The analogy of comparing “athletic completion” to “Christian living” is a theme often repeated in scripture. In this week’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah says that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) Paul uses this comparison about his own ministry by checking with the leaders of the Church to make sure that he “was running or had run the race” of faith correctly. (Galatians 2:2) He urges the Galatians to keep running the good race and not to allow others to “cut in on” their race or to keep them from obeying the truth. (Galatians 5:7) And near the end of his earthly life and ministry, he tells the young pastor, Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, will award me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
In our text Paul says further, “In a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize… [so] run in such a way to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) These words remind us of the words of Jesus – that many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14) and that many seek to be welcomed to a heavenly home, but that only those who come through the “Narrow door” may enter. (Luke 13:24) We know that narrow door is Jesus and only those who believe in His sacrificial, life-giving death in our place will inherit the gift of eternal life.
Paul reminds us that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (v. 25). The serious athlete engages in all-consuming preparation for completion; preparation which is relentless, focused, determined and intentional. These focused athletes watch carefully what they eat and take into their bodies; how much rest they get; a vigorous training schedule. “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (v. 25)
Jesus, Himself, promises that He will award us that everlasting crown… “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) In order to receive that crown – to run the good race and fight the good fight – we too must engage in all-consuming preparation; preparation which is relentless, focused, determined and intentional. We faithfully, joyfully and regularly hear His Word and receive His sacraments; we study His Word in bible study groups, families and individually; we gather for worship.
In Jesus we find our model. “I set my face like flint.” (Isaiah 50:7) He set His face steadfastly, unswervingly toward the cross to take our place, to take our sin – in order that we might be forgiven, finish well the race of Christian living, and receive the Crown of Eternal Life! More than a model for us, Jesus is our Savior from sin and death!
The Christian life is not a sprint; rather, it’s a marathon. There are times when we become discouraged and tired. At such times “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength… they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31) So, run dear Christians and “Focus on the Finish Line!”
Blessings in Christ,