How many Christians do you know have run this race of following Jesus with energy and devotion until difficulties or persecution squeezed their comforts and they gave up? Or, how many have allowed sin to overtake their commitment, destroyed their testimony, stumbled others and quit? How do we maintain a spiritual consistency so we don’t fall away from devotion to our Savior?
In one way, Paul answers this question by drawing an analogy to an athlete. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
The idea of “self-control” is that our desires and passions are restrained and held in check by a much greater purpose. To achieve this, we must be intentional about “self-discipline” to keep our natural tendencies from ruling our mind and emotions. There is one more element we cannot leave out of this equation - “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
“Let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25).
When we hear of someone receiving a reward, we often associate rewards with someone receiving recognition from an organization or future rewards in heaven, as Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 4:8. To Paul, there was another way of receiving a reward, which no one gave him, but came through fulfilling his call to preach the gospel.
“What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:18). I almost sense the joy Paul had in preaching and expecting NOTHING for serving others. What are the benefits of this approach?
· He could preach the pure gospel with only one expectation – God would work in the hearers.
· The hearers had no obligation except to listen and receive the message.
· The Spirit of God was free to work in Paul and the hearers without any human agenda in either Paul or the audience.
What is the foundation of this attitude in Paul? We find it in the next few verses; “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…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” (9:19, 22-23).
This approach to His ministry was the reason for Paul’s success. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us took on this attitude in serving others?
Paul is an amazing servant. The model Paul saw in Jesus Christ is outlined in Philippians; “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (2:5–7).
As I mentioned yesterday, there were “apostolic rights” which others demanded of the church, but Paul refused to insist on them for himself. Jesus did not hold onto certain privileges of glory as “a thing to be grasped,” but laid those aside to serve as a humble servant among mankind.
A second time, Paul tells Corinth; “I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:15–16).
Notice the depth of passion Paul had for preaching the gospel of grace without cost so it might be received with no requirement on the part of the recipient. This is why Paul worked with his own hands to provide for his needs (Acts 20:34). This principle is contrary to modern practice, but it is more effective.
There have been so many times in this ministry when persons have shown an interest in getting back to the Scripture as their only authority for life and ministry, but as we begin to work with them, we discover that the desire for money is the real motivation, and therefore a hindrance.
This problem takes me back to Paul’s motives. Approximately five years after Paul, and those with him, planted a church in Corinth, it became evident that serious issues must be addressed. This prompted him to write his first letter to them. During this time, some preachers did not work but required payment for preaching in the church. Barnabas and Paul did not. In fact, they worked to provide for themselves. They could have demanded support according to Deuteronomy 25:4.
Paul reasons with them; “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?” Paul and those with him planted and served churches based on a much higher call. “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:11–12).
Paul told the elders at Ephesus, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33). How much more effective could we be if this attitude prevailed with all missionaries and ministers?
At the end of his life, missionary John Day Jr., of Liberia, offered a moving summary of his life’s calling to overseas mission, preaching, and public service: “Let me but be in the path of duty, with the promises of God to sustain me and I can hope against hope and persevere, though mountains of difficulty oppose me. God is omnipotent, and he who is promised is faithful.”
“John Day sought to bring the hope of salvation to African people he understood to be in desperate need.”
It is doubtful anyone could have expressed their treasure in Jesus Christ like Paul did.
“But whatever gain I had [every other earthly thing], I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [Christ was Paul’s only and highest treasure]. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [his treasure] and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philip. 3:7–11). Is there any question in your mind that Paul had the greatest treasure?
There’s a unique feature to this treasure. Unlike earthly treasures, which when you share them with others, you will have less than before. With the treasure of having Jesus, the more you share this treasure, the more you have! Sharing this treasure becomes a resource, which we call the gospel, and will grow as we give it to others.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You will either put your heart into things that “moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew. 6:19), or you will invest your time, talent and resources into what can NEVER be taken from you.
At a very dark period in Paul’s ministry when other leaders in the Church were saying some very hurtful things about Paul, he never deviated from his call to preach the gospel.
Even with these personal attacks against him, Paul says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). What Paul had was not because of any of his own ability. Like Paul, we hold a gift in these broken bodies; the greatest treasure in the universe! What are some pieces of this treasure?
I could go on through an endless list, but the real question is whether these things are your treasure? If you say they are, what are you doing with it?
Though Peter often made mistakes, he also knew that Jesus Is the only treasure worth having! When Jesus was teaching some radical lessons on eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many disciples couldn’t stomach His teaching because they refused to ask what He meant. Instead of seeking understanding, they stopped following Jesus. “So, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”” (John 6:67–68). Jesus was their ONLY TREASURE! Nothing else in the whole world could compare to the treasure they had in Jesus. HE is our ONLY TREASURE!
Later in the disciples’ three and a half years with Jesus, Peter felt that he and the other disciples had sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. What more could they give up? You may feel the same way. “Then Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:27–29). Their reward for following Him was out-of-this-world! So is ours!
If we say that Jesus is our treasure, others will look at the way we live to see if our words match the way we live. Our greatest advertisement to the gospel is NOT in church buildings, or programs inside them. It is not our college or seminary degrees, big names or organizations. Our greatest advertisement for the gospel is the power of God in transformed lives.
Jesus made a very telling observation in Matthew 6:21; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We will never treasure something unless we know its value. As I have observed people throughout my life, I quickly realize that many people have little idea of the value of items they either throw away or keep in some pile. This is also true of junk. Often people keep or hoard items that are totally useless.
Jesus gives two illustrations of persons who carefully considered what was of extremely great value; ““The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44–46).
What do you really treasure that has the highest value possible? It must be Jesus and the gospel!
PRAISE: For giving us a chance to study about GPHD with some of our friends from Living Stream in Mandalay. That is the biggest thing in His ministry during the epidemic. God is wonderful. I praise the Lord for providing so we could give those in need some rice, cooking oil and some potatoes.
PRAISE: My wife and I are thanking God for her life and restoration since it's been painful for us. We lost a child during pregnancy before her birthday. The feeding program has enabled us to see people receive Christ as Savior. Praise God for His provision for printing of the training materials (books) for GPHC/ GPHD) in English.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
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