After the Olympics I kept thinking of Paul’s admonition to run the race with perserverance. The knowlege of the Gospel and the gift of faith in Christ are obviously the prime focus of preaching and the Gospel, the “Good Story” about Christ, should predominate. There is however an element that I think we miss that Luther never misses. It is everywhere in his preaching and that is the Gospel works itself out in good works for the neighbor. Luther was very directive in his preaching and I think many of our Pastors are reluctant to do so. They may tell you what not to do but don’t direct the body of Christ to positive actions and works of mercy. There are reasons for this I guess; not wanting people to become self-righteous maybe. But Luther seems to believe that when we do not exhort people to good works we may help them become self-righteous! We might want to get this rather important part of our “life together” right. I love this citation because it uses part of my favorite passage from 2 Peter 1. The emphasis is mine. This is from Luthers sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 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. 25 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
“I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air.”
Paul here points to himself as exemplar and hints at the cause of failure, viz., lapse from love and the use of the divine word in a wilful, ambitious and covetous spirit, whereas the faith which worketh by love is lacking. Under such conditions, false and indolent Christians run indeed a merry race; yet God’s Word and ways in which they are so alert and speedy are merely a show, because they make them subserve their own interests and glory. They fail, however, to see that they race uncertainly and beat the air. They never make a serious attempt, nor do they ever hit the mark. While it is theirs to mortify ambition, to restrain their self-will and to enlist in the service of their neighbors, they do none of these things. On the contrary, they even do many things to strengthen their ambition and self-will, and then they swear by a thousand oaths that they are seeking not their own honor but the honor of God, their neighbor’s welfare and not their own.
Peter says (2 Pet 1, 9-10) this class are blind and cannot see afar and have forgotten they were purged from their old sins, because they fail to make their calling sure by good works. Therefore, it comes about that, as Paul says, they run uncertainly, beating the air. Their hearts are unstable and wavering before God, and they are changeable and fickle in all their ways, James 1, 8. Since they are aimless and inconstant at heart, this will appear likewise as inconstancy in regard to works and doctrines. They undertake now this and now that; they cannot be quiet nor refrain from factional strife. Thus they miss their aim or else remove the goal, and cannot but deviate from the true and common path.