2/7/21 – Epiphany 5 – “Bearing God’s Name” – 1 Corinthians 9:16-27

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our text for this morning is the Epistle Reading from 1 Corinthians 9. And I have to be honest with you, this text is an extremely challenging text. In it, Paul talks about the responsibility we Christians have been given to bear God’s name to the world. What do I mean by the phrase, “bear God’s name”? Well, let me give you an example to illustrate this. Prior to attending Seminary, I worked for the Geek Squad. For a part of that time, I had the interesting job of driving the company Volkswagen Beetle (we called it the “Geekmobile”). I would drive to people’s homes or small businesses and help them with whatever computer or networking problems they might have.

Now, I can tell you any number of stories about some of the really weird situations I found myself in. Or I could tell you about some of the really incredible people that I had the opportunity to meet, but what you might not realize the strict rules that the company had about operating the “Geekmobile.” There were rules requiring me to drive 5 miles per hour under the speed limit. There were rules requiring me to do regular maintenance on the car to keep it in good working order. And there were even rules about keeping both the interior and the exterior of the car clean. It was a lot to keep track of admittedly, but you can understand why all of those rules were in place, right? When I drove around town with the company logo plastered all over my car, I was literally “bearing the company name” to everyone who saw me. If the car was dirty or banged up, that reflected badly on the company. If I was driving like a careless maniac, that reflected badly on the company because bearing the name bears responsibility. The same is true in our faith. We have been entrusted with God’s name to bear it to the world. The way we act reflects on him. And so, Paul in our text for today is very concerned about how we represent God to those whom we encounter. In our text, he gives us three things to consider—three aspects of what it means to bear God’s name.

2. The first aspect of bearing God’s name is Debt. Because we bear God’s name—because we even have received his name in the first place—we are in debt to God. Now, debt has a negative connotation in our world, and rightfully so. But debt doesn’t have to be bad, right? There are fundamentally two ways of incurring debt. The first is when we borrow money from someone. We’re all familiar with how that works. But the second way of incurring debit is when someone entrusts us with money that he asks us to hand on to someone else. Until we actually hand it on, we stand indebted to the person for whom it is intended. Paul is talking about this second kind of debt in the first three verses of our reading, when he says: 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 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 (1 Corinthians 9:16-18). Paul says that “necessity has been laid upon him.” He has to share the gospel because it’s such a good gift which isn’t meant for him alone. To keep it for himself would be stealing! And so, there are two sides to this coin of Paul’s debt. And this is a debt, frankly, that we share as well. First, God has made us his own and placed his name on us. This is fundamentally good news. We have been saved and redeemed from sin and death by Jesus and his name has been placed upon us in our Baptism. This is the Gospel. The flip side of this coin is: we have a responsibility, a debt, to bear God’s name well to others. Bearing God’s name means that we are in debt.

3. But there’s more to bearing God’s name than being in debt. This second aspect of bearing God’s name is Service. Paul talks about how even though Christ has set him free from sin and death, he is still called to be a servant. Paul continues: 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul says that for the sake of bearing God’s name and representing him well to others, he has become a servant. He has become the kind of person that doesn’t do things to offend others. He’s aware of others needs and concerns and he does everything that he can to meet them. Paul has no other goal than to ensure that every one of his actions cause people around him to see Jesus more clearly. This is exactly what you and I are called to as well. We are called make sure that in every part of our lives we are representing Jesus and bearing his name well to others. Are we very good at this? Sometimes. But most of the time, we represent God poorly to others. We say things that we shouldn’t or act unfairly. We act out in anger. And those actions cause the people around us to question: “Are they really a Christian?” Sin is inevitable. That’s not an excuse, that’s just a reality. We sin daily. But that’s not an excuse to give up on our responsibility to bear God’s name to others. This is why Luther was so adamant that all Christians wake up in the morning and make the sign of the cross on themselves saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” With those words, we remember the name of God which was placed on us in baptism. We remember that we have been washed clean in Holy Baptism and forgiven of our sins. And we remember that Jesus has given us a mission—to bear his name to the world. It’s a debt of service that we joyfully take on.

4. But debt and service are only two of the three aspects of bearing God’s name that Paul discusses. The third aspect of bearing God’s name is Discipline. Paul makes it clear that if we want to represent Jesus well to others, we need to be disciplined. He concludes our reading for today: 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). You know what’s interesting about the kind of discipline that Paul is talking about here? He’s talking about disciplining your body. I don’t know about you, but I would have expected Paul to be talking about spiritual discipline here—things like, “make sure you’re reading your Bible every day.” “Make sure you have a regular rhythm of prayer.” “Make sure that you’re connected to and regularly attending church.” But Paul doesn’t say those things here. Now, don’t get me wrong, those things are good, and I would argue that Paul thinks you should be doing those things, too. But what is Paul’s primary concern here? It’s disciplining the body. Why is disciplining the body so important? It’s because you have one! The essence of you isn’t some spirit which is trapped in your body waiting to escape. Your physical body is essential to who you are. And so, it’s important that you take care of your body. It’s important that you discipline yourself—how you spend your time, who you spend your time with. These things are important because they impact our spiritual life. And so, to be the kind of people who represent God well to those we encounter, we need to be concerned about disciplining our bodies, we need to remind ourselves that we have a debt to share the good news of Jesus with others, we need to remember that we are called to a life of service because God has given us his name so that we might represent him to the world.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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