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. 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. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings…I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:18-27
Confronted about this yesterday at church in regards to evangelism, I asked myself this: How often am I willing to lay aside my rights for the sake of the gospel?
In this passage, Paul was specifically talking about being compensated to preach the gospel to various people, and he mentioned that he had a right to be compensated for his work. Yet, he laid aside his right for the gospel, so that he could better reach those that he was preaching to, and so that he could actually share in the blessings with those who came into the knowledge of Christ. Looking at this passage, we see that he did this to such an extent that he could become “all things to all people” just to save a few.
That’s really profound when you think about it, but we often feel like we’re being “less of who we are” or “being fake” when we deny parts of ourselves when we’re talking to others about the Christian faith. And I understand the sentiments behind that, but our call is this: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) In fact, when we look at the life of Christ, He gave us an awesome example of what He meant. Consider this beautiful passage from Philippians 2 that we recited often at our church home in Louisiana:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Christ literally became “all things for all men” so He could actually experience our life, experience our sin, and be the perfect sacrifice that would atone for all of it (2 Corinthians 5:21). We couldn’t stand before God today, if Christ did not lay aside His rights, deny Himself, and become all things for us. He literally laid aside His divinity to become just like us. And then, He did more than that. He became like us, and He lowered Himself even further to become less than us….He took the form of a servant, someone we would normally just ignore and walk by without a second thought. And then, He went a step further. After He took that form, He humbled Himself even further and obeyed the Word of God, even as it led Him to the most shameful death in history, death on a cross. This is our example for the Christian life, and God always richly supplies grace for us to walk in obedience to His Word.
Drawing a Line
After posting a picture I found on Facebook today about the gruesome slaying of a White couple by a group of Black people in 2007, I got a lot of upset responses by my Black friends about how this in no way related to the Trayvon Martin case. I didn’t really try to respond to everything that was being said, but I just read people’s responses largely. I also reflected over the things that I saw this month in regards to that case from the Black Christians that I know. I mean, I saw people black out their profile pictures, post pictures of themselves in hoodies. Not only that, people seemed to publicly mention any injustice or crime they could find against Black people, posting links to articles and videos and sharing them across social media outlets. There was a lot going on in my Facebook feed, and I thought it was considerably fortunate that we were moving during this entire process because it was a lot to get caught up in.
But today, I fully began considering the implications of the responses that I was reading and have read over the past weeks from Black Christians. Oh, I won’t deny the fact that you have a right to be justifiably upset as a Black person or even that you have a right to speak out against the systematic injustices that have long plagued the Black community. I won’t deny that right at all. But my thoughts weren’t on my rights. My thoughts were on when we as Black Christians deny ourselves and give up some of our rights for the sake of the gospel and the unity of the body.
To be perfectly real, I have no idea why Black Christians were acting like the rest of the Black community over the Martin/Zimmerman case. We live in a fallen world, like every other Christian, and we deal with the effects of sin every day within our own lives and in the lives of others. We know that we deal with these things because we know that we were redeemed from these things; yet, it seems to surprise people when things happen like this.
And then, I see so many Black Christians go to bat whenever an issue comes up that affects their “blackness” or highlights their Black experience. And I’m not saying that they are wrong for being passionate about something so personal, but when you act like the rest of the world, what good are you? We’re called to be salt. We’re called to be light in this world. (Matthew 5:13-14) When we respond like them, what do we demonstrate to them? How are we pointing them to the hope that is found only in Christ? How are we demonstrating that we live like pilgrims and strangers here waiting for our heavenly home? How are we demonstrating how to be patient and steadfast through afflictions, persecutions, and tribulations, trusting and holding fast to the promises of God? How are we demonstrating how to turn the other cheek to those who are already striking us? How will they learn to love their enemies? Who asked whether or not Zimmerman had at least heard the gospel? Better question, how many even care if he did or didn’t?
So, that’s my first point here for my fellow Black Christians: Don’t forget that you are not supposed to be and act like the rest of the world. When you act like them, get angry like them, foam at the mouth like them…what good is your witness? Exercise self-control for the sake of the gospel. Realize that the things that you’re saying to people, on social media, etc. is speaking volumes about the kind of person you are. If you present the gospel to someone, make sure that they aren’t distracted or turned off because you failed to exercise self-control and acted like the rest of the world. No matter how justified you feel to say some things because of your Black experience, I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel is worth every kind of personal restraint you can place upon yourself.
My second thought is for you to consider the body of Christ. There will be only one body of Christ, and it is not a homogenous group of people. The body of Christ is not Black. It is not White. It is not all professionals. It is not all poor people. The body of Christ is made up of people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and background for the glory of God. We’re told in Ephesians 4 this:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The body of Christ is meant to be united, bearing with one another in love, and we should all be concerned about maintaining the unity of the Spirit among ourselves. But to be honest, it will be more and more difficult to do this as we hold fast to that Black identity above our life in Christ. Consider this: we are told that we don’t fight against flesh and blood, but we fight against principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness (Ephesians 6). We’re also told in 2 Corinthians 10 that the weapons we are fighting with are not physical weapons, but we have divine power to destroy the strongholds of arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God (and those opinions and arguments include racism, discrimination, and a lot of other things).
Seriously, I’m not sure how many of you realize how smooth and deceptive the enemy is, but think about how riled up and focused you got over the Zimmerman case and the outcome. I mean, people who I know are Christians were just upset, fuming at the results, and blasting all of their thoughts and opinions on Facebook. If anyone disagreed or failed to be passionate, how quickly were they admonished to adjust their thoughts and feelings? How absorbed did people get in this, and how quickly did they lose sight of the truth of the Word of God in all of this? How quickly did they stop being salt and light to this wicked and dark world?
I truly believe that we don’t think about this enough, but I think that Satan has been really crafty in deceiving and distracting Black Christians. How? He’s done his work through our Black experience. Let’s face it. For many of us, hearing about systematic oppression or discrimination makes a switch go off in us that we are compelled to respond to. The more we hear about injustice or crimes, the angrier we get. We quickly agree with the rest of the world on how to respond to things, and even if we don’t agree, we are pressured into going with the flow because it’s too difficult and uncomfortable to deal with a racially charged issue differently than the masses, lest you be ripped to shreds for forgetting who you are.
I mean, people, it’s clever! He’s clever! He’s made the God given beauty of our brown skin a stumbling block for us in holding fast to the truth of God’s Word and always being ready and able to present the gospel message to a fallen world. Without realizing it, we’ve thrust our skin upon an altar, and it must be acknowledged and never ignored. You may not say that, but many act like it. You wrap Christ in your Black skin, instead of Him being wrapped around your sinful self. In many ways, the color of our skin has become a stumbling block, but so few people see it. We’re consumed by it, but we fail to hold fast to making sure that the body of Christ is unified in love and peace.
My exhortation is for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be mindful of this, to remember the Word of God. That you’re not going to make effectual change with rallies, changing your Facebook profile pictures, and foaming at the mouth. You’re not wrestling with people. You are living in a fallen world with a spiritual leader who is bent on destroying the light of the gospel, even the light within you. Guard yourself. Realize the devices of the enemy. Realize that you’re only offensive weapon is the Word of God and prayer, and know how to use it. Discipline yourself. Stop getting tripped up over offenses and injustices you see. Realize that the enemy will try to create all kinds of divisions and strife within the body by tempting you away to hold on to other things more tightly than Christ. Know the devices he’s using, and exercise godly wisdom and self-control over yourself. The gospel is at stake, and you never know who is watching and listening to you. You never know who you could win to Him. Think about that, and put the gospel of Christ and the body of Christ above yourself as you continue to pray for Christ to come quickly.