I haven't posted any sermons for ages. Part of the reason is that they've had trouble recording them at church the last couple of months. So I don't have any mp3s, but here's the text of Sunday's sermon if you're interested...
Previously on 1 Corinthians, we asked the vital question: Can I eat this kebab??
In a culture where the meat comes from ritual sacrifices in idols temples, Christians with a weak conscience couldn’t eat it without thinking they were part of idol worship. Others with a strong conscience thought, "It’s just a kebab, it’s not demon meat." And Paul says to the strong, ‘You’re right – you can eat. But that doesn’t mean you should eat. Because if you eat in front of a weak Christian, they will be scandalized, or they’ll be tempted to eat themselves against their conscience. And that will tear them apart.' So Paul says ‘Yes your right to eat is real. But you should relinquish your rights for the sake of others.’
And that’s a theme Paul will continue through chapter 9 as well.
Rights are real. But rights are to be relinquished.
The Corinthians were full of rights. They were saying: ‘I’ve got the right. I’m free. The law’s on my side. I know the right answer, so I’m untouchable. No-one can take my rights from me.’
That’s just like us. We are a rights based society
Children learn the phrase ‘That’s unfair’ very early. It’s pretty much the only phrase teenagers ever say – to adults that is. ‘So unfair.’ It’s deep within us.
We have an enormous ‘entitlement spirit’ within us. Someone steps on our toes, someone dares to infringe upon our sphere of protected personal space, puts demands on our money or time, intrudes into our wallet or our diary – we are incensed. You might not think you’re particularly bothered by your rights. But I guarantee, when you are wronged you feel it. We know our rights and we stand on them.
What’s amazing is: We fight for our rights so we can stand on them. Paul asserts his rights so he can give them up.
But that’s what he does in the first 14 verses – he asserts that he does actually have rights. But only so he can tell you he’s relinquished them.
And so from verse 1 Paul discusses one major right he has as an apostle. He has the right to get paid.
Now Paul wasn’t paid by the Cornithians. Paul worked a second job to pay for his ministry. He made tents for a living. And on Sunday he never passed the plate, he never took a collection from the church. He never asked the Corinthians for a penny while he worked among them. Paul relinquished his right to payment. But first he’s going to show them that he had every right to claim payment from them. Do you see v4 and 5 – ‘Don’t we have the right... Don’t we have the right...’ He’s establishing the right of gospel workers to be paid. From verse 7 he gives some examples:
7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?
Can you imagine that? A soldier having to work a second job just to afford his own bullets? "The enemy’s coming – quick I’d better re-mortgage the house." Ridiculous. Soldiers have a right to payment.
Then in v7 he gives the example of farmers. Who would object to a farmer eating the food he’s grown? Every farmer has the right to say: “My soil, my labour, I’m gonna have some.”
Then in verses 8-10 he tells them that even Oxen were treated better in the OT than Paul has been treated in Corinth. The OT law gives even oxen the right to eat on the job, to profit from their own labours. But Paul has effectively muzzled himself, refusing to take anything from the Corinthians. Even though he had the right.
Then in v13 he gives the example of OT priests, they got paid. And if Paul hasn’t yet convinced the Corinthians of his rights, he cites Jesus Himself, v14:
14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
In Matt 10 and Luke 10 Jesus said the gospel worker is worth his keep. Jesus says ‘Pay your gospel workers.’ So Paul has proved it: His right was real. But he relinquishes it.
Isn’t that a challenge? Would you be prepared to do what Paul does? Paul has been like a soldier working a second job, like a farmer not eating his own food, like an OT priest passing up the sacrifices, like an ox muzzling himself so he can’t eat what he’s entitled to. And even when Jesus says he CAN, Paul says: I know, but I won’t. Paul’s approach to his rights is SO unlike our own. If anyone else infringed on Paul’s rights like this Amnesty International would be sending in the Human Rights Lawyers. But Paul treats himself like this. Why?
Well it’s all over the chapter. Look at the second half of v12:
BUT we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
Or look again at v18:
18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
Or again v23:
23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
It’s for the sake of the gospel. Taking a collection was going to hinder the gospel going out in Corinth. People would get the wrong idea, as though he’s just a con-man interested in a quick buck. Well then the gospel would get a bad name. So when the right to payment clashes with the cause of the gospel – the gospel always wins.
And Paul wants us to think the same way. What wins with us? Our rights or the cause of the gospel?
To be continued...