1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Stephen Caswell © 1998
The Story of John Landy
In 1960 there was a famous race in Canada between two great runners. The four minute mile was about to be broken and the world expected John Landy or Roger Banister to do it. John Landy had been leading for most of the race and there was only about two hundred yards to go. They were coming out of the last corner when John Landy looked behind to see where his opponent was placed. At that very moment Roger Banister passed him on the outside while he was looking back on the inside. He lost the race and will go down in history as the runner who looked back. He should have been concerned with running his own race. But he took his eyes off the finish line and looked at his opponent, and that cost him the race.
Paul writes to the Corinthian Church regarding the Christian life. The Corinthians thought they could live as they pleased now they were saved. They believed their spiritual freedom gave them rights and privileges others did not have. They coined phrases, like, " all things are lawful for me, " and " food is for the body and the body is for food. " So Paul responded to these beliefs by saying this in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13:
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Paul continues to challenge the Corinthians regarding their liberty until the end of chapter 11. In chapter 9 Paul defends the right of those who preach the gospel to be supported by the church. But he did not use this right, so that he could preach the gospel freely and not have it identified with the charlatans and philosophers of his day. Paul was willing to forgo his rights for the benefit of others and he said the Corinthians should do the same. They should not place a stumbling block before unbelievers and weaker brothers by living for themselves. At the end of chapter 9, Paul uses the analogy of running a race to describe the Christian life. It is like running a marathon, a long distance race that requires preparation and endurance.
Paul asks them this question in verse 24: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?
He uses the analogy of a race to show that although many run in a race, only one wins the prize. Paul is not saying that if we lose the race we lose our salvation. Neither is he saying that only one will win the prize. Paul is saying this, just because we are in the Christian Race does not mean we will automatically win a prize.
Sunday School Races
I used to love running in the races at Sunday School picnics. Because it didn't matter where you came in the race everyone got a prize. Similarly, in the Christian race everyone can win a prize, as long as they run according to the rules. Paul gives the only command in these 4 verses: Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
How do you run the Christian race? Paul says, Run To Win ! How do you win the Christian race? Paul gives three requirements. 1. Denial 2. Decisiveness 3. Discipline
The first quality a good athlete needs is:
1 Corinthians 9:25 says this: And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
Paul says that those who compete are temperate in all things. The word temperate means self controlled, to practice abstinence. This involves a choice to abstain from the nicer, less healthy things of life. We deny ourselves the pleasures of life for a higher cause, to win the prize. To be self controlled in mind and body allows one to prepare physically for the race.
The Greek Games
Athletes who entered in the Greek Olympic Games or Isthmian Games were subject to a ten month training period. They were under the direction of judges for this training period. They had to observe a strict diet, that prohibited them from eating delicacies and drinking wine. They had to live on spare food and abstain from confections. They had to exercise at the appointed times in the gymnasium whether it was hot or cold, and get the necessary rest. They were to live in isolation from their wives and denied the pleasant things of life. This was so that they could concentrate on being in the best physical and mental condition possible. If the athlete did not train according to the rules he was disqualified. The NIV brings out this idea: " Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. "
Hebrews 12:1 says: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
The writer to the Hebrews says we are to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. A weight is not the same thing as a sin. A weight does not break God's law, but it does hinder us in the Christian race. It is something that distracts us from more important things. An athlete wanting to win will get rid of it so that he can concentrate on running his race.
The Christian Runner
In the same way believers need to be self controlled in the race that they run. We must put aside our rights for the benefit of others. We need to refrain from those things that would encumber us in our race. We are free to eat and drink what we like! But what if our freedom to drink alcohol causes our brother or a non Christian to stumble? Good food is one of pleasures of life that we all enjoy. Should we show restraint in how much we eat? A well balanced diet complements a well balanced spiritual life. Should Christians smoke? The Bible does not directly address this issue. But if we are running to win, smoking must be considered a hindrance and not an advantage. If we show lack of restraint in our physical life it often spills over into our spiritual life.
All things are lawful for us, but not all things edify. Do you want to be brought in to bondage to those things that harm your spiritual fitness? We are free to watch many things on T.V. But very little of what is shown on T.V. is edifying or good for us. Music is something we all enjoy and there is a great amount of variety even in Christian music. But is our music building us up in our faith or weakening it? Are your favourite musicians people that God would approve of ? The Corinthians thought they had freedom to go to pagan feasts, they thought they had freedom to eat and get drunk as they pleased. Paul rebuked them for such selfish thinking!
1 Corinthians 8:10-13 Says:
For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
And in Romans 14:20-23 Paul addresses the same issue:
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
Paul's point is this, we must be careful how we use our freedom. There are two rules that apply to using our freedom. Will this thing I am doing become a habit that controls me? Will this thing I am doing place a stumbling block before a weaker brother? Are you being weighed down in your race by unhealthy spiritual baggage?
Paul laid aside his rights for the sake of the gospel. He says this in verses 11-12 of chapter 9:
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.
Are you laying aside your freedoms and rights for the sake of the gospel? We need to put aside things that are hindering us or our brothers in the Christian race. We need to think on things that are good and wholesome. We need to read the Bible and allow it to transform our minds. We need to feed only on the things which build us up in our Christian life. What we eat and don't eat is of vital importance. If we don't feed our bodies and souls with the right food we will not be able to compete, and be disqualified. Those who are disqualified in the Christian race don't lose their salvation but they can lose their reward, their crown. If you run to win, then you will need to deny yourself those things that will hinder you in the race. You will be careful what you feed your body and soul on. God will hold us accountable for how we use our freedom.
The Incorruptible Crown
The prize that athletes competed for was a stephanos or victors crown. It was made of laurel leaves woven together. The judges placed the crowns on the head of the winning athletes at the games. Because this crown was made of green laurel leaves it did not last long but became worthless very quickly. Paul encourages believers to deny themselves since they are competing for an incorruptible crown, a crown that will last forever, an eternal reward. If you are running to win, then you will need to deny yourself from whatever harms your spiritual fitness. But not only does a good athlete need to Deny himself, he also needs:
1 Corinthians 9:26 says: Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
Runners in the Greek Games
The runners in the Greek games ran toward a post fixed at the end of the stadium. The distance was 200 yards or 185 meters. They would focus on the finish post and strive with all their resolve to get their first. They ran with a purpose and nothing distracted them.
To win in any sport takes self control and denial. But it also requires dedication. Athletes must have a one tracked mind. They must be totally committed to winning and plan how they will train and compete.
Paul the Runner
1 Corinthians 9:26a says this: Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.
Paul did not run without giving attention to his race. He studied the course for the race and planned accordingly. He did not run just anywhere but stayed on the right course. Paul had the finish line in mind and ran decisively to reach it. Paul decided that he was going to win the prize and everything he did helped accomplish this.
A 100m Sprinter
Can you imagine an athlete waiting at the starting blocks before running the 100 m stand up just before the race and wave to his mum in the crowd ? He wouldn't dream of it. The only thing that he is thinking about is running as fast as he can to the finish line. He is not even concerned about the other runners. He has tunnel vision and is totally focussed on running his own race. Running to win!
In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul says this: Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul the Boxer
1 Corinthians 9:26b says: Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
Paul also uses the illustration of a boxer. He says that he does not shadow box, just hitting the air. Rather he strives to make every blow hit his opponent. He doesn't want to waste his time. Paul sticks to his game plan to win the fight. Beating the air may look impressive, but it doesn't accomplish anything. Paul does not compete aimlessly!
Good athletes study their sport. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their competition. They watch videos of past performances and learn how they can improve. They spend time away from home training and competing overseas. Kirsty Marshall spends most of the year in Europe so that she can train and compete much more. This involves a cost of her time and money. But she is competing to win. Therefore she gladly pays the cost!
The Christian Runner
Like Paul, believers need to have a purpose in all that they do! We must have a firm conviction about how we are running. We must have a strategy behind all that we do. We must know what we need to do and stick to it. This will mean that we make choices regarding how we use our time, talents and abilities, and our money. Christians are running a race that will finish in glory. Yet many runners invest most of their time and money on things that will remain on earth. How much time do you spend in prayer? Do you choose to order your life so that you have time alone with the Lord? Are you using your spiritual gifts and talents in the Lord's service?
Only money invested in God's kingdom will pay dividends in eternity. Yet so many justify spending thousands of dollars on houses, cars and appliances that are only temporal whilst neglecting the Lord's work. Are possessions keeping you from giving to the Lord's work? Are you investing in time or eternity? When believers run like this I can't help but feel that we have taken our eyes off the finish line. Do you exvaluate your race from time to time? Are you acheiving your goals in the Christian race? Are you focused on the finish line? Or have you been distracted along the way? Are you watching others running from the sideline? Let us run decisively, so that all we do will count for Christ. Let us spend our time, talents and money for Christ! Let us Run to Win!
But as well as running Decisively, we need to run with III. Discipline
1 Corinthians 9:27 says this: But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
a. Paul Applies Discipline!
Paul disciplined his body. What does it mean to discipline your body? Isn't this like denial? The word discipline means to persist to the point of being weary.
It has the idea of beating your body up, but in a good sense. To reach top physical fitness an athlete subjects his body to severe training. They push themselves to the limit, even though this involves pain. So discipline does not involve what we deny ourselves, but rather what we choose to subject ourselves to. The word literally means, " to take a punch under the eye."
I saw a documentary on Mohammad Alli and how he prepared to fight Joe Frazier. Most sports commentators expected Frazier to win. During Alli's training sessions he allowed his sparring partners to pin him in the corner and literally beat him up. He had never previously trained this way. But Alli knew that his opponent was strong and would not be easy to beat. He knew that he would have to suffer much pain in the fight, so he prepared his body by subjecting himself to it in preparation. During the fight with Frazier he absorbed all that he could dish out for the first eight rounds. He even taunted him to hit harder. Then after his opponent was tiring he struck a knock out blow unexpectedly. Alli pushed himself on through the pain to win the fight. That sort of commitment takes discipline. Suffering hardship gave Alli endurance! Paul was determined to finish his course. He was not discouraged by hardship. In Acts 20:22-24 Paul says this:
"And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
During the 1992 Olympic games many of the events were televised live back here in Australia. One such event that stands out was the 1500 metres swimming event in which Kirin Perkins was competing. Even the U S expected him to win the Gold medal. Everyone expected him to break the World and Olympic records. During the race they spoke about how he trained hard in preparation for the event, and in America had a short prerecorded segment on this. They reported that he trained for the event by swimming 8 miles or 12 kilometres a day. That is about 8 times the length of the 1500 metre race. He pushed himself to the limit, so that he would have the edge, so that he would win. Hard training gave Kirin stamina!
Nadia Comaneci, the now famous Romanian gymnast first set the World on fire by scoring three perfect 10's and also won the all-round medal at the 1976 Olympics. Jim McKay, a US Sports Commentator wanted to interview her and discover how she felt about wiping the slate clean with her three individual Gold Medals. When he was finally able to catch up with her he asked her how she felt about her wins? She replied, Alright! Not able to understand why she wasn't excited he said, Aren't you thrilled? You've won the all round competition! No one has ever done that before, getting three perfect tens! She replied, I have done that fourteen times before in practice! Nadia had practiced what she needed to do to win so many times that she did it perfectly time after time. Practice made Nadia perfect!
The Christian Race
Like an athlete needs physical exercise the Christian needs spiritual exercise. The believer who runs to win will persevere in trials and push on for the finish line. He will spend much time agonising in prayer, even when he is tired and would rather sleep in then get up to pray. He knows that the time spent training in prayer will pay great dividends on the track. The Christian athlete accomplishes much in the Lord's service because he pushes himself on. He doesn't slacken off during the race. He doesn't quit when things get hard. He runs a good race according to the rules leaving a good example for those running after him. The believer who runs to win will persevere through trials, suffering and sickness. He has disciplined himself to endure. He looks beyond the pain to the joy he will have at the finish. Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Paul, followed Christ and ran a disciplined race! Are you running a disciplined race?
b. Paul Avoids Disqualification!
1 Corinthians 9:27 says: But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Probably everyone here will remember how Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson broke the 100m world record. He beat a star studded field to win the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in record time. But his victory was short lived. Just after the race, he suffered disgrace and humiliation when it was proven that he had been taking performance enhancing drugs. All of the time, hard work and planning was in vain. He had not competed according to the rules. He was disqualified and forfeited his prize.
Paul brings out the same thought in 2 Timothy 2:5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Paul accomplished so much in his life because he was disciplined. He was willing to deny himself of his rights for the benefit of others. Everything Paul did was decisive and subject to his goal. But why was Paul so concerned with keeping his body in subjection? Because he didn't want to be disqualified. Paul knew that he must run according to the rules. Because if he fails to do so he will be disqualified and lose his prize.
2 Corinthians 5:10 says: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
The Bema Seat Bhma
The term judgement seat comes from a Greek word bema, which was the platform in Greek towns where speeches were made and decisions handed down by the rulers. The platform was raised a step above the ground. It was the place where the awards were given out in the annual Olympic Games. The judges sat on this platform and observed the athletes competing in the games. After each contest they would crown the winning athlete with a crown of laurel leaves. The judges not only observed the athletes performance to see who won the race according to the rules. They also observed their training to ensure they trained according to the rules. Disqualified athletes weren't condemned to death or jailed, but they were ashamed.
The Judgement Seat of Christ
Paul knew that he must appear before the judgement seat of Christ to have his service evaluated. The word appear means to stand before, but it also means to be revealed, exposed. Our lives will be laid bare before the judge to see what parts of our service should be rewarded. God will evaluate the character of our service and the motives that impelled us. Just as the drug test proved Ben Johnson had broken the rules and needed disqualification, the judgment seat of Christ will test our service.
It will show what has been done for God's glory out of love and faithfulness, and what has been done out of pride for the praises of men. All outward appearance and hypocrisy will be exposed. This judgement should not be confused with the judgement of the wicked at the great white throne. Believers are secure. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 gives more detail on this. Our service can be compared to wood hay and stubble; or gold, silver, precious stones. We must live our lives fully for Christ in His strength. Going deep in our walk with the Lord and makes our service for Him valuable.
John Chrysostom said this concerning the Judgement Seat of Christ:
Let us then imagine Christ's judgement seat to be present now, and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account to the judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand , but also be laid bare. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?
These facts should encourage us to run according to the rules. We should seek to please the Lord in all we do. How do we run according to the rules? We deny ourselves our rights and live sanctified lives. We obey God's ordained authorities, Our Government, Romans 13:1-7, Our Church Leaders Hebrews 13:7, 17 and Our Parents Ephesians 6:1-3. We must finish the race. Paul couldn't lose his salvation, but he could lose his prize! That's why he was so disciplined. How did Paul finish his race? At the end of his life, he said this in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
How do we run the Christian Race? You run to win by Denial, Decisiveness, & Discipline.
Are you laying aside the weights, those things that harm your Christian life? Are you feeding on the things that will build you spiritually? The word of God! Are you laying aside the sin which so easily besets you, so that you can run a good race?
II. Decisiveness or Dedication
Are you running with purpose, or are you running aimlessly? Is your focus on the finish line? Are your actions helping you to obtain your goal? Are you using your time talents and money in the Lord's work? If you finished your race today would you win or lose?
Are you pushing yourself to the point of weariness in your race? Are you agonising in prayer? Are you bringing your body into subjection and making serve your goal? Are you running a disciplined race? Are you running according to the rules? Or will you lose your reward through disqualification?
The Corinthians were not running to win. Paul rebuked them for their lack of discipline. Therefore let us run to win! Let us exercise denial, decisiveness and discipline. Let us pray.
Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.