1 Corinthians 9:24-27 - 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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
If St. Paul ever watched the Isthmian Games at Corinth, I don't know, but I would not be surprised if he did. One thing he knew was the people to whom he was writing at Corinth knew all about those games. In that Greek city there were, no doubt, fans of the games among his audience, and a few of them may have even gone through the physical rigors of participating in the games themselves.
So, to the Corinthians (and to us), the apostle is asking if we have ever noticed how athletes prepare for these games? It begins with commitment. They are all in, applying their training and self-control to their sport, striving to be the best they can be. So too, in our Christian walk, in our seeking after the Savior, we are all in, following the One who gave His life for us, who rose from the dead to conquer the enemy and win for us the wreath of eternal life.
St. Paul had a game plan for his own life. He was going to follow Christ, closely. As a man, Paul was not all strength with no weaknesses. Not at all. He was just like us. In fact, part of doing our best is knowing where our weaknesses are. Weak or strong, however, Paul was pursuing a life in Christ. He was not going to run without direction, flailing away at the air with no real intention of defeating his opponent. No, he was in training and like an Olympic athlete, he was out to win.
Paul knew that without Christ life is "No contest. Game over. You lose." With Christ, life is purposeful, focused on Him, and shared compassionately with others. In Christ, there is an incentive to live as life was meant to be lived. Because of Christ we know our sins and failings were all dealt a deathblow on the cross. With His third-day resurrection, we know forgiveness of sins can be ours. It's God's gift to us by faith given through the Holy Spirit.
This is the life we were born to live. This is the victory God offers you and me through His Son Jesus.
WE PRAY: Holy Spirit, grant us the faith to follow Jesus and the strength to press on through life's difficulties. In Jesus' Name we pray. Amen.
From "Playing the Game," a sermon excerpt from Rev. Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, former Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
1. What are the lasting benefits of physical training? Spiritual training?
2. What spiritual "exercises" do you think the apostle Paul did in his training for service to Jesus?
3. How do you apply things like self-control, persistence, forgiveness, and prayer in your daily life?
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