#166 "Run...Part II"
September 23, 2008
"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)
"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Well, I can't run. Or maybe I won't run, I'm not sure. All I know is that I don't run. Never have. Never will. So I guess that leaves me in the category of "those who can't...teach." I want to teach you to run. Last Tuesday, we discussed running to Jesus. With everything. Today, in "Run...Part II", we'll unpack a little of the apostle Paul's writings on running this race called the Christian life, through Jesus Christ.
Referencing the Isthmian games, held every two years in the city of Corinth, Paul tells us that "in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize." (1 Cor. 9: 24) It was the custom to have the competitors in a race summoned by a herald. In his letter, Paul summoned the Corinthians, and thousands of years later, he summons us to run the race of life. All run, but not all receive the prize. Paul wanted to receive the prize. And so should we. We can be winners. We can receive the crown. In the Isthmian games, the crown was a pine wreath...a corruptible crown. How much more ought Christians strive to win an incorruptible one.
So what makes a winner? What are the keys to a successful run? "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." (1 Cor 9: 25) Athletes train hard. We see this truth illustrated today in athletic endeavors of track, baseball, football or some other sport. If they want to strive for supremacy in their field, athletes must lead a life governed by personal discipline, or strict training. Paul said that he didn't run the Christian race aimlessly. Every move made in the course of his race was calculated to further his pursuit of the prize. (see Phil. 3: 13-14) He didn't let his body master him. I'd like to say that he didn't follow the leadings of the flesh. Paul said that he "beat" his body. Some translations use the word buffet. Now, for clarification purposes let's use a little phonetics. Paul [buff-i-ted] his body. In the words of Joyce Meyer, he did not [buff-aye] it. No all you can eat for $5.99. He trained himself to run the race by beating his body into submission to the Word and the will of God. He denied himself. He walked according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.
We must devote our time to the study and application of the Word of God. We must train ourselves to kill the flesh and feed the spirit. We may have to sweat. It certainly will be painful at times. We may develop a few blisters on the way. We must train and keep on training. Train ourselves to learn and obey. We must deny ourselves and our own fleshly desires for a greater good. For a greater prize. One of my commentaries says, "Walking with God demands personal sacrifice, sacrifice of things not necessarily evil, but which prevent the full devotion of the soul to God -- such as, pleasures and worldly pursuits. In an age of luxury, like the present time, the words have real significance for the serious-minded servant of Christ." (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) Athletes often have to deny themselves things that would ordinarily be permissible for the average person. "Everything is permissible for me--but not everything is beneficial." (1Cor 6: 12) The first key to winning the race is strict training.
As we were driving to church this weekend, we had to make our way through a multitude of runners who were doing a 5K, 10K and 100K race down the road. Who would even want to run around in circles that many times? Kind of like NASCAR...who wants to drive around the track 100 and some times? Or watch them do it for that matter? Anyway, I digress. What I noticed is that these runners were dressed very lightly. A successful runner will wear only what is necessary for modesty, but will wear or carry nothing that will weigh them down. Excess stuff impedes their running and slows their progress. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that in order to run this race called life that is marked out for us, we must "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." You can't run a race with weights on. You can't run a race dragging your baggage along with you. Anything...and I mean anything...that you know will hinder your walk with Christ must be thrown off. Things that hinder may be superfluous and unnecessary things that must be cast aside. And only you can decide what those things are. What gets in between you and one on one time with God every day? What things are you doing that aren't necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but are hindering your relationship with Christ from being all that it can be? [NOG girls: Remember, we called it "making room?" ]
But..."the sin that so easily entangles"...that's another story. Sin allows for no individual choice. It has to be thrown off immediately upon recognizing it. Before it entangles you. A runner cannot run a successful race with his feet tied up. The Greek word used for "entangle" is "euperistatos" and means "to ambush, to encircle, to entrap." Your running will be impeded when there is sin in your life. The devil will have you, and he'll set up the ambush, and you'll never finish the race, let alone win the prize. Plain and simple. Confess and repent. Free yourself to run. The Message puts it this way: "Strip down, start running--and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins."
Paul says that we can run with perseverance the race marked out before us. We can run persistently in spite of influence, in spite of opposition and in spite of discouragement. We will run and keep on running. We will run when we feel like we just can't run anymore. If we've trained well and if we've thrown off the baggage, the unnecessary weights, and the sin. "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." (Hebrews 12: 2) Christ is our Leader. He was the Pioneer who went before us. "For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2) Jesus kept His eye on the prize. He saw what was set before Him.
Paul saw it too. And at the end of his life he penned these words: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) He always knew that it was the only race worth running. Because of what was promised in the life to come. Looking back over our lives, how many of us could say the same thing? Paul could now face His Lord and know that he would be rewarded with the crown of righteousness. And that crown is promised to you as well. And it's an incorruptible crown.
Paul kept his eye on the prize. As he ran he saw the crown. So did Peter. He said that the "Chief Shepherd will appear and you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." (1 Peter 5: 4) Jesus told the church in Ephesus that there is a crown of life to be awarded to those who are faithful, even to the point of death. (Rev. 2: 10)
Jesus Christ paved the way for us. He is our Pioneer. He is our Leader. He is our Chief Shepherd. And in Revelation 3: 11, He said, "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." He obeyed His Father and received the reward. Crown Him With Many Crowns! For the joy set before Him...Run the race, keep your eye on the prize. Your crown awaits. Praise His name forevermore! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
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