Peninsula Community church
Father’s Day – Running the Race – Finishing Well
June 15, 2014
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 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.
I love American History. This week I read a story about the famous Lewis and Clark expedition across America in the early 1800s. At the end of the expedition all but two men returned with Lewis and Clark. One of those did not return because he got sick and died. The second decided that he loved the land of the west so much that he wanted to stay and explore it on his own. He waved good by to Lewis and Clark and began his journey. As he traveled the land, it has been said that he was the first white man to witness the geysers of Yellowstone. As he took this journey he encountered grizzlies, faced death defying white water, and constantly confronted Indians all of which tested his stamina and his courage. This man’s name was John Colter. But, John was not known for the grizzlies or first seeing the geysers, he is best known for one foot race, because he had to literally run for his life.
The story goes something like this. Colter had been trapping with a friend named John Potts. As they were canoeing down a stretch of river that is not far from what is now Bozeman, Montana they heard a rustling in the bushes. In the next instant, they were surrounded by Blackfeet Indians. Once on shore, one of the warriors grabbed Potts weapon, a rifle. Colter knew that any sign of fear would cost them their lives so he grabbed the gun from the warrior and threw it back to Potts. The warrior stood amazed at this act. Out of fear Potts jumped back into the canoe and was immediately shot by the arrows of the Blackfeet. The canoe and his body floated downstream. Now Colter was on the shore alone and without a weapon. The indians not knowing what to do held a powwow. One of them came up with an idea. They asked Colter if he could run as fast as a deer. He said I cannot run as fast a deer but only as slow as a turtle, which was not true for he was actually a very fast runner. The chief of the tribe took the bait and led them to a sandy knoll. He marked a line in the sand where his warriors readied themselves. He then took Colter and gave him a 300 yard head start.
Colter quickly outpaced his pursuers. His was naked, his feet were bloody, and his body ached from the pain of the cuts he received from running on the rocks and briers. He outpaced most of the warriors but as he looked back there was one lone warrior who was closing within 200 yards. When the warrior reached 50 feet, Colter turned, faced the warrior, and threw his hands up over his head as if in surrender. Startled, the warrior threw his spear at Colter but as he threw it, he fell face first in the sand. Colter quickly took the spear and ran it through the warrior. Colter fled knowing that the others would be right behind him in a matter of moments. In the middle of the river Colter saw a sand bar. He swam to the sand bar because at the head was a log jam. He swam under the log jam where he found a space which was covered by logs overhead. The indians passed by and never saw him. All was not over. In the cover of darkness Colter swam downstream until he found a bank with a covering of trees. there he lay cold, naked, and bleeding. He was 150 miles from the nearest point of civilization. But he knew if he lay there he would die. So off he went and in seven days he made the 150 mile trek to Bighorn compound. He pressed through and survived. He could have given up but he pressed through.
Certainly, we may never have to run for our life in the way that Colter did but whether we recognize it or not we are all in a race as believers. And, in many ways it is a race for our lives but it is one that is both spiritual and physical. Paul understood this and it was for this reason that he penned the words we read this morning. To communicate his message he uses two athletic metaphors. And in so doing he gives us guidance on how to be an effective and productive athletes that run the race to our fullest capacity.
The first thing Paul communicates is that we have to be in the race. If we want to receive the prize, we have to be in the race. We cannot think that we will win if we don’t run the race. In this race, for some, it is like a sprint and for others it is like a marathon. In fact, in a marathon the quest of the runner is not so much to win first place but to finish the race. As a believer, we join this race the day we accepted Christ as our personal savior.
Secondly, Paul communicates that athletes exercise self-control. They realize that for them to win the race that they have to be in good shape. It is the same as we run the race in Christ. Self-control means that the runner prepares themselves so that they are equipped with the tools they need to run the race. Most runners I know do not wake up the morning of the race and decide they will run a marathon. In fact, they are running every day to prepare themselves and to condition themselves to endure the race. They watch what they eat. They watch their sleep habits. Runners also realize that they must also pace themselves in the race. When they are in a marathon they are not racing against the other athletes as much as they are racing against themselves. They realize that they cannot exert all of their energy early in the race only to find that they have used up all they have in the early goings. So too, we must not judge the end of our lives by the individual blips on the screen. We must run with endurance.
Marathoners say that at the 23 or 24 mile mark they hit a wall. The wall is the conflux of fear, physical fatigue, and mental exhaustion. But for that one who prepares and trains correctly they will be able to push through the pain, fear, and exhaustion. As believers, we face difficult times that can bring fear, cause physical pain, and mental exhaustion but when we have prepared ourselves we will be able to push through. We hold onto the promises of God. We focus on the strength that is ours in Christ. We remember that God is with us and He is there to cheer us on as we run the race.
Thirdly, athletes in human races run for perishable wreathes but as believers we run the race for crowns that are imperishable. You see in the days of Paul, the reward would be a wreath of olive leaves shaped in the form of a horseshoe. These were perishable rewards. The reward we are running for is not destroyed. Paul spoke to his son in the faith and proclaimed that I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
It is interesting to note that Xerxes was interrogating some Arcadians after the battle of Thermopylae. He asked why there were so few Greeks in the battle. His answer was that they were participating in the Olympic Games. when asked what the winner received he stated that he received an olive-wreath. Then Tigranes one of the generals uttered: “God heavens! what kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions but for virtue. May it be that we run not for possessions but for the virtue of Godliness.
Fourth, we do not run aimlessly. A runner runs with a goal in mind. They know there is a goal line and that is their focus. They do not run all over the place. They run the most direct path possible. Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 4:14 when admonishes the Church of Ephesus to grow into maturity, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Paul emphases this point by adding a second athletic metaphor. He references the boxer. Paul states that when the box is in the ring, he does not box as one beating the air. In other words, what we do counts for something. We are not just swinging and hoping to hit something. We focus on the goal of integrity, righteousness, and God’s will and swing hard.
Fifth, the reason that Paul shares these thoughts is that he does not want to do anything that would disqualify him from the race. Paul does not want to cheat to get to the end. He does not want to cause another harm to be the winner. One of the saddest stories was that of Lance Armstrong. He was a great competitor but was so focused on winning that he was willing to do anything to win and in the end he lost it all. Paul did not want to be disqualified by his attitude or his emotion. He did not want fear to control how he would finish. He wanted to be faithful to the end. He wanted to leave a legacy. He also recognized that the process of preparation and the race it self was just as important as the finish. The process is always more important than the finish. The reason is that in the process we grow and mature. In the process, we develop a sensitivity to God’s will and His word. In the process, we learn much about ourselves and when we allow the change to occur we are better for it.
Paul said it fairly succinctly when he stated But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16).
We run this race with integrity. We run this race to finish. We run this race to influence those around us. We run this race to to leave a legacy so that others challenged to run the race as well. Watch this video clip from the movie “Courageous” with me.
So will you run the race with faithfulness and integrity?
Copyright 2014, Robert W. Odom, All Rights Reserved