Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Summer of Self-Indulgence?

David is on vacation with his family, so we decided to post a sermon preached by David last summer.

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, June 7, 2009.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27  For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
    Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lords, and all its fullness.’  If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.  But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.’
    ‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other.  For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?  But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?  Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saves.
     Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

I have a song I want to sing for you as we begin our study this morning.  Here it is:  “School’s out, schools’ out!  Teacher let the monkeys out!  Yipee!  We’re free!  We’re free!  It’s summer time, and at last we’re free!”

Did you like my song?  Deeply spiritual, right?  Nope!  Moved you to greater oneness with the Lord, right?  Nope! 

School’s out.  It’s summer time and at last we’re free!  I know that at least the students among us relate to that song.  And perhaps you teachers and parents are singing it, too! 

“School’s out, and we’re free!”  Free, in what way?  What have you got planned for the summer?  Really now, what are the next 10-12 weeks for?  Have you thought about it?

If I can be my own musical critic, and maybe even jump in with my own answers to these questions about summer time, I’d have to admit to you that my – uh-hum – ‘deeply spiritual song’ about the end of the school year – what it’s really talking about is something that summer time and yes, maybe even all the time, every minute of our lives – are too much about.  Have any ideas what I’m thinking about here?

I know that this may not be our favorite subject to consider.  And likely not too many of us came here this morning thinking we’d hear a message on the topic.  But listen to me, will you, my loved ones?  My song about the end of the school year – what it’s really about – what its message really is, is that summer time – school’s out time – is a season for self-indulgence.  A season for self-indulgence.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the ‘musicians’ at a place called Corinth in ancient Greece, were singing a similar song.  It went something like this:  ‘We’re Christians, we’re Christians.  Jesus let the sinners out!  Jesus saved us and we’re free!  We’re free!’

As redeemed sinners – some of them converted former idolaters – there was some truth to that way of thinking.  Those Christians at Corinth were free!  They were no longer enslaved to their sins – and no longer in bondage to the idols they used to worship.  But the question was:  “How far was that ‘freedom in Christ’ supposed to go?  Were there meant to be any limitations or restrictions or boundaries on that freedom?  And were there any obligations and responsibilities that went with that freedom?

With your Bibles still open to the passages we read a moment ago, I want you to look around with me a little at this section of Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth.  Notice with me what really was at issue here, and how that specific case-in-point relates to the larger subject of Christian freedom and self-indulgence.

1 Corinthians 8:1 is the verse that serves as the introduction to this larger three-chapter section.  What does it say?  “Now concerning things offered to idols:  We know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”  The specific case-in-point that Paul addresses in these three chapters of this letter is the issue of Christians – free-in-Christ as they are, with a ‘knowledge,’ an insight into that idolatrous worship in which they used to take part, as Paul says in verses 4 and following of chapter 8 –a knowledge that so-called idol gods really are nothing at all.  Possessing this knowledge about idols, free-in-Christ Christians had the liberty to eat food that previously had been used in idolatrous worship ceremonies.  Christians were free to do this.  But does that mean that they should do this?

I know it may not be completely clear to you yet; but even just that one verse – that first verse of chapter 8 – hints at what the bigger issue here is, doesn’t it?  It begins to point us in the direction of the truth that often Christian freedom goes awry into self-indulgence, and that the only cure, the only antidote for self-indulgence is self-denial.  Self-denial is part of what I call the CROSS PRINCIPLE, that daily dying-to-self mindset, that simply must operated in the life of a true follower of Jesus.

Before we look a little further into the subject of self-indulgence – this Christian freedom gone awry, and self-denial – the prescription for this malady, I’d like to get a little transparent with you for a moment, if I may.

Self-indulgent.  There aren’t many of us that aren’t already that way, are there?  Take your preacher, for example.  When it comes to eating, he’ll be glad to take an extra portion of whatever’s on the menu.  And when it comes to sleeping, his pillow is one of his favorite places.  And when it comes to talking, he can keep up with the best of you, and with lots of ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ and ‘my’s’ mixed in. 

Self-indulgent.  We know what that means, don’t we?  And, then along comes some musician, some disc jockey, playing a tune that goes like this:  “School’s out, school’s out.  Summer’s here, and we’re free!”  And what do we do?  We’re tempted to take self-indulgence to the limit, to an extreme!  But hear me, my loved ones, will you?

Self-indulgence – this ‘I’m free in Christ, free to do anything I want to do’ mindset – that whole messed-up way of thinking, in fact flies directly in the face of the correctly understood message of the gospel.  Do you realize that?  You see, the world says – the Prince of this world, the Devil says – even our flesh says, “I’m free!  Jesus set me free!  So I’m going to indulge myself.  I’m going to feed and nourish the ‘I want, I want, I want’ part of me!”  All the while Jesus, our Liberator says, “If you desire to be My follower, if you want to learn My truth and imitate My ways….  If you want to be My disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me!”

Self-indulgence - a summer full it.  Self-indulgence – Christian freedom gone awry – freedom in Christ wrongly understood.  What does it produce?  What are the results?

1 Corinthians 8:1.  It produces arrogance!  It results in that puffed up pride that Paul said in chapter 13 was the very opposite of Christ-like love!

Lets look at 1 Corinthians 8:8.  Self-indulgence.  It prompts me to have the mistaken notion that my eating - my exercising that freedom in a selfish way – actually benefits me!  But look at what the Word of God says.   It says that “food – eating this meat that had been sacrificed to idols – exercising the freedom I have in Christ to eat that meat – it does not – it does not commend me to God.  I am no better, no more enhanced spiritually for exercising that freedom!”  But the self-indulgent mindset will make me think that I am!

Thirdly, self-indulgence produces a certain blindness – a shortsightedness to the fact that my reckless exercising of this freedom actually causes me to sin against Christ by wounding the brothers and sisters of Christ.  1 Corinthians 8:9-13.  And how do we do that?  1 Corinthians 9:19-23.  We do it, by maintaining a ‘serve me’ mentality, rather than a Christ-like, ‘serve others’ mindset!

Fourthly, self-indulgence – this wrong-headed way of viewing and utilizing one’s freedom in Christ – it can cause a stubborn kind of deafness to the truth.  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:23 and imagine a conversation along these lines between a self-centered Christian – which, by the way, is a virtual oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  Imagine a self-centered Christian and Paul discussing the subject of Christian freedom.  The interchange goes something like this. 

Self-centered Christian:  “All things are lawful for me!” 

Paul’s response:  “But not all things are helpful!”

Again, the self-centered Christian:  “All things are lawful for me!”

And again, Paul replies:  “Are you listening, friend?  All things may be lawful for you and me, but are all things up-building?!”

Wrong-headed, self-centered Christianity will make you deaf, deaf to the truth about what freedom in Christ really means!

And where does all of this lead?  What is at the end of that road marked ‘self-indulgence?’  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.  As the sad and pitiful examples from the history of the nation Israel illustrate, you and I may be under the cloud of God’s visible presence.  (Remember that cloudy pillar that led Israel safely out of Egypt and toward Canaan land?)  And you and I may be able by God’s grace to pass through the Red Sea on dry land.  (Remember the story recorded over in Exodus 14?)  And you and I may be baptized with Moses in that cloud and in that sea.  We may be partakers of all these enormous spiritual privileges, including eating spiritual food and drinking spiritual drink.  But if we go about it with a proud, foolhardy, self-serving way of living, taking those privileges for granted – Watch out!  We may end up just like those Israelites:  dead in the wilderness, having never reached the Promised Land!

Self-indulgence with all of its pride, with all its blindness and deafness and self-centeredness – self-indulgence – this wrong view of what it means to be free in Christ…  Is that what summer time is all about?  Is it?

As Paul says here in these three chapters of 1 Corinthians, as well as in Romans 14 and 15, and Galatians 5 and 6, I’d like to suggest to you that for the Biblically-informed Christian, the summer is not all about self-gratification and self-indulgence, but about self-denial.  Self-denial.

First, a definition.  What is self-denial?  Well, in a word, it is Christ-like agape love in action!  What does that introductory verse in 1 Corinthians 8:1 say?  We know that we all have knowledge.  This ‘I’m free in Christ’ kind of knowledge about things like eating food that’s been sacrificed to idols.  But what is the tendency of that knowledge?  Pride. Self-indulgence rooted in and related to pride.  But is that the only way to go about appropriating one’s Christian freedom?

No!  There’s a better way – a much more Christian way, a Christ-like love:  self-denial in action, at work through unselfish love that builds up the other person.

In 1 Corinthians 10:24, Paul says that self-denial is all about seeking the other person’s well being.  In Galatians 5:13, Paul says, “You, brethren, have been called to freedom.  But do not use that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [to have its way]; but rather through love, through unselfish, sacrificial love, serve one another.’  Self-denial.  Jesus defined it like this:  “Not My will, but Thine be done….  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then, He stretched out His arms and died.

Self-denial.  What is it?  It is Christ-like love in action!  It is the CROSS PRINCIPLE at work in you and me, as we seek to serve and bless each other in Jesus’ name.

And where does all of this lead?  Well, I want you to imagine something with me.  Imagine a summer – this summer – jam-packed with self-denial.  What would it look like?

Here’s what it would look like:  1 Corinthians 8:9-13.  A self-denial summer would be one where God uses you and me to build and strengthen this church to a level higher and stronger than it’s ever been before.  We wouldn’t be putting stumbling blocks in the way of our weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.  Rather, if we were practicing self-denial, we would say ‘no’ to whatever was necessary to make sure that those weaker brethren were built up, not torn down.  That’s what is called EDIFICATION.  EDIFICATION.

And a self-denial summer – this summer – would be one where God uses you and me to reach more lost souls than we’ve ever reached.  1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and 10:33.  Look at those passages with me for a moment, will you?

Paul is not so much talking about creative outreach methods as he is talking about self-denial.  “I am free from all men,” he says in 9:19.  But “though I am free, I have made myself a servant.”  Did you catch that phrase, Beloved?  “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more….”

In chapter 10, verse 33, he says it this way:  “I’m not seeking my own benefit, my own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.”  Beloved, that’s evangelism, not gimmicky outreach, but true Biblical evangelism.  Self-denial based evangelism.

Snapshot number three.  What would a self-denial summer look like?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”   “You wanna see what a self-denial summer looks like?”  Paul says, “look at my life.”  And what would we see if we looked at Paul’s life?  1 Corinthians 9 – the whole chapter.  What’s Paul trying to get across to the Corinthians in that chapter?  Well, Beloved, he’s trying to help those folks, and us folks, understand that he, as an apostle – like Jesus Christ  as God’s Son – he had a ton of prerogatives, a truckload of rights as an apostle.  Verse 4:  He had the right to eat and drink.  Verse 5:  He had the right to marry a wife.  Verses 6 and following:  the right to expect financial support for his work, and so on .  But what does this Apostle say was his mindset toward all these rights and privileges?  Verse 15:  “I have used none of these rights.”  Just like his Lord and Savior did as He hung on Calvary’s cross, in sacrificial self-denial, Paul gave up those rights for the benefit of others, to win others.

Self-denial. What is it?  It is imitating Christ, mimicking Christ for who He really is, before a watching world that is so skeptical and yet so hungry to see the real thing.  Copying Christ’s pattern of self-denial – that’s what’s called EMULATION.  EMULATION.

Quickly, two more portraits of a summer of self-denial.  Here’s what it would look like..  1 Corinthians 10:31:  Paul says, “Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”

A summer of self-denial.  Imagine God using you and me to honor the Lord through everything we think, say and do to make His praise glorious!  To magnify and enlarge His name and His kingdom!  That’s what the Bible calls EXALTATION.  EXALTATION.  Through a summer jam-packed with self-denial, that’s what God can use us to do!

And then, last of all, snapshot number 5.  1 Corinthians 9:24-27:  A self-denial summer.  It is a summer – ten, maybe twelve weeks lived to the hilt for Him.  But why?  1 Corinthians 9:27.  So that one day when we stand before His all-seeing eyes, we’ll hear Him say, “Well done!  Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Beloved, a summer of self-denial – this summer, starting today.  It’s pursued in view of that day – the Judgment Day.   “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection,” Paul says in 9:27, “lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”  Self-denial in view of that day – that’s what God’s Word calls EXAMINATION.  EXAMINATION.

“School’s out, schools’ out!  Teacher let the monkeys out!  It’s summertime and we’re free!  We’re free!”

But free to do what?  As Christians, free to what?  Here – in God’s Word - you have your answer:  free to lay aside, free to let go of some pleasure, some possession, some pass-time, some purchase, some plan of ours for Him… and for them.  What will we give up, lay aside and let go of to make this summer a self-denial summer?  A summer cram-packed with EDIFICATION, EVANGELISM, EMULATION, and EXALTATION, and all of that done in view of THAT day – that day of examination.  A summer of self-denial.

Are we ready to do what Jesus did?

In Philippians 2, Paul says that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, gave up all the rights and prerogatives of that position, to take on the form of a servant, to humble himself to give up Himself in complete obedience even to the point of death.  And He did it for us.

A summer of self-indulgence.  Beloved, that’s what 99 out of 100 people will be doing this summer.  I’d like to invite you to do what One Person did.

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