Friday, June 15. 2018
Philippians 3:13 – 14 … straining forward to what lies ahead…
1 Corinthians 9:24- 27 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.
Now that we have determined to be good runners in the spiritual race Christ has started, we’d better be committed to the training it takes to run well. There are two aspects to training that are vital: physical preparation and mental focus. Very few people attain perfection without practice, and even the best of athletes have bad days when their minds are not focused on the event.
In May of 2006, the father of professional golfer Tiger Woods died. After several weeks of absence from PGA tour events to mourn the loss of his best friend and mentor, Tiger attempted a comeback at arguably the toughest golf tournament in the world – the U.S. Open. For the first time ever, Tiger Woods failed to qualify for the last two days of play in a major tournament. His skills and abilities were hindered by an understandable change of focus.
Paul addresses both the physical and the mental aspects of training in his letter to the Corinthian church. You’ve already decided to be a runner, so put on your sweats and grab a water bottle – it’s time to exercise.
First, Paul says that everyone who wants to run to win goes into strict training. I can honestly say I have never physically done that. My natural tendency when it comes to physical exercise and sports is to do just enough to get by. I have some natural abilities, but I have never gone into strict training to perfect any of them, except maybe my golf game. I have probably treated my spiritual life the same.
In describing the type of training we should do for our spiritual race, Paul uses a specific Greek work that is translated “strict.” It means primarily to “exhibit self-government and self-restraint.” When it is used in relationship to athletics, it described a runner “who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence.” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions – Third edition) Athletes are of the things that slow them down and keep them from running a perfect race. Paul says that we who are running the spiritual race should apply the same strict principles to our training. Paul is not specifically saying that we cannot eat junk food, have wine, or have sex (although all those things do have Scriptural limitations, regulations, and consequences), but he is saying that we must determine what things are hindering us from peak performance and then eliminate them. That is what the author of Hebrews stated when he wrote, “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.” Strict means strict, and I think we have not been strict enough.
Paul says he beat his body and made the flesh his slave so that Christ’s Spirit was in control at all times. He could then run the race without fear of disqualification. We are not to live under a spirit of fear, but at the same time we must recognize the reality that any moral failure has serious consequences at the finish line. We are not talking about the loss of salvation, but it is clear that the rewards we receive and the glory we share will be affected by our choices today.
Paul laid that foundation of truth for the Corinthian church in chapter 3 when he said, If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. So be strict about your training and run the race well.
Second, Paul says that we must maintain a clear focus on our objective. Paul uses two metaphors: we are not to run aimlessly, nor are we to fight unless we have a clearly defined opponent. How silly it would be for a well-trained runner to line up at the starting line of the Boston Marathon facing the wrong direction, and then run aimlessly around the city for 3 hours hoping to find the finish line. No, he follows the designated course. And how foolish it is for a boxer to go into strict training and then do nothing with it except spar with a mirror.
So it is with our training for the spiritual race in which we have been entered by Christ. There is a designated course to follow, and no matter how hard we train, if we do not actually get in the race and start running or get in the ring and start fighting, we have accomplished nothing of value. I see so many Christians doing so much training and so little running. They attend numerous Bible Studies and are at every event the church sponsors. They have consistent daily devotions and have taken their training totally seriously. That’s great, but when are they going to get in the ring and start fighting the good fight of faith? When will their training result in new runners being recruited for the team? When will they actually begin to put into practice everything their training has taught them?
Let’s do a pre-race check. You’ve gotten rid of everything that hinders your training and your performance in the race, right? You have your mind and heart firmly focused on the finish line, right? OK – start running. The race is on!