01 May 2022

Forgo My Rights, Forward The Gospel [1Corinthians 9:1-19]


"Fight for our rights!" That's the message of our day. But for Paul, he wanted to give up or waive his rights. In fact, he'd rather die than insist on his right to receive support. What motivates Paul to do so? And how is this even significant? This is a message that powerfully shows the way of the Christian faith- it is not about grabbing and getting, but about giving up. "The Way" is a way of dying to self. It is the way of the cross. But the way of the cross leads home.


Sermon Transcript

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This morning, let's continue our journey in the book of 1st Corinthians. We're at chapter 9, and we're going to cover quite a bit of Scripture today, 19 verses in all, but I hope it will be something that is impactful and helpful for us still.

We live here in Singapore in a very law-based society, isn't it? And so many of us are very familiar about rights, the concept of rights. We protect our rights, we exert our rights, we claim our rights. Perhaps many of us are familiar or at least know of some of our rights to citizenship, here in Singapore.

We enjoy our citizenship here. We know that as citizens, we enjoy some privileges, we have some rights. But many of us are also familiar with workers' rights, that we have rights as an employee, we have rights in our company. And there are ... there's the Ministry of Manpower that looks after this workers' rights.

Or maybe you are interested in consumer rights, customer rights, when you buy some things you know, you have some rights. And you do not want to be cheated or to be defrauded of your rights. So, we live in a culture where we are always probably thinking about standing up for our rights. We do not want to be cheated, we do not want to be taken advantage of.

So it is in such an environment, that when we come to a book like 1st Corinthians, we find it very counter-cultural or very strange, not quite what we are familiar with. Because the chapter before us is a chapter about giving up your rights, not about claiming your rights, protecting your rights, but actually waiving your rights.

You see, Paul had been dealing with this issue of not eating food that has been offered to idols. And he spoke to the Corinthians, who probably wrote to him, "Is it not a problem or is it really a problem if we should eat food offered to the idols? We know that there's nothing to that, we know that there are no gods behind those idols, so because we have this knowledge, isn't it alright for us then to eat such food?"

To which Paul says, "Yes, you know that there is no gods behind those idols. They are not reality, they are not gods, but the problem is when you eat of such food, knowing these things, there are others who may not know these things. There are others who came out of idol worship in times past, and to them when they eat of these food, it is tantamount to worship. So when they see you eat, they may be encouraged to also eat it and thereby be sucked back to idolatry."

"So even though you have knowledge, not everyone has the same knowledge. And if you eat these foods, you may just stumble them and cause them to fall into sin." So Paul says, "I ... even though you all have knowledge, I will never eat such foods, lest I make my brother stumble." [1 Cor 8:13]

And you recall last week, it is a very affirmative, very firm no. "I will never, no eat these foods." So Paul says, "I'm willing to give up my rights. Huh ... I can eat these foods actually, but for the sake of others I will give up my rights."

Chapter 9, which is what we're going to look at today, continues this vein of thought. Paul is saying, "Not only am I willing to give up my rights to eat such foods offered to idols, I'm even willing to give up rights to receiving support from you all. I have rights to receive material support, I have rights to receive physical support from you, but because of you, for your sake, and indeed for the sake of the Gospel, I'm going to give up my right."

So today, we're going to look at how Paul talks about forgoing his rights. And the reason why he wants to forgo his rights is that he may forward the Gospel. So this is a very simple title, but this is the big idea in these 19 verses before us. Paul says, "For the sake of the Gospel, for your benefit, I forgo my rights that I may forward the Gospel."

Alright, so 19 verses, journey with me. Today's sermon, just one point. So not ... not so difficult, I'm not going to have three points, and so I'm just going to exegete these verses and come to a very obvious point of application Paul has.

We begin with these rhetorical questions - Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you ... are not you my workmanship in the Lord? [1 Cor 9:1]

So these are rhetorical questions, which is that means questions that are asked not to get an answer from people, because the answer is so obvious, but questions asked just to create an impact.

So Paul says, "Am I not free?" [1 Cor 9:1] Now, this 'freedom' here, is referring to his rights or his freedom to receive support — financial physical support. He says, "Am I not free to receive support and thereby also saying, "Am I not free also not to receive support? Don't I have this freedom?"

And the reason why he has this right to receive support is because they know that he's an apostle. "Am I not an apostle?" [1 Cor 9:1] "Isn't this obvious to you? Aren't I a servant, whom God has sent to preach the Gospel to you guys?" "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen our Lord?" [1 Cor 9:1]

One of the conditions, one of the requirements to being an apostle, is that you must have seen the resurrected Christ. So today, unless you've seen the resurrected Christ, you should never call yourself an apostle, because that's one of the essential requirements.

So Paul says, "I fit that bill! Don't you know? Have I not seen our Lord?" "Are you not my workmanship in the Lord?" [1 Cor 9:1] See, these are rhetorical questions, obvious answers, but Paul here is reminding them that he is an apostle. "You should know this."

"If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." [1 Cor 9:2] Paul says, "Look at your lives! Look at the way you have changed! Look at how you have turned from idols and from worshipping false gods to know the Living God! And if anyone else in the world does not know, you should be the ones who know. You are like the seal, that wax seal, that is like a signature today, that proves the authenticity of Paul's apostleship."

So, Paul in these two verses simply emphasizes his apostleship. So he lays down, "You all know in essence, I'm an apostle. And an apostle ... and as an apostle, I have rights." "And this is my defense to those who would examine me about my right to receive support." [1 Cor 9:3]

"Do we not have the right to eat and drink?" [1 Cor 9:4] Again, some rhetorical questions, it's obvious! "If I'm serving you guys, if I'm an apostle, it is only right that you should support me." "Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" [1 Cor 9:5]

So, Paul says, "This is commonly practiced already. The apostolic band — you support them, many in the church support them." They support Cephas. Cephas here is Peter, the brothers of the Lord refers to the half brothers of Jesus. In other words, the offspring of Joseph and Mary and they have wives. Cephas has wives, er ... not wives, has a wife. And Paul is saying, "Isn't it alright for me to have or for them to have wives and for you ... for the people to also support their wives who are following them?"

"Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from work ... from working for a living?" [1 Cor 9:6] "Is it only Barnabas and I who must keep on working to support ourselves, and everybody else is supported in the apostolic band? Don't we also have the right to receive support from you all?" He now goes to some examples to see how ridiculous that sounds.

Huh, he says, "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?" " [1 Cor 9:7]

He says, "This is obvious! Which soldier goes out to war and has to buy his own food?" The army supports him, the army supplies him, he's responsible to fight a war, but he doesn't need to plant and sow and everything as he fights a war. Food is given to him! Likewise, the farmer has every right as he plants, as he sows, to also take of some of the fruit and also the shepherd, to take from some of the flock."

"So, it's only reasonable," Paul is just saying, "It's only reasonable that as an apostle, I shall be supported by you guys."

"Do I say these things on human authority?" [1 Cor 9:8] "Is this just my own logical thinking? No! "Does not the law say the same." [1 Cor 9:9] He's now quoting Scripture, he's quoting the Old Testament, he is quoting the Torah, the law of Moses. "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." [1 Cor 9:9]

So, in Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verse 4, there's this verse that you see here, it refers to how the people in time-past do agriculture. They have this whole harvest of grains, but you know grains are in the husks, and in order to separate the grains from the husks, they would pile it on the floor and get the ox, to kind of walk all over it.

An ox is heavier, stronger and so it walks all over it breaking the husks, releasing the grains. But it is very important, God says, "Not to muzzle the ox," like how you guys are masked up.
You don't muzzle an ox, because as it treads on the grains, it might get hungry, and it is only right ... that's the idea, it is only right that the ox who is working, should be able to have some of the grains.

So if it is in the Old Testament there, and I say to you, it is in the .... some people say, "Why? How can put any how, suka, suka [to do according to one's wishes and not follow instructions in Malay] take this verse and say this?"

Well, the idea is Deuteronomy 25 is about justice, and it is only right basically that the ox should be supported. And Paul says, "Is it for oxen that God is concerned." [1 Cor 9:9] Did God right this for the ox? The ox can't read! "Does He not certainly speak for our sake?" [1 Cor 9:10]

This is a principle for us, as people. "It is written for our sake, because the plow man should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing the crop." [1 Cor 9:10]

So, "If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?" [1 Cor 9:11] "I mean if we are preaching the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ to you, is it too much that you should support Barnabas and I?" "Of course not!"

And, "If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?" [1 Cor 9:12] "You support other leaders, you support other teachers and maybe even false teachers. For you to support us, it is more than reasonable."

So Paul begins by emphasizing his authority, his apostleship. Now, he actually establishes his right to receive support, I think that's very clear, right? Now, there are many little things to take note of, but I think this is the main vein of thinking for Paul, he establishes the right to receive support.

Now, this is a tremendous summary verse. "Nevertheless ..." he says, "Even though I am an apostle, and even though I have every right to receive such support, "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right but we endure anything." [1 Cor 9:12]

He says, "We did not lay this claim on you guys. We did not insist that you will support us, but instead we were willing to endure anything, even working hard." And he did work hard, he was ... in modern day terms, bi-vocational. He was not just preaching, but he was working as a tentmaker with his own hands.

He had less time to himself but he says, "We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ." [1 Cor 9:12] "We have this rights, but we relinquish this right so that the reason is clear. We do not lay any obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ."

Most likely, he's saying that, "We would not want anyone to doubt our motive to preach, and to be with you. And no one would ever doubt the authenticity of the Gospel. It will never, we do not want anyone to confuse the reason why we preach the Gospel. We don't want anyone to think that we are doing it for money. We don't want to lay any obstacle, we want more people to come to know Christ." I think that's what Paul is saying here by way of not putting in any obstacle.

I came to Gospel Light, 20 ...? I should have thought about it earlier, my maths not so good now, 28 years ago. Actually 30 years ago, I first attended the service at Gospel Light 30 years ago. I wanted to prove the Pastor wrong, I wanted to prove Church wrong, I wanted to prove Christianity wrong. But one thing that struck me was, I realized that the Pastor, the Founding Pastor was a medical Doctor, who holds or who runs a successful medical group, and who serves as a Pastor with no pay.

He gets nothing physically, materially, financially from the church. Now, I do not understand everything that he preached, I did not identify with everything that he preached for sure, but that one thing registered for me. And of course, you know that our Founding Pastor, Pastor Paul for all these years of Gospel Light's existence has never been paid by church, never been supported financially, materially by church.

He doesn't want to! He could have! Nothing wrong with that, but he would not. And I think that has helped many people perhaps, come to know the Gospel, because we know he's not here as a charlatan, he's not here as a false teacher. He's not here so that he can enrich himself, but he wants to give the Gospel to many more.

So, Paul here, Paul, the Pastor and Paul, the Apostle, they want to relinquish these rights, so that no obstacle is laid. In other words, the big idea that we were talking about, "Forgo my Rights, Forward the Gospel" that's the psyche, the mentality, the principle in Paul's mind.

But before Paul goes to explain further, he ... he drives home the proof that they should support the apostles even more with these two further examples.

He says, "Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings." [1 Cor 9:13]

Now, these are clearly laid out in Numbers, Leviticus, but basically the priests, the Levites who are serving in the temple services, they are supported by a part of the offerings that people bring to worship God. It's only right that, "They who serve at the temple should share in the sacrificial offerings?" [1 Cor 9:13] that's even built-in to the worship life of Israel.

In the same way, he gives another example, "The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel shouldn't get their living by the Gospel." [1 Cor 9:14]

Now, there is no real direct command in that sense, except maybe a passage like Luke 10:7. But I think the point is clear, Paul here, emphasizes his apostleship and then he asks this rhetorical question - Don't I have the right to eat and drink from your support? And he says, "Of course."

He proves it by the examples in the apostolic band. He proves it in everyday life — soldier, farmer, shepherd. He proves it from Scripture, Deuteronomy 25. He proves it from the example of the priest and Levite, and he proves it from the command of Jesus.

And so, this is the question - Don't I have the right? Rhetorical question. Of course! Absolutely, you have the right! But he says, "I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision." [1 Cor 9:15]

"Paul, you make such a strong case, because you want me to give you, is it?" Paul says, "No, I want you to know, as an apostle I have every right, but I've never taken anything from you and I do not want to take anything from you! I'm not writing this, so that you will give to me. I do not want to!

"I would rather die than to receive ..." [1 Cor 9:15] Wow, this is very strong! "I would rather die." And he says, "I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting."

So, this is interesting now. He could have received support, he could have stopped working as a tentmaker, he could have gotten all these things that he needed in life. But he says, "I'd rather not! In fact, I rather die than to take these things from you, because I don't want anyone to take away the ground of my boasting."

Now, this is, what ... what is this 'ground of boasting'? The word, 'boasting' here is a ... is boasting, it's glorifying, it's rejoicing. There is something that makes him really, really happy. That something that makes him really proud. It's a good kind of boasting, by the way!

He's saying, "I'd rather die than have someone take away my rejoicing, or my great delight." [1 Cor 9:15] I ... I want to stop here and say, he's talking about a certain delight that he has when he forgoes his rights.

"For if I preach the Gospel that gives me, that gives me no ground for boasting ..." [1 Cor 9:16] "Preaching the Gospel in and of itself does not give me this ground for boasting." "... For necessity is laid upon me, woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel."

So he says, "The preaching of the Gospel is not what I am really talking about here as the grounds of boasting." It's clear, right? Because the preaching of the Gospel is a necessity, it's a responsibility. Later on, he's going to say, "It is a stewardship that has been given to me. I have no choice about it."

Indeed, "Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel!" [1 Cor 9:16] "I ... I face judgment from God, if I do not preach the Gospel." So, he's saying that the preaching of the Gospel is his duty. I'm trying to separate this from the delight, the grounds of boasting that he was talking earlier.

Now, don't get him wrong. I'm very sure Paul is not saying that preaching the Gospel to him is drudgery, is painful, there's no delight. There must be delight in preaching the Gospel! "I delight to do Thy will, O God," Jesus would say, and I'm sure Paul would say likewise, that his satisfaction is to do the will of the Father. So please don't get him wrong, as if there is no joy in preaching, but he's saying, "There's a special grounds for boasting that I'm talking about."

"For if I do this of my own, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I'm still entrusted with a stewardship." [1 Cor 9:17]

So he's still talking about this special ground for boasting, this special reward that comes with the forgoing of his rights.
Now, if this was entirely left up to him, and he chooses to preach the Gospel, there's also this special delight. But he says, "No, no, no, but I did not choose it." "I did not do this off my own will, I'm given this stewardship, this is my duty." [1 Cor 9:17] "But I want you to know my ground for boasting, I want you to know my delight. I want you to know my reward."

"What then is my reward? [1 Cor 9:18] So, I pause here in verse 18. "What then is my reward?"

I think, this is where many people probably get it wrong, if I may humbly say. When we read, "What then is my reward," immediately, we think heavenly rewards, right? Huh, we think about the rewards that are to come, we think about when we see Jesus, He rewards us. Because most of the time when preachers preach about rewards, that's what we refer to.

But I think in this case, it would not be fair, indeed not right to say that the reward here is about the rewards to come. Now, the 'reward' word, here is the word higher, or even wages. He's using the imagery of a slave as a household steward. But I think this reward is not about eternal glories to come, because that's not the idea in the entire chapter. There's ... there's no reference to the eternal rewards.

And it may if you think it's eternal rewards, you may make you think that preaching the Gospel itself has no rewards, but it's not. So, I think Paul then explains, "What then is my reward? My reward is this — "That in my ... in my preaching, in my ministry, I may present the Gospel FOC." [1 Cor 9:18]

Ah, it's here in the Bible - free of charge! "I may present the Gospel FOC, so as not to make full use of my right in the Gospel." [1 Cor 9:18] "It's ... this is my reward and I can not get support from you, I can preach FOC, that I can make full use of my right in the Gospel." So that, "For though I am free from all, I've made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them." [1 Cor 9:19]

"I have every right to receive support, but I choose not to, so that I may serve you all, and so that I might win more."

What is this ground for boasting? What is this reward that Paul is speaking about? What is this particular delight that he's talking about?

I think his reward, his ground for boasting, his delight, is that he can voluntarily give up his right to receive support and how that removes obstacles and furthers the Gospel reach to more people. And in other words, I'm saying, we are linking verses 15 to 19, back to what he kind of alluded to in verse 12, that he did all that, he endured anything, so as not to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ.

That's why this sermon if you've ... you say, "Wah, Pastor, 90 minutes, I mean 19 verses, so many minutes spent, what are you talking about?" "If you cannot remember, last ... not last words, but just these six words — "Forgo My Rights, Forward The Gospel".

I think, chapters 8 and 9 are an amazing juxtaposition of two positions. We have the Corinthians, who say, "We all have knowledge and we can have every right to do whatever we want, isn't it?", versus Paul's position.

The Corinthians says, "We possess knowledge! We have the right to eat food offered to idols, it does not affect us!" And so instead of considering others, they are puffed up. They're arrogant, they are self-centered. And what happens is that they leave a trail of spiritual casualties, who, because of their bad example are stumbled, are encouraged to eat likewise and be sucked back to their idolatrous ways.

But look at Paul in chapter 9, he too says, "I know my rights." He makes it very clear, five reasons. "But I waive my rights, I do not insist on my rights. I voluntarily give up my rights, because I want to be a humble servant. The reason is, so that I can win more for Christ."

You can't get more contrasting than this. Oh, the Corinthians think that it's such a small matter to eat at the idol's temple! But Paul says, "No, it reveals your selfish pride, but I want you to look at my life, and see what humble love looks like." He is a pastor par excellence because he's not just teaching, he's embodying, he's exemplifying humble love with his own life.

Both groups of people have knowledge, both groups of people have authority, have rights, have exousia. But one group says, "We insist on our rights." They're puffed up, and they are no blessings to anyone. But Paul says, "I waive my rights, I'll be a humble slave. I can win more for Christ."

I think that's what I want you to walk away with. Not just the exegesis or the exposition of the text, but to see the heart behind Paul. Let me ask you today - Which camp do you belong to?

You know, we pride ourselves as a church that teaches the Bible. And maybe you ... you say, "I study the Bible, I read my Bible. I ... I go for seminary, I go for theological courses, I ... I read a lot of commentaries." You realize that the issue here is not about knowledge, huh, because both sides have some knowledge.

The question is - What will you do with your life? One group insists on his rights and will not give up his rights. The other group says, "I will give up my rights, if that means a blessing to others."

It's really what Jesus Himself said, isn't it? "Very truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat or a corn of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces much seeds or much fruit." [John 12:24-25]

You know the secret to blessing? Is if you die. It's ... it's very uneasy, you don't like to hear that, but that's the way of the Kingdom of God. You have to give up your rights! It's not easy! Maybe some of us, we ... we have been asked to serve in some areas but you say, "No, no, no, I don't want to serve because I want my me-time, I want my pleasures, I want my comforts!"

And it's not easy to give up your sleep, give up your time, give up your pleasures, give up your comforts, give up your energies, give up your money. But if you insist on your rights, and you keep your time, your money, your comforts, your pleasures all to yourself. Yes, you will have it, but they will all die with you! It brings nothing to anybody else, there's no significance to your life. If you want to have a significant life, then you have to learn to give up your rights.

Jesus again says, "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me." [Matt 16:24]

Christianity is not about the place, is not about this building, is not about this hall. Christianity is not about a set of rituals, Christianity is not about some formal steps we have to go through. Christianity is primarily about the Person, and it's primarily about the way of this Person.

In the early days, in the Book of Acts, Christianity is known to be - The Way. It's a way of life! It's a way of living! And the way of living here Jesus is talking about is a way of dying. He says, "If you're not willing to die, you cannot be My disciple. "You are not really a Christian, you can call yourself a Christian, you may go to a Christian church, but if you are not doing this, you're not following Me."

What is your way? What is your daily life? To grab? To get? To accumulate? To save and to preserve my time, my comforts, my pleasures, my ambitions, my dreams or is it a life exemplified by the corn of wheat that dies, but later you see it brings forth much fruit?

Paul believes in that, and Jesus believes in that. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to save His life, He came to give His life. That is the way of the Christian life.

And so, I'm deeply encouraged by many Gospeliters, many who are willing to die, many who are dying daily, dying to their own comforts, pleasures, hobbies, entertainment, dying to their own need for sleep even. I see many who wake up early in the morning, to serve. I see many who are teaching our children, who are leading small groups, teaching the Bible, giving them time to mentor and disciple men and women in this place, in this church. I think that's a beautiful sight to behold.

It's nice to see people die. I know it doesn't come across so well, but it's nice to see people die. Because when you die, I see a way, I see Jesus. I see you following what Jesus is doing, denying Himself and taking up the cross. May we as a church learn to love others, not to put stumbling blocks in their way, but more, go more than that. Do all we can, give all we can to be in this way to be a blessing to others.

I say to you, if you're here today and you do not know Jesus Christ, maybe it's really sad that to you, Christianity is a place, it's a religion that asks people to give money. Well, I want to say to you, primarily Christianity is about God giving His Son for you. And Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.

I pray today you will know Christ, how He gave His life on the cross to save you from your sins. That corn of wheat, fell to the ground and died, today we are seeing fruit, much fruit, and one day I hope you will be part of that harvest to knowing God.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Paul was willing to give up his rights, to give up his comforts, to give up food, to give up rest, because he delights, he rejoices, he glories in how that giving up of that right facilitates the advancement of the Gospel. Here was a man, dedicated to the salvation of souls. Here is a man who gives his life following Jesus, that's what matters to him.

So my question to you this morning is - What matters to you? Your job? Your house? Your fame? What matters to you? Except a corn of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it bears forth much fruit. Christianity is not just lip service, it is a way of life. It is a daily denying of self, taking up the cross and living out that Christ life.

Maybe God today is speaking to you, you have lived your life, your whole entire life for yourself. "See, how I've given My life for you! Come, follow Me." What does it mean to follow you, Lord? Deny yourself, take up the cross. Enter into the fellowship of sufferings, so that you may see your life flourish, bring forth much fruit.

Oh, it's so counter-cultural, when the whole world talks about saving yourself, fighting for your rights. Jesus came to give up His glory, gave up the riches in heaven, humbled Himself in the form of a servant, was born in human flesh that He might die. But one day it will all make sense, one day as you follow Jesus, your life will make sense, and I pray it will not be too late.

For all our friends, guests, who do not know Jesus, I pray today you will know His love. How amazing it is that He went to the cross, while we were yet sinners, that He might die and save us from our sins! Don't be proud, don't be stubborn, humble yourself at the foot of the cross. The Great God who created the heavens and the earth has come to give His life for you. Turn from sin, repent of your sin, believe in Jesus that you may be saved, that you may be forgiven, that you may be reconciled with God.

So Father this morning, thank You for the way of Christ, thank You for your servant, the Apostle Paul, and thank You even for our Founding Pastor. Thank You that You've laid these things upon our hearts, that the Gospel may advance. May many many more through Your people, come to know Jesus and be saved.

May our lives be many, many corns of wheat that will all fall to the ground, the ground of the Gospel, let it all die and let it bring forth much fruit. We thank You and we pray all this in Jesus' Name. Amen.

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