Yesterday's sermon came from I Corinthians 9:19-27. The preacher can correct me if I am wrong, but the basic thrust of the homily seemed to be, "do not disqualify yourself from the prize or discredit the Christian message by your own behaviors".
19 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. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul always did what he had to do get his message out, save people and set up new churches. He would try to relate to people in their own cultural setting, which was many times sinful in Judeo-Christian terms. It was a difficult task at best. He would, many times, anger his own people, the Jews, as he brought them the Word and I can think of at least once that his work caused a riot among the Gentiles - that was in Ephesus. So while he tried to become all things to all men, he was not always successful, at least in the short term.
He was a tower of self discipline. I am sure that his upbringing and education as a Jew and Pharisee was very helpful in this regard. He learned how to say 'no' to his own flesh from an early age and obey God's law. His skills at self discipline are at least partially responsible for his success. And self discipline is definitely a learned skill. Many people do not have it or ever learn it.
But Paul also had something the rest of us do not enjoy. He had the Holy Spirit's power in his life in a way that we cannot understand. It enabled him, in ways, supernatural, to be able to convince people of the truth and also behave himself. It made him the preaching and teaching machine that the church needed in it's infancy.
I guess what I am trying to say is, were it not for Jesus and His power in Paul's life, Paul would have amounted to nothing from a Christian perspective. Jesus Himself had to intervene in Paul's life to change him from being a legalist Jew to loving Christian; from being a persecutor to preacher. As Saul, Paul had a big sin problem. He was one of the most self righteous men that ever lived.
Of all the things that can detract from your walk with Christ, your witness to others and can disqualify you from receiving the prize as Paul puts it; the one thing that stands out among all other sins is self righteousness. It is the behavior that blinds us to all other truth because we are convinced there is no other truth than our own and everything else is a lie. It creates an entitled smugness, a superiority complex and a desire to lord it over others, whatever 'it' may be. I understand this because I suffer from it. I also understand it because I have been mistreated by other self righteous people. It is a common and also deceitful sin.
It is easy to lean back in your pew or pulpit and be critical of the behavior of others that you do not know or know well. What's hard is empathizing with their behavioral struggles, maybe inviting them to church or even lunch or coffee.
We can become Jesus to others or we can become Saul of Tarsus.
"I am righteous and you are not" is the attitude we need to avoid. How about, "I am a believer. Let me tell you what I believe in." Show them the righteousness that comes from God. It's the only thing that will change behavior.