The Gospel Trust

“The Gospel Trust” 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
– Like Paul, we have been entrusted with the Gospel message. How are we being all things to all people?
When you hear the word trust, what comes to mind? Perhaps honesty, dependability, or confidence? What about when you think of trust as an object, like a trust fund? What comes to mind now? I immediately think of financial markets and corporate struggles, and inheritance.
A trust doesn’t just have to include money. A trust as an object is created anytime one person holds control over property for the benefit of another. Under United States trust law, a person or group can set up a trust. This person or group is known as a “settlor” and they contribute assets into an account and also provide rules for how the account is to be managed and distributed. Then, “trustees” are appointed to manage the assets according to the wishes of the settlor until a person known as a “beneficiary” receives all the assets that were held “in-trust”. The assets are usually money, investments, and real estate.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church is talking about a trust which contains something much more valuable… the Gospel, or the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul thinks of himself as a steward or “trustee” of the message of Jesus. In other words, he has possession of the good news only to manage it for the benefit of another person… Jesus Christ. And as believers in the Good news of Jesus, each one of us is a trustee just like Paul.
Paul writes in several of his letters that him and his travelling companions are those entrusted with the Gospel message. (1 Thess. 2) But I have heard some people argue, “Only certain Christians with the gift of evangelism or leadership are commanded to witness.” The same people argue that the great commandment in Matthew chapter 28 was only given to the remaining 11 apostles (Judas had died).
I don’t believe this was the case. Paul writes clearly in 2 Corinthians 6:16-20,
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the
February 8, 2015
Reverend Aaron Gordon
new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
We are ambassadors of Christ. Paul is addressing all the believers in Corinth, not only a few special leaders and evangelists. All of us Christians have been designated trustees. Whether we were appointed trustees later in life when we converted to Christianity, or whether we were trust fund babies, and inherited the position of trustee from our parent’s faith, we are all trustees of the Gospel.
Just like a financial trust, the Gospel trust has trustees that manage the trust. The job of a trustee is to manage the trust according to the wishes of the Settlor, until all the assets of the trust are distributed to the beneficiary. This is the high calling to which we have been called, and a blessing that we have been given.
Before I get into how this image of the gospel as a trust can help us understand what God expects from us, I have to say that there are limits to how closely we can compare the Good news of Jesus to some kind of financial instrument. The Gospel is much more than just a numbers game. But this metaphor of the Gospel as being valuable, like money, has been used since Jesus was preaching parables because it is helpful for us.
I immediately think of the Parable of the talents that Jesus told in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel account. In this parable, Jesus relates his return at the end of time to a master returning to his servants. The servants who managed their talents well in the kingdom of heaven are rewarded, the servant who buried his talent so it did not earn interest is rebuked and judged.
Almost everything we have in this world has some kind of money value. Like it or not, dealing with money is a big part of our lives. That is why it is helpful to think of the Gospel like it was an object of great monetary value.
This precious Gospel is what Paul is talking about in our scripture today. To understand where Paul’s idea of being a trustee of the Gospel came from, it is helpful to have a little background information. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he is writing to the congregation for several reasons. One reason is to talk to the Corinthians about some behaviors they were participating in that were destructive to their life and witness in Christ. Sexual immorality, dividing into factions, and doing things that caused other believers to stumble in their faith are just some of the problems that Paul heard about.
As Paul urges the Corinthians to correct their behavior, he also makes a strong appeal to his honesty, and authority as an apostle of Jesus. Immediately before today’s scripture passage, Paul makes the argument that, even though he could have asked them for money as a preacher and an evangelist, he earned his own money so that no one would think he was just in it for the money.
Paul says he gains whenever he preaches even if he doesn’t collect wages. This is true for Paul because he understands that the Gospel is “entrusted” to him. He is simply executing his job as a trustee of the Gospel in the most efficient way possible.
Paul also makes the statement, “I have become all things to all people.” He says he is willing to put his own desires and “rights” as a Christian who is free from restrictions aside so he can be the most efficient trustee of the Gospel. He is willing to pull out all the stops and make sacrifices to grow the spiritual trust of the Gospel of Jesus.
Last week I discussed how Paul explained that even though he could eat Idol meat, because Idols were fake, he chose not to for the sake of his fellow human beings who really had a problem eating meat devoted to idols. This is an example of Paul being all things to all people.
What a good trustee! I wish I had someone like that to make my retirement fund grow!
We know we are all ministers, and that we are all entrusted with the Gospel. We are all trustees of this awesome news that in Jesus, God forgives all our mistakes, and invites us to be with God forever.
In chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he writes, “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
Like a billion dollars deposited into a trust fund, it is up to the trustees to manage the fund until the distribution is made. In this case, when Jesus comes back again to withdraw all the assets in the trust!
There is one other role that is worth mentioning in regards to the Gospel as a trust fund. The Protector.
In the United States trust law, the Protector is a person whose job is to direct or restrain the trustees in relation to their management of the trust. This person usually has some kind of vested interest in making sure that the trustees are doing a good job of managing the assets in the trust on behalf of the beneficiary of the trust.
We also have a protector of the Gospel trust who guides us and restrains us as we attempt to manage the Gospel account. God only trusted one person enough to be the protector of the Gospel trust, The Holy Spirit. It is important to remember that we are not left completely on our own in this world.
We can keep drawing out this metaphor, and the applications are many. But the main idea I want to emphasize today is that Paul gives us a good model of how to be an effective trustee of the Gospel.
He says he has become all things to all people. Like a Jew to the Jews, and like a Gentile to the Gentiles. For those who obeyed the Law of Moses, when he was with them, preaching and proclaiming the good news to them, he was obeying the Law of Moses, even though he didn’t have to. For those who were not under the Law of Moses, he ate whatever and did not strictly follow all the rules of the Law of Moses.
For those who were weak, he became weak. Based on his earlier writing in this letter, I assume this means that those people whom he was with that had certain scruples, or things they would not do because they thought those things were wrong, he did not violate their scruples with his actions, even though he was free to do so. Not eating idol meat is an example of this.
But not every behavior is flexible. Paul warned against behaviors that were completely against Christian living, such as dividing up into competing Christian factions, and sexual immorality. No matter how acceptable or expected these practices may have been to the gentiles, Paul viewed these actions as anti-Gospel.
Paul, advocated doing almost anything that would help witness to Jesus Christ. But some things that were explicitly prohibited or un-helpful he would not do. To be an effective trustee of the Gospel, Paul did everything he could that wasn’t explicitly wrong in order to show himself as trustworthy and friendly for the sake of the gospel.
Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians in this passage give us two lessons that we can directly apply to our own struggle as trustees of the Good news about Jesus. First, the Gospel is a trust that we have been given for the benefit of God. God expects us to manage it well. Second, in order to be good trustees we must be willing to sacrifice our personal freedoms for the sake of others.
I have spent a good bit of time explaining that the Good news of Jesus Christ, that we experience reconciliation with God in Christ’s name, is given to us only as a trust. It is our responsibility, at the request of Jesus’s wishes, to invest our Gospel treasure in others. If we don’t then we will have to live with that for all eternity. If we do, we will be happy for eternity, or “share in the blessings of the Gospel” as Paul writes.
This is not optional, and it is not only applicable to those of us with particular gifts of evangelism and leadership. All believers in Christ are expected to tell people about Jesus, and God’s love for us through their words and deeds.
The second lesson about the Gospel trust that Paul’s writing teaches is that each of us must be willing to put aside our own freedoms for the sake of our witness to Jesus Christ.
How do we put aside our freedoms to increase our witness to Jesus? One example is given by Paul to the Corinthians. For us it might be not eating meat around a vegetarian, or not drinking alcohol around someone who is against it. Putting our freedoms aside might also look like making sure that we intentionally engage in behaviors that put us in a position to witness, even if these behaviors might be uncomfortable. Serving in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter may fit this example.
The idea is not to manipulate people around us into praying a special prayer and “converting.” Rather, the idea is to live exemplary lives in community with all those people around us, and to be vocal about explaining how God works in our lives, and desires to work in everyone’s life.
We all inherit this Gospel trust. What part will we play? How do we become all things to all people? As we each seek our own answer to these questions it is important to remember that although we are figuring this out by ourselves, we have a church family to encourage us and support us. Investing the Gospel in others might be an individual activity, but chances are, some other member of the congregation can relate to your individual struggle to be a good trustee. I believe that under the care of our protector, the Holy Spirit, we are meant to figure this out as we walk in our faith journey together.