How many of you have been watching the Olympics in Rio? I confess that we’ve stayed up too late several nights watching gymnastics, diving, swimming, and volleyball! Well, this week I came across some interesting numbers about this year’s games and I thought it would be fun to share them with you.
The first number is “1.” That is the number of Olympic Games hosted in South America so far—including this one—so each night we are watching a first!
Here a second: “261.” That’s the number of dollars’ worth of gold in each gold medal. Sadly, the medals are only about 1.2% actual gold.
The third is “7000.” That’s the number of hours of programming NBC networks will have broadcast when all is said and done.
Here’s a sad one: “3.” – That is the number of teaspoons of water open-water athletes would need to ingest to be certain of contracting a virus. Open water swimming and rowing athletes have been advised to keep their mouths closed as they compete in local waters—which are very polluted. Easier said than done!
Here’s another: “85,000” – That’s the number of policemen and soldiers deployed to make the games safe and secure.
“800” – This is the number of meters American athlete Justin Gatlin will have to beat Jamaican runner Usain Bolt—the fastest man alive—counting all the heats.
“10,500.” – That’s how many athletes from around the world will take part.
“306.” – The number of events—everything from ping pong to basketball.
“206.” – The number of participating countries
I could go on—but these statistics give us a rough idea of how big a deal the Olympic games really are.
And, as all this sinks in, the question I want us to deal with is WHY? Why would ten thousand, five hundred men and women compete? What drives all these guys and gals to Rio? Why give six hours a day six days a week 52 weeks a year—year after year to prepare for a few minutes of competition? Is it worth all that for a couple hundred dollars’ worth of gold? Why risk your health? Why risk an injury like the gymnast who fell on her head during competition or the guy who broke his leg or the biker who crashed and got a concussion? Why put yourself at ground zero for the zika virus? Why swim or row in polluted water? Why make yourself a target for terrorists? Why the enormous expense both in risk and dollars and time away from family? What is the compulsion here? What draws all these people to Rio?
Well, some do it for “Olympic glory” — to make sure their names are remembered. I’m sure Phelps will be in the history books as the most medaled Olympic athlete of all time. Maybe that’s what drives him. Some do it for the financial rewards—the cash that comes from endorsement deals. I’ve already seed some of Simone Biles’ ads on TV. I could go on listing possible motivations—and in light of our study of 1st Corinthians, it brings a similar question to mind.
Why share the gospel? Why would someone like Paul make telling people about Jesus his whole life? Why risk the beatings, the dangers, the rejections—why? Paul says that like these Olympic athletes, he feels compelled to do so—compelled to lead others to Jesus. And he didn’t do it for financial reward or to get his name in the history books. Why did Paul do it? And—why do WE do it? What compels us? What drives us to witness to others?
Now if you were honest, perhaps you’d have to say you don’t feel all that compelled. Sharing your faith is way down on your list of priorities. So, remembering the things Paul says about this let me help try to bring this up to the number one position it deserves. One compulsion for sharing our faith is the fact that it is good for us. It helps us grow spiritually as we work with God learning to hear and heed His still small voice. Working WITH God to seek and save the lost is one of the best ways to personally experience His promise to be with us until the end of the world. Another compulsion is this. It gives our life meaning and purpose—after all leading a person to Jesus is doing something of eternal significance. If that’s not enough to get you to feel compelled I would remind you that we are commanded to do this. Jesus said, “As you go throughout your life and work, make disciples!”
Well, Paul would say all these things compelled him to share the Gospel. But he’d also say that perhaps the greatest motivator is the fact that the people around us, co-workers, neighbors, family members, perfect strangers—NEED—Desperately NEED—to hear about the love of God in sending Jesus to die in our place. Lost people—and that’s what they are without Jesus—lost people who face an approaching death without hope. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, they are “dead in their trespasses and sins.” This means, if we don’t do something, they will die without Jesus, and spend eternity separated from God! In Romans 10:14 Paul says, “How can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of Whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them—TELLING them?”
And, remember these lost people don’t just need what we have to help them deal with DEATH—they need to hear the good news of the Gospel to help them deal with LIFE! I mean, without Jesus they are lonely and they live empty lives. The truth is one reason we are not more like Paul—one reason do not feel more compelled to share our faith is the fact that we tend to FORGET all this. We FORGET that non-Christians NEED to hear the news we have been commissioned to share. I remember our OB telling Sue that women forget the pain of labor. They forget how much it hurts to have a baby—-and then he said that was a good thing because if women didn’t forget, the human race would be extinct! Have you ever heard that? Well, I don’t know if women really forget that pain or not but I do believe that as time goes by we forget the pain we experienced before we met our Savior. We forget how bad it feels to go through life without Jesus. We forget the lonely emptiness—we forget the fear of death—we forget what it’s like to FEEL truly lost in life. So, I think we need to ask God to remind us—because surely that memory would motivate us to be like Paul—and share our faith “by all possible means so that some might be saved.” Okay—hopefully that has motivated you to answer the main question I want us to deal with today, “How do we do that? What needs to happen in our lives in order for us to do a better job when it comes to witnessing? How can we become truly redemptive people?” With that in mind take your Bibles and turn to 1st Corinthians 9 so we can see how Paul would answer this question. Our text is the entire chapter but in the interest of time we’ll just read verses 19-27.
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.
24 – Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?Run in such a way as to get the prize.
25 – Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
26 – Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly;I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
27 – No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Okay—what did Paul say? And I am indebted to John Aldrich’s commentary on this text for my outline.
(1) First Paul says ABANDON your rights.
If we are going to be effective in sharing our faith—if God is going to use us to lead others to the redemption Jesus offers—we have to learn to give up some of the things that are precious to us. For example, we’re going to have to give up some of our free time. We’re going to have to put our desires on the back burner. Yes, you have rights—after all this IS America. Nobody is going to argue with that. But if you’re going to be involved redemptively in the lives of people, you’re going to have to make some selfless commitments. That’s what Rio athletes have done. They’ve put so many things on the back burner in order to compete—and we need to be ready to do the same thing. Aldrich writes, “When my wife and I went to Dallas Seminary, we decided we wouldn’t live in the ‘cemetery’ housing. Instead, we lived in the ‘high-class,’ red-light district.
If you want to get an introduction to life itself, that’s the place to be. We made a commitment to take one non-Christian person, couple or individual, out to dinner once a week. Did we ever get a liberal education! But what fun; we had people coming to know the Lord right and left in that place, because we simply loved them. We opened our home to them. Wanda, the gal who lived next door to us, was a prostitute during the week and a Sunday school teacher on the weekends. She’d often come staggering into our house wearing her negligee with hair looking as if she’d stuck her fingers in a light socket. She’d have a beer can in one hand and an ashtray in the other. She’d come through our door about dinner time. Ruth would sit her down at the table to give her a cup of coffee and some food. Next morning Wanda wouldn’t even remember she’d been there. If you’re going to mix it up with people and be a redemptive person, you have to be like our Lord and recognize this as a top priority.”
Paul brings this issue of rights up early in this chapter. In verse 4, it asks, “Don’t we have the right to food and drink?” The answer is yes. “Don’t we have the right to have a wife?” Yes.
Then Paul says in verse 12, “But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ.” In verse 15 he says, “I haven’t used any of my rights.” Paul is saying that since we’re about the King’s business—and we are. I mean the only reason we are here on this earth is to fulfill the commission He gave us—then we have to be willing to say, “Hey, I’ll set aside some of my rights in order to be available to lead others to Jesus.”
This is hard for many of us—I mean, giving up your rights is going against the flow because we live in “The Age of ENTITLEMENT.” Ours is the age where sixteen-year-olds complain about the color of the new car they’ve just been given by their parents. One author remarks, “go to the mall or a concert or a restaurant and you can find them in the wild—the kids who have never been told no—whose sense of power and entitlement leaves onlookers breathless—the sand-kicking, foot-stomping, arm-twisting, wheedling, whining despots—whose parents presumably deserve the company of the monsters they, after all, created.” That may be a bit harsh—but we’ve all seen that kind of attitude in adults as well as children. People been conditioned to believe they DESERVE a home, a car, a high-paying job, a smartphone, and the ability to retire at 40. We must remember we don’t DESERVE anything—aren’t entitled even to the air we breathe. It is all God’s grace. So we’re not really giving up our rights—we’re laying aside the blessings of God’s grace so in order to share it with others.
To be used as a redemptive person, we must give up our rights—remembering our Savior Who,“Though He was rich—became poor for us.” Jesus Who left Heaven so we could escape Hell.
(2) Here’s a second thing. We must ACCEPT responsibility.
We need to realize that we are God’s representatives in our little realm of influence. There are lost people all around us and we are their God-sent evangelist. Aldrich writes, “God probably won’t be shipping in a missionary from Japan, India, South America, Central America, Tanzania, or anywhere to witness to your friends. You’re it.” I remember when Becca played soccer I’d hear goalies hype themselves up for a game by saying things like, “This is my box. This little net covered rectangle is my house, and I’ll take care of business in my house.” I’m sure some Olympic goalies are saying things like that as a motivation to win in Rio.
And—they aren’t being arrogant. They just recognize that as a goalie they have the responsibility for that box—that area—that zone. Well, every follower of Jesus has a box, a zone where God has placed them for a special purpose with a special calling. It is the place where you have influence. It’s where you live and work and shop and have your hair done and have your car serviced. It’s your athletic team—your friends at school this fall. The people in that “box” are YOUR responsibility. You are a missionary in that “box.” You are these people’s “shining star, fragrant aroma, and living epistle” read by every person you know—and even many you don’t.
It is imperative that we accept the responsibility that God has given us.
In a recent blog, Daryl Dash writes, “The suite next to our condo is a small studio. The neighbors who lived there when we moved in fit the profile: young, professional, and private. That’s why I was surprised when the new guy moved in. He was older. He didn’t work. He was pleasant enough, but also awkward. His place was a disaster. When I left my suite, I’d sometimes see into his. Laundry baskets were stacked from floor-to-ceiling. A trail of debris began at his door and continued back in down the hallway. I’d sometimes find his cart and his backpack outside his door. We’ve always wanted to hold a floor party. We didn’t. We never invited our neighbor for a coffee. We’d make small talk in the hallway, but I never learned his name. On Monday night, I found police officers outside his condo. More police arrived, and someone in a suit. Someone must have complained, I thought. The police must have called a social worker. But then I heard them talk about the coroner. My neighbor died last weekend. They found his body on Monday. A police seal now secures his door. My neighbor is gone. So is the man who was killed by a falling tree limb in a local park last Friday. So is the man who was hit by a train near me early on Monday morning. Death surrounds me this week, even in this young community. Nothing might have changed if I’d invited my neighbor for a coffee, but I would have known his name. I might have known his story. Now I’ll only know him as the hoarder next door. And that’s no way to know a neighbor.”
Do you know your neighbors? Do you know their fears—their struggles? Do you know if THEY know Jesus? Do they know YOU? Remember—they are YOUR neighbors! They are in YOUR “box!” They are YOUR responsibility. To be a redemptive person you have to acknowledge that fact and act on it.
(3) Third, ANTICIPATE awards—the award you will receive for sharing your faith.
My grandson Joel is two—nearly three—and lately he’s had a problem staying in bed at night. A couple hours after they go to bed he’ll just come out and sit on the stairs until his parents see him. Or he’ll leave his room and sit in the hall until Ashley finds him there in the middle of the night. Or he’ll come bouncing into bed with his parents at 5AM. Well, to correct this exhausting behavior—Ashley invented a reward system. She knows that Joel LOVES sweets. So every night he stays in bed he gets a sticker. And when he compiles 5 stickers—that next morning he gets a donut. So far it has worked—the donut reward system is a powerful motivator. In fact, we got to piggy-back on the reward during our last visit. I even got a doughnut—and I deserved it because I stay in bed every night. Mine was maple frosted with a bacon bit topping! YUM!
Well, in the same way we share our faith in the hopes of receiving a reward. It’s not a donut—or even an Olympic medal. It’s something infinitely better. Paul writes about it in verses 24-25. He says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (vs 24-25)
This “crown” is the joy of the moment we each finish our “race” as we cross the finish line in Heaven. When that moment dawns we all want to hear Jesus say, “Well, done thou good and faithful servant!” That’s the reward we “run” for. This is one reason we share our faith. Yes—we do it to share the joy of someone coming to Jesus but we also do it to hear Jesus say those seven perfect words. Would you want to enter Heaven and NOT hear Jesus say something like that? How would it feel for Jesus to say, “Welcome My child—but have you come alone? Why didn’t you bring anyone with you?”
(4) Here’s a fourth thing. ADOPT a servant’s role.
Look at verse 19 where Paul says, “Though I’m free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” In other words, he’s saying, “Although I’m my own man, I voluntarily make myself a slave to everyone. Why? To win as many as possible.”
Listen. There is a direct correlation between my effectiveness in evangelism and my ability to serve others. Christians like you and me—we need to get this one right because in the past evangelism has been more about coercion. We used to act like salesmen forcing our way into people’s lives. Well, that USUALLY doesn’t work because it puts us ABOVE people.
I mean, we don’t move about our little “box” with a mental attitude of looking down on others to save them. No, we look up to serve them. That attitude of love-driven, compassionate servanthood is the key. Daniel Meyer tells the story of an elderly woman who heard a sermon—-in which she felt God encouraging her to look for ways in which she could use her particular gifts and situation to minister to the needs of others. She thought about her gifts and realized that she’d been told by others that she had the gift of hospitality. She lived alone in a small apartment near a large university and had afternoons free. She pondered the needs around her and the people who tugged at her heartstrings. To her mind came the students nearby who were so far away from home. It was then that an idea both strange and simple suddenly arose. She got a stack of three-by-five cards and wrote on each one the following words: “Are you homesick? Come to my house at 4:00 p.m. for tea.” She included a phone number and address and then posted the cards all around campus. After a slow start, homesick students began trickling into her house each week for tea. When she died ten years later, eighty honorary pallbearers attended her funeral. Each one of them had been a student who, once upon a time, found a hot cup of tea, a sense of home, and the gospel of Jesus in the hospitable heart of this faithful servant.
Is there a need YOU see in the lives of the people in your “box?” Meet it—build relationships with those individuals—through which you can serve them in the best possible way—-by telling them about Jesus.
So—to be used by God as a redemptive person we must abandon our rights, accept responsibility, anticipate, rewards, adopt the role of a servant. And—finally we must…
(5) ADAPT to culture.
We must learn to relate to the people around us—the people in our “box.”
- Did you notice how often Paul uses the word “become” in our text?
- He says, that to win the Jew he BECOMES like a Jew.
- To win those under the law, he BECAME like one under the law.
- To win those outside of the Jewish law, he BECAME like one who’s living outside the Jewish law.
- To win the weak, he BECAME weak.
Paul knew the importance of adapting to the culture—the life situation—of the lost people around him. Of course, he didn’t compromise his convictions—but he did learn to speak the “language” of the culture. He learned to relate. A few weeks ago Sue and I metroed down to the D.C. Mall to join other Redlanders at the TOGETHER 2016 Rally. As we hiked from the metro stop down the mall to meet up with our people we heard a rapper doing his deal. I couldn’t understand the words—but it sounded very contemporary. I mean, I don’t like rap stuff—I never had. I remember when this art style was born and I thought surely it would not last—but it has.
Now, whereas I can’t relate to this kind of “music” most younger people do. The Together 2016 crowd was on their feet thoroughly enjoying Lecrae’s presentation—and I’m sure even non-rally attenders were stopping to enjoy this guy’s performance. When we arrived Becca and other younger people told me this was a Christian artist named LeCrae. I’d never heard of him before. The last rap artist I knew was DC Talk. Well, this week I learned how LeCrae came to Jesus. In her book Finding the Truth, Nancy Pearcey quotes LeCrae as saying, “‘God met me where I was at—baggy jeans and earrings.’ Pearcey continues, With those words, the celebrated hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore begins his story. Growing up without a father, he experienced a childhood of abuse and neglect. He filled his life with drugs, theft, alcohol, sex, and gang activity. He was so wild that his friends nicknamed him ‘Crazy Crae.’ What it took to bring him to Christianity was someone who was not afraid of that subculture—who knew that the real problem for Lecrae was not his culture but his sin and brokenness. A white man named Joe loved the black teenager enough to enter into his culture and speak his language. Today Lecrae is the president and co-founder of Reach Records, and is the winner of several Dove Awards and a Grammy Award. His album Anomaly was the first album ever to top both the Gospel Albums and the Billboard 200 chart. Lecrae said a key turning point in his life was when he grasped what comes after conversion—when he understood that ‘Christianity is not just religious truth, it is Total Truth.’
In other words, the real transformation came when he realized that Christians are called to roll up their sleeves and work out the implications of a biblical worldview for justice and politics—for science and scholarship, for art and music—and all the rest of life. ‘We’ve limited Christianity to salvation and sanctification,’ he said. But ‘Christianity is the truth about everything. If you say you have a Christian worldview, that means you see the world through that lense—not just how people get saved and what to stay away from.’”
Are you ready to learn about rap “music” to win a young person? Are you ready to learn about hunting deer to win a hunter or antiquing to win an antiquer? Would you be willing to learn about biking to win a biker? I could go on but you get my drift—we have to be like Paul—willing to become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some.