St. Lukeís Evangelical Lutheran Church -- Watertown, WI
Pastor Mark Gartner
Sermon for Epiphany 6 -- Feb 9th and Feb 12th, 2006
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24Do 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. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Dear children who are running the race by Godís grace alone,
"On your mark Ė get set Ė GO! I think that everyone here this today knows that these words are used to begin a race. With these words you can almost feel the tension in the air. With these words you can almost see the people in the race inching up to the starting line. With these words you just feel the adrenaline beginning to flow. When we hear these words, we know that we better be ready, because the race is just about to start. It doesnít matter if we are running a race or if we are riding our bikes or whatever we want to race.
As we look at Godís Word today we will see that God has told us as children of God that we are to running a race. He has already said the words "On your mark Ė get set Ė GO!" The words of our text will be drawing on the picture of a runner. There are many comparisons that we can draw from as we look at the race that we are all running. Our theme will draw on this same comparison:
Keep Your Eyes On The Goal
It seems like just about everyone likes to race. There are so many different kinds of races. There are races on foot. There are races in cars and on motorcycles. You can race boats and you can race in airplanes. Whatever you think of, you can turn that into some kind of race. That is what the apostle Paul is doing with the picture of a race. The race that he is talking about is the race that we would call our lives on this earth. This race is compared to a long running race Ė like maybe a marathon. The picture of the race employed by Paul was well known in his world. Most larger Greek cities had stadiums with race courses. The city of Corinth even had its own Isthmian Games, which were held every other year and were second only to the Olympic Games in importance.
It is said that the Olympic Gold medals are no longer made out of gold. They are only coated with a thin layer of gold. But Iím willing to bet that most of the athletes who compete in the Olympics are not too concerned whether they are all gold or just coated in gold, They still compete to win the prize. The race of our Christian lives is just like any other race. There is a prize, but this prize is not something earthly. The prize is the gift of eternal life in heaven. Paul explains it this way, "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." As we run this spiritual race, we soon begin to realize that this is very important. A person finishes a race unsatisfactorily if he runs in a half-hearted manner. So also Godís children endanger their race of faith if they fail to view it as a serious exercise. The Christianís race of faith requires total commitment, with the prize o! f eternal life in mind.
Is Paul saying what it sounds like he is saying? We are to earn the prize of eternal life, but running the spiritual race as hard as possible? At first glance this may sound reasonable, except we need to compare this verse with the many others throughout the Bible. Paul never speaks of the prize of life as something he is earning by his own work. The picture he presents is that of a child of God running toward that which already exists and has already been won by virtue of Jesusí perfect life and death. In his letter to the Philippians (3:14) Paul expresses this same thought: "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Paul is encouraging us to keep on running and always run the race of faith in Christ Jesus.
"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." Paul begins to describe the type of race, which God calls his children to run. In verse 27 the apostle will more fully explain the kind of self-control needed by the runner. The point in this verse is that self-control ("strict training") is essential for any kind of victory. Self-control was essential in securing the perishable crown (a wreath of flowers or wild olive leaves) given to runners in Paulís day. Christians will recognize that self-control is much more essential when looking forward to the imperishable prize, which God offers.
As in verse 24, the apostleís emphasis in this verse is not necessarily on the struggle, but on the prize. The runner who forgets what heís running for will also forget his training needs. The child of God is to live every day with the memory of Jesusí victory over sin and death. Every day the child of God directs faithís focus toward the crown of righteousness, the crown of eternal life, which Jesus won and will give to those who love him.
2. The race is run with Godís power
Iím not a runner, but if you watch those who compete in races you will see that the best runners have perfect form. The are arms swing in a perfect up and down motion. Their eyes are focused on one thing and that is the finish line. The run as straight as an arrow. "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air." Our race of faith toward the crown of life is to be run in the same way. Run in a focused and directed way. We are not to be "all over the track," distracted by cares and pleasures and false goals that this world has to offer.. Nor, does he want us to be wasting our energy and strength by swinging wildly. Make sure that everything we do has one purpose and that is to glorify our Lord. Our every purpose is to grow in the power that God gives to us in his Word and Sacraments. He has given us the power to run the race and he will continue to give this power to us until we reach ! the finish line and receive the gift of heaven. It is too easy to become distracted from the race of eternal life. It is too easy to forget why we are on this earth.
"No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." Like the athlete who disciplines his body for the contest, Paul subdues the impulses of his sinful nature, which wants to use his body in the service of sin. He is not a slave to his passions. Rather, he trains his body to serve him in the contest. Godís Word instructs, "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live". By the power of Godís Spirit living in them, Christians say "No" to sin and "Yes" to the Lord and his saving will for their lives. This is the kind of training that Paul wants us all to have. He wants us to train often.
The reason for saying "No" to the sinful nature is to avoid being disqualified. Again, what God has done and has won is that which motivates and enables the Christian to run the race in the way described here. It is clear from the text that Paul was in no way writing of the Christian meriting salvation through the discipline of the body. Rather, he encourages Godís people to be what God has made them in Jesus. The child of God strives to live and love unselfishly, in imitation of the Savior who lived and loved and died unselfishly for all. A lack of such thankful living would show that the gospel has been rejected, and the prize of eternal life has been lost. To be invited into this reason tells us that God loves us more than anything. With this in mind, the life, which we have been given in Jesus, is more than a part time thing. While indifference to the gospel seems to be so commonplace, Godís saving love revealed in Jesus gives us more than ample reason ! to run our race of faith with seriousness of purpose and self-discipline -- which comes from the faith that Jesus has worked in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Amen