How to . . .
Prepare a church to package 280, 000 meals on a Sunday morning?
Launch a new initiative (with its own webpage!) called #Invite9000?
Connect stewardship with evangelism?
Include a terrific faith sharing testimony video from one of our guitar players?
All while motivating people to value the souls of other folks enough that they live out Paul’s mantra of I Corinthians 9:19-23 of becoming all thing to all people in order that [he] might save some?
The answer is below. A sermon called Priceless with a bottom line that is also a question: Who will be in heaven because of you?
The thing I’m going to leave you with today – and NO, not yet – is a question. It’s a question that’s actually pretty haunting. It’s one that has stayed with me for a couple of months now and so I am praying that as we plunge deeper into The Value Of A Soul, it will stay with you, too. Who knows, it might even be the kind of question that changes not only your life but the lives of people around you.
But before we get to that question, can I tell you something interesting about preacher ambition? I know a little about both. But here’s the deal: many – maybe even most – preachers love the kind of career path that leads up and up and up to TWO things: Bishop or Seminary Professor. If you want to see preachers genuflect, if you want to watch them stumble over words, if you want to see them fall all over themselves to fawn all over another . . . just watch them in the presence of a Bishop or seminary prof. But do you know what is interesting about BOTH those. Both positions – bishop & seminary prof – sort of remove you from any interaction with the world and the many, many non-Xns living in it. If you’re a Bishop, you’re in charge of managing/leading a whole slew of churches & all the drama they contain – and a lot of churches EXCEL at drama! If you’re a seminary prof, you’re in a collegiate atmosphere, and you devote your time and energy to preparing the next generation of … preachers.
So both positions that so many of us preacher aspire to – bishop or seminary prof – exist in a world that is almost hermetically sealed to protect itself from the disbelieving, the skeptical, the ‘I can’t be bothered.’ It’s almost, “I want to be a preacher so I can grow up & get promoted and be isolated from all those people I USED to preach to!” So that’s my preacher psychology lesson for the day.
And I share that with you because the goal, the ambition is so at odds with the one Paul chooses for himself in Scripture. In this passage we’re looking at today, I Cor 9:19-23, Paul has JUST FINISHED asserting his freedom and his rights as an apostle when his position paper with the Corinthians takes a strange turn. Look at 9:19a:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
Huh. I’m free, beholden to no one, but I am embracing voluntary servitude. Why? To win. Tuck that away, circle it, neon highlight it . . . whatever, you’re going to see that again. It’s the phrase of this passage. What does it mean? Stay with me. Next: 9:20a: 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.. Ok, to Jews like a Jew. Well, that’s not hard because Paul was, after all, Jewish. Why this? To win, again. Next, in 9:20b: 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. & he presumably means there Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism and so observed OT law like the Jews (otherwise what’s the distinction between the sentence he just wrote?) But why, again? To win.
Next, in 9:21: 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. Now, that’s different if you know some history. He is saying that he is willing to forgo his preferences, his tastes, and hang with people whom he had been taught all his life were both dirty and not trustworthy. Why? To win. Told you to pay attn.! Now at 9:22a: 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To the weak. Now wait wait wait. Ancient Corinthian culture was an HONOR & SHAME culture – the kind we have great difficulty wrapping our minds around, but it’s still common today in places like Japan – and to be or appear to be weak ruined your reputation. So Paul is saying he is willing to have his reputation ruined, wrecked, in tatters, and why? To win. Five times in four verses! It’s a deal! So what does this pile on of to win mean?
Well, for one thing it means all these people Paul has referenced – Jews, under the law, Gentiles, weak – are in a state of lost-ness. To be “won” means you first gotta be “lost.” Then, in 9:22b, Paul removes all doubt as to what he’s talking about:
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
All to all so that by all means I might save some. Ah, To win from losing; to save from damnation. So what Paul is communicating here from his place of voluntary enslavement is that he values the souls of people like him, unlike him, above him around him SO MUCH that he will adapt & be flexible & enter into their lives so he can influence them to embrace Jesus. He values the souls of people who are either ignorant of Jesus or antagonistic towards Jesus that he will incarnate himself into their lives so they’ll come to love the one they used to ignore. It’s clear that what Paul has been given in Jesus is worth sacrificing his freedom, his preferences, and his reputation, all so he will be in a position to give it to others.
Paul, wanna be bishop? Nope. Seminary prof? No way. Live in a hermetically sealed environment that protects you from all those skeptics & cynics? No! He’ll be fully engaged with them. Paul obviously wants a whole lot of people in heaven – there because Jesus forgives their sins and has their lives; there because they realized they were in danger of NOT! – and Paul wants them there at least in part because of his influence.
So … do you remember I said there is a question at the heart of all this? I’m almost ready to reveal it to you. Because I think of Paul’s single-minded focus and I contrast it with modern preacherly ambitions and here it is: Who will be in heaven because of you? I mean look at 9:22b again – READ – and yes I know Jesus does it & Paul knows that, too, but this is the question to which Paul’s life is the answer: Who will be in heaven because of you?
Now: I know some of you here aren’t really sure where you stand with Jesus or even if you believe in an after-life & you’re pretty sure you don’t believe in such a thing as a BAD after-life (hell). So at one level, this talk and its premise is sort of offensive – people are in danger of hell and our lives, like Paul, want to be full of positive answers to the day’s question: REFRAIN. Yep, it’s offensive. But hear me out. This is our Scripture, this is our story, and how dishonest would we be if edited out all that offends? How disrespectful would we be to our Indian Xn friends if we watered down the faith – the same faith DIE for rather than deny. So this our Script, it’s our call, and I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s why a lot of you were invited to church not only today but other days. Because the person doing the inviting had a sense of what was at stake, eternally speaking, and hopes that through some combination of words and kindness and influence, you might be an answer to my question: Who will be in heaven because of you?
Because there’s a dad with three kids in the DC area who works in art direction at a political magazine up there and if you were to ask him that question (Who will be in heaven because of you?), he’d say, “Oh yeah. Talbot.” Yeah, he entered my life sort of like Paul in I Cor 9 & through a clear & compelling conversation showed me that my soul was so valuable that Jesus needed to rescue it. Who will be in heaven because of you?
Or that guy started attending GS 15 years ago or so. And I noticed, sort of. And then one day at a church event, he comes up and introduces himself and says, “I don’t know if you knew this or not but I’m Jewish.” I was like, “Great! So was Jesus!” And he said, “I started dating a woman who goes here and so I came – reluctantly – and I kept waiting for the Jew-bashing sermon. But since it never came, here I am.” Well, he was a really good guy, smart guy, and in some of our Bible Studies (what then passed for LGs), we had him teach OT stuff. His book first, after all! So he belonged to this church without really believing like we do in leadership. No pressure, good situation. And then a couple of years later, he comes up and says “And now I’d like to be baptized as a follower of Jesus.” And we did. And so for a lot of you in this place, who loved & nurtured him well, who talked about Jesus without forcing Jesus, the answer to that question Who will be in heaven because of you? will at least include, “Oh yeah, that Marc guy . . . “ (Since moved to Illinois.)
Or even the baptism we had recently (AV, Take The Plunge). What you didn’t know and didn’t see was the guy who worked all day in the summer sun preparing the pools and tents and then tearing them down when over. It wasn’t verbal gospel sharing, but it was physical. Those folks that day would not have been able to go public by getting wet if not for our anonymous friend. But when you think about it, he can answer Who will be in heaven because of you? with “a whole bunch of baptized believers.”
You see how it is a partnership? My preaching without baptism guy to set things up just doesn’t work. Our Jewish friend was influenced by dozens and dozens of people. And even though my friend Philip in high school can answer the question Who will be in heaven because of you? most personally, since then there have been a whole lot of people – bible teachers, counselors, small group leaders, encouragers – who have KEPT me in the faith. I might have been WON at 17 but there were plenty of times I wanted to GET LOST. But others kept Jesus alive and kept him real and made Scripture become my second language. Who will be in heaven because of you?
I’ve got to ask you: do you have so many church/Xn friends that you’ve ceased being effective for the kingdom? I do! Thank God for all the heathens at the Y! And becoming “all things to all ppl” doesn’t mean you forsake your identity; it means entering into their lives. Not to give a presentation; to have a conversation. Ball fields. Wild Wings. Food Truck Friday. The person in the cubicle next to you. The people who moved in next door & appear petrified to be seen outside their garage. Who will be in heaven because of you?
If you resist this, recoil from it, keep whatever Jesus you have to yourself, look at 9:23b: READ. “Share blessing.” You know what that means? You only truly know the value of something when you give it away. Isn’t that true? And so perhaps the reason it never occurred to you to share, to serve, to persuade . . . is because you don’t really know the sweetness of your own salvation. You get asked Who will be in heaven because of you? & the answer is “no one” and that’s at least in part because you’ve taken your own living relationship with Jesus Christ with a grain of salt.
So my deal today is a question. A question that I want to be a huge culture shift for GS. That we’d stop being hoarders of Jesus and start being sharers of him. That you’d partner with me & I’d partner with you and together we’d do this incredible thing of Invite9000. And yes, we are tying it into a new/old thing we’re doing as we ask those of you who call GS home to give us a giving estimate for 2017. And to do that on Nov. 13. And we want the question – Who will be in heaven because of you? – in your mind even as you give. Because our generosity is not for the preservation of an institution but for the salvation of souls.