The Surrendering of God-Given Rights for the Sake of Free Gospel Proclamation

Rev. Jon Saunders, Speaker

2 Corinthians 9:3-19 | March 17 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
March 17
The Surrendering of God-Given Rights for the Sake of Free Gospel Proclamation | 2 Corinthians 9:3-19
Rev. Jon Saunders, Speaker

Our Scripture text reading for this night is from 1 Corinthians chapter 9, verses 3 through 19. I do not believe the Scripture is printed in your order of worship. We are going to be bouncing around quite often in the text so I would encourage you to open a Bible or to open your phone and to follow along with me. This is the reading of God’s Holy Word. 1 Corinthians chapter 9, verses 3 through 19.

“This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?”

“Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does He not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?”

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

“But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Let’s pray.

Father, we know that You work by Your Word and so for the sake of Your gracious work in our lives, we ask that You would now give us open ears to hear and soft hearts to believe all that You have clearly spoken in Your precious Word. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Like Kevin said, my name is Jon Saunders. I am the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in downtown Detroit. Kevin and I did start at University Reformed Church the exact same summer. I think I might have moved from East Lansing maybe a month before Kevin, so I just tend to think Kevin just could not bear the thought of not working with me and so there you go.

I want to, before we really jump into the reason for why I am here, just want to extend thanks to Christ Covenant for your continued support of Redeemer Detroit and specifically for our church planting initiative, the Detroit project. So after I left East Lansing to help plant Redeemer, as soon at that church was particularized, we had a vision, we believed from the Lord, to just keep planting churches.

So the last time I was here, which was about three years ago, I was able to share that our church was particularized and we had our first daughter church in the works, and since then we have three more additional daughter churches in the works. We are currently planting four churches around Metro Detroit. It really would not be possible were it not for other faithful churches around our denomination sending resources to help that take place. Again just want to say thank you.

Again, before I really get into why I’m here which is to talk about pastoring and gospel ministry in the context of Eric, just one quick highlight. Our newest church is Grace Presbyterian in Dearborn. If you don’t understand the Detroit area, you need to know that Dearborn is the city that touches the border of Detroit. Dearborn is well over 100,000 people and it is the highest concentration of Muslims in North America. If you go to Dearborn, it doesn’t just feel like you’re in a different part of the United States, it really feels like you are in a different country. All of the signs, all of the stores, are in Arabic.

We’ve done our research, we’ve reached out to all the churches that we think are in the most generous and broadest sense are Bible-believing churches, and from what we can tell in a city of 109,000 people, there are less than 700 people attending a faithful church any given Sunday. So Dearborn is three times larger than Matthews, North Carolina and the number of total believers in that city is half the size of your church. So it’s real, frontline gospel ministry.

Our church is now three months into the planting. They’ve been meeting for public worship for three months, averaging about 50 people each Sunday from 13 different nationalities and we saw our first adult baptized less a month ago. So God’s doing really exciting things in the Metro area. That’s just one of our churches. We have three other church plants. Boots on the ground right now. It’s very exciting. Again, just want to say thank you for your commitment to be a generous sending resource church, because there are other churches around the country and around the world that are thankful for your generosity.

But now the real reason why I am here tonight, to see the installation of my very good friend Eric Russ to the office of teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Like Kevin said, I’ve known Eric for almost two decades and Eric together with his very precious wife Sara and their terrific children Connor, Joel, Lauren, Eli, Carter are some of the dearest friends of the Saunders family. I have heard from my family all week, “Dad, why are you going without us?” I said that’s just how it has to be. They are dear friends.

And if I am being 100% honest, I’m still amazed this night’s going to happen. For most of my life, so far probably the last 18 years of my friendship with Eric, Eric has been a Baptist, and now tonight Eric is about to become a PCA covenantal baby baptizing pastor. So we are Calvinists and we believe in sovereign grace, so this is a big deal. I’m in such disbelief. I told my wife Vanessa maybe we should have another baby just to see Eric baptize a baby. Then I figure, Kevin and Trisha probably will first. So I’ll just let Kevin and Trisha handle that.

This is a very exciting night. Eric, you are a good friend. You’re a man of God. You’re a good pastor. You are uniquely gifted in the area of evangelism. Tonight it’s a privilege not just to call you a brother in the Lord but to consider you, call you, a fellow teaching elder in the PCA.

Now most sermons build towards the main point at the end, but this evening I am going to start by asking a question from the very end of our Scripture text reading. From verse 19, what is going to take to win more of them? By them Paul means what is it going to take to win those that are outside of the family of God. What is it going to take to win them in?

Now as Presbyterians, we know that by “win” Paul does not mean we are called to save anybody, it does not mean that we are called to regenerate a heart, that ultimate form of winning that is of course God’s sovereign work. By “win” Paul means what is it going to take to become the type of pastor that faithfully brings the Gospel to all people. So that’s’ the end goal. We’re going to try to answer the question of what is it going to take to win more.

Let’s just jump into the actual text. We need to know sort of the background discussion here in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, is that Corinth is not a healthy church. In Corinth there is lots of fighting, there’s immorality, there’s division. You name a sin and it’s likely here in Corinth. This is not a healthy church.

One of the underlying issues in this unhealthy church is that these Christians are quite underwhelmed by the Apostle Paul. At the same time period there’s a different group of preachers making the rounds and they are called the super apostles. These super apostles, they’re quite slick. They use rhetoric and they’re charismatic and they’re charming and they’re smooth and they are just super people. They seem to have it all together.

Imagine turning on cable TV late at night and there’s a preacher on the TV station and he’s, his hair is slicked back and his teeth are perfectly white. He has a smooth, southern charm. He might say some true things. He might say some false things. But people just love him because of his charisma.

That’s the super apostles. Then there’s the Apostle Paul. He’s none of that. From what we can tell, he is not the best looking guy. He probably had very poor eyesight. He is not smooth.

And Corinth, because they’re very young, because they’re very vain, they are drawn to these super apostles and they are not drawn to Paul. One of the complaints that these Christians have against Paul is that because he has received financial compensation for his ministry in the past, they believe him to be a subpar apostle. So all that gives us the context to pick up in verse 3. These immature believers are saying to Paul, “Paul, if you really were super spiritual, then you’re not going to be concerned with worldly things like money, food, finding a wife. Super spiritual people are not concerned with the affairs of this world.”

As a way of defending his ministry, Paul will go on to give three arguments, three reasons for why he has a right to receive compensation.

Real quickly. Argument number one. It starts in verse 7. Again, Paul is defending that he has taken compensation in the past and his first argument is just to look out into society at large. We look out into the world and we see that there’s lots of people that work hard and as they work hard, they are compensated for their service. So again verse 7, as men go off to serve as soldiers, they’re doing very risky, very gritty work on the front lines. Of course it makes sense that we want to pay those that are serving in the military. Everybody believes that.

Same thing with a farmer. A farmer goes out into the fields and works very hard all day long. Of course a farmer has a right to keep some of the produce that they’ve packed to feed his family. Same idea with a shepherd.

So we have soldiers, we have farmers, we have shepherds. These are all sacrificial jobs and even nonbelievers would understand that people that sacrifice for their vocation have a right to deserve compensation. If you work, you have a right to get paid.

Argument number two. This is verse 9, an argument from the Mosaic Law. Paul here is quoting Deuteronomy chapter 25, verse 4, that you shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain. So the context here is you have these big ox that tread on the grain, it’s a way of separating the grain from the straw, this is very difficult work, and we don’t need to go nuts like PETA here, but just as a general rule in the Mosaic law, it says if an animal is doing difficult work, you ought to care for the animal. An ox has a right to be fed.

So Paul is saying if the Mosaic law cars for an ox, how much more so should a minister of the Gospel be cared for?

Third and final argument, verse 14. This is from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus says in Luke 10:7 that the laborer deserves his wages.

So these Christians that are impressed by these super apostles, because they’re super spiritual, can’t be more super spiritual than Jesus, and Jesus even says that ministers have a right to be compensated.

There’s these three arguments that Paul is giving to back up why he ought to be, why he has a right to be compensated for his ministry.

Now at this point in the service you might be thinking well, this preacher from Detroit, this is a very odd installation service. Christ Covenant, I now you compensate your pastors, they’re all very happy with their packages, and so I understand all that. But what I want us to see here though is not necessarily the first issue about a minister’s call package, but what I want us to see is what does Paul do with his right from God. Because what Paul does with this right from God illustrates a much deep principle of what it’s going to take to get the Gospel out into the city.

You see, Paul is saying I have this right from God, yet he says I’m glad to give up that right if it means I can keep on preaching.

So Paul has a right for compensation. This right is obvious in the culture. This right is from the Mosaic Law. This right is from Jesus Christ Himself. This is not a right that needs to be voted on in Corinth. There’s no debate. There’s no discussion here. This is a right.

Yet look at what Paul says in the second half of verse 12. He’s given this comprehensive right, discussion for his right, and yet he says, “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right.” Then Paul goes on in verse 15, “But I have made no use of any of these rights nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.”

Now why would Paul do this? After going into this escalating, air tight argument for why Paul ought to be compensated for his ministry, why after these three points does Paul say, well, never mind, I’m all set.

Two reasons why. The first reason, real quickly, the first reason for why Paul does not take a paycheck here is if you go back to verse 12, that Paul realizes that in him receiving a benefit for his preaching ministry that’s going to be a stumbling block to the very immature Corinthians. The Corinthians are stumbling because of compensation so Paul takes away the stumbling block so that the Corinthians might have ears to hear the freeness of the Gospel. So that’s the first reason.

But there is a second reason and that’s really the point of this sermon tonight. The second reason really gets to the heart of who the Apostle Paul is. So why does Paul deny a right? You see more than a paycheck, more than a wife, more than being respected, more than any other right that God has given to Paul, Paul’s over-arching driving theme in his life is that he understands his great Gospel ministry reward to be that he simply gets to do great Gospel ministry. More than his own rights, Paul sees ministry as the reward.

That’s why he says in verse 15 I would rather die than not preach the Gospel. So take everything out of Paul’s life, take away all his rights, take away his paycheck, take away wife, take away food, take away his rights. Yes, that would all be terribly sad, but as long as Paul is able to preach, he’s good. But you take away his preaching ministry, __ to death.

You see, more than claiming his own God-given rights, Paul’s singular ambition is to preach Christ and Christ crucified. That’s what verse 18 means. What’s Paul’s reward here? What we see is Paul’s reward is not in that he gets what he deserves. No, Paul’s greatest reward is that he gets to preach the Gospel. That’s the great reward for all pastors.

I was not able to attend the Coram Deo Conference this past week. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things, so congratulations to Kevin and to Barry for putting it on. I’m sure there’s likely hundreds of people that helped. I know it was a tremendous blessing. If you had not heard yet, Pastor John Piper was here this past week, which makes me feel a little intimidated that Pastor John was just at this pulpit, which your pulpit is so tall. All your pastors here are so tall.

Out of all that Pastor John Piper has written, there’s always been one book title that just has always stuck in my head as a minister. It’s the title Brothers, We are not Professionals. It might not be his best book, but I do believe it’s his best title. You see, at the core, Gospel ministry is not driven by the same principles of the professional work life. You see, professionals show up on Monday. It is very transactional. If you’re a professional, there’s a job description, you’re going to do a certain service and you’re going to be compensated fairly for your service. If you don’t do it, you don’t get it. But there’s limits, there’s boundaries. You certainly never do more than is expected. The entire setup is transactional.

Again, that’s all very good. No judgment. That’s how workplaces should be run. Generally speaking, in healthy churches, those kinds of discussions need to happen. I’m sure they happen here.

But what I want us to see is that thinking, it cannot be the deepest driving motivation for Gospel ministry. If professionalism the driving impulse for ministers, there’s going to be all sorts of boundaries and limits and ministers saying “I’m not doing that because that’s not expected of me,” or “I deserve this therefore I am not doing that.” You see, when you are bound by the Gospel of grace, you begin to see your life in different unprofessional terms. We begin to think, “No, my reward is simply that I get to keep on preaching. I want to see more people brought in even if it goes beyond my job description.” That is what it means to be sold out for Jesus as a minister.

Even though ministers have rights, Paul’s main motivation, he’s saying rights or not, my reward, my motivation, is that I get to keep on preaching.

So here’s the main point. Gospel ministry is not an end to a greater reward. Ministry, participating in ministry, is the reward. It’s actually one of the principles that I love most about my very good friends Eric and Sara. They’re both very gifted. They have college degrees. I’m sure many of you know Eric recently finished his Ph.D. from Aberdeen so if you are still tonight doubting that Eric is Presbyterian, I’m thinking you can’t be more Presbyterian than a Ph.D. from Scotland. I’m just Detroit, so he’s a real Presbyterian now.

Obviously, with degrees, there’s certain rights and expectations. They have five children. I think it’s right and appropriate as a mom and a dad to think about safety and comforts for our children. That’s a good thing to think about. It was 17 years ago Eric and Sara took out a map of the United States and they decided to plant a church in a zip code that nobody else was willing to go to. They packed up their family and they moved to the east side of Detroit, the 48214, which right in the middle of the 48214 is a main street called Mack Avenue. Now Detroit’s doing much better today. We have young people moving downtown, the NFL draft is coming to Detroit in April, so the city, we haven’t arrived, but we are doing much better.

But 17 years ago Detroit was a hot mess. We’d have cars stolen and you’d call the cops and they’d just say, well, we don’t anyone to help you. It was just terrible. There were no street lights. Yet the Russ’ decided to die to their right, die to their privileges, and they moved into the 48214. Now 17 years ago the Wall Street Journal actually sent a team of journalists just to write a piece on just how bad Detroit was and they interviewed Eric by name, so Eric’s in the Wall Street Journal and essentially this article was all about he’s crazy, nobody with Eric’s status does what these people are doing in the city.

You see, for men and women in the 48214 to be won, to be brought into the family of God, there needed to be a pastor and his family that were willing to die to their rights. They died to the reputation. Nobody cared about that part of the city. They were never going to be part of a booming influential church. Churches in Detroit neighborhoods are always dependent on churches out in the suburbs to give and to send.

The Russ’ needed to die to a sense of safety. Eric has all sorts of stories about chasing down guys that stole his car, gunshots, crime, drug deals. Ask him sometime about when his car was stolen and Eric decided to chase these guys down. So he chased them down. It ends up Eric’s in the middle of the street surrounded by a gang as Eric was trying to get his car back. At the last minute, Johnny Mack from their church jumps over the bushes, provides the cover, they take off, and I know the car they stole. Eric, just let it go next time. I mean, one thing if it was a good car, it would be all right. I think Sara probably agrees with me.

At the time Sara had newborn twins. The twins were 7 months old and as a newborn mom I think it’s right to desire safety, comfort. Yet, in their part of the city there’s garbage everywhere, all the houses are burnt out, all the windows are gone, copper stripped, certainly no Target, there’s no Trader Joe’s, only the corner liquor store. They had to die to a sense for typical parenting.

Not professional. They set aside good things. They set aside rights, desires. Yet what was their reward? Their reward was they participated in God’s story of seeing men and women from a forgotten ghetto of Detroit come to know Jesus. So Mack Avenue Community Church was planted and it’s still serving in the city today.

That’s verses 18 through 19. You see, the great reward of Gospel ministry is not going to be found in us demanding rights but rather in the Gospel being preached so that others might be won to Jesus.

You see this denial of the self is the very movement of the Gospel itself, that through death to self others might live.

Think of Jesus, second person of the trinity, all the rights, all the status that He has as the Son of God. Jesus set all of that aside. Jesus sat through a sham trial. Jesus had thorns shoved into His skull. Jesus had nails that pierced His hands and His feet. Jesus died to His rights so that you and I might live. Does it not then make sense that we who are disciples of this right-surrendering Savior might have the same attitude? We die so that others might live.

Now this of course does not mean that every single person needs to move to the hood. It does not mean that every single person needs to enter full-time ministry. Think of it as a stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home moms every single day need to die to their desires and their rights for the sake of the Gospel taking root in their children. Young professionals living in city center perhaps need to die to a sense of moving up the ladder, promotions, for the sake of freeing up time to serve the church and serve in their neighborhoods.

See, all God’s people in all walks of life and demographics need this basic heart attitude. Situations might be very different, but we need to share in this attitude and deny our rights for the sake of Gospel work in others.

So as we come to a close, let’s go back to the very first question. What is it going to take to win more? What is it going to take to get the Gospel out into the city? What it’s going to take are pastors and churches full of people that are willing to die to their rights for the sake of Christ in others.

As Eric now knows, as a PCA pastor, that the pactum salutis, the covenant of salvation in the trinity. It’s a good Presbyterian understanding of covenantal theology. In the pactum salutis there’s this agreement, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that He is going to redeem a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. That’s going to happen. God’s going to do the work of bringing other people in. What Paul is saying here is I understand that’s going to happen, therefore my reward is I get to be a vessel in God carrying out that work.

So Eric, my very good friend, and now my BCO following, covenantal, PCA co-laborer, the great reward of Gospel ministry is that God allows us to do Gospel ministry. May the Lord give to you and all of us the conviction to live accordingly.

Let’s pray. Father, for the sake of winning more, give us the heart of Paul and specifically be with my good friend Eric as he now ministers in the PCA. In Jesus name. Amen.