Year B – Epiphany – 6 – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Text – Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Summary – Building on the previous passage, Paul continues to point out his self-sacrifice as an example for his congregants.  Drawing on the example of the Isthmian games which were held every three years near Corinth, Paul explains how he–like the athletes involved–exercises great self control in an effort to “receive the prize.”  But though he has his example mainly in view, he is building his case that the Christian life is more than doing “just what you are supposed to.”  Indeed, the mortification of sin is essential in the life of a Christian.  Thus, the Corinthians are exhorted to follow his lead.

“What an argument and what a reproof is this!  The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation.”  -Charles Hodge

Insight – The London Summer Olympic games are coming up this summer.  Even now, athletes are putting themselves through strict regimens in hope that they will stand atop the podium listening to their national anthem with a bit of bullion strapped around their neck.  Gymnasts are drinking their protein shakes, swimmers practicing their strokes, volleyball players practicing their spikes.  But for what?  They all hope to win the top prize.  But remember what St Paul wrote in the previous passage about not doing just enough to get by?  It is not enough for an Olympic sprinter to just line up on the starting block but never start running.  It is not enough for a gymnast to walk once across the balance beam and hop off.  And imagine what would happen if a swimmer decided mid-race to dive for the penny he saw glittering at the bottom of the pool!  No, these athletes are in it to win it.  It would seem silly if it were otherwise wouldn’t it?  But so often, that is our attitude.  Though it seems completely normal for an athlete to give up Big Macs for the “eternal glory” a gold medal would bring, we are hesitant to give up the things in our lives that keep us from a deep relationship with Jesus and eternal life in Him.  Our goal is perseverance in faith our whole lives and not enslavement to the distractions we come upon so often.  In an Olympic event, there is one winner.  But as Christians, our “one winner” is Jesus Christ who sacrificed His heavenly home, His comfort, and emptied Himself, becoming obedient to death.  He won the race already.  Now through persevering faith in Him, we become more than conquerors.  With our eyes on His example as well as that of St Paul, we can confidently devote all of our lives to our Emperor, knowing that our crown is everlasting, not a wreath of laurel that will wilt in a few days.

 Child Catechism – What kind of reward do faithful Christians receive?  An eternal reward.

 Discussion – What sorts of things distract you from focusing on Christ?  Since completing the “race”–that is, living lives of faith–seems like such a difficult task, how can you be confident that it is possible? (Philippians 1:6)

Prayer – Dear Lord, your eternal reward is what we desire, yet we acknowledge how often we are distracted from the self-control and perseverance you call us to.  Forgive our selfishness and turn us to your glory.  Thank you for your promise to draw near to those who draw near to you and please give us the strength to do so.  Amen.

(Contributed by Jon Herr)

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