1 Cor 9:1-22 Passion For Our Mission

MESSAGE GIVEN AT THE DEDICATION OF THE NEW YFC CENTRE IN JAFFNA

1 Corinthians 9:1-22

Ajith Fernando

As we dedicate this building we marvel at God’s providence to us. For 23 years we had a wonderful place. But to coincide with our time there coming to an end, a Canadian Foundation gave us the funds to get this building. We are grateful to the Anglican Church who have leased out our old centre. They let us stay for a little longer their when they knew that the renovation of our building would take more time than we had expected.

Let me say, however, that the main thing we celebrate and dedicate today is not the building. It is what should happen in this building. The main thing is the mission of Youth for Christ: to reach unreached youth with the gospel and disciple them into the church. That is what drives everything we do. Buildings can make us proud of what we own and also make us spend too much energy on maintenance rather than outreach.

I am going to talk about our mission today. That is what drives the way we will use this building.  I want to use as the base for our thinking one of the most important Bible passages for Youth for Christ: 1 Corinthians 9:1-23.

GIVING UP RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES FOR THE GOSPEL (9:1-15)

In verses 1-15 Paul says how he gave up the legitimate rights and privileges that he had in order to be more effective in his gospel work. So, in verse 15 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.” The privilege of preaching the gospel was so great that he would rather die than be hindered in that by getting too many personal privileges.

In the history of the church we have seen many brilliant people who gave up all their privileges for the gospel. I think of Lottie Moon. She was a University student when a revival took place in her town among students. She went for the meetings hoping to scoff at what was happening. That night she couldn’t sleep because of a barking dog, and while she was awake, God began to speak to her about what she had seen and heard that evening. She gave her life to Christ subsequently became a leader in the work of God. J. A. Broadus, a key Christian leader in that town and a famous Bible scholar, called her the most educated (or cultured) woman in the American South. She was a brilliant leader; but she gave it all up at the age of 32 to go to China as a missionary. She led many Chinese to Christ, and she also sent letters back to the States which had a huge impact upon people—resulting in many more going as missionaries. She initiated a Christmas offering in her denomination—the Southern Baptist Church—which is still taken. Millions of dollars have been raised for the gospel cause through it.

Lottie Moon served in China for 39 years. Once a mob came to attack the believers. And this brave lady who was 4 feet 3 inches tall stood in front of the mob and said, “You will have to kill me first.” She suffered from the sicknesses that were common in the area where she lived. When she died she was reduced to 52 pounds, or 23.6 kg. But what an impact she had! Here is one of her famous statements: “How many million more souls are to pass into eternity without hearing the name of Jesus?”

PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL (9:16-18)

Lottie Moon had a passion for the gospel. And that is what Paul had too! He says in verse 16: “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!” Thomas Coke was an old man when he led the first team of young Methodist missionaries to Sri Lanka. He died on the way, but the mission flourished. I have a biography about Thomas Coke entitled, Mad About Mission. That is what YFC people are: We are mad about our mission! In verse 18 Paul says, “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.” Our reward is the great privilege of preaching the great gospel—the most important news there is in the world.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who died before he was 30 years old but had a great impact on Scotland, once quoted someone who said, “I would beg six days, to be allowed to preach on the seventh!” That is how highly he regarded his work. I have felt that if there comes a day when my heart does not burn with a passion for the mission of Youth for Christ—to reach unreached youth with the gospel and disciple them into the church—that day I must leave Youth for Christ. I will do irreparable damage to this movement if I stay on without a heart burning for our mission. Now, I must say that I spend a considerable amount of my time trying to find funds for YFC. I do not think I am very fond of that. But I am glad to do that, because I am raising funds for a noble cause: it is in order that we can fulfil our mission.

Sometimes we hear people in ministry say, “I could have been a successful businessman or doctor or engineer if I did not join the ministry. I have made a big sacrifice to do this work.” When people say things like that I would like to say, “Please go, and do that work. We don’t need people who feel sorry for themselves because they are in the ministry.” The ministry is so glorious a work that those who grumble about being in the ministry are proclaiming a huge lie. It is ultimately not a sacrifice to do the work of ministry.

As a young man, David Livingstone wanted to be a great preacher. The first time he preached in a small church in Scotland, he forgot what he was hoping to speak on. He tried and tried to remember, but nothing came to him. He apologised to the congregation and left the church in great shame. The famous missionary Robert Moffatt happened to be at that service. He met Livingstone and told him, “You can be a great and wonderful servant of God. Why don’t you go to Medical School?” This is what he did. After passing out as a doctor, he became the great missionary who opened the interior of Africa to others so that missionaries could come there with the gospel and also so that there could be legitimate trade there in place of the horrible trade in humans for slavery.

But he suffered a lot while he did that. He was alone most of the time. His wife died before he was fifty years old. He was often sick and delirious with fever. He was close to the Africans and believed in them, so he got them actively involved in his missionary activities. But other European missionaries were not happy about that. His fierce battle against slavery and the policies of the British government that hurt the Africans made him even more unpopular with his own people. One day someone told him, “Dr Livingstone, you must have sacrificed a lot to do your work.” He is said to have got upset by that remark. “Sacrifice?” he said, “The only sacrifice is to live outside the will of God!”

A SLAVE TO ALL (9:19-22)

Next Paul says he is a slave of all people. He says in verse 19: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” The Greek literally says, “I enslaved myself.” The verb for slavery is used here. When used figuratively the slave metaphor (doulos {noun} and douloō {verb}) carries the idea of total dedication. We are slaves of the youth in Sri Lanka—we are totally dedicated to their welfare.

Paul goes on to say that this ministry involves him making huge adjustments in his style of living and ministering in order to win different kinds of people (verses 20-23). He says, he becomes like a Jew to win the Jews; like one under the law to win those under the law; like one outside the law to win those outside the law (9:20-21). Then he says something quite strange: He says,

“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak” (9:22a). We all like to feel strong when we minister. But sometimes people are threatened by our strength, and turned off from the gospel. I think this is particularly relevant in Sri Lanka where people are saying that we come with the strength of foreign funding and lure our people to the gospel. They say, “What chance do we have against such wealth.” What if we go without earthly power but loaded with the power of the Holy Spirit? The gospel could become irresistibly attractive to the people!

Paul then says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9:22b). We will do whatever it takes to win people to Christ. I am estimating that we have about 20 different youth cultures in Sri Lanka. To reach youth in these different cultures we will need to use different methods. Each one requires a distinct strategy. We can’t say, “I don’t like to work in this way;” “I don’t like this kind of music;” or “It is so difficult to make contact with these people, so I will go to another group of people.” God never called us to comfort. We leave our comfort zones to reach people. Whatever it takes! That is our motto. I have heard the director of Netherlands Youth for Christ, Edward de Kam, say, “If we can’t get in through the door, we will try the window!”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne once told his congregation, “I sometimes feel, brethren, that I would willingly lie down beneath the sod in the churchyard ([that is, be buried], and be forgotten and trampled on, if only you were friends of Christ.” Actually, this lifestyle of a slave may be needed more in the work of discipling people than in evangelism. Discipling calls for hard work. Describing the work involved in presenting “everyone mature in Christ,” probably at the Second Coming, Paul says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28-29). We visit people for our discipling appointment even though we are tired or don’t feel like going. We refuse to give up on people when they hurt us and humiliate us. We pursue them and seek to be agents of change in their lives. We have ambitions for them, and if they become more prominent than us, like Paul did with Barnabas, we will rejoice; for their success is our success.

So we will do whatever it takes to reach and disciple youth. So as we dedicate this building let us dedicate ourselves afresh to our mission. On his 59th birthday, David Livingstone wrote: “My Jesus, my king, my life, my all. I again dedicate my whole self for thee.” This is the kind of prayer we will keep praying until the day we die. We want to be totally dedicated to God and his mission!