So today we are going to jump ahead a little in our study of 1 Corinthians and at Chapter 9.  It’s a Better Together Sunday which means the children stay in the service with us today.  So here’s the deal, next week you will probably understand why we skipped ahead a bit as Ken drops back into Chapter 5, BUT there is a major benefit to this and it is absolutely intentional that Chapter 9 is placed on a Sunday when the children stay in here with us.  It’s because this is really an important chapter and I think it is too important NOT to have the children in here because we are really hitting the very core of what it means to live out the life of a disciple of Jesus…and that is what it is all about right?  Living it out, not just talking about it, or learning about it, but actually walking the walk of a Christian.  So I just want to tell you on the front end, that I believe that we are looking at some of the most important scriptures about what it truly means to be a Christ follower (meaning Jesus is leading them.)  If there is a prayer that I have for us here in MRC Dillsburg and now as we head to start another community in Gettysburg it would be that we would have the mentality and thinking woven into our DNA.    As we study Chapter 9 we see what the very heart of a disciple of Christ is or at least should be.  And if there was one verse that I can’t get out of my mind from this chapter it’s this one, verse 22…

22 …I kept my bearings in Christ — but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. MSG

Oh man, I love this.  This is what it is all about.  Engaging others, loving others, serving others, all with that person’s eternal destiny as a focal point.  Do you see the mission of Christ here?  Do you see the DNA of MRC there?  I sure do, and I can’t wait to get into this with you today!  When it comes to this kind of missional and loving mind set, their absolutely are ramifications when a person is living verse 22 out.  This mentality or way of living is what can draw people to Jesus, and it’s also the thing that when ignored can push people further and further away.  So there are major ramifications when someone identified as a Christian doesn’t have this mindset wired into their DNA…HUGE ramifications, ETERNAL ramifications for them on a personal level, but most importantly for people far from God that would come into contact with this person and here’s why.  It’s because we know many people far from God who have been drawn to Jesus through a loving, nonjudgmental person who would step into their mess with them and work to see life from their point of view…when we do this, we are literally showing that person Jesus, and they are drawn closer to their Heavenly Father.  But there is another side of this.  Someone identified as a Christian by someone far from God who can’t enter their world, and can’t see life from the point of view of someone who is busted up and hurting.  This is what happens way too often, someone who doesn’t have a 1 Corinthians 9:22 mindset will actually hurt and push people even farther from God, and those gut punches of judgment by Religion are devastating.  They linger, they hurt, and they push people farther away from that loving and free relationship with Jesus that we pray each and every person can find and the brutal part is, that the damage has been done by people who would call themselves a Christian who simply don’t have the kind of heart that Paul says we Christians should have.  Did I hype this up enough for you yet?  This is what I would call a make or break moment for the people who we meet in the future who are far from God…and that is who we are right?  People who want others to experience the freedom, and joy, and life to the full that we are experiencing so we got some work to do today!  And here’s where Kim and I would like to start, with some awesome imagery that Paul brings up at the end of this chapter where he talks about the race of life…check this out.

1 Corinthians 9:24 You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. 25 All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. 26 I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! 27 I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.  MSG

I love this imagery, and Paul throughout his letters often brings up life as a race and I think it is a great way to view life.  So let’s look at these three verses a little closer.

Vs 24 You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. MSG

Ok if we ever needed proof that Paul doesn’t come from the same era that we are from this makes things very clear.  “Everyone runs; one wins…so run to win.”  I know this can sound like a foreign concept to us today, because today everyone wins right?  We live in a time of participation trophies, and ribbons for everyone.  It just wouldn’t be fair to think that someone could actually lose, in this world right?  Yet Paul has the audacity to say that not everyone wins, so we need to run to win.  You know in life just like in a race this is reality.  Not everyone wins.  I know, I know this is the enlightened era, but there actually are ramifications for our actions.  There is a winner and there are losers whether we want to face this or not, Paul says we should go hard, do our best, we should run to win the prize…same verse in the NIV.

Vs 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  NIV

So we should run to win the prize!  We should go all out in the race we call life to win the prize, which is a pretty big deal because this prize that Paul speaks of is eternal!  He brings up the prize for winning the race in other letters like here in Philippians…

Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. TLB

Listen to those words, this isn’t going to be easy…and Paul is saying that he doesn’t have it all figured out, but he is pushing, straining, working hard…completely focused on the prize.  That prize is found in all that Jesus did for us…that prize is our eternal destiny!  Do you see it?  I know this race of life isn’t just a fairy tale skip down the yellow brick road type thing, this is hard work, and Paul is saying that we should give it our all keeping our eyes on the finish line which is other-wise known as our eternal life in Heaven with Jesus!  This is the life that Paul lived.  It wasn’t easy but the benefits are eternal.  Paul brings up this prize again in 2 Timothy in one of the most touching moments here Paul is writing to his good friend for the last time before he is executed and listen to how he comes back to this imagery of the race and the prize…

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  NIV

What an emotional moment here from Paul as he once again talks of the life he has lived…the race he has run and did you catch it.  He is being poured out…he is about to die.  He has finished the race and he has nothing left.  He has worked hard and gave it his all and now he gets his prize which is a crown of righteousness given to him by Jesus.  Paul is not tip toeing around one very particular idea in any of these verses, he didn’t say this would be easy.  He said we should run to win, but he is letting us know that life can be hard.  I don’t know if you have ever run a race but they aren’t necessarily easy to do!  If they were everyone would be running them right?  Paul never pulls punches and he is letting all of his young church plants know, that they need to run to win the eternal prize that comes as they cross the finish line of life!  He never leads them to believe it will be easy, but he does say the prize is worth it.  So this is such an awesome scripture where we see something very important.  We are to run and run to win the eternal prize…we do this by training, working hard, because the race isn’t easy.  We do the hard work behind the scenes to run the race well.  We spend time with God.  We discipline ourselves as we move towards holiness and we give it everything we have to win the prize because and again I know this is massively insensitive…not everyone wins.

1 Corinthians 9:24 In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. 25 To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. 26 So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around. 27 Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside. TLB

This is such a beautiful image, and there is so much for us to take and apply just from these 4 verses that I really wanted to spend some time in it today in this, because we are all in the race of life.  It’s my hope that this mentality of life as a race that we must run to win, where we must train, where we must stay disciplined, where we must be focused on the finish line will really begin to be part of our lives…because it is a game changer.  Think about what this imagery is really saying…we need to try our best in life, not just get by.  We need to spend time with God daily, growing and moving towards holiness.   We need to be focused not on the moments of today, but have our Spiritual eyes opened to all of eternity to come!  And in the end when we do those things heaven, our eternal reward is there waiting.  This is just so huge and probably something that we could spend all day on, but I do want to end this talk today looking at what Paul spoke of before he got into the race of life.  We are going to start in verse 19 and work our way through verse 23 to end our time today.

1 Corinthians 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  NIV

Paul is willing to be whoever, to do whatever is necessary to help people find Jesus…to help people experience what we are experiencing which is the amazing love and grace of our Heavenly Father.  Now I believe that as beautiful as the heart of this message really is, this could really unnerve someone who is stuck deep inside of religion.  What do you mean he was willing to do whatever, and be whatever to help someone find Jesus?  Aren’t we supposed to distance ourselves from “those types” of people, places, and things?  Well I think Paul is pushing in on something that we all must understand…it actually is that distance that we Christians can put between us and someone far from God that is actually doing more harm than good.  We don’t ignore, or distance ourselves from sinners we wade right in.  Why?  Because we too are sinners!  The distance placed hurts, and makes us look exclusive, when the whole concept of grace is a gift is completely INCLUSIVE!  Oh man, this is important to see, I see this little 4 verse chunk of scripture as one of the most essential for someone walking the path of a disciple of Jesus.  Let’s look at this same scripture in the Message…

1 Corinthians 9:19 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: 20 religious, nonreligious, 21 meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, 22 the defeated, the demoralized — whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ — but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. 23 I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! MSG

This is so good!  I also know we can get a little uncomfortable here, so let’s break this all down.  So Paul has just worked his way through a portion of this letter where he is pointing out that he didn’t take money, or any special privileges from these people while he was there serving them…and it is an important point that he is trying to make.  He is saying that he gave up a lot for them, and sacrificed as much as possible for them because he wanted them to know Jesus with no blockers in the way.  So that is the tone of where we are, and then he hits them with verse 19…

v19 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone,

Ok, we need to stop right there, and just sit in this statement for a moment.  Wouldn’t you want to live this way?  Paul says he is free from the demands and expectations of everyone…man that has to be nice.  Can you imagine walking through life without worrying about people?  Do you realize you not only can but as a disciple of Christ the only demands and expectations that should effect you are God’s?  People pleasing is such a trap.  For a leader like Paul it can end up directing an entire church community the wrong direction and to us people we can so easily get sucked into the trap of people pleasing, listen it is idolatry, and it can ruin our lives.  What a challenge for us people who have this God given wiring for community…we want people to like us, and how easy is it for the enemy to just heighten our focus on what others think of us enough that we become trapped in this people pleasing thing…and the entire direction of our lives becomes steered by people, rather than by God.  Paul pushes in on this idol of people pleasing often.  He comes so strong at it here in Galatians 1…

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. NIV

What a strong statement!  Am I trying to please men or God?  Whose approval do I really need?  I can not be servant of Christ and still be a people pleaser.  He says this because people pleasing is idolatry.  So Paul is clear…I am free from the demands and expectations of everyone because God is his highest priority…BUT I willingly make myself a servant to everyone, and he explains why.

19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. NIV

Wow, Paul is willing to serve everyone with one motivation.  He wants everyone to experience Jesus the way that He has.  This isn’t about Paul being able to brag to the other churches that He is doing great things in Corinth.  This isn’t about Paul being able to go to Heaven, as he crosses the finishes line of His life and showing God that he earned a ticket into eternal paradise.  This is about Paul wanting everyone he meets to be able to walk in this new life of freedom, of joy, of grace that he himself is experiencing!  If you remember Paul, was Saul…and he was a hard hearted, raging, religious person who was literally persecuting Christians…men, women, children whoever.  If you worshiped Jesus you feared Saul and his life was dramatically changed by Jesus on the road to Damascus one day…he was literally knocked off his high horse and has experience God’s loving grace and redemption.  It is THE game changer, which is now every bit of motivation for the race that Paul runs.  Paul shares his testimony with us often…

1 Timothy 1:12  I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. NIV

So Paul has been radically changed through Jesus.  He will argue with you that he is the worst of all sinners…and God loved him enough to send Jesus to this world to lay down his life so that we could live in freedom, with joy…so that we could have a life of meaning and purpose while we run our race, then a go to Heaven and party with God for all of eternity after our race has been run.  This is incredible because it is a gift that each of us can have…and once you have experienced God’s grace it is hard to not want others to experience that too.  That is all Paul wants…he didn’t need popularity.   He didn’t need public approval.  Which is good because this isn’t a popular message, and it isn’t something that pleased the masses.  All Paul needed was Jesus, and once he was given that gift…well he was off and running.  Working hard, as a slave to anyone and everyone to help them experience what it can feel like to have that “grace of our Lord pouring out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Jesus.”

It’s all about life change…life change is real.  Too often this Christianity thing is becoming about religious activity, showing up at church on a Sunday morning.  Checking off all the right boxes…well, Sam said we need to train to run the race so I guess I have to read my Bible today.  Check!  Well, Ken said I should pray every day…check.  Ugh, why did we choose MRC, now they want to see us serve, guess I will sign up to do something once a month…check.  Can I ask you something?  Does your Christian life feel like work?  Does your serving, praying, reading the Bible, feel like a duty rather than something you have to do?  Does Paul seem insane to you that he would help others find that same redemption and life change that he has found?  If this is you and this is the spot your in where this life of following Jesus is a duty, or almost a nuisance…it’s because you are forgetting your own salvation story.  If the race is getting hard, and your life is getting tougher and tougher it’s probably because you are losing site of your motivating part of the Christian faith.  Your own unbelievable story of grace.  Why do you serve others and help them find Jesus?  Because like Paul, you once were lost, struggling, and got to a place where you couldn’t handle life in your own strength anymore either.  Do you remember those days?  Better still, do you remember how it felt to really know that regardless of all of your sin, all of your mistakes, wounds, issues…that God was and still is passionately in love with you?  Think about it.  That is all the motivation you need.  Your own prayer life, or time with God in scripture stale…and feel flat or like work?  Do you remember why you used to WANT to be with Jesus?  It’s because He loved you so much regardless of the mess that you were and are!  Do you remember?  Scripture reminds us where our motivation comes from to run this race of life…

Hebrews 12:1 Do you see what this means — all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running — and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. 2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!  MSG

Its life change.  This is why Paul says that he willingly will do whatever it takes to help everyone find what he has found in Jesus.  If you are struggling.  If this whole Christian life thing is work, or flat, or just another thing you have to do…it’s time that you remember why we come in here each and every week and celebrate.  It’s because we are imperfect sinners, who God loves and loved so much that He would take care of all our mess for us through Jesus.  If you are struggling it’s time to go back and remember what Jesus did for you, this is how Paul pushes through all that he pushes through.  Ok so let’s get back to this…

1 Corinthians 9:19 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: 20 religious, nonreligious, 21 meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, 22 the defeated, the demoralized — whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ — but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. 23 I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! MSG

It’s verse 22 that really pops to me.  He steps into their lives, seeing and experience life from their point of view…note that he didn’t take on their way of life but stayed focused on Christ…but he loves, he feels for them…He isn’t talking down to them or chucking Bibles at them.  He is WITH them in the mess to lead them by how he is living out of that mess to Jesus!  This is where so many Christians struggle, because they aren’t holding onto their own redemption story…they lose sight of the fact that we are all sinners!  Paul who writes have the New Testament says that he is literally the worst, the chief of all sinners…yet many Christians distance themselves from their redemption story, and can really begin elevate themselves in their own minds to a level of holiness where they would never lower themselves to step into the messy lives of others.  Which is pretty incredible since they would call themselves a Christian and by saying those words they are literally saying that they acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, they are admitting they themselves are sinners, and needed a savior and have a God who loved them enough to give them one!  Do you see how devastating this can be to someone far from God?  How damaging this can be?  This is the oldest and most damaging form of the Spirit of religion…and it completely contradicts our beliefs.  We don’t look down at, judge, or chuck Bibles at people from the cheap seats…we wade right in, because we ourselves needed and need help too!  Let’s look at verse 23 again here…

 v23 I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

I didn’t want to just talk about it, I wanted to be in on it.  It isn’t words that impacted people, but how we live, it is our willingness to engage his mess.  I think a lot of people pick up on the Christian who talks one way and acts another and it is yet another way to drive someone further away from God rather than helping to guide them to Him, so that they could experience this whole life to the full thing that we are.

This is what it is all about.  We are running the race of life and we run to win.  We live.  We love.  We serve.  We work.  We do all of this with our eyes on the finish line ahead…which is all of eternity.  Our motivation for all of it, is not status, or some creepy level of holiness, or some title at church.  It is Jesus and all that he has done for us.  This is the motivation we need to run the race of life and run it to win.  This is it…this is what it is all about.  Can we stay grounded in grace?  Can we engage into the mess of others?  Or do we slide into the trap of religion…because in the end everyone is running, but not everyone wins.  We here at MRC we want to run to win…do you know what that means.  We will serve.  We will step in to the mess of people who need help, because we do too and we know it.  This is why we do what we do…and this is why I believe that this section of scripture is really the DNA of who we are.  This is why we exist…to help people far from God find Him.  Because we ALL are in need of a Savior.

Some would ask why go through all that for someone else?  Why work, serve, humble yourself, or step into the chaos of someone else’s life?  Why would Paul be willing to lay his life on the line, endure lonely nights in prison, angry mobs, beatings, ship wrecks, snake bites and death itself?  It’s because Paul has experienced the gift of grace.  Some will ask you, why would you be willing to drive twenty minutes to set up a church service in Gettysburg on Sunday morning…when it’s hot, when it’s cold, when it rains, when it is nice and you could be hiking or fishing on a Sunday morning.  The answer is found in Jesus and all He has done for us.  The person asking this question, asks it because they don’t see the Spiritual ramifications, they don’t see the finish line of Eternity ahead, so all of this seems pretty crazy.  But you have experienced Jesus.  You know how it feels to have been redeemed so you see with spiritual eyes.  We have experienced the redeeming love of Jesus, which is why we would “sacrifice” for others too…this is the motivation.  This is why we serve.  This is what this race of life is all about and it’s Jesus that becomes our motivation for all of it.  Paul says this as he talks about what you should eat or not, and how it effects someone far from God, but I think we can apply this to any of our willingness or unwillingness to serve in any aspect from getting up early on a Sunday, to helping someone in and around our neighborhood…to whatever.

1 Corinthians 8:11 Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him MSG

Maybe this should read as a fill in the blank today…why do you serve?  The answer is a big deal.

Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up _______ for him?

So what is it that you are or aren’t willing to give up for that person?  Is it your time?  A couple of hours of sleep on a Sunday morning?  Some gas for the 20 minute drive to Gettysburg?  What is it?  In the end as Christians we come in here and worship and celebrate all that Jesus has done for us, and if we are struggling with the “why” part of the question, it’s time to go back over our own salvation story and remember just what it means to be saved on a very personal level.  This is my prayer for you and everyone who finds Jesus; that we would never lose sight of our own redemption story so that others will experience that same gift of love that we are experiencing through us.

This is who we are.  This is what it is all about and it’s our prayer here at MRC that we would run this race well.