Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
Freedom is such a wonderful gift of God that we have. We are free to choose what clothes we wear. We are free to eat what we want. We are free to have children or not have children. We are free to come and go whenever we want, within reason, of course. In short, we are a very free people with the ability to do what we want. What we must realize is that this freedom that we enjoy comes from God, our loving Father.
St. Paul emphasizes that he is free. He says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” At first glance, it appears that Paul is very confused at what he is saying. He is free, yet he is a servant. The question needs to be asked: can you be free and still be bound?
That is what is at the heart of Paul’s message. He is indeed free. He is not free in the sense that we might think. Paul is free, not on account of his status as a Roman citizen. He is not free on account of his skin color. He is not free on account of anything of his own doing. Paul is free on account of what Jesus Christ has done for him. He is free because Jesus has granted him the freedom from sin and death by His life, death, and resurrection.
While Paul is free, he claims that he has made himself “a servant to all.” He has done this for one reason and one reason only: to preach the Gospel. He is under orders to go and preach the Gospel. God had told Ananias before he baptized Paul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Paul had no choice but to be an apostle, but it was something he did willingly and gladly because of what the prize was: Jesus Christ.
While Paul was free and a servant at the same time, he was not under obligation to any person except Christ. He did not need to impress anyone. He was not bound to serve anyone except Christ. He had no allegiance to anyone except Christ. He was free yet he was a slave to Christ. Everything that Paul did was for Christ and His kingdom and His Gospel. He was charged with taking the Gospel to people and that is exactly what He did. Paul and his colleagues saw themselves as the Corinthians’ slaves for Christ. Theirs was a ministry of service, and by this humble approach, Paul sought to win as many as possible for the Gospel.
It is for that reason that Paul became “all things to all people.” When Paul became a Christian, he became a free man in Christ, free from all the laws and regulations that bound God’s people in the Old Testament. However, that did not stop him from practicing those Old Testament laws and regulations. To win the Jews, he lived like the Jews under the law, even though he was no longer obligated to do so because of Christ. He kept the Sabbath laws and observed the festival days; he followed the Old Testament regulations regarding the eating of foods; he observed the rite of circumcision all in order to win the Jews to Christ and the Gospel.
For the Gentiles, those outside the law, Paul became as one outside of the law. The Gentiles did not follow any of the ceremonial laws like the Jews did. Instead, they followed the natural law or moral law. His concern for the Gentiles was to convey to them that they did not have to feel that they should become Jewish in order to become Christians. That was different than what some were teaching. There were those within the Church that taught that if you wanted to become Christian, you must become a Jew or accept all the Jewish practices. That meant you had to become circumcised. You had to abstain from the eating of certain foods. You had to observe certain Jewish festivals, all in the name of being a Christian. What was ignored was the fact that a person was free to be circumcised or not circumcised; a person was free to eat or not eat certain foods because they had been set free by Christ.
Both Jewish and Gentile Christians were under the law of Christ. Both had the mind of Christ and sought to live upright, God-pleasing lives. Both Jewish and Gentile Christians live in Christ; their will is in accord with Christ’s will. Both want to do the will of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments, but both had different ways in coming to Christ.
For Paul, becoming all things to all people was what was necessary to win them to Christ. He did this without ever compromising Christ. Paul’s example of love and service is there for all who want to win others for Christ. He showed that each and every person, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, was important to Christ. He showed that he would do whatever was necessary to bring to them the Gospel of Christ which they so desperately needed. Paul knew just exactly how much the people needed Christ because he experienced firsthand how much he needed Christ. When Christ appeared to Paul, it was a life-changing experience like no other. He realized what he was doing to Christ and His Church. He realized that he lay outside of the Church and outside of Christ and His forgiveness. When the scales fell from his eyes, Paul was literally a changed man. He saw the mercy and love of Christ firsthand and his charge as an apostle was to spread the Gospel to all people. He would do what is God’s will to reach another person for Christ. In Christ, Paul became so free that he could give up his freedom to help someone else know God’s love and forgiveness.
His message to the Corinthians was one they needed to hear, as it is a message that all Christians are to hear. There is a prize to be won. The prize is nothing short than the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. This prize is not like any other prize in this world. The prizes of this world pass away for they are perishable. They are here today, but gone tomorrow. The prize that Christ gives to you is the unfading glory of heaven and eternal salvation. The prize that Christ gives is forgiveness. The prize that Christ gives is Himself, for you.
This wonderful prize that Christ has to offer to you is yours for the mere price of your sins. Jesus gives to you this forgiveness in exchange for your sins. Your sins, washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism, just as was done for Olivia earlier. Your sins, forgiven you when you feast at the Lord’s Table.
It is because of Christ that you have been set free: set free from all sin and bondage to Satan. It is because of Christ that you are bound to Him: bound to Him through His life, death, and resurrection. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.