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1 Cor 9

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The Athlete’s Purpose

1 Cor. 9:24-27


Assignment: Write top three life goals


Wayne Gretzky will not soon be forgotten in the hockey world. For that last two decades, he has been the NHL’s greatest treasure.

·         Standing ovations in both Ottawa and New York, NHL Awards

·         Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him w/o the three yr. waiting pd.

·         Has exemplified the best of the sporting world.

·         Rare blend of personal character, incredible talent, community involvement, team spirit, self-effacing modesty, and straight out passion for the game.

·         League officials suggested “farewell tour”; which Wayne, true to form, rejected.

·         Even in “dynasty years” I was never personally an Oiler or Gretzky fan. But I can respect what he means to hockey.

Society has long been enamoured with athletics and athletes.

·         Olympic style (ex. Pan Am Games) athletes are often their nation’s Gretzkys

·         Athletes have been revered for centuries as heroes of society, expressions of noble and desirable characteristics.

·         Organized athletic contests (2500+ years.)

·         Ancient Greek and Roman athletes revered as heroes, and awarded a life of luxury at state expense

·         Modern times - biographical portraits capture not only athletic side, but the essential connection between the heart of the heroic athlete and the dreams of the average citizen.

·         For many people, athletes represent the best of human life, character, passion, discipline, teamwork, motivation, persistence, guts, and potential.


·         Apostle Paul picked up on this phenomenon. Familiar with Greek and Roman Olympic-style games. May even have attended (ex. Isthmian Games in Corinth)

·         More than just admiring the sports, Paul also saw what we continue to see. Athletics mirrors real life. Athletic metaphors teach key truths about life, esp. Christianity.

·         This summer - to be “Pan Am Games-y”, we’re going to examine the lessons of Scripture drawn from athletic metaphors. We will learn about the Christian race from observing athletes in action.

                                                                               I.    The Athlete’s Goal: To win the prize

Read: 1 Cor. 9:24-27 - “Centre-piece” of athletic metaphors

1A.   The Prize is the Athlete’s Greatest Reward

·         Cf. Michael Peca, Buffalo Sabres’ captain, who refused to hoist the Eastern Conference trophy, because it wasn’t the true prize (the Stanley Cup was). Only the highest prize would satisfy.

·         v.24-25 - The Christian is like an athlete running for the highest prize.

·         A greater prize than the athletes run for.

·         Temporal prizes can fade, break, or be stolen (cf. Chris Walby’s Grey Cup Ring).

·         Paul argues the opposite - we have a much higher prize to compete for.

·         Christians need not settle for a “second place” prize.

·         If an athlete can place such a high value on a temporal prize, how much value should Christians place on their eternal prize?


2A.   (In addition to being the greatest prize) the prize demands the athlete’s greatest commitment

·         To the focused athlete, nothing in life is so central as the winning of the prize.

·         Cf. An athlete who has given up everything (ex. teen athlete who gives up “teen life”)  in order to “win the prize”.

·         The greater the prize, the greater the commitment.

·         The more important the prize is to the athlete, the more willing they will be to commit and sacrifice in order to win that prize.

·         We admire that kind of devotion in athletes. Do we understand its implications for the spiritual world?

·         What is your singular focus? For what are you willing to enter into an “athletic” regimen? Is there anything you deem “worth the effort”?

·         Is seeking close relationship with God and victorious Christian living “worth the effort” to you, or are you hoping it just “comes easily”?

·         If an athlete can make this kind of commitment all for a mere temporal prize, how much more commitment should be expected in pursuit of an eternal prize.


                                                                                                II.   The Quest of the Goal

Paul goes on to describe some of the things athletes will do in their quest for this greatest prize.

1A.   To win the prize, athletes will engage in strict training

·         v. 25 - strict training.

·         The Christian “contest” must be prepared for. We must be willing to train for victory. Christian victory is not automatic, it is pursued and prepared for.

·         Grace means we don’t have to come to training camp in shape, already at the top of our game. We don’t’ have to make try-outs. We don’t’ have to worry about being cut.

·         Grace does not mean we automatically become spiritually fit, able to win every contest.

·         Grace supplies all the raw elements, the equipment, and the coach. But until we exercise our spiritual muscles through deliberate and strict spiritual exercise, we will not receive the full benefit of the grace offered to us.

·         Cf. Dallas Willard’s analogy of a baseball player who makes things look easy precisely because of his diligent training.

2A.   To win the prize, athletes will seek to maximize their efforts

·         “Economy of Motion”

·         Cf. US snowboarder loses gold by hotdogging


·         Cf. my sister used to “box” by just flailing. You won’t win  the world crown that way. A skilled fighter will just evade and cover up until you have expended all your energy, and then you’re ready to be knocked out.

·         v. 26 - no aimless running, or random swinging.


·         To be effective, athletes not only “work harder, they work smarter”

·         I’m not talking about “doing a bunch of religious looking stuff”.

·         Not all that looks “spiritual” is of equal value  (ex. marathon runner with body-builder’s physique, sumo wrestler on a crash diet)

·         I’m talking about taking a very deliberate approach, with the help of the Spirit (coach), the Bible (training manual) and the church (team-mates and training partners).

·         Cf. One of the reasons records continue to fall is the increased knowledge of how to maximize the body’s potential through the use of modern technology.

·         We need to examine our lives and ask God to show us where we are expending unnecessary time and energy for things that really don’t matter, things that really won’t make us better Christians.

·         We need to devote ourselves to those core spiritual exercises that are given to us in our manual and have proven themselves to be effective.

3A.   To win the prize, athletes will sacrifice comfort to squeeze out the last ounce of bodily energy

·         Cf. Nike? Commercial of “greatest day in Mary Webb’s life” - her stumbling across the finish line at the Ironman Triathlon. “If you look closely, you can see just how happy she is”. Illustrates the total exhaustion an athlete will go through to win the prize.

·         v. 27 - my body’s appetites and whims do not determine my training regimen, the goal of finishing the course determines my training regimen. If I do not sufficiently prepare my body for the contest, I can not expect to win.


·         No matter how hard the contest, some athletes have the uncanny ability to raise their level that one more notch. Often it’s due to mental toughness more than anything else. They have learned to conquer their body for the sake of the prize.

·         It’s one thing to “train ourselves spiritually” within a fairly comfortable atmosphere - in the safety of the church, in comfortable surroundings, etc.

·         What happens when we are challenged to go beyond the normal call; to extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable? Are we spiritually tough enough to squeeze that “extra ounce” out, for the sake of our eternal prize?

·         Often this question reveals the strength of our passion and motivation far more starkly than we’re comfortable with.

                                                                                                         III.  Conclusion

·         Former figure skating star Paul Martini was asked why he thought Canadian women weren’t more competitive in the figure skating world. His response, albeit in much more colourful language than I will use here, was basically, that Canadian women don’t want to win badly enough. They are happy just to compete, while the American, Russian, European, and Chinese women are hungry for medals.

·         He went on to cite the example of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan (you will recall Harding was involved in an attempt to injure Kerrigan’s knee before the winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway), not to condone the practice of intentionally injuring one’s competitors, but to illustrate the lengths to which the highly motivated will go to “win the prize”

·         What is your life goal? What is it that forms the single, most passionate pursuit of your life? What is it that you would be willing to re-organize your entire lifestyle around in order to achieve?


·         Look back at your “Top 3” list. To what prize or prizes does it point? Where is “spiritual growth” on that list? Where is “intimacy with Christ” on that list?

·         Every person here needs to ask themselves two questions:

·         1) Are you spending your life pursuing a crown of dead twigs and branches that will fade away with this earth and this life? Or are you running for the eternal prize - the high calling of God, the crown of eternal glory?

·         2) Are you running whole-hearted-ly, straining with all that is in you for God’s gold-medal, or are you content “just to be here”? Has the pursuit of God consumed you? Are you willing to pay the price of spiritual excellence, or are you happy just to coast along?

·         You’re in the race, whether you like it or not (and whether you’re running, walking, sitting, or going the wrong way). You can’t control that. But you can choose to run to win the eternal prize, and to pursue God with a spiritual hunger that will not rest until the prize is won.

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