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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Corinthians 9:16–23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so 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 I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (NRSV)

This is a complicated passage. It deals with evangelism (not one of our favorite words as Presbyterians) and also inclusion. Proclaiming the gospel is something Paul lifts up as a particular call we have. Paul describes, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law).” It seems as if Paul is manipulative here with his evangelism. Manipulating people to join the church is unhelpful and harmful, but what we can grasp instead is actually how to make the church inclusive for diverse people.

If the church really is welcoming to all, then how do we make space for all? We all will have different tastes, interests, and callings, which is thrilling and exciting. I mean, how many places in our culture today do we get to experience God through one another by choice, for the purpose of living out our values and our calling, where we get to be community and church together? How cool! What’s not cool, though, is when one group of people dominates the practices, the policies, the way of life together.

Deeply considering how we make equitable space for multiple ways of being—no matter your theological beliefs, identities, race, gender, sexuality, immigration status, ability, class, etc.—that’s proclaiming the gospel. That’s what I think Paul is really getting at in order to be “free with respect to all.”

God, your call to make church a transformative place is hard. Help us reflect on how we’re proclaiming your gospel and what changes we need to make for faithfully following you. Help us have courage in difficult conversations. Help us find you through one another. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

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