One of the dangers of a daily reading plan, and especially one that has multiple readings in different areas of the Bible, is that the Scriptures get broken into “bit-sized pieces” and thus run the risk of becoming disconnected from each other. It can be easy to lose the flow, or fail to keep things in context. For some reason, I seemed to be more aware of that this morning as I read in 1Corinthians.
Maybe it’s because I was listening to a podcast recently that talked about the value of preaching overviews before diving deeper into specific sections and verses. Whether it’s an overview of a paragraph, or a chapter, or a book of the Bible, or even one of the testaments, or the whole Bible itself, there’s real value in getting the big picture in mind before focusing on parts of it through a magnifying glass. Thinking that’s why I’m seeing a connect this morning that I really haven’t seen before.
In 1Corinthians Paul is addressing a number of issues. Some of which he has put on the table, but others that apparently the church at Corinth had asked about. These are pretty easy to identify as Paul addresses each question beginning with a common phrase.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1Corinthians 7:1)
Now concerning the betrothed . . . (1Corinthians 7:25a)
Now concerning food offered to idols . . (1Corinthians 8:1a)
Now concerning spiritual gifts . . . (1Corinthians 12:1a)
Now concerning the collection for the saints . . . (1Corinthians 16:1a)
Now concerning our brother Apollos . . . (1Corinthians 16:12a)
So why’s that “big picture” important? Well, it helps me remember that 1Corinthians 9 is still dealing with the issue raised in 1Corinthians 8. That Paul doesn’t “move on” to the next topic until chapter 12.
Though in chapter 9, Paul is talking about his rights as an apostle (9:3-4, 12) — his right in the gospel (9:19) — it’s not because he’s left the topic of food offered to idols and refraining from eating for another’s conscience. Rather, it’s in illustration of it.
Paul released his rights in the gospel for the sake of the gospel. And while there’s a ton to mine from that, in context I think it’s presented as an example for those who should release “their rights” to eat food offered to idols, even if that right is founded in the freedom of the gospel.
And what hits me is what’s at the heart of being able to let go of what is rightfully ours, even when it’s rightfully ours for the right reasons.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
(1Corinthians 9:19 ESV)
If yesterday’s big idea for deferring to others in disputable matters was the need for love, today’s big idea is the need to be lowly. A servant of all. Subject to the saints. Mindful of the many. Putting others ahead of myself for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Christian unity. In humility counting others more significant than myself, looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php. 2:3-4).
Talk about counter-cultural.
Talk about supernatural. Apart from Christ in me and living through me, me is not gonna wanna do that. Unless Holy Spirit empowered, I’m not going to be able to do that.
But I want to. And in Him I am able to. For being a servant of all is the way of the kingdom (Mt. 20:26). It’s the way of the Master (Mt. 20:28). It’s the way for things which can divide to not be divisive.
It’s a way possible only by His grace. Only for His glory.