Rights and Responsibilities
Dean Michael L. Ford, Th.D.
This message was part of my regular preaching on my two-year Chapel schedule.
It is always good to look over our student body and appreciate the remarkable diversity we serve at this extension center. Some colleges will help their young preachers obtain small churches or preaching engagements within driving distance in the latter stages of their training. But some of you have come to us with many years of experience already accrued. Others are just starting out trying to finagle preaching engagements wherever you can find them. We also have people wanting to be teachers in Christian schools, better Sunday School teachers, administrators, and others who just love the Lord and want to know more about His word and the Christian experience. . I would like to particularly acknowledge today that this season we have a Deacon and two high school seniors in our school. These two seniors are allowed to take pre-graduation college classes based on their excellent scholastic performance through their high school years, so I hope they will be very competitive with some of you who have kept high averages in your classes so far.
Those of you with two or more years at the school will no doubt recognize this Chapel sermon. I have preached it at least once every two years since I first joined the staff as the junior professor and have made it one of the lead messages since becoming Dean and having the privilege of setting the Chapel assignments given to professors. I am not telling you this in order to allow you to tell yourself that you can turn off your mind; I am trying to tell you that I am sharing something so important that it bears repeating on a regular basis. It can make the difference in your success or failure in whatever area of ministry you might be called to serve, and it is especially important to those of you who will serve as pastors and missionaries.
I am going to tell you I did not learn this on my own but was first introduced to the concept at Columbia Bible College by a visiting speaker in the 1970’s. Years of experience and watching the ministries of others has proven what I learned that day to be true and I am passing the knowledge on to you.
Turn with me in your King James Bible to 1Corinthians chapter 9
Please read the passage silently as I read it out loud. It could well be that when I finish with just reading the passage you will come out with an understanding and insight into this Scripture you never had before.
1 Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Awhile back I was talking with one of my brother in laws. This one is a Southern Baptist pastor in a semi-rural church that is part of a rather small association. He told me how in his association alone there were sixteen churches without pastors at the time. He also told me that while many of the churches were being inundated by resumes from prospective pastors, many of the pastors who had resigned had not done so because they were called to another church. Not only that, many of those who had resigned were not looking for another church to pastor! Some who have been full time pastors are even starting new careers in other occupations completely unrelated to Christian ministry. I am keenly aware as he is relating this information that many churches locally are without pastors, and not just in the Southern Baptist churches. Our discussion of this situation continued around the reason this sort of thing is happening. Since some of these people leaving the ministry in his association he knew personally he could give quite a lot of information about what their particular motivations for getting out of ministry were. I found what he was telling me was quite similar to some of the situations I knew about locally. There is a big reason this sort of thing is happening and that is what this chapel sermon is about. Whatever the excuses the leaving ministers might be giving the truth is they are leaving the ministry because they got their rights and responsibilities out of perspective.
The Apostle Paul had exactly the same problem in his ministry that pastors, missionaries, and people in other areas of Christian service, like Ministers of Education for instance, have today. He ran into problems with people in particular ways and so he wrote to the church at Corinth displaying the proper perspective of applying wisdom in Christian service. This perspective the Holy Spirit insured was preserved for our edification:
1. He starts with asking certain questions that his hearers would have to answer yes to if they treated him fairly, or just did not want to appear difficult.
Am I am not an apostle? – The first question is the hardest for them to answer for some had, in their rebellion, dared to challenge Paul’s apostleship in spite of the evidence of the Lord’s appointment.
Am I not free? – Paul was freer than most of the people he was submitting his questions to because he was a Roman citizen and not just an inhabitant of Roman occupied territory.
Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? – This is a question that they know very well the answer to is yes, because Paul’s history of conversion from Saul the prosecutor to Paul the Apostle is famous through the land. It is a question that shoots down the holdouts that still wants to question his apostleship, because an apostle must receive his commission directly from the King.
Are not ye my work in the Lord? – This is the final clincher of the first series of questions should put to shame his critics. Many hearing his message read would have to admit the man they have been treating harshly is the very one who was the cause of their being Christians. I want you to know that often people in ministry feel that the very people who should appreciate them most are the ones making their joy in the ministry go away.
I want to tell you right now that Paul is one fellow I would not want to ever get in a debate with because he could devastate a debater with his logic, but he is not through yet. He drives the point home for the dense “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.“ That should shame even the most rebellious. But guess what? …..
2. Paul starts talking about the most basic rights.
Have we not power to eat and to drink? – Who would deny a person that which sustains life?
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? – Her we learn something we did not know. Other apostles traveled with their wives, including the Apostle Peter. I think the hearers knew something about Paul we can only speculate about. That is, Paul was either a widower or had lost his wife due to his conversion. Whichever was the case the answer we can only speculate about, those who heard his words knew the answer and this point was one that would touch them. That is why he used it. Then he points out to his listeners that some people wanted to put a burden on Paul and Barnabas that even other apostles did not have to deal with. The unfairness of what is being done to him is made plain.
3. I cannot leave the subject of Paul’s declaration concerning his rights without also pointing out his claims were justified by the very Word of God: And he made that point! “…it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” God has made provision for the care of His servants. And, I want you to know that Christians failing to take care of God’s servants is not something new to the age we live in. It was a continuation of an ongoing problem, where believers overlook their responsibilities to God’s man. Paul told them I have some God given rights!
Paul knew his rights. He has demonstrated that he knows his rights. I want you to understand that not only did he have rights but you do too! You already know that! Now if you learn the lesson of Paul, putting rights and responsibilities in perspective, you can go on to having a successful ministry. Paul says that even though he knows his rights, he is not going to insist on receiving his rights, because fulfilling his calling in the ministry is more important. Let us listen to his words when he says “…for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.” I am going to say this to you quickly because our time grows short. The quickest way for a person to lose their spiritual effectiveness; the quickest way for you to become ineffective in the ministry; the best way to close opportunities for ministry is to get your rights ahead of your responsibilities in the ministry.
Paul says he has rights; he knows his rights; he is aware of his rights and their failure to honor them; but he is not going to insist on his rights because he has found a higher thing in his call to responsible servitude to God through service to his fellow believers, brethren in the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, this is where most people fail in whatever area of Christian service they go into:
Missionaries fail because they are willing to endure great hardships but unwilling to endure perceived slights by their mission boards or supporting churches.
Pastors fail because their churches fail to take care of them and their families properly within their capabilities.
Sunday School teachers fail because the church of the Director fails to provide for them in some key way, or even to appreciate their faithful service.
I could go on, but the basic problem of the failure is people let their rights get ahead of their responsibilities. I could reassure you at this point that heaven never misses something you do in the Lord Jesus Christ’s Name, but people when your focus on your rights gets ahead of your goal on your responsibility in the ministry I must hasten to tell you that you are not any longer operating “in the Name” theologically but in your own name. Now if some of you do not understand what is meant by that, I hope you will by the time you finish your theology studies for your degree.
One of the best things you can remember about yourself is that you were not called by you into the ministry but by God. Therefore your service is of more importance than your expectations from men. Let me just say that Paul learned that it was not prudent to insist on his rights in order that he might continue as a Gospel sharer. The man who had many churches that should have provided for him amply found them so remiss he was often reduced to going back to his skill as a tentmaker to eat, let alone get enough funds to get on to the next place the ministry was taking him. The failure of churches wasted some of this great man’s valuable time when he should have been getting on in the ministry. But he was willing to endure that for the Gospel’s sake. If any of you are greater than Paul you might possibly feel free to insist on rights, but if you consider Paul greater than you take him as your example and always keep your rights and responsibilities in perspective.
P. O. Box 752
Buchanan, Georgia 30113