Paul talks about our human nature and fleshly desires in his letter to the Churches in Rome:
Romans 6:16-17 (NIV)
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.
Our human desires can be like an unquenchable beast. You can never satisfy your own desires, you will always be in want for more.
The last sentence of the book of Judges says that “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” If you read the last half of that book of Judges, you see what happens when people live doing what is right in their own eyes. So, imagine what a community would be like to live in if the only law was that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Would that be a functional and safe community?
Selfishness or a self-focus is what causes disfunction and disunity in groups. That might be the case with family, friends, Church and social groups. Having the goal of feeding self-interest will decimate a group.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9, starts to point his readers to practical examples of what it will take to build unity and community.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
There are many elements to this scripture, it is multi-dimensional. One of the main themes that are being dealt with is the topic of evangelism, sharing the gospel Jesus effectively, through integrity, relationships, and adaptability. Yet there is still a context of unity that runs through these verses, this is what we will focus on.
As we come to these 8 verses at the end of chapter 9 there are two things that jump out at me, the first being that unity requires obedience and secondly unity requires self-denial. They are similar, but not quite the same. One is about taking something on or doing something, the other is about laying something down or not doing something.
Paul is giving the example of what he did in following and being a disciple of Christ. The example that he uses involves evangelism, but the concept can go so much further. You see Paul says that the value that he puts on his relationship with God is to the point of total obedience. He was willing to become what God needed him to be for the sake of the Gospel.
These verses are not about changing personality, it’s not about becoming someone else. It is not about being fake. It is about humbling yourself enough to say, “God knows best! Because God knows best, I will be obedient to what God wants.”
Are you able to say “God, I will do all that you want.”? Because without Godly obedience we become a people who are doing whatever is right in our own eyes.
Paul is making a declaration here that he doesn’t want anything from our background or personal lifestyle to get in the way of having and displaying a relationship with God.
Corinth needed to remove a blockage of self-importance that was hindering their unity and their ability to reflect God in their lives, and so do we. Paul here in chapter 9 says I don’t care if you are Jew or Greek, rich or poor, educated or not, I will show you the love of God. He would not let there be any blockage to being obedient to God.
We need to not limit God to our preferences or self-promotion. Sometimes we may need to stretch ourselves, step out into areas that aren’t necessarily natural to us.
Do you need to remove a blockage, a preference or a preconceived idea? Have you been putting God in a box of your own will and understanding? What might you need to lay down for God?
Being a representative of Christ involves these difficult yet powerful actions, obedience and self-denial. They should be applied liberally and indiscriminately; which Paul says it like this “I became all things to all people.” Basically, in all situations he was obedient to God not allowing anything to be a blockage.
Unity is created when we refrain from doing the me things and start doing all things for God. If we have a ‘my things’ mentality that leads to a destructive environment of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes, and everyone is feeding the insatiable desires of self.
But God knows what’s best for us, He wants us to know a peace that goes beyond understanding, which comes from obedience and self-denial.
In faith, hope and love
Steve and Cass Abram