For the Sake of the Kingdom
Hilary (my wife) one night had a really rough evening. I had to leave that night in December and forgot to lock the door on my way out. A drunk woman later that evening broke into our house, tore down the Christmas lights, began ranting and drunken raving at Hilary and she had to call the cops. The drunk woman, upon realizing the cops were coming, bolted out of the house to try and run. Eventually the woman was found running around in the woods. Hilary then had to leave our kids with a cop to then go and ID the drunken woman. It was one of the craziest nights Hilary (or I) ever had. The time came for her to go to court and decide what to do: press charges or let the woman off the hook. We wrestled with these options for days, and ultimately it was up to her what to do. As we prayed about it, she had a peace in her heart to let the woman off the hook and not press charges against her. That woman was very drunk and had no idea where she was when she broke into their house. When Hilary got to the courtroom, the woman (sober) was there and profusely apologized to her and she said: “I do not desire to press charges”. The woman overjoyed and relieved shed a few tears and said thank you a good number of times.
Hilary was well within her rights to press charges but decided not to. Even though she was shaken up and it caused her anxiety to spike to new levels, she gave into grace. She made a selfless choice and in that moment chose the Kingdom over her rights. They (her husband and herself) even prayed that this moment of grace would demonstrate the Kingdom to this lady.
The problem is, none of us live very selflessly. Although that was a good story of when it was done, Hilary and I do not always live that way. Yet, Paul challenges us in this passage to live a different way, a way of living that is for the sake of the Kingdom and the advancement of the Gospel above all else. The question we must ask then is: How can we live for the sake of the Kingdom?
Paul here made some extremely powerful statements. He was living His life for the sake of the Kingdom to spread the Gospel. He challenged the Corinthians and us to do as he does in this. The first thing he clearly does and challenges us to do in order to live for the sake of the Kingdom is to
- Release Our Rights (vs. 19-21)
Paul in verse 19 declares that he understands that Christ through His death and resurrection has set him free. He states: “I am free from all…” He understands his freedom in Christ, yet then declares he will make himself a slave to all so that he can be used to win them to the Gospel of Christ. The word slave there is a very strong word in the Greek pronounced Do-low. It means to make oneself subservient to another. He is choosing to be subservient to anyone in order to bring them the Gospel. His love for the lost is so deep that he is laying down his freedom, releasing his rights so others can find Jesus. When we live for the sake of the Kingdom we live for the sake of others. Richard Mulholland in his book: Invitation to a Journey defines Spiritual Formation as such: “Being transformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others”.
Much of Western (and Corinthian) Christianity rests and falls on the phrase: “personal relationship with Jesus” and we allow our narcissistic culture to blind us to the fact that we are saved not just for our own freedom, but also for the sake of the world. Christ lived and died for the sake of the world and challenged us to do the same. We reflect Christ when we die to self. Paul was challenging us to be selfless and to place the mission above our rights rather than our rights above the mission. Another interesting thing about this passage that Paul points out is that releasing our rights requires research. Let me explain. In verses 20-21 he describes how he lives among different types of people. Paul took time to know how they lived and to learn their way of living so he could enter in their lives with as little offense as possible. This required intentional research. He needed to spend time seeking out what would and wouldn’t be offensive. He had to take time to intentionally study his audience so he could live and speak in such a way that they would “get” the Gospel. He is not saying: “I become like them and do everything they do”. He is saying that he purposefully avoided offenses he could easily avoid. For example: when he is with the Jews, he abided by the law as strictly as they did, even though he didn’t have to. When he was with the Gentiles, he ate meat sacrificed to idols with them and may even have worn different clothing than a normal Jewish man would in order to not be so “different” than them.
Paul was not being fake, but rather sensitive. He was not putting on a show, or being a chameleon, but simply following the cultural rules that didn’t interfere with Christ’s law. He found there were many ways to be all things to all people. One commentator made this really well thought out statement: “…the Gospel is not relativized to worldly social conditions that are no more than contemporary social structures and sensibilities; rather, the apostle himself becomes relativized in order to preserve the integrity of the Gospel” (Soards).
Missions organizations have this mentality of becoming relativized as well. They train their missionaries how to dress, and speak so that they are not offensive and ensure they do not cause unnecessary harm to a possible relationship. It is simply being purposefully sensitive to the culture around them and living and proclaiming the Gospel in this manner.
We too are called to do the very same thing. We as believers need to live relativized in our culture. This is Missional and Incarnational. We should be challenged to spend time researching our very own culture. We may need to seek to find out what “Christian rules” we follow that are non-Biblical and push away those in the culture around us and stop doing those things. The terms “missional and incarnational” have become “ministry buzz words” but lets not lose the powerful effect they can have. When we live on mission, we are being Christ to those around us…not just on Sunday’s but every day. Incarnational living is long lasting, not a blitz and then done. That is why the second thing Paul does and challenges us to do in order to live for the sake of the Kingdom is to
2. Decide to be a Dweller not a Drifter (vs. 22-23)
Paul decided to dwell among the weak, becoming weak himself in order to win some. In order to become weak along the weak, there is a sense of a long-haul ideology. He was talking about the weak Christians who were frustrated and bitter over the issue of food sacrificed to idols as we mentioned a few weeks ago. Yet he was willing to dwell with them and take on their weakness as his own. He didn’t drift in and out. He lived among. We are called to live among. This is how Paul can say he became all things to all people. He chose to lay down his rights and live among. Walk in the pain and sorrows, the highs and lows of people. He dwelt with them, he didn’t simply drift in and drift out. Paul did not compromise, but lived in total abandonment to the higher law of love. Deciding to dwell is abandonment to the law of love. Surrendering our desires to dwell among. We can dwell with those who are around us. We can ask the Spirit of the Lord to give us the desire and ability to dwell. This world needs Jesus incarnate in us, dwelling with them, among them and alongside them in their pain. You may be the only Jesus those around you sees. So be a dweller. Let me remind all of us however: We cannot dwell among without first dwelling in. We must dwell within the river of God, the river of the Spirit before we can have the ability to incarnate Jesus to this world. I do not desire to leave you with this image that you can do this alone. Paul wrote a letter and reminded them over and over again of their need of the Spirit and will continue to do so in this letter to the Corinthians. We can’t take a slice of Scripture without examining it through the whole. Paul did not claim to do this on His own, but rather as one possessed by the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own either. We must choose to surrender our rights, and dwell wherever He calls us to dwell yes, but we cannot dwell and be Jesus to those among us unless the Spirit possesses us.
A life lived for the sake of the Kingdom is a calling all of us have on our lives. It is hard to lay down living for our own sake. I fail OFTEN. Yet, we can surrender to the Spirit, dwell with Him and then seek to dwell among.