Be intentionally intentional
by Brennan Westerman
Are you living your life intentionally for Jesus?
In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth, begins to teach about an issue they were having regarding eating food that had been sacrificed to false gods. It ends up taking him 3 chapters, or about 1,500 English words, to do so. His teaching is basically this: this is a really complex issue!
In the middle of this discourse, Paul writes this:
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, CSB).
He compares the Christian life to training for and running a race. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never accidentally gotten in shape. I’ve never accidentally run a race—and I most certainly have never accidentally won one! Top tier athletic training takes intentionality, and not just intentionality during “that part” of the week, but intentionality with everything in your life, from diet, to sleep, to schedules, and even to relationships.
So it is with the Christian life.
Elsewhere, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20-21, CSB). That’s a tall order—considering ourselves dead for the purpose of allowing Christ to live and work through us. That’s a measure we will never meet! But that’s ok, because Jesus died for our failure to measure up both before and after we become his followers. We will never perfectly love and give ourselves to Jesus, but we don’t have to because he perfectly loved us and gave himself for us.
And yet, the goal remains: win the race. So we’re called to plan, to be disciplined, to structure our schedules, priorities, and lifestyles in ways that obey God’s commands to pursue righteousness, proclaim the gospel, and love people.
It turns out that the Corinthians were asking the wrong question. Just look at the subject: can we eat food sacrificed to idols? Their question was self-seeking. Paul’s challenge is to change the subject: how does this question of food impact our ability to display the glory and salvation of Jesus to those around us? What a radically different question! And one that’s actually easier to answer.
Paul makes two overwhelming points as he answers. He says flee from idolatry (10:14), and he says that laying down our freedoms, preferences, and rights is often necessary for the gospel to flourish. Now we like the first one, don't we? That seems attainable, and Paul even says that it is (10:13). We know we need to stop sinning, to stop worshiping false gods, to stop __________ (fill in the blank). But laying down our freedoms? Going out of our way to intersect with those who need to hear the gospel, either for the first time or as a reminder? Putting ourselves in situations that are no fun, that are dirty and uncomfortable and frustrating and hard?
Paul says that the flourishing of the gospel is infinitely more valuable than our comfort, our preferences, our ease, and even our rights. And—this is the best part—he started off this whole letter by saying that "[Jesus] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1:8-9, ESV). Hear that repetition of Jesus' name, even feel that repetition of Jesus' name. God is faithful to sustain us and see us through to perfect righteousness through Jesus Christ!
And so God calls us to live our lives intentionally. Make plans for your growth and discipleship, make plans for your schedule and time, make plans for deepening relationships. Make plans for serving others, make plans to be in un-easy situations, make plans for how you will increasingly obey God. Practice speaking the gospel, practice hospitality, practice out-loud confession and repentance, practice prayer. Discipline your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and actions to line up with the truth—the truth that Jesus gave his life so that you could gain life, and in doing so find the truest freedom you’ll ever know.