Commentary by Walter Albritton

July 16, 2006


Discipline, Perseverance, and Grace Help us Win the Race


1 Corinthians 9:2410:13


Key Verse: 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.  – 1 Corinthians 9:24


          The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite people. He has been my good friend for many years. God is so good to let us become friends with people through their writing even though they lived in another time period.  

          If somehow, through a Time Machine, Paul could reappear and visit me in the flesh, I would invite him to go with me on a fall Friday night to see the Opelika Bulldogs play football. Saint Paul would love it because he admired the disciplined athletes of his day. He saw an obvious parallel between athletic competition and Christian faith.

          When it comes to athletics, high school football is about as good as it gets. In high school young men learn the value of discipline and hard work. Whether they go on to play college and professional football is usually determined by their willingness to embrace strenuous training disciplines as teen-agers.          

          Paul would love to meet the Head Coach of the Bulldogs, Spence McCracken, one of the finest high school coaches ever. Coach McCracken believes that victory has a price – hardnosed practice, strict discipline, a team spirit, and the perseverance to play even when you are hurt. Saint Paul would applaud that and quickly add, “The same thing is true of running the race of life as a Christian!”

          The Apostle knew what it was like to stay in the game when you are hurting. When he was beaten for proclaiming the faith, he got up, dusted himself off, and resumed preaching. He was no quitter! He realized that the race belongs to those who have disciplined themselves to go the distance, to persevere until the end.

          Coach McCracken trains his players hard so they will have more stamina than their opponents in the fourth quarter – when many games are decided. He teaches his boys that they can win by training hard and playing together as a team.  Saint Paul would amen the team concept as well. In his New Testament letters he helps us see that as a church we win for Christ as a team, not as individual “stars.”

          Every year Coach McCracken’s team embraces a single goal: get to Birmingham and win the state championship. The Bulldogs know they can reach their goal one step at a time, one win at a time. So far they have been close but have not advanced to the championship game. But Coach McCracken knows they will never get there unless they aim to get there. They must want to win and want it with all their hearts.

          Paul would see a similarity to this in the life of faith. Only he would remind us that Christians have a greater prize to seek. A state championship ring is fine, but a ring is a perishable prize. The Christian goal is an imperishable prize – the greatest one of all – the gift of eternal life!

          The Apostle would remind us, finally, that we cannot hope to win the prize through our own self-effort. God wants us to practice spiritual disciplines and with as much zeal as excellent athletes discipline themselves physically. God wants us to hang in there when times are tough, to reach down into the depths of our being and find the will to persevere when we feel like quitting.

          But having said all that, Paul would insist that one more thing makes winning possible – and that is the grace of God. We cannot hope to win life’s race through discipline and perseverance alone; ultimately we will be able to cross the finish line only by trusting Christ and receiving the grace that makes victory possible.

          We all face temptations and trials that threaten to prevent us from finishing the race for Christ. But faith in Christ is always the key. The song says it well: “God will make a way when there is no other way.” If we will keep on keeping on, trusting Christ with the last once of strength we have left, God will make a way. And when we cross the finish line, our Savior and our Coach, Jesus Christ, will be there to welcome us home!

          Let us not give up. Not ever. No matter how difficult the race! Because God keeps his promises, one day it will be worth it all! Glory!

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