1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 61
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|You can put just about anything in a grey area. This is the way you approach it. Are you willing to deny yourself for the sake of others? That’s what he’s addressing in chapter 8.|
1 Corinthians 9
- 1 Denying Self for the Sake of Others – Part 4
- 1.1 We must live attached to Christ and abandoned to him
- 1.2 Our liberty may cause a brother to sin and us to sin against him
- 1.3 The Holy Spirit must make us aware of how we conduct ourselves
- 1.4 You must have a pure motive
- 1.5 Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to restrain himself
- 1.6 Paul is rolling up his sleeves and working with the Jews
- 1.7 Paul was reasoning in the Scriptures with the Jews
- 1.8 Paul was challenging them to know Christ
- 1.9 Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to release himself
- 1.10 Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to reduce himself
Denying Self for the Sake of Others – Part 4
We have looked at denying self for the sake of others from just about every angle, but we’re going to look at it again, part four of “Denying Self for the Sake of Others.” It all started back in chapter 8. I know you love review. But do you know what? We tend to forget about seventy-five percent of what we’ve heard in seventy-two hours. If we don’t stay in the flow of something, we could make the Bible a cookbook. So let’s go back and make sure we’re in the flow here.
Paul’s whole address of chapter 8 is to people who understand something. It’s amazing. He’s not trying to educate them. He’s addressing people who already understand their freedoms under grace. They know something. What is it they know? They know if they eat meat sacrificed to idols it will not in any way affect their standing in Christ before God. They had no problem with it at all. Paul addresses this group and wants them to understand that there’s another group whom he calls the weaker brother. They do not have this understanding. Their consciences are defiled if they eat meat sacrificed to idols.
The bottom line is, are they willing to deny their own freedom of eating that meat sacrificed to the idols for the sake of the weaker brother? That’s his bottom line. He says in verse 9, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Paul wanted them to see that denying self for the sake of others is important. I wonder how they took that. We don’t really know. We just know that he’s addressing them.
You know, if you bring that into the areas of our life today, what is it that God would be asking you to deny yourself of for the sake of a weaker brother around you? I don’t know why it is, but from time to time we hear the question, “Well, is it okay to drink?” We brought this up in chapters 8 and 9. I’ve heard people say that the Bible doesn’t say you shouldn’t drink, it says, “Don’t be drunk with wine.” My question to you would be God’s question to you, “Would you be willing to deny yourself that which you think is a freedom for the sake of somebody around you that you might be causing to stumble?”
That’s exactly what Paul is dealing with. You can put just about anything in a grey area. This is the way you approach it. Are you willing to deny yourself for the sake of others? That’s what he’s addressing in chapter 8.
We must live attached to Christ and abandoned to him
Then he goes on in chapter 9 and gives us his own personal example how that he as an apostle has done the very same thing. He doesn’t just tell them to do something that he hasn’t already learned to practice in his own life. He had been willing to sacrifice his right to be supported by the churches there as an apostle for the sake of others. This is a very delicate subject of denying yourself for the sake of others. There are several things that we need to nail down coming out of chapters 8 and 9. First of all is this. I think it’s the most important. Unless we are willing to live attached to Christ, abandoned unto Him, then we will not see the love and compassion that He can produce within us. That’s the fruit of His Spirit. That’s not something we can do. That’s something He must do in us. When we live that way, then the knowledge that we have will be mixed with the love His Spirit produces. Remember the problem at Corinth? They were living attached to everything and everybody but Christ.
Look back in verse 1 of chapter 8. He says, “Knowledge makes arrogant.” The word arrogant, phusioo, means to be a spiritual air bag. You may know it all. You may know the right things, but there’s nothing to back it up with your life. But then he says, “but love edifies.” In other words, our knowledge and our understanding are not worth anything unless the love is mixed with it, because knowledge without love breaks a man. But the love mixed with the knowledge can build a man up. This love is what sensitizes us to the needs of others. It takes us right to the core of what’s going on in Corinth. When you live as a vessel, abandoned to Christ then God in you makes you compassionate and sensitive to the people around you. Oswald Chambers speaks of this in My Utmost for His Highest. That’s the whole theme, abandoning yourself to Christ. When a person becomes self-centered, he may be knowledgeable but that means nothing. He must have the love mixed with the knowledge.
Our liberty may cause a brother to sin and us to sin against him
So that’s the first thing we need to nail down. This whole thing starts, not with others. It starts with Christ and our relationship with Him. But the second thing I think that’s very important that we need to understand and must grasp is that our liberty may cause a weaker brother to sin; and if we cause that brother to sin, we have sinned against him. If we cause him to stumble, we’ve sinned against him. And not only have we sinned against him, we’ve sinned against Christ.
Look at what he says in 1 Corinthians 8:9. He says, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Then in verse 12, “And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” That puts it in a different perspective. It’s not an optional thing that we’re talking about. If I’m not going to attach myself to Christ, I will be insensitive; therefore, I’ll end up sinning against the weaker brother, and I’ll end up sinning against Christ. So it’s very important we hear what Paul is saying.
The Holy Spirit must make us aware of how we conduct ourselves
The third thing I want you to see is that the Holy Spirit must make us aware of how we conduct ourselves, whether or not it’s offensive. You and I cannot live worried about everybody around us. As I’ve said before, there are some people who have the gift of being offended. They enjoy being offended and look for something in our lives to offend them. That’s not what it means. It doesn’t mean wake up scared to death you’re going to offend somebody. Just attach yourself to Christ and the Holy Spirit of God in you will make you sensitive to the people around you and will make you aware, either through somebody telling you or just by the sensitivity that you have in your walk with Christ.
Look in 1 Corinthians 8:13. He says, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again [that’s in light of that meat sacrificed to idols], that I might not cause my brother to stumble.” The word “if” there is the word ei, which implies a condition that an experience must determine. You’ve got to be aware of it. If you’re not aware of it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so He can make you sensitive to whatever’s going on around you that you’re not aware of. It’s a balance that only, I believe, God can put into our lives.
You must have a pure motive
But then there’s a fourth thing that I think is important here. That is in denying self for the sake of others, you must have a pure motive in doing that. Why would Paul deny himself for the sake of others? Because he had an eternal purpose; he had a redemptive purpose. He wanted to see them spiritually benefitted in their lives. We find this in 9:19. In chapter 9, you know, he talks about giving up his right to be supported by the churches as we’ve already said. Look at verse 19. It comes down to why he does what he does. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all [Why would he do this? He says] that I might win the more.” The word there for “win” is kerdaino. It means to win them over to Christ. In other words, either for a person who’s a Christian, that he might come into the fullness of walking with Christ, or maybe a person who’s not a Christian, to win him over to Christ. This is the motivation of the apostle Paul’s heart.
Have you ever been to one of these courses on how to evangelize somebody, how to learn how to evangelize? Many of us have. I remember after we went through a course and everybody learned how to handle all the situations, we had a graduation. We gave a certificate to everybody who went through the course. Thirty days after we finished the course we made a survey on how many people actually shared their faith with anybody. Do you know what we found out? Zero had even bothered opening their mouth.
“Wait a minute, I thought if you trained the people, then they can evangelize.” No, no, no. Until people get attached to Jesus, they’re not concerned about anybody but themselves, period. God in that person is what opens them up to other people. I want to tell you if that starts happening and your heart begins to bleed for people, all of a sudden you care about that person who’s waiting on you. All of a sudden you become sensitized to a person who’s a different color than you are. All of a sudden you become sensitized to somebody who has nothing compared to what you have. When your heart begins to burn for these people, then and only then are you willing to deny yourself for the sake of others because your motive has become pure.
It’s God in us that causes us to care about others. Why did Paul do what he did? He did what he did because he wanted to win people to Christ. That was his burning motivation. Therefore, he was willing to deny himself for the sake of others. You cannot preach on evangelism and make it happen. You cannot preach on revival and make revival happen. You preach Christ. Christ has to draw people to Himself. Then He changes their heart. Then that motivation, having been surrendered to Him, is what causes us to want to reach the world for Jesus Christ. And He gets the glory for every bit of it. It’s not man. It’s God in man.
Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to restrain himself
Well, Paul denied himself. There are three things that he did. Like I said, we’ve looked at denying self for the sake of others in chapters 8 and 9 just about every way you can look at it, but we just continue to move right on. He educates us even further by three things that he did. We know why he did it. What did he do? First of all, Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to restrain himself. Let me explain what I mean.
Look in verse 20. He says, “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law.” That’s significant to me that he mentions Jews first, because Paul was a converted Jew. It’s the first thing that comes to his heart as he’s sharing his own personal experience with the people there in Corinth.
I was studying this on the plane coming home recently, and I was sitting next to a Hasidic Jew. As I was sitting there next to him, I got to thinking that Paul said, “To the Jews I became as a Jew.” You see, because of Christ, Paul was no longer restrained by the Jewish ceremonies, their rituals, or their traditions. He was set free in Christ from these things. He was now under grace.
He says in Romans 6:14, “for you are not under law, but under grace.” What once was a legal restraint in Paul’s life, he put himself back up under as a love restraint in order to reach these same Jews. He knew legally he was not bound to any of this. But out of his own love, he submitted to it so that he could reach the Jews for Jesus Christ.
In verse 19 he says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.” Then he elaborates on that. “And to the Jews I became as a Jew.”
To understand his heart, go back to Romans. Let’s just see the heart that God gave the apostle Paul for the very people he had come from. He was a Jew, born in Tarsus, schooled by Gamaliel, circumcised on the eighth day. His pedigree is in Philippians 3. His heartbeat, now that he’s up under grace, having come out from all of that, is to go back to his people and lead them to Christ. I wish all of us had the same heartbeat for the lost around us.
He says in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” He knows that can’t happen because once you’re in Christ, you’re in Christ. But he says as an example, he says, “I would even be willing to go that far just to see my brethren come to know Christ.” That was his heart for them. That was his burning compassion, to see them come to know Christ.
Look in Romans 10:1. He speaks again of his Jewish brethren. I’ll tell you what. Standing there at the Western Wall and watching those fellows walk up there, they will pray, back and forth, back and forth, doing their prayers. Then going in behind the Western Wall, that tunnel that goes up underneath it and hearing them down there, something inside of your heart says, “Oh God, why can’t they see?” What do you think the apostle Paul felt? He came from that and he was so burdened for his brethren.
In Romans 10:1 he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them [speaking of Israel and the Jews], is for their salvation.” Look in Romans 11:13. This is something he brings out just as an aside. His ministry is to the Gentile world, but look what he says here in Romans 11:13-14. Of course, verses 9-11 are a beautiful picture, I believe, of how God is not finished with Israel and how we’re the branches that have been grafted into that vine. But he says in Romans 11:13, “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry [It gets bigger and bigger, but he says] if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.” He says, “Even though God sent me to the Gentile world, and even though that’s what I’m all about, I’m just praying that if they see Gentiles come under grace to salvation that they themselves be moved to jealousy and perhaps some of them might get into the kingdom of God.”
With these verses in Romans it’s easy to see why Paul starts there and says to the Jew, “I became as a Jew. I was willing to restrain myself and put myself back up under Law, to put myself back obligated to their traditions, their ceremonies, etc., in order to reach my Jewish brethren.” He was willing to do that. It didn’t matter what it cost him. He was willing to do that.
Paul wanted to take Timothy with him. Remember what he did? Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but his father was Greek. He was going amongst Jewish people, and to make sure he disarmed any kind of judgmental attitudes that may come toward them, he had Timothy circumcised. In Acts 16:3 it documents it. He says, “Paul wanted this man to go with him [Timothy]; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” You see, again, why would he circumcise Timothy? It didn’t do Timothy any good, it didn’t do Paul any good, but it did the gospel a lot of good, because he was going amongst Jews, those who would look at him in a different way.
It was at the advice of James and the elders at the church of Jerusalem that Paul willingly paid for and participated in a Jewish purification ceremony. Do you remember that? The elders sent him down to the church. Why would he do that? Because they told him and said, “The believers are still under Law.” They were still believers, but they were under the Law. He said, “They think you’re preaching against Moses and preaching against the Law and preaching against the temple.” Paul said, “Hey, I don’t want them to think that.” So he went down and participated in a purification ceremony at the temple. As a result of that he was accused falsely and spent five years in prison because of it. But he was willing to restrain himself for the sake of others.
As we think of how Paul treated the Jewish people at Corinth, and I think that’s the narrow context here, he said to the Corinthians, “And to the Jews I became a Jew.” They wouldn’t know that.
Paul is rolling up his sleeves and working with the Jews
Look back in Acts 18 and let me show you something here. How did he handle the people there in Corinth, the Jews who were there? Did he come in and snub them? He came out of Judaism. He’s a converted Christian. What did he do in Acts 18? There are three things I want you to see and it comes out so clearly to me that he came alongside them. Whatever he needed to do, he was willing to do for the sake of the gospel. In Acts 18:2, first of all, we see him rolling up his sleeves and working right alongside them. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned. He says in verse 2, “And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working for by trade they were tent makers.” Here he is rolling his sleeves up right alongside them and working with them.
Paul was reasoning in the Scriptures with the Jews
But the second thing you see him doing with the Jews there is he was willing to reason in the Scriptures with them, not arguing, reasoning with them. You know the difference. He was not taking what he knew and cramming it down their throat. He cared about them. So he came alongside them. In Acts 18:4 we read, “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” The word “reasoning” there is the word dialegomai. It means to intelligently speak back and forth. Paul didn’t come in and take his knowledge and beat it down their throat. He said, “Hey, open it up. What does it say?” And he reasoned back and forth and let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
It was in the imperfect tense meaning it was something he was consistently doing, constantly doing, taking his own time to go down to that synagogue and to get with them saying, “Hey, guys, I want to show you Christ. Are you willing to look? I want to show you Christ in the Scriptures.”
Paul was challenging them to know Christ
Then thirdly we see him just absolutely challenging them to know Christ. You know, sometimes this is more intense. It seems like the Holy Spirit would move upon Paul at times when he was among the Jews that he just had such a burden for them that he would stand before them and testify of the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 18:5 says, “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews, that Jesus was the Christ.” That “solemnly testifying” has the idea of intense, has the idea of somebody so burdened he can hardly stand it. He’s been teaching and reasoning with them. Now he can’t help it. He stands in front of them, preaches to them and challenges and charges them to receive Christ as their Savior.
We have a dear friend over in Russia who became a believer. He’s in the area of Moldova. He got so excited that he began to start Bible studies everywhere. He got one in his university. Everywhere he was he started a Bible study. But he was sharing with us that sometimes he got so moved. It was like the Spirit of God would be so heavy on him he would go down to the apartment complex. He would get right in the middle of it with a megaphone and start singing to the top of his voice to attract attention. People would come out on the balconies and then he would just begin to shout to the top of his lungs and preach the Lord Jesus to these people because he was burning inside with compassion for them.
This was how Paul treated the Jews. These are people under the Law. These are people who have rejected Christ. Paul did not reject them. Christ in him led him to restrain himself and put himself right alongside them. He worked with them. He reasoned with them and challenged to get to know Christ. That’s the heart of God within a person. That’s the motivation for why Paul did what he did. He was willing to restrain himself out of love to reach his brethren for Christ.
It says in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law.” Probably because of this is why he put himself under a Nazirite vow. In Acts 18:18 it says, “And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.” What vow would he have been keeping to have his hair cut? It had to have been a Nazirite vow, because when it was fulfilled you had your hair cut, usually at the doorway of the tabernacle. So, therefore, Paul was completing a vow.
Why would he do that? Why would a man stand in Romans and say you’re not under the Law then a man put himself right back up under the Law and put himself under a Nazirite vow? It has to be for this reason. It has to be so that he could win more Jews. He put himself back up under the claims of the Law just so that he could win his brethren to Christ. He was willing to go that far.
I’ve got a question to ask you. How far are you willing to go to see others come to know Christ? Are you willing to restrain yourself for the sake of others? Now, remember, the motivation has got to be to see them come to know Christ, to see them in Christ to become into the fullness of what Christ offers to them.
Vance Havner was just one of my favorite preachers of all times. He used to say, “You know what’s wrong with us? We’ve lost the wonder of our salvation.” Paul never got over it. God so overcame him on the Damascus Road that even in prison he said, “I’m not a prisoner of Rome. I’m not a prison of the Jews. I’m a prisoner of Jesus Christ and let me tell you about Him.” That’s what drove him. That’s what made him do what he did. The reason he was denying himself was for the sake, spiritually, of others.
If you’re not living with Christ first, that’s not your motivation. You may be denying yourself, but the Pharisees did the same thing. But the reason he did it and would restrain himself was for the sake of his brethren that he might win the more and see them come over to know Christ.
Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to release himself
Well, not only did denying self lead him to restrain himself, but, secondly, it led him to release himself. With the Jews he restrained himself. With the Gentiles he released himself. Look here in the next verse. It says in verse 21, “to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.” The only thing I can understand from that is that if somebody is without law, anomos, a person without law. He’d have to be living lawlessly. That’s the Gentile world.
To the Jewish world he restrained himself and even let their rituals, ceremonies, and traditions motivate him simply so that he might win more to Christ disarming their judgmental attitude. But then with the Gentiles he released himself.
Now, what is he talking about by releasing himself? One of the first things you’ve got to solve before you go any further is, he does not mean in any immoral way. No way did he adopt the pagan immorality of the people that were the Gentiles around him. He clears that up in verse 21, “to those without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ.” Believers are not outside the moral law of God. We’re outside the ceremonial law. Thank God, we don’t have to worry about that. But we’re not outside the moral law of God.
As a matter of fact, it’s written upon our hearts. When we are Christians we are obligated legally to Christ to live morally and, of course, we have His grace to enable us to do that. Paul would never deny his walk with Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. That’s not what he’s saying. There’s nothing immoral that’s even implied here. Paul would never do anything immoral to win a Gentile. That’s not what he’s saying at all. Push that aside. In other areas, he became as the Gentiles were. That’s just left to your imagination.
First of all, the Jewish law said he couldn’t eat certain things. The Gentiles ate about everything, so he probably ate their food. He was willing to eat their food, even to sit at the table with them. Why? So that he could win the more.
I thought about that, and I I can remember the times the Holy Spirit was working in my life and when He wasn’t or when He was and I wasn’t listening. We were down in South America once and we were guests at some people’s house. They had a high position in the area, but they were very poor. They wanted to give us the king’s meal. And they gave me a plate of paca. They said it’s the king’s meal. I took one bite and I knew it was something like opossum because opossum is greasy. It’s easy to swallow, but it’s greasy.
I took a bite of that and it tasted just like that opossum I had eaten when I was in college and we had gone hunting one night. I was standing over by the door and I know Paul said that he became to the Gentiles as the Gentiles. I’m sure that meant he probably ate what they ate. But at this particular point the Holy Spirit was not getting through to me and I’m dumping mine out the window. But there was a waiter there that kind of liked me. He said, “He must like that.” He kept filling my plate up and I kept dumping it out. Ten times he filled my plate up and I kept dumping it out. I wasn’t doing real good to win the more that night. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t about to eat this.
I remember when I was in Romania, and we had cow stomach soup. Folks, listen. It is as bad as you even can imagine it is. I remember they were so proud of it because they didn’t have any meat. It was every night, every meal. The worst tasting stuff I had ever tasted in my life, cow stomach soup.
But the Holy Spirit had hold of me this time. I remember taking that thing in the spoon and I’m thinking, “Oh God, I’ll get it down. You keep it down.” Man, you don’t even think about how it tastes. You swallow it as fast as you can. That was the best that they had.
I remember once in Romania we went to a pastor’s house there. I hate liver. We went to this guy’s house and they didn’t have any food. Somebody had driven about 100 miles just to get a few potatoes to cut up. They had chicken livers and potatoes. I remember sitting down there and the pride on that man’s face of giving us everything that he had and God said, “You eat that.” I’ll tell you what. It was better than any T-bone steak I had ever eaten.
Paul ate what the Gentiles ate. They didn’t eat what the Jewish people ate. Perhaps he dressed like them. Maybe he went where they went. He didn’t violate any moral codes. But as far as other things, he identified with them. What would make a man do that? Because his heart was beating and his heart was in love with Christ and his heart wanted more and more of them to come to know Christ. And if it caused him to restrain himself, he restrained himself. If it caused him to release himself, he released himself. Whatever it took to see people come to know Christ.
You’re not going to have that, and I’m not either, unless we’re living in that intimacy of relationship with Christ, abandoned unto Him. I’m telling you it’s gone. It’s completely gone unless you have that relationship with Christ. Then the Christ in you will burden you to do what you never thought you would do before. Why? To win the more.
Paul’s choice to deny himself led him to reduce himself
Well, thirdly, not only was he willing to restrain himself, not only was he willing to release himself for the Gentiles, but he was willing to reduce himself. Now this is going to take a moment for you to understand. You have to realize that we’re dealing with the most intelligent man, other than Jesus, in the New Testament. Did you know that? This guy went over to Athens, sitting there waiting on his buddies to come pick him up. He saw all the idolatry and he couldn’t stand it. Paul could never keep his mouth shut. He went up on top of the Acropolis, got up on Mars Hill where they debated everything and took on the philosophers of the Greek world. Do you realize the intelligence it would have had to have taken for a man to do that? God was empowering him all the time.
He said, “I saw a sign. It said, ‘To the Unknown God.’ Come here. I want to tell you who He is.” He took them on head-on right there in Athens. You talk about intelligence. Do you know what Peter wrote about him? Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16, “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand.” Can’t you see that old fisherman trying to understand the apostle Paul? He says, “Some things went over my head. This guy is sharp. This guy is intelligent.” We’re talking about the apostle Paul.
But this great learned man was willing to stoop and reduce himself to the level of the weakest hearer. By the way, the word “weak” is those unable to understand. Paul, with all of his intelligence, with all of his knowledge, was willing to stoop down and reduce himself to the level of the one he’s talking to. That’s what he’s saying here.
He says in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.” Whether Jew or Gentile, Paul was willing to stoop to their level of comprehension just to get down to where they were. In other words, put it on the bottom shelf where everybody can eat it.
Look at 1 Corinthians 2:1. I need to show you how he did this. Perhaps you’ll see it in a different light now that we’re over in chapter 9 looking back. I love this. Don’t you love somebody who has a lot of knowledge but is willing to get down to where you are? That’s something in my own personal Christian growth. So many times people who are so intelligent and know they are also know how dumb I am and they’re willing to stoop down to where I am and help me to understand and walk with me where I am.
Verse 1 of 1 Corinthians 2 says, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.” The word “superiority of speech” is a word that means to hold over something, to extend out over something. I didn’t take my knowledge and hold it out over you and make you look like you were stupid. I didn’t do that, he said. As a matter of fact, he kept his message focused. Have you ever noticed how when a message is focused and continues to say the same thing people learn that way?
He says in verse 2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He knew a whole lot more, but he determined not to know anything else. It says in verse 3 his attitude was not in any way arrogant. He says, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” In other words, he understood the responsibility. He knew what he was about and he was bringing it down and praying that God would give him the words.
It says that in verse 4. He says, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [Why?], that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” He was willing to bring it right down to where the people were. Paul adopted whatever method was necessary to reach the people he was speaking to, whether Jew or Gentile or the weak, the ones unable to understand.
Paul says, “I’m willing to stoop to whatever level to let the Holy Spirit of God give me the ability to take my great intelligence [and boy we pride ourselves on that stuff, don’t we?] and bring it down to where everybody can understand it. To the weak I became weak so that they might come to know Christ.” That’s what Paul said. The driving, motivating force of his life was the burden that he had within him. Paul did not compromise the gospel in any way. He may give up his liberty in it, but he never, ever comprised anything that he said. Paul knew that he loved to preach. He loved to teach. Paul knew that if anything hindered that, then he was sinning against his brethren and against Christ. He knew that if the Word offended them, so be it. But if he was the cause of the offense, then he was the one who had to answer to God. So he was willing to become to all men whatever the situation demanded and the Spirit would lead. He set aside everything that the Spirit would put on his heart that would hinder the effectiveness and the power of the message that he preached.
He sums it up in verse 23, “And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” I think he means two things. One, I want to live in the truth I’m preaching to others; but, secondly, I want others more and more to come to know Christ so that I can be a fellow partaker with them. Wherever it was, that’s what the driving, motivating force of his life was, for the spiritual benefit of others. He was willing to restrain himself to the Jews, to release himself to the Gentiles, to reduce himself to the weak.
Let me ask you a question. What are you willing to do that someone else might come to know Christ or someone who knows Christ could come into a fuller understanding of what it means to be in Christ? Well, are you willing to restrain yourself, to release yourself, to reduce yourself?