1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday 02/13/22
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Some things in this life just come naturally. You don't have to think about it, just do it. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Easy as pie. You know I'm talking about, those things that you can do almost automatically.
Most people think of the Christian faith and life that way. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Christianity is just the opposite. Being a faithful Christian is not easy. It is far easier not to make it to the goal than it is to hold fast and be faithful and make it to eternal life. Many people act as if it is almost automatic. But our text today tells us that the only real kind of Christianity is Deliberate Christianity.
The Christian faith is not a matter of our own will or power. You cannot choose to believe, and you cannot hold yourself in faith. That is the work of God through the Word and Sacraments. We confess that in the Catechism, in the meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."
The joy of the Gospel is that it is the gift of God from beginning to end. God has rescued you from your sins by pouring out His wrath on Jesus on the cross and pouring out His love and salvation and life upon you. It is poured out for all and received by knowing it and trusting God to do everything that He has promised to do for us and with us through Jesus Christ and on account of Him.
So, why is it, if this is all a gift do I say that it is so difficult? Why do I talk about this "deliberate Christianity"?
First of all, I do so because the Bible does so. I teach and preach what God tells us – all that God tells us, not just the parts that we like to hear, or the parts that make immediate good sense to us. This deliberate Christianity part makes good sense too – but it isn't the part that appeals to us, and our flesh wants to have it all one way or the other. Either it is something everyone gets for nothing, no questions asked, or we want it to be something we earn and we want the threshold for earning it to be low and easy so everyone we know and like gets to go. That is our flesh speaking.
Our flesh wants false doctrine. We want, quite naturally, something other than what God has established. We want universalism, where everyone gets it for nothing, or we want to work it out with our own righteousness – and want God to have to take us the way we are!
But salvation isn't about what we want it to be. It is what. it. is –– what God reveals it to be. God reveals that salvation is a gift of grace. We didn't deserve it, and yet God doesn't just take us the way we are – He transforms us. Faith is His creation, worked in us through the hearing of the Word – Romans 10:17. Nevertheless, He also tells us that while faith is a gift, you are the one who does the believing. Being a child of God makes us different – it makes a difference in us. And we participate in it. We battle against the flesh. We do it by His power and His will, but WE do it!! We are not simply spectators, but co-workers in the grace and power of God. And that is where Paul starts with us today.
He talks about salvation and our sharing in it in this world. In this world, he likens the course of the Christian life to an athletic competition. Everlasting life and glory are the goal, the prize. And the first message of our text is that the prize is worth it! They then do it [all that they do] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Men do so much more for so much less. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? . . . And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath. For wreaths and metals, and just for the satisfaction of doing better than the other competitors, men and women will do incredible things. They train. They diet. They spend money. They get up early and put themselves through such rigors to win a footrace or to swim a little faster, or to do a perfectly useless thing better than anyone else.
We do what living as a faithful Christian requires us to do for a far greater and more lasting prize – eternal life. God gives us life and faith and then places us in the midst of such lives as we live, in the face of such temptations as we face, enduring the pains and weaknesses and illnesses and troubles that we endure so that we might show His glory to others. He places us where we are to be faithful where we are and to show the world how the Child of God lives in this world. He has other reasons, too, which we do not know or understand clearly right now. He doesn't require us to know. He requires of us that we be faithful.
It is clear that when we get to the end of life, we will earnestly desire to be found faithful. Paul tells us that in our text when he says, Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. He says quite plainly that he is conscious that he could be disqualified if he does not discipline himself and train himself.
Which means You can lose! If the Apostle Paul could have been disqualified, then any one of us can be disqualified. Is Paul frightened? Is he insecure? NO. He is simply realistic and honest – and writing by the inspiration of God. He is laying before you the truth that the Christian faith is not natural – sin is natural. Corruption is natural. Death and hell are natural to us. God is working something in us and through us, that is not natural to us. Our sinful nature will chafe and rebel against it.
We will be pressured by the conformity of the sinful world. We will be led by peer pressure away from the truth and into unholy conduct and thinking. We will be tempted to think that we are secure right where we are, without finding our security in God – finding it instead in our relative goodness (compared to the worst examples of humanity we can imagine), or finding it in our religion.
Well, the truth is that those sorts of measuring sticks are always wrong. Look at ancient Israel. They were the Chosen People. God had rescued them personally from Egypt with the great signs and wonders called the Ten Plagues – blood turned to water, gnats and flies and frogs and hail that burned and the death of the first-born and the passing over of the angel of death. Surely these people were God's people by God's choice and God's work. And yet hear what Paul writes, For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Yes, they even were eating and drinking the spiritual food of Christ (although they did not know Him by that name at that time). They were called by God. They were rescued by God. They were fed with Manna daily by God for forty years. If anyone would have a reason to presume upon their relationship to God, you might guess that they did. Paul actually says, that God was not well-pleased with most of them, using the term God the Father used at Jesus' baptism, "well-pleased", and again at His Transfiguration. That is the judgment of God over His faithful people in Christ. He sees us as "well-pleasing", just like Jesus – because it is the righteousness of Christ that we wear in forgiveness.
If we wear it. But the conduct of the children of Israel took them out of the favor of God and set aside the righteousness which He had given them. Their conduct took God for granted, and was not faithful, and followed whatever appealed to them at the moment. They did not live or walk deliberately as the people of God.
Paul disciplines himself – buffets his body – so that he might not finally be disqualified. These personal glimpses are so that we take heed and live in what I have called deliberate Christianity. The next verse after our text, verse 6, says, Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And so forth. . . .
We also need to live out our faith. That means living out what the Bible says about sin. It is to be avoided. It is not to be taken lightly or excused easily. Our forgiveness cost the life of God's own Son. It wasn't cheap or easy.
Deliberate Christianity means acting out our confidence in Christ. We need to exercise hope and trust.
Deliberate Christianity means being deliberately conscious of where we are when we enter into worship – in whose presence we stand, and what He has done for us. That should color your singing of the hymns, focus your attention while we pray, and direct how you listen to the sermon, and what you do with it once you have heard it. I mean, whose word is it? Is it just Pastor Fish babbling on again? Or is it the very Word of God poured out through His chosen spokesman?
Deliberate Christianity means how you deal with each other. Do you gossip and grumble and politic against the very sons and daughters of God, chosen by Him and bought at the price of the blood of the only-begotten Son of God, or do you cherish them as much as your heavenly Father does – deliberately?
Paul disciplined himself and subdued his flesh so that he would not be disqualified. There is a way of life that acknowledges God and our dependence on Him – and there is a way of life that denies what we know, turns away from God and takes Him for granted, and finds security in everything but God and His grace. One way is very natural, and the other deliberate.
Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Paul said, Run in such a way that you may win. That is Deliberate Christianity.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)