Entitled, Enlightened, and Enslaved
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 19-23
Sunday, October 22, 2017 – Pentecost 20B
Do you get the sense that more and more Americans have a feeling of entitlement? Do you hear more and more expecting, even demanding, that they be given things because… well, just because they expect it?
Can you think of anyone in the Bible who had such a sense of entitlement more than the prodigal son? In essence, this is what he said to his dad: "Dad, one third of your estate belongs to me. I'm entitled to it just by being your son. It doesn't matter that I didn't earn it, that I didn't work for it. It's mine the second you die. And I can't wait for that moment to happen! I wish it were now already! I wish, dad, that you were dead right now so that I could get what's coming to me today." What a spoiled brat! What an entitled punk!
You know who else in the Bible was entitled? The apostle Paul. But he didn't just have an attitude of entitlement. He really was entitled to get paid for the work that he did. That's what he explains in the first half of our text for this morning. But far from having an attitude of entitlement, Paul willingly gave up what he was actually entitled to. He willingly chose to give up what was rightfully his so he could become a slave. It sounds crazy, doesn't it? But he did all this because he had been enlightened to the Gospel that God had revealed to him. Instead of acting entitled, he would choose to be enslaved to God and to everyone else out of thanks to God for the Gospel. And he would do all he could to further the spread of that Gospel.
We too, have been entitled. We've had an attitude of entitlement thinking we're somehow owed something from God. But we've been enlightened to the forgiveness that's our in Christ. And so we too willingly choose to give up what we think we deserve and what we actually earn to further the spread of that Gospel. We too willingly become slaves to God and others to share his love with them. We are entitled, enlightened, and enslaved. Our text for consideration this morning is taken from 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, and 19-23…
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Does it seem to you that more and more people are getting an attitude of entitlement for things they're not really entitled to? My dad had a T-shirt with a picture of the capitol building that read "Contrary to popular belief, no one owes you anything." There are a lot of entitled people out there, aren't there? But… before we talk about the entitled people on welfare, expecting that someone take care of them without them doing any work… before we talk about those who would prefer a handout to hand up, let me ask you this: Do you ever act entitled?
I think of this every time we Alaskans get our PFDs (Permanent Fund Dividends). It's money given to us that we didn't work for, that we didn't earn, but somehow feel we deserve and are entitled to. And it's not just PFDs…
Do you deserve good things in your life? Why do you deserve them? What did you do to earn them? Was it all of your hard work that brought you where you are today? Are you a self-made man or woman? Is it because you've studied so hard that you make such great grades? Or are you forgetting that it wasn't your choice that you were born at this time (and not in the so-called Dark Ages, where education wasn't an option) and in this place (where you have not only the freedom to rise, but the food and health and opportunity to do so)? Are you forgetting who gave you the health to work, the economy to find employment, the intellect to learn and grow?
Don't you and I often act like we're entitled to God's blessings when we expect and demand them from him even while we ignore his Word, his will, his command to do all we can to take the message of his grace to the world? What's your title? CEO? CFO? Manager? Supervisor? Pastor? Well in God's sight, the title we all deserve is this: "Sinner."
What do entitled and spoiled brats deserve? To stop getting handouts from daddy or their government. They deserve to have the credit cards taken away, the cars taken away, the freedoms taken away. Likewise, what do we who bear the title "Sinner" deserve? We are entitled to nothing. We deserve to have God stop giving us his blessings. We deserve to be kicked out of his house in heaven. We deserve hell. That is all we are entitled to. That we are alive this very moment here on earth instead of there in hell is only by God's grace, not giving us sinners what we are entitled to receive.
Paul was entitled. He was entitled to get paid. "If we have sown spiritual seed among you," he said, "is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?"
Nevertheless, Paul didn't demand to get what he was entitled to receive. Instead he gave it up. Instead he willingly chose to serve others. Why? Because he was enlightened. Though he too once thought he deserved everything good from God because of how good he was... "If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh," he wrote, "I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless." (Philippians 3:4-6). Nevertheless, he soon came to realize what he really was, what he was really entitled to, and what God had done for him. He late wrote: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." (1 Timothy 1:15)
And because Christ saved him and because Christ enlightened him on that road to Damascus, Paul came to see that he was not under the law, obligated to keep it to earn God's favor. He was free from God's law. And because he rejoiced in this freedom, he willingly put himself under Christ's law. Knowing the gospel message that set him free, he was eager to do all he could to show his thanks to God.
And friends, our faith that grasps God's grace and rejoices in the truth that because of Jesus' perfect life in our place and because of Jesus' innocent death in our place we don't get the punishment we're entitled to… that faith can't help but respond to God in thanks. So just as Paul, having been enlightened, gladly became enslaved and "[made himself] a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…" even "though [he was] free and belong to no man…" so too, we who once had such an attitude of entitlement, now, having been enlightened, are eager to become enslaved.
We too will gladly give up our freedoms, our dollars, our rights, to serve others that we might serve him who first served us. And having been set free from our sins, and having been enlightened through the eyes of faith, we have been given a new title too. We are declared to be, "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) We have been given a job to do: "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:20) And we are committed to that job.
Like Paul, we will, "become all things to all [people] so that by all possible means [we] might save some." We will gladly give up our money, our comfort, our convenience, our rights and our entitlements… we will gladly give up our freedom, or lives, our very selves, eager to spend all we have and be spent in our relentless efforts, "to win as many as possible" and "save some."
And that can start right in our own homes. Are you entitled to a little rest for all the hard work you've done around the house? Give up that right! And gladly serve your spouse for Jesus' sake. Do you deserve some time to play some games and goof around because of all the homework you did? Give up that right! And gladly serve your parents or your siblings. Are you entitled to serve yourself for a bit for all the work you've done for God? Even if that were true, which you know it isn't, we'd still gladly give up our rights, and "put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ." "Though [we are] free and belong to no man, [we] make [ourselves] a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible."
For we, who once acted like entitled, self-centered brats and deserved only hell, have now been enlightened and have seen how Christ saved us, are now eager to be enslaved to others that we might serve God and bring more to him. For though we were entitled, we have been enlightened, and we've been given the title of royal ambassadors and are eager to be enslaved to all to carry out that task. Entitled, enlightened, and enslaved: That's us, for Jesus' sake. Amen.