Running for the Goal Means Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

It is so tempting to go through life comparing ourselves to everyone around us. Am I keeping up with the Jones?

Instead of fixing our eyes on our neighbors, we need to set our sights on the goal that is before us. We need to set our mind on things above, where Christ is, not the things of earth (Col 3); we should look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12). As we run we need to keep our true goal in mind.

We could look around and think that we’re doing enough because we’re not as bad as someone else. But other people are not like some sort of pace car that we measure ourselves against. We look to Jesus alone and seek him as our goal.

The Importance of Having a Goal in Our Christian Walk

There is a good reason there are so many 5k races these days. What aspiring runners have realized is that without a goal, the training is much more difficult. If you just want to run because it’s good for you, that may never happen. But if you first sign up for a race and then start training, that goal drives you on to prepare with more intensity, commitment, and endurance.

Runners

In his comparison to running Paul writes, “I do not run aimlessly” and then in reference to boxing, “I do not box as one beating the air.” He has a goal. The call of God drives him onward and rather than pointlessly beating the air, he disciplines himself. He knows what he needs to do in order to best meet the task before him.

I fear that for many Christians, their faith is pointless. Not that it doesn’t mean anything, rather it is pointless in that it lacks direction. There is no goal that drives them. Some think believing in Jesus is the finish line. But believing in Jesus enters us into his kingdom and into a new way of being. It’s a new creation and a new beginning. As Paul has mentioned earlier in 1 Corinthians we are no longer like the natural person for we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. We are given God’s wisdom and all of us should have a calling and purpose.

But if we think we have no driving purpose it takes away from what we’re called as Christians to do. For what good is discipleship with no purpose? Why read the Bible? Memorize scripture? Pray? The goal of these things isn’t to make ourselves good. The goal is to do the good to which God calls us. The goal is to discipline ourselves like an athlete so that as we run the race and seek the goal of sharing the gospel, we will be ready. Discipleship should be seen as training–not training for no reason, but training in preparation for whatever God intends for us.

We can view the spiritual disciplines of our faith as aimless jogging, just to make us fit. Or we can view discipleship as training for a race, and a race that we intend to run hard. If you see it as the latter and you know that God wants to use you, doesn’t that then encourage you to be in the best shape possible?

So what goals do you have? What purpose do you see in your life? What do you think God wants you to do for the kingdom? That’s the first step. See the race God wants you to enter and sign up. Then “discipline your body and keep it under control,” as Paul writes. Looking toward the goal, commit yourself to whatever God needs you to do in order reach that end.

All Things to All People for the Sake of the Gospel

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. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23

Paul was a Jew. To remain there would have been more comfortable. It would have been familiar. But, Paul knew he had a call from God to reach out beyond the community with which he identified. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was given a new mission. Paul was going to reach out to non-Jews, the Gentiles, to bring to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t leave behind his Jewish brothers and sisters. He still appeared in the synagogues teaching, he still taught from the scriptures of what we now call the Old Testament, and he did all he could in order to “win Jews.”

But he worked hard to be able to build a bridge to another group of people. He needed to learn a new language and interact with a new culture. Paul worked tirelessly in following his calling to reach the Gentiles. And he does it all for the sake of the gospel.

Can you imagine putting in the the time it takes to learn a new language in order to follow the call of God in your life? Or how about giving up whatever strength we have in order to meet people in their weakness? He does it all to better reach them with the gospel.

This pattern that Paul follows is the one set forth by Jesus Christ. God came to humanity and became human. Jesus took on flesh, lived a life just us, endured temptation, humbled himself, faced persecution, and he did it all so that he may make for himself a people.

What do we give up to identify with someone God is calling us to serve? What are we willing to change? Is the goal of bringing the gospel to more people so captivating that we’d even consider changing?

Racing In Order to Receive the Prize

Memory Verse 1 Cor 9.24

Paul loves his illustrations and sports are metaphors are not under-represented. Here in 1 Corinthians 9:24 he talks about runners. Running is a sport that I just don’t get. I see running as a means to an end, such as running in order to get to a soccer ball. But my personal opinion aside, running certainly has its fans and it most certainly has an ancient history.

Running is not just something you can do without any work involved. Paul’s audience knew how athletes, even ones with natural gifts, had to train themselves. If you were to enter a race, you prepare for it and put your body through intense workouts. That is Paul’s image here, but he of course, is alluding to something greater than a race. Nonetheless, that image is powerful and deserving of some thoughtful meditation and even memorization.

What race is God calling us to? What does it mean for a Christian to hit the gym in preparation for God’s work?

Memory Verse 1 Corinthians 9:24 for iPhone

Jesus, the one who gave up his rights for us

Let’s not lose sight of Jesus in all this talk of Christian freedom and responsibility. Paul has spoken of how we should use our freedom and knowledge to love our brothers and sisters, and at times this leads us to sacrifice our rights.

With this discussion going on, how can we not look to Jesus who has done this for us?

There is one example that overshadows all others when we think of one who gave up his rights in order to love. And he did so to love a bunch of sinners.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect one. He is the only one who lived without fault, without transgression, but the people turned on him. The powers of this world sought to accuse him of wrongdoings. But the innocent one kept silent. The one who is the true judge allowed himself to be judged by sinners.

They took Christ to the cross and Jesus was tempted to call upon his rights. They mocked him saying that if he were really the Son of God, he’d come down from that cross.

But the Son of God, whose right it would be to show his power and judge the world, showed us that he is one who would forgo his right in order to love. Jesus, the strong and faithful, loved his weaker brothers and sisters by giving up his rights, and dying in our place. The strong took the place of the weak.*


*Quote taken from my sermon this last Sunday. Redundancy is the key to learning, right?

Should Paul Get Paid for the Work that He Does?

Paul appears to open this ninth chapter defending his standing as an apostle, citing his encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 and the work that God is doing through him in this church in Corinth. As an apostle Paul has certain rights. This theme of rights carries us from chapter eight and the discussion of food offered to idols, where the right was to eat meat. Here the right of Paul, as an apostle, is to be able to earn a living from his preaching of the gospel.

He makes his argument via parable (soldier, shepherd, thresher) about those whose work provides for them, and he then makes arguments from scripture about an ox that is not muzzled when treading grain. More than the ox, Paul says God is concerned with us. 1 Corinthians 9:9b-10 says, “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” Paul concludes that those who work for the gospel have a right to earn a living off of that work.

As much as Paul argues for his right, he then turns around and says he has not made use of his right. Why? He wants to present the gospel free of charge. He doesn’t want to put any obstacle in the way of their hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. It is another example of sacrificing a right in order to do something greater.


When I gathered to study this chapter this morning, I wanted to talk about the pros and cons of supporting those who preach the gospel. I myself am blessed to be financially supported as a pastor. So perhaps I’d be biased in arguing for that practice. But I think there can be great advantages to earning your pay somewhere else. For one, the temptation of money that we are taught of in much of the Bible doesn’t factor into the equation. You serve Christ not for money, but for his glory alone. I’ve been especially challenged by this quote on that issue from Sir Robert L’Estrange, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on preachers being paid. Pros and cons. Advantages to being a “tentmaker” or being financially free to focus solely on the ministry? Thoughts?

Memory Verse and Bible Visualization for 1 Corinthians 9

1 Cor 9:12b

Paul continues in chapter nine on the theme of rights and freedoms, and again stresses that in this case he has given up his right. Instead of demanding support from Corinth, he labors for free among them doing so because he is willing to sacrifice his right in order to better preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Memory Verse for 1 Corinthians 9:12b for iPhone

A Review of the First Half of 1 Corinthians

Now halfway through 1 Corinthians, let’s get nostalgic and take a walk down memory lane.

(Quick editorial note: This is not exhaustive. But that’s why we read the Bible, not just summaries!)

Week 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.1-3

Here we are introduced Paul, who writes with the authority of one who is sent by God, and to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth and the saints every where who call upon Jesus Christ as Lord. It will be a letter tailored for Corinth, but in no way limited to this one group.

In this section we also find out one of the problems arising in this church, that is there is quarreling and divisions among the body as people are aligning themselves to certain teachers. Paul comes down clearly against this.

Week 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.22-23

The response to the issues of Corinth is the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is a message that is not always attractive, indeed it appears foolish to the world. But the “foolishness” of God is wiser than men. Therefore, we shouldn’t boast in any associations with a certain teacher, nor in ourselves. If we are to boast, we should only boast in the Lord.

Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Memory Verse 1 Cor 2.12

The cross is the wisdom of God and in chapter two Paul writes how we receive this wisdom from God by his Holy Spirit. The natural person doesn’t understand the things of the Spirit, but we can have judgment and discernment because God has gifted it to us.

Week 4 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Memory Verse 1 Cor 3.6

Having taught on the wisdom of God in the cross and from the Spirit, Paul returns to the issue of divisions in the church and seeks to correct Corinth’s view of Paul, and other teachers. Paul is just a worker, given a certain assignment, just like Apollos, but through it all it is God who truly is at work. They work together with a common goal, always building upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ.

Week 5 – 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Memory Verse 1 Cor 4.7b

Paul continues on the topic of how the church should view its teachers, like Paul or Apollos. Their incorrect view has led to boasting and being puffed up. Instead Paul wants them to follow his example and make sure they do not go beyond what is written–which is an especially troublesome territory that lends to speculation and arrogance.

He doesn’t want them to think that they can continue in the way that they have gone without any oversight. Paul has some stern words about the manner in which he’d return with rebuke.

Week 6 – 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Memory Verse 1 Cor 5.7

Corinth has had issues with divisions and quarreling and now Paul mentions the sexual immorality that has made its way into the church, like a leaven that is affecting the whole dough. To make matters worse, some think that their tolerance of sexual sin is to their credit and they boast (see a pattern?) in their behavior. Paul points them again to the cross, arguing that Christ sacrificed himself as our Passover lamb to remove the leaven–the sin–from our lives. He says the church shouldn’t embrace the sin, the very thing Christ died to remove. In fact, Paul says to cast the man who has committed the sin out of the church.

Week 7 – 1 Corinthians 6:1-20

Memory Verse 1 Cor 6.19-20

The wisdom the church ought to have received from the Spirit is not being manifested in the body as they are neglecting their call and responsibility and instead are taking their issues and submitting them to secular courts. This is a poor witness to the world about the call of God’s church to be judges of all things, and it is shameful that the world sees the sinful practices that should not be part of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps quoting the Corinthians’ argument, Paul confronts the notion that freedom in Christ makes all things permissible now. It is true that we have freedom in Christ, but we are freed from sin, not for sin. Some practices may be allowed, but that does not mean it is good for the person or for the body. After all, our body is not our own, rather we have been bought with a price. The believer is now, miraculously, a temple of the Holy Spirit, so we should glorify God with our bodies.

Week 8 – 1 Corinthians 7:1-40

Memory Verse 1 Cor 7.22

Having discussed sins, and specifically sexual sins, that are not in line with the kingdom of God, Paul turns toward some questions the Corinthians had and teaches about what sort of sexual relationships are appropriate. He relates these questions to the broader issue of our calling in Jesus Christ. Whether married or single, and Paul then goes on to include Jew or Greek and slave or free, we all have callings. Paul may encourage singleness, but to him it comes down to our ability to serve God wholeheartedly.

Week 9 – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Memory Verse 1 Cor 8.6

The topic of freedom in Christ comes up again and this time in relation to the eating of food offered to idols. Here Paul urges people to consider sacrificing their “right” to do what is greater: to love their brothers and sisters. If they use their knowledge to disregard the needs of others, they are puffed up and sinning not only against their fellow believer, but against Christ as well, since we are all members of his body.


So there you have it. Eight chapters down, eight more to go. If I missed something that stood out to you, don’t let me get away with it!

Paul now in chapter nine continues the discussion of our freedoms and rights, and how we at times ought to sacrifice our rights for a greater purpose.