The Way to Win (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)

May 28 2023

Series: 1 Corinthians

Good morning. Good to see everyone today. Welcome everyone that’s joining us online as well. We are glad you’re with us today. We continue our study of First Corinthians, and believe it or not, we’ve passed the halfway point and we’re now in the home stretch of this amazing letter. Please turn to First Corinthians 9 and the title of today’s lesson is this the way to win? There is a way to win. That’s the title of our lesson. And if you visit our house, you’ll notice that we love to play all kinds of games. We are a competitive family. If you came over for dinner, there’s a good chance we’ll grab one of these board games and it’s on all of us. From the youngest to the oldest, we all play to win. And I’ve always been very competitive. As a kid, I would cry when my favorite sports team lost, which if you’re following a lot of Miami teams as well as the Florida Gators, happens quite often. In fact, last night I went to bed at halftime and put in the earplugs. I still heard my son screaming during the Heat versus Celtic game. But, yeah, I’m very, very competitive.

I wanted to get a good night’s sleep, and I know I wouldn’t if I watched the game. So anyway, I’ve always been very, very competitive. Amy discovered my competitive nature very quickly when we were college students together. And we first met, actually, the first night that we met, it was an event for the campus ministry. It was a game night, and we played each other in spades, and we were on opposite teams. And spades can get very intense if you know this game. So we were on opposing teams and she crushed me. And later on, we started dating. And that’s how it works. For several years, we could not be spades partners. I discovered this, and I thought, we’ll make great spades partners. It did not work that way. And if you know this card game, there’s a lot of strategy and you’re trying to read your opponent’s mind and trying to figure out what they’re doing and what type of hand they have. And Amy would make a move and I would give her this look like why? You can’t talk across the table. That would be cheating. But she was not on the same page as me.

And I would get incredibly frustrated because I was competitive. But it was very character-building for one of us at least I needed it. How many of you consider yourself competitive? All right, many of you are lying if you didn’t raise your hand. You’re not self-aware, you might be like I don’t like sports. All right, we all want to win. No one says, hey, I really want to be a loser today. I just want to lose at everything. I want to be unsuccessful. It may not be cards for you games or sports, but we’re all competitive about something. I think sometimes we’re even competitive by saying, I’m not competitive. That’s being competitive. But, yeah, we’re competitive about that. I think it’s in our DNA. I think that’s how god made us. We want to excel. We can be competitive about money or saving money or being competitive at our job and wanting to do well with that, wanting to succeed in school. I know some of you, I’m sure later today, will be competitive about the parking space that you get at the grocery store. I mean, I don’t think anyone pulls up to the mall or the grocery store or goes shopping and says, I’m going to park really far away because I want to have a losing parking space. You feel like, man, I got this great space and I got there before someone else did. You can see it on the 408. You can see it on any road you travel, but especially the 408. People are certainly competitive about getting in front of you in the car. I think most of us get very competitive when we get behind the wheel. We’re competing for attention. We’re competitive for validation. We can get competitive for the respect we think we deserve. We certainly get competitive, at least I do, to prove that we’re right about something. Am I right?

Of course, I’m right. We were very competitive about being right and someone else is wrong. We can get competitive about causes we believe in or ways to do things. We’re competitive about our politics. We can get competitive about our ideology and how the world is supposed to work. Certainly, we’re competitive about our nation, right? The USA. Okay, that happens. We all play to win. But if we follow Jesus, how do we harness this competitive streak that we have inside of us? If we’re Christians, how do we use this competitive nature that we have and use it for good? How do you win as a Christian? What is winning Christianity? And that’s the question that the Apostle Paul tackles for us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, for those of us who desire to follow Christ, Paul demonstrates the way to win. Now, before we dive into this, remember where we’re at in this letter to the Corinthian Church. We’re in the middle of issue number four, food for Idols. And two weeks ago, Keith kicked it off for us with this principle. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. In other words, do not let your personal convictions hurt the church family around you.

And notice I said personal convictions, not biblical convictions. Don’t let your personal values hurt others. And then last week, Eddie appealed to us and he showed us how Paul put this into practice in his own life. Eddie appealed to us, in order to not hinder the gospel, we must surrender our personal rights and our personal privileges. And that’s why Paul refused to take a salary from the church in Corinth. He took money from other churches, just not Corinth. He said, no, this is going to hurt our relationship. So he made that decision, he denied himself. That was an unclaimed privilege for Paul. So, as you can see, these are very muddy waters that we’re dealing with here. And I hope as we’re studying First Corinthians, that you’re building a bridge from Corinth to Orlando. What does this mean for you and me and the Orlando Church of Christ in 2023? Because none of this is easy. The stakes are very high for our church. And we’re a diverse church. This is a blessing from God. But at the same time, it seems as if because we’re so diverse and we come from all different points of view, how can it be, it seems, if one person wins, then another person in the church has to lose.

How do you and I win together as Christians? And thank God Paul cracks the code for us here in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, we’re going to begin in verse 19. Please read with me 1 Corinthians 9. Verse 19. Paul writes for though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them to the Jews, I became as a Jew. In order to win Jews to those under the law. I became one under the law, though not being myself under the law, that I might win those under the law. Verse 21 to those outside the law, I became as one outside the law, not being outside the law of God, but rather the law of Christ, that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, and by all means, I might save some. And I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. So Paul starts by saying in verse 19, make no mistake about it, I’m a free man.

And unless it’s Jesus, no one forces me to do anything. I’m an apostle. I’m a spiritual man. I’m a Roman citizen. I’m a free man living in a free country. Facts. And for us today, we also live in a country that’s built on rights. It’s built on freedom. It’s built on independence. And I’m thankful for all those things. And we can relate to Paul here. And yet look at what Paul states next. I’ve made myself a servant. I have made myself a slave to all. Why? Maybe just a little bit of service, or just be a slave sometimes. No, he’s like, I’m doing this. I’m free, but I’ve made myself a slave to all. Why in the world would Paul give up the decision-making autonomy that he’s entitled to? Again, this is a spiritual man. He’s an apostle. He talks to Jesus. For this reason, Paul gives up his freedom. He says that I might win more people. Paul desperately wants to win people for Christ. Paul gives up his rights. Paul gives up his privileges on a might, on a maybe. And this is exactly like Jesus did before him. Jesus and Paul show us the way to win as Christians.

Paul gives up his entitlements. He gives up his freedom to make decisions that are best for him. Why? So that he might win as many as possible for Christ. Now, let’s think about this strategy. Who are these people Paul wants to win? Is his strategy to win the unconverted to Christ, or is Paul striving to win over those already converted to Christ? Whi ch one is it? What do you think? I’ll wait. Yes. The answer is yes. Both. It’s both. Paul earnestly desires to win the unconverted to Christ and to win those who could be tempted to walk away. Paul had a much bigger picture of the Gospel, and I appeal to us to do the same. Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel does not cease at conversion. I mean, that’s the reason we have the new testament, we have all those letters. They were written to Christians. So it’s the same for us today. And that’s actually the context here in chapter nine. It’s winning back your brother or sister who seems to have been pushed away by the sin in the Church and the culture coming into the Church. They’ve been excluded by worldly divisions, whatever those may be.

So in verses 20 and 21, Paul tells us how to put this into practice. Paul gives us a winning blueprint, a winning strategy. And in summary of this, Paul simply refuses to allow any cultural, socioeconomic, or political differences to become a stumbling block to anyone’s reception of the Gospel. He starts by saying this to the Jew, I became a Jew to win the Jews. Now, think about that for a moment. It would be easy just to kind of move on past that. But Paul says to the Jew, I became a Jew to win the Jews. Hold on a second. Paul is a Jew, and yet what we learn here, Paul had distanced himself so much from his own heritage, he could now write this way. It’s remarkable that a Jew could now see his work among his fellow Jews as an accommodation. That’s because being a Jew was no longer Paul’s basic identity. It was no longer who he really was at his core. Now, there’s a balance here, all right? Because in context, at the very same time, Paul also understands how vital it is to stand in the skin of his fellow Jews when he was with the Jews.

Paul also knows it’s critical he also stands in the skin of the Gentiles, those outside the law. And so he’s able to adapt and be with groups that are polar opposites of each other. And these groups felt the love. They saw the love. And why does he do this? Well, I just gave you a hint right there. Why is Paul doing this? Is he compromising God’s law? Is he a people pleaser? Is he caving into his culture? No. Paul chooses to step into the skin of others because of love. Love builds up. He does all this in order that he might win them for Christ. And for those of us who follow Jesus today, for those of us who desire to build the Church of Jesus, this is the way to win. And this is a strategy we did our best to embrace as American missionaries in Scotland. We were in Scotland for three-plus years as a family. And I’ll say, off the bat, we had very mixed results. We made tons of mistakes. But I did my best. I can say in good conscience, I did the best I could at the time to lead my family in becoming Scottish, becoming Scottish in order to win over the Scottish Church that we would shepherd, and also becoming Scottish to win new Scottish converts to Jesus.

And before we even stepped on the island over there in the United Kingdom I studied their history. I read a lot of books. I didn’t agree with them all, but I read their history. I wanted to know how they thought. I wanted to know what I was walking into. I talked to a lot of the people in advance. I watched documentaries on Scotland. We talked to the church members. We wanted to know what this church had been through since it was planted in 1992. We just studied and learned and we wanted to know more about them. We embraced their foods, learned their politics, and respected their worldview. And of course, Nate and I wore kilts on the regular. So we jumped all in. We wanted to know that, or them to know that we were with them. We’re Scottish, too. We became Scots. And the reason we did this, we didn’t want anything that I preached or anything we did in the church. We didn’t want any of that to be hindered by our ingrained American culture, our ingrained worldview. We had to open our minds. The pictures I’m sharing here come from one of our greatest days in Scotland.

I was entrusted to officiate the traditional Scottish wedding of Chris and Marlez Morrison, two incredible members of the church there. Here they are, literally tying the knot in one of those pictures. A quart of three strands. It was a great moment. Chris and his family are deeply Scottish. The language is English, but you would have a hard time understanding. I mean, they’re like, we’re talking country Scottish generations. And yet I was so encouraged, as I look back on this, that he entrusted me with a very important moment in his life to do a traditional Scottish wedding in a castle to the Scots. We became Scots in order to win the Scots. That’s what it was all about. And then we came back to the States, we came back to Orlando in November 2019. And as we were coming back, I felt very confident, now we’re going to get a reprieve from all the culture wars. We’ll fit right in. It’s going to be easier now. End of 2019, we’re just going to cruise into 2020, man. We’re going to get a break. We can be ourselves. We’re going to fit right in. I was wrong.

All things to all people to win as many as possible. 2020 was crazy. A lot of lessons. I’m still learning from that. I don’t know them all at this point, but eventually, God’s going to help me with that. But I did want to say, in the same way, I think it’s worthy to think and reflect on this. Why did our church leadership here in Orlando talk so much about race in 2020? Why did we go there? You may still be asking that. Why did we do that? It was painful, trust me. No one in our eldership or ministry staff, man, we were at a crossroads. We knew we needed to say something, but we didn’t know exactly what to say. And man, this is going to open a can of worms to talk about this publicly. Is this going to cause more harm than good? But in the end, I just wanted you to know what we’re talking about here and what Paul is emphasizing and being all things to all men. That was the spirit of why we talked about these things. We’re a family. We need to be able to talk about difficult things and make sure people feel heard.

We’re not going to do it perfectly. It’s going to get messy. And trust me, this was not done. Haphazardly. We did not do this. Running aimlessly or punching the air may have seemed like it at the time, but this was a settled strategy to better become all things to all people in the Orlando church. We did this in order that we might win people over who were hurting. We made mistakes, but God forbid we didn’t want it on our conscience. God forbid that even a hint of racism, god forbid that even someone just felt uncared for, would become a hindrance for anyone to hear the gospel of Jesus. We did not want that. Are you with me?

So I know it’s painful, I’m going back in time, but this is going to happen again in different areas. This is what the church is. So I did want to paraphrase Marshall Mead. He said at the time, it would be much easier to be a homogeneous fellowship, wouldn’t it? That’s the denominational world, and unfortunately at times has been the history of the Church of Christ as well. It’s much easier to be with people who look like us. It’s much easier to be with people that think like us, vote like us, and worship like us. But what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build in the Orlando church, it’s much harder at times. It’s going to feel much slower and clunky, but it means giving up our freedom. It means at times, giving up our comfort. But according to Scripture, this is the way to win. It is worth it. In verse 22, we find Paul’s last accommodation. And really he covers it all here. But first, he says, to the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. So here in the context of the Corinthian Church, and you’ll see throughout this letter, Paul uses the term weak.

This is not necessarily how you might hear it the first time. Like, this is someone who is weak spiritually and they’re struggling in their faith or their belief in God or following Jesus or they’re stuck in sin. That’s not really what Paul’s talking about here. Paul utilizes the word weak to describe people who for some reason, even in the church setting, feel like an outsider. They’ve been made to feel inferior and it can be for any number of reasons. So the weak here is more about perception rather than reality. And specifically in Corinth, they had trouble, as we saw from this letter, and we have so much from the church in Corinth the weak, feeling like they had lesser status or lesser wealth, lesser power in society. And sadly, what happened is it carried over into the church. So you had people in the church that felt like they were weak compared to others or lesser than others because we’re measuring by cultural standards. So, Paul, he needs to clear the air. He tells the church, and you’ll see him repeat this multiple times in different ways to Corinth. If that’s the case, you can label me as weak too.

I’m weak, and that’s what he was saying, what we studied last week, all right, I’m not going to take a salary, I’m not going to be like one of these great orators that you have in Corinth that gets paid for their great speeches. I will refuse that and look weak in order not to hinder the Gospel. So Paul says, I’m weak too. And the bottom line is we’re all weak and broken people, aren’t we? It’s all about who we compare ourselves to. But we’re all equals at the foot of the cross of Christ. So Paul goes on, excluding no one. He says I’ve become all things to all people. Why? So, by all means, I might save some. And verse 23 gives us Paul’s winning motivation, and this needs to be our motivation as well. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel that I may share with them in its blessings. That’s the driving force for Paul and it must be the driving force for us as well. We do this for the good news of Jesus, the death, the burial, the resurrection of Jesus, the hope of eternal life, the upside-down kingdom of Jesus that will never spoil or fade, and treasure in heaven.

That’s what we’re in this for. That’s the driving force. So let’s read now the final section. Here is 1 Corinthians 9, verse 24. Really, this is one of the most famous writings ever penned by Paul. I’m sure many of you know it well. 1 Corinthians 9, verse 24. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize, so run that you may obtain it? Every athlete exercises self-control in all things and they do it to receive a perishable wreath. But we, an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly and I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. So there it is. This is what we just read. This is how we win together, this is how we become all things to all people, just like an Olympic athlete in so many ways, those who follow Jesus. We must be world-class in our discipline. It takes extreme discipline, and self-sacrifice to win the gold. It takes sacrifice. It’s going to be suffering at times, but you’re going to grow from it.

And all of it’s worth it because you win the crown waiting for you in heaven. Think about it. Without exception, every world-class athlete must forego many rights and many privileges to win the competition. You think about Aliyah Atkinson, our sister in Christ. She kind of can fly under the radar here, but I think she’s the only person we have in the East region that actually has a Wikipedia page. She’s somewhat famous outside of these walls if you didn’t know. She probably doesn’t want me to tell you that, but she’s a five-time Olympic swimmer for Jamaica. You think about if you’ve seen anything of what swimmers do to train. Oh, my goodness. They’re different types of people. Amazing. Lord only knows how much Aliyah sacrificed to compete internationally for almost 20 years. And I think, surely Paul had the Ispian Games in mind when he wrote this. The Ispian games took place every two years in Corinth. These were only second fiddle to the Olympics. Okay? The Olympics in Athens was the only thing that was bigger. So every two years, the world would stop and everyone would go to Corinth. For these games, it was a big deal.

You had men and women competing in sprinting, wrestling, boxing, and many, many other events, all to win the ultimate prize, a pine wreath. And then later on, they upgraded to a wreath of celery. That’s what you won. So world-class athletes would deprive themselves and punish their bodies in training for years, all to achieve a prize and a reputation that would quickly fade away. Here’s your celery. So Paul appeals to us, he appeals to the church in Corinth. How much more must we give up, everything for a prize that will last forever? How much more? Simply saying you’re an athlete does not guarantee the prize. You can’t just say, I’m an athlete. Where’s my prize? In the same way, simply claiming to be a Christian or showing up on Sundays does not guarantee eternal life. Every athlete, every Christian must exercise self-control in all things. Every athlete, every Christian must not run aimlessly or box as one beating the air. But we must discipline our bodies and keep them under control, lest after we preach to others that we ourselves be disqualified. So, as you can see, the stakes are very high. This is not only just to win other people and to win as many as possible, but it’s also to make sure you and I also cross the finish line in victory.

None of us wants to be disqualified. The stakes are very high. So, to summarize, Paul clearly shows us the way to win as followers of Jesus. Number one, to win, you must stand in the skin of others. Imitate Paul as he imitates Christ. As Paul entered various communities. You can see it. You can see it in Paul’s writing, his attitude. We see it here in 1 Corinthians. As Paul would enter a community, he was always on the lookout for anything or everything that might cause people’s ears to close to the Gospel. He’s free. He can do whatever he wants. He’s an apostle. He’s a Roman citizen. He can say whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants. But he does not choose that route because he does not want to risk clouding the gospel. And for us, we’re entering yet another political season. I don’t think it ever really stopped. It’s all around us the news, social media. Of course, everyone has a voice on social media. That’s why I keep bringing it up. Next week is Pride Month. And what I want to say about this is the Bible is crystal clear on the sexual ethic for Christians.

All right? It’s there. If someone wants to get with me one on one, we’ll talk about it in love. I’m not going to compromise my conviction on that, and I hope you don’t either. But I want to appeal to you as a church. Remember, for us, it’s not a time to be combative either way, okay? I think we can go to extremes on this. But for us, remember, it’s not Pride Month. For us as Christians, it’s always humility Month. You’re always on safe ground, spiritual ground. If you’re humble, give me some scriptures on humility. So I just encourage all of us not to go to extremes. We are judged for our words, and it could hurt the church. It could hurt you. Please do not allow your passions and your knowledge on these topics to hinder the Gospel. Not only will you hurt others, but you could disqualify yourself from eternal life. The stakes are high. Here’s also what I found on this. If you have thin skin like me, it’s hard to stand in the skin of other people. If you’re not secure in who you belong to and what you believe, it’s very hard to listen to others without it affecting you and your own insecurities.

If you have thin skin, it’s hard to stand the skin of others. I need to grow in this area, and I have a long way to go. But here’s what we need to do. We must actively seek to become more like Jesus. The man had thick skin and a heart of gold. He was approachable. People loved being with him, not because he compromised, but because he knew that love builds up. Men had some knowledge, just a little bit, but he was meek. So look at Jesus, he’s the ultimate example of standing in our skin to save us. Soak in Philippians, chapter two, it’s a timeless passage. Number two is to win and stand in someone’s skin. It’s going to take world-class discipline and self-sacrifice and there’s no getting around it. Winning Christianity is hard. Being religious is kind of easy, but winning Christianity is hard. These are difficult times. These are difficult times in our culture and how do we respond to it and how are we going to be relevant and how are we going to discuss things and how do we interact with our culture? How are we approachable without compromising biblical ethics?

It’s hard. Winning Christianity is hard. And I’ll tell you what, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. You’re part of something that’s tough. If it were easy, no one would quit. If it were easy, no one would get discouraged. If it were easy, we’d all get along all of the time. But you got to know this. Anything that’s worth doing comes with a cost. That’s what makes it so awesome because it’s not easy. The way to win takes self-control. The way to win takes self-denial. The way to win takes submission and swallowing our pride, though to win takes daily prayer and deeper Bible study. There are no shortcuts to winning the ultimate prize. But I tell you this. All of it the blood, the sweat, the tears, all of it is worth it. I think many of you could come up here and say the same thing. It is worth it. It is well worth the prize of eternal life and what we’re building here when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be, we don’t even know. I mean, words can’t even describe what a day of rejoicing is.

And I’ll say this as well. If you’re not a Christian, if you’ve grown up in the church or you’ve kind of been in and out, or you’re visiting with us today, if you’ve not been baptized as an adult for the forgiveness of your sins, come on, what are you waiting for? It’s a hard life, but it’s the best life, and it is worth it. Every second is worth it. The prize of eternal life is worth it. If you’re here today and you’ve lost some of your zeal for the Lord, culture driving you nuts, family, this or that, finances, we all go through it, it’s difficult. And you’re here and maybe you’ve lost some of your zeal for the Lord, or maybe you know deep down you’ve been living your way and not God’s way. Maybe you’ve kept that to yourself. All right? Deep down, you know it right? You know where you’re at. Come clean today. We’ve all been through it. Come clean today. There are tons of people here who will do anything and everything to help win you back to Jesus. The prize of eternal life is well worth it. Family, friends, guests, our best days as Christians, they’re right in front of us. Let’s run this race together. Let’s win the prize. There is a way to win, and Jesus has shown us the way. Amen.

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