February 9, 2015
“I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it” (1 Corinthians 9:23 NET).
Last week, President Henson talked about how each of us have the opportunity to join God in mission. This week, I want to hone on the creativity and flexibility Paul used in his approach to participating in the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 9, we see that it’s all about a flexible approach! While this could be considered one of Paul’s simplest concepts, it’s also a lesson the church has had to learn again and again through the centuries. Here in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, the apostle defends his approach to sharing the good news about Jesus. Just before this text is that famous phrase, “I have become all things to all people…” And in verse 23 he sums up his motivation.
You can’t share the gospel with different people if you’re not willing to be flexible, to come alongside them and learn about their context! Think for a minute about Paul’s spiritual journey. From a rigid enforcer of Pharisaic orthodoxy, from a persecutor of the church, to a humble convert, to a passionate apologist for a new way of thinking. From a Hebrew of Hebrews to a traveling evangelist, from a kosher Jew to an evangelist of Gentiles. Along the way Paul learned some of the most important pastoral skills it’s possible to have.
Mostly he learned to listen, to adapt, to be, as mentioned last week, mindful of those he is serving. Sometimes he had to share Christ with Jews who kept the Mosaic law. Sometimes he had to share Christ with the most pagan of pagans. Sometimes he dealt with folks who worried about doing everything just right so as to please God. And sometimes he shared with those who exulted in their freedom in Christ. In each case, he sought first to understand, then to speak from within the culture.
That sounds TOO flexible to some of us. The church has always had a tendency to want to regularize and codify the faith. We decide a right way to worship in one place and time and then try to make that the only way for every place and time and culture. We want everybody to be a Christian. But we want them to be a Christian just like us!
But Paul knew better. Paul did better. And fortunately his spiritual sons and daughters appear again among us from time to time. They teach us how to hold fast to the truth of the gospel while walking alongside our neighbors and being attuned to their culture. Last week, we read about how Augustine referred to this as “thinking sympathetically.” To think sympathetically, we must first seek to understand and then to consider how we might best serve.
This model holds true in how Sioux Falls Seminary participates in the mission. Rather than assume the same type of theological education will work for everyone, we seek to understand those God calls us to serve. This causes us to look constantly for newer and more appropriate ways to develop gospel servants for a diverse and challenging world. We turn the old model of three years of full-time daytime study upside down. We find ways to deliver classes part time and evenings and online, in Sioux Falls and Omaha and around the country. We create a Kairos project to serve motivated ministry professionals. We go where nobody’s doing training yet and make it happen. We do all these things because of the gospel so that we can be participants in it!