Divine Obsession (Key to “Reaching” People) (1 Corinthians 9:11-22)


Why is it that God’s “big things” – His wondrous works and victories – aren’t popping and swirling all around us?  Minister’s faith not big enough?  Elders’ faith?  Church’s collective faith?  Is there “sin in the camp” as there was when Joshua led Israel not to victory but to defeat at the little Podunk town of Ai?


What would “big God things” be for us?  If you let me define it, I’d want us grow-ing… We’d love the lost so much our hearts would hurt for someone all the time… and we’d have people becoming disciples through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.  The carpets leading to the baptistery would never get dry.  Other Christians would be seeing the Holy Spirit working here and come to join the parade.  We’d be bursting at the seams and building.  We’d have faithful, gifted Christians stepping up to meet every task and challenge that arises… and we’d see God clearly leading us through it all.  


There’s a Bible key to such things happening, to reaching those in our families, jobsites, schools, clubs and teams, and neighborhoods who are lost.  “Reaching” means we tell them about Jesus and show Him to them in such an attractive way that they’d see Him clearly and the difference He makes in a life and become His disciples.  The same key opens the door to grow a church that’s touching and changing its world for Jesus… it’s being His hands and feet and compassionate heart so people find help and relief and a safe place necessary to heal and grow. 

“What’s the key?”  It’s DIVINE OBSESSION.  It’s having God on our hearts and minds, and on our tongues. 


Aren’t we all “obsessed” with something?  In our society, mostly it’s with self!  Now, to some degree we need to be very attentive to ourselves… especially health – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Jesus endorsed a healthy love for self by saying “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and when He established what we wish for ourselves as our guide for treatment of others: “…whatever you wish that others would do for you, do exactly that for them.”  We love ourselves and wish the best for ourselves.


But what if someone is “obsessed” with self?  What if pride goes to seed?  We call it “egotism.”  And “narcissism” – named after the mythological Narcissus, who saw himself reflected in a pool and fell so deeply in love with himself that he ne-glected all others.  Self-obsession means all our time and attention (anything we have of value) gets directed to us.  We can’t see needs of others around us; and to not see those needs is to not meet those needs, which means something that should have been done stays undone… and sin grows out of our selfishness.


We all prioritize our needs and interests.  We all have our highest priorities… something we treasure and pamper and won’t let go of, no matter what.  Lesser priorities we get to whenever we can, some only when there’s absolutely nothing else to do!  If you listed yours 1 through 25, what would #1 be? 


Prioritizing God as #1 – divine obsession – is God’s #1 discipleship demand.  As a preacher/ shepherd, I’m obliged to preach and teach that God/ Jesus/ Spirit / church be at the top of all lists.  It’s what the Bible says.  As gathered here, that sounds good, as we speak a lofty language of overcoming by God’s help and po-wer, as we read and quote and teach Bible, as songs lead us to see and praise God and sense His presence and His greatness, as we pray convinced He’s our answer. 


Our trouble is that we can’t hold that focus on God as we drive away to lunch.  It’s really hard to make strong faith a life reality 24/7/365.  Other priorities push it out.  We yo yo between our ideal self on Sunday and “the real world” on Monday. We yo yo between priorities, between the really important (God) and the urgen-cies of the world… We hear whatever voice is loud at the moment.


It’s easy to say God is #1 in our life because talk is easy and cheap.  But it’s not easy to really get Him there.  It’s a high-demand calling, to love Him above our spouse, children, job, or hobbies.  A good test for where we are is, “Do we move job, hobby, and family things around to accommodate God, or is it the other way ‘round?”  Let me just hang out a few reminders of what God calls for… (verses that call for total commitment):


Matthew 10:37-39“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not pick up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it. Whoever loses their life because of me will find it.”

Matthew 16:24“Then Jesus spoke to his disciples. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must say no to themselves. They must pick up their cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save their life will lose it. But whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good is it if someone gains the whole world but loses their soul? Or what can anyone trade for their soul?”

Matthew 19:21“If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have. Give the money to those who are poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Luke 14:26Anyone who comes to me must hate their father and mother. They must hate their wife and children. They must hate their brothers and sisters. And they must hate even their own life. Unless they do this, they can’t be my disciple.”

Matthew 22:37“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.” 


Our slide (up now) shows what total commitment is in a humorous way (chicken and pig with chicken donating eggs, pig donating bacon… one is involved, one is totally committed).  Jesus means the pig’s contribution.  God wants all of us… total commitment.  To "commit" means “to bind or involve oneself, pledge, promise.”  Jesus totally committed Himself to us to show us an example.


The prophet Jeremiah preached from divine obsession.  He had the fire of God’s message “burning strong in his bones.”  He was sent by God to pursue 6th century BC Judah, people who were running away from God as hard as they could.  He preached the end of God’s patience with Judah – the pagan Babylonians coming to sack Jerusalem and the temple to carry away people and treasures.  It was not the message he would have chosen to preach, but it was the one God gave him, and he preached it faithfully, though rejected, scoffed at… and persecuted be-cause he preached it.  From start to end of his ministry, he had zero human ap-proval.  He stood alone for God.  One book about him is titled The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit.  He got frustrated and tried to quit.  You can hear it in his words… 


7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.  I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.  8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction.  So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.  9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:7-10).


You can hear he didn’t quit in his words, too.


Paul was divinely obsessed, too.  He said, “…when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:11-22).  His preaching wasn’t optional, and he didn’t preach because he couldn’t do anything else.  He was executing heaven’s plan for his life. 


His secret was he adapted to situations so the gospel was heard… his words:  “I became all things to all people that I might be all means save some” (v 22).  That may sound wishy-washy and backbone-less, but it’s not.  It means non-essentials are discarded.  He wouldn’t circumcise Gentile converts if it put Moses above Christ.  But he would circumcise Timothy so he wouldn’t have a barrier between himself and Jewish Christians he would.  He took down every unnecessary barrier so he could establish relationships with people to share the good news of Jesus.  At one time his practice in every city was to find Jewish synagogues on Sabbaths and try to tell those who’d come Jesus was their Messiah.  But he diverted from that when they were stubborn and unbelieving and sought out other public forums in every city where Gentiles gathered to discuss and debate.  Eventually, he skipped synagogues and went to public forums first.  His high goal was always evangelism (v 22).  Look again at what he said:


9 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.


He used the word "win" five times, "save" once.  That’s reaching people – “win-ning” and “saving” them.


So I have some questions for us about us and divine obsession… How much are we willing to change our lifestyle, our preferences in food, the way we dress, the language we speak… for the sake of the gospel?  Just like Paul, we’re free to change lots things to bring others to Jesus.  We do, in fact, make changes all the time for people we love dearly (think spouse, children, best friends, etc.).


The man of the world demands others change to accommodate his preferences.  That’s opposite Paul who placed others’ wants, wishes, and needs” before his.  That may seem weakness to the world’s eyes, but the world is wrong.  It’s great strength to accommodate others to “win” or “save” them!  Ask Paul! 


So, here’s a BIG question.  How concerned are we about “saving” and “winning” the souls God places in our path?  Are we willing to adapt to them to get the gospel to them?  Or are our selfish attitudes and actions the very things that are keeping them from seeing Jesus and His soul-saving cross?


Here’s another IMPORTANT question… How much is this church willing to change to reach souls?  Folks, they are not flocking to us!  So will we devise ways to go to them?  If they’re not our circle of friends, will we change where we go, what we do, maybe even how we dress to build relationships with them?  It’s plain we haven’t felt compelled or obsessed to tell them about Jesus.  Are we willing to change that… make that # 1 on our list of priorities. 


To take that question a bit farther… Are we willing to change the way we do wor-ship to win them?  Have you noticed that our worship arguments are about which part of the already-in-the-walls crowd we please.  Why isn’t the purpose of our planning and the resulting worship to accommodate people seeking a “safe place”?  Why isn’t every service geared to outside-the-walls folks because we’re determined to “become all things to all men that we might by all means save some”?  Most of our resources are spent on us (non-outreach activities) that exclude outsiders.


You know me better than to think I’m saying the Gospel itself should be watered down – we can’t change the Gospel, but we can adapt our lifestyle.  Gospel is changeless, we’re free to change.  Gospel is the best product ever presented to the earth… so why are we not selling it right and left?


So, no great victories because no “Divine obsession!”  You can be assured that people who don’t know God’s great worth His Son’s great love and the Holy Spirit’s great fire will not understand God obsession.  Some will even become your enemies because you’re not obsessed with what they’re obsessed with.


Frances Ridley Havergal seems to have got it.  She lived during the last half of the 1800s.  We sing her songs today, “I Gave My Life for Thee,” “True hearted-Whole hearted,” and “Take My Life and Let It Be,” all three about “Divine Obsession” with God.


How many here have done the hokey pokey (or at least know the song)?  It’s a little song and dance that tells us to put our right arm in and “turn yourself around and shake it all about.”  It goes on… calling for, in sequence, left arm in, right leg in, left leg in, right ear in… whatever in… until it says, “You put your whole self in.”  Jesus would endorse the hokey-pokey… our whole self in.


It reminds of another instruction from Paul: “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). “…Present your bodies”… his way of saying, “Put your whole self in.”