1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. The message from God’s Word this 5th Sunday after Epiphany is taken from 1 Cor. 9:16-27, it’s entitled, “Christ for All Rather Than Coexist,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Maybe you’ve seen the “Coexist” bumper sticker that’s become popular in the past few years. The letters in the word “coexist” are made up of symbols for various world religions and ideologies. The T is a cross, but the X is a Star of David, signifying Judaism. The C is a crescent moon and star for Islam, and so on. It seems to suggest that all world religions have equal validity and are of equal value and that all religions are merely different roads that lead to a generic god. It’s a plea for tolerance and peace in our generation, but how can one turn a blind eye to philosophies and ideologies that are eternally destructive? The answer is “We can’t!”
3. St. Paul, in his former life in Judaism, was not interested in coexisting with Christians, which he saw as a heretical movement away from the truth of his Jewish religion. Then after his conversion on the Damascus road, he remained as zealous as ever, but he had seen the error of his former ways in Judaism. Paul determined to do whatever he could to influence both Jew and Gentile by proclaiming the Gospel, making himself a servant to everyone, and becoming all things to all men that he might gain some for Christ (1 Cor 9:19–23). Becoming all things to all men did not mean that Paul was willing to “coexist” with the false religions of those who believed differently than he, for he was zealous for the truth. It did mean, however, that he would willingly go wherever and to whomever the Lord sent him—to the lost sheep of Israel and to the lost of the nations—always bringing the one and only saving message, the Gospel of Christ Jesus, dead and raised.
4. Today, we see the lengths St. Paul was willing to go to see that others might know the grace of God. And we see that he was certainly someone God used to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). That’s what missionaries are like. Not like me. Surely It’s Those Who Go to Such Great Lengths—as St. Paul Would Be All Things to All Men to Save Some—Who Are Christ’s Missionaries, Right?
5. St. Paul went to such great lengths to save some—being all things to all men—that surely he was a missionary for Christ. Paul was chosen in eternity and then called on the Damascus road. St. Paul’s story really began in eternity, when God chose him for salvation and determined he would play a major role as an apostle and missionary in the Early Church (Gal 1:15–16). And what a story! God allowed Paul to become “chief of sinners” so that he might show him mercy. What a blessed picture of mercy Paul is! To Timothy, he wrote: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:16).
6. Paul could point to his former life as a lesson to others: in the mercy of God, in the patience of God, there is hope for the worst of sinners. Even in an age when persecution was prevalent, the Word was all-sufficient! Such lengths of sin to which Paul had gone! Such lengths of mercy God had shown to win him! There’s a missionary recruit for you!
7. And now Paul was freed to serve. St. Paul had no earthly master, but he did have a heavenly one! Paul had been entrusted with the Gospel, or as he puts it, “entrusted with a stewardship” (v 17). In freedom, Paul desires to be the instrument through whom many will be saved. Paul knows it isn’t about Paul, but rather that God brings the elect he’s chosen in eternity to faith through Word and Sacrament in time. This is not something for Paul to boast about (vv 16–17). He is simply discharging a trust, or as he said earlier in 4:1, he is merely a steward “of the mysteries of God.”
8. Paul is “free” to receive financial support from the Corinthian congregation, but he refuses to accept what’s rightly due him, in order that his service might not be brought into question by those who’d attack his character (vv 13–15a). Choosing to deny himself and be self-supporting, he realizes he’s putting one less obstacle in the way of his hearers. For Paul, it’s a question of gaining “some” and gaining “more” for the kingdom. This would also make his service stand out over the false prophets who were interested only in their personal gain.
9. See the lengths Paul was willing to go as a missionary for Christ! Paul would even become a servant (slave) to all! After the example of his Master who came not to be served but to serve, Paul makes himself a slave, being all things to all men (v 22b). He is willing to go whenever God sends and to whom God sends. Following Jesus’ practice of eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” Paul seeks the God-given opportunities to connect people to Christ. As long as the Gospel isn’t compromised, Paul conforms to others’ customs: “To the Jews I became as a Jew. . . . To those under the law I became as one under the law. . . . To those outside the law I became as one outside the law. . . . To the weak I became weak” (vv 20, 21, 22). He does this for no other “reward” than the joy of preaching the Good News (vv 18, 23). Paul goes to such lengths to be Christ’s missionary.
10. Finally, Paul disciplines himself that he, too, might receive the prize (vv 24–27). Make no mistake, the prize is a gift, and Paul knows it. Christ won it for us by his blood shed on the cross. But Paul concerns himself with avoiding sin, avoiding complacency, avoiding anything that could hinder the life of faith God has given. There’s no length to which Paul won’t go for the sake of the Gospel! Your missionary!
11. Some years ago, the Barna Organization published a study of what those outside think about the church. The study revealed that many see the church as hypocritical and unconcerned about them, concerned only with filling their pews. Many described the church as judgmental. Others said the church today is too politically focused and essentially out of touch with reality. So how is the church doing when it comes to being all things to all men? If this study is any indication, not very well! Comparing that perception St. Paul’s concern for the unbeliever, you see a radical disconnect. Not many of us, I’ll bet, will be so committed to reach out with Christ.
12. Like most of us in the church, haven’t gone to such great lengths, so surely we’re not missionaries for Christ, right? We might think that the Apostle Paul may have lost his identity in trying to reach so many people for Jesus. It’s like the story of two men that were on a trip to London from their country of Australia. When they got to London they entered one of the local pubs there and had a little too much to drink. When the left the pub they couldn’t remember where they were. They ran into a 4 star general on the side of the street and asked him, “Say ya bloke, can you tell us where we are?” To which the general replied, “do you know who I am?” The man’s friend said, “Now we are really in trouble, we don’t know where we are and he doesn’t even know who he is.”
13. Unlike that story we do know who we are in our baptisms and we like St. Paul know the message of Jesus Christ we have to give to those around us. Our baptismal rite tells us, “In Holy Baptism God the Father has made you a member of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and an heir with us of all the treasures of heaven in the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. We receive you in Jesus’ name . . . that together we might hear His Word, receive His gifts, and proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (LSB, p 271).
14. God has gone to the same lengths with me, with you, that he did with St. Paul: chosen in eternity, called in Holy Baptism. We are members of the elect from eternity. Christ died for us as surely as he did for Paul! He went every last step to the cross for us! In Baptism, God added us to his holy people, that we also might proclaim his excellencies. Therefore we, too, are freed to serve.
15. It’s not about us any more than it was about Paul. It’s about the lengths God has gone! God would have us, in freedom, serve others. He desires us to be the instruments through whom many will hear and be saved. God has bound himself to his Word, so as we speak the Word, the Holy Spirit will change hearts.
16. God goes to great lengths—spares no energy—to complete his mission of saving souls! Since we are Christ’s holy people and have eternity with him, we can be servants to all for now. God calls us to be all things to all men, boldly confessing Christ and going to great lengths—like next door, down the street, to the office, to school—to speak Christ in our little worlds. That means relishing every opportunity to connect people to Christ and learning how we can reach them where they are, not expect them to conform to us. We can go to those lengths. And we will go to these lengths too: disciplining ourselves—that we might, as Christ’s missionaries, receive the prize, won for us by the blood of Christ, by avoiding sin, complacency, anything that could hinder the life of faith God has given;
daily remembering our Baptism, being in the Word, and frequently at the Lord’s Supper. Then, what a day that will be. Amen.