First Corinthians: FTK
Topic: Christian Discipleship & Love Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:19–9:23
When I was a youth worker there were a couple mantras I lived by and repeated. Things like: Click It or Ticket. All my kids knew that whether it was in our big church van or my little Ford Focus, seatbelts were a must. Every time we went away for a missions trip or retreat, my students heard me bellow the saying, “No purpling.” For those of you not sure what that means, boys are blue and girls are red. If they mixed together too closely…purple. The only person I wanted my kids to be intimate with was Jesus. And some of the mantras were more for my adult volunteers than for my kids. Like, “Never trust a middle school boy when he says he didn’t do it.” But through all my years of student ministry, there was one slogan that dictated a lot of what I did: FTK. For the kids.
It was actually something I picked up before I went into ministry when I was a camp counselor. In the context of camp, FTK meant enduring all the parts of camp that made you want to pull out your hair. FYI, I had hair at that point in time. But I’m talking about poorly executed pranks, the one kid who swore he didn’t have to go to the bathroom before you left for your afternoon hike and then 20 minutes in was asking to go back to use the potty, or even those rare times when you reached your maximum s'more capacity and you knew that if you saw another bag of soggy marshmallows that you’d lose it. With every single one of those patience-breaking, eye-rolling, teeth-grinding moments, my fellow counselors and I would just repeat the motto: For The Kids. Because we weren’t doing this for ourselves, or for our own enjoyment. We were doing it for them. And that’s something I carried with me into student ministry, and it served me well.
I came into a pretty small youth ministry at my church and it was in need of some new energy and revival. I was fresh out of college and beyond excited about my position as youth director; but this was a daunting, scary task, I saw in front of me. So I A) focused on doing the one thing I knew I could do right away, and B) that I knew God wanted me to do: learn the stories of my students. I knew that before I could start speaking the Gospel to my students, that I had to show them that I valued who they were with my time and my voice. So in the name of FTK, I tried to meet every student at their level through their interests. Because I loved those kids, but more importantly, because God loved them and had a plan for them.
And that leads us right into our text... We’ve been working our way through the book of 1 Corinthians in this message series, and today, we come to a text that shows us just how far the apostle Paul was willing to go in order to help another person encounter Jesus. We’re in 1 Corinthians 9, and I’ll be reading verses 19-23.
Last week we left off at a point where Paul was telling the Corinthian church about how damaging it was for them to be dragging each other through the mud in public arguments and lawsuits. Between that passage in chapter six and this text in chapter nine, Paul has been trying to set some things straight. See, the church in Corinth wanted to live lives that sought after Christ, but they were getting hung up on small issues which, in turn, prevented them from seeing the big picture. So Paul addressed topics like marriage and their jobs, and even certain kinds of food they should or shouldn’t be eating. Paul sums a lot of it up with this “all things to all people” passage, where he emphasizes the single most important reason why any of it matters: so that some might come to encounter Jesus and be saved.
He says that even though he is free, that he became a slave to as many people as he could – all for one reason: that they might be won over for the Gospel. Paul then goes on with his list of how he became all these things. To the Jew, he became like a Jew. To those under the law – meaning those who had grown up following Jewish Old Testament customs – he became like one under the law. To those not under the law, meaning those who didn’t grow up with Jewish teachings or any knowledge of God, he became like them. To the weak, he became weak. And he wraps it up saying, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
This is FTK at its finest. Paul literally entered into stories that were foreign to his own all because he knew how much Christ valued those stories. He knew that if he was going to be invited into their lives and be given the space to share the love of Christ, that first he had to go to them and share in their experience. That’s exactly what FTK means. And so I took a page from Paul’s book. I entered stories and experiences completely foreign to my own so that I might be able to show my students how much I cared about them, and more importantly, how much God cared about them. This meant a lot of different things. It meant spending my afternoons at sporting events at local middle and high school campuses. Watching sports that I had no idea how to track or follow for the hope that I might be able to catch a moment where my student noticed me in the bleachers or by the field. I love sports but I came to find that doesn’t mean I love all sports. I watched a lot of field hockey, and to this day, I still only know two rules for field hockey: You can’t hit someone with your stick and you can’t kick the ball. Other than that, I had no idea why the whistle got blown so often. But that was all things to all people.
All things to all people meant realizing that I naturally came up with event ideas that were often more fun for some of my students than others. So I planned an event around Christmas every year, where we went to the King of Prussia Mall, the second largest mall in America, for a scavenger hunt and some time to shop.
Do you want to know what is diametrically opposite of everything that I am? Going to a super crowded shopping mall a few weeks before Christmas. But….all things to all people.
It meant spending a weekend in a cabin of middle school guys whose awareness of deodorant had been surpassed by their terrifying need for deodorant. All things to all people meant enduring a countless number of bald jokes. It meant immersing myself in the realm of teenagers, that I myself had left years before. And it meant entering the hard parts of that world as well. Paul said that to the weak, he became weak. This is an interesting distinction from the rest of the passage. Before, Paul had said that to the Jews he became like a Jew. To those under the law, he became like one under the law. To those not under the law, he became like one not under the law. But when it comes to the weak, Paul says he became weak. Not like the weak – Weak. And I came to understand what he meant.
When a student of mine went through a dark, painful time, I went in with them. Whether it was enduring depression, weathering the divorce of their parents, feeling completely unloved by their peers, or wrestling with how in the world there could be a God amidst so much bad…I got down with them in those spaces. When they felt defeated and utterly weak, I did my very best to be with them at that moment. Because of the love I had for them, and really still have, and because I knew that those circumstances weren’t the entirety of the story God was writing for them.
And why would I do all that? Why would I sit through a dance recital for an entire evening, only to see my own students dance for only a few minutes? Why would I put myself through hours of paintball, where students on the other team and on my own team, shot me all day? Why would I endure the years of having the adults in my church look down at me and use cutesy terms like “just a big kid” to describe me? Why would I open myself up to the maelstrom that is teenage drama? Why would I walk into a hospital room to be with a student who had threatened to hurt themselves? FTK. For the kids. As Paul would say, “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
We can maybe modify my little mantra to have it fit a little better with Paul’s message, but still hold its spirit. We can maybe alter that last word. Instead of "For The Kids", we could say "For The Kingdom". Because Paul said he does all this for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the good news found in the person of Jesus Christ. And when we stop and look at the heart and life of Jesus, really, FTK is his mantra too. Why did Jesus take on our humanity and come down to us? FTK. Why did Jesus put up with know-it-all religious leaders and self-important politicians? FTK. Why did Jesus invest so much in a simple group of unremarkable people in his disciples? FTK. Why did Jesus reach out to the poor and the lost and the outcast and the forgotten and the judged? FTK. Why did Jesus accept a punishment he didn’t deserve? FTK. Why did Jesus willing walk to his own execution on the cross? FTK.
The entirety of Jesus’ life and mission was summed up in this. Everything he did, every word he spoke, every life he touched was for this. So that the kingdom of God might spread and penetrate the hearts and stories of people desperately in need of truth and grace and life. That was his mission. And only hours after his resurrection, Jesus declared it our mission and purpose as well.
Melissa read the words of Christ that we commonly call the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Do you see? FTK isn’t just the mantra for camp counselors and youth pastors. It’s the mission and call Jesus has given to every single person who encounters Him. Every single life that is changed by the mercy and love of Christ is given this command, this blessing. All of us are called, from time to time, to leave the comforts of our own familiar, so that we might enter the story of another “so that by all possible means we might save some.” Jesus told us what our role is in this life. He told us what we’re supposed to do. He left us instructions. Go and make disciples of everybody, regardless of where they are or where they come from. Bring them into the new life found only in God. And teach them not only everything Jesus said, but also how to live like Jesus.
You are called to do this and you can do this. At your workplace, at your school, in your family, on your street, anywhere. I’ve been told by several people that there were or are Bible studies and small groups that met at the various State Farm buildings in town. Don’t tell me the workplace is no place for religion. I saw multiple teens from my community in PA lead Bible studies before or after school. Your neighbor three houses down might have the most meticulously manicured lawn on the block but their life might be in desperate need of someone who will be all things for them, to meet them where they are, and to offer them something more than the haze and the race they are caught up in.
So I want you to consider what spaces or what people has God brought into your story recently that could benefit from a little FTK. How can you live out the Great Commission where you are? What conversations could you spark up? It could start with something as simple as a text message or crossing the lawn and inviting your neighbor over for dinner. It could mean going outside your norm and signing up to help with Safe Harbor, or over at Home Sweet Home. In case you missed it, Easter is coming up. If you’re looking for a “free pass” to invite a friend or co-worker to come to church with you – it doesn’t get any easier than Easter. Especially considering we’ve got an Egg Hunt and a Pancake Brunch that morning too. So think about it. Pray about it. And then do it. Do something. Be all things to someone, so that by all means, you might save someone. Paul said he did this for the sake of the Gospel. I say for the kingdom. FTK.