5th Sunday after Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (NIV)

16 For when I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the Gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the Gospel.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

            George Will, a writer for the Washington Post once wrote that, “John Bunyan was a common man lumpy with talent, and he believed that talent is a gift from God to be used for godly purposes. So…” in 1678 “…he published Pilgrims Progress. No book since the Bible has had a circulation comparable to Bunyan’s novel about Christians’s adventures in the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle (inhabited by Giant Despair and his wife, Diffidence), and with the likes of Messers Hate-light, Live-loose, and Worldly-wiseman from the town of Carnal Policy.

            Bunyan was in English prisons off and on for 12 years, and wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while serving a sentence for unlicensed preaching. The book was a continuation of his offence by other means. There was no mass market or distribution system for books then, but 100,000 copies were sold by the time Bunyan died in 1668. It has been translated into more than…” 200 “… languages and dialects, often for missionaries. It has followed the Bible ‘from land to land as the singing bird follows the dawn.’ It is historical proof that there is more than one way to preach.”

            Bunyan, like St Paul, was compelled to preach. When he couldn’t use the spoken word he used the written word.

            St Francis of Assisi in the early 12th Century was another who was compelled to preach. He is reputed, though this has never been proven to be his words, to have said that we are to: “Go and preach the Gospel, and if we have to, use words.”

            Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something all Christians are encouraged to do. Whether it’s with words or deeds, or both, the good news we have received about salvation through Jesus Christ is something we are set free to proclaim as loudly and as often as we can. Knowing and believing the Gospel should lead us to desire to share it with others.

            For some this sharing will be with words, for others it will be with faith active in loving service of others – hopefully for most of us it will be with both the words of the Gospel and the love we live in relationships of service with those around us.

            The most effective way of sharing the Gospel is with words – particularly the spoken word. St Paul’s says in Romans 10:17 (NIV)  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word about Christ. For this message to be heard it has to be spoken.

            For all of us the faith we have and share came to us through the words of God’s messengers to us, often reinforced with loving actions. The messengers may have been our parents, children, grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbours, or random strangers, even pastors, who shared with us, taught us and encouraged us.

            We are parents, children, grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbours, and random strangers to many in our community who have yet to hear or understand the good news.

The good news that Jesus Christ came from heaven, was born in human flesh, grew to maturity and proclaimed the message of reconciliation with God before He was crucified to pay for the sin of the world.

This Jesus paid on our behalf the wages of sin - which is death. Jesus paid for all our personal sin. To prove His victory over sin and death He was resurrected from death so that we too can be raised to new life in Him.

In this new life we glorify God by sharing this same good news with those who have not yet heard about God’s great love, acceptance and power for living God pleasing lives.

If you want to worship God the best way to do so is to retell His story – we retell this story every Sunday in the Divine Service. You can also retell Jesus’ story by sharing how Jesus has saved you personally with someone, in fact to many, who have not yet heard of God’s great love for them.

Then, like St Paul, you will be discharging the trust committed to you.

Irwin Traeger, an evangelist who produces the pamphlet In Every Place tells the following story to encourage us in a simple way how we may engage someone in the story of Jesus (you’ll find this in your pigeon holes this morning):

‘Phishing’ by Phone

SHE HAD ANNOUNCED herself as Zillah, and had solved my phone problem. She was a Telstra consultant in the Philippines. As I thanked her, I asked casually, ‘Is it true that most people in the Philippines are Christians?’

She said most were Catholic, but she herself was not a Christian. Our conversation continued…

SHE: But, I have read the Bible. I’m interested in all religions…a kind of a philosopher really.

ME: Do you know that Zillah is a Bible name?

Really? I must try to find the name Zillah in the Bible.

Do you still have a Bible?

Yes.

I encourage you to read it again, especially the last parts.

OK I will.

Read the start of the New Testament…books there are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

OK

They are especially helpful because they tell about what Jesus did when He was here on earth. He did some amazing things,

He sure did

In the end he died on a cross. Do you know why He did that?

I have heard something about that. Was it for everyone?

Yes it was, when He died he was paying the debt that we could not pay. When He was on the cross, He was virtually saying ‘I am doing this for Zillah…for Irwin… for everybody else too really.

Yeah, that’s great.

That’s the most important thing to know…that Jesus loves you and forgives you and wants you to live with him in heaven.

Thanks for that Irwin.

You’ve got my number. As you read the Bible, if you have any questions, give me a buzz.

I might not call you, Irwin, but I will read my Bible again. I’m glad you felt OK speaking with me about God. Thank you.

You might not get the same response as Irwin received. That’s okay. Even St Paul didn’t always get a positive response. St Paul did however persist. He wrote: I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

As we share our Christian faith we are sharing in its blessings.

Enabling others to enjoy the spiritual freedom we have – freedom from sin, freedom to love and not judge and condemn others, freedom bring joy into the hearts and lives of those who are oppressed by sin and guilt.

God wants His freedom to be shared. In sharing this freedom we may, like St Paul, give up some of our own personal freedom – our time, our energy, our potential to make a dollar here or there to share something of Jesus’ love for us and for the person God’s Holy Spirit gives us opportunity to share with.

The Scripture says that …the workman is worthy of his wages. Sharing the Gospel is work of a kind – it takes time, effort and energy. Preparation is helpful – growing in our knowledge of Jesus and the Christian faith through worship, Bible Study and personal devotion has a cost in time and effort but it is richly rewarded in seeing others hear the good news and receiving the gift of faith from God’s Holy Spirit.

St Paul didn’t count the cost to himself in the ministry he was involved in. He received no financial reward for his proclamation of the Gospel but was pleased to offer it free of charge.

St Paul was also prepared to give up his personal lifestyle and preferences, to give up his “rights” (what he was entitled to) so that he could better serve his hearers with the Gospel.

For example if what he ate was a problem for someone he was sharing with, he would not eat that particular thing so as not cause offence to them, thus he could more easily share with them.

For the sake of the Gospel, Paul put aside what didn’t compromise the truth of the Gospel so that His hearers wouldn’t be distracted by what were his personal choices. As he wrote: I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

            It may be that to share with a Muslim or a Jew we withhold from eating pork so that they are not offended by what we eat. The Gospel, the sacrifice of Christ is more important than our freedom to eat what we like.

            Likewise, if we have opportunity to share Jesus with someone or to go to a Rugby game or concert we have a ticket for – what choice would we make?

            St Paul says, Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the Gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the Gospel.

            John Bunyan encourages us in sharing the Gospel with these words from Pilgrims Progress: “Is there anything more worthy of our tongues and mouths than to speak of the things of God and Heaven?"

            St Paul writes, I am compelled to preach.

            Are we?

            Amen.