How well are you running the race for Christ?Published 6:33pm Saturday, August 25, 2012
Over the past few weeks, I greatly enjoyed watching the London Summer Olympic Games and cheering for Team USA. There were many great storylines this year – the dominance of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings; the women’s gymnastic team’s gold medal performance,; Gabby Douglas’ all around gold performance; Michael Phelps’ medal record, which may never be broken; Missy Franklin’s emergence as a star; the men’s and women’s basketball gold medals; and so many more.
One of the events that always intrigues me is the men’s marathon. This 26.219-mile race tests endurance, strategy, speed and the runner’s will to win. Often, as occurred this year, a runner will sprint to the lead too early. Although he distances himself from the other runners for a time, fatigue, heat, or poor preparation can cause him to lose technique and not run well. Instead of an effortless looking stride, the runner labors and each step brings pain. You can often tell who is going to win by how they are running.
The marathon is one of the events that dates back to the original Olympic games. Many people do not realize that although the “modern” Olympic movement started in 1896, the Olympic games themselves can be traced to eighth century BC Greece. In fact, the Greeks had two great athletic festivals; the Olympic games and the Isthmian games. The Isthmian games were held at Corinth and the Apostle Paul used them as a metaphor to speak about the Christian life in 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self – control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (NASB)
Many lessons can be learned from the world of sports and this passage. I want to focus on three.
Athletes have a purpose in running – to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. Paul had a purpose or an aim in his life. His goal, which he states four times in 1 Corinthians 9:19–22, was to win as many people to Jesus Christ as possible by as many means as possible. This should be our goal as well.
All athletes expect to win or they would not compete. In athletic events there is one winner.
In the Christian life it is much different. We do not compete against each other. Instead, we compete against the obstacles—practical, physical and spiritual—that would hinder us. In a sense, every Christian must run his own race, enabling each one of us to be a winner in winning souls to Christ. Paul therefore counsels all believers to run in such a way that you may win, by setting aside anything that might hinder the reception of the gospel.
Contestants in the Isthmian games had to prove themselves worthy of competing with rigorous training for ten months. The last month was spent at Corinth, with supervised daily workouts in the gymnasium and athletic fields. A contestant who failed to meet the training requirements was disqualified. He could not even run, much less win. Paul did not want to spend his life preaching the requirements to others and then be disqualified for not meeting the requirements himself. There are many people in the church today who know about Jesus Christ but do not know Him. We must make sure that we know the One that we are asking others to know. It is imperative that we trust the One that we are asking others to trust. We want to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”(Matthew 25:21, NIV) not “depart from me you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23). My desire is not to make you doubt your salvation. However, I do agree with Billy Graham who said that the greatest mission field is the rolls of the evangelical American church. It is crucial that we examine our hearts and lives to make sure that we have not fallen for a false gospel but have truly placed our faith in Christ Jesus.
We all need to ask ourselves several questions:
Are we fulfilling our purpose as a Christian by telling others about the Lord? Are we competing well by living in such in a manner as to not hinder the reception of the gospel? Are there things in our life that we need to get rid of so that we can be a better witness for the Lord? Is there evidence of Christ working in your life? Has your life changed because of your commitment to Christ? Are we actively working to grow closer to Christ? Are we “training” ourselves to “win” the race?
Take time this week to ask yourself these questions to find out how you are running the most important race that you will ever run.
Robert Heard, Pastor
Brooks Memorial Baptist Church