Hashtag winning. Global missions and personal evangelism is all about winning. Winning is the word Paul loves to use, as you can see in a text like 1 Corinthians 9:19–22. There Paul wrote,
Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 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. 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. [And] to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.
So what does Paul mean when he uses win five times in four verses? Here’s Pastor John to explain Paul’s word, and why it matters for our evangelism today.
Now the word win in English is ambiguous. You can win a prize, and you can win an argument. What does Paul mean by win — win all these people? If you win a prize, you gain it: “I’ve got it. I have it. Mine!” If you win an argument, you defeat somebody.
What’s Paul’s meaning? There’s no doubt what his meaning is. It’s on the face of it, but it’s even more clear in the original language. He means, “I win a prize. I gain a prize.” How do I know that? Well, it’s just obvious from the context, I think. But test me on this, the hundreds of you who know your Greek. Kerdainō is the verb for win. It’s almost always translated gain (except for here and one other place), like in Matthew 16:26: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” That’s kerdainō, the word win here. Or Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ.” That’s the word win here.
Our Expansive Joy
So his point is, “I want to gain Jews. I want to gain Gentiles. I want to gain the weak. I don’t want to gain money. I don’t want to gain power and rights. The gospel has assured me that I get great gain in fully enjoying Christ, so what can I add to that? More enjoyers of Christ for me to enjoy.”
“I want to gain people, all kinds of people, so that I can be a sharer with them as they enjoy gospel blessings.”
What does that even mean? And he tells us what he means by the reward of gaining people in 1 Corinthians 9:23: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel [here comes the purpose statement], that I may share with them [that is, with all those people that I gained] in its blessings.” So he wants to gain more and more people so that he might share in the gospel blessings with them.
Now, notice the wording carefully. He does not say what I would expect him to say (and it would be true): “. . . so that they can share with me in the gospel blessings.” There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s absolutely true, right? Missionaries go out to bring people to share with them in the gospel blessings. That’s not what he says. He says, “. . . that I may share with them in the blessings of the gospel.” I want to gain people, all kinds of people, so that I can be a sharer with them as they enjoy gospel blessings, that I might enjoy their enjoyment of Christ.
Now, what does that imply about the nature of joy in gospel blessings? What do I mean by “gospel blessings”? Forgiveness of sins; declaration of your righteousness before Christ, before God; removal of all condemnation; reconciliation with God; adoption into his family; fellowship with Christ; hope of eternal life. What does what Paul just said imply about my enjoyment of that, those gospel blessings?
Here’s what it implies: our gospel joy is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste this joy in the hearts of other people. I’ll say it again. Our gospel joy in those blessings is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste those blessings and that joy in the hearts of other people as they experience those blessings. “I want to gain people. I want to gain people of all kinds in order that I might share in their experience of gospel joy.” Do you?
‘I Want You’
Let me just pause here, because this is relevant for missionaries, it’s relevant for every believer, and I just have a little practical, earnest plea. Most of you have shared the gospel with a dad or a mom or a brother or a sister or a son or a daughter or a roommate or a colleague or a friend or a stranger.
“Our gospel joy is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste this joy in the hearts of other people.”
And if you’ve never done this, I really encourage you to do it. Next time, when the situation allows it — that is, there’s enough solitude and earnestness — you sit down across the table at a restaurant, and you look them in the eye, and you say, “I want you. I really want you. I want you to be my friend forever. I want you to be my brother, my sister, forever. I want to gain you. I want your joy to be my joy.” They’ve never heard anybody say that to them. Many people have explained the facts to them, right? How many people have looked into their eyes and said, “I want you — I want you to come in, be in my life, be in my church, be in my forever”?
That’s, I think, what Paul was saying. “I want to gain people.” And I would just say, right here, to the unbelievers in the room, “I want you.” I know about some of you. We’ve had emails. You’re here. You may still be resisting. And just hear John Piper say, “I want you forever, my brother, my sister, my friend.” I mean it.
Saved by God from God
Did you notice where I stopped in my list of people that he is trying to gain? You should have said, “Why did he stop there?” Because there was another thing. I stopped right in the middle of 1 Corinthians 9:22. What did I leave out? Let’s pick it up in the middle of 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that I might [and he switches from win to save] save some.” What does save mean for Paul? “I want to save people.” Well, he doesn’t mean that he’s the Savior. He doesn’t mean he’s the means of people’s salvation. What does he mean?
Romans 5:9: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Or 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “Jesus . . . delivers us from the wrath to come.” Being saved, in biblical language, means first and fundamentally — those are two important words: first and fundamentally. There are other things it means, but first and fundamentally, it means that God, by means of the substitution of Christ bearing our condemnation, saves us from God. And if you don’t get that, I don’t know how you get the gospel at all. We are saved by God from God. We’re saved by the love of God from the wrath of God. And Christ was sent by God to reconcile us to God and lead us out of wrath.
In 1 Corinthians 9:23, Paul says, “I want to share with them, those that I’m saving, in their enjoyment of the gospel blessings” — meaning, “I want to share with what happens when they hear the verdict in the courtroom, ‘not guilty,’ and they run out of the courtroom and do handsprings down the sidewalk in front of the court, saying, ‘I’m not going to be executed! I’m not going to be killed! I’m not going to be spending eternity in hell! I am free!’”
“I want to be there,” Paul said. “I want to share in that. I want to watch that happen all over the world with Jews and Gentiles.” Do you? If it only happens to one person in your life, it will be one of the sweetest moments of your life to have a person thank you and watch them come into the enjoyment of no condemnation forever.