Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we grow throughout our lives, it is easy to become soft and apathetic. It is easy to let our guard down and overlook both Satan’s temptations and Your continual blessings. Today remind us that such an approach to life is deadly and very hurtful to our own soul and to the soul’s of those around us. So, keep us on track by coaching us and prodding us and moving us toward that ultimate goal: heavenly glory. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR MOST VALUABLE LORD!
TEXT: I Corinthians 9: 24-27
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The Super Bowl is finished. The Winter Olympics are approaching. Red Sox spring training starts very soon. The common denominator in all those things is: training. Without training the athletes involved just won’t win. Without training many of them will become injured. Without training they will be left off the team. And that training is now year-around. It includes physical workouts—every day, proper nutrition, and constant repetition of skills.
Today in our text St. Paul, who was very familiar with the Olympic games held in Greece which were not very far from Corinth, uses that imagery to outline the Christian’s race toward heaven. And if we break this text down we soon see that there are:
THREE VITAL TRAITS IN THE CHRISTIAN’S “ATHLETIC CONTEST” (SALVATION)
One of the most ancient events at the Greek Olympics was the marathon. We all know about that kind of 26+ mile race as we host one in Boston each April. As an aside, it gets its name from the original race course—between Mt. Olympus and the Greek city of Marathon. Paul uses that knowledge to inform the Corinthian church that the first trait in our race toward heaven is: concern. Listen to his words: “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.”
Although the Bible says: “God will have all men to be saved” here Paul addresses the fact of salvation from a personal perspective. God begins with individual people, with you. Since God is concerned about you personally, so you should be concerned about the status of your own soul. Even though Christ died on a cross to pay for the sins of all people, nonetheless, we run this race to heaven individually. There is no crown for “teams points.”
Do you understand it that way? Do you come to church only for the sake of your kids, or your spouse, or a friend? Or, do you come to receive Christ’s strength and Christ’s help individually? After all, when it comes to the status of your soul, how can you help others unless you first tend to your own soul? How can you share with them Christ’s power and strength, unless you already have it? So, concern, personal concern on how you stand with God is vital. The Apostle James touches on the same thing when he says: “Work out your salvation (not some else’s) with fear and trembling.”
Our next section touches on the 2nd vital trait when it comes to our soul’s salvation. It is: temperance. “Everyone who competes in the games (he’s referring to the Olympic games of the time) goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; (the laurel wreath) but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (eternal life in heaven).”
Temperance is an oft-overlooked and even a forgotten word in our day. But, it shouldn’t be! For temperance means: getting ourselves in shape. It means working out our minds and hearts and souls. It means strengthening our consciences, not with the world’s ideas of greed or power or might-makes-right, but with Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s self-sacrificing love, and with the fruits of the Spirit.
One reason church is so vital for you each week is that right here Christ arms you with His power and might. You don’t get absolution at home. You don’t get communion at home unless you’re a shut-in. You don’t get the mutual strengthening of your brothers and sisters in Christ at home. At home you can pray and read your Bible—that’s good! But that’s only a part of God’s training schedule for you. One reason the Patriot’s are so successful is that they insist their players attend the team workouts. Yes, they could do it alone, but almost without exception, they don’t, or they do it haphazardly. Church attendance helps overcome that sort of spiritual lethargy.
So, temperance, or a regular, orderly approach to learning God’s truths and putting them into daily practice, is vital. Others can help point out our weaknesses. Others can encourage us when we’re either lazy or frustrated. But most of all, at Church, Christ encourages us with His Word and Sacraments to build us up and to strengthen our Christian resolve. After all, Jesus does say in John 15: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
And that brings us to the final vital trait necessary when it comes to our salvation. That being: discipline. “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air (shadow boxing). No, I beat my body and make it a slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
If you are running a marathon and haven’t properly trained, you’ll end up walking part of it and won’t win. If you get tired when boxing and let your guard down, you’ll end up knocked out. So, proper training leads to discipline which leads to victory. And where do we get this “never give up” attitude? Not from ourselves, but from Christ! After all, our bodies are weak. Our flesh always likes to follow the easy way out of a tough situation. Put in spiritual terms, we call that “original sin.” We’re born with it. And that’s why we make so many bad choices in life.
But Christ has come to redeem and restore our bodies and souls! He has come to purchase our freedom from not listening to Him and going off on our own to defeat. He came and made himself a slave to our sins so that we won’t have to be any more. He did that by living a perfect life for you and by dying on a cross for you. And then, then, He rose in victory for you! Victory over the defeat of the grave. Victory over eternal death. Yes, Jesus won the crown of eternal life for you and me. And because we’ve been given such a blessing, we now want to live up to it and show that we’re heavenly champions via concern, temperance and discipline. We don’t want to negate His work of saving our souls!
It is said that champions are made and not born. That is certainly the case when it comes to Christian champions. Christ has made us that way and we can either live up to such exalted status or we can throw in the towel and dishonor Him through our own laziness. So, what will it be for you? Is heaven worth it, or not? Amen