Living for the Gospel
“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 myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” 1 Corinthians 9:20 NIV
“2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” Galatians 5:2-3 NIV
Dear Church Family,
A couple of weeks ago I addressed the idea of living “worthy” of the gospel. There is a lifestyle that harmonizes with the gospel. This week I want to develop what that means a little more concretely. I begin with an observation: In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul emphasized sacrifice in his ministry. As a Christian, he no longer considered himself “under the law.” However, he was willing to live like a Jew “so as to win those under the law.” Paul didn’t want anything to interfere with spreading the gospel. There was even an incident (Acts 16:1-3) where Paul circumcised Timothy before taking him to spread the gospel among Jews.
How, you might ask, does this harmonize with Paul’s passionate plea to the Galatians to not let themselves be circumcised? What did he mean by saying, if they allow themselves to be circumcised, “Christ will be of no value to you at all”? That is a shocking statement.
This sounds like a complex issue, but I think the answer is actually not that difficult. Let me offer three thoughts:
When it came to evangelism, Paul set aside his rights in Christ. An example for us today might be a missionary to Jewish people who voluntarily eats a kosher diet while among them.
Against false teachers, as in Galatia, Paul took a hard line. Christians must not surrender to views that would threaten the heart of the gospel. Any teaching that one must keep the law to be a Christian is false, so the Galatians were told to reject the demand to be circumcised.
Within the church, Paul was patient with those who had an immature understanding of their freedom in Christ; he sacrificed his freedoms if the exercise of those freedoms might hurt a “weaker” Christian. I’m preaching about this on Sunday (see Romans 14).
Simply put, there is a difference between a “weaker” Christian within our congregation and those legalistic people who would steal our freedom in Christ; there’s a difference between an immature legalism that hasn’t understood the freedom we have in Christ and a heretical works-oriented salvation that perverts the central message of salvation by grace. Out of love, we must be willing to sacrifice to help the weaker Christian, but we must not give in to a legalistic mindset that undermines the gospel of grace. In practice, this can be tricky, but the principle is not that difficult to grasp. Our actions must be motivated by love, even when this calls for sacrifice. We sacrifice to help others come to Christ; we sacrifice to build up those in Christ.