Thursday of Epiphany V – I Corinthians 9:16-27

16 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! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 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.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

24 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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Have you ever known a single-minded person? I recently read the biography of Paul Farmer, a doctor and activist in the field of public health. While on trip to Haiti as a young man he got involved in serving some of the poorest people in the western hemisphere. He never truly left Haiti. He did go on in school and was granted a medical degree from the Harvard School of Medicine, but his fellow students referred to him as Paul Foreigner because he only showed up for key labs and final exams. He was in the mountains of Haiti, helping people. He still graduated toward the top of his class. He was a very smart fellow. He built and staffed a clinic in the highlands of Haiti and was instrumental in developing new treatments of TB in Peru and Russia. In these days of pandemic, I have heard or read several interviews with him. He had a laser-like focus on helping improve people’s lives through better health practices. If you are interested, the book is called “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” I recommend it.

If you read the book, you might think of Farmer’s namesake, the Apostle Paul, and these words from I Corinthians. Paul Farmer’s focus was on the health of people, a noble task. He made enormous sacrifices. As a top graduate from the Harvard School of Medicine he likely could have retired from a lucrative specialty. Instead, he got up early every morning to see very sick people who could pay him. He hiked for miles through the brush and mountains of Haiti to make follow-up visits upon people whom he treated. The apostle Paul likewise is focused on the preaching of the Gospel. He has become all things to all people just so that some may be saved.

I am not Paul Farmer or Paul the Apostle. I am a rather mediocre Christian sometimes. My guess you also read about people like Farmer and the Apostle and feel your inadequacies. Paul enjoins us to run the race to win the prize. If that goads you to do something good, that is great. Go do that good thing. But know this. The prize is already yours in Christ. Let that be the first and primary motivation for your life of service, love, and compassion for this broken world. Remember, the Apostles focus was on preaching the Gospel, the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, to people like you and me. We dare not disqualify his preaching or ourselves by trusting anything else.

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