The Difference between Being a Doormat and a Doorway

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July 1, 2020

1 Corinthians 9:1-12 (NIV)

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 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? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, 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?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

CONSIDER THIS

To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):

There’s a complex argument here, but a simple case. I’ll cut to the chase. Remember yesterday when we discussed Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians not to do something just because they could or had the right to do it? The real issue is how the exercise of their rights would impact other people. Here’s how I put it: Until my rights are more about you than they are about me, they are really wrongs. 

Christians are all about rights when it comes to the defending and protecting the rights of others, but not so much when it comes to asserting their own. We don’t have to spend our energy standing up for ourselves because we have a high priest in the heavens who stands up for us. Because of that, we can spend our energy standing up for others, taking care of others, protecting others, and all for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At least we can say this is Paul’s “way of life in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s chief concern is for others to hear the gospel and he knows that nothing stops up the ears of hearers more than a disconnect between what a person says and what they actually do. In today’s text, Paul lays out his case with lawyerly precision. Paul was not accepting any kind of remuneration from the Corinthians for his ministry in their midst. Rather than admiring this approach, they chose to use it as evidence in their case to attack Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle. In other words, they interpreted his refusal to accept compensation as his own admission that he was not an apostle (i.e., “Of course he’s not taking our money—he knows he has no right to it!”).

Paul was on the verge of being infuriated. Verses 9-12 roll out one zinger after another. Here he is doing something completely benevolent for their sake and they turn around and attack him. There’s an old adage that floats around the church that seems apropos here: “Sheep bite!” But you’ve got to love how Paul gives the closing argument here:

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

As the apostle rests his case, he shows us what real maturity in Christ looks like. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus, and because it’s all about Jesus, it’s all about you. Right here we see the love of God and neighbor in perfect harmony, and he’s able to do it without gritting his teeth or grinning and bearing it because he knows that he knows that he knows in his deepest innermost self how high and how long and how deep and how wide is the love of Christ Jesus for him, and this love constrains and compels him to not just talk about it to others but to demonstrate it. This is the mind of Christ operative in Paul—as Thomas Akempis would put it, “the royal way of the holy Cross.”

That’s a high calling, my friends, and it is our calling. It’s not about being a doormat but becoming a genuine doorway into the heart of Jesus. No, it’s about Jesus himself, the door, revealing the humble way into the kingdom of God in and through us.

THE PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. I confess, Lord, I struggle to put up with much of anything. I am all too ready to complain and criticize and push back when I am offended. Teach me that the way of the cross is the way of bearing offense. Come, Holy Spirit, and show me that to be offended merely reveals my pride. Give me the grace to walk in the way of Jesus, who returns good for bad. In his name I pray, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

1. Do you struggle with this notion of not asserting our own rights but instead standing for the rights of others?

2. Are you grasping the difference between being a doormat for others to walk on and a doorway through which others can walk through?

3. Have you ever found yourself bearing reproach for the sake of Jesus?

4. Do you see the fine line between what Paul is doing here and stepping over the line into self-righteousness?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

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