The Self-Denial Required to Win the Lost (1 Corinthians Sermon 30)
May 26, 2019 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 9:15-27
I. What Makes a Great Evangelist?
Please take your Bibles and open to 1 Corinthians Chapter 9. We'll be looking this morning at verses 15-23. We will deal with verse 24 through 27 more next time.
This morning, we're going to, in looking at these verses, sit at the feet of the greatest evangelist in church history, and we're going to learn from him. What is a great evangelist? What makes someone a great evangelist? I have loved studying church history. It's a joy and a pleasure of mine to read of the great men and women of God who have gone before us and have fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and who were active in sharing the Gospel so that the Gospel could make progress from that Upper Room in Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. And what a glorious, what an amazing journey that's been as evangelist missionaries have taken the Gospel and at great personal cost, have suffered so that others might hear and believe.
I love studying about great evangelists. One of the greatest evangelists, one of my favorite, I've a picture of him up on the wall of my office, is George Whitfield. In that picture, he's up on a barrel and he's preaching the Gospel in a crowded market square, and there's all kinds of chaos and mayhem going on around him, someone blowing a trumpet in his ear, other people yelling at him, others falling down clearly yielding to the message of the Gospel. And this man did this for decades, preaching the Gospel thousands of times to 10 million people in the colonial era before the American Revolution, crossed the Atlantic Ocean 13 times in a sailing vessel and preached to huge crowds. But he also made a commitment to personal evangelism, not just preaching in crowds, but personal evangelism. He said, "God forbid that I should travel one quarter of an hour with another person without talking to him about Christ." I think about that every time I get on an airplane. God forbid that I should travel with this individual and not say something about Christ.
Or D. L. Moody, who lived later, at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, one of the greatest evangelists, set up revival meetings all over, spoke to even more people, because the population of the world was greater. And his expanse, his travels were greater than George Whitfield's, but D. L. Moody, a great evangelist. And he made a personal commitment to never go to bed everyday without sharing Christ with someone, talking to somebody about Christ. Many times he had forgotten. He was just about to go to sleep, and the Holy Spirit would wake him up and get him up out of bed, and he'd go out into the street and try to find somebody to share it with.
Another evangelist I knew very little about was a Chinese evangelist, named John Sung, who lived in the beginning of the 20th century, who was a brilliant man, who got multiple degrees in a short amount of time, but he was being schooled theologically at Union Theological Seminary, which at the time was theologically liberal and he had no clear proclamation of the Gospel. But at that point he was converted, an evangelist reached him, and he was converted to his sound faith in Christ and became ardent for the Gospel. So ardent that the people at Union Seminary locked him up, because they thought he had gone insane. And so, he was in prison or in somewhat of a lock-up, he did not have the freedom to leave, and he made the most of that time. He read in that brief period of time, read through the entire Bible over 40 times. God was preparing him for an incredibly fruitful ministry as an evangelist in China, and from 1927 until he died of tuberculosis in 1944, he preached the Gospel in China and led over 200,000 Chinese people to faith in Christ.
Again, in our lifetime, Billy Graham, who died last year, probably spoke to more people in history face-to-face of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's hard to even measure how many people heard Billy Graham preach the Gospel and saw him preach face-to-face, not to mention those that saw him on television, or heard him on radio. It's hard to even measure the impact. How many people he brought to Christ, that then brought other people to Christ? Would be, to some degree, a Billy Graham spiritual grandchildren, through that legacy. It's impossible to measure.
All of these are great, great evangelists, but there are also some unsung heroes in the history of evangelism. John Bunyan is not one of those unsung heroes. He wrote Pilgrim's Progress and many know about him. But we've been talking recently, Philip and I, he's been reading about John Bunyan's life, and how he was brought to faith in Christ and he was a tinker who went from house to house, to repair pots and pans and sharpen knives, and he was not a believer. But at that point he called himself a brisk talker in religion, and he was there in a kitchen and he overheard some women, three women who did not know he was listening, or anything about his spiritual condition, but they were, as some have said before, gossiping the Gospel. They spoke, Bunyan said, in Grace Abounding, his own personal testimony, "They spoke," it said, "as if joy did make their heart speak, and they spoke of lofty things," he said, "that I knew nothing about. Of the glory of God and the redemption of sinners, through faith in Jesus Christ." These women didn't even know they were evangelizing.
You never know who's listening to you. Why spend the time complaining about the high price of eggs in the market, when you could be speaking about the glory of God and saving a sinner like you or like me. Because you just don't know. And those women, who... Well, we don't know their names even, but they could have no way of knowing what John Bunyan, who was overhearing them at the time, would go on to do, and how many people for centuries would be influenced by his ministry, through Pilgrim's Progress.
All of those are great evangelists but I think all of them would say if asked, if they had the chance to ask, "How do you compare to the Apostle Paul?" They would have to say, "Honestly, I can't even carry his shoes." That the Apostle Paul really is the greatest evangelist that the church history has ever known. And so, we're going to sit at his feet. But before we do, I winna just go through varieties of scriptures in the New Testament, and pull out some principles of what made the Apostle Paul a great evangelist, so that we can learn from him. Because I'll tell you this, the elders of our church, the leaders of our church, spiritual leaders of our church, we yearn to see FBC come into a whole new level of faithfulness and evangelism.
As a matter of fact, I would have to say, I don't want to be too bold or go beyond the elders, but I think they would agree that if there could be one radical transformation improvement in the life of the church, it would be in this. That we would see more and more people baptized here in the Triangle region as a result of the ministry of people in the church. And that's our desire.
What Made Paul Such a Great Evangelist?
Let's learn some principles, and then, we'll look at the text that we're looking at today.
First of all, the Apostle Paul is a great evangelist because he had a message from heaven. He believed the Gospel came from heaven and he heard it directly from heaven. It was not ministered to him or mediated to him by any man, so he was uniquely set apart to hear the Gospel directly from God. Now, that Gospel message, he is super clear about. He writes about it later in the book we're studying. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, he said, "For what I received, I also passed on to you, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." That's the Gospel. It came from the Scripture, from the Old Testament prophecies, and I received it and I passed it on to you." Or, as he said earlier in this book, 1 Corinthians 2:2, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified." He was very clear about this message. This message is the power of God for the salvation of sinners all over the world, and he received it not as a word of man, but as it actually is, the word of God come from Heaven.
Secondly, he had compelling motives to evangelize. No chapter lays these motives out more plainly than 2 Corinthians 5, and I'm not going to walk through it, but in 2 Corinthians 5, he was very clear why he should be evangelizing. There are a lot of motives there, but there's some clear motive that he had in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, it says, "So we make it our goal to please Him, whether at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one of us may receive what is due Him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad." Putting that together, Paul's motive for everything was to please Christ. "Everything I do, I want to please Him, and I know that some day I'm going to have to give an account for my life, for everything I've done in my body whether good or bad, I'm going to have to talk to Jesus about it."
Divine Calling (On the Road to Damascus)
Thirdly, he had a divine calling to evangelism and the missions. He was called by Almighty God to this. On the road to Damascus, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in radiant glory while he was breathing out murderous threats and he was struck to the ground by the glory of the resurrected Christ, and he heard the voice from Heaven saying, "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'"
Now that... Keep that in mind because that's going to be relevant to the way he phrases some things in the text we're looking at today. I'll just tell you what it is. He said, "I have no choice but to preach the Gospel."
And he got that calling directly from God, through Christ, a heavenly calling. And so, Ananias who was sent to lay hands on him and heal his blindness and also who baptized him in water did not want to go. Ananias did not want to go. But God persuaded him and he said, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Divine calling.
Fourthly, great boldness. Paul was an effective evangelist because he was supernaturally bold. He just lived out that statement in the Psalms, "What can man do to me?" He just seemed to be completely supernaturally bold. He said, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel." He prayed, he asked for prayer from the Ephesians that he would have boldness. He didn't just lean on his own boldness tendencies or credentials or patterns, he asked that they would pray that he would be bold, but he was bold.
The consummation that was the very end of his life, as he was on trial for his life before the megalomaniac tyrant of the world, Caesar Nero, and he shared the Gospel with Nero. Wouldn't you have loved to have been there to see that? "Nero, unless you repent, you will be condemned, but God sent His Son to deliver you from hell. All you need to do is trust in Him and you will be saved from your sins." He says very plainly in 2 Timothy 4. Paul said that the Gospel was fully proclaimed in front of Caesar. And he was on trial for his life. That meant nothing to him. What matters is, this is the chance to preach the Gospel to Caesar, probably the only one I'm going to get. And he did it alone.
Power of the Holy Spirit
Fifth, the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul was an effective evangelist because he relied every moment on the power of the Holy Spirit. He says in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, polished rhetoric but with the demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power." Paul put the Holy Spirit on display every time he preached. And it wasn't because he didn't apparently seem afraid or... No, he was with them in weakness and fear and trembling, but the Holy Spirit used him and people were converted. That's the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sixth, he had a clear strategy, he knew exactly how to go about his work. And what he would do, he had a slogan, but it was more than just a slogan, "To the Jew first. And also to the gentile." What he would do is, in every community, by this time, the dispersion of the Jews all over the Greco-Roman world had happened. And for the most part, in every place where he would go, he would go first to the Jewish synagogue, and he would reason with the Jews based on the Old Testament Scriptures. And some of them would be persuaded and would join him as fellow laborers, and then he would go into the marketplace and reason day by day with the Greeks that happened to be there. He had a clear strategy, knew exactly what he was doing.
Love for People
Seventh, he had an overwhelming love for people, he loved people. 2 Corinthians 5:14, "For the love of Christ compels us." He was constrained. He was hemmed in by the love of Christ. And there are different ways of looking at the phrase, "love of Christ," but I think we are safe in saying that the love that Christ has for lost sinners constrained Paul. And you see that very, very plainly in Paul's attitude toward the Jews, who had yet to believe, the unbelieving Jews. In Romans 9, he said, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." Basically, "I'd be willing if I could, to trade my salvation for theirs." That's love for people.
If I can just... Could it be that we don't evangelize as much as we should because we don't love people as much as we should, that we don't have a compelling love for people? And here's the thing, if you don't, just be honest about it to God and give it up to Him in prayer, and say, "I just don't love lost people the way I should. Would you please change me? I pray that three years from now, five years from now, I would love lost people, evidently love them more than I do today." That's a spiritual beggar. But Paul had a love for lost people.
Eighth, he had a single-minded zeal, almost immeasurable zeal. It's quite remarkable. He said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." He knew what he was about, and his fire, his zeal, was like a fire burning inside of him. That's just the way he was. And the Lord kept that fire burning. He had a zeal for this and you see it when he was stoned and left for dead outside of the city in Antioch, in the Book of Acts. And all the disciples gathered around him and he came up out of the stones. I don't know if God raised him from the dead or he just got up. But he and Barnabas went that day to Derby and he preached in Derby the next day. I'd want a break, and I'm thinking everyone around me would think, "You need a break. Why don't you go for a break, alright?" Paul just got up and kept preaching. There was an incredible zeal in his heart.
Willingness to Sacrifice Everything to Win the Lost
And the ninth, and this transitions into the text we're going to look at today, he was willing to sacrifice personal preferences, the things he wanted to do with his life, the things he liked or didn't like. He was willing to sacrifice all of that to win lost people. And so, that brings us to what we're talking about today. He was willing to become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, he might save some.
II. Context: Love Limits Liberty
Now, let's set this again in context. I always want to see the context here. Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10, the problem that the Corinthians were having there in their pagan setting with meat sacrifice to idols. Chapter 8, verse 1, he says, "Now, about meat sacrifice to idols…" And you're going to go on for three chapters about this. This is in a big setting, three chapters on the topic of meat sacrifice to idols. And Paul had preached the truth that there is only one God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, all the other gods of the nations are not Gods at all, the idols are nothing, they don't represent any spiritual reality, they are nothing. And that meat is just meat. You can eat anything. Jesus had declared all foods clean. That's the truth that he laid out. And some of the Corinthians had imbibed that truth, they understood it. Set free, they were able to do whatever they wanted with meat sacrifice to the idols there in the Pagan temples, and they were flaunting their freedoms in ways that were hurting weaker people who hadn't reached that point of maturity yet.
And so, Paul is writing to them within the church, giving them the basic prints you are going to see again and again, and we're going to use it again today. Love limits liberty. There's a limit to our personal freedoms and our personal rights and what we get to do. We're going to limit our liberties for the sake of other people. We're going to think horizontally about how this will affect other people. And so, that's where he's at. And so, he uses himself as a personal example. And we saw the first person example last week, remember? He talks about how it is right for those who preach the Gospel to make their living from the Gospel. And he gives five reasons why churches should support their pastors, financially support them, and he lays all that out. I'm not going to walk through that again, but he has been very, very clear, multiple reasons why the churches that Paul had planted should step up and take responsibility to pay for those who preach the Gospel, pay financially.
Paul’s Personal Example #1: The Right to Be Financially Supported through the Church
But Paul is just setting that up, he actually isn't really doing that for that main reason, to lay out reasons. And so, he says that in verse 15, look at it. He said, "But I have not used any of these rights." "I didn't use my freedom. I didn't use my right to earn money in preaching the gospel, and I am not writing this now in the hope that you will do such things for me. That's not why I'm writing these words. I'm giving you an illustration of the principle that I'm limiting my freedoms and my rights for your sake." And so, he had voluntarily given this up.
Now, he established that the other apostles didn't do this. And the other apostles were supported financially. Peter was. This was the common practice. This was the ordinary practice, but he did this voluntarily. He was under no compulsion here, it was just something he chose to do. He gave up the right to get money for preaching the Gospel. For him, it was a point of honor. You could look at it this way. He uses boasting language. Paul does this a lot, but he says, "This is my boast." This is actually, if you could think of it this way, "This is the gift that I'm specially giving to Jesus in my ministry. I get to look at the people I'm preaching to, I get to look them in the eye and show very plainly, I am no religious huckster. I'm not in it for the money. There's no fraud going on here. I don't get any money for preaching the Gospel. I work hard with my own hands, late at night making tents to supply my needs and the needs of my companions, and none of you supported me. And this is what I've chosen to do. My preaching of the gospel is in a different category. I have no choice but to do that." Look at his language, verse 16 and 17, "When I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward, but if not voluntarily, then I'm simply discharging the trust entrusted to me."
Here's how I understand those words. You could well imagine that Paul effectively heard from Jesus on the road to Damascus, "You are a dead man, but I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to use the rest of your life as I see fit. Do you understand?" "Yes, Lord." "Now get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do. You understand the words 'must do'?" "Yes, Lord." That lines up with his attitude here, he says, "Woe to me if I stop preaching." Woe will happen to me. That's a prophetic word of judgment. I will be prophetically judged by God if I stop preaching the Gospel.
There's some precedent here. Remember Jonah? Remember how God gave him a calling to be a prophet? How did he feel about that? Not thrilled. "I want you to go to your bitter national enemies, the Assyrians, and I want you to preach to them. Otherwise, I might destroy them." He's like, "I'm all in, Lord. Destroy them." Don't think for a minute Jonah was afraid to preach, he had stage fright or hated public speaking. It had nothing to do with that. And he wasn't even afraid of what the Assyrians would do, I think he would have preferred they slaughtered him, rather than God save the Ninevites. What did he do? He ran. He did not preach.
You don't run from God. "Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" If I go to the far side of the earth, you're there. Well, Jonah tried to do it and God was there, and he actually didn't even reach that far into the Mediterranean, but God sent a storm. God controlled a lot, he controlled the sailors, he controlled the big fish, he controls everything. And next thing there, Jonah is in downtown Nineveh preaching the message.
To all of the future would be prophets that God calls, do what he tells you to do. You have no choice. Or again, take Jeremiah. Jeremiah had a similar experience, Jeremiah was called into the hardest ministry there was in the Old Testament. I've thought about this, I think Jeremiah had the hardest ministry. "Jeremiah, I'm going to send you to a people, your own people, who will not listen to you. And when you're done preaching, the Babylonians will come and destroy almost everyone." Wow, what a message. And it was very unpopular, as God knew it would be. And so, in Jeremiah 20:7-9, Jeremiah says this, "O Lord, you deceived me and I was deceived." Now, stop right there. You don't say that to God. "Lord, you tricked me. You deceived me, getting me into this ministry. You overpowered me and prevailed. You're stronger than I, what could I do? I am ridiculed all day long. Everyone mocks me and the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long." You would imagine then, it's like, "I'm not preaching anymore. I'm not doing this." And he tried, but listen to this, "But if I say 'I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name,' his word in my heart is like a fire, like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot."
I think that's somewhat like what Paul is saying, "I can't stop preaching the gospel." Paul is saying, effectively, "My boast in my service, O Lord, is not that. The Lord is powerful on me and I can't stop, but this is something I have voluntarily, a free will offering I have offered to God, that I preach without charge. It's just something I give." Look at verse 18, "What then is my reward? Just this, that in preaching the Gospel, I may offer it free of charge and so, not make use of my rights in preaching it."
The basic principle is love limits liberty. He was willing to limit his rights and privileges and freedoms for the sake of first: The church. Horizontally, the other believers. Now, we're going to turn, and he said, "I also am doing it for the lost. I'll limit my liberties and I'll limit my freedoms for the sake of those who are not yet converted, for the lost." And that's what he's talking about here. Paul enslaved himself to someone to win some to Christ.
In 1520, Martin Luther, based on this very text we're looking at today, wrote one of his most famous treatises, and that is on the freedom of a Christian. And he had two basic premises. Listen to them, and I can unfold them from Luther, but there they're just as powerful, and they come from this text. First of all, thesis number one: A Christian is a perfectly free, Lord of all, subject to none. Number two: A Christian is a perfectly dutiful slave subject to everyone. It's really a fascinating argument, and he talks about the freedom of the gospel. And then, yet, to everyone else around, we are enslaved, voluntarily enslaved for their good. And that's how Luther argues.
III. Paul Enslaved Himself to Everyone to Win Some to Christ
And that's what Paul argues here, too. Look at verse 19, "Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." Paul is free, he's saying, "I don't owe anyone anything." Even if he were imprisoned as he was again and again, his heart was free in Christ. The Son had set him free. He was truly free, free indeed. He was a free man. He was free from sin, he was free from death, he was free from human tribunals. He actually says in another place, "I care very little what any human tribunal says about me. Doesn't matter to me what judgments you make. My conscience is captive to Christ." He's free, free, free. He's a free man. He's under no obligation to do anything, when it came to eating or drinking or clothing, what he did with his time, whether or not to get married, where to live, what things he enjoyed, that he was just a free man. But he voluntarily restricted those kinds of freedoms to win as many souls as possible to Christ, to gain them.
Now, he uses a business term here, like an accounting term. This is effectively the profit, talk about profits and losses. This is the profit to my business. Souls one, eternally one, for Christ. This is what I'm trying to gain in our business. Paul's business was not tent making and he was trying to turn a profit. Paul's business was the spreading of the Gospel and the gain, the profit he's looking for, was lost people coming to faith in Christ, being rescued from the dominion of darkness. And so, this is yet another example of the principle we've been learning: Love limits liberty.
He begins talking about the Jews. Look at verse 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 am not myself under the law." He says this plainly in Romans 7 that we are not under law, but under grace. We're set free from the ceremonial Law of Moses. We're not under law. So as to win those under the law, Paul was raised, as we know, in the strictest sect of Judaism. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He knew the minutia of the Law of Moses very, very clearly. But he also understood that in Christ, the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility that the ceremonial law had set up, such as circumcision, the dietary regulations, kosher foods, the things that the Jewish men did with their beards and their hair, and their clothing, that they would not wear certain types of clothing with different fibers woven together. And all of those laws that the Lord said made the Jews a peculiar or special people, those things had been fulfilled in Jesus. The time for that was done, the Messiah had come. He'd been identified as a Jewish man, salvation had come from the Jews. We knew what that meant by these laws, but now they've been abolished, they've been fulfilled, they're obsolete.
And so, Paul says, "Look, I'm not under that law anymore. I'm done with that. I can do whatever I want with my beard and my hair, whatever style hits me, alright? I can do it. I'm free, okay. I can wear any clothing I want within reason. Anyway, I can wear anything I want, anything that I would like to wear, I can wear it. I'm free. When it comes to food, I can eat what I choose to eat, anything. But if I'm trying to win some Jews, unbelieving Jews, to faith in the Messiah, I will put all of those freedoms aside to win them. When I go to their home, and they're serving kosher, I will eat their food. If I'm having them over, I will serve kosher to them. Even though we're set free from it, I'm going to fit into their world. If it's a Sabbath, I'm going to follow the rituals of the Sabbath, even though the law, the ceremonial law has been fulfilled. We don't have to do all those Jewish rituals anymore. I will fit into that Sabbath pattern, like I did when I was growing up. When I visit the synagogue, I'm going to follow the rules of the synagogue in there. I'm going to do the things they do."
And this is the approach he consistently followed when seeking to reach the Jews. Just like in Acts 15 where the Jerusalem council decided that the converts, the gentile convert, did not need to become Jews to be saved, they didn't have to be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses, but there were some regulations given to the gentile converts, so they would not offend the Jews, like, don't eat meats with blood still in it and don't need strangled animals, and other things like that. Well, you can eat anything, all foods are clean, but that's especially offensive to Jews, so don't do that.
And that's why he also took Timothy and circumcised him. It's a very interesting thing that he did, because he argues vigorously that you don't have to be circumcised to be saved, and he wasn't contradicting that. But Timothy had a Jewish mother and grandmother, but a gentile father who had never been circumcised. And so, he wanted Timothy to have a wide range of freedom of ministry and had him do that, so as not to offend the Jews, but not for salvation.
He also took a Nazarite vow, Paul did. And he followed all the Jewish regulations and paid for others to have the Nazirite vows fulfilled as well. That's what he means. Now, this did not mean compromising any moral law. He not saying that. "Well, now, I can commit adultery as much as I want or I can murder as much." No, those are timeless regulations the Holy Spirit fulfils in us. He's talking about the ceremonial laws and personal preferences in terms of food, clothing, and lifestyle. That's what he was talking about. And so, he became like a Jew to win the Jews.
Becoming Like a Gentile to Win the Gentiles
Then, he turns it around. He says in verse 21 and 22, "To those not having the law, [that's gentiles] I became like one not having the law, though I myself am not free from God's law, but I'm under Christ's law." So as to win those not having the law. When he's in the home of a gentile family, if they serve pork, he ate it. What if he hated it? What if he was like, "I hate pork." Paul would say, "I don't care." Of himself, he said, "I don't care whether I hate it or not, I'm going to eat it. I'm not bringing my own kosher lunch, alright. I'm going to eat whatever they serve without raising any questions about it. I'm just going to eat it."
Remember how the apostle Peter was the forerunner in this? The apostle to the Jews, and God was getting him ready to go preach the Gospel to Cornelius, the gentile, the Roman. And so, he gave him a vision. Remember, he's hungry and lunch was being prepared? God chooses his timing perfectly. He said, "Here's a hungry man." Alright, lunch is being made ready. But then there's this vision of a sheet being let down from heaven, and it contained all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles and birds, and there are all these unclean things. "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." He said, "Never, Lord. I've never eaten anything impure or unclean." And then God spoke from heaven a second time, "Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean."
The thing is, if they serve you snake... Never mind, but if they serve you [laughter] bat, eat whatever they serve you. A number of years ago, Elisabeth Elliot came to First Baptist Church and she spoke to the women at a women's conference. And my wife and I and our kids, we had the privilege of sitting at a table with one of the greatest women of the 20th century, and we're talking about missionary life among the Huaorani Indians in the Amazonian jungle and the things they ate. And you've heard this saying before, "Where he leads, I will follow. What he feeds, I will swallow." It's like...
I had my own battle with this before we went to Japan. Those of you who know me know some things about me, and concerning my tendencies. You are all put on notice that I don't like seafood. If you have us over and you serve seafood to me, you are giving me a clear message. I don't know what it is, I'll have to ask you, but there's definitely a message here. If my wife serves me seafood, that's a whole different level of communication in our marriage. Absolutely. She knows I'm not going to eat it. I'm going to set it aside and say, "Okay, what did I do? It must have been huge. But we're going to Japan. And they eat all manner of seafood over there. And we were at the International Learning Center, we were there and we were having a time of prayer before we all went to the four corners of the earth, some to Mongolia, some to sub-Saharan Africa. We were going to Japan.
And we were sharing prayer requests, some people were laying hands, some people were praying, and they were all different kinds of things being shared. Somebody's father had a weak heart and that couple might never see that man again and they were crying. And there were some lighter things, more insignificant issues, all of it. For me, it was like, "I hate sea food. What am I going to do in Japan?" And people laid hands on me for that, and prayed that God would give me a special measure of grace. And sure enough, the first month we were there, the missionary I was working with and I went to help a Japanese man put a ceiling fan in and he brought us to a fine Japanese restaurant, and they brought out a fish on a cutting board, and they looked at it, and it was like, nodded, went off. And the next thing I know, some of that was on my plate, uncooked, and I thought, just like Elisha, after Elijah had gone up to Heaven in a chariot of fire, I said, "Where now is the God of Israel?" And just, "Help me." But the thing that's cool about a sashimi is it has almost no flavor. And I actually liked the sauces we dipped in, so I was good for a couple of years on that one. But I don't eat truck stops sashimi or sushi.
The point is, I didn't have the freedom to just say, "I'm just not going to eat what they serve," despite the fact that I am actually remarkably picky about certain things about eating but that's just... You can't do that. I became like a gentile to when the gentiles, Paul was saying. Verse 22, "To the weak, I became like a weak, to win the weak." "I commended myself to them in whatever way I could. Again, we're not talking about the moral law here, but I am talking about just preferences. I just tailored my preferences to them, and to what they wanted. I've become all things to all people so that by all possible means, I might save some. By all possible means, I might save some from condemnation. By all possible means, I might save some from eternity in conscious torment away from God, through the Gospel. Whatever it takes, that I might fit in."
The Overall Principle
Hudson Taylor in the 19th century was the first missionary there in China, to just completely go native, to wear a Chinese man's garb and to have the long pony tail and all of the mannerisms and all of that. He was the first to do it. Most of the missionaries before the China Inland Mission were right on the coast, and they stayed Western and they stayed with that, but he plunged in and became all things to all people, so that he might save some. And that was what he found necessary.
A person who is selfish and cares only for his or her preferences in this world will not lead many people to Christ. There is a basic level of self-denial that we must reach if we're going to be effective in evangelism. You just have to say no to yourself. You have to be willing consistently to say no to you.
Now, next time that we look at 1 Corinthians, verses 24 through 27, we'll talk about the level of self-denial Paul uses, beating his body and making it his slave, the zeal that he had to keep himself under so that others could be saved.
Applications: How does this text and the things we've talked about today challenge you? If you're a believer in Christ, how does it challenge you toward evangelism? What does it have you do? How are you convicted? I've been convicted by this. What am I protecting? What am I keeping safe about my lifestyle so that I'm not as effective as an evangelist? It could be just how I think about my life, my time, my energy, my money, what I do with my days. I just... Am I thinking like I could lead some lost people to Christ with my time today or am I thinking selfishly about my time in this world? How are we... We're surrounded every day by lost people here in the Raleigh-Durham area. It's going to take sacrifice for us to reach them. We're going to have to learn more and more, and I know it's hard. Ben Edith, that's one of the best prayers I heard, you took away a bunch of my application points, but thank you, brother, because we're almost out of time.
The workplace, what could we do with the workplace? Like Ben was saying, what could we do to connect with people? To have conversations, to use hospitality to bring people over? What could we do in our neighborhoods? What could we do to connect with people? What could we do to either have people or go to their events. Sometimes, like recently, we had an event in our neighborhood that we didn't host, but we just went. And building relationships. What are things we could do with existing ministries here in the life of the church, like International Connections, that's having a phenomenal outreach to internationals?
What are some things we could do through the Caring Center, which has a phenomenal ministry here in this urban setting? What are some things we're not doing now that we haven't even thought of, some doors that God's going to set before us to get us involved in the lives of lost people? What are some ways that we can, like Adoniram Judson did in one locality, I mentioned it before, spread 500 leaflets, and see one person come to Christ. Broadcast seed selling is one of the great challenges, to be willing to fail and fail and fail and fail, and you've not failed, because some of those people may come to Christ without you around. The Lord humbles us that way. But just to be willing to share with many people, so that some can be saved.
This is the gospel. Now, I'm conscious of the fact that not everyone listening to me right now is born again. You've heard the Gospel, all of you. And I pray that maybe you walked in here today, unconverted, but you won't walk out unconverted. Judgment Day is coming, you don't know when you're going to die. And you've heard that God sent His Son into the world. You heard it from the three that were baptized. You've heard it from me already when Paul talked about what the gospel is. You know enough. You don't need to do anything, you just need to believe and trust in Jesus and you will be forgiven. Close with me in prayer.