I wonder…if you were to come across the Apostle Paul today, say you were sitting on a park bench or waiting in a seat to get on an airplane, and Paul, Paul sat down next to you, and he started a conversation, how long do you think it would take before the Apostle Paul brought up the subject of your Savior? It might be soon after he asked why in the world you’re wearing a mask while sitting outside on a bench alone, or it might be some time after you explain to him what an airplane is, but I don’t think it would take Paul too long to ask you if you’ve heard about Jesus. Now, he is the Apostle Paul, so should we really expect anything less?
And there is often something about Paul and the way he describes sharing Jesus, sharing his faith, that is just…captivating. We see it here in his own writing as he talks about his approach to gospel ministry – sharing his (your) Savior. He makes sharing Jesus sound so easy as he talks about how he moves so freely and lovingly in ever stratum of society; embracing the differences between cultures; being at home with all sorts of different people; meeting folks where they’re at all – and this is key – for the sake of putting the gospel front in center, Jesus front in center, so that some might be saved.
It’s cool to think about. It’s even more cool to consider that what Paul describes is something that you and I can do too. Yet, as we look at what Paul writes, maybe like me you become a little hesitant, because, in essence, Paul talks about the many ways he has changed so that he could share Jesus. And, if we’re to share Jesus like Paul, we might need to change too, which is hard. I don’t about you, but I like my friends. I like my language. I like my music. I like the way we worship here in our church. I have a comfort zone and I like my comfort zone; you probably like yours. But, here is Paul, talking about change. Remember why? So that he might save some.
Paul starts out in this way, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Paul was free, just like we are now. We are all free in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus we are free in a lot of ways, most importantly you are free from sin. You are also free to do this: to gather in this way; to worship in this way; to share Jesus in this way, in this community, in this country. Notice though what Paul did with his freedom: he enslaved himself for the sake of others. He became a free slave.
He actually went and really did become a slave to a variety of different groups: to the Jews he became a Jew, to those under the law, as one under the law, to the weak, someone who was also weak. And he became a slave to all these groups, why? To win! Think of it this way: Those of you who have kids or grandkids—do you love them? That’s kind of a silly question that it hardly needs to be answered. A harder question: Those of you who have kids or grandkids—would you die for them? That’s a question that perhaps requires a bit more pause due to the stakes involved. But in the end, it’s still a question whose answer is, I think, obvious. One more question. Those of you who have kids or grandkids—if it would help them to know Jesus better, would you change how we do worship here. Maybe we throw a praise band up front. Maybe we scrap the liturgy, and we add some screens, and I preach with a unbuttoned shirt on instead of a robe…I expect that most of you have arrived at the answer, “If it would help my kids know Jesus better, yes, I would.” After all, if we’re willing to give up our lives in order to save a child’s earthly life, then we surely ought to be willing to change our way of worship in order to save their eternal souls.
Yet, I’m guessing it took some of us some time to get there, and that even now a lot of you are thinking of reasons why any sort of changes would be unnecessary – arming yourselves to defend your style, your preference. Now, I am not advocating that we change anything, I think we have a wonderful balance of sounds and liturgies in our worship. I share this to point out that Paul’s “free slave” approach isn’t something that we do naturally, but we need to do it…that we might save some.
Notice again the groups Paul sought to enslave himself to: Jews, those under the law (another reference to the Jews), those not under the law or Gentiles, the weak or undesirables. Paul’s enslavement crossed cultural and political lines. I’m going to guess that Paul had opinions, personal preferences, political leanings, that sort of thing, but he set those things aside when they became an obstacle to the gospel and instead he “became all things to all men…so that he might save same.” That’s the lesson for us. We have opinions, you have personal preferences, we have political leanings, we don’t think alike, we don’t agree on a lot of stuff and that divide is clearly evident in our society today. All of this reveals the real obstacle that often keeps us or hinders us from sharing our faith, sharing Jesus – it’s us.
Instead of enslaving ourselves to each other in a “free slave” way, we often choose instead to enslave ourselves to all sorts of people and to all sorts of worldviews that we like in order to win…what we want for ourselves. And in doing so, we’ve only proven what was true from the moment we were conceived. We’ve proven that we are slaves to sin—and therefore lost for eternity. In becoming “all things to all men” in a very unbiblical sense, we become nothing but condemned sinners deserving an eternal enslavement in hell. People who need the very Savior, we’re called to share.
It’s this that unites us all; we all need a Savior, even those of us here in this room need a Savior. And we need to hear that. There are people in this room and not in this room, your brothers and sisters, who need to be built up and loved by you. Can we even here look each other in the eye and be all things to one another. Not always, and that just shows the difficulty of doing it out there in this crazy mixed-up world.
Yet, it’s when we see how we really are all alike, sinners who need a Savior, that it becomes clear why Paul used his freedom to enslave himself to others so that he might save some. He did it because he understood what God became to free, not just him, but all of us. God became all things. He became a man, Jesus. He became obedient to the law. All the time. He “took on the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) – his washing of his disciple’s feet being perhaps the most vivid of many, many examples. He became a servant to everyone, putting their needs before his own, serving them in all ways.
Then he did something only he could do, he became each and every one of us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He did this for Paul. He did this for me. He did this for you. Why? To win you. To free you from your slavery to sin. And, you know, all Paul did was take that Christ-for-you attitude and live it. He was right there with the Jews, the Gentiles, the undesirables – he was one of them – because it meant having the opportunity to share Jesus. It meant that he might, by God’s grace, save some.
Yet, even as Paul was willing to give up his own rights and freedoms notice what he was unwilling to give up, the last verse of our lesson, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul’s desire to be all things to all people, did not include any sacrifice on the part of God’s Word. He was willing to change his behavior to win some but refused to change the changeless Gospel. A lesson for us to not water down or hide some of the more uncomfortable truths that God’s Word proclaims. Proclaim them and let the Holy Spirit work through you.
Finally, note Paul’s last words again, “that I may share in its blessings.” Why might we think that Paul, if he was sitting next to someone, would be so quick to bring up the topic of Jesus? Because it was his job? Because he was filled with the Spirit? Because he was eloquent and brave? It’s much simpler than that. Paul’s eagerness to change and to speak the good news about Christ came from his own joy in being a beneficiary of that very gospel he shared. He knew Christ changed and won him – that was his story to share. Our story is no different. We are all sharers of the same faith in Jesus. When you sit there and talk to someone else about Jesus, you are talking about your salvation. You’re sharing your journey with Christ – one that you know ends in eternal glory. And that means this: you don’t need to be an obstacle to the gospel proclamation instead you can be the example and, by God’s grace, you will save some.
God grant us the heart to tell people the good news “by all means possible.” Amen