Saturday, April 11, 2015

Practical Love (sermon)

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 - Practical Love

How far will you go to show the love of Christ?

"For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do NOT preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

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 as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under 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, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

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. THEY do it to receive a perishable wreath, but WE an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; 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."

Have you ever felt USED when you did something kind for someone else? Taken for granted when you gave money - misunderstood when you tried to help a friend?? When that happened, did you start telling yourself, “Now SEE, THAT’S what you get when you try to help people!” Did you promise yourself you wouldn’t do it again?

But THEN you were reminded of the love of Christ and how WE are supposed to be LIKE Him, and a sense of conviction hit you like a 2X4???

You probably repented of your attitude, but somehow, you just can’t shake that feeling --- of being used. And just about every time you give of yourself, you have to fight against that suspicious feeling.

Why is it so hard to love people? And HOW far should we go to show the love of Christ???

If anybody knew what it was to feel used and misunderstood, it was Paul. Though criticized by the very ones he served, his love for God and his concern for people caused him to sacrifice himself again and again.

We see his love in our text in three ways.

1. First, we see his love in his Personal Beliefs in vv. 16-18. Paul was absolutely convinced that the ONLY attitude God will bless - the only times our acts of generosity MEAN anything, is when we do what we do AS IF UNTO THE LORD... without thought of personal gain or recognition.

If you read this chapter, Paul talks about how preachers should be paid by their churches. It was something Israel had been taught ever since the time of Moses - how God’s people are to materially provide for their spiritual leaders.

But in spite of all Paul did for the church, he never took a dime for it. WHY?? He didn’t want anyone to ever question his motives. He didn’t want people to accuse him of “only being in it for the money.” So he sacrificed himself for the good of the gospel. Though he had every right to draw a salary, he did WHAT he did out concern that NOTHING hinder or distract from the message of the cross.

His personal beliefs.

Do you share those beliefs?? I wonder how many people serve the church today with wrong motives?? How many preachers are in it only for the money? I wonder how many folks volunteer because they want the praise of men, or worse, power and control?? To be quite frank with you, there are far too many Christians whose primary concern is what they can GET out of it…

Those people aren’t fooling anybody. Even the LOST can see through the hypocrisy of TV preachers begging for “seed money” for their ministries... going out on a limb promising that God will make generous contributors rich – because they are concerned they won’t be able to make this month’s Mercedes payment or won’t be able to buy that 64 million dollar jet. (no, not kidding)

But Paul proved his love for God and the Gospel through his service according to vv. 15 and 16. Day in and day out, the man of God would be found faithfully at his post. Even when rejected and ridiculed, even when his motives were questioned by those he served, even when imprisoned and flogged for preaching the Gospel, Paul never thought of himself.

Not only that, but he didn’t keep reminding them of the great sacrifice he was making for Jesus so people might feel sorry for him. He kept giving of himself – because THAT’S what love does.

So if ANYONE has the right to lecture us on love - it’s Paul.

Think about YOUR acts of love. As a parent, you don’t sit around reminding your kids of all the great things you do for them. No, you see it as your responsibility as a mom or dad. Love is why you do it.

The same can be said for OTHER acts of kindness and generosity. You don’t do it to receive – you give of yourself because you care. Because you know that those who serve in order to get something – aren’t honoring the Lord. But when you love people, you will keep pressing on even when you aren’t being financially rewarded or recognized for it.

Not only did his love for God show itself in his service, but also his stewardship according to v. 17. He saw his labor as a fulfillment of a trust between him and God. He saw himself as a steward who will one day answer for the things he has done.

You too are a steward. There is something particularly liberating about seeing everything you have as belonging to God. When you see your time, talents, and treasure as gifts on loan from God, you won't cling to them or fret over them when asked to give them up.

And third, his love for God showed itself in his sacrifice according to verse 18. Though entitled to a salary, he gave up that right – counting it reward enough that the Gospel was being preached.

Love shows itself in sacrifice. YES, you will be put in situations where you are taken for granted. But friend, our motive isn’t to receive man's applause anyway. The only motive that is acceptable - is our love for Jesus… that was Paul’s Personal Belief.

2. After expressing his love through his personal beliefs, we see his love in his Public Behavior in verses 19-23.

As we look at Paul, we are immediately struck by two character traits:

First, we can’t help but notice his passion. More than anything else, Paul wanted to win people to Jesus. The thing that kept him going, that drove him to sacrifice day after day - was the thought that “someone under his ministry might give their heart to Christ.” Paul would do whatever it took – because his driving passion was to see souls saved.

Listen, when you love the Lord the way you should, you will love people the way He does. A love that motivates us to be concerned about our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. A concern for their eternal destiny that moves us to risk rejection and ridicule.

It is love for souls that prompts us to give sacrificially to the Lord’s Work - making it a financial priority. When your heart is right you will long to see people saved. You will pray for it, labor for it, give for it, sacrifice yourself for it - whatever it takes.

Not only are we struck by Paul’s passion – we are also impressed by his patience. Paul was patient with people in order that he might win them.

He talks about his dealings with the Legalist – who thought they were saved by keeping a list of rules… who trusted works to save them… nit-picky, critical people. Though Paul knew the law couldn’t save, he was patient with them – willing to follow the law himself to avoid offending them.

He was also patient with the Liberal. People who felt absolutely no responsibility to the law at all – Paul wasn’t offended by them, nor did he try to make them do everything just like HE did. Instead, he became their friend in order to influence them with the gospel.

That’s what love does. Both groups, the legalist and the liberal can be demanding and argumentative… both require patience… and Paul would do whatever was necessary to win them to Christ.

Does that describe Us? Is OUR church patient? Or do we get so hung up on the externals that we can’t show love to those who are different? Are we petty and demanding – expecting people to act like mature Christians before we can love them??

There is something particularly repulsive about a church that cares more about externals than internals. There is something particularly disheartening about a Christian who is abrasive and critical. Our love for God will show itself in our public behavior.

3. But not only did his love for God and the Gospel show itself in his personal beliefs and his public behavior, third, it was seen in his private battles. Listen to verses 24-27, “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. THEY do it to receive a perishable wreath, but WE an imperishable. So I DO NOT RUN aimlessly; 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.”

Our example really DOES matter… our testimony, our actions have eternal consequences. The way we live - matters... not just to God and His church, but lost people are watching. And while I realize we can’t please everybody, if people detect hypocrisy in us, they won’t hear anything we’ve got to say!

To drive home his point, Paul appeals to their knowledge of the Isthmian Games. People were just as crazy about sports in Paul’s day as they are today. They would travel tremendous distances to catch a glimpse of their favorite athletes. The stands would be packed with cheering masses.

Paul mentions two athletes – the runner and the boxer. And he compares the training of the athlete to the discipline we must have as a Christian. Two demands were placed upon these athletes:

First, the best athletes are known for their Self-denial. They are “ALL-IN” – completely sold-out to their workout regimen and diet. When others are out partying, the BEST athletes stick to their plan – focused on the goal of winning the gold. They put nothing in their bodies that hinder success. They consider some things more important than self-indulgence.

After self-denial, they were known for self-discipline. Many of those athletes couldn’t afford personal trainers. They didn’t have someone watching over them 24/7 to be sure they followed the plan. It was self-discipline to lift that weight one more time, to run faster today than yesterday, to push through pain and injury, whatever is necessary to give them an edge over the competition.

The crowd was watching. The crown was waiting. Coming in second was NOT an option.

NOW - If people can be so committed to athletic competition - and push themselves to such terrific lengths in hopes of winning a temporary crown, then how much MORE ought WE strive for excellence in the Christian life - especially when we consider how much is at stake?? How great should be OUR sacrifice in light of the world’s great need for Jesus. Eternal destinies hang in the balance.

Will our Love enable us to push through unfair criticism and inconvenience? Will we sacrifice ourselves so others can see the Lord in us? When your love is right, it will show up in YOUR personal beliefs, public behaviors, and private battles.

Take a moment to reflect... to be transparent with God. Maybe you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit for being selfish… for allowing little things to hinder you, for making excuses when God is challenging you… and today, you want to pray about it. Will you take it to the Lord right now? Will you ask the Lord to help you love others the way you should? To serve, with your whole heart… because you love Jesus and because so much is at stake??