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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 9:25-27 The prize that will last forever

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 7, 2023

25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in everything. They do it to get a wreath that will finally wilt; but we do it to get one that will last forever. 26 For the same reason, I do not run without a goal in mind, or box as if I’m only punching the air. 27 No, I treat my body severely and enslave it, so that after preaching to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize in any way.

After the Olympics, the next most famous athletic event in the ancient world was the Isthmian Games in Corinth. Everybody knew about them even if they didn’t attend. We can well-imagine some grumpy Corinthians complaining how crowded the streets were during those weeks and how hard it was just to get to the corner market. But Paul himself liked sports. He mentions wrestling (Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7), and here he also talks about running and boxing. He uses these illustrations to make a careful point: the athlete subjugates his own body, making it conform to his will. This is the same way that the Christian treats his flesh. When Jesus said to his dozing disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he had the same thing in mind. The spirit is my Christian faith. The flesh is my human nature. The spirit has grand desires of service to God, but the flesh is at least always nagging in the background, if not actually shoving the spirit aside to say, “Me, first!” to have its sinful way.

A human athlete won a little wreath to wear in the games in Greece. It didn’t last; it wilted and withered. But the Christian has another prize in mind. The Christian is always thinking of the last three statements of the creed: The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. This is the prize that will last forever.

Paul could easily have made it sound as if human effort is all it takes to grab hold of this prize. But he doesn’t. In fact, he goes out of his way to stop the example short of saying anything of the sort. Instead, he only uses the sports analogy to describe subjecting the body into obeying the mind, which describes the way we strive to keep the sinful nature in check. The athlete does this with the urging of a coach (either past or present). The Christian does this with the urging and help of the Holy Spirit.

See how Paul ends his point by talking about becoming disqualified for the prize. How frail we are! The Christian can become misled and dragged away from Christ by unwitting idolatry, greed, lust, coveting, and other temptations. And so, too, can the called worker. Because there is a more severe judgment of ministers (James 3:1), our positions are even more fragile. The call into service can suddenly end in the blink of an eye, and in some cases, entirely because of the mistaken opinion of an outspoken lay person. But this is the service we are called into: to do ministry ourselves in public and in private, and to equip the saints to do ministry privately as well. We pray that God will send his holy angels to protect us, to parry and deflect attacks of the devil and his agents who want to destroy our faith and ruin the ministry. And we rely on Jesus to preserve us through all possible means. Humanly speaking, Solomon was perfectly correct: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). But the world, the devil, and our own sinful human nature are powerful enemies. They do not fight fair, and they love to disqualify anyone they can from the prize of everlasting life.

Therefore we pray with the Psalm: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life. In your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant” (Psalm 143:11-12).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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