Summary: What was it that made the difference in Paul’s life? His conversion was dynamic. But, there have been other dynamic conversions that have not resulted in the kind of life that Paul lived. The Holy Spirit was powerfully at work within him. But the Holy Sp
Opening Statement: Sometimes in my life a kind of “melancholy of the soul settles over me.” I feel like retreating into a cave and not coming out for a long, long time. When that pessimism of spirit comes over me, I take great inspiration from a man who left his footprints all over the Roman Empire. Terrifying, harsh, demon-infested was the world that the great Apostle Paul lived in. He suffered much. His intentions and motives were often misread. He was even physically beaten. His life ended in a dungeon in Nero’s Rome. Yet, somehow, this little Jew and his localized groups of followers scattered here and there managed to leave a Christ-shaped imprint on the first century that changed the world.
Question: What was it that made the difference in Paul’s life? His conversion was dynamic. But, there have been other dynamic conversions that have not resulted in the kind of life that Paul lived. The Holy Spirit was powerfully at work within him. But the Holy Spirit has been powerfully at work in many others that have not left the kind of impact that Paul left. What was it that made the difference in this little, 5’ 7” Jew with poor eye-sight and a broken body?
Observation: Without minimizing the importance of conversion and the importance of the Spirit’s fullness in our lives, I suggest to you today that there was something in Paul’s spirit, his human spirit that made the difference in his life. You can see in almost all of his letters and writings flashes of great determination, passion, and mission. More often than not, this “flash of greatness” was expressed using some kind of athletic metaphor or Olympic allusion.
Key Word: Today, we shall look at these FLASHES of Greatness… these athletic metaphors that stir us to do our very best.
Background: The citizens of Greece and Rome and Corinth in Paul’s day flocked to their Olympic games. The athletes would gather from near and far. Many of them stayed in tents, which has led some to believe, that Paul, “the tent-maker”, would have found gainful employment in the Olympic environment. The noblest citizens of the land were chosen to be judges. They sat on small thrones and dressed in purple, they would start the contests and would judge the winners. They made sure that people competed according to the rules. These athletes would train for 9 months in order to compete in the contests – strict, hard training. They gave up nearly all of their freedom in order to compete and win the prize – a twisted laurel leaf put on their brow and the satisfaction of knowing that they were the very best in their sport. Their names were in scripted in stone. They were esteemed, sung about, and honored by everyone, but it came at a very costly price.
Transition: When Paul makes all of these allusions to the Olympic games, he’s saying to us that he’s bringing to the Savior and to his Church, the spirit of an athlete.
Like a runner…
1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 9:25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.
Galatians 2:2 I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas…to make sure that I was not running--or had not run--in vain.
Explanation: Run to win. The picture that the apostle gives us here is not one of an overweight businessman trying to power walk around a high school track. No. There’s more intensity than that. He had an eye toward a finish line.
Like a boxer…
1 Corinthians 9:26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. 9:27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.
Explanation: Just as the runner had an eye toward the finish line, the boxer measures his opponent, finds a weakness, and attacks at the weakest, most vulnerable point. Paul was determined to make his punches count.
Like a wrestler…
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle [wrestling match] is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
Like a gladiator…
1 Corinthians 4:9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people.
Explanation: There’s an indirect hint here toward the gladiatorial games. When compared to this arena, Paul is saying that the apostles were not like those sitting in the reserved box seats. Rather, they were more like the gladiators themselves whose future was sealed in death.