Year B – Epiphany 5 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

“If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  What then is my reward?  Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.  For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”

Summary – This passage acts as part of Paul’s apostolic “testimony.”  He explains his ministerial strategies in ways that exemplify his self-sacrifice and dedication to the Gospel.  Following the theme of 1 Corinthians as a whole, Paul explains that he can’t brag just because he preaches the Gospel:  he is called to do so.  His reward is that he yielded his rights to make the Gospel easier for people to accept.  We learn that he enslaved himself to the societal statuses of all sorts of people to bring the Gospel into their context.  This strategy was not to give Paul a reason to brag, but for the sake of the gospel, so that he could share in its blessings.:

“This then was his recompense for labour, and this his ground of glorying–that he did with readiness of mind forgo his right in respect of applying himself to the discharge of his office willingly and with fervent zeal.” –John Calvin

Insight – What would happen if an airline pilot asked the control tower, “Hey, what is the highest amount of injuries I am allowed to have during this flight?”  Or if your dad hands you the keys to the car after you get your drivers’ license and you ask him, “How many of the wheels do I need to bring back?”  The pilot would be grounded, and you wouldn’t be driving to the movie theater!  In other words, there is a certain level of responsibility the pilot and the new driver have which they must meet: the pilot is expected to get all his passengers to their destination safely and the driver is expected to return his father’s car unblemished.  These two people had an attitude which wanted to know how much they had to do just to get by.  But that is not an attitude that tends to get rewarded too often!  In this passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul explains how if he only preached the Gospel, there is no extra reward there because that is what he is supposed to do.  But if he forgets his own selfish desires and preaches the Gospel with all his heart and soul, there is a reward in store.  Now, there is nothing wrong with doing “what you are supposed to:” that is what you are supposed to do!  But if our attitude in that is to “just get by” so we can spend more time doing something we want to do, we miss the point.  On the other hand, if our attitude is one of humility and love for others, we’ve got it.  If the pilot happily does his job to the fullest, smiling and thanking each passenger as they leave, or if the young driver takes good care of the car and gives it an extra wash on the way home, that gets noticed!

Child Catechism – What kind of obedience pleases God?  When I obey Him willingly because I love Him.

Discussion – Is doing only what you are supposed to do pleasing to God?  How so or how not?  What would make a mom more appreciative:  1) A child who does the dishes when she told him to, grumbling all the way, or, 2) a child who cheerfully does the dishes without being asked?  Why?

Prayer – Dear Lord, we desire to serve you to the best of our abilities.  We want your name to be praised through us.  Please help us to obey you willingly and joyfully.  Please help us, by your Holy Spirit, to put away our own selfish desire for personal glory and look only to yours.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(Contributed by Jon Herr)

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