This is the sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany. The sermon text is: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. The sermon theme is: Share The Gospel Here is the Written Sermon.
Share The Gospel
There is no salvation outside of the church.1 This is a truth I learned in college and at the seminary long ago. And to drive the point home the professor I had told this story: The angels were talking to the Lord right after they drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. The angels said to the Lord “Adam and Eve are going to have children who are unbelievers. And their children are going to be unbelievers. Soon, there will be a whole world of unbelievers. O Lord, what is your plan to save these unbelievers?” The Lord told them “I will send people to share my promise of salvation with them.” The angels looked at each other with clear uneasiness and hesitation in their faces. Finally, one of them spoke up: “Lord, do you really think that’s wise? I mean, these humans haven’t been doing so well so far. What is your plan B?” With clear and deliberate words the Lord told the angel, “there is no plan B.”
There is no salvation outside the church. The Lord uses people to save people. He uses frail, faltering, feeble humans to accomplish this amazing work of bringing souls to him and saving them. That is the one simple thought that Paul is speaking about in these words this morning in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul simply states that he shares the gospel. And that is his simple invitation to you this morning: Share The Gospel. He writes to the church at Corinth: “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! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” (1 Corinthians 9:16–17 NIV)
These words that Paul speaks here are very important. But they are also very easy to misunderstand. Paul here says that whenever he preaches he has no boast because necessity drives him to preach. You see in these words Paul is applying a principle he has spoken about elsewhere. If we ask the question “why do Christians do good works?”, what is the answer? In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians Paul writes: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8–10 NIV)
Notice the word that Paul uses here. He says that God saves us by grace—his undeserved love. And he saves us by grace alone. It is not mingled and mixed with our own efforts and our own works. For if we were able to partner together with God and help Jesus out we would have room for boasting. But notice what Paul says here. He says these clear words “so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9 NIV)
There is no room for boasting. Christians do not do good works to help save themselves. They do not do good works to get something from God. And since it’s true in a general way, then it’s also true in the very specific way of sharing the saving message about Jesus. Here in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says that he has no boast.2
Paul did not share the gospel to get into heaven or to get closer to heaven. And neither do you. And if we travel down this road of thinking that we need share the gospel in order to get into heaven it will lead us into two very dangerous places:
- Pride: If God gives us an occasion and opportunity to speak to those around him about Jesus and we do; and if that person hears and believes, it is every so tempting to give into pride and to give into boasting—as if God needed me in order to save this other person. God might use you. But God does not need you.
- Despair: What if we go out and share Jesus with those around us and they don’t believe? As a Christian pastor I have done this many, many times. I have spoken to people about Jesus and from every outward appearance it had no impact and impression. If the work of conversion is not in the Holy Spirit’s hands, but instead is in your hands, that is a world of darkness and despair.
And so, my brothers and sisters, note well what Paul says here. We do not share Jesus and his saving gospel in order to get salvation. Well then, why then do we share the gospel? We share the gospel because we have salvation. Paul tells us: “If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:17 NIV)
If we were to share the gospel in order to get a reward and a boast, there is a word for that. We call it a mercenary. But we are not hired guns. No, instead we are slaves. For that is the words that Paul uses here. Paul says “I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:17 NIV) The word that Paul uses here for ‘trust’ is the word for the work that a slave does.3 In God’s kingdom we are not mercenaries who choose Jesus for a boast and a reward. No we are slaves. In Luke 17 Jesus speaks about our role as slaves: ““Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7–10 NIV)
Do you get the point that Jesus is making? We do not share the gospel in order to earn salvation. We share the gospel because we already have salvation. Jesus has both won forgiveness and given forgiveness to you. All of your sins are forgiven. Every little, stabbing, piercing sin is forgiven—even those sins we commit where we share the gospel for the wrong reasons.
No, Jesus forgives all your sins. But he does much more. He moves you to share his saving gospel freely and spontaneously. No longer do we share the gospel because we have to. No, instead we share his word because we want to. We used to share the gospel out of prideful boasting and despairing guilt. Now we share it out of joy and thanks to a God and Savior who freely forgave all our sins.
So Paul invites you to share the gospel. He invites you to share what you know about this Savior, Jesus who has taken away your sins. So share the gospel not in order to be saved, but out of pure thankfulness because you have been saved. That is what Paul teaches and preaches in the first paragraph of these words. But what follows is just as important. Paul says: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23 NIV)
Yes, the Holy Spirit moves us to share the gospel spontaneously. But notice that the opposite is also true. The Holy Spirit also moves us to share God’s word with thought, with care, with deliberation. Whenever Paul was preaching to people he made every effort to ask the question “what do these people need? What are areas I can be like them, for them?”
So, when Paul was sharing the gospel with Jewish people who had grown up with these laws and traditions all their lives, he became like a Jew for them, so that he wouldn’t offend them. So also, when he was speaking to people who did not grow up with a bible he started them out with spiritual milk and then moved to meat.
Paul shared the gospel with such care, such forethought, such concern for others. And so, let me ask you, what would that sort of concern look like today? Years ago, there was a pastor who was giving advice to young men at our Seminary. He was sitting front of a room of Packers fans. And he said: “guys, when you get your calls to your congregations, don’t put on your Packer green and beat them over the head with Packer stories from the pulpit. If you get called to Colorado, you are a Broncos fan. If you go to Pittsburgh, you’re a Steelers fan. There are enough barriers to the gospel as it is. You don’t need to add any by your own stupidity.”
His words are good, aren’t they? My brothers and sisters, in the ways that you can—in the ways that don’t go against what God’s word says, bend, yield, give in. In our first lesson this morning we read from the book of Job. Job’s friends were at their best when they were sitting with him in the dirt not saying any words at all. They were at their worst when they got up to preach down to Job.
And so, my brothers and sisters, share the gospel. Share the gospel freely and spontaneously because your are saved. And share the gospel selflessly and deliberately for the same reason—your sins, all your sins are forgiven in Christ and by Christ. Amen.
1 extra Ecclesiam nulla salus
2 οὐκ ἔστιν μοι καύχημα