All Things to All People for the Sake of the Gospel

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23

Paul was a Jew. To remain there would have been more comfortable. It would have been familiar. But, Paul knew he had a call from God to reach out beyond the community with which he identified. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was given a new mission. Paul was going to reach out to non-Jews, the Gentiles, to bring to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t leave behind his Jewish brothers and sisters. He still appeared in the synagogues teaching, he still taught from the scriptures of what we now call the Old Testament, and he did all he could in order to “win Jews.”

But he worked hard to be able to build a bridge to another group of people. He needed to learn a new language and interact with a new culture. Paul worked tirelessly in following his calling to reach the Gentiles. And he does it all for the sake of the gospel.

Can you imagine putting in the the time it takes to learn a new language in order to follow the call of God in your life? Or how about giving up whatever strength we have in order to meet people in their weakness? He does it all to better reach them with the gospel.

This pattern that Paul follows is the one set forth by Jesus Christ. God came to humanity and became human. Jesus took on flesh, lived a life just us, endured temptation, humbled himself, faced persecution, and he did it all so that he may make for himself a people.

What do we give up to identify with someone God is calling us to serve? What are we willing to change? Is the goal of bringing the gospel to more people so captivating that we’d even consider changing?

Committed to Preaching an Offensive Gospel

Paul writes in chapter one about how the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the cross in particular, may be offensive. To some we see it for what it is, the heart of the good news. Others see it as folly, weakness, or a stumbling block to belief.

At times people may desire to overcome the offensiveness of the crucifixion and make the message more appealing to the world. We may even do so with the best of intentions, so that more people may hear the message. But Paul is committed to the message of the cross of Jesus Christ and he will not sugar coat it. He knows that it is a hindrance to Jews and the idea of worshiping an executed criminal is simply absurd to the Greeks. But he can not gloss over the crucifixion.

In our attempts in today’s world to make the message of Jesus Christ more “relevant” or sensitive to our modern culture, we cannot lose sight of what we preach. God is pleased to save those who believe through a foolish message. We ought not water it down for in so doing we will lose its fullness. The cross of Christ may offend. A gospel of grace–as wonderful and freeing as it is for believers–is not always accepted as good news. But we must trust in God’s wisdom and in his message, not concerning ourselves with whether we appear as fools to this world.

Paul, a very educated and eloquent man, did not seek to sidestep that which he knew would cause problems for his readers and listeners with lofty speech and convincing rhetoric. I’m sure he could’ve concocted a message that would be far more appealing. But Paul had no desire to merely entertain. No he decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Advent reading this week for Year in the Bible

You may have been longing for some Advent readings for Year in the Bible and if so, this is your week. We are in the third Sunday of Advent and we open up the Gospel of Matthew. It is also our last of the four gospels and it’ll be a bridge from the Fall to Winter quarter.

Take your time with familiar passages like these. Even though we hear about Christmas every year, we always can return to these cherished texts. And it is easy to “hear about Christmas” every year and for that to mean a lot more about shopping and family get-togethers than Immanuel.

We are almost to our final winter quarter so keep your eyes peeled for an updated reading guide to take us all the way to the end.

The Gospel in Zechariah’s Vision of a High Priest

Satan, the accuser (Gustave Doré, Illustration from Dante’s Inferno)

Zechariah 3 includes a vision of the priest Joshua that in one short paragraph paints a picture of the gospel.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”

Joshua is standing before the Lord with Satan beside him, accusing him. I imagine Satan describing Joshua’s inadequacy and sin. How could God accept one like him? What use does God have with Joshua? Look at his filthy garments!

But Satan’s accusations are of no use. The Lord rebukes Satan, removes the filthy garments, and bestows upon Joshua pure vestments. God overcomes Joshua’s iniquity and provides for him.

This could easily be the scene for any of us, sinful as we are, standing before God in judgment. Satan would not be lacking in his accusations. Who of us does not have a long list from which Satan could pick and choose? But the good news is that our sin, our filthy garments, that should disqualify us from standing before God are removed because of the work of Jesus Christ. God does not base his love for us in our deeds. Our deeds amount to nothing. Our right standing is based on what God has supplied for us. He removed our sin and gives to us his own righteousness.

Satan has no right to accuse us any longer. The only one who can condemn us, who can judge us in such a way is Christ, but he is the one who stands at the righthand of God interceding for us (Romans 8:34). The one who could accuse instead stepped in for us and died in our place so that his own righteousness could be placed upon us like pure vestments. It is a righteousness not our own, but of Christ (Phil 3:9).

Our sinfulness clothes us in filth, but by God’s grace we are cleansed, and instead clothed in Christ himself.

Unashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16

Just a quick thought on this verse. Who can read it without being challenged? Haven’t there been times when we have either lacked boldness in sharing the gospel or have doubted its great power? But if the latter is true, if the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, then what responses are available to us? Is there any course of action but an unashamed proclamation of what is the only hope for the world?

Shame is a wholly inappropriate response to the gospel. It is nothing we should feel guilty about nor have to apologize for. That God loved us so much that he sent Christ here for for us should be something we openly rejoice in.

I hope Paul’s writings will not only challenge us, but encourage us to share in such boldness.

The Gospel in Rhyme

This is our third time through a gospel this week so this is a great time to look at this video that seeks to summarize what the gospel is in just a couple of minutes. It may not be in the preferred style of everyone’s musical tastes, but regardless of personal preference, you have to admire the lyrics.

Thanks to Desiring God.

Learning the Story So Well

We’ve been teaching a class at church about learning and telling the story of Jesus in a variety of ways, connecting his life with other stories in Scripture. The goal is to better know Jesus’ story for yourself and to know it better so that you are then prepared to share it. If your child asks you about Jesus or a co-worker says, “What’s the big deal about Jesus?”, I want you to be able to answer. Learning the whole story of God’s love for us is a goal of Year in the Bible. We are seeing the big picture of history and how God remains faithful throughout and how his love is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of such love.

How better to know this story than to read the book?

From Karalee Reinke, 2012. Click image to go to source.

I found this image and its geared toward children, but I think with a bit of imagination, adults can understand the point, too. This site created the graphic based off a quote from the book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With The Love Of Jesus, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.

We want to know the one good story so well that we can be reminded of it in our daily experiences, but also so that we can discern truth and lies by it. We want to know Jesus so well that we can be easily prompted to share his goodness in conversation. We want to know that story of good news so well that we won’t be so easily satisfied by what the world offers us that appears good.

If you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t quite articulate your faith or express what you believe, let’s read this Good Book together. God will reveal himself to you.

According to Luke

We are a few days into the week, and if you’ve started with Luke, what have you noticed about it in comparison to John? What is the same and what is different? Are there different tones, different emphases?

Right away you see that their “beginnings” are very different. John starts in the very beginning and Luke starts with the forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist.

Try to pay attention to what stands out in Luke that is different and ask yourself, why?

Here is a bit of further information to help you along your way. Luke is believed to be a physician, as Paul says in Colossians 4:14. He was not one of the 12 disciples (nor was Mark). His gospel brings attention to the fringes of society and to the international appeal of Jesus’ message. Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which will be next in our readings. We’ll notice then how the two books flow together.