I Corinthians 9: Finding Buried Treasure
Paul has given the church at Corinth and all of us principles for making wise decisions. The Word of God is our source of wisdom and we are exhorted to ‘search for her (wisdom) like hidden treasure. Treasure being the key word in today’s lesson.
I love the story of the Count of Monte Cristo and the movie where he discovers the great buried treasure. Now what we are going to discover is a treasure of even greater worth which is accessible to all of us who are believers, but we must dig for it, sacrifice and desire it more than anything else. Jesus, who was God, gave up the treasures of heaven, where he was King of Kings and Creator of all things—‘made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant. Paul said to those stronger Christians, ‘we know an idol is nothing at all in the world.’ So we who are strong can eat the meat sacrificed to idols. But if it causes a weaker brother to sin- to defile his conscience, I will not eat meat. The law of love says we consider the good of others before good of ourselves. We must ask if our actions will build others up or tear them down.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
In this classic Frank Capra movie, George Bailey was broke; facing arrest, bankruptcy, scandal and ruin, contemplating suicide. Yet at the end of the movie, George Bailey’s circumstances have not changed, but George Bailey has. His brother Harry proposes the following toast: “Here is to my brother George Bailey, the richest man in town” WHAT HAD GEORGE BAILEY DISCOVERED and UNEARTHED, WHAT HIDDEN TREASURE HAD HE DISCOVERED WHICH MADE HIM THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN? Wouldn’t you like to know that secret?
Paul gives us the principle for making wise choices: We referred to these as the ‘law of love and law of liberty,’ they are the basis for the Golden Rule and the two greatest commandments. These principles remind us with freedom comes responsibility. And with authority comes discipline.
Paul gives us example of this discipline here in this ninth chapter of I Corinthians. Paul wants us to understand he has a right to be paid for preaching and ministering to the church. But Paul also knows some resent paying the preacher. Paul chose not to receive money from the church, although he can prove scripturally God has said those who worked in the ministry were to be compensated. The laborer is worthy of hire. Paul uses the example of a: soldier, who does not serve at his own expense; the one plants a vineyard has earned the right to eat the grapes; and one who tends the flocks can drink the milk.
If you go online and read about Joel Osteen, you will find those critics both believers and unbelievers who are disgusted with the lavish, multi-dollar homes he lives in. He has become wealthy as a result of his ministry and books. I am not judging him personally. But his lavish lifestyle is a stumbling block for the lost. We know there are those who use religion to exploit others and control them. They preach a prosperity gospel. They tell their audience, give this money to God, but make the checks out to us. A wrong attitude toward money has always been a hindrance to the gospel from the earliest day as witnessed by the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They loved money more than the truth and lied about their gift. God killed them on the spot. Simon the magician wanted to buy the gift and power of the Spirit and tried to buy it.
Paul also understood there would be those who would abuse this right. So Paul says I have the authority to be paid for my ministry. But I do not want money to be a stumbling block or for those to believe I only do it for money. So I will not receive any money or gifts from the church at Corinth. For my reward is the joy of sharing the Gospel. Paul saw what the love of money could do- it was the root of all kinds of problems. Whenever you hear someone say, ‘it’s not about the money that is probably exactly what it is about. I believe some of the great heroes of faith today are bi-vocational preachers pastoring small churches.
RUNNING THE RACE
In verses 19-27, Paul uses, as he often does, the metaphor of athletics and athletes to show how these related to the great issues of Christian life. In other words, when Paul looked at things, common place things, he saw them in relation to God. Our Lord Jesus did the same thing; he used a drink of water to explain the Gospel to the Samaritan woman at the well.
Paul says I am free and belong to no man, but Paul says he has made himself a slave to everyone. Why? Paul says in order to win as many as possible. In fact in the next five verses in the NIV, Paul uses the word ‘win’ five (5) times. What does Paul mean when he uses the word ‘win’? Well in the context of athletic competition, to win is to have victory over an opponent. To win someone to Christ means for this person to have victory over the opponent. To win their freedom from the sin and sin master that has ensnared them and holds them captive. Paul also says this is a classic, (pardon the cliché) win-win situation. For when through the sharing of the Gospel, he wins one to Christ, he, Paul, wins the approval of Christ. He wins a crown laid up for him, a reward. This brings great joy to Paul, for the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Jesus said, by this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit. ( Amen! Or Oh Me?- I could should be bearing more fruit)
Paul’s strategy in soul winning was to find common ground. So to the Jews he became a Jew, that he might win Jews. To those under the Law, as under the law. To the weak, he became weak, so that by all means he might save some. Paul knew he could not save all. He was realistic in his goals. Also when he adapted to their ways, he did so in a non-sinful way.
I am a recovered alcoholic. I was a prodigal, and I have shared the story of my life as a prodigal with hundreds of people. In fact, it is the success of AA that the people there have a temptation in common with others, in that their lives which had become unmanageable and they were powerless over the sin of drunkenness. They can share how they won the victory over alcohol and were able to manage their lives better, by getting under new management- their higher power.
Here is the problem we all face. Paul knows it as well as we do. It is the ongoing battle between the flesh, our old nature and the Spirit within your new nature. This the battle which takes place in our lives. Sin is still a powerful force. You must understand this battle is real and recognize it and be on guard for your enemy goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. You must watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation.
As Christians we are on an ever upward, progressive climb to holiness. We have been set apart for God’s purposes. As we learn to say no to the power of sin, we will grow to be more like Jesus. This is sanctification 101.
Now Paul is talking about not seeking his own good, but the good of others. Paul will write in I Corinthians 13 about this love which Jesus said we are to love one another as He has loved us. Paul tells us some very difficult truths about this love. This love does not seek or insist on its own way. Is not self-seeking. Wanting our own way is woven into our fallen nature. We were born selfish. We were born with a sinful nature which insists on its own way. Children are completely open about their selfishness. As we grow older we learn to mask or disguise our selfishness in different ways.
When we get saved, our old nature continues to advocate, plead and persuade to have its own way. This why we have the Lord Jesus as our advocate to take on our old nature. We may disguise our selfishness as Christians as our personal preferences. And personal preferences are not always sinful, as Paul said they could enjoy meat sacrificed to idols knowing it was not sinful. But Paul would forgo his personal preference if it offended a weaker brother or caused them to sin.
A personal preference not given up can become not only a stumbling block for others; it can become a weight which keeps us from running with endurance. Hebrews 12 tells us we are surrounded by a crowd of witnesses. Again here is the image of the Olympic races, with a great crowd witnessing this race. So ‘we are lay aside (our personal preferences) – every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us. Who do we look to find our inspiration and aspire to be like? Jesus. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We read in the Garden of Jesus’ personal preference. He prayed: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26) We read Jesus admitted his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. (Mark 14) And Jesus prayed with such intensity he sweat great drops of blood.
The Lord Jesus admitted to God what his personal preference was- He wanted to know if there was any other way. What we read in this account is the Lord Jesus laying aside his personal preference. This is obedience which resulted in the horrific torture, crucifixion and death of the Lord Jesus can only be described as – gut wrenching. It is obedience which chooses God’s will, not the will of my old selfish nature. It is obedience which sees the future by faith in the promises of God. Abraham faced gut-wrenching obedience when he placed his grown son, Isaac, on the altar and raised his knife to take his life. Being full convinced God would raise him from the dead, from the very ashes and he and Isaac would return bodily back to the servants awaiting them below.
We look back to the cross and place our faith in the sacrificial work of the Lamb of God. And we trust Him to save us eternally from the wrath of God. We believe His promise and believe He is faithful to keep His promise. But then something turns our heads and all of a sudden we live in fear of our present circumstances and anxious about the future.
* We are afraid we will not have enough money and resources to support ourselves.*
“My God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
*I am overwhelmed with all that’s happening; I’m not sure I can hang on.*
“My grace is sufficient for your and my strength is made perfect in weakness. ( 2 Cor 12)
- I know this is what God wants me to do, but I just can’t do it, it is too hard!*
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4)
Our old nature is selfish. Our old nature does not want to give up personal preferences. So the first step in running the race is to make sure we have laid aside all weights which can keep us from running the race with endurance. The Lord knows we have self -interest which wants to lay up treasures for ourselves. So He gave us the Treasure Principle and it is very logical: “Do not lay up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in to steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matthew) Jim Elliot’s famous quote sums it up: “A man is not fool to give up what he cannot keep in order to get what he can never lose.”
It is the principle of delayed gratification. It is not that you will never be gratified – but you are giving up what you cannot keep- laying it aside. For that which you cannot lose. For treasure you will have for eternity. Jesus just invited you to send your treasures to heaven where they will safely await you. When you do, when you lay aside the anxiety and worry and have the freedom to give. Because the more you give, the more you will receive in order to give even more.
To get to that buried treasure, you have to dig deep. Dig up a lot of dirt which covers this treasure in our earthen vessels.
Here at Christmas, I love to see that old Christmas Carol movie from 1938. Listen to how Dickens ended his story of Ebenezer Scrooge: “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them….. his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” Randy Alcorn in his eye-opening little book, the Treasure Principle writes: What was the source of Scrooges’ amazing transformation? He had gained an eternal perspective. Through supernatural intervention, Scrooge was allowed to see his past, the present and the future through the eyes of eternity. The key was Scrooge knew he could change his future by what he did in the present. *IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING!*
Do you see what the antidote is for materialism? It is giving. Every trip you make to the dump or Good Will reminds one of how temporary are the things of this world. The only thing which lasts are the souls of men and the word of God.
“Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. “
The Treasure Principle as taught by the Lord is very important to understand and practice. In the last book of the OT, Malachi. God reminded us He does not change. He said test me in this- bring the whole tithe into the storehouse and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing you will not have room for it.
How can I make more room for God- by giving up self- and personal preference in order to receive more of Him and bear more fruit and more joy? I have to dig down deep to uncover what is keeping me from discovering this great treasure. Have you discovered it yet? It is our old selfish nature who whines, “what about me?”
Paul’s goal is to win souls for Christ. To see them saved from the wrath of God. He does this by sharing the gospel.
His strategy is to find common ground. He speaks with gentleness and respect. He speaks the truth in love. But he adapts based on the culture and circumstances without sinning. He does not adapt the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, he adapts to find common ground.
Notice also, Paul’s goal is realistic. He says he does this in order that some might be saved. If he thought all would be saved, it would be unrealistic and he would become discouraged.
Paul was passionate about soul- winning, because the Lord was passionate about soul-winning. Our Lord came to seek and save the lost. It also a good strategy to work in pairs. This is how Jesus sent out the 72 in Luke 10.
Witnessing is intentional. Witnessing is sharing the Gospel, not just inviting someone to come to church. Witnessing is not optional.
To run the race with endurance, we must: Lay aside all weights which keep you from running with endurance. When we do: we will win Gods’ approval and treasures, prizes which are not temporary like a wreath which will not last. Training, which involves discipline, is necessary like a runner or fighter trains and prepares. God has worked in you the desire and the will; you must work it out with fear and trembling.
When I see the passion Paul has for winning souls and witnessing- I am ashamed I do not have the same passion. We have elected a man who says he wants to make America great again. To make America great again, we believers must become engaged in public arena. When I came into AA, I had two men who went out of their way to help me find the truth that would set me free and how it worked.
They were helping me get sober, so I could be a better person, a better husband, father and employee. They did what they did out of gratitude for what God had done and what others who had come alongside them had done. And by sharing how to work the steps- they were in essence showing me how the process of sanctification worked. I will never forget reading a chapter in the Big Book (AA publication) entitled: How It Works. It said, rarely have we seen it fail, when a person works this program with their whole heart. Half-measures never work. Whole hearted- this is the way the Lord says we will find His plan when we seek Him with all our heart.
It would change my life completely so I could become what the Lord had saved me to do: A greater work. As I became a better member of society and community and church.
Sometimes I think we have become Amish-like in a way, which we have withdrawn from our culture as far as sharing the Gospel, the good news. In this 24 hour news cycle, we are a people starved for some good news. For truth that works and change that is real and lasting which comes from the inside out. We have this excellent treasure in these earthly vessels. It is to be shared. And the more we share it the more we receive.
If like Ebenezer Scrooge you realized, no matter how late in life it is, you can change your future and your eternity right now today. Even if you are already heaven bound, you can lay up more treasures.
And have the passion of your heart be the glory of the Lord
For where your heart is – there will your treasure be also. George Bailey found the hidden treasure- by helping others have a better life, by seeking the good of others rather than himself- he discovered the secret of the wonderful life. He had become a man rich in relationships. People loved George Bailey. And Clarence told George- ‘no man is a failure who has friends.’