Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
Most of us are amazed at the level of physical excellence achieved by professional athletes. This is particularly true if they compete in a sport that you once played. We could easily imagine that, at the professional level, all of the athletes are basically giving it their best and the only thing that separates the best from the merely excellent is raw talent. We could imagine that – but we would be wrong. Consider the man who is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time – Michael Jordan. One of the things that Jordan was famous for was his disciplined approach to practicing free throws. Many lesser players couldn’t be bothered with such details, but the man who was perhaps the greatest player in history had the discipline to sweat the details. Those of you who are old enough may remember Tom Seaver – who is widely regarded to be one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. With over 300 wins and three Cy Young awards to his credit, Seaver is clearly in the running for that honor. Interestingly, Seaver took a fair amount of ribbing during his career for the fact that he wouldn’t life a suitcase with his right arm. This great pitcher understood what a privilege it was to compete at the level that he did, and he was simply unwilling to risk even the slightest strain to his pitching arm. When we consider the fame, money, and sheer joy of competing at such a level we might begin to think that virtually all athletes would follow the patterns set by Michael Jordan or Tom Seaver – but once again, we would be wrong. Consider Plexico Burress who was a star receiver for the New York Giants. Burress literally shot himself in the leg with a handgun he was illegally carrying while partying late one night. O.k., that is such a wild story it might not make much of a point. Consider instead that every team in the NFL has players who come into training camp twenty or more pounds overweight. How could someone making huge amounts of money risk blowing it all because he doesn’t have enough discipline to work out and watch what he eats in the offseason? When we hear such stories, we all instinctively think: “If I had that sort of opportunity, I would never throw it away for a few Big Macs.” At that point the Apostle Paul says: “Gotcha!” After all these athletes, who are training, are only doing so in pursuit of the passing pleasures of this world and the very passing praise of men. Yet we are called to run the race in view of receiving everlasting praise and rewards from the Living God. What does the disciplined Christian life look like? Obviously, it includes things like consistent Bible Study and Prayer as well as engagement in Public Worship and Fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Nevertheless, Paul probably has something narrower in mind. Today’s passage is part of an extended argument in favor of giving up our rights for the sake of other people. This is the discipline that allows us to become all things to all men so that by all means we might save some. Thankfully God didn’t simply give us a list of standards he gave us a set of role models. Running the race to win looks a lot like the Apostle Paul. Try to see that as an encouraging rather than an intimidating example – but do see it as an example. Christianity is not a spectator sport. You cannot merely wear the jersey of your favorite players as they exert themselves on the field. In light of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us let’s get out of the stands and on to the track. In light of the fact that Jesus Himself calls us, let us run to win!
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 11
Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.