Paul was perhaps the greatest evangelist of all time. He had an unquenchable passion to bring the Good News about the Messiah, the Good News that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God who was sent by God the Father, from Heaven to Earth. The Son of God became a man, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead, thereby overcoming sin and death, and making salvation, eternal life, reconciliation with God possible for all those who believe in Messiah, who place their faith and trust and love in God.
Nothing could stop Paul: imprisonments, beating times without number, frequent danger of death. Five times he received thirty-nine lashes from his Jewish people. He was beaten with rods three times. He was stoned once. He was shipwrecked three times, and he spent a night and a day in the sea. He went on frequent journeys, and was in danger from rivers, robbers, from his countrymen and from the Gentiles. He experienced dangers in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false brothers. He experienced labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure.
He believed that all of these hardships that he would ever experience in this life as a result of serving God and preaching the Good News were worth it. He knew that all the sufferings in this short life can’t be compared to the eternal rewards in store for those who love and serve the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 9:23 Paul tells us that, “I do all things for the sake of the Gospel – the Good News about Messiah, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it, and share in its blessings.”
Great Emissaries like Paul are not the only ones charged to preach the Good News. The command to witness, testify, preach, declare, proclaim, share, is given to all of us.
If we are faithful to this command, like Paul, we will participate in the blessings and rewards that come from sharing the Good News. There are levels of reward. It’s possible to lose most, perhaps even all of your reward. We want to get the greatest possible reward. Therefore we want to give ourselves fully to God, to Messiah, to the Mission, to sharing the Good News. We don’t want to lose any of the potential blessings that faithful sharers of the Good News are promised!
Paul makes this point when he compares our life in this world, and the possibility of getting a great reward, to a race: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Not everyone wins the race. Not everyone comes in first. Run to win. Run hard. Run fast. In other words, be serious about God! Give yourself fully to Him, and His service. Live for Him! Be bold! Courageously preach the Good News!
The he tells us that athletes who expect to win need to prepare themselves for the competition. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. The Greeks were famous for their games, their competitions of physical prowess and strength. The athletes who participated in the games worked, they trained, they exercised to get themselves into shape.
We too must exercise self-control. We need to get into shape and stay in shape spiritually, so that we will be godly, useful and successful. Unfortunately most people spend far more time exercising their bodies than they do training their souls.
People in the United States spend billions of dollars each year and millions of hours on physical exercise. You can see them at the health clubs, working out on machines, running, jumping, lifting, sweating.
What motivated the Greek athletes? They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Among the Greeks, the athletes who won were given a wreath, made out of pine, or laurel, or some other perishable material. They were honored by their fellow man.
We should be even more motivated than the most serious athlete, knowing that the reward we are striving for is infinitely more valuable! Those who live faithfully for God and Messiah, and are faithful and true, and partake in the Good News, will receive honors and rewards that will last forever. When God gives you that crown that will last forever, that commendation, when you hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master,” won’t all the sacrifices and hardships we experience in this world be worth it?
Paul continues: Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I have a goal. I have a purpose. I know why I am here. I know what my life is for. It’s not about materialism, or living an easy life, or pleasing myself, or having a good time. It’s about serving God, building up His Kingdom, spreading the Gospel, working with God and Messiah to save the souls of others.
He continues with an illustration from another sport – boxing: I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. Paul compares himself to a boxer. He is fighting, but he isn’t throwing wild punches. No, his punches are connecting, but his opponent is not another boxer, but himself! The one he is hitting is himself! Not literally, but what he means is that he exercises self-control. He musters all of his energies to bring his desires, his lusts, under control. He disciplines himself, and controls his body, so that he won’t give in to his lusts, and be disqualified from the ministry.
The Lord can’t use hypocrites, who declare the truth about God and about God’s right standards for living, but then deny the truth in their own lives. We don’t want be disqualified from serving the Lord by losing self-control, and then losing some of our reward.
So, it’s very important for each one of us exercise ourselves spiritually, and practice the spiritual disciplines. We must take in the Word of God. We must read God’s Word on our own. We should make a habit of reading the Word of God each day. Regular reading of the Bible is one of the most influential factors in shaping a person’s moral and social behavior.
Not only read the Word of God, but study it. Look up cross references, those little note in many Bibles that tell you to go to a related passage. Find a key word and look it up in a concordance and study that topic. Outline a chapter, one paragraph at a time. Do the same with an entire book of the Bible. Do word studies, character studies, topical studies, book studies. Experience the joy of discovering Biblical insights firsthand through your own Bible study.
Memorize God’s Word. “I have treasured Your word in my heart that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11) the Psalmist wrote 3000 years ago. For thousands of years the sons and daughters of God have found it very profitable to memorize parts of the Scriptures.
Meditate on God’s Word. Meditate means to ponder, to think it over, to turn it over, examining it from a different angle, to chew on it, to contemplate it. You can become like the writer of Psalm 119:97 who exclaimed: “O how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day.” I constantly am thinking about it, contemplating it, turning it over and over in my mind.
Hear the Word of God taught by your rabbi, which means that you must develop the practice of regularly attending a congregation where the Word of God is faithfully preached. Go to your congregation regularly, whether you feel like it or not. Build that spiritual habit into your life, as part of your routine. Don’t forsake assembling together, as is the bad habit of some.
Develop the discipline of serving. Do something for your congregation – cleaning up, setting up, running errands, providing transportation, visiting the sick. In most congregations, 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. How can any child of God sit on the sidelines and watch others do the work of the kingdom? And yet time after time it is the same people who serve, and it is the same people who don’t.
Develop the discipline of giving. Giving is a duty. Giving should be disciplined, planned and systematic. Discipline yourself to give at least ten percent to ministries that are solid, reliable and doing the work of the Kingdom of Messiah, especially and foremost to your synagogue.
Devote yourselves to prayer. Give it your time and attention. Strive to pray without ceasing. Discipline yourself to turn your mind and your thoughts throughout the day to God, to talk to Him about things are interesting to you. Anything that comes to your mind thank God for, and pray about everything that strikes you powerfully. Thank Him, praise Him, intercede for yourself and others, our congregation, the Jewish community, the Messianic movement, the church, the world, our government.
Fasting strengthens our intercession and gives extra fervor to our prayers.
Evangelism is a spiritual discipline. Develop the attitude that you will share your faith in all kinds of situations and circumstances, whether you feel like it or not. Be ready in season and out of season to share your faith. Don’t wait for witnessing opportunities to occur, for someone else to open up the conversation in a spiritual direction. We must take the initiative and make witnessing opportunities happen. Prepare yourself to be able to give a decent answer for the hope that you have. Know why you believe and how best to explain your faith intelligently to those who ask.
These spiritual disciplines will keep us in good spiritual shape, so that we can be useful. They will help us from being disqualified, and lose our reward. These are positive things that we can do.
Then, there are also things we must avoid in order to be successful, and win the race, and receive a great reward. Paul tells us to learn from the generation of Jewish people that left Egypt. They didn’t exercise self-control. They didn’t avoid temptation They gave into the things that tempted them, and most of them lost their reward, and forfeited their blessing. Don’t be like them!
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Messiah.
The Jewish people who left Egypt were in a similar situation as the Believers in Corinth were, and as we are. They were all under the cloud. The cloud that led the Jewish people through the wilderness represented the Presence of God. They were close to God. Christians and Messianic Jews are close to God.
The generation that was saved out of Egypt passed through the sea: passing through the sea represents baptism. They had experienced salvation from slavery in Egypt and were baptized. The saints at Corinth were baptized – as were we.
The generation that was saved out of Egypt had a great leader – Moses, a prophet who spoke the words of God, a lawgiver who taught them, a mediator through whom a covenant came, a priest who drew them closer to God. They were baptized into Moses, which means that they were joined to him, they were united to him and his godly leadership. We have an even greater leader – Yeshua, the eternal Son of God and the Son of Man prophet, priest, king, teacher, and the Source of the New Covenant.
The generation that was saved out of Egypt ate spiritual food: the manna that supernaturally appeared in the wilderness. They drank spiritual water from the rock. Two times the Jewish people needed water, and the Lord miraculously provided it from a rock (see Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13). We too eat spiritual food and drink. We eat bread and drink wine, remembering Yeshua, the Bread of Life, and the One who gives the living waters that forever quench our thirsty souls.
There is a Jewish tradition that the rock that provided water followed the Jewish people in the wilderness. “Since the rock is mentioned twice, and is in different settings, a rabbinic legend held that the rock actually followed the Jewish people (Ryrie).” Paul uses this tradition and tells us that the Rock that followed them is the same Rock who is with us! Yeshua, the Son of God always existed, and He was with the Jewish people in the wilderness, protecting them, helping them. And, that same Rock follows us! Yeshua, the Rock of our Salvation, is strong, solid, dependable and enduring. He defends us, and provides protection from all attacks. In an unstable world, He provides stability and gives us solid foundation for our lives. He is with us wherever we go, and will never leave us or forsake us!
The generation that was saved out of Egypt had experienced great spiritual realities, as had the Corinthians Believers, as have we. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. The Lord was displeased with the majority of the wilderness generation. He was angry with them, and they died in the wilderness. Almost none of them made it to the goal – even though it was a short journey to the Promised Land.
Here is the point: Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. In spite of so many blessings – closeness to God, and baptism, and eating spiritual food and drinking spiritual drink, and having a great leader, they didn’t make it to the goal, they fell short, they were disqualified, and they lost much of their reward.
What prevented that generation from being successful and receiving all the blessings that God wanted to give them? They gave into temptation. They craved, they lusted, they desired evil things. We face the same danger. We can allow the desire for the wrong things to grow, until it crowds out the desire to serve God, be close to Him, be used by Him to our maximum potential.
Paul specifically mentions the evil things that he wants us to avoid:
Avoid the temptation of idolatry. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” This refers to the worship of the golden calf. Even though the Lord had made it clear that we were not to use a visible image for the invisible God, the sons of Israel did. We engaged in false religion. We combined God, who is Spirit, with the material. We brought the holy and infinite God down to our level. There is much false religion today, and it’s getting worse. Of course there are the non-Christian false religions, some of which worship many gods, and employ idols. There are the prayers and devotions and veneration of the saints, which is idolatry. But there is also idolatry in the Church – combining God with materialism – the wicked prosperity teaching. Avoid the temptation of idolatry.
Avoid the temptation of sexual immorality. Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. This refers to what happened at Shittim (see Numbers 25:1-9) when many Jewish men engaged in sexual relations with Moabite women, and that led us to worship a false god, Baal of Peor. Sexual immorality will lead you away from God. It will ruin your spiritual life and usefulness. It is a very common sin in our society, and even in the Church today. Avoid sexual immorality. Don’t do it!
Avoid the temptation of grumbling and complaining and fighting against God. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. The Jewish people tried the Lord when we became impatient because of the length and hardship and the conditions of the journey (see Numbers 21:4-9). The people complained about God and Moses, accusing them of bringing them into the wilderness, not to save them from Egypt, and bring them to a good land, but to kill them! The Lord was angry and sent many poisonous snakes that had a fiery, lethal bite, and the snakes bit many, and many died. There is something very wrong about sinful, mortal creatures complaining about the all-good Creator, complaining about Him, rebelling against the good leadership He set in place by following bad leaders and false prophets. We don’t want to become angry with God, or blame Him for the conditions in our life, or question His character, or become ungrateful. We should understand that He is working all things together for our good. The righteous try to praise God in the midst of their circumstances. They understand that there is a good reason for them, even though they may be very painful, and may not be understood at the time. They strive to have the attitude expressed by the most excellent Job: “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” We tried the Lord again after the Korah’s rebellion, when the ground split open under Korah, Datan and Aviram, and they were swallowed alive; also supernatural fire incinerated 250 other leaders who joined them in their rebellion. Incredibly, many of the Jewish people had the chutzpah to blame Moses for this rebellion against his leadership, and they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, blaming the innocent victims for the deeds of the wrongdoers. A plague came and killed 14,700 more.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Israel serves as an example for all believers. Why should Christians know the Torah, and the entire Tenach? What happened to the Jewish people, and then was written down, is an example to the New Covenant Community. All of us are to know the history and learn the lessons from God’s Holy Nation Israel. We have the advantage of living later in history, and being able to learn from what happened to them.
We are those upon whom the end of the ages have come! We live at the culmination of human history. Why? The Creator entered this world and did marvelous things! The Son of God has come! God has revealed Himself to us! God joined Himself to humanity! He has made salvation possible! Now, we can look back at the previous dispensations and see that God blessed those who served the Lord, who practiced obedience, faithfulness, righteousness and self-control, and He punished those who yielded to temptation, and abandoned self-control.
The generation that left Egypt were deeply religious people, as many of us are. They were blessed with a salvation experience out of Egypt, and the presence of God, and baptism, and spiritual food and drink. But in spite of all their advantages, they failed. Don’t make the same mistake!
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. Again, this is a warning for religious people, who are close to God, blessed with many blessings and advantages. Pride comes before the fall. This is a warning for you, and for me. If we are not careful, if we don’t exercise self-control, if we don’t stay close to the Lord, we can fall.
How do we take heed? How do we make sure that we are standing, and not falling? By practicing the spiritual disciplines, and by being aware of the areas of temptations, and avoiding those things that lead us in that direction:
You can do it! You can be successful! You don’t have to fail. You don’t have to give into temptation! No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man. You are not unique. Many others have faced the same temptation, and many have succeeded. You can too! God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. God is faithful. He can be relied upon to limit your circumstances to what you, with His help and grace, can handle. You have His promise that there will be a way through that trial, that temptation, that difficult circumstance. Be faithful, endure, look for help, look for the way out. It will come!