Saturday, March 22, 2014

"For the sake of the Gospel, and for the glory of God!"

Day #85:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 23rd

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 9 - 10 …

People do a lot of things for a lot of reasons.  What motivates YOU?  The word, "motivate," comes from the root word, "motive."  A "motive" is the inner feeling that drives our actions.  That feeling is, itself, driven by our pattern of thinking.  Whatever you THINK is important will "move" you to feel strongly about going forward with a certain course of action.  How much "emotion" is attached to your actions reveals how strong your motive or reason is for doing it in the first place.  Did you follow that?!!

Here's the question:  Why do you do what you do?  What drives you?  Maybe, like many, the answer is all wrapped up in SELF.  You do what pleases YOU.  You do what YOU want to do, as much as the world and others allow you to do so.  Jesus said that if you are going to be HIS disciple, you need to deny that motive and substitute it with a different one:  What does GOD want me to do?

As Paul writes to the Church at Corinth you sense that this is what he was trying to get across to them and why the Holy Spirit inspired him to write what he did in the way that he did.  Having addressed some of the problems the church in Corinth was going through, Paul continues to explain how and WHY they are to live as followers of Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 9, Paul gives a rather lengthy defense of his ministry as an apostle, as one commissioned by Christ to proclaim the Gospel.  He explains that it would be right for him to receive a material gain from those to whom he was preaching and teaching (9:7-12).  But he goes on to explain that he did not make use of that right.  He says that this is his reward:  " … that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it" (9:18).  He would later write to his young friend and pastor, Timothy, in I Timothy 5:17-18, that he should instruct the church that those who "labor in the word" are to be compensated, and he uses the same verses as he does in verse 9 here.

Paul's reasoning in these early years of the church was this:  "I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible … I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (9:19, 22).  But WHY?  He tells us in verse 23:  "I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings!"  Paul wanted nothing in this world.  He was looking for a different prize.  Referring perhaps to the Olympic Games, he says that those who compete train hard "to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever!" (9:25).

That was Paul's motivation from the moment he met Christ.  He would write to the Philippians:  "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!" (1:21).  How many of us can say that?  How many of us live that way?  It wasn't just Paul who lived this way.  Many of the leaders of the Church and others gave their lives for the Gospel, and many are doing that even today.  I wonder how many of us would be willing to die for the Gospel.  But here's the thing:  in order to live for Christ … to really live for Him as a faithful disciple … Jesus said you HAVE to die!!  You have to die to your SELF and live for Jesus, by the power of His Spirit who is now at work within you.  Dying to self is not optional!

Paul goes on in Chapter 10 to use the people of Israel as a warning for the early believers, and for us, today.  "These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (10:6).  "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (10:11).  The "end times" began with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the countdown draws near its end.  The temptation is to be distracted by the things of the world around us and by our own selfishness, so Paul writes,

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But WHEN you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (10:12-13).  Don't give up, don't be discouraged, don't be overwhelmed, don't yield to the temptation to give in.  God is with you and He will give you what you need when you need it.  Stand firm in your faith and He will carry you when you don't have the strength to go on.  That's His promise to every believer, to every true disciple of Christ.

This is why idolatry of any kind is so bad … putting anything else before God.  We are one body and we belong to the Lord alone.  You can't be on both sides.  He uses the example of food offered to idols to show that as believers we are free, but "nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (10:24).  We need to be careful that nothing gets in the way of our testimony that JESUS is all we need and that we find our joy and greatest pleasure in HIM.  If our freedom hurts someone else's conscience and puts an unnecessary stumbling block in the way, we need to put God first and our brother second.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble … I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (10:31-33).  And he concludes in the first verse of Chapter 11:  "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

This was Paul's motivation:  For the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God.  What's yours?  In your family, in your relationships with others in the body, in your witness in the world, what drives you?  If it is anything else … if you must confess that you rarely think about living to proclaim that Jesus is Savior and Lord, and that you often do not take others into account when making decisions on what to do or what not to do … then confess your sin and ask God's forgiveness.  Pray that His Spirit would make you sensitive to His leading and that as you study His Word you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and apply the wisdom He gives to your daily living.

Live every day for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God and you will produce a fruitful harvest for God's kingdom and will one day receive a crown that will last forever … one that you can lay down at the feet of Jesus!

"Our Father in heaven, as we read the testimony of Paul and examine our own motivation, fill us with Your Spirit and tear us away from anything except devotion to You.  Help ME to offer myself to You, to surrender my thoughts, my feelings, my desires to You and to take up my cross, being willing to endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel and for Your glory!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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