When a pastor says, “please stand,” during a worship service, those words sound different to everyone. To a baby, it may mean waking up because mom or dad suddenly shifted positions. For a young child, it may mean mom or dad taking their hand and lifting them up from their toys. For those who are young or healthy, it may mean a welcome chance to stretch. For those who are older or dealing with health problems, it may mean a difficult challenge or something that just isn’t going to happen. For someone who grew up in the church, it may mean showing respect for God’s Word and for someone who is new to the church, it may seem strange.
The Bible doesn’t give us any command to stand or sit during worship services. Standing or sitting is a tradition that developed in the church and has stuck around. Standing will remain beneficial as long as people understand why they are doing it. Understanding, really is the key to traditions and their benefits. As a church and as a group of believers, we are free to pass down traditions or create new ones as long as we understand them. This freedom to follow or not follow traditions extends beyond worship traditions and affects our whole lives as Christians.
In Christ, we are free from the law and free from sin. We are free from the punishment of the law through Christ’s death and we are free from sin because God created a new spirit that doesn’t want to sin, but wants to follow God’s will. Today, we meditate on our second lesson from the ninth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul reminds us that as followers of Christ and filled with his love, we want to make sure that above all, if we pass anything on to those around us, we want to be sure to Share Christ’s Freedom.
Paul’s mission was simple. He was called to go throughout the world and share what Jesus had done for everyone. To some of you, this may sound like an exciting adventure, and to others of you, world travel sounds pointless when you live in the great state of Texas. The truth is, Paul’s journey was many different things at many different times because Paul was sent to all different kinds of people, to Jews and Gentiles, to the poor and wealthy, to rulers and servants, and to people from big cities and small villages. Paul’s mission and message never changed, but the people he was called to changed constantly.
Paul realized that if he was going to reach all these different people with the gospel, he was going to have to take the time to understand who they were. Then, he would be able to communicate the gospel to them in a way that made sense and did not offend them. Paul listed four different ways he behaved in order to share the gospel effectively with the people around him,
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. 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. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Paul understood that if he was sharing the gospel with the Jews and those who still bound themselves to the civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, he would have to be sensitive to their consciences. It wasn’t sinful for the Jews to continue to practice the ceremonial and civil laws as a cultural thing. So, Paul was careful when he was around the Jews to not offend them by sticking to their diet that was free from pork or shell fish and even the practice of circumcision.
However, in Galatians, Paul has to call out some of the Jews because they were forcing Gentiles to follow those same laws. Paul said, know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. In this case, the Jews were sinning because they were forcing the Gentiles to follow laws in order to be followers of Christ, but Paul reminded them that we are not justified by the law, but by faith in Christ.
Paul was defending the third group that he mentioned, the Gentiles or those not having the law. The Gentiles were not part of the physical nation of Israel. They were never under the ceremonial or civil laws that God had given Israel. These laws were created by God to keep Israel separate from the other nations. God formed the nation of Israel and promised them that they would be the ancestors of the Savior.
So, once Jesus was born, there was no need for the physical nation of Israel and no need for the ceremonial and civil laws that kept them separate from the other nations. Now that Jesus had come, it was time for God to preserve spiritual Israel, made up of all believers. Jesus had freed all people from the law and no one was to bind someone back to it.
The only law that all people are affected by is God’s law. When Paul said, “though I am not free from God’s law,” he meant what we call the moral law, the law that all of us have written in our hearts. It is our conscience that tells us when something is right or wrong, but even our consciences are corrupt because of sin. This is why God gave us the Ten Commandments, to teach us a summary of his law. Jesus also summed up God’s law by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It is this law that shows all of us our sin and condemns us to hell as punishment for our sins.
This section of Scripture can get confusing because Paul continues to use the word law to refer to different things. The civil and ceremonial laws were only for Israel and were no longer in force after Jesus was born. The moral law is the God’s law for all people. It is the law summed up in the Ten Commandments or as Jesus put it, by showing love to God and our neighbor.
Finally, Paul used the word law one more way, to refer to his relationship with Christ. Paul said, “I am under Christ’s law. This is confusing in English, but when we look at the Greek, we see that a better translation for this word here, is a person who is subject to someone. In other words, Paul said, “I am subject to Christ.” He was no longer subject to or a under the moral law he could never keep. Now he was under Christ’s law, the law of love.
We see what someone under Christ’s law, the law of love looks like as Paul finished by talking about a fourth group, he said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.” Paul was now a follower of Christ. He was a slave to the law of Christ, which is the law of love. This is not a law or slavery that comes with all the bad connotations we attach to it. Instead, Paul means to say that he and all believers are Christ’s treasured possession. We are bound to him because he bought us with his own blood. As his servants, his followers, we now live to show love to God and others, rather than living as enemies of God and in selfishness toward others.
This is Christ’s freedom and in this section from 1 Corinthians 9, Paul explains what that freedom leads us to do, Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. Paul was willing to give up being free from customs, ceremonies and traditions that he no longer needed to follow to Share Christ’s Freedom from sin and the forgiveness he won for all people.
What freedoms are you and I living in that may be preventing us from sharing the gospel? Luther said it this way, “A Christian is a free lord over all things, subject to no one. A Christian is a dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.” The point of this question, the point of Luther and the point of Paul is not to sit here and make a list of all things we hold on to culturally in our lives or in church that prevent us from connecting with others or create new traditions that will make everyone like us and bring floods of people into church. Rather, the point is to remind us that the love of Christ has freed us from sin and selfishness to love and serve others.
Paul expressed this when he said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Once Paul became a believer, his who life changed. The goal of his life had changed to wanting to share Jesus with all people. This is our goal too as believers, but it’s not always easy to have the same passion and persistence as Paul.
We have a perfect example of that in our Old Testament reading from Jonah. God called Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh, a people with customs he didn’t know. They were different. They didn’t know or practice the civil or ceremonial laws of Israel. In fact, they were a wicked people, who God was ready to destroy, but God had called Jonah to give them the chance to repent.
Jonah’s call to Nineveh was a difficult thing. He would have to give up a lot of his comforts by going to Nineveh. He would have to talk to the people on their level. Jonah tried to run from his calling, but God would not let him off the hook. Finally, when Jonah went to Nineveh and shared God’s word with them, they listened. The whole city repented and God spared them from the destruction he had planned for them.
You and I have met the same kinds of people in our lives that Jonah met in Nineveh. People around us who we don’t think we have anything in common with. People we don’t think would want to hear about God. People just like us. You and I are different from each other and different from everyone else, but we all had the same problem, sin. Something our Savior didn’t have in common with us.
When Jesus came into this world he didn’t have sin. He had no reason to leaven heaven and come here to save us, but he did because he loves us. His mission can be summed up by his words from our gospel reading. “Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Jesus knew we were living under the curse of the law. We were lost, living as enemies of God and one another. Jesus would have been justified if he came to this world to punish and destroy us, but he didn’t. He came here to share the freedom from sin he was going to win for all people on the cross. Jesus came to this world, giving up all of his freedom as the Son of God.
We don’t have the same power that Jesus had when he was on earth. He could walk up to anyone and know exactly what they needed to hear. We don’t know what people are thinking, but we know what they need to hear. God gave us the mission and all the tools we need to share his word with those around us.
He gave us eyes to see the needs of people. He gave us feet to walk to those in need. He gave us hands to help those in need, to share in their work and in their joys. As we live and work with those around us, we also use our ears to hear them. And finally, when we know those around us, we use God’s gift of our mouths and we get to share the simple message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
Paul finished this portion of his letter to the Corinthians by saying, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” We are free from sin and free through Christ. We are also free to give up what makes us comfortable to make others feel comfortable. We do this for the sake of others so they can share with us in Christ’s Freedom. Amen.