I have enjoyed watching some of the Winter Olympics and was struck by an interview with some of the women’s hockey team athletes. They spoke of setting a goal as a team to win the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. They also mentioned the individual sacrifices made over the days, months, and years as they neared their goal. They talked about the importance of reminding one another of the “prize” along the way when distractions, disappointments, and disillusionment crept in. They have made it to the final game of their Olympic journey and will play for the gold medal later this evening (Feb. 21, 2018).
Most of us are not Olympic athletes and are not going to be competing for medals in front of large audiences. However, many of us have set goals or even have a life mission statement we are directly or indirectly aiming toward. We can relate to athletes in that we too encounter distractions, disappointment, and disillusionment along our paths of life. We need encouragement to stay focused and stand firm as we move toward our goals. As Christians, our ultimate goal is one that Paul shared in another letter to believers:
“My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead…. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:10-11, 13-14
Ultimately, Paul is one of the best encouragers to his fellow believers to stay focused and stand firm in the faith. In reading 1 Corinthians, chapters 14-16, Paul is coming to the conclusion of his letter to the people of Corinth and will cover some hefty topics in these last remarks. He covers topics such as the importance of worship among believers and church order, the resurrection as it pertains to the gospel, and the second coming resurrection of believers.
I believe one of the most critical passages about the focus of our faith is in chapter 15:1-11. Paul even states it so in these verses:
“For I passed onto you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to…many…he also appeared to me.” ~1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Paul wanted the people of Corinth to remember the Gospel and to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. As we have seen in this letter, Corinth was a city much like our modern day cities. Many of the struggles of the Corinthians (idolatry, sexual promiscuity, difficult and discordant relationships, assimilation of other religious practices or beliefs into their worship, and arguments over details of church governance and end times theology) are the same struggles we face today. Paul is not saying we should avoid engaging in debate or discussions, but he is stressing the important elements of our faith—focus on Jesus and focus on the Gospel message.
In almost every letter Paul penned, he ends with a charge to encourage and embolden the people who will read his letter. The words, steadfast or stand firm, appear at the end of the letters.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast [stand firm], immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” ~1 Corinthians 15:58
“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.” ~1 Corinthians 16:13-14
As you finish reading the book of 1 Corinthians, do not grow disillusioned by what you don’t completely understand or how far you still have to go in your Christian journey. Each of us wants to live and love as our Lord Jesus did and we fall short often. But let’s focus on the life giving message of the Gospel. May you take encouragement from Paul’s words to the Corinthians and receive them as the blessing they are for you today. May we walk with confidence today as God’s women and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:14