February 5th: “Being A Chameleon for God”

This Week’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Highlights: “Paul goes to people, where they are, on their own terms. … But becoming all things to all people does not involve losing or giving up one’s own center, becoming gelatin-molded to whatever form appears, or losing track of what is truly important.” How do we free and contextualize the gospel so that Christ might win all people?

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, February 5thin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

17 In which category are pastors: volunteers or discharging a trust? I suppose some Sunday’s we are commissioned to preaching (c.f. joke about mother reminding her son (the senior pastor) to get up and go to church). Most Sundays, the sermon is the high point of my week.

18 Our Terms of Call start with the statement: “So that you may be free to devote yourself full time to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, we promise and obligate ourselves to …” Thus our pay is not a reward for preaching, but a stipend to free Teaching Elders from the constraints of living to devote all of their time to promoting the gospel.

19 In church service, those more involved, demonstrate greater the servanthood. As a Synod Commissioner I recall correcting the Synod Executive that I was not a volunteer, but a conscriptee.

20-22 How can we be more like those around us who do not come to Church? First we must understand those around us.

23 Sharing the gospel must take precedence to, must inform, and must infuse all other forms of service and duties.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • If considering payments to church professionals, the passage should be expanded to at least verse 11 if not to verse 3. These verses address the right of preachers to participate in the fruit of their labors.
  • Alternately, the passage might be divided between verses 18 & 19. Verses 1-18 deal with payment of a preacher and 19-27 with how to proclaim the gospel to others.
  • Focusing on 17-23 would allow a preacher to address how congregants support one another to share the gospel at all times and with all people.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Paul answered a variety of questions from the Corinthians.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Question: Paul answered why he did not demand payment for preaching and his style of preaching.

Music: “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • How can one appear to be under or outside of the law and model a consistent life giving relationship with God?
  • Need to recognize that Paul was defending his tent-making so his preaching would not be under the control of the wealthy members of the congregation. It is from those people that Paul is free.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

Without vv 3-16, some hearers may question the need to pay the preacher, if the preacher is compelled by God to preach.

Verses 19-22 need translation to modern culture.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Roy A Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary: I Corinthians, 1987) opines: “There was more afoot in Corinth than dismemberment of the congregation through party spirit, more than laying claim to a superior knowledge which spurns corporeal alignment, more than libertinism. … went a challenge to his apostleship, thus to his authority.” He translates the closing phrase of verse 15 (“no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting!”) as “No one shall rob me of my thanks!” Emphasizing that he did not require payment for preaching despite his apostleship. He cautions against misusing verses 19-22 to rationalize separate but equal status.

J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”. Abingdon, 2002) cautions that Paul did not give up his freedom and rights, but chose not to exercise them. He notes Paul use of commercial terms in verses 15- 18 to convey his profiting by preaching. In verses 19-23 Paul continues using kerdaino (win / make a profit). “Paul knows that it is not he who saves, but God.” He reflects: “Paul relates one of the secrets of his evangelistic prowess: He goes to people, where they are, on their own terms. … But becoming all things to all people does not involve losing or giving up one’s own center, becoming gelatin-molded to whatever form appears, or losing track of what is truly important.”

William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians. John Knox Press, 1980) notes that Paul demonstrated his willingness to become weak by giving up his right to eat meat sacrificed to idols (8:13). He believes “that winning the weak means to save them from the arrogance of those who can destroy (8:11).”

Craig Blomberg (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.) divides the chapter into two passages 1-18 & 19-27. He states (citing Acts 18:1-4) that refused to accept money from powerful patrons in Corinth, implying freedom from deferring to and politically supporting these patrons resulting in these patrons charging he was less of an apostle because he refused payment for his preaching. He sees Paul contextualizing the gospel – changing the forms of the message precisely in order to preserve its content. “Sadly, Christians of many eras have instead tended to be more sensitive to the legalism of fellow church members and have too quickly censured contemporary social customs, alienating themselves from the very people they should have been trying to win to Christ.” “Paul’s model far more closely approximates ‘friendship evangelism’ – coming alongside and getting to know unbelievers, valuing them as God’s creation in his image in and of themselves, and not just as potential objects of conversion.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

“Paul goes to people, where they are, on their own terms. … But becoming all things to all people does not involve losing or giving up one’s own center, becoming gelatin-molded to whatever form appears, or losing track of what is truly important.”

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

How should we free and contextualize the gospel so that Christ might win all people?

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