After a few weeks off from studying for a new sermon, I am back at it, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous. I almost always look forward to preaching, something that has grown on me over the years. But there are still a few Sundays that I don’t look forward to it. There was this one, for example, where the material was controversial, and I wondered if I was going to tick off people in the church. (Thankfully, in that case, I think it went very well, but, boy, was I sweating!) As I look down the road in the 1st Corinthians series, I see a few more of those coming. More on that in mid-July when we start a long sub-series through 1st Corinthians chapters 11-14 all about worship.
This week though, there is a different reason for my anxiety. Once again it is the material, though not that it is controversial. Instead 1st Corinthians 9:19-27, the passage I’ll be preaching, is intense. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean.
I like the passage a lot, especially because it talks about running, and running has been a exciting part of my life for the past 5 years. Paul talks about running to get a prize and the necessary training that goes into getting in shape. I started training for the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon which is taking place on my 40th birthday, September 6th. So I get the training part. In fact, as others of you have found out, there is a joy to be found in training.
But Paul has some other things to say that weird me out a bit. These are the intense parts that I referred to already. As the title of the post indicates, Paul says that one of the things he did was to practice self-enslavement to everyone. Does anyone else read that and think, “Really?” What does that mean? Self-enslavement. And why to everyone? Isn’t he going a bit far?
In that passage Paul gives us a peak into his heart and mind. We will be tempted to say “Really?”, doubting him, or rationalize in other ways like “Well, that’s nice…for Paul! But not for me. He was special.” That might be fine for him, but not for the rest of us. As you prepare for worship on Sunday, I urge you to read this passage and ask the Lord to help you avoid that kind of rationalization. Ask him to help you receive his word. Believe me, I’m praying that right along with you. This passage has me quaking a bit because it describes a passion for Christ and his kingdom that puts mine to shame. I will be preaching not from a position of saying “follow me” like Paul could say. Instead I’ll be preaching this sermon to myself.
One of the fears I have in a sermon like this is that it will scare people off. Paul sets the bar high. But he also talks about blessings. Is it possible that setting the bar high will lead to blessings? What I mean is this, is it possible that a life of self-enslavement to everyone might actually be better than we think? Join us on Sunday and we’ll find out.