I relented today and watched the Super Bowl with my husband. Normally, I’m not that interested in football if the Steelers aren’t playing (my hometown team—Go Steelers! Well, maybe next year), but this was a good game. And the commercials, well, I suppose some of them were pretty good.
What did you do on Sunday evening? Who were you rooting for? I know a few people who are disappointed because they are Peyton Manning fans. Sorry, Marge! And I know a whole lot of people who are excited because they are Saints fans.
In the game of football, or any other sport, there is always a winner and a loser. That’s just the way things work. During the regular season there are many who play, but only one team can win the Super Bowl.
Each of us wants to be the winner of the race. We want to get the prize, to wear the laurel wreath, to wear the gold Olympic medal. Some of us will try to work out. And a small few will actually work hard enough to actually win. The apostle Paul recognized this when he compared the Christian life to a race. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
The difference in the Christian life, however, is that the race doesn’t have just one winner, but many. Just like the Saints, those who work together, who live the Christian life, who persevere in faith will find themselves holding the prize one day, along with all of our brothers and sisters in faith, as a part of the Bride of Christ. What is this race we are running? And whom are we competing against?
Unlike the game of football, when you know all of the players on the field, in this race the competitors are more obscure. They come at us from many different areas of life and work to trip us up, to keep us from winning the prize, that is, to be found faithful by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My first competitor is my own fleshly wants and desires, what Paul called the “sinful nature.” Each newborn child is self-centered, concerned about what he or she needs: food, comfort (clean diapers), shelter (a nice warm blanket). As the child grows that self-centeredness grows, simply because the child cannot fathom the world beyond himself yet. We expect children to act that way; it is normal. When we grow up, however, we are supposed to grow past that self-will and selfishness, but most of us just struggle.
How can I overcome this nature that conflicts within me? Paul continues, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vv 25-27).
I’m not suggesting self-flagellation (beating yourself), and I don’t think Paul was either. But he was talking about exercising discipline in our individual lives, learning how to resist temptation and self-will. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). What does the Spirit desire? We can only know the Spirit’s desires by knowing the Spirit of God, by spending time in the Word of God, and by letting the Spirit lead and guide us.
A second competitor in our race to eternity is the riches of the world and its influence upon us. Watching the Super Bowl, we saw multiple commercials that cost millions of dollars, just to sell us a car, a sandwich, a soda, etc. It is called business. The purpose of business is to sell things and to make money. Unfortunately, the money that we make often becomes more important to us than our families, our selves, and even our faith.
Solomon tells us, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). We find ourselves seeking more and more and being satisfied with nothing. It isn’t the money that is evil, but the “love of money” as Jesus said.
To pass this competitor and avoid its tackles and traps, we must put possessions and wealth in their place, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31-34). Should we work? Of course! Should we save money? Why not? But when we save our money to the exclusion of supporting the church and/or providing for the poor and needy among us, we are loving money more than God.
While there are other competitors in this race, overcoming these two will go a long way toward getting us to the finish line victorious. Disciplining our minds and our desires, our thoughts and our wants, will help us see the truth of eternity, that today is just a blip on the radar compared to the overwhelming joy we will experience as we stand at the finish line and hear our Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor