First United Methodist Church
Rev. Mike Dixon
February 7, 2021
The Greatest Motivator
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
What motivates you to do what you do?
The national economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the world to hit “Pause” on our work and our social activities and our plans for the future. Businesses shut down overnight. Churches closed their doors. Weddings and funerals and graduations were postponed, or significantly altered. Hanging out with family and friends was off-limits. Many people found themselves with a lot of time on their hands. Everyone, from governments, to corporations, to hospitals, to schools, to churches, to individuals, began questioning why they do what they do.
What is it that motivates you to get out of bed every morning? What is the underlying motivation for your work? Your relationships? Your hobbies? How you choose to spend your time and your money?
Paul, the man who wrote this passage and about 2/3 of the New Testament letters, traveled all over the Roman Empire preaching about Jesus and starting new churches. He faced constant rejection and persecution and danger. But he didn’t care if no one was cheering him on. He was playing for God’s applause, and no one else.
Can we say that about our own work? You and I have a very limited time on this earth. And if we are fortunate enough to have a natural lifespan, then we will spend most of our lives at work. So what are you working for? What is it that motivates you? Is it money?
Money is a powerful motivator in our society.
Or maybe you are motivated by the admiration and respect of others. I laughed when I read about a typo in a Chinese fortune cookie which resulted in a fortune that read like this, “You will gain admiration from your pears.” Not from your peers, but from your peers.
I don’t think we’re so desperate for respect that we even need our fruits and vegetables to notice us. But many of us conform our lives, our priorities, our lifestyles, our personalities around some ideal that we think will gain the respect and admiration of our peers. This is one of the important motivators for many people—to win the respect of their peers.
Money, fear, respect of one’s peers—there are many motivators in life. But I would like to suggest to you that the greatest motivator in this world is love.
As Rollo May wrote many years ago, “Will follows from caring.” Let me repeat that. “Will follows from caring.” There is nothing in this world that can motivate like love.
You doubt that? Let me ask you a question. If one of your children were critically ill and needed an extremely expensive operation in order to survive, how much would you be willing to spend? Would you be willing to take all of the money out of your bank account? Of course. Would you be willing to sell your house? Your cars? Without a moment’s hesitation. Would you be willing to take a second job? A third job? Would you be willing to humble yourself and take a job late at night washing dishes at the local truck stop? How far would you go? You would do whatever it takes.
What do you imagine motivated St. Paul? Our lesson from the Epistle for the day is one of the most interesting passages in 1st Corinthians 9. Early in the chapter St. Paul talks about compensating pastors. He is very careful to point out that the pastor ought to be adequately compensated for his work.
St. Paul makes a point of saying that the pastor ought to be compensated. However, St. Paul also notes that he himself never accepted any payment for his missionary work. He was a tent maker by profession.
That was his way of making a living. He never accepted any money for the preaching of the gospel. He was proud of that. He even boasted of it. It allowed him to say truthfully and dramatically, “I’m not doing this for the money.”
What did motivate him if it wasn’t money? Prestige? Hardly. There were many of the redeemed who wouldn’t walk across the street to speak to St. Paul. That was inside the church.
He was actually imprisoned and beaten by those outside of the church.
It wasn’t prestige that motivated him. It certainly wasn’t any sense of power or any of the other things that generally motivate people. What was it that motivated St. Paul? It was love. Love for God. Love for other people. Love for the Gospel. And that love motivated him to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, even to those who rejected him, slandered him, beat him, and threw him in prison. As he wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
What is it that motivates you? There is only one motivation that matters in the Christian faith: Love. St Paul says at the end of 1st Corinthians: “Do all things in the spirit of love.” That is the only motivation. That is what motivated Paul. Love for Jesus and love for people.
Do you love Christ? Do your work, your priorities, your lifestyle and your relationships reflect that love?
So it was with St. Paul. No one had to ask why the apostle Paul preached with such passion or lived with such courage. His whole life was focused on loving God and loving people. Most of us can prove we are alive by the fact we are breathing and moving around and doing our jobs. But to live with absolute passion, to be compelled by love, as Paul was, to stand up to any obstacle, to break through any barrier, to sacrifice everything for the sake of knowing God and sharing God with others—and to find absolute joy in doing it—that’s really living! There is a man who lived with joy and died with no regrets because he gave everything he had in the service of love.
What about you? What kind of difference could you make in this world if love for God and love for other people became your motivating force? If love became the “why” for everything you do? It starts with giving your life to Jesus wholeheartedly. Then pray daily for the Holy Spirit to guide you in wisdom and love.
Let God examine your mind and heart and show you areas of your life that are not conformed to His love. And as you do these things, you will find new courage and conviction and joy in everything you do.