For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9: 19-27 (Epistle of Forefeast of Epiphany, January 5)
For this first week of 2023, we will be focusing on the feasts of Theophany and St. John the Baptist. We will be reflecting on Theophany from January 2-6, and we will reflect on St. John on January 7, and then on January 8, we will reflect on the Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany.
In the first week of each year, we celebrate two important feastdays, Theophany and St. John the Baptist. So, the messages for the remainder of this week will be dedicated to them. Today we examine the Epistle reading from January 5, the forefeast of Theophany.
In I Corinthians 9: 24-27, St. Paul talks about Christianity and athleticism. In verse 24, he writes that “all runners compete, but only one received the prize.” All the runners are willing to train and to compete, knowing that only one can win. If hundreds or thousands of runners compete, all but one will fail in the goal. Yet that does not deter them from competing, as well as the grueling training that precedes a race. In Christianity, if we “compete” well and “train” well, all can reach the goal, salvation.
In verse 25, St. Paul makes two points—first, “every athlete exercises self-control in all things.”  In fact, discipline is at the core of an athlete’s training. No self-control means no success. In Christianity, focus, discipline and self-control are all important parts of developing our relationship with God. This is why daily prayer and scripture reading, weekly worship, periodic confession, and fasting are so important. They help us maintain the self-control and discipline needed to grow towards God.
Saint Paul continues “they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” We spend so much of our time working on things that ultimately will perish. In 100 years, none of us will own our homes, or admire our trophies, or drive our cars, or be looking at pictures of our vacations. Yet, we often forget, or don’t put enough attention to that which is “imperishable”, our salvation.
In verse 26, he reminds us not to run aimlessly, and not to box as one beating the air. I don’t know about you, but many times I feel like we fight as if we are boxing the air, tiring ourselves out but not accomplishing much. In the New Year, one goal we should all have is more of a sense of purpose—if the purpose at work is to work, then we should work, not be on our phones. If the purpose of the weekend is to relax, we should relax, and not be doing the work we didn’t pay enough attention to during the week. Set goals and achieve them.
Finally, in verse 27, Saint Paul gives a sobering reminder to anyone who wishes to spread the Gospel—priests, Sunday school teachers, parents, anyone in a position to share the Gospel with someone—we better have ourselves in order, lest what we have to say comes across as hypocritical. Today’s Scripture shows us yet again that we don’t have to read a large quantity of the Bible to get a large quantity of instruction, direction and encouragement.
To the flowing streams today of River Jordan comes the Lord and cries aloud to John the Baptist, and He says, “Be not afraid to baptize me now; for I have come to save Adam, the first-formed man.” (Kontakion from the Great Hours of Theophany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Run your “race” today with self-control. As you work for the material (and temporary), don’t forget the spiritual (and eternal). Do whatever it is you will do today with a sense of purpose. And make sure your life reflects to all that you are a Christian, not necessarily by what you say but how you act.