A few weeks ago I told you that the gospel of John is all about explaining who Jesus really is. If you recall, I said that by the time the Gospel of John was written, the gospels and letters of the New Testament had already been written and been circulating individually for some decades, so a lot of people had already been introduced to Jesus, but there was also a lot of false teaching going on.
So, when John wrote his gospel he wanted to make it absolutely clear that everyone who read it would understand the singular claims Jesus Christ made about Himself and why the Christians followed Him. Remember, most of the first believers were Jews, so it was a pretty big deal that so many of them had started worshipping a man the same way that they had been worshipping Yahweh. These Jewish people had stopped following the Sanhedrin, stopped believing in the Old Testament sacrificial system, started meeting in their homes, said that there was no need for the priesthood anymore, and changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. That’s a pretty radical change.
And as John was writing, the message of this Jewish Messiah named Jesus of Nazareth was shaking the whole world. Everyone from trade union leaders to city officials to pagan temple leaders to the emperors themselves were having to figure out what to do with these people known as “Christians” because their message was upending everything.
We live in what is known as the “information age”, a time where news stories from around the world can be shared instantly with almost every person on the planet – even directly to their pocket no matter where they are in the world. I saw this great tweet a while back that said, “Do y’all remember, before the internet, that people thought the cause of stupidity was the lack of access to information? Yeah. It wasn’t that.” I totally agree. Even in our “information age” where we have access to a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, people are still making up and believing lies about almost everything.
Imagine how difficult it was to keep the story of Jesus Christ straight in the first century as the gospel spread throughout the Roman world. After the post-Pentecost diaspora, when thousands of new Christians left Jerusalem because of the persecution, even the Apostles couldn’t keep up. They would sometimes go into a city and find a Christian church there already set up and would have to straighten out some of the things they’d not understood, gotten wrong, or just plain made up. That’s why we have the letters of the New Testament and the gospels. It’s God’s way of giving the world the straight truth about Jesus.
So, when John was writing this gospel, he already knew what all the other letters said, and since his home base was in Ephesus, probably at the most important seminary in the world, he also knew the majority of the false teachings. Now, he could have written a letter like Paul’s, combatting the false teachings point by point, but that’s not what he did.
You’ve probably heard the old illustration that when they teach a bank teller or cashier to spot counterfeits they don’t teach them every way it someone can counterfeit a bill, right? What do they do? They teach them what a real bill looks like so that they know everything that doesn’t match it is wrong. That’s what John did. With all the misinformation and confusion and false teaching about Jesus, God had Him write a supplement to the other gospels and letters that would give an abundantly clear picture of who Jesus is and why Christians worship Him.
Which brings us to the structure of the letter. John didn’t write the way we might normally think a biography is written. He didn’t start at birth, go year by year hitting the high-points, and then ending with the death. John, instead, writes thematically.
Imagine you’ve been asked to describe what a person is like. Maybe it’s a eulogy at a funeral or you’re the reference for someone on their resume. You’re not really being asked to give a chronological outline of their life, right? You’re being asked what kind of person they were. How would you do that? You wouldn’t give their resume. You’d start with a single character trait and then give an example. Then you’d talk about how people responded to him.
For example: “My friend is a really hard worker. Let me tell you about a time he went over and above for a group he was working with. Some people get annoyed with my friend because he tends to set the bar really high for himself and it tends to point out the lazy members of whatever team he’s on, but he’s not showing off. He just really believes in working hard.”
Or: “My grandfather was a really brave man. Let me tell you a story about something he did to show his bravery, not just when he served in WWII but when he was at home too. Some people thought my grandpa stuck his nose where it didn’t belong, and some of us relatives kept telling him to stop jumping into help people all the time, especially when he got older, but it didn’t make any difference. My grandpa was willing to jump in and help anyone, anywhere no matter what.”
That’s what John does. Matthew and Mark already gave Jesus’ resume and Luke already gave an orderly biographical account of Jesus’ life, so God inspired John to write with a different purpose. John wants you to meet know Jesus the way He does, and so he tells stories.
The Thread of “Light”
But these stories aren’t merely disconnected events pointing to a few character details – far from. These stories are woven like an intricate tapestry. If you’ve ever seen the backside of a cross-stitch, sewing project or tapestry you’ll have an appreciation for all the crazy connections that you don’t really see at first. And if you’ve been unwise enough to pull on a thread from one of those projects, you’ll know just how surprising it is to see how much that one thread is holding together.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by an intricate thread. When John starts his gospel he begins with
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
John uses some very simple language to convey some huge concepts. “In the beginning” points to the very first words of the Bible and how God created all that there is simply by speaking, “Let there be light.” Then John says, in effect, “You know how the words you speak are not you but are you at the same time? You know how your mind and will and personality is conveyed by your words? Well, Jesus is the Word of God and was with God before time began and, in fact, is God. Jesus made all things. Jesus is the source of life. When God said, “let there be light” and then “let there be life”, that was Jesus. Jesus is the source of all life and all light.
Now look at verses 9-11,
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Jesus, the creator of light, the source of all light and life, came into the world, but was rejected. Why? Flip over to John 3:19-21:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Now flip to John 8:12. Jesus is being confronted by some Pharisees, who, even though they’ve seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his message refuse to follow Him.
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
Now look at John 9:5. Jesus says,
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Huge claim, right? John says that Jesus is God and is the source of all light and life. He says that when Jesus came into the world He was the true light and that the reason anyone rejected Him was that they preferred darkness and continued to live in darkness. Then John says that he didn’t come up with this concept, Jesus Himself kept saying He was the light of the world. So what did Jesus do to prove He was the creator of light and the light of the world? Look at the sub-heading of chapter 9. He healed a man who was born blind. He brought light to a place no one could ever bring it before. Then, we see the Pharisees argue with the man who was healed from blindness. A simple man who saw the light (both figuratively and literally) standing before a bunch of religious professionals who refuse.
Now flip to John 12:27. We’re now in the last week of Jesus’ life. Judas has agreed to betray Jesus and He has just performed the Triumphal Entry. He’s been preaching and teaching and performing miracles for a few years now and is standing before the crowds who have just been chanting “Hosanna!” Read from verse 27,
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
There stands Jesus, after the Triumphal Entry where he has declared Himself King and Messiah before the crowds. But He knows they don’t get it. He prays and God Himself responds. But the people can’t understand. They are in the dark. Jesus explains, again, that he’s going to be crucified.
And what do we see?
“So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’”
He’s standing right in front of you! The skies have just answered his prayer! He’s raised the dead, caused the lame to walk, the blind to see! He has been calling Himself the “Son of Man” non-stop for three years! But even then, they are in darkness. He’s one week away from having them chant “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and send Him to the cross.
Look at verse 35,
“So Jesus said to them, ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him…”
Now look at verse 44, which contains the last time we read the word “light” in the Gospel of John, completing the thread. Jesus has shone His light everywhere, but has been rejected over and over by people who love the darkness. Verse 42 said that the Pharisees had so much influence over people, had kept them in the dark so effectively, that even people in authority were afraid to declare their belief in Jesus. Now, He’s days away from being crucified at the hands of the people He’d come to save. It was so overwhelming that for a time he went away and hid himself, an act declaring His sadness, God’s imminent judgment, and that His work as the light of men, the revealer of God, was done.
At the end we read Jesus’ last public declaration – His one, final, ultimatum before He would go off with the disciples to the Last Supper, Gethsemane, and then the cross. This is his very last public teaching. He turns to this crowd and it says,
“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.’”
Then, those that loved the darkness, who would not receive His words, tracked Him down, brought Him before an illegal court with false charges and fake witnesses, lied to Governor Pilate about what Jesus did, who found no guilt in Him but still had Him flogged and mocked and then crucified. One of the soldiers even stabbed Jesus through the heart to make sure he was dead.
One would believe that the darkness had won at that point.
Have you ever gotten to what you thought was the end of a book or movie and then checked to see how many pages or how many minutes are left – and been surprised how much there still is to go? I wonder if the first people reading the story of Jesus felt that way. How can there be another two chapters after this! What else is there to say?
But let’s go back to the very first verses of John’s gospel, the first mention of “light”.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4)
Death was not the end. Darkness didn’t win. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many, many people.
Now look at 1:9-13 again,
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Remember? Jesus is the originator, the source, of “life” and of “light”, right? Those two concepts are woven together and then threaded all through the tapestry of John’s Gospel. If you leave the darkness and follow Jesus, the “true light”, you not only gain “true light”, but “true life” – a life that doesn’t end. Eternal life.
What amazes me is that we only tugged on one thread today. “Light”. There are so many more. I hope to cover a few more threads before we get into the into the verse-by-verse study because it will help us see the big themes before we study the individual stories.
But I cannot end without giving an invitation. Over and over Jesus gives the invitation to walk away from the darkness and into His light. God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to show us His light and to bring us freedom from the darkness of death and sin. And anyone who believes in Jesus – who believes Jesus, the man who is God, sacrificed Himself on the Cross for their sins, and then rose again on the third day – can be saved. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, He came to save it. But that salvation requires something of you.
You must believe – and demonstrate that belief by walking away from darkness. As Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
So, I ask you today. If you are a believer, if you have seen the light, have you walked away from darkness? Has Jesus been exposing dark parts of you, and your response has been to pull away from Jesus and try to remain in the dark because you love the things of darkness more than you want Jesus? More than you want life? I beg you to repent. To drag that sin into the light, confess it to Jesus and to another believer, and let Jesus kill that sin before you are overcome by that darkness.
And, if you are not a believer today, is it because Jesus has asked you to give up something you know is wrong, but you want to keep doing it, so you are simply refusing to believe? You’ve felt the presence of God, seen the work of God in your life, even felt the conviction to give up your sins and come to Jesus – but you know He requires that you drag that sin into the light so He can kill it forever?
What do you hope to gain? Why would you trade light for darkness, life for death? What good will it do you if you gain this whole world by giving your heart to darkness – but end up forfeiting your soul to eternal death in Hell?
All you must do is stop, get on your knees, renounce the darkness and accept that Jesus is the one, True light and only source of true light. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”
Now is the time.
The Pressure to Be Cool
There is a lot of pressure on everyone to be cool. And I’m sure that there are a lot of people here who think, “I don’t care if I’m cool or not. I’m not a kid anymore.” but hear me out. Being cool, by the official dictionary definition, means to be “accepted, attractive, impressive, and excellent”. If you read it off of the Urban Dictionary you get synonyms like “awesome, popular, great, okay with each other.”
Now, by those definitions, ask yourself again if you want to be cool or not. Do you want to be accepted, impressive, attractive, excellent, and okay with the people around you? Probably. If you’re still not convinced, let’s turn it around. The opposite of “cool” would be rejected, mediocre, repelling, and disliked. How about now?
I’ll say it again. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone to be cool. The problem with being cool is that it changes depending on the group you are in. Being cool to a group of engineers is much different than being cool to a group of musicians. Being cool in a Christian youth group is very different than being cool at a secular school. There are people who will walk through the Ottawa Comiccon and think they are surrounded by the coolest people in the world – while others, outside that group, would consider them social outcasts. There will be people who spend a year crafting the perfect cosplay outfit so they can look a character from a favourite game or movie, and will be showered with praise – but if they take that same outfit to a different place, they will feel embarrassed, rejected, and disliked.
I watched a very interesting clip this week from The Gospel Coalition called “The Idolatry of Youth Culture in Worship” which was all about pressure that churches feel to try to be cool. Churches get on this hamster wheel of trying to chase the newest song, coolest visuals, popular content, and most attractive spaces. People are attracted to these sorts of things too. They are attracted to the cool, new “worship artists” and “celebrity preachers” that are marketed to us from dozens of platforms, and it’s really tempting for a church to try to change themselves to try to be more cool.
The problem with the pursuit of being “cool” is that it is constantly changing. One documentary they referenced, called “The Merchants of Cool” which was about how hard companies are studying teen culture in an attempt to make money off of them. They go find the cool kids and try to figure out what the next, hot trend is going to be. One person they interviewed said at that one of the problems is that as soon as they figure out what is cool and they start to mass-market it, the very act of them marketing it makes it uncool. And so they are in a constant state of chasing the next trend, trying to keep up with the ever changing tides of coolness.
I’m sure you’ve felt this pressure at times to. The pressure to conform, to change yourself, to alter your habits and personality so that you will be more accepted, more admired, more attractive – and then the moment you do, it seems to change on you. You buy a new thing and show it off, but then something newer comes out. You dye your hair or get new clothes, but then the trend changes. You get good at a game, or watch a show, or try a new work technique, but then people stop doing it or talking about it because something new comes around.
Sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening. It’s like we’re the frog in a pot. We buy things, go places, watch things, and talk about things because we think we like them, but the truth is that we are doing it because we don’t want to be left out. Whether you are a senior or a teen, a tradesman or a homemaker, these pressures are ever present.
Something that is connected to being cool, but perhaps tangentially, is something called entitlement. The concept is simple. To feel entitled means you think you have the right to something. You believe you deserve something. You have a list in your mind of all the things you think you are owed. And when someone challenges this list, refuses to give it to you, or takes it away, you get angry or depressed.
For example, if you feel entitled to share your opinion at all times, that your voice should count for something, and that you deserve a vote, then when you are not listened to you feel very offended. If you feel you are entitled to a certain level of comfort, and then you feel discomfort, it makes you angry.
Think of the parent who comes home from a hard day at work. If they feel as though they are entitled to some peace and quiet, that the world and their family owes it to them, they will get very angry if you disturb them. Then there’s the couple that believes that for every dollar one partner spends, the other gets to spend the exact amount. She gets a haircut, so you get dinner out. He gets coffee at the drive through, so you feel entitled to get something for yourself.
Some people feel entitled to have the same level of access to technology as others, and not just teens. “My friends all have a big tv, so why don’t we. Our internet is so slow, all my friends have faster internet. All my friends have phones, so I should get one too.” It’s a sense of entitlement and we all have it to some degree. And if you don’t think so, just ask those closest to you what you think you are entitled to and they’ll tell you…
The problem with the pursuit of being cool or having an out of control sense of entitlement is that it gets in the way of the best things in life like friendship, love, and serving God.
To say I wasn’t very popular when I was growing up would be a gross understatement. I was a total reject, social outcast. And I’m not saying that for dramatic effect. I have some deep scars to this day that were given to me in grade school.
I remember I had this one “friend” named Karl (and I’m putting air-quotes around that word) who I would hang out with. He and I had some sort of kinship, but I have no idea why. He wasn’t a Christian and wasn’t really that nice to me. But Karl was good at sports and had an in with the cool kids. And being cool was really important to him. Here’s how it worked with me and Karl: If I was talking to him in the hallway, I always knew that if a cool kid came, he would drop me to talk to them instead. I still remember the day he actually pushed me away so he wouldn’t be seen talking to me in the hall. If there was a party at his house, he would invite me over a few hours before to play some Nintendo, set up the snacks and whatnot, but since I wasn’t one of the cool kids I wasn’t invited to the party, so I would leave his house before anyone got there. Karl’s pursuit of being a cool kid put a huge wedge in what could have been a much better friendship. It effected our conversations. It made me not trust him. Can you imagine how pursuing cool would have affected if he was trying to witness to me? It wouldn’t work, would it? It’s incompatible.
It’s the same with the sense of entitlement. The things that you believe are owed to you, if you don’t get them, will change the way you perceive and relate to people. If you get passed over for a promotion or a raise, how do you feel about the person who got it? What about the boss who you think you could do their job better? Feel friendly? Congratulatory? Or is there some resentment there.
Think of a trip to the store. You park your car. Are you entitled to a good spot? No. But how do you feel if someone double parks or is too far over the line to give you that close place? Mad. Why? Entitlement.
And then you go inside and all the karts are gone and you have to go back outside to get one. Are you owed a cart? No. But something inside you says, “I pay good money here and I deserve to have a cart waiting when I come.” You go through the aisles and people are in the way, taking too long, some haven’t showered, some are dressed inappropriately, others keep asking for your help to reach things, and then there’s a bunch of people you know that seem to want to chat with you. You came in for a can of beans and now you are totally worked up. You get back to your car and someone has dinged the door with theirs. How do you feel? Angry, right? Why? And what will you say, “Why can’t I just go to the store and get one, stupid thing without having to be surrounded by incompetent, annoying, smelly, idiotic, selfish people?!” What’s behind that emotion? Entitlement. You feel you are owed it.
Same thing happens at church. I’m entitled to my favourite seat. I’m entitled to have good sound and an easy time. I’m entitled help with my ministry. I’m entitled to an entertaining message. I’m entitled to be left alone, or entitled to expect to be asked how I am. I’m entitled to a cup of coffee and a cookie. And if I don’t get it… ?!
How do you think that sort of thinking effects your relationships? How do you think it affects your testimony? How do you think it effects your reputation? How do you think it affects your heart and your relationship with God? The pursuit of cool and a sense of entitlement will make you an anxious, hollow, selfish, lonely person.
Am I Not Free?
Open up with me to 1 Corinthians 9 and let’s read it together. First, I want you to remember the context from a couple weeks ago when we talked about meat offered to idols and the moral butterfly effect. If you recall, Paul is making the case that the choices we make and the freedoms we exercise are not made in a vacuum, but will have ripple effects on those around us – many which we cannot see – and encouraged people to consider others feelings and weaknesses when they make their decisions. In this case it was the decision to eat food that had been offered to idols. A mature Christian knows that the food is just food, and there’s nothing we can eat or not eat that will bring us closer to God, but not everyone knows that. There are some that will be deeply offended, or tempted, or hurt, if they see someone do that, and so scripture teaches us to be willing to go without out of love for those around us.
Now here, as Paul continues that thought, he uses himself as an example of someone who has given up a lot of things for the sake of unity in the church and the furtherance of the kingdom of God. He’s just told the Corinthians to give up eating meat sometimes for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters, and then in verses 1-12, to drive the point home, Paul lists all sorts of things that he has the right to have, but that he’s given up for the sake of others.
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
So, remember the context. Way up in chapter 8:1-4 we read about how the Corinthians are claiming that because they have the “knowledge” that food is just food, and that there really is only one God, that they should have the right to eat whatever they want. The Apostle says, “Yes, but don’t use that right, that freedom, to harm anyone else.” As verse 12 says, “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
And then he catches their next argument, which is what? Everyone has to deal with this, children, teens, and adults. What is our natural reaction when we look around and see a bunch of people have something that we don’t, but when we decide we want it, someone or something stops us? We argue. Our “coolness” is impacted – “But if I don’t have it, my peer group won’t accept me or will judge me poorly”. And our “entitlement” is impacted – “Everyone else has one, I’m old enough, I work hard, I deserve it.” What if it’s someone you love and trust preventing you from having it? Someone like your parents, your spouse, or God who is working against you having it? We still argue.
We lay down the same argument as Paul does in chapter 9! And that’s what Paul is doing, he’s arguing their point for him – and then going beyond their own qualifications. He says, “You may think you have the right to have that food offered to idols, but I have more right!” He is free from the law by Jesus. He has the authority of an Apostle. He has talked to Jesus face to face. He is the one who planted their church and is their leader and pastor. If anyone has the proper knowledge and freedom to eat that food, he does. But he chooses not to. Why? Look at verse 12, “… we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
And he has given up even more than just certain kinds of food. In fact there have been times he has gone without any food for the sake of the gospel. He has the right to a wife and family, as some apostles have, but knows that a for him a family would distract him from the gospel, so he goes without. And he really drives home the point that he has the right, the entitlement, to demand the church financially support his ministry, as many other travelling teachers and apostles have done, but instead he chooses to work a labour job making tents so the message of Jesus he presents to people remains unpolluted and free from attack. Though he has every right to pull a paycheck from them, he doesn’t so that no one can accuse him of greed or false motives.
He knows he has the right to do a lot of things, and there are a lot of pressures to make his life a little easier, but he also knows that taking those things has a cost. There were, and are, many false teachers who use religion, and the name of Jesus, as a way to make money and live rich – and there seem to be plenty of desperate, ignorant people that fall for it. Paul, and any missionary of worth, stays as far away from the church’s purse strings as they can, so that they can’t be lumped into that group.
In verse 15 we see Paul cut them off at their next obvious argument: “You’re just saying all these things so that we’ll send you more money!” He says, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For 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! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”
You see his point. He would rather go without than leave any room for someone to see any false motives in his presentation of the gospel. His service to God, his message, the joy of seeing people be changed by the message, and all the spiritual benefits besides, are his reward.
This is a big deal today still. The question, “What are you getting out of this?” is still a major barrier for a lot of people. The accusation, “You only do this for your own personal gain!” is still a very persuasive one. And for some people, as I’ve said, is quite accurate.
Everyone falls into this kind of thinking sometimes, it’s not just full-time ministers. Paul was commissioned by God to be a missionary preacher and teacher, but this temptation hits all kinds of people. Some people serve in the church with the hope of gaining attention for themselves, or gaining a portfolio of people to sell their products to, or so they can have their own way. Some people want to be a teacher, deacon, elder, or even pastor, because they want the title, prestige, influence and authority over others. Some people tithe to the church so they can brag about it and get tax benefits. Some people pretend to care about others so they can get all the juiciest gossip. Some people play their instrument or sing in church so they can get accolades. Some people serve others as a way to build up credit in case something happens to them later, so they can cash in their chips and get help in return.
A lot of people have been burned on the church, burned on the gospel, burned on following God, because they have met Christians who were either caught having false motives and using the gospel as a means to benefit themselves, or were trying so hard to be cool that they had completely watered down their own testimony to the point where there was no discernable difference between them and someone who wasn’t saved.
Paul exclaims that he would “rather die than have anyone deprive me of this ground for boasting.” Not that he is trying to steal glory from God, but that he has a rightful sense of joy and fulfillment in being able to look everyone in the eye and say, “I have preached with no other motive than loving people and obeying God. You can check. I’ve suffered, worked, and gained nothing from anyone. No one can accuse me of false motives, because there is no evidence of it!”
Count the Cost
So, as we close today, I invite you to examine your own testimony, your own motives, your own reputation. Why do you do what you do? Is there anything in your life that hinders people from hearing you? A bad habit, an addiction, or something you’ve chosen to do that makes it so you have to spend as much time explaining that as you do trying to talk about Jesus? Is there something in your reputation that makes it so others question whether or not you are really serving God or yourself? Do you speak your own words or His? Would anyone say about you, “That person isn’t really my friend, they’re just trying to get something out of me. That person doesn’t really care, they just want another notch on their belt. That person may talk a big game about loving, forgiving, and trusting – but I know for a fact that they love themselves more than anyone else.
Jesus said that if anyone is to follow Him they must “count the cost”, because to follow Jesus means to lose everything and gain everything at the same time. Jesus set the perfect example for us. He gave us everything and gained nothing. It says in Philippians 2:5-8,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”
If you are concerned about what you are entitled to, how cool you look, how accepted you are, and spend time weighing the cost/benefit to obeying Jesus in this world, then you are not going to follow Him for very long. He says in Luke 14:26-33,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
This isn’t theory. Following God’s plan cost Jesus everything. It cost Paul everything. All the Apostles, except one, lived difficult lives and were martyred for their faith – and the one that wasn’t killed was boiled alive and then exiled.
Being a spiritual person will make you cool. Memorizing a few favourite passages and talking about how loving Jesus was will make you cool. And there are a lot of people that will tell you that once you get saved you are entitled to all sorts of worldly blessings. But that’s not the true gospel. The true message of Jesus is not one that is going to win you popularity points or gain you much in this world.
Jesus’ next line after talking about counting the cost is this:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
People need you to be salty, which means you must taste different than the rest of the world. And every time we water down the truth of what Jesus says, water down the message of the Gospel, water down the plain reading of scripture, or allow our sense of entitlement distract us from following God, we lose our saltiness and our words, our deeds, our preaching, our friendship, and our lives are only fit for the manure pile.
So, has Jesus been telling you to give up in order to follow Him more? What barrier is there between you and those you are trying to befriend, love, serve, and share the gospel with? What keeps you from fully obeying God and them from being able to receive your love?