“24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”~ 1 Cor 9:24-27 ESV
This February hosts the 24th Olympic Winter Games (Feb. 4-22). The similarity of athletic competition to godly living is often a theme repeated in the Scripture. In the Old Testament God’s prophet Isaiah says that “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31). St. Paul urges the Galatians to keep running the good race and not to allow others to discourage them from obeying the truth. (Gal. 5:7) And near the end of his earthly life and ministry, St. Paul tells the young pastor, Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). To the discouraged church of Corinth, St. Paul offers the needed encouragement as stated above.
St. Paul’s words remind us of the words of Jesus that many are called, but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14) and that many seek a heavenly home, but that only those who come through the “narrow door” may enter. (Luke 13:24) We know, of course, that the narrow door is Jesus alone, and only those who believe in Him and His sacrificial, life-giving death in our place and his bodily resurrection will inherit the gift of eternal life.
St. Paul reminds us that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (1 Cor. 9:25a NIV). The athlete engages in serious preparation for competition, relentless, focused, persistent, and purposeful. These focused athletes observe what they eat and take into their bodies, how much rest they get, a vigorous training schedule. “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (v. 25b NIV)
Jesus, Himself, promises that He will award us that everlasting crown… “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). To receive that crown – to run the good race and fight the good fight – we, too, must engage in serious preparation, relentless, focused, persistent, and purposeful training. We faithfully, joyfully, and regularly hear His Word and receive His holy sacraments; we study His inerrant and infallible Word in Bible study; we exercise our faith in prayer and living out our vocations to the glory of God.
Through His perfect life, vicarious death on Calvary’s cross, and glorious resurrection, Christ Jesus is our Savior from sin and death! Only He is worthy of the title of Champion. Jesus set His face steadfastly, unswervingly, toward the cross to take our place, take our sin, so that we might be forgiven, and receive the strength to finish the race of this temporal Christian life to receive the Crown of Eternal Life. And in Christ Jesus, we obtain His victory.
There are times when we become discouraged, tired, and want to give up. At such times “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength… they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Is. 40:29-31) The Christian life is not a sprint race; instead, it is a marathon. So stay the course, dear Christians, and fix your eyes upon Jesus and He will lead you across the finish line and crown you in His victory!
In the name of our victorious Christ!