Behind the scenes tour of a sermon
As I pressed on toward my prize of a sermon for the week, I had to go back to the letter to the Philippians. What is this prize that Paul is pressing toward? What is the race that Ignatius was running? Why does the winners platform for each of them seem to have come in the form of a public execution in Rome?And so it goes...The full text of the sermon is online here: Dying to Win the Prize.
To help the quest, I read the passage through in Greek and, as my own translation skills are not as good as the experts are, I also read several translations. In the Greek, which is the language Paul wrote in, I found that the passage had race imagery. The word for goal was a word for a mark to fix your eye on as you bear down the home stretch toward the finish line. Nothing else matters in that homestretch but the goal and for Paul, that goal was Jesus. The word for prize was the same word they used to describe the prizes won at the Isthmian games, the then equivalent of the Olympics.
The New International Version gives a very good rendition of the Greek. The NIV says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The call came at the start of the race. The race is run as Paul follows the course set for him by God. Paul has looked ahead to the goal, the distant object at the finish line and Paul already can see how the race must end. If Paul is obedient to God’s call, Paul will end up with his neck on a Roman executioner’s chopping block. Paul didn’t pick the goal. Paul didn’t give the call. God did. Paul is trying to be obedient to that call and see it through. Looking to the example of his Lord, Paul is far from being bothered about the way his own race will turn out. Paul closely identifies with Jesus and he is pleased that he will be given a chance to suffer and die in obedience to God, just as Jesus was called to suffer and die in obedience to God. Ignatius too was set on a course that would result in his death and he didn’t want fellow Christians to derail God’s plan and purposes for him.
Next I have to see how the scripture and what I have found in it relates to us today. What does all this talk of dying to win the prize mean to 21st century American Christians?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor