A Lesson in Adaptability
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A Lesson in Adaptability

In every decision, Paul considered the degree to which the outcome might help him win the lost for Christ. He was prepared to adjust his habits, change his preferences, and modify his lifestyle to see others come to faith. Alistair Begg warns against becoming too cozy in our isolated Christian circles. We must extend beyond our comfort zones and cross cultural gaps for the sake of the Gospel.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 4

Christian Freedom 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 Series ID: 14604

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 9; 1 Corinthians 9, as we resume our studies in 1 Corinthians and at the portion of Scripture that we left behind two Sunday mornings ago. We’re going to read from verse 19 to verse 23, and that, as you will notice from the bulletin that you received, is the focus of our study this morning.

The verses read as follows:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Father, we pray that with our Bibles open upon our laps before you, that the Spirit of God will be our teacher; that through the words of a mere man we might hear the very Word of God; in hearing it, we might understand it; in understanding it, the Spirit of God may apply it to our lives for our encouragement, for our correction, for our rebuke, to train us up in what it means to live rightly before you.[1] This is our prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We’re looking, then, at these verses under the heading “A Lesson in Adaptability.” “A Lesson in Adaptability.” And three questions, as will become apparent from the outline, will allow us to get to the heart of the matter. If we manage to answer these three questions, which are before you this morning, correctly, they will make clear for us Paul’s purpose, his strategy, and also his motivation. When we see somebody who does something with great power and influence, we are probably prone to ask the question, Why is he doing this, and how is he planning on achieving it, and what is it that drives him to that end? And that is essentially what we’re doing this morning in listening to Paul proclaim these words to the Corinthian church.

Paul’s Purpose

And we begin, then, with the question “What are you doing, Paul?” “What are you doing, Paul?” He would be able to answer that in one sentence, straightforward and simple. If you look at the text, you will be able to judge whether I am accurate in asserting this. “What are you doing, Paul?” Answer: “I am seeking to win people for Christ.” Seeking to win people for Christ. Paul is in the business of winning, in the old-fashioned business of soul winning, and he is in absolutely no doubt as to what he’s doing.

Now, the word which is used here throughout these verses for “win” is a very graphic word, and it means just what it seems to mean. For example, in Matthew 18, in the instruction which Jesus provided on church discipline, where he said that if somebody was involved in sin and an individual went to them and confronted them and they listened to them and responded in repentance, then, said Jesus, “You have won your brother over.”[2] It’s the same word that he uses there. It’s the same word used by Paul when he expresses his purpose in life and the overarching desire that he has for the future. He says in Philippians 3:8, “My great desire is that I may win Christ.”[3] It’s the same word also that’s used by Peter in 1 Peter 3:1, where he speaks of wives who have husbands who do not believe, and he says to the wives, “I think it would be better if you were a little more quiet, said a little, and just allowed your life to tell so that your husband may be won over not by your talk but by your good behavior.”[4] And it is the same word, the idea of securing as a possession, as an indication of a measure of victory. So, he is in the business of winning.

You will notice that he repeats this word “win” with frequency. In verse 19, he says, “to win as many as possible.” In verse 20, at the end: “to win those under the law.” Verse 21, at the end: “to win those not having the law.” Verse 22: “I have become all things to all men … that by all possible means I [may] save some.” He changes his word to sōsō, which means to save, to rescue, as a slave would be rescued from bondage by the purchase of another. And Paul says, “This is it for me. I want to win.”

Now, I don’t know a great deal about basketball, but I have listened with care over these days to WKNR as I’m driving in my car. And I have heard every explanation as to what is going on in the events of these last days. And most frequently, when you lay aside the question of strategy and tactics, the real question which has come again and again and again from callers is this: “Do you think these people know how to win?” And the corollary: “Do you think they really want to win? And if they want to win, do you not think there is legitimacy in believing that their activities will declare their purpose?” And, of course, there’s validity in that. Where is the blood? Where are the tears? Where is it? You say you want to win?

Now, when Paul makes this profession, one of the things, of course, we would just need to do is to say, “Well, it’s one thing to say that, Paul, but we want to see just exactly what that means in your life. I mean, in the space of four or five verses, you’ve said, ‘I want to win these people, win these people, win these people.’ Is that really it for you, Paul?”

“That’s exactly it.”

“Don’t you want to see them have Bible studies?”

“Certainly. But they can’t have Bible studies unless I win them.”

“Don’t you want to see the church built up?”

“Of course I do. But they’ll never be built up unless they’re won.”

“Don’t you want to see people in accountability groups?”

“Of course I do. But they’ll never be any groups to be accountable in unless they’re first won for Christ.” And his all-consuming passion was to see those who were as yet unbelievers, who were as yet outside the scope of Christ’s influence in their lives, coming to faith in him. He had a consuming passion to see men and women come to Christ.

The supreme evidential factor of our new birth is that we can no longer keep it to ourselves.

Question: Was he in line with what Jesus had said? What did Jesus say? “I want you to establish an aquarium and to keep it?” Did he say, “I will make you keepers of an aquarium?” No, he said in Matthew 4:19, “Come, follow me, … and I will make you fishers of men.” “Fishers of men.” “No matter what else, no matter what is supplemental, this is fundamental,” says Jesus. “I am not planning on walking down this road by myself. I’m inviting you guys to join me. When you join me, I want you to understand that the little group of us are not planning to remain a little group. We are not going to adopt the mentality of ‘Us four, no more, shut the door.’ We are not going to sit down and say, ‘Isn’t it marvelous that we have the answer to life? Aren’t you glad that you know Jesus? I’m glad that you know Jesus. Let’s all sit down and have a picnic with Jesus and let the world go on its way.’ No. We will go down streets with our eyes open, seeking to fish, not now in the streams and valleys and riverbeds of Galilee but on the thoroughfares and in the mainstream of life.” “I will make you fishers of men,” says the children’s chorus,

If you follow me,
If you follow me,
I will make you fishers of men,
If you[’ll] [only] follow me.[5]

One of the key ingredients in a life that professes faith in Jesus Christ—indeed, we might say that it is the supreme evidential element—is not (and get this) that men and women attend church. It is not that they are in Bible studies. It is not that they like to sit around and talk about the implications of the return of Jesus Christ. The supreme evidential factor of our new birth is that we can no longer keep it to ourselves; that we recognize that this is a day of good news, and there are others who don’t know the good news, so every day and in every way we want to win others to faith in Jesus Christ. In accord with Solomon’s words in Proverbs 11:30, “He that winneth souls is wise.”[6] In Paul’s words to the Corinthians elsewhere, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”[7] There is a singing group, I believe, called the Persuaders, and in a very realistic sense, Paul was a persuader. Christians are in the persuasion business. “I want to win these people.”

Do you ever go fishing? If you’re a fisherman, you love it. If you’re not a fisherman, you can’t imagine what in the world is going on, really—especially if you go fly fishing in Scotland on the River Spey. You can go there when you’re seventeen and leave when you’re thirty-five, and basically nothing at all has happened, as far as I can see. You drink large quantities of pop, or whatever you drink, and big lumps of sandwiches and just sit. And when you go with this individual who took you for this “ultimate experience of your life” and you go back, it’s incredible how along with this desire to fish comes the capacity for fish stories. You know, “Where are they?” says the wife. “Where are what?” says the man. “The fish,” says the wife. “What do you think?” “Oh, well, uh… Well, uh…” “So you didn’t catch any?” “No, but we influenced quite a few, you know. There’s a few back down there. I think they’re waiting for us coming back. Yeah.” “Yeah, sure.”

One of our dear men, one of our elders, took us on a fishing trip out by Put-in-Bay or something last year. Unbelievable. Burnt to a crisp, we sat there drinking gallons of diet pop and eating vast quantities of food, and every time anybody caught anything at all, they were told to throw it back in because it wasn’t the right kind. And the only thing we caught were something called dog heads or something. I can’t remember what they were. But the whole thing was a dog’s head as far as I’m concerned. I had no interest in it whatsoever! I was glad to be in the company, but we had passed many decent golf courses for this experience. And I, frankly, was not for fishing.

Presumably, that’s where some of us are this morning—fifteen hundred of us sitting in here, ready to do battle in the attack of the Evil One, are we? Well, fifteen hundred to go out fishing? Do you think if fifteen hundred people really went fishing—I don’t mean fishing in other churches for people who are tired with their minister. For everyone who gets tired of his minister over there, there’s fifteen get tired with their minister over here. We just move them all around the place. That’s by the way. No, no, I’m talking about fishing for people who are agnostic. I’m talking about talking with our friends in the office when they say, “You know, I don’t really understand faith.” I’m talking about reaching into the lives of our neighbors who never ever darken the door of a church and have no interest in the Bible and probably have got very little idea whatsoever of the concept of eternity. Are we prepared to take Paul’s example here and somebody say to us, “What’s your purpose in life? What’s the purpose of your ministry?” “I want to win people for Jesus Christ!”

When we start our second morning service in the first Sunday of September, who will be here? Thirty percent of this congregation, and 70 percent remain here? Doesn’t need to be. Just make a commitment today. Take out a piece of paper as I speak to you. Turn it over and write on it the names of people that you know are within your sphere of fishing. They’re in your pond. Write their name down. Write their name down; begin today to pray for them. The issue is not they come to this church. The issue is that you fish them for Jesus.

Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Paul says, “You want to know what I’m about?” “What are you doing, Paul?” “I’m fishing. I’m fishing for men.”

Paul’s Strategy

Second question: “How are you doing this, Paul?” His purpose is clear; his strategy is equally clear.

There’s an amazing paradox here in the nineteenth verse. He says, “Though I am free and belong to no man”—and he’s been speaking all about freedom, as you know, as we’ve been studying this—“though I possess this freedom which I have just declared to you, I make myself a slave to everyone. For though I am no man’s slave, I have made myself every man’s slave.” That’s a strange statement. Why? Well, we’re back again: “to win as many as possible.” Every decision he made in his life was oriented around his overarching purpose. “Do you want to go there?” Question: “Will it help me win as many as possible?” “Should we introduce this ministry?” “Will it enable us to win as many as possible?” You see, he ordered his strategy on the basis of his purpose. He did not bring a purpose out of strategy.

Now, it is the positive dimension of what he had referred to in 8:9. Remember, he’d said there, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom doesn’t prevent people from coming to Christ.”[8] Now he turns it round the other way, and he says, “By the curtailing of my legitimate freedoms, I’m going to try and make it more possible for people to come to Christ.”

Now, let’s try and understand this in the time that we have. What Paul is saying here—and you must judge for yourselves whether this is accurate—he says, “I am prepared to modify my habits, adjust my lifestyle, and set aside my preferences.” May I ask you a question? For what are you prepared to adjust your habits, change your lifestyle, and set aside your preferences? “Hey, this is what I do. And I don’t change.” Well, are you prepared to change for anything or for anyone? “I’m not sure.” Well, are you prepared to adjust your habits, change your lifestyle, and change your preferences for the sake of seeing other people come to faith in Jesus Christ? Are you prepared, along with Paul, am I prepared, along with Paul, to abandon what are my legitimate rights for the sake of the gospel? One commentator says Paul sought to use “the methods which [combine] the greatest integrity with the greatest impact.”[9] That’s what we look for: “the greatest integrity with the greatest impact.”

To “become all things to all men,” which is where we eventually come in this little paragraph here—you’ll find that in verse 22 or so—to “become all things to all men” means assuming different roles in accordance with the way people differ. It doesn’t mean changing our message in the face of opposition. This is one of the great confusions in this passage, and we should just address it now. Some people have misunderstood this, and they have got themselves in deep trouble. Well, let me not introduce it now. Let me come to it in the course of outlining it. Otherwise, we’ll get sidetracked.

Let him, then, illustrate his principle. Essentially, what we have here is a lesson in starting where people are. Starting where people are. So he says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew.” Why? “To win the Jews.” You see, when you take away that final phrase every time, the thing’s a nonsense. Why? “So that Jewish people would like me.” Well, I mean that would be valid, and that happens all the time. So, some young person listens to this and says, “To my friends I became just like my friends in their lifestyle, their language, and the substance that they used, because I was afraid of my friends, and it was the only thing I could think to do.” That’s what you call peer pressure. To say that I sit with a group of guys in the cafeteria who are radically different from me, and I sit with them and listen to them and share with them without ever compromising my own principles so that I might have the opportunity to proclaim my message is using wise strategy for the best impact.

Are you prepared to adjust your habits, change your lifestyle, and change your preferences for the sake of seeing other people come to faith in Jesus Christ?

And that was Paul’s approach to the Jews. Of course, he was a Jew by background, but he had been liberated from all of that stuff. But this is what he says: “When I go to Jewish people, I become as Jewish as is necessary in order to work with Jewish people. In other words, I don’t berate them for the fact that they have an unnecessary commitment to special days and feasts. If participating with them in certain things opens a door for the gospel, then I’m going to open that door. If in order to start a relationship with somebody else, it means that I have to lean over, if you like, into the Jewish dimension of things, then lean over I will! So if it means the circumcision of Timothy, although I know it is absolutely unnecessary for the gospel, then Timothy will be circumcised.[10] If it means entering into the purification rites in order that I may gain the opportunity to preach to these people, then we will go through the purification rights. If it means the shaving of my head and the taking of a Nazirite vow in order that I may proclaim the gospel, then bring the barber in and shave my head.[11]” See what he’s doing? In order that he might have the opportunity to put himself within the framework of influence. (Now, don’t let’s apply this except in our minds as we go through.)

Verse 21, he says, in dealing with the gentiles—or, in contrast to the Jews, “those not having the law”—he said, “I did the very reverse. When I went into a Jewish context, I was as Jewish as I possibly could.” They said, “We’re having this kind of meal.” He said, “Fine. The meal doesn’t compromise my commitment to the gospel. Let’s have the meal.” “Now I went over to my friend’s house. They’ve got no interest in those days or those ceremonial meals. They hardly even wash their hands before they eat. But I didn’t walk in and go, ‘Hey, where are the purification jars? Don’t you know that I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews? Don’t you realize that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and we always wash our hands?’ No, no.” He said, “I just would sit down, and I would get on with it. I would start where they are. They had no law. They had no religious obligations. So I didn’t come to them with a load of religious obligations. They were beyond the pale of establishment and orthodoxy, and so I came to them in this way.”

Now, two groups of people would immediately, having read this letter, be really in trouble. The groups we’ve mentioned before: the legalists on the one hand and the libertine guys on the other—the ones who said, “You can’t do anything,” and the ones who say, “You can do everything.” Now, when he said that he “became like one under the law,” the people who are the “You can do everything” gang say, “That’s not right!” So you will notice in verse 20 that he adds a disclaimer: “I became like one under the law”—“What is this, Paul? You’re a legalist? You’re putting yourself back in a wrong framework?”—“(though I myself am not under the law).” In other words, he’s good, you see. He’s a lawyer. He thinks around the corners fast. He knows as soon as he says this—“I became like one under the law” —someone’ll put up their hand and go, “That’s not right!” So before they get the chance, he says, “And I know it’s not right. I’m not telling it’s right, but what I am not doing is declaring to you that I am somehow under the law.”

In the same way, the legalists, when he says in verse 21, “I became like one not having the law,” they want to knock on his door and say, “Hey, hey, but wait a minute. Don’t you realize that Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law?” Paul has to have a disclaimer for them. He says, “(though I am not free from God’s law but [I] am under Christ’s law.)” And those little parenthetical statements are absolutely crucial.

So, to the Jews he became as Jewish as he needed to. To the gentiles he became as gentile as he could. Verse 22: “To the weak,” he says, “I became weak, to win the weak.” “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.” Now, obviously, Paul is not talking here about moral matters. The whole early chapters, the first eight chapters of 1 Corinthians, make that clear. So he is not for a minute saying that in matters of morality, he became immoral in order to win immoral people to Christ. That is to make the Bible a nonsense.

But what he is saying is this: Paul is identifying as closely as he possibly can, stooping down to the level of people’s weakness. If they need it in ABCs, although he is one of the greatest intellects of the universe, he will give it to them in ABCs. If they are not ready to understand the totality of his presentation, then he’ll give them just a wee bit at a time. If they have been tyrannized by religious experience and have come out of a hotbed of absolute nonsense, then he will go as far as he can to identifying the fact that that was a lot of nonsense out of which they came. If, however, they are coming out of a background of religious religiosity which means a great deal to them, then he will get as close to that as he possibly can by identifying the fact that he, too, is a religious person, and there is importance in religion, and there is importance in procedure, and there is importance in observation. Of course he doesn’t believe all of that is important! But he understands that to weak people, he must get to where they are.

Now, loved ones this morning, let us understand this. We need to learn how to adapt ourselves to people in their weakness. That doesn’t mean we need to adapt ourselves to people who are stubborn but to people who are weak. Jesus had plenty to say about the weak, but he also had plenty to say about the stubborn. He told the Pharisees, he said, “You are a bunch of blind men, and I don’t want to waste my time with you.” That doesn’t seem loving, but it was, because he needed to go to the people who were genuinely interested.

Now, what happens here is Paul then summarizes it in this great little statement: he says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might [win] some.” In other words, he was prepared to cross the cultural gap rather than asking men and women to cross the cultural gap to him. I wonder, do we understand what that means?

It’s fleshed out in John chapter 4, in the example of Jesus with the woman at the well. If you turn to it for just a moment, it’s a reminder to some and a revelation to others. John chapter 4, Jesus is tired, and he sits down by the well, middle of the day. Verse 7: “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’” Is that a big deal? Yeah, it’s a huge deal! Why? Well, first of all, men weren’t supposed to talk to women, and Jews weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritans. Now we’ve got a man who’s a Jew speaking to a woman who’s a Samaritan. That’s a major taboo. That’s a social nonsense. And Jesus does it. Why? He’s fishing. Sure, he wants a drink of water. He’s thirsty. Here’s a chance to get a drink of water. But there’d be a number of ways that he could get a drink of water. He uses this as a means of crossing a cultural divide into a lady’s life—a lady whom he knows to have come out of a tragic background of adultery and illicit relationships, and her life is a wreck. And Jesus doesn’t come to her and say, “Excuse me, madam, do you know that I am the great religious leader? Do you know that I am the Messiah of God? Do you know that I will go to Calvary and die for the sins, the wretched kind of sins in your life?” No, he says to her, “Excuse me? Could I have a drink of water, please?”

Now, what happens? He makes contact. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You[’re] a Jew and I[’m] a Samaritan woman.’” Jesus must have said to himself, “That’s good. She’s a bright lady.” Next question: “‘How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)”[12]

I want to say something to you this morning, and I want to say it to you straight; it’s to my own heart as well. Do you know what danger we are in in this country of increasing circles of isolationism when it comes to the Christian faith? Do you know how irrelevant we really are in our cozy little subcultures with our fine little meetings and our holy little talks and our wonderful little events, while our friends and our neighbors, who cannot find it in themselves to cross the great cultural divide which we have built between heaven and hell, between Jerusalem and Gerasene, cannot find it in themselves to walk across the bridge? And I’m not surprised, and I for one don’t blame them. Because Jesus never asked them to. He asked us to walk across the bridge. And Paul said, “To the Jew I walk across this bridge one way. To the gentile I walk another way. To the weak I start at weakness. Because I’ve become all things to all men that by all means I may save some.”

Paul’s Motivation

Now, “Why are you doing this, Paul?” That’s the final question, and you see it in verse 23. “Why am I doing this?” he says. “I’m doing it for the sake of gospel. I want to see,” says Paul, “the power and reality of the good news spread as far and wide as possible. Let others,” he says, “be concerned about their rights. Let others be concerned about their rewards. I want to be concerned about the gospel. I want to see men and women come to faith in Jesus Christ.”

Now, if your heart says amen to that this morning, I want to ask you what you’re prepared to do about it. I want to ask you what kind of change you believe you need to make as a businessman, as a businesswoman, as a mom, as a student, as whoever you are. What kind of change are you prepared to make because you declare this morning—you have been reminded again forcibly from God’s Word by the example of Paul—that you exist in order to win men and women to Jesus Christ? Some of our flames are dim. Some of them are under bushels, under buckets—under Christian buckets, under church buckets, but they’re under buckets. And we wonder why no one sees the light. You can’t see a candle under a tin bucket. Are you prepared for some of your Christian friends to say, “I think he’s really off the wall. Do you know what he’s doing? Do you know where he’s going?” Isn’t that what the Pharisees said?

Jesus comes to town, Luke 19. Presumably, the religious people must have said, “We’ve got Jesus coming to town. Should be a good time. Probably come, see us, see the religious people.” If they’ve never seen him before, they want to check his clothes, see if he’s wearing the right kind of gear in keeping with his job. He comes to town. He starts walking around the place. He looks up a tree and sees Zacchaeus. Stops under the tree, looks up. The dirty little cheat Zacchaeus—everyone knew he was a dirty little cheat. They didn’t all know he was up the tree, but as soon as Jesus stopped and started calling his name, everyone in the place knew he was up the tree.

They must have looked around at one another and said, “What kind of deal is this? I thought this was the Messiah of God. I mean, don’t you think he would hang out with the religious people? What’s he doing calling Zacchaeus’s name? Goodness gracious! Zacchaeus is coming down the tree. What’s he going to do now? Probably zap him. He’ll probably just kill him. ’Cause that guy, he is a bad guy. I mean, we haven’t had him in our synagogue for years. He hasn’t been at one of our homes. He hasn’t been at one of our meetings. Zacchaeus is a bad guy.”

Jesus goes, “Hey, Zacchaeus, let’s go. We’re going for tea.” “Where?” “Your place.” “Fine.” Zacchaeus takes him down, and all the Pharisees stand outside, and they mutter with one another saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’”[13] For what reason? To win the sinner! He didn’t become a cheater to win a cheat. But he went in the cheater’s house, and the cheater came out a changed man. All things to all men to save some.

When I came here to America the first time in 1972, I gave my testimony in a church in Detroit. That is, somebody asked me—the youth pastor asked me—if I would explain if I was a Christian or not. So on an evening in 1972, at the age of twenty, with my hair looking like the front cover of a James Taylor album—a bad one—swinging in the breeze as I came down the aisle, I came up, and I gave my testimony in front of this crew-cutted Baptist church. I gave my testimony, and the man thanked me. And as I walked back to my seat, this is what he said to the congregation: “There you are, folks. Even a person who looks like that can be a Christian.” So he had me up as an illustration of the grace of God, or an illustration of his broad-mindedness, or whatever it was. But I never forgot that. I’m not wounded by it, but I don’t ever want to do it. So I don’t care if the guy has an earring. I frankly don’t care if he has a nose ring. I don’t care if his head is shaved and he has a bright perpendicular stripe hanging off the back. Jesus will take care of all of that stuff in time. In time.

When I came that same summer, I also heard a story. I may have told you this before. If I did, I apologize, but it’s my favorite story like this, and with this I finish. It’s a church on the West Coast. I’m not sure if it was Calvary Chapel, or it may have been up there with the fine man… Ray Stedman! Ray Stedman. It was either Calvary Chapel or Palo Alto, Ray Stedman’s church. It’s a packed church like this. It’s late ’60s. It’s ’69. All the people are in; they’re all in their gear, doing their thing. After all, Sunday mornings, you wear suits; Sunday nights, you don’t wear suits. God likes suits in the morning; he doesn’t like suits in the evening.

I’ve got no time for that. Absolutely no time. You want to wear a suit? Wear a suit. You don’t want to wear a suit? Don’t wear a suit. But you don’t have to wear one in the morning and the other in the evening. That’s why I just wear the same thing morning and evening. If I ever change to shorts and tennis shoes, I’m going to wear them in the morning as well. I hope you know that. ’Cause God has got no difference between the morning and the evening. Okay? But the average person on the street doesn’t know that, so he comes to a place like this and goes, “Good grief, I couldn’t go in there! I’m not dressed right. I’m not sure I could sit straight up like that for that length of time.”

And, of course, many people were coming out of the West Coast and the hippie movement. And so the church is absolutely packed, the pastor of worship has begun the service, and as they’re all seated, a fellow comes in. Nobody looks after him. It’s jammed. Back row, next back row, all the way down, he comes to the front, looking for a place. There’s no place. All eyes are on him. He has no shoes. His jeans are frayed. He’s got the kind of “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”[14] look, and it’s all hanging down the side, and he is moving inexorably towards the front. Still, no one moves. No one touches him. No one guides him.

And when he finally reaches the front and it’s all full, he looks around and sits down cross-legged on the floor right underneath the pulpit. And all eyes were fastened on him. Most of the three-piece-suit-gang saying, “Man, I’d love to have my hair like that.” Some of them saying, “I wish I’d worn my jeans. I don’t know why I dressed up in this monkey suit.” But they were all watching him, and they’re wondering what he’s going to do. And eventually, they see the chairman of the elder board gets up out of his seat. So now they’re watching him. He’s going to deal with this guy. And he comes across the back, and he comes down the aisle, and the people were watching to see what he would do. And he came right down, and he sat cross-legged on the floor right beside the guy.

Loved ones, that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take reading some books, if you’re dealing in a world of science. It’s going to take thinking things out. It’s going to take crossing the barriers that we have made to win people for Jesus Christ.

Who was it? It might have been C. T. Studd. It might have been William Booth. It was one of them. Remember his words?

Some [want] to live within the sound
 Of Church [and] Chapel bell,
I want to run a Rescue Shop
 Within a yard of hell.[15]

Let’s bow in prayer:

Our God and our Father, we thank you for this morning hour, for the wonder of your grace, for the privilege of sharing in one another’s lives, for the opportunity of opening the Bible and hearing it speak to us. Thank you for Paul, for the clarity of his purpose, for the nature of his strategy, for the surety of his motivation.

Redefine our purpose as individuals and as a church. Give to us the kind of strategy that is necessary to fulfill our commitment to Christ, and rekindle in our hearts afresh the love we knew when first we saw the Lord so that men and women may detect the reality of a life in touch with Christ.

And may grace, mercy, and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest and remain with you all, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See 2 Timothy 3:16.

[2] Matthew 18:15 (NIV 1984).

[3] Philippians 3:8 (paraphrased).

[4] 1 Peter 3:1 (paraphrased).

[5] Harry D. Clarke, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men” (1927).

[6] Proverbs 11:30 (KJV).

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:11 (paraphrased).

[8] 1 Corinthians 8:9 (paraphrased).

[9] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1985), 159–160.

[10] See Acts 16:3.

[11] See Acts 21:20–26.

[12] John 4:9 (NIV 1984).

[13] Luke 19:7 (NIV 1984).

[14] John Phillips, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” (1967).

[15] Quoted in Norman P. Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (Harrisburg, PA: Evangelical Press, 1943), 170.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.