Formations 10.18.2015: SMART Service

Romans 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

runner_400Have you ever tried to break out of a routine that you thought was holding you back? Maybe you wanted to eat healthier, be more active, or set aside more quality time with friends and loved ones. How did you do it? Was it easy?

Usually, we have a hard time changing our habits. When we’re a part of a pattern, we don’t have to think about what we’re doing. But starting something new requires determination and focus, so we have to start working at it. In the past two lessons, we’ve been talking about why our bodies are so important for our Christian lives. If we’re going to start putting our bodies to better use in our service to God, we need to figure out how to lead lives of physical discipline. We can talk all we want about eating better, getting our lives together, and exercising more, but until we can focus with “a clear goal in sight,” how will we know our strengths? Our weaknesses? How will we know if we’ve gotten off track? How will we find the motivation to keep going?

Paul’s words to the Romans and the Corinthians include a lot of helpful advice about how we can focus our bodies on serving God. He says to break out of the world’s patterns, be realistic and humble, and set a clear goal. In 1981, George T. Doran developed S.M.A.R.T.—an acronym to help managers set meaningful objectives in their businesses. Since then, the acronym has been adapted for its many uses by corporations, schools, and even individuals trying to set personal goals. (The version of Doran’s acronym below is an adaptation I used in my classroom for my students’ personal and academic goals. Doran’s original acronym can be found here.)

Before looking over the guidelines, think of a way you want to physically serve God Maybe you’re thinking about health: changing your diet, exercising, etc. Maybe you’re thinking about using your body to serve others: conducting a food drive, joining a service project, or volunteering. Once you’ve decided on something, develop a goal that meets these criteria:

S – Specific: Narrow down your goal to one specific way you want to use your body to serve God better.

M – Measurable: Quantify your goal, or make sure you can clearly identify your progress. Our ultimate measure of success is “a crown that never dies,” but we need to know we’re on the right track before that day comes (1 Cor 9:25).

A – Action-oriented: That sounds like a buzzword, but it really just means that your goal should be something you have active control over, or something you have the ability to change. Like Paul, we are “landing punches” on our own bodies here (1 Cor 9:27).

R – Reasonable: We all want to set lofty goals for ourselves, but we also have busy lives. Double check your goal and make sure it’s something you can do. Or, as Paul says, “…don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Rom 12:3).

T – Timely: You should be able to put a deadline on your goal, or at least set a date where you can check in on your progress.

Paul encourages us to break out of the mold and prioritize our lives with physical service in these two Scriptures. We can’t all be marathoners right away, but we can find ways to serve God that fit our own individual bodies and schedules. Discipline is an ongoing action that doesn’t come overnight, so Paul’s words provide encouragement and support. All of these guidelines can help us stay motivated in our ongoing service to God.


• Why is it important to set goals?
• What are some ways you are already serving God with your body?
• Imagine a day where all you do is serve God with your whole self. What does it look like? What do you say and do?
• What is the most challenging part of building a habit of physical discipline for you?

Reference Shelf

Paul’s Athletic Imagery

Far more important than the question for what may have inspired Paul to use athletic imagery at this point in his argument is an understanding of the way he used it. Appealing to their shared knowledge about foot races, Paul reminds them that while all the runners in the stadium run, only one wins the prize. Then he urges them to run so that they might seize the prize. To do this, they must follow the example of the athlete who trains rigorously by “abstaining from “ (enkrateuetai) all things. This is the main point of his imagery. Discipline is essential for the successful athlete, especially the discipline of abstaining. The athlete’s arduous training is endured for the chance to gain a perishable crown (phtharton stephanon). In point of fact, the triumphant athletes in the esteemed pan-Hellenic contests were awarded great honors, sometimes including free meals for life. The most cherished prize, however, was the wreath (stephanos) of olive, laurel, pine, or celery placed upon their heads. In contrast to these withering crowns, Paul reminds his readers that their own coveted prize is imperishable.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 271.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


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