Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I Am Compelled - February 8, 2015 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 9:16-27
Over 200 years ago our country was founded on the idea that all people are created equal. Over the years we have struggled with the understanding of just what that means. Even today we struggle with the understanding of what it means to be free. We are people who do not like to be dependent on others and we are people who do not like to have to answer to others for our actions. We are people who like to have our freedom, whatever that means to us. To some, freedom means being able to do whatever I want to do without any interference from others. To some, freedom means not having to answer to others. In our text for today Paul gives us a better understanding of what freedom means for us as Christians.
Although the word in our text is translated as “servant,” the more accurate translation would be “slave,” as some translations do record. Unfortunately, the very mention of the word slavery brings an uncomfortable feeling to the people of our country today, perhaps that is why it is so often translated as “servant.” Over the years our country has developed a very narrow view of slavery. Because of our understanding of slavery today, we find it strange and even hard to believe that Paul would tell us that he makes himself a slave to everyone. We might wonder to ourselves, why would anyone want to subject themselves to another human being, to be owned by them, to be abused by them, to be at their every beck and call? Obviously, our understanding of what it means to be a slave is quite different from Paul’s understanding.
If our understanding of slavery is different from Paul’s, what about our understanding of freedom? Do we understand freedom today in the same way Paul did? I would suggest that even though we see freedom in a very positive light we tend to explain it in negative terms. When we think about freedom, instead of speaking about freedom to do or speak, we think about freedom from different things. Freedom from slavery; freedom from tyranny; freedom from having to listen to others, obey others, and for some even freedom from religion, going to church and the like. Again, I think our understanding of freedom is quite different from Paul’s understanding.
For Paul, it was his freedom which led him to make himself a slave of the Lord. In verse sixteen Paul tells us that he is compelled to preach, “16For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (v. 16). To us that may not sound like freedom. And certainly that does not sound like gospel, but law. But, let us not get confused. Paul does not say that he must preach the gospel, because if he does not preach the gospel then he will go to hell. No, Paul says that he is compelled to preach, it is something within him, a burning desire to share the good news with others. Some have suggested that it is a gospel imperative that has moved Paul to preach. Of course, that seems to make the Gospel into a new law which is what an imperative would be, something demanded for us to do. Perhaps we might call it a Gospel urgency which has moved Paul to preach. I believe it would be great if we were all the same way. Certainly our salvation does not depend on what we do. We do not have to tell others about Jesus. But the more we hear and read the good news, the more the Holy Spirit fills us with the good news, the stronger we become in our Christian faith, the more we bubble over and we just cannot help ourselves, we just have to tell someone the good news. It is what we get to do. It is kind of like when we get something new, when we get a new car or a new home, we just have to tell someone or we will just burst.
Paul says it with even more emphasis when he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” By faith in Jesus’ work of redemption Paul was assured of his eternal salvation. He was free from the law. As a response to all that the Lord has done for him, Paul has volunteered himself as a slave to the Lord. As a slave of God he now has no choice in the matter of accepting or rejecting the tasks the master, God, gives him to do. But woe to him if he refused, and woe to him if he did not do well. Remember the parable of the talents; how the master gave his servants 5, 2, and one talent and when he returned expected that each had managed his talent or talents well. The Lord has given us all things, life, new life, faith, forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and so on. The Lord has made us right before our Father in heaven. Because of all our Lord has done for us we respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit and make ourselves slaves to Him. As slaves He expects great things of us, things which we do with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus made Himself to be an example for His disciples. On Maundy Thursday He took a towel and some water and washed the feet of His disciples and He showed them by his example how they are to be toward one another. He showed them how they are to serve one another, not to gain righteousness, but as a response to the righteousness gained for them by His death on the cross. In our text Paul tells us that he has made himself to be a slave to everyone in order to win as many as possible. He goes on to list those he has become like in order to win. And notice, Paul does not say he become what he mentions, but he says he became like, one. We are included in the list as those who were under the law before coming to salvation, that is, we were under the curse of the law before coming to salvation. Remember, the purpose of the law is to show us our sins. The purpose of the law is to condemn us.
Thanks be to God, we are no longer under the power and curse of the law. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross we now live under the Gospel. The purpose of the Gospel is to show us our Savior, to show us our forgiveness, earned for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection.
Does that mean that we can throw out the law? By no means, because we are still under what we call the third use of the law, that is the law is still a guide for our lives. And there are times that we still come under the first and second uses of the law, that is that the law is there to keep us on the right road and to show us our sins, but for the most part the law is used to give us guidance in our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? This means that we have Jesus’ example to follow and we have Paul’s example to follow. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are to become all things to all people. This does not mean that we do anything that will compromise our Christian faith and life, but it does mean that we live our lives so that we are examples and witnesses of our faith through all we think, say, and do.
I believe Dr. Luther had it right in his explanation to the third article when he said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
How easily we forget all our God has done for us and that God has done it all for us. It would seem that each day we wake up and ask, what God has done for me lately? And each and every day we need to be reminded of all that God has done for us. We are really no different from the children of Israel and their roller coaster existence as God’s chosen people. How often it was that they would fall away from God, He would allow for them to be taken captive, they would repent, and God would rescue them. So too with us, we daily sin much, God allows for us to be disciplined, we repent, and God assures us of our forgiveness and salvation.
And the most joyous thing about this is what He continues to do for us. He continues to allow us another day to live. He continues to allow us to have a job, to earn a living to feed ourselves and our families and even more so to allow us to be able to have things we want, not just things we need. He continues to reassure us of our forgiveness. Through our daily reading of His Word, through our confession and absolution, through our being given His body and blood in His Holy Meal, through our daily remembering of our baptism, through our daily devotions, through our studying of His Word He works to strengthen us and keep us in faith in Him.
At the end of the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ creed Dr. Luther expresses the idea that it is our “duty” to thank and praise, serve and obey our Lord. Our first reaction might be to think that this is a new law. After all, the word “duty” implies something we are compelled to do. This is not a new law. Dr. Luther is reminding us that everything that we have is a gift from God and that it is our privilege to respond to all our Lord has done for us by thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him. That is what this little word “duty” means, it is our privilege to respond. To use Paul’s words from our text, yes we are compelled, we cannot help ourselves, but to “thank and praise, serve and obey” our Lord.
The Gospel gives us all that God has to give, forgiveness of sins, faith, life, even eternal life. God does all and gives all. He has taken care of everything, that is the Gospel. The freedom of the Gospel does not move us to live lives of cheap grace, that is to sit on our grace. Rather, the freedom of the Gospel moves us to respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to make ourselves slaves of our Lord. So, with the help of the Holy Spirit the Lord gives to us to live according to His good and gracious will to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. We just cannot help it. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.