The Purpose Driven Life is a well-known, popular book written by Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Southern California. His thesis is that a life guided by a particular goal (purpose) is more effective and impactful than a life that is just… lived.

As the adage says, “Aim at nothing and you will hit it every time.” The same is true if we aim at too much.

While Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life book, he did not invent the purpose driven life.

In first Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul reveals how living a purpose driven life enables us to live the kind of life that will prompt other people to ask, “Why?”

  • Why are you so generous?
  • Why are you so forgiving?
  • Why are you so committed?
  • Why are you so focused?

I wonder what difference could living with purpose make in my life… and in yours?

  • How would it affect my marriage and how I parent my children?
  • Maybe it would enable me to say “no” to demands and expectations others place on me that distract from my calling so that I can say “yes” to things that are aligned with my life purpose.
  • Maybe living with purpose would give us renewed commitment to press on when we face obstacles, setbacks, and discouragement.

Some of us are there right now… and we need this. We need 1st Corinthians 9.
[1]

Earlier chapters of 1 Corinthians describe a faction in Corinth that had called Paul’s apostleship into question. Chapter 9 is Paul’s personal defense, showing how living a purpose driven life as an apostle enabled him to make great personal sacrifice for the sake of fulfilling his God-given calling.

Here is the passage.

9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.[2]

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we [Paul and his associate, Barnabus] have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?[3]

8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? (not merely logical, but biblical) Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.[4]

19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

It may help to know that Corinth was the center of the Isthmian Games, which took place every two years, and ranked only behind the Olympics in notoriety. The presence of athletes in training would have been common on the streets and hillsides all around Corinth.[5]

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.[6] They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

For an Isthmian athlete, that would mean early mornings. Intense physical exertion, pushing muscles and lungs to the limit of their capacity. Preparation to endure extreme heat and cold.

It would be a life that required discipline, focus, and commitment.

But why go to such extremes? For the crown. A runner expects to receive something to show for his efforts.[7]

Let’s be clear. Paul is not saying that how we run determines whether or not we are saved.

He is saying that being saved gives us a reason to run—or live our lives with the same kind of purpose, discipline, focus, and commitment that it takes a professional athlete to compete.

26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, [8] I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.[9]

Here is the point Paul is making. It is one thing to start well. It is something else to finish well.[10] Finishing well requires that we keep our eyes on the end of the race and live in light of the finish. Keeping our eyes on the finish means that we must live with purpose—the purpose driven life.

  • Where do I want my marriage to be in 20 years? What am I doing now to make that a reality?
  • What is the key lesson or defining truth I want my children to embrace as they are launched into adulthood? How is that desire for the future influencing my present relationship with my children and how I parent now?
  • For some of us, time is shorter. So, what is God calling you to for the next 1-5 or 10 years? What is your purpose? Which race has the Lord called you to run? How can you redeem the time set before you?

Once we know our purpose, three things will become realities, which we can view as three benefits of living a purpose driven life.

  1. You will know where to focus your time, energy, and financial resources.
  2. You will know when to say no and when does say yes. You will need to know when to say no and yes because there will be distractions, demands, and expectations from others that will attempt to run you off the road.
  3. You will know to expect hardship and discomfort. No race worth winning is easy. But it is worth the focus, discipline, and the effort. Even during the dark, hard days, living with purpose will empower you to persevere.

Like Clifton Francis. While Clifton lives in southern India, he loves soccer and desperately wanted to attend last year’s World Cup in Russia. But on a freelance teacher’s pay, he couldn’t afford the air-fare. But he wanted to see the Argentinian phenom, Lionel Messi, play in person. Nothing was going to stop him. Not even thousands of miles between him and his destination.

So, on February 23rd, Clifton Francis began the epic journey from India to Russia… travelling the final 2,600 miles on his bicycle!

He told the BBC, “I love cycling and I am crazy about football [soccer]. I simply combined my two passions.”[11]

Therein lies the secret. He was driven by his passions—passions which had given him purpose. A purpose that kept his eye on the prize of being part of the event—not to earn anything—just for the sheer joy of it.

He knew where he was going, and experiencing the joy of that experience is what compelled him onward—regardless of the challenge, setback, or distraction.

It was the same way for the apostle Paul.

And for Jesus.

The author of Hebrews writes in chapter 12, “1bLet us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Knowing his life’s purpose fueled how Jesus ran his race. Not to Russia, but to Golgatha, where he would be nailed to a cross—to see his joy fulfilled.

What would bring the Risen Christ great joy today would be for you to experience the fulfillment of his purpose.

  • Experiencing the joy of being set free from the fear of judgement and reconciled to the Father as his own beloved child.
  • Experiencing the joy of being his.
  • Experiencing the joy of a new life with hope, meaning, and purpose.

If you will receive and embrace God’s unfathomable love demonstrated at the cross, your life purpose will be totally redefined—giving you a renewed reason to run—for his glory, and for your joy… not just a purpose-driven life but a grace-driven life. A gospel-driven life.

A Jesus-driven life.


[1] Last week in chapter 8, Paul showed us what sacrificial love looks like. One thing we should note is that love is not primarily emotional; it is volitional. It is not essentially an uncontrollable feeling; it is an observable action. To love someone is to give them a gift that is undeserved and often very costly. This is the model of God’s love expressed through the cross, isn’t it? An undeserved gift that cost the giver everything. Chapter 9 is an overflow of chapter 8, where Paul gives a personal example of what loving them well had cost him.[1]  What we learn is that he was willing to pay the price because he had learned to live a purpose driven life—a life If we can discover our own purpose for living, we, too, just might be inspired to demonstrate a similar kind of love. And this is what the world needs. This is what our neighbors need. It is what our spouses and children need—people who are purposeful about loving well.

[2] It was common for popular orators to pass through town, expecting to get paid for their “performances.” Paul did not want to confuse the gospel with something that could be bought, or required payment. Though costly for Jesus, God’s mercies were free to the recipient. While Paul has the right to marriage and financial support, he voluntarily gives up these rights for the sake of the gospel. Paul goes on to show how unusual it was for him not to receive financial support from the church.

[3] This is simply a reasonable expectation. But the argument is not merely logical; it is biblical.

[4] While full-time preaching pastors should be expected to receive their living from teaching the Word, there are times when preachers will forego their rights. We actually did that when planting Creekstone. Just like Paul was largely supported by other churches outside of Corinth and supplemented his financial needs by making tents, I raised funds from churches and individuals outside of Dahlonega so that when we started the church, we didn’t pass a basket. There wasn’t a need. As those funds ran out, it became necessary for the congregation not only to support the ministry financially but to grow in faith by giving.

[5] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 163.

[6] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 279. “Every candidate had to take an oath that he had been ten months in training, and that he would violate none of the regulations. He lived on a strict self-denying diet, refraining from wine and pleasant foods, and enduring cold and heat and most laborious discipline.”

[7] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 525. “The prize for Paul was not the temporary crown (stephanon) bestowed by men (in the biennial games near Corinth the “crown” was a pine wreath) but the eternal crown bestowed by Christ (3:13–14; 2 Cor. 5:10).”

[8] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 525. “Paul was competing well himself and had called many to join him (the word preached is kēryxas, the noun form of which signified a herald who summoned contestants to a race), but that did not guarantee him a victorious finish. He held out the possibility that even he could be disqualified for the prize. The single Greek word translated by that phrase (adokimos) literally means “unapproved.” In other contexts it was applied to the unsaved (e.g., Rom. 1:28; Titus 1:16). Here Paul was not addressing the issue of salvation, nor for that matter was even the prize specifically in mind. Rather, he seemed concerned with continuance in the race.”

[9] ESV Study Bible. “Just as an athlete goes through physical training that is sometimes uncomfortable in order to attain the goal of victory, so Paul endures physical and emotional hardship, and gives up his right to material support, for the gospel’s advancement.” While this verse has been misused to teach self-abuse, the image should be governed by the context of the athletic training metaphor and the demands of apostolic work.

[10] Finishing well is a particular challenge for preachers. which is a problem for many—especially preachers. How many young preachers have gained such popularity that they are seen as flesh and blood stand ins for Jesus. Their purpose had been to lead people to Jesus. Eventually, it becomes drawing people to themselves. They start well, forget their purpose, and go off the rails with moral failure after another. They may have preached about Jesus but their eyes were on themselves.

[11] Vikas Pandey, “World Cup 2018: The Indian who cycled to Russia to meet Messi,” BBC News (6-21-18)