Summary: This sermon is about running the Christian race.
Going the Distance (on what matters)
"He didn't win a medal. In fact, he came nowhere near. But, in defeat and in pain, he came to represent something much more profound and enduring than many sportsmen achieve in illustrious careers. Akhwari was never likely to win the marathon, but his chances were wrecked when, perhaps because of the effects of the high altitude, he succumbed to cramps that slowed his progress. If that was painful, then worse was to come after he was involved in a melee of athletes jockeying for position. Akhwari fell to the ground, gashing his knee and also causing a dislocation. He also smashed his shoulder against the pavement. Most observers, seeing his injuries, assumed he would pull out and go to the hospital. Instead, he received medical attention and returned to the track to continue his race. His pace, of course, was now much lower, but his resolve to complete the event remained intact. Eighteen of the 75 starters had pulled out; he did now wish to add to that number. And so, more than an hour after the winner, Akhwari crossed the line in the last place, cheered home by a few thousand spectators who had remained in the stadium after the sun went down. By the time he reached the stadium, he was limping and the bandage around his leg was flapping in the breeze. He was asked why he'd carried on, and his response has gone down in sporting history. “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,” he said. “They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”Akhwari recovered from his injuries and continued running long-distance races. He finished fifth in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and also ran the 10,000m at the same championships. He was a good runner, but his performance, courage, and dedication in the face of adversity is what history will remember him for." (https://www.olympic.org/news/marathon-man-akhwari-demonstrates-superhuman-spirit)
The apostle Paul looked at the Isthmian Games around him during his time in Corinth and he saw an illustration of the Christian life. He wrote:
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. 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.
The Christian life is like a race. It is not a sprint, but a marathon. Unlike the sporting events in the world around us, we are not in competition with one another. We are in competition with ourselves, but even so, we can lose.
In Paul's final letter to a young pastor named Timothy, he wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7).
The alternative rock band Cake produced a song that is often played at races and sporting events. The music video shows a well-dressed executive running through an office building, down a street, through a field to the ocean, and swimming towards sunset. The lyrics of the chorus are revealing. They are, "He's going the distance, he's going for speed, she's all alone, all alone in a time of need... but he's going the distance." He is winning, or finishing one race while losing the one that really matters.
There is much to be said for finishing the race. But, it matters which race we are in, which direction we are running, and what our motives are. The phrase "Going the distance" means finishing what one begins.
The topic of our lesson for this evening is Going the Distance.
1. Know Your Opponent
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.
There is no idea here of competition with others. As Christians, we are meant to help our fellow Christian, not compete with them. One of the major problems in Corinth was the spirit of competition that dominated the churches there. They were immersed in the waters of their culture, swimming in them and drinking them in. They enjoyed doing things like putting their names on things that they would donate money towards. In Philippians 2, Paul says that we should in fact seek the welfare of our sisters and brothers rather than seeking to beat them out of anything.
So who are we in competition with?
There is a story of a small village in a European nation where there was a renegade wolf that was devastating the livestock and no one was able to capture or stop him. After many failed attempts during one meeting of their village council an old man stood up and proposed that he would intervene in the wolf's antics. When asked how, he said that he would simply continue to follow the wolf, stalking him until he caught him. And so he did. Once he saw the wolf once, he began stalking the wolf. He just followed him around until the wolf was worn out from running. We like the wolf must keep running because the old man is behind us.