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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Worshipping–Behavior Shaped by Slogans: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Since the First Sunday of Advent, we’ve been looking at what worship is and isn’t. Worship is not entertainment. Worship is giving praise to God who we know as the One who is, has been, and always will be. Worship is hearing God invite each one of us to participate in God’s mission of redemption and salvation of all of life. Worship is not putting in our time or an appearance to garner God’s favor. Worship is the recognition of God as creator and us as creature. Worship is not a preference. Worship is an act of obedience.

As I have grown in my understanding of being church in culture, I have come to appreciate the power of branding. When mimeograph machines were replaced by Xerox copiers, we referred to the copying process as “Xeroxing.” Or take that gem of a slogan at Christmas time, “Jesus, the Reason for the Season.” What about these tag-lines or slogans: “We bring good things to life,” “Don’t leave home without it,” “Snap, Crackle, and Pop,” “Think Different,” “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” “The Un-Cola,” “Stronger Than Dirt,” “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” “The King of Beers,” “What’s in your wallet?,” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” remind us of General Electric, American Express, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Apple, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, 7 Up, Ajax, BMW, Budweiser, Capital One, and Alka Seltzer. And what about “Loving God. Loving Others.” Oh, that’s us, Geneva Presbyterian Church. Branding matters. Why?

Behavior is shaped by slogans. You know that. If my stomach is upset, I buy Alka Seltzer. When I read our tag line “Loving God. Loving Others,” I stop and think about how I’m behaving toward God and others. And you do the same. A great slogan causes us pause. That’s a good thing. It creates loyalty.

Our lectionary texts drive home this point: every aspect of the Christian life is shaped by Jesus’ death on the cross on behalf of every human, including you and me. We are to order our life as a community and lives as individuals around the reconciling work of God’s love for all people. God has called our community of faith at Geneva into existence for that purpose. We are “to incarnate, live out, and proclaim this new reality”[1] of God’s reconciling work of love. All that we say and do is to impart our love of God to others. Christianity’s brand that “Jesus has died for your sins, forgiven you, and given you new life” matters. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, writes, “A worshipful imagination bears the mark of God’s Spirit.”[2] When you imagine the brand of Jesus, that is, Jesus dying for you and forgiving you, you pause and become overwhelmed with gratitude.  God’s goodness is overwhelming and expands our vision for life and compels us to want others to have such a reality of life. Labberton continues, “How do we cultivate an imagination for goodness? By living a lifestyle of worship. A lifestyle of worship lets God and God’s dreams fill and guide us”[3]  It is by God’s grace that the terms, definitions, and purposes of our lives are set for how we are to live in the world.

Every aspect of the Christian life is shaped by Jesus’ death on the cross on behalf of every human, including you and me. With this in mind, let’s explore 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. First, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed gives us no grounds to boast. In verses 16-18, Paul reminds us that proclamation of the gospel, in word and deed, is an act of obedience, not privilege. Second, our existence in Christ enslaves us, that is, binds us, to all people. Verses 19-22 indicate that we sacrificially love others in order to win “others” to Jesus. Paul states that he became weak in order to gain the weak for Christ. Paul does not say that he has become like the weak, but that he has become weak. Therein lies the principle of transformation. And third, in verse 23, servant leadership transforms self and others. Becoming like the different “others” in our lives for the sake of the gospel makes us fellow partakers in it. Becoming all things to all people is not a boastful thing. It is acts of sacrificial love that leads “others” to salvation. This is the end game…salvation.

We are to identify fully with others in order to experience transformation. They will be transformed as well. Do not overly enjoy the freedom you have in Jesus Christ. Embracing the real needs of others is the priority of our freedom. Sacrificial love is the core of Christianity’s brand. Richard B. Hays, Professor of New Testament at The Divinity School, Duke University writes, “Everything that Paul does is aimed at winning as many people as possible to the gospel. He will adapt his behavior (not his message!) in whatever way necessary to achieve that end.”[4]  You are free, yet God has called you to become “slaves of Christ.” Are you willing to submit yourself, in any number of ways, to cultural constructs and the limitations of others, in order to reach “others” with the good news of Jesus Christ?

[1]V. Bruce Rigdon in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 328.

[2]Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 149.

[3]Ibid, 149-150.

[4]Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 153.

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