INTRODUCTION – One of the books I’m reading right now is the 2nd book written by Rosario Butterfield, entitled “Openness Unhindered.” Rosario became a Lesbian in her early college days, and then as she went on for her PhD and then into a very influential tenured teaching post at Syracuse University – she became a widely known and very vocal lesbian activist and apologist. Her first book is entitled “The Secret Thoughts of an unlikely convert”, and a highly unlikely convert she was. So unlikely that most believers who knew her or knew of her didn’t even try to help her come to know Jesus Christ. Most, if they dealt with her at all, sent her condemning letters of the judgment that awaited her – especially after she dared trash the Promise keepers movement in one of her columns in the late 90’s.
But one man became the very fragrance of Christ to her over a period of time. This man was a pastor there in Syracuse, New York. He knew the Bible well and could have easily put her in her place with his scholarship and with his strong convictions about sin and sexual immorality. But he knew Christ Himself was calling him to lay down his rights to put her in her place. This pastor learned from the Holy Spirit as he prayed for her and began to correspond with her that the over-riding issue in her life was not her lifestyle or her advocacy for homosexuality, but rather her lack of personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was the fragrance that came from his self denial and submission to Christ Himself and his refusal to sit in judgment of her that eventually caused her to explore the claims of Christ on her own life.
The apostle Paul in his letters says a number of things about we believers in Christ that are absolutely true about us positionally, but sometimes not so true about us experientially. And one of those truths as stated in II Corinthians 2:14, 15 is that God “…always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
You and I are called and destined to be the very fragrance of Christ among everyone we are ever around, but that is not guaranteed; and one of the things that will determine whether we are or not is whether we have learned to die to our rights and entitlements, and live in absolute submission to the risen Christ, who is the Lord of lord and King of kings, and the Lord of the harvest.
As you turn in your Bible to I Corinthians chapter 9, we are going to see yet another example of how God used the apostle Paul to help spread or manifest the very sweet fragrance of Christ to the first century citizens of Corinth – – through Paul’s willingness to die to his rights and live before them the crucified life. Last week Joshua spoke to this by walking us through chapter 8, where Paul willingly died to his rights to eat a juicy steak to keep from causing a brother to stumble. Today we are going to see how Paul’s death to his rights in his early years in Corinth – enabled him to help establish the first ever church in that godless city.
So what was the right Paul died to as described in this chapter that opened the door for him to proclaim the gospel and establish the first church in Corinth? Well as he goes on to explain in the first 14 verses – it was the right to receive a salary from those early Corinthian believers for his ministry among them. Let’s read vs. 1-14 together.
In these verses Paul gives a number of reasons why it is legitimate and appropriate and biblical for ministers of the gospel to receive their financial and material provision from those they minister to. Specifically, he states why it would have been legitimate for him to ask for and to expect financial provision from the Corinthians in those early days. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. The first reason is because Paul was a true apostle, who laid his life down for the Corinthians – leading many of them to the Lord and establishing the first church among them. That’s what he is stating in vs. 1,2 (read it) In the next few verses Paul sets the stage for the arguments he is going to then make by raising the issue of whether he as an apostle has the right to the financial provision that would enable him to eat and drink and to care for a wife (were God to give him one, which we know He never did).
2. The second reason why Paul could have asked for and accepted financial provision from those he was ministering to in those early days of his initial ministry in Corinth is not rooted in scripture as much as it is in logic and reason. Everyone knows that soldiers who risk their lives for the protection of their fellow citizens are financially supported by the taxes of those citizens. Everyone knows that farmers and shepherds gladly and legitimately enjoy the fruits of their labors whether that be the crops they grow or the milk from the cows and goats they raise. Look again at Vs. 7
3. The third reason why Paul could have insisted on this right is because the law of God backs up the logic and reason he just layed out. This quote in vs. 9 is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 25:4, and Paul wants to make sure we understand that God’s concern in that passage is not animals, but people, which is obvious if you read the verses before and after it. Here’s his analogy: In those days oxen were used for threshing things like corn for instance. When the oxen trampled the corn it shook the grain loose from the husks. I want to read a small portion of Leon Morris’s commentary on this passage: “The mixture was tossed up in a breeze so that the wind blew the chaff away, while the heavier grain fell straight down. The Law provided that while the ox trod the grain he was not to be muzzled, which meant that he could eat some of it.” But the context of this verse in Deuteronomy chapter 25 and Paul’s rhetorical question at the end of vs. 9 shows that while God of course cares for an animal’s welfare He was after something more here. Just as a muzzle would prevent an oxen from eating while working. So not providing financial support for a minister who has been called to devote his life for the gospel would be muzzling the minister. This practice of having those ministered to provide the financial and material needs of the one ministering to them was started with the Levites in Moses’s day, and continues today.
4. Paul asks another rhetorical question in vs. 11, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” The implied answer is no that is not too much to ask.
5. His next reason in vs. 12 is that others who have ministered to the Corinthian believers after Paul established the church evidently received some financial support from them. So shouldn’t he who did all the hard pioneering work in the beginning amidst much opposition and spiritual warfare have the same right?
Now to make sure the Corinthians reading this letter didn’t misinterpret where Paul was going with all this reasoning – – he stated very clearly at the end of vs. 12 the over-riding principle of this chapter and of his life and ministry, “Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.”
6. Then I guess he sensed the need to reason a little more, so he reminded them of how God made sure in the law that priests in the temple who facilitated day in and day out sacrifices of various animals – – these priests were expected to get their meals from these sacrifices.
Then he sums up all of his reasoning by concluding in vs. 14, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Probably referring to Jesus’s instructions to the 12 and the 70 disciples when He sent them out during His earthly ministry.
Should a minister receive financial and perhaps material provision for his labors? Certainly! Paul absolutely had that right. And he did receive financial provision from some of the other churches he ministered to.
But here’s the kicker: with the Corinthians in those early years – – he absolutely refused to claim or hold on to that right. Even though he was laboring day and night to be able to lead people to Christ and disciple them, and then in time help develop leadership for Christ’s church to be established. Even though he was battling with all kinds of demons along the way – – fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit led him to, and enduring persecution from his enemies and detractors – – Paul refused to even allude to his God given right to receive any financial support from these Corinthian believers so that he would not be a stumbling block to their coming to faith in Christ..
This is only conjecture: But my guess is as Paul – directed by the Holy Spirit – began to enter the city limits of Corinth for the first time – – probably on foot after perhaps a ride or two on a boat or ship – – the Holy Spirit began to speak to him about denying this right. And it is very possible that in the beginning of that internal discussion, Paul reminded God of all these arguments we just went through. And God probably politely and patiently listened and then replied, Yes Paul typically that is how things should operate. But in this case, I am able and willing to provide for your every need without the Corinthians’ help. I know their hearts and mindsets. And I know you are gaining my heart and compassion for them. And I know if you bring up the topic of receiving funds from them, it will sabotage what you are hoping to accomplish. I appreciate you accepting my call to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to this godless and corrupt city. I appreciate your accepting my call to establish my church in this city. Now you need to accept my way of bringing it about. And at the end of that discussion, Paul said – OK, I will never bring it up, and even if one of them offers, I will refuse.
Now let’s see what we can learn from Paul’s explanation of why he died to his right to receive financial provision from the Corinthians in those early days: read vs. 15-23
In a nutshell what Paul learned about being the fragrance of Christ among the lost or those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is this: Any lifestyle adjustment, any sacrifice, any right that he had to die to to be able to be used by God to help the lost see and smell and appreciate and savor the good news about Jesus and His kingdom – Paul was more than willing to make. As the Holy Spirit led and enabled him, Paul was willing to go to any extent necessary to be God’s instrument to help people embrace the Savior. For the sake of the gospel – any hobby, any preference, any character trait, any habit, any quirk, any fleshly tendency, any plan or schedule, any relationship that the Holy Spirit asked Paul to die to or give up or be cleansed and healed from – – he was all over it.
You see here’s the deal: You and I have this amazing treasure living inside us. His name is Jesus. And He is wonderfully fragrant to a lost and dying world. He is their only hope of being saved and cleansed from their sins; and being healed from all of the effects of sin in their lives. He is their only hope of being transformed from the inside out by the power of God and through the blood of Christ so that God’s original purpose and destiny on their lives can be fulfilled. But this fragrance has to be loosed – – set free; it has to burst forth; and yet for many of us it is rather bound up. Often when I’m around people, the fragrance emitted from me is more of Randy than it is of Christ.
So what can we do – – how can we better cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that wherever we go and whatever we do – – the fragrance of Christ just oozes out of us – – through our attitudes, through our responses, through our words, through our actions, etc.?
Well Paul was hoping we would ask that question and he ends this chapter with the answer. Let’s look at vs. 24-27 (read it)
How can you and I live the kind of life that the fragrance of the risen, living Christ – the Savior of the World and the great lover of our souls – can ooze out of us wherever we go and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in?
By living life 24/7 in an ever growing dependence upon the Holy Spirit. By coming to know Him as our coach and as our personal trainer day in and day out. While Paul doesn’t specifically mention Him in this chapter – – He has spoken many times about His role in the earlier chapters.
You see the Christian life is like a race that all of us are meant and destined to win; or like a boxing match that again all of us are fully expected to win – – but to actually win it will require the same kind of training and practice and self denial that our Olympic champions over the years have had to endure.
But the wonderful thing about all of this is our coach is the Holy Spirit – – who will never yell at you, or ridicule you, or unfairly discipline you, or treat you with partiality. Every morning instead of trying to motivate you by comparing you with others, and threatening you with more punishments – – He will remind you of how much God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit loves you. He will remind you of all the myriad ways He has blessed you in Christ. And then He will gently but firmly begin to deal with the things that keep you from winning your race. He will show you how to train by His power; and how to be transformed by His grace.
For me in the last couple of years – – He has been gently but firmly dealing with my perceived right to know things – especially political things in our nation. Now in and of itself there is nothing wrong with watching or reading the news. And I don’t doubt that God wants me to have His heart for our nation and for our State. But over time because of some of the troubling things that were happening in our State and nation I began to be fairly obsessed with staying on top of these issues, which meant I became glued to my laptop, and therefore less glued to my wife and to Jesus Himself.
This may shock you, but a steady diet of news and commentaries about all the problems in our nation and how our government is dealing with them (or not) – even if from Christian sources – – did little to help the fragrance of Christ ooze out of my life.
So when our sabbatical started over two years ago, the Holy Spirit told me He wanted me to spend the first two hours of every day alone with God without any contact with the outside world – – no texting, emails, internet, newspaper, news on t.v., or meetings with people. I balked at that at first, but within a few weeks by His grace I was practicing it. But then I still felt I had the right to stay on top of all these issues and goings on in our state and nation after those first two hours.
Then more recently He began to deal with my days off. Anne has shared more than once over the last five or so years that it would be great if we could not look at our laptops at all on Fridays. I agreed to lessen my use a bit, but still looked at it a handful of times on a given Friday. Now it is my practice that it gets turned off around 7-8:00 on Thursday evening and not turned on again until Saturday morning around 9:00. On Mondays I don’t turn it on until around 1:00. And slowly but surely God has weaned me off the news. I’ve unsubscribed to probably 50 to 75 different sources of emails. And I could go on. But the point is: The Holy Spirit with the help of my wife helped me see – – my right to be in the know was killing my call to be the fragrance of Christ – first to my wife and then to everyone else I’m around.