Running has been an exciting part of my life for the past 5 years. As we continue studying the letter of 1st Corinthians, in the section from this past Sunday, Paul talks about running to get a prize and the necessary training that goes into getting in shape. I started training for the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon which is taking place on my 40th birthday, September 6th. So I get the training part, especially on a crazy humid morning like we had today. And yet, as some of you have found out, there is a joy to be found in training. Your body can grow to like it, even crave it.
Crave training? Beating our bodies?
I introduced the sermon by talking about self-enslavement to everyone. Paul starts off the section (1 Cor. 9:19-27) by talking about self-enslavement. Now at the end of the section, he come full circle back to this slave stuff. “I beat my body and make it my slave.” My goodness, Paul. I think this is part of the reason why some people don’t like you.
On one hand Paul is talking about his personal practice of discipleship to Jesus. He wants his body to be in check, he doesn’t want to sin. And we should follow that pattern. Are you a spiritually disciplined person? Is your body in check? Spiritually, physically, emotionally? Disciples of Jesus, Paul is saying, surrender their bodies to a training regimen. Not because we’re into pain. But as he says at the end of the passage: “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.”
As much as this passage can seem like Paul-crazy-talk, two things he refers to actually turn out to be great blessings from self-enslavement: 1. Reaching others for Christ and 2. Winning the prize.
The prize. Yeah! I want the prize. In marathon training there are a couple prizes. The first is just finishing! When I ran my first marathon, even after having completed the 18-week training regimen, I was still nervous and could hardly sleep, wondering if I would actually be able to finish the whole 26.2 miles. The Baltimore Running Festival includes a marathon and half marathon simultaneously. The full marathoners are given small bibs saying “Full” to distinguish them from the halfers. One of my friends, hurting badly after the race, wondered aloud if those bibs ought to say “Fool”! In fact the odd distance of 26.2 miles has a scary history that could add anxiety to an already nervous first-time marathoner. Check it out on Wikipedia…the very first marathoner died after running. Thankfully the group of us that ran all finished! Just crossing that finish line was a prize.
But when you do cross the line, you actually get a real prize! The finisher medal. If you’re really, really good, you might win your age bracket, or the whole thing. I cross-referenced my score, and I would have won the 55 year old women’s category. So my prizes for the two marathons and one half marathon that I ran in the past three years are finisher medals and I treasure them.
Paul is not talking about that kind of prize; he is talking about the spiritual prize. To hear about that jump back to Philippians 3:10-17. The prize of abundant life in Christ, and eternal life in heaven. That is the amazing blessing that is in store for us when we beat our bodies and make them slaves.
I wonder if there are some untrained, undisciplined, spiritually flabby people who have not beat their bodies, who have not entered into spiritual self-enslavement, and yet who are expecting to win the prize. I think Paul would say that those people never truly knew Jesus. When Jesus made himself a slave for us, we need to respond with joy, with thankfulness, with love and burst out of the gate to become slaves for him. Jesus is the prime example of one who practice self-enslavement, beating his body, so that he might reach people.
This is a challenging section for me.
How is it challenging for you? Are you practicing self-enslavement, beating your body in order that God might use you to share his love with people in your life? Do you know your neighbors? Do you know your regular hair dresser? Barber? Do you know the local market stand owner? How do you relate to them? The people at the gym? The parents of your children’s friends? Are you/Am I willing to sacrifice my comfort, my time, my emotional energy to be involved in another’s life…People’s lives are messy (I know this because I know my own life is messy)…and we become all things (parent, counselor, banker, taxi driver, etc …) at different times to different people – for the purpose of being like Jesus – who gave all and became all for us.