Heading for Home
I recently encountered something wonderfully unexpected in the baseball world. So unexpected you might say it completely "came out of left field" (except that this involves a pitcher rather than an outfielder). Specifically, relief pitcher Kendall Graveman (Houston Astros) was interviewed immediately after the victory that placed his team in the 2021 World Series. He was asked the typical "How do you feel?" questions about his comeback journey from surgery in 2018 to this victory. His reply: "… tremendously blessed…but… personally, just to be able to grow in relationship with my Lord, and understand that my purpose is not fulfilled by throwing a baseball… it is fulfilled by impacting teammates and the people I am around. That's my ultimate purpose for being on this planet. These moments (referring to the game) are so much fun, but that's not the reason I am here."
Stunning! In a world that is totally confused about every fundamental truth of life and purpose, it is a profound encouragement to hear such a testimony on today's public stage. For such a statement, I give praise with a thankful heart.
Paul expresses thanksgiving for the very same reasons at the beginning of most of his letters to churches. To the Romans he began: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world (Rom 1:8). And in our reading for this week, we see in his first letter to the Corinthians where he writes: "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. (1 Cor 1:4-5)
One other significant note about Graveman's interview: the first thing he mentions is his growing relationship with the Lord. This indicates his realization of the fact that accepting Christ as Lord is just the beginning of a spiritual journey, a lifelong process of growth. Paul would refer to this as sanctification. In fact, Paul begins this letter "to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy" (1 Cor 1:2).
Are there problems (aka growth opportunities) in Corinth? Absolutely! At the very least in this letter Paul indicates that there is 1) division around different church leaders, 2) sexual misconduct, 3) pagan idol separation anxiety, 4) worship propriety (dare I say styles), and 5) questions/doubt about the resurrection. So how does Paul respond to each of these growth challenges/opportunities? He reveals his strategy very early: "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).
Therefore, since by his own admission Paul knows nothing of any consequence other than the gospel, he proceeds to apply, in so many words, the fundamental nature of the Gospel – Love – in each of these areas (After all, the gospel in one word is love). In order to see this, think of the very practical definition of love that Paul provides later in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians:
Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, Love never fails (13:4-8a). Together, these characteristics outline the "most excellent way" to address spiritual growth challenges.
So with regard to divisions, love does not envy, boast or seek its own. Regarding sexual misconduct, it cannot stand up to a love that refuses to delight in evil. What about confusion over idols and customs – rejoice in the truth, and do not be rude or easily angered as these matters are addressed. With regard to our worship together, there is much need for patience, kindness and a commitment to protect. And finally, with regard to the resurrection, our love for God leads us to always trust, always hope, always persevere because we know His love never fails.
As this blog is being written, the young pitcher mentioned earlier does not know whether his team will go on to win the World Series. But more importantly, he does know that win or lose, baseball is not the reason he is here on this earth. No more than any of us are here on this earth for the purpose of achieving any particular earthly objective. No more than Paul was placed here in order to make tents.
Our purpose is to grow in our relationship with Christ, to impact our teammates, family, friends and those around us for the Kingdom, and ultimately, to head for home.