Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul which was written unto the saints which were at Corinth. More specifically, today’s reading is found in verses thirteen through tweety-seven of the ninth chapter. This particular chapter found within the first epistle of the apostle unto those faithful followers which were at Corinth is one that deals specifically and exclusively with the preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ. In fact, at one point when you read this passage of scripture you will find the apostle Paul emphatically declaring and saying woe be unto him if he does not preach the gospel. For the apostle Paul his single greatest ambition, his single greatest passion, his single greatest desire was to preach the gospel. For the apostle Paul the gospel of Jesus Christ was his life and there was no higher calling and no greater purpose than to preach the gospel. I remember asking another individual what it was that got them up in the morning every morning. I remember asking this individual what gets them out of bed each morning, and what kept them going throughout the day. I am convinced that if either of these questions were asked of the apostle Paul throughout his life post his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he would unashamedly and without reservation state that it was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the ability to preach it unto the Gentiles that got him up out of bed each morning. It was this same apostle who when writing unto the saints which were at Rome wrote and declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it was the power of God unto salvation.
If there is one thing I find to be truly unique about the words of the apostle Paul and the ministry the Lord has given unto him, its that while he did at times preach unto the Jews, he was made an apostle unto the Gentiles. This is actually quite astounding when you consider it, for the apostle Paul was sent unto those who had not previously heard the preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. If you read and study the New Testament book of the Acts you will find that the apostle Paul went on three different and three distinct missionary journeys—journeys which would ultimately and inevitably lead him to Rome where he would preach the gospel before the authorities in Rome. What is so unique and powerful about this apostle unto the Gentiles was that each day was undoubtedly a new and exciting adventure. I can’t help but think of how many days the apostle Paul woke up and rose from his bed and had the opportunity to interact with countless men and women—not only men and women he had never met, but also men and women who had never heard the preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. Pause for a moment and consider that very reality—the reality that each day has the potential to be an exciting new adventure filled with interactions with men and women you have perhaps never seen before. For the apostle Paul he went on three distinct missionary journeys throughout the provinces of Asia and had the chance to interact with a variety of different people each and every day.
Perhaps the question I posed unto this particular individual should be posed unto you this day—the question of what gets you out of bed each morning. Does a job get you out of bed each morning? Does a paycheck get you out or bed each morning? It is true that you get out of bed each morning to go to a job in order to make a paycheck out of obligation, as well as out of necessity. It is true that if you are a spouse or a parent, you get out of bed each morning to go to work in order that you might provide for your family according to the ability you have to do so. When I speak of that which gets you out of bed each morning I am not speaking of that which gets you out of bed from a sense of obligation and responsibility. When I speak of you getting out of bed each morning, what I am speaking of is that which truly motivates you to get up and live your life. Your life is about so much more than getting ready in the morning, heading off to work, working an eight hour shift, coming home, spending what little time you have left with your spouse or kids, and then going to bed that night to wake up the next morning and repeat the cycle. If the only thing that gets you out of bed each morning is the place of your employment and/or your paycheck, I would dare say that you have lived and potentially will live a miserable life. I am convinced there are a number of men and women—husbands and wives, mothers and fathers—who are living and leading such miserable lives because they have absolutely nothing they are living for. True they have a job, and sure they bring home a paycheck, and sure they pay the bills each and every day, and sure they are able to provide for their families and their needs, yet there is something that appears to be missing. It is possible to wake up each and every morning and find absolutely no fulfillment with your life—even if you earn a six figure plus income, are living the American dream, have perhaps the house of your dreams, and perhaps even have the car of your dreams. I am convinced that as certainly and as surely as I am sitting here right now, there are a number of men and women who are dissatisfied with the life they are living because it just doesn’t bring any satisfaction or fulfillment to their hearts and souls.
Here is an entirely different question I feel the need to ask you at this juncture—the question of whether or not you are truly satisfied and truly fulfilled with your life right now. I am absolutely and totally amazed at how many men and women get up each and every morning to go to work for a company and perform a job they didn’t go to grad school for. There are a number of men and women who wake up each and every morning who go to a job that has absolutely nothing to do with the degree they obtained after completing four years of college at some university. I am absolutely and completely convinced there are men and women who right now wake up each and every morning and are completely and totally dissatisfied with their job and that which they find themselves doing. It is true that whatever our hands find to do we should do unto the glory of God, yet there are men and women who try each and every morning to do what they are doing for the glory of God, yet in spite of and in the midst of that, find absolutely no fulfillment or satisfaction in what they are doing. If you were truly honest with yourself right now, and if you were truly honest with the Lord, could you honestly say that you are completely and totally satisfied with your life right now. There are surveys which many companies put out inquiring whether or not their customers and clients are completely satisfied with the experience and service they were provided. I can’t help but wonder if we put this survey out of each and every American that exists within this great nation of ours. If we were to poll each and every man and women—husband or wife, grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle, mother or father, etc—how many would actually state they are completely satisfied with the life they are living? How many men and women would skirt the issue and would make every attempt to dance around it so as to not face the hard truth that they aren’t satisfied with the way their lives turned out.
When I read the words of the apostle Paul in this particular chapter found in the first epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation, I can’t help but think that we were created for so much more than what we are actually and actively experiencing. I can’t help but get the strong sense that there are countless men and women who are living their lives so far beneath that which they were created to live. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote which are recorded for us beginning with the thirteenth verse of this particular chapter—“Do hue not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: Neither have I written these things, that it should be so Dione unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I Preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily, that when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without the law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I Might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:13-23).
For the apostle Paul, that which caused him to get out of bed each and ever morning was the ability to preach the gospel concerning Jesus Christ unto as many men and women as he could. With that being said, the apostle Paul also readily acknowledged that there were many sleepless nights which he endured in the service of the gospel and of the kingdom of Christ. It might very well be said that even though the apostle Paul endured many sleepless nights because he would spend the night in fasting and prayer and intercession before his God, he would still rise from his place each and every morning to preach the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ unto those to whom and for whom he had been called. For the apostle Paul there was no greater calling, no higher purpose than to preach the gospel in order that the power of God unto salvation might be displayed and manifested among those whom he was sent, and those whom he would interact with. The apostle Paul was incredibly bold when he declared that woe was unto him if he did not preach the gospel. For the apostle Paul the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ was his life, and that which he was put upon the earth to do. What’s more, is that at the very heart of that preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, there was an even greater truth that is expressed in the third chapter of the epistle which was written unto the Philippians. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi:
“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. IF any other man thinkers that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touch the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comfortable unto His death; if by Andy means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I county not myself to be have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:4-16).
There stood at the very heart of everything the apostle did the desire to forget those things which were behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before. Stop right there. I am completely and utterly convinced that we have these two realities and concepts mixed up and backward within our hearts and lives. I am convinced that there have been countless times when we should have reached forth unto those things which are before, yet what we found ourselves doing instead is holding on to those things which are behind. I am convinced there are a number of men and women who instead of reaching forth their hands unto those things which are before, they keep their hands tightly gripped upon those things which are behind them in their past. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—how can you possibly think or even hope to ever obtain and take possession of that which lies before you if you continue to hold on tightly to the past? I am utterly and completely convinced there are a number of men and women who are held hostage, held prisoner, held captive by their past, and who can’t seem to move forward beyond it. There are a number of men and women who when they should be reaching forth unto those things which are before them, they continue and persist in holding on to those things which are behind them. I would emphatically declare that until and unless you are willing to let go of and no longer hold on to those things which are in your past, you can never and will never be able to reach forth for those things which are before you. REACHING FORTH, PRESSING TOWARD! Perhaps the single greatest underlying question that is found in this passage of Scripture is not only whether or not you are forgetting those things which are behind, but also whether or not you are reaching forth unto those things which are before you, and pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
That which we read in this particular passage of Scripture is directly connected and linked to that which we find and read in the ninth chapter of the first epistle of the apostle Paul which was written unto the Corinthian congregation. IF you begin reading with and from the twenty-fourth verse of the ninth chapter you will read and find the following words—“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The more I consider these words which were written by the apostle Paul, the more I can’t help but be reminded of the words which he wrote unto his spiritual son Timothy in the second epistle he wrote unto him. If you begin reading with and from the first verse of the chapter you will find the following words: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am not ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4r:1-8).
These words were written in the second epistle which was written unto Timothy, yet in the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto him we find additional words which help further confirm and complement this message. If you start reading from the eleventh verse of the sixth and final chapter of the first epistle which was written unto Timothy, you will find the following words written unto Timothy—“But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:11-16). I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul spoke which are recorded for us in the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts—“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
The more I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi, the more I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and consumed by this great necessity to not only forget those things which were behind, but also to let go of those things which are behind. It’s actually quite interesting to note that no race is ever or has ever been won running in reverse or running backward. In fact, I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Galatia concerning their own race and how they themselves were running that race. Consider the words which were written by the apostle Paul and recorded for us in the fifth chapter of the epistle written unto the Galatian congregation beginning with the first verse—“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lumps. I have confidence in you through the ZLord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:1-12).
The apostle Paul wrote of reaching forth unto those things which are before, and pressing toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, yet the apostle Paul knew that the only way for that to be made possible was to forget those things which are behind us, and to count all things as loss and count them as dung in order that they might win Christ. There has never been a race that has been won in reverse, and we would be incredibly wise to recognize and understand this, for we cannot expect to run well the race which is before us if we seek to run it in reverse. We cannot attempt to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, or even to receive and obtain the crown which is laid up for us in heaven if we are attempting to run the race in reverse. It is absolutely impossible to run the race in reverse, for the focus of our attention and the focus of our eyes will always be behind us. What I can’t help but think about and consider is how many men and women are attempting to run the race which is before them while still attempting to bring with them those things which should remain behind them. With that being said, it’s worth noting that we aren’t called to run away from those things which are behind us, but that we should forget and leave them behind. There are a number of men and women who are completely and totally unable to run the race which is before them because they are unwilling to let go of those things which are found within their past. We must note the apostle Paul could not press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus, or reach forth toward those things which were before him while he continued to remember those things of his past, and even lay hold of and hang on to them. I absolutely love to run, and when I run I don’t like having anything in my hands because I feel like it slows me down. When I run, I don’t even like holding my phone in my hand, and instead choose to use an armband that I can put around my bicep and tricep and place the phone in it. When I run—wether it be outside or inside—I absolutely can’t stand running with anything in my hands because not only do I feel like it slows me down, but I feel that it hinders my actual stride and progress.
The question I can’t help but ask you at this juncture is what are you attempting to hold in your hands while you run the race which is before you. What do you persist on seeking to hold in your hands while you make every attempt to run this race which is before you? As you are attempting to run this race which is before you, what from your past are you seeking to carry with you as you persist in that run? Perhaps you carry it on your shoulders in a bag or a sack, or perhaps you carry it within your hands. I am convinced that the only way we can truly run the race which has been set before us is to completely and totally let go of everything that is behind us, and forgetting those things which are behind us. When writing to the Corinthian congregation in this first epistle the apostle Paul instructed them to run in order that they might obtain—an absolutely fitting instruction concerning the race which we have been called to run. I feel the great need to ask you right now at this juncture whether or not you are running in such a way that you might obtain. When you run, what are you running for? I take public transportation five days out of the week, and there are certain times when I will look up above me to the miniature billboards which are on the train, and there are countless advertisements for various runs that are connected to and have a purpose—essentially running for this particular disease, or running to find this particular cure. Just recently I saw an advertisement for a bike ride that had different levels of difficulty, as men and women who chose to participate in this bike ride—regardless of the level of difficulty and duration of the route—were riding for a specific purpose and cause. The reason I mention this is because it isn’t enough that we simply attempt to run the race, but we must also run for a specific purpose. The apostle Paul pressed toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God which was in Christ Jesus because he sought to win and to obtain that which was laid up before and fore him.
The apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation that he ran, not as uncertainly, and he fought, not as one that beat the ari, but he kept under his body, and brought it unto subjection, lest by any means, when he preached to others, he myself should be a castaway. I am convinced that when we read the words of the apostle Paul which were written unto the Corinthian congregation we must not only recognize and understand that we cannot run in reverse, but we must also run with and for a purpose and a cause. We must recognize and understand that we were not called to run in reverse, and we weren’t intended or meant to carry with us those things which are found in our past. We must be willing to forget those things which are behind us, and we must be willing to count all those things as loss, and as dung for the sake of obtaining and laying hold of Christ. In all reality, there is a great need before us—not only to lay hold of the crown which is before us, but to also lay hold of Christ who is the ultimate prize and goal of the race we run and the fight we engage in. The question is not only whether or not we are running in the right direction, but also whether or not we are running with purpose. Are we running with everything we have within us, and are we running in such a way that we might obtain that which is laid up before us? The apostle Paul emphatically declared that he fought a good fight, that he finished the course, and that he kept the faith, and there is not a doubt in my mind that when he arrived in glory in eternity he heard the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The question you must ask yourself is whether or not you will hear those same words. It must not be said or asked of you concerning you beginning to run well, and yet losing speed or losing motivation. It is my prayer that none among us loses speed or motivation in their run, and that each and every one of us are able to go the full twelve rounds in the fight which is set before us. We were created and destined to obtain, and to reach forth for those things which are before us. The question is whether or not we are willing and able to keep our eyes front and center and straight ahead as we pursue that which is before us, and that which has been placed before us.