Gospel Contextualization

Dr. Steve Viars January 28, 2018 1 Corinthians 9
Outline

John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:18 - No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

Hebrews 5:8 - Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

Hebrews 4:14–16 - Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 Timothy 2:5 - For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…

John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

1 Corinthians 3:11 - For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:10 - …each man must be careful how he builds on it.

3 perspectives through which to consider proper accommodation in ministry

I. The Goal of Contextualization – To Win as Many to Christ as Possible

A. The clear emphasis of this passage

  • 1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:20 - To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law…
  • 1 Corinthians 9:21 - …to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:22 - To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24 - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

Proverbs 11:30 - The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls.

1 Timothy 1:12–16 - I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor...It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

B. Informing our church’s mission statement

The mission of Faith Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.

II. The Posture of Contextualization – Becoming a Slave to Everyone

1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

A. What was happening in this particular context

B. The strength of Paul’s statement

v. 19 - “I have made myself a slave”

edoulosa emauton

Acts 7:6 - “But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years.

Titus 2:3 - Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good…

C. Defining contextualization

v. 20 – To the Jews, I became as a Jew…

v. 21 – To those without law, (I became) as without law…

v. 22 – To the weak, I became weak…

D. An important balance

1 Corinthians 9:20 - …to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law

1 Corinthians 9:21 - …to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ

E. Just like an athlete

1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

III. The Prize of Contextualization – Sharing in the Blessing of the Gospel

1 Corinthians 9:23 - I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 

- one of the delightful aspects of biblical Christianity is the beauty and powerful of the incarnation of Jesus Christ…that’s the theological term to describe the mystery of God becoming man…the apostle John said it like this…

- John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

- normally we talk about this at Christmastime and rightly so…but the principles that are taught in and through that event are important all year round…

1) like the assurance that comes with fulfilled prophecy…

- throughout the Old Testament we read about the promised Messiah and on the one hand he is a human being…but clearly has abilities that appear to be beyond what a human could accomplish…

- so we’re left scratching our heads to determine how these things could be until the prophecies come together in the little town of Bethlehem…which in and of it itself is yet another fulfilled prophecy…

- Isaiah explained that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in chapter 7 and then later that He would be pierced through for our transgressions…and like a lamb led to a slaughter in chapter 53…

- the incarnation of Christ brings these prophecies together in ways that just take your breath away…

2) then there’s just the mystery of all the physical details involved in God being willing to become a man…

       - John MacArthur in his book The Miracle of Christmas said…

I don’t suppose anyone can ever fathom what it means for God to be born in a manger. How does one explain the Almighty stopping to become a tiny infant? It was, of course, the greatest condescension the world has ever known or will ever know. Our minds cannot begin to understand what was involved in God’s becoming a man. We will never comprehend why He who was infinitely rich would become poor, assume a human nature, and enter into a world He knew would reject Him and kill Him.

Nor can anyone explain how God could become a baby. Yet He did. Without forsaking His divine nature or diminishing His deity in any sense, He was born into our world as a tiny infant.

People often ask me if I think He cried, or if He needed the normal care and feeding one would give any other baby. Of course He did. He was fully human, with all the needs and emotions that are common to every human.

Yet He was also fully God —all wise and all powerful. How can both things be true? I don’t know. But the Bible clearly teaches that it is so. In some sense, Jesus voluntarily suspended the full application of His divine attributes. He didn’t give up being God, but He willingly gave up the independent use of the privileges and powers that were His as God (Philippians 2:5-8). He chose to subjugate His will to His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:38). Through all that He remained fully God (The Miracle of Christmas, p. 86).

- what an incredible mystery…

3) the incarnation also allowed for intimacy in relationships with human beings because Christ was willing to enter our time and space…

- so He’s at a wedding with other men and women – and we can all relate to what that is like…

- and the host runs out of wine…and Jesus’ mother suggests he should do something to help…and we can picture that kind of interaction…

- throughout the gospels He’s teaching [people, as a person]…He’s healing…He’s sharing meals…

- and in each of those interactions we learn more about the character of God because He became a man…

- that’s why John would later say…John 1:18 - No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

- the incarnation made it easier for us to understand God…Jesus living in a body explained Him…

4) the incarnation positioned Him to be our mediator…to stand between us and our Holy God…the writer of Hebrews would go so far as to say that…

- Hebrews 5:8 - Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

- that same writer also explained that - Hebrews 4:14–16 - Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- He could be our mediator because He had been tempted in all points yet without sin…and He could be a sympathetic high priest because He knew what it was like to live in a physical body…

- which is why Paul said…1 Timothy 2:5 - For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

- the point of all of this is that the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ – His willingness to become a man…is a core component of our faith…

- here’s a final reason it’s important…because it’s a perfect model and example of the principle of contextualization…going to great lengths to help another person understand and accept the truth of God…

- John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

- this morning we’d like to study the important matter of Gospel Contextualization…with that in mind, please open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 9…page 134 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…

- our church’s theme this year is Being Careful How We Build…a phrase which comes from and earlier chapter of the book we’re studying this am…

- Paul told Christians that while our foundation is secure…

- 1 Corinthians 3:11 - For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

- we’re still admonished to…1 Corinthians 3:10 - …each man must be careful how he builds on it.

- that’s the privilege and the task before us this year…

- now in these first few weeks of 2018, we’re focusing on Building on the Foundation of the Gospel…

- and we’re encouraging as many people as possible from our church family to carve out some time and read the book Center Church by Tim Keller…

- the subtitle is – Doing balanced, gospel centered ministry in your city

- part of that balance deals with – how far should each one of us go in order to make the good news of Jesus Christ as accessible, and understandable to others around us as possible?...let’s allow the apostle Paul to answer that question from his perspective…and then examine our own hearts and lives to see how well we measure up…

- read 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

- so we’re talking this morning about Gospel Contextualization…and let’s use this text to identify 3 perspectives through which to consider proper accommodation in ministry.

I. The Goal of Contextualization – To Win as Many to Christ as Possible

- that is…

A. The clear emphasis of this passage

  • 1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:20 - To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
  • 1 Corinthians 9:21 - to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:22 - To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24 - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

- every so often I run into someone who is a little uncomfortable with that terminology because it sounds overly competitive…or leading to self-promotion [look what I won]…

- and I appreciate the carefulness – that goes right along with our theme…let’s guard our terminology…but in this case – this is what Scripture emphasizes clearly and repeatedly…

- followers of Jesus Christ should be passionate about having a positive spiritual impact on those the Lord has placed around us…that’s why the book of Proverbs says…

- Proverbs 11:30 - The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls.

- the approach to life and ministry that Paul is modeling and advocating here is a demonstration of his wisdom…

- and of course because of what we know about Paul’s story – he would be quick to say – it was an acquired wisdom…

- everything we’re reading about here is proof of Christ working in and through him…

- because these certainly weren’t the kind of victories Paul was seeking earlier in his life…

- 1 Timothy 1:12–16 - I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor...It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

- so Paul saw it as a great privilege to put others in a position where they too would find forgiveness of their sins through the mercy of Jesus Christ…and believe in Him for eternal life

B. Informing our church’s mission statement

- The mission of Faith Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.

- much of that comes right out of this very passage of Scripture…

- that’s why at our church family nights when a person follows the Lord in believer’s baptism, in obedience to Christ demonstrating that what they are trusting for their salvation is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ…often our church family claps in joyful thanksgiving for what God has done in that person’s life…

- another man, woman, boy, or girl has been won…[to God be the glory, great things He has done]…

- now let’s switch to how that occurs…what is…

II. The Posture of Conceptualization – Becoming a Slave to Everyone

- the summary of this passage is - 1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

- let’s push the pause button on that for a moment and let me ask you just to consider this…do you have examples in your life where you could make a similar statement?...

- what are you doing right now that might be uncomfortable…that might be inconvenient…that might be frightening…that might involve taking a risk in some way – it’s clearly sacrificial – again, right now, this past week…that would allow you to make a similar statement?...

- my guess is – whatever you would say in answer to that question – very well might be deemed at the judgment seat of Christ to be like…gold, silver, precious stones…you are being careful how you build…

- conversely – anything that stands in the way of achieving this – very well may someday be proven to be like wood, hay, stubble…

- time and energy and resources were expended – something was built on the foundation – but there wasn’t a carefulness, a focus, a purpose in the way you built…

- now let’s back up for a moment to be sure we understand this properly…

A. What was happening in this particular context

- as hard as it may be to believe…there were people in the Corinthian church who, behind his back – in his absence, were trying to undermine the apostle Paul’s ministry…

- and apparently one of the criticisms they were leveling was that Paul wasn’t a genuine apostle because he had been unwilling to receive a salary for his ministry among them…

- sounds pretty absurd, huh?...and that’s what happens when people take their eye off winning others to Christ…they become mired down in petty squabbles that are foolish at best…

- he who wins souls is wise…and he who doesn’t…isn’t…

- so Paul has been arguing throughout the chapter, that even though I had the freedom to receive a salary, I’m choosing not to…

- I want to voluntarily enslave my ministry in this particular context so that I can maximize my ministry…and it’s important to note…

B. The strength of Paul’s statement

- the phrase translated – v. 19 - “I have made myself a slave” is actually 2 words in the original language – both of them very powerful – edoulosa emauton

- doulos is one of the words for slave in the Bible…edoulosa is the verb form…

- very common in Scripture in places like…

- Acts 7:6 - “But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. [not hard to see our word in that passage, right?...and think about how terrible it would have been for God’s people to be in that position for 400 years]…or…

- Titus 2:3 - Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,

- again, think about how terrible it would be to be enslaved to alcohol…

- and Paul is saying – that is the position that I have taken…but to be sure there is no question about how he got here…he adds the reflexive pronoun…emauton…”I did this to myself”…

- I am voluntarily enslaving my freedoms, my liberties as a Christian in order to maximize my ministry…so that I might win more…

- there’s a beautiful picture of this in the OT book of Exodus where the Israelites were required to release a Hebrew slave after he served for a period of 6 years…but in Exodus 21, if a servant said – I don’t want to leave – I want to voluntarily stay in this household and continue to serve you…then his ear was pierced to signify the decision he had made…

- now let’s sharpen our definition…

C. Defining contextualization

v. 20 – To the Jews, I became as a Jew

v. 21 – To those without law, (I became) as without law

v. 22 – To the weak, I became weak

- Tim Keller writes - Contextualization is not—as is often argued—“giving people what they want to hear.” Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.

Sound contextualization means translating and adapting the communication and ministry of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the essence and particulars of the gospel itself. The great missionary task is to express the gospel message to a new culture in a way that avoids making the message unnecessarily alien to that culture, yet without removing or obscuring the scandal and offense of biblical truth. A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it. If we fail to adapt to the culture or if we fail to challenge the culture—if we under- or overcontextualize—our ministry will be unfruitful because we have failed to contextualize well (Center Church, p. 89).

- now, let’s just pause and think about what that looks like for people like you and me…

- we will have literally hundreds of men and women serve in our youth and children’s ministries today…what are they doing?...they’re contextualizing…

- to the second graders…they’ll become…like second graders…

- they’ll be down on their hands and knees…they’ll be coloring…they’ll be giggling…but most importantly, they are doing everything they can to make the Word of God understandable on a second grade level…

- and it wasn’t convenient for them to prepare that lesson this week…

- and it would have been far easier for them to have slept in this morning…

- and they had the freedom not to do it…

- but they are being careful how they build…for though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more…

- there’s another group of men and women…they are working with our teenagers today…

- to the teens, they became…like a teen…

- and please think about the example of the incarnation of Jesus we talked about at the beginning…

- aren’t you thankful for people who, not just on Sundays…but throughout the week, spend time with our teens…getting to know their questions and their struggles and their passions and their interests…

- why?...so they can make the truth of God and His Word as attainable and understandable as possible…

- now, did you notice in this passage, there is…

D. An important balance

- did you see the care Paul exerted in explaining all of this?...

- 1 Corinthians 9:20 - …to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law

- 1 Corinthians 9:21 - to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ

- that’s what Keller meant when he said – contextualization is not simply giving people what they want to hear…or always doing exactly what they want to do…but if there is any non-essential that can be voluntarily enslaved…then we’re more than willing to do that…

- here’s an example that might resonate with many…we live in a culture that enjoys family activities around the holidays…

- well, we found one – it’s called the Living Nativity…

- the gospel doesn’t just have to be expressed in the church-house on Sunday am…or over a cup of coffee of Tuesday afternoon…

- it can also be expressed when you’re dressed up in a costume…standing next to a donkey…sometimes in freezing weather…praying that Jesus will come soon…

- if that’s a vehicle on which the gospel can be easily transferred in this culture…then bring on the costume, and the long johns, and everything that comes with it…

- we don’t have to be wearing a three piece suit and holding a Kings James Bible…

- [share the testimony of the fellow who’s attending our Intro to Faith class..]

- here’s another example of what this looks like…

- what about our college students who take time to serve at the Hartford Hub and build relationships with neighborhood kids?...

- what is that?...when they help them with their homework?....when they play a game of basketball…when they teach someone how to build a robot?...

- does that come naturally, is it convenient, is it always easy, are those kids always going to be perfectly behaved…

- to the Jew, I became as a Jew…

- and by the way – everyone who does that kind of work would be quick to say…

- it’s only because Christ has transformed and continues to transform my heart…[cf. Gal 2:20]

- this isn’t drudgery…because I was created to serve…every time they see someone won to Christ in that setting…it’s like putting fuel on the fire…

- did you notice the metaphor Paul used at the end of the passage to illustrate this process?...

E. Just like an athlete.

- these verses would have really resonated with the Corinthians…which is yet another example of Paul doing exactly what he was teaching here…

- and John MacArthur explains the picture…

- The Greeks had two great athletic festivals, the Olympic games and the Isthmian games. The Isthmian games were held at Corinth and were therefore intimately familiar to those to whom Paul was writing. Contestants in the games had to prove rigorous training for ten months. The last month was spent at Corinth, with supervised daily workouts in the gymnasium and athletic fields (John MacArthur, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, p. 214).

- and what was the point?...just like an athlete – you want to be focused…

- you’ll exercise whatever self-control is necessary in order to win…

- and MacArthur goes on to say…The race was always a major attraction at the games, and that is the figure Paul uses to illustrate the faithful Christian life. Those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize. No one would train so hard for so long without intending to win. Yet out of the large number of runners, only one wins.

A great difference between those races and the Christian “race” is that every Christian who will pay the price of careful training can win. We do not compete against each other but against the obstacles—practical, physical, and spiritual—that would hinder us. In a sense, every Christian runs his own race, enabling each one of us to be a winner in winning souls to Christ. Paul therefore counsels all believers to run in such a way that you may win, by setting aside anything that might hinder the reception of the gospel.

Holding tightly to liberties and rights is a sure way to lose the race of soul-winning. Many of the Corinthian Christians seriously limited their testimony because they would not limit their liberty. They refused to give up their rights, and in so doing they won few and offended many.

- let’s go back to the questions we asked a few minutes ago…do you have examples in your life where you could say with Paul…1 Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

-  and this requires the wisdom of Solomon…because you’re constantly having to ask…what is my current ministry setting…

- and is this a time where, even though I’m free to do something, I’m not going to so that I don’t needlessly offend others?

- or is this a situation where even though I might prefer a more conservative or old-fashioned approach – I recognize that would not be the most effective way to communicate the gospel in this particular cultural setting?...

- by the way, Keller makes an important point on page 96 when he says…The subject of contextualization is particularly hard to grasp for members of socially dominant groups.  Because ethnic minorities must live in two cultures—the dominant culture and their own sub-culture—they frequently become aware of how deeply culture affects the way we perceive things (Center Church, p. 96).

- an athlete like focus will cause us to be very attuned to shedding anything that would hinder us from winning the race…

- we’ve talked about the goal, and the posture of contextualization…

III. The Prize of Contextualization – Sharing in the Blessing of the Gospel

- 1 Corinthians 9:23 - I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

- Paul doesn’t explain exactly what he means by that…

- it could be that he is dying to himself and being raised to a new approach to life and ministry…and so the act of living/proclaiming the gospel in this way is allowing him to partake in another scoop of it as well…

- it’s very well that he is referring to the joy of seeing other men and women come to Christ…and to have a front row seat in the process because he didn’t let his preferences and his opinions get in the way of proclaiming Jesus…

- do you think the Lord is going to give us ongoing opportunities to act on these principles?...

- will this and should this be an essential aspect of being careful how we build?...

1. Using more ethnically diverse music in our services…

 

2. Cf. a group of us attending a fundraising event for a local non-profit

 

3. Think about how our counseling ministry is even an expression of these principles…

- many people in our culture are more comfortable going to counseling than going to church…[Develop – the BCC]…

Dr. Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video