“She’s not coming back.” That’s what one church councilman said to rest of the councilmen (myself included). She was not a member of the congregation, but certainly was under its spiritual care. She worshipped there quite regularly for years. In fact, she had even studied the congregation’s Bible-based teachings with the Pastor. Now, after many years spent in worship, after creating many friendships, after spending time in the Word, she was not coming back. Why? Let me put it in her words: Someone from the congregation told her ‘that she must give a larger offering.’
I wish this was the only time I heard of such things happening in a congregation. The truth is, each of you is different. Look around. Some are elderly; others young. Some have families; others are single. Some of you are lifelong Christians; others pretty new to the Christian faith. Some work; others do not. Some have physical handicaps and others have no troubles with their health or body. Each of you is different. Each of you are at a different stage in life. Each of you have different personal preferences.
Those are important factors to remember when you gather for worship. After all, what instrument do you use in worship? A piano? …An organ? …A computer? How should children behave in worship? Where should people sit? How should guests who sit next to you act? Should you wear a suit or jeans? …a dress or slacks? These matters seem so trivial and yet disagreement on these matters have pushed people away from the Savior.
The question is not: How do you reach agreement on these things? Rather: How do you reach agreement so that everyone may grow closer to Jesus?
Well, by gathering around the one thing that unites you all together: The Gospel. Only The Gospel Frees You from obligations of the Law and it frees you to serve all with the gospel.
Over the past few weeks we’ve touched on a Bible reality called: “Christian Freedom.” This morning we’ll dig into (1) what “Christian freedom” is and (2) what it means for you.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19 you read: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. That verse sounds a little contradictory, doesn’t it? The man speaking— the great missionary-Pastor Paul— says that he is both a free man and a slave (two things that seemingly cannot exist at the same time). Yet, Paul is not talking about the civil freedoms he enjoys as a Roman citizen. Rather, he describes the freedom that he possesses as a Christian. Freedom from what? From the stinging, bitter penalty that comes from breaking God’s Law.
You see, when God gave his Ten Commandments, he laid down his moral expectations for all people: Love God with all your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). It sounds simple enough to do, or at least, it’s something you want to do. And yet, you reflect on your words and realize that you do not respect your friends like you should. You reflect on the thoughts racing through your mind and recognize that you love money, your status, the comforts of home more than you love the One who gave them all. You (and I) may want to love God, but we do not. We cannot. Our hearts resist (Romans 8:7).
God makes it clear: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; see also Galatians 3:10). When you break a single command of God, you become a slave; you are enslaved to its penalty. You are not free.
Yet, Jesus came to do what you and I could not: obey God’s Law perfectly. The devil tempts Jesus with wealth, kingdoms, and status, and Jesus orders: ‘Go away!’ (Matthew 4:1-10). Although he is true God, as true man Jesus humbles himself to obey his parents (Luke 2:51). When Jesus runs into people who made a mess of their lives, he does not gossip or proudly look down on them, but rather ministers to their heart’s real need (for example, John 4:5-26). You see, Jesus comes to do what you (and I) cannot: obey God’s Law perfectly (Matthew 5:17). To obey it in your (and my) place.
Jesus carries no moral fault, no blemishes. He chooses to take your place under God’s death sentence. Jesus takes on our sin and suffers our penalty of death (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that you (and I) never will. His resurrection from the dead declares that he has wiped your (and my) record against God clean. Jesus sets you free from the penalty of death.
That is gospel truth. Remember what the word ‘gospel’ means. ‘Gospel’ simply means: good news. The gospel specifically proclaims the ‘good news’ that Jesus endures your penalty for breaking God’s law. The gospel tells you that Jesus has set you free from obligations of the Law. No longer do we follow the Ten Commandments in order to earn eternal life. That’s not the way you enter heaven! Faith in Jesus as the Savior who lived, died, and rose for you gets you into heaven! So, you follow the Ten Commandments out of love for everything God has done for you. This is how you live a God-pleasing life.
That’s why Paul says: I am free… I am free from the enslaving penalty of the Law. I am free from the fear spending life in hell. I am free from the soul-crushing guilt that comes every time I fail to match up to God. I free because I see the Savior who forgives.
This is ‘good news.’ This is the Gospel that Frees You from obligations of the Law. The Gospel that Frees You to serve others with it.
So, missionary-Pastor Paul says: Though I am free and belong to no man… even though God has not handed down specific commands on what I eat or how I dress or what I do in my free-time, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. This is the Christian’s number one priority: to share the ‘good news’ [gospel] of Jesus with all people.
Paul brings the gospel by meeting specific needs of specific groups. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. Paul adopts Jewish customs. When he preaches to those with Jewish backgrounds, he presents himself a certain way. He stays away from pork and eats only kosher foods. He uses their Old Testament Bibles to point to Jesus.
Now, he does not have to. He could eat hotdogs and skip over the teachings of Moses and the prophets—he could because God has given no New Testament laws on these things. Paul is free, but if he behaves carelessly, he may lose his Jewish audience. Some of the Jews may not know why they could eat pork. Others may be offended if Paul appears to disrespect Old Testament prophecy. And so, Paul acts like a Jew so that he has an opportunity to teach Jesus and grow them in Christian living.
God has not placed orders as to how you worship. He makes no mention of the use of organs, pianos, drums, guitars, or any other instrument. He does not command that you must use the Common Service or the Service of the Word in worship (any other service being called ‘sinful.’) God does not demand the Pastor wear a white robe or black or any robe. God does not even demand that the Pastor stand behind a pulpit when preaching.
Yet, to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To Christians gathered here, become like them to win them, to be a blessing to their faith, not a burden. Even though you and I are free to worship as we please, we still embrace rich worship practices. Why? Because many here already appreciate our rich worship practices. For me to stand up and preach walking around in a suit (or jeans!) is not wrong. Yet, if I act without explaining to others this freedom they have, I can hurt them spiritually. If I act without listening to them and their appreciate for what we already have, I can drive them away from Christ!
So, even though I may prefer one style of worship or I prefer to wear something else, for the sake of others I lay aside my freedom. I choose to not make us of my wishes and my wants so that I do not damage the faith of my fellow believers.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. Paul even ministers to the non-Jews, the Gentiles. They did not grow up with the Law of Moses. They did not have certain eating rules or worship days or civil laws. (They did have God’s commandments inscribed on their hearts.) In short, Gentiles act differently from the Jews. They are not circumcised. They eat any kind of meat. Some are uneducated with Jewish customs. Yet, Paul serves the Gentiles by adopting their customs and practices. He does not push a kosher diet on them. He does not force them to get circumcised. Paul enslaves himself to Gentile customs so that he may have an opportunity to share the Word with them.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. Those who worship alongside you may not act like you. The automatic reflex for us is to make a new law. We want to force our wants on others. To make a certain behavior “right” and a certain “wrong.” How many stories have you heard of a congregational member asking someone to “get out of their pew?” How many demand that those around them be quiet instead of moving to another seat? How many have turned around and stared down the parent of a crying child— all because that “noise” was unwanted? How many have complained that shirt, ties, and dresses are the only “right” clothing for worship and anything else is inappropriate?
And you may not have seen those troubling matters here. Great! What blessing! And yet, those are true stories I have heard in my brief ministry. This same mindset of creating rules for people to act like us is a constant temptation. In short, we want to make laws even though Jesus sets us free from laws. Jesus sets us free for our eternal benefit and we want to enslave others for our selfish benefit.
In humble, selfless love, Jesus meets your needs. Your selfishness. Your needless insecurity. Your desire to control. He meets them all and sets you free from the hell they deserve. That is good news. That is the Gospel which Sets You Free—free to serve it to others.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. The truth is, God has not made commands for how people act in worship. God has only given a guiding principle: Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:40).
So, you are free to determine the atmosphere of your worship, but you may need to set aside your preferences in order to meet the unique needs of others. For the sake of younger families, it may mean that you move so that you can hear the message with greater ease and so that younger families can quickly and quietly step out of the sanctuary. For the sake of the elderly, it may means that you take into account their needs— recognizing if your child (or your coughing, etc.) is getting uncontrollably disruptive, for their sakes, you lay aside your freedom and address the issue. Imitating Christ-like humility, I put my needs below the needs of others. Why? I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
This is tough. To be honest, it’s tough because of the sinful nature inside each of us, a sinful nature that wants you and your needs placed ahead of the needs of everyone else. Yet, to let this selfishness go unchecked can wreak havoc among you fellow Christians.
Each of you is different. Some are elderly; others young. Some have families; others are single. Some of you are lifelong Christians; others pretty new to the Christian faith. Some work; others do not. Some have physical handicaps and others have no troubles with their health or body. Each of you is different. Each of you are at a different stage in life. Each of you have different personal preferences. How do you meet those needs?
By gathering around the one thing that unites you all together: The Gospel. The good news that you are set free from obligations of the Law. The good news you get to serve to all people. The good news that each of you gather together around one Lord and one Christ and that each of you get to grow in this Christ. So, go. Live in harmony with one another. Serve your Lord in gladness. Because The Gospel Frees You from obligations of the Law and it frees you to serve all with the gospel.