant there. It’s a principle to remember. You strike another Christian and you just struck Christ. You never affect the body that you don’t affect the Lord Jesus the Shepherd of the body, the Head of the body. Paul says, “And he said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.’ And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. [Paul saw it] And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.”
It’s interesting, Paul saw Him and was blinded; John saw Him and passed out. But he was witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ which qualified him being an apostle. You could not be an apostle if you were not a witness of the Lord Jesus.
Look over in 1 Corinthians 15:7 again to prove that Paul witnessed the resurrected Christ. First Corinthians 15:7 reads, “then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” So we then see the witness of his apostleship. We know then that he’s an apostle.
- The work of his apostleship
The will, the way, the witness, and then fourthly, Paul speaks of the work of his apostleship. In other words, if you’re an apostle and that’s who you are, then God through you is going to do specific things. So he says to the church in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” The word for “work” is ergon. It has the idea of the proof of the effort of someone, not just what they’re doing, but what they’ve done when they finished doing it. In other words, the proof of that: you are my work. The church of Corinth was the work of Paul.
As I said earlier, he went over there as an apostle. The word for apostle, apostolos, means one sent forth with a message commissioned by Christ Himself. So he wasn’t just there to make tents. He had begun to share the Word as God had commissioned him to do and as a result of that the church of Corinth came to be.
He said, “Are you not the very evidence of the work that I’ve done as an apostle?” He goes on and calls them the seal of his apostleship. Look at verse 2, “If to others I am not an apostle [you see, this referred to those who were examining and criticizing him. He says], at least I am to you.” “How else would you call yourself the Church of God at Corinth if I hadn’t come to you as an apostle bearing the name and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?” He says, “at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”
The word seal is the word sphragis. It means the seal of guarantee that was stamped on something: “for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” “Look at you. You’re the church here and you wouldn’t be there had it not been for what God had used me to.” As he says in chapter 3, “I planted, Apollos watered. Of course, others have built upon it and God was given the increase.” Figuratively the word here used means as a pledge or a proof of something. The work that Paul had done among them was the proof of his apostleship. They were the seal, the guarantee of his apostleship.
We see the proof then of who he was as an apostle. What is he doing? Why does he start chapter 9 in proving the fact that he’s an apostle? Remember there were the critics and the skeptics who were constantly saying things about him, accusing him not even of being an apostle. So he starts that way.
The privileges of being an apostle
But the second thing he does, he talks about the privileges of being an apostle. Here it comes. Now we’re beginning to see. Remember in chapter 8 we looked at the privileges you have, the understanding, the rights that you have under grace. Now he’s carrying it right into chapter 9 and says, “Okay, you’ve talked about yourself. Now let me show you. I’m an apostle. Are you convinced now?” “Yes, we’re convinced.” “Alright now, let me tell you the privileges an apostle has.” It’s a little different than the privileges they had. Let me show you.
- The examination
Verse 3 reads, “My defense to those who examine me is this.” The first thing he does is acknowledge that there were those who had examined him, as to his calling, and of course narrowed to the context, his privileges. They want to found out, “Okay, Paul, if you’re really an apostle, what privileges do you have?”
Well, the word examine is anakrino, which means to examine or question in order to pass a judicial sentence. In other words, there were those coming to conclusions about him based on some of the examinations that were given to him. What did they examine him about? As I said, in the area of his freedom. What he was, what he was allowed to do as opposed to others being allowed to do it. That’s what they were asking.
- The explanation
Well, the second thing Paul answers, he gives an explanation now of his privileges. Look what he says. His answers are very clear. You can’t miss this. First of all, he had a right to be supported by the churches. This is the key. This is where he’s headed. As an apostle, it’s a little different than a member of the church. He says, “As an apostle, one set and commissioned and a witnessed to the Lord Jesus, we have the right to be supported by the church.”
He says in verse 4, “Do we not have a right to eat and drink?” If you read that out of context you’d say, “Yeah, if you’re thirsty or if you’re hungry.” That’s not what he’s saying. In a sense, they were to be provided things to eat and to drink just like the priests at the temple. He says, “As an apostle we have the right to eat and to drink. We have a right to be supported by the church.”
In verse 6 he alludes to that very fact. He says, “Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?” You see, the apostle Paul is saying, “Hey, guys, I know I’m going to pop your bubble, but, as an apostle I have a right to demand that you support me.” Now, he’s going to show you why in just a second.
He makes a very clear explanation of his privileges when he goes on. He says, “I have a right to marry and to take my wife with me. Not only should you support me but you should support her.” Paul’s going to make sure they understand. Verse 5 reads, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” Cephas, of course, was Simon Peter.
Now, the King James Version adds a word there that I like. I wish the New American Standard hadn’t left it out. They put in the word “sister.” We have the idea of a Christian woman. That gives you the idea who you’re supposed to marry one of these days, men, a Christian woman. What I think Paul is saying is, “Hey, I’ve got the right to come right into Corinth and if God so sees fit and there’s a woman there that I fall in love with, I’ve got a right to marry somebody right out of your church and then you’d turn around and support both of us because I’m an apostle. That’s a privilege of being an apostle.”
Of course we learn in this thing that he was single. We also learn that Cephas had a wife, and evidently she traveled with him.
- The examples
Then thirdly, Paul gives the examples from Scripture to support his privileges. In other words, he’s saying, “I’m not just saying this off the top of my head. This goes all the way back. This is a principle of life and a principle of the Law,” as he’s going to show in a moment. He says in verse 7, “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” These examples are so clear it’s almost kind of ridiculous to try to even go through them because you don’t have to add anything to it.
First of all, he uses the example of a soldier who doesn’t serve at his own expense. I love to see young men sitting in our services with their uniform on. I guarantee you, they were fed while they were in the service. They only had about two minutes to eat, but that’s part of it. You learn to eat fast. As a soldier he is commissioned to do something. Now, if he’s going to do the work, then he ought to profit from the work. In other words, we’re not going to have an army if we’re not going to take care of the army. That’s what he’s saying. There’s a principle. If you’re doing the work, you ought to profit from the very work that you do. This is a principle of life he’s saying.
Then he gives the example of a farmer. He says, “Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it?” Can you imagine somebody planting a vineyard and looking forward to the crops coming in and then one day saying to his children, “You can’t eat that, because this is for somebody else”? They’d say, “Are you crazy?” Then they would gulp it down. They’re looking forward to that. Part of your reward of being a farmer is to profit in that which you have done. Any farmer knows that.
Thirdly, is the example of a shepherd. He says, “Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” The principle holds for all three illustrations. Whatever work you do, you ought to profit from the work, the principle of life.
Then Paul nails his point in verse 8. He said, “I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I?” In other words, “I’m not speaking this just as a man. I want to go a step further than that. You know the principle of life. Now let’s look at the principle of the Law.” He refers to it in the last part. “Or does not the Law also say these things?” When he speaks of the Law, he is speaking of the five books that Moses wrote. He proves this in verse 9, “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’”
The picture he picks up from is from Deuteronomy 25. It’s an actual Old Testament verse coming right out of the Law before they went into the Promised Land. He says in Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” Here’s the picture that comes right out of the Law. This is not just a principle of life. This is a principle right out of the Law. He uses the example of an ox threshing corn. They’d take the ears of corn that had the husk on them and spread them out. Then they would take these oxen and walk them in a circle. The heavy weight of that ox would step down on the ear of corn and it would immediately separate the husk from it. Then you’d take the ear apart from the husk. Do you know how big an ox is? It’s a big animal, a heavy animal. So the weight of that ox was used to separate the husk from the corn.
And he’s saying that you don’t muzzle an ox while he’s threshing. In other words, the thing that gives the ox the energy to do what he’s doing is the very corn that he’s threshing. He’s got to be fed himself. He’s doing the work, isn’t he? Then feed him the corn. That keeps him being able to continue to do the work. This not just a principle of life, this is a principle of Law. He’s driving home a point here.
He asks a question concerning the Scripture he’s quoted. I love this. He says in verse 9, “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’ God is not concerned about oxen, is He?” In other words, it’s like Paul is saying, “Since oxen can’t read and they can’t understand English or whatever language you want to speak, evidently God didn’t write this for the benefit of the ox. He had a different benefit in mind.
He goes on and answers his own question in verse 10. “Or is He speaking altogether for our sake?” That’s exactly what he’s doing. Using the example of the ox, the principle is to come into our own life. He says, “Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.” In other words, you ought to profit from the work that you do. That’s his bottom line. He said it so many times you can’t miss it. It’s the privilege of an apostle to be fully support by the churches he ministers unto. That’s not sin. That’s not only a law of living. It’s principle of the Law. He needs to profit from the people that he ministers unto.
Now, that’s true all the way through Scripture. He says in Galatians that the one who teaches the Word ought to be treated with double honor. That means double salary. I kind of like that. But this is a principle of life. It’s a principle of the Law.
Then he goes on in verse 11 and says, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?” Are you having trouble trying to think about the fact of supporting us after we have given of ourselves in the spiritual things that have enriched your life?
He says in verse 12, “If others share the right over you, do we not more?” Now we’re beginning to see where he’s headed. He starts off and says, “You want to talk about your privileges? Fine; let’s talk about the privileges of an apostle. We are an apostle. Remember now who these people are. They’re commissioned by Jesus and given authority by Jesus. We’re here dependent upon no man. We’re dependent only on him. But the privilege we have is that we are to be supported by the churches. We have that privilege. Even if we’re married we were to be supported by the churches.”
Some people ask, “Well, shouldn’t a minister in this day and time be self-supported or whatever?” Well, as far as Scripture is concerned, it is right. If you have a minister who’s ministering to you spiritual things, it is right under God, under His Word that you minister to him in material things. That is very right. That is right. That’s the privileges Paul is talking about.
His passion as an apostle
Thirdly we see now his passion as an apostle. We know who he is and we know what his privileges are, but remember where he’s going. Even though he had the right to be supported by the churches, married or single, Paul had chosen to deny this right. He had chosen to give it up. This was his own personal choice. It wasn’t sin if he would have demanded it. But he chose to give it up. That’s his right. That’s his privilege but he chose to give it up.
Verse 12 continues, “If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” The apostle Paul had chosen to make his own living. Even though he had the privilege and the right as an apostle to be supported by the churches, he had chosen to make his own living. In verse 12, first of all, he shows that this talks about the passion that’s inside. Remember the love mixed in? He talks about the passion that’s inside him that led him to refuse his privilege.
He says, “Nevertheless, we did not use this right,…” The phrase, “use this right” is the word chraomai. It means we did not make the most of this right that we have. Do you see how different that is to the natural? How different that is to a person who is not being filled with the Spirit of God? I’ve even know Christians who say, “Okay, give me my rights. I want to know what my rights are. I want to know what my privileges are, because I’m going to name it and I’m going to claim it until Jesus comes back.” Paul says, “We had the right, we had the privilege, but we chose not to make the most out of it. We chose to deny ourselves for it.”
This passion is motivating him in an unnatural way. Only the love of Christ motivates us in unnatural ways. Our flesh tends to go the natural way, but the Spirit pulls us the unnatural way. Then, we see the passion that led him to receive what would come because having chosen this unnatural way, there’s going to be consequences to that choice. So he says, “but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.”
I want to show you that word “endure.” When I first read it I almost didn’t look it up. I know what that word is. I see it all through Scripture. It’s to bear up under, hupomeno. I thought, maybe I’d better look it up. I’m glad I did. It’s not hupomeno. It’s a different word altogether. It’s the word stego. Here’s what it means. Listen to me. It’s not so much the fact that you’re bearing up under, which hupomeno is. Stego has the idea of the way you go about bearing up under. It means to bear up under silently without any complaint, without any gripe. It’s the attitude of the person bearing up under.
What he says is, “I know what’s coming. I know that I’ve got to make tents. I know there are going to be those times.” He says over in Philippians 4, “I’ve learned to be content in all things. I’ve learned to be abased and to abound.” A man who is not dependent upon men or churches would know that balance. He would know the dry times. He would know the abounding times. What he means is, “I’ve learned to have $10 and spend $10. I’ve learned to have $100 and still spend $10. I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstance that I’m in, but I’ve been quiet while enduring it because it’s a choice I made out of love for my brother.” That’s the key.
I want to tell you, folk. This is not natural. This is not what a natural man would do. This is what the unnatural love of Christ motivates a person to do, to bear up under. Even when you have the privilege you choose to deny it for the sake of your brother and then bear up under the consequences without any complaints, without any griping whatsoever because your choice was motivated by the love for Christ and for your brother.
Why did he do it? Verse 12 tell us, “that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” In other words, “I’ve got my skeptics out there. I’ve got people criticizing me because I do this or don’t do that or whatever. But I’ve made some conscious choices, as an apostle, in light of the privileges we have. I’ve chosen as an apostle to deny myself these privileges for the sake of the gospel in other people’s lives. I don’t want to be a hindrance.
The word “hindrance” is the word egkope. It’s the word used meaning to delay something. In Romans 15:22 he says, “For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you.” That’s the same word. It’s impeding one’s progress in the sense of something standing in the road, stopping you. In Galatians 5:7 he says, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Who got in front of you and stopped you? It’s used in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan thwarted us.” He hindered us. He stopped us. That’s the word.
Paul says, “I don’t want to do anything that would hinder the gospel of Christ.” He’s illustrating what it means to deny yourself the privileges you know you have under grace and in Christ for the sake of a brother. He shows that he himself chose not to be supported by the churches.
I want to ask you a question. In the last seven days what’s come out of your mouth in a griping, complaining, murmuring manner? Have you ever stopped to take check on that? Do you realize James 3 says that what comes out of your mouth is a reflection of your heart? And if you’re not living a surrendered life to God then something coming out of your mouth is reflecting where you really are. Do you realize that usually the divisions in churches are caused by two people who have their rights but neither one of them is willing to deny their rights for the sake of the other? For that reason they just continually are wedging themselves apart. Man, the complaining and the murmuring that we go through?
Paul uses that little word stego. He says, “I made a conscious choice.” But I’ll tell you, if you’re murmuring and complaining then evidently the motivation of your choice is not loving Christ and loving your brother. It goes back to the root of the thing. You see, once you’ve made that choice and go to the cross, then you can take whatever comes without ever saying a word, because you know why you made that choice, and you know who it was in you that motivated you to make that choice.
In my life that’s the hardest thing in the world. I could really be joyful in the Christian life if it weren’t for people. Have you thought about that? Of course the biggest person I’ve got to deal with is when I look in the mirror in the morning. But it’s people. Circumstances are not usually what knock us down, folks; it’s people. Over in Romans 8 it says, “Who shall separate you from the love of Christ?” Then he talks about what they do to you. The rest of it’s the tribulation, etc., it’s people. But the very people who are doing this to us are the very people who we’re supposed to love and the very people who Jesus died for. If we’re not willing to give up our own rights and our own privileges for the sake of a brother, then we’ve missed the whole point of what Christianity is all about. That’s the bottom line.
Have you had a relationship with somebody else in the body of Christ that’s been twisted and is on the verge of even being broken? You’re wondering when your brother or sister is going to finally drop anchor and get right with God and deny himself his own privileges and come to you ask you to forgive him. If you are wondering that, you might as well go outside and watch the grass grow. It’s quicker. The key is, are you willing to make a conscious decision to die to what you know is your privilege and what you know is right under grace and under God for the sake of your brother and go to him and just die in front of him so that Christ might be honored. That’s the key.
The thing that bothers us most is if our brother has treated us in a wrong way, examining us like they did Paul or whatever, and we refuse. You see, what happens is, if we choose to go to him, we always think that’s going to make us look as if we’re the wrong one. But that’s the whole point. In the Christian walk if God’s love is motivating you, you’re always the wrong one and never the right one. The very moment you profess to be the right one is the very moment you don’t know what you thought you knew; because the love of God evidently doesn’t have a hold of you. It’s the willingness to just go on and take the low road and to die.
Roy Hession told me one day, “If you want God to use you, never, ever, ever be the right one. Always be willing to be the wrong one. Then God can be honored in the midst of the situation.” It’s taken me years to understand what in the world he was talking about.
What are you griping about today? What’s your privilege and what’s your right? It ought to be done and you’re going to do whatever you’re going to do to get it at the expense of your brother. Well, you needed to hear what Paul said to the Corinthians church. That’s the whole point, the arrogance that comes from people who understand but don’t really understand what they think they understand. They’re not motivated by the love of Christ within them. The still small voice that says, “Die.”
Paul says, “You want to see an example? I’m an apostle, aren’t I? I’ve got privileges you don’t have. But I’ve chosen to give those privileges up for the sake of the gospel. I don’t want it to be hindered in any way.” The bottom line is attitude. Remember, you don’t burn bridges in the Christian life. The very person you cut off in your life you will be standing beside when you see Jesus one day. Are you going to be a little uncomfortable? The only thing that is going to be in Heaven is people.