20th August, 2000

2 Cor 6:1-13

Nothing excites those of us who enjoy the great Olympic sports, as much as the marathon. From the very first marathon ever run, to the first of the modern Olympic era, to the latest trial for Olympics 2000, people are fascinated by this greatest test of endurance and speed. Here the competitive nature of athletes is seen at its finest.


The man who first ran the distance, now called the marathon, has passed into legend. Herodotus, the oldest historical source, wrote that when the Persians sent a huge force to conquer Greece in 490 BC, a soldier, Phidipides or Philippides, was sent at full speed before the battle to Sparta for military aid. He ran 200 kilometres in two days. He then returned just in time to join in the fighting. After two days fighting someone was need to run to Athens to warn the citizens that the Persian navy was sailing to attack their city. Totally exhausted, on a hot summer day, Phidipides ran 26 hilly miles from Marathon to Athens, fully armed, to deliver the news that the Athenian Army had defeated the Persians but their navy would soon attack Athens. Totally exhausted, he managed only to say "Nike!" and then collapse and die. "Nike," by the way, is Greek for "Victory is ours!" He was not ordering a pair of running shoes!

While this account is fictionalized to some extent, it has a basis of truth, and it has certainly inspired the sporting event, the Marathon.

When the Olympic games were revived in 1894, a race, commemorating Phidipides, over 26 miles was run from Marathon to Athens. It was won by a 23 years old Greek Spiridon Louis in just under three hours. In 1948, during the first Olympics after World War II in London, the Belgian runner Etienne Gailly, running his first marathon, entered first into the stadium. He still had 400 metres to run. Gailly fell exhausted, got up again, fell again, and staggered to the finish, encouraged by the crowd and helped by two officials. He was then disqualified for being helped. I have seen marathon runners, enter the stadium in similar states of exhaustion. What keeps them going? What makes a marathon champion? Whence such an incredibly competitive nature?


The director of the Centre for the Mind at Sydney University and the Australian National University, Professor Allan Snyder: "It's in the mind and it helps to be a bit mad." Professor Snyder asks "What elusive spirit sustains us through the agonising process necessary to win, to realise a dream? Answer this question and we will have unlocked one of the mysteries of the mind. It is the athlete's inevitable single-minded dedication to a passion, fuelled and sustained by their mindset." Brooks Johnson, the US Olympic coach says: "There is no way you can do the things necessary to be an Olympic champion and not be clinically neurotic and in some instances clinically psychotic…champions are abnormal people."

One of our greatest Olympic gold medallists, Herb Elliott says, "Most champions seem to have an inner drive to excel. I don't understand, though, what makes one person want to excel and be prepared to do the work while another doesn't."

You cannot understand the Apostle Paul without realising he had a strongly competitive mindset and the determination and fitness of Phidipides. Paul would have seen the great Greek games. He used the language of running, fighting, wrestling, boxing, and he demonstrated in his own person an incredibly toughness and strength of mind seldom seen. He was passionate, disciplined, determined. Many Christians have under-estimated how profoundly and totally was the conversion of Paul and how he was compelled to preach the Gospel thereafter. "Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel!" 1 Cor 9:16.

Look at this piece of autobiography as Paul describes his experiences: 2 Cor 6:5-10 My work involved "great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

Later he added: 2 Cor 11: 23-28 "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches."

Why would you do it? Would you do it for nothing? Paul was not paid. He earned his keep by making tents. Paul did it because he had the mindset of Phidipides, of marathon runners and Olympic champions. Small minds do not understand. They envy the winner. They belittle champions. They call them "obsessive compulsives". Paul would accept that gladly! He was obsessively compulsive about one person: Jesus Christ! Unless you understand Paul's competitive nature you cannot understand Paul. Unless you see the difference Jesus Christ made within Paul, you do not understand the secret of his inner power, the strength that made him a champion! Conversion to Jesus Christ, focused his mind and released amazing power from within him.


That is exactly where some people - liberal minded Christians and Jews alike - try to squeeze Paul into their little concepts. They seek to cut him down to our size. Recently in one publication a Jewish writer said: "No Jew - whether Pharisee, Sadducee, Essence or Nazarene would proclaim that a man born of woman was a deity. In fact no Jew would accept another divinity - it violates the Second Commandment. No Pharisee would speak of the "Law" in the denigrating and insulting terms Paul used. He called the Law a curse: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law" Gal 3:13. He claimed that the Law brought death Rom 7:10. And Paul further asserted that through the Law came his knowledge of sin. Rom 3:20 In short, Paul was no Jew of any variety - Pharisee or otherwise."

That viewpoint was restated this week as Rabbi Apple of the Great Synagogue, launched in Sydney "Re-Reading Paul". I commend wholeheartedly the purpose of the book, which is to aid closer and better relations between Jews and Christians. But I am equally certain you do not achieve that by trying to make Paul what he is not. Paul's scholarship, his claims to be a Pharisee, his interpretation of the Torah, and his claimed inconsistencies (of being a Jew, yet claiming Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God) are all questioned as being unreasonable. But that is the whole point. The passion of Paul and his commitment to Jesus as the Christ, was the obsession of an Olympic athlete, of a marathon runner, of a Phidipidies. Paul was totally committed.

Paul was one of those people who make history. Others just read it. He worked in Corinth with his own hands in the tent makers shop, yet his letters from the shop would last longer than the city's marvellous architecture. His passion for the Gospel would make Corinth more famous than the great Isthmian Games. It was his passion for Jesus that made the difference.

Most of us are too tame to be compared with him. Too many of us have little concepts, mild passions and limited views. We are much too rational than to run a marathon. We are much too mild than to confront the enemies of God except with submissiveness. Hence we rarely make a difference. We do not climb Everest. We avoid challenge. We never compete. We win no medals. Paul's life was profoundly and totally changed when he came face to face with Jesus Christ and submitted to Him as Lord. That conversion, not only changed his old ways, but gave him a purpose and passion in life. Even his old Jewish faith satisfied no longer. Henceforth he was a "bond slave to Jesus Christ". The change was so radical that it was exactly as Jesus had said, like being "born again." John 4

From then on, his own life, purpose, motivation and activity was dominated by his being "in Christ." This expression was to change his understanding of history, theology, the Jewish Law and tradition, and the future of mankind. Everything changes when you are "in Christ." He remained a Jew, but saw Jesus as the Messiah. That changed everything! That became the key doctrinal point in each of the letters he wrote to members of the young church.

When you are "in Christ", the troubles, persecutions and afflictions of this life take on new meaning. He was threatened, attacked, misunderstood, hurt, shipwrecked, criticised, mocked, belittled, stoned, beaten, abused, insulted, imprisoned - and a dozen other experiences - but it mattered no more than just another hill on a marathon run! Paul was a driven man!

When Jesus chose Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the rest of those first disciples; then Paul and Timothy, Silas and Titus; Ignatius and Augustine; Francis and Luther; Wesley and Booth; He was choosing men who would become world changers. When they became born again, they become "in Christ". They took upon themselves the person of Jesus Christ. They came and weakness and went out in strength. They came in sin and went out in forgiveness. They came in dirty rags and went out clothed in righteousness divine. The transforming power of Jesus made all the difference to everything they did ever after.

And the most remarkable thing of all is not that Jesus did this with Paul and all the rest, but that He can do it with you. Here! Now! The transforming power of Jesus means that sins which trouble you can be left behind. That fears that have dogged your footsteps for years can be overcome with new courage. That death, that has troubled you, is swallowed up in new life that is eternal. When you are in Christ, you have a new mind-set. There comes into being a new creation. A new you! You now have a new nature. You can take on the world because you are in Christ!


Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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