Let the Competition Begin
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Introduction: We live in a sports crazed world. I was looking at Final four tickets this week and found two lower level center court tickets for $12,000.00. There were also some bargain seats on the other side of the stadium in the nose bleed section for $275.00. If you would like to go in style, and want to take some friends along, a suite was available for just over 91,000.00! The sad thing is that it will probably be a sell out. Sports is big business. The March 5th issue of SI, cited the athletic income from top five division 1 universities at over 463 million dollars! Number one at 104.7 million was of course, The Ohio State University, with U of M coming in at #4 at 85.5 million.
Sports were a big thing in Paul’s day too. I don’t know if fans painted their bodies and wore wedges of cheese on their heads, but it was a big deal. Sports were especially big in Corinth. Every two years the Isthmian games were held near there and people came from all over to attend, although I doubt they spent $12,000.00 a ticket!
You will remember that Paul has been talking about giving up personal liberties for the sake of being an encouragement to fellow believers that were struggling with the issue of eating meat offered unto idols. Paul uses the illustration of athletic discipline to demonstrate the focus necessary to be victorious as a believer.
1. Be Determined v.24
a. The Scriptures liken the Christian life to a walk, and a pilgrimage in other places. You get the idea from those descriptions of taking it slow and steady. Here, Paul uses the metaphor of a race and a boxing match.
b. We might like the picture of a walk better because it sounds a lot less stressful! Walking might sound more like our pace, especially as we get older! Running indicates that there is a sense of urgency about getting to our destination.
c. Paul states that we should run this race not merely for the sake of competition, we ought to run this race with the goal of winning.
d. You don’t win a race by sheer determination, it takes training and discipline to win the kind of race that Paul is talking about.
e. The Corinthians knew all about the demands of being an athlete at this level. They had to commit to a strict training regiment.
Athletes in Greek games had to first qualify on the local level. They were selected by elimination trials. But that didn’t guarantee them a spot in the official games. After they were chosen to represent their city, the athletes would submit themselves to ten months of rigorous training in their hometown under the supervision of professional trainers. When they arrived at the training camp, the officials examined them and then they had to take an oath swearing to obey all the rules of training. If an athlete left the training camp even once during those ten months, he was disqualified. He couldn’t participate in the games. During those ten months he was on a strict diet consisting mainly of cheese, figs, and dried meat. He couldn’t drink any wine. And if he was caught violating the diet, he was disqualified. Every morning at the training camp there were two trumpet calls. The first was the warning trumpet. When it blew, the athlete’s personal trainer came and rubbed him down with oil. The second trumpet was the signal to begin the daily workout. If he missed just one trumpet call during the entire ten months of training, he was disqualified from the games. Everyday as the athlete worked out, he was watched by people called “marshals” who would observe his effort. If he was caught loafing around or goofing off just once during the entire ten months, he was disqualified.
After the ten months of training in his hometown, the athlete would then travel to the city where the games would take place. And he would go there for another month of training. When all the athletes arrived they would have a swearing in ceremony. There they would swear another oath stating that they had obeyed the training rules of the past ten months, and that they would obey the training rules for the next month, and that they would also obey the rules for the competition itself.
f. How determined are we to do our best for the Lord? Are we just on a walk out for a casual stroll or are we running? Are we determined to win or is any performance good enough?
2. Be Dedicated v.25
a. Tomorrow night two teams will play for the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship. They have practiced hard for months and years. It will be the most important game of their lives. When it is over one team will get a trophy to put on display back at their school. They will get a banner to hang in their arena for all future visitors to admire. One team will make history, the other will go home disappointed. That is how it works, there is a champion and a runner up.
b. In the Roman games there was only an award for the winner. The prize that they had battled so hard for was not some lucrative endorsement or even a banner to hang in the arena. It was a pine wreath that was placed on their head. They went through countless hours of training with the expressed goal of being crowned champion and having a few sticks woven together to make a goofy looking hat that quickly dried out and was probably hung on the wall.
c. Paul states that they competed for something that didn’t last and they were willing to dedicate their lives to it.
d. What is your life dedicated too? Is it something that is only going to give you some kind of temporary reward? If that is the case then you need to make some adjustments before it is too late and you have nothing to show for the time and talent that God gave you!
e. Paul says that we compete in this race to win something that will never fade away, collect dust, and be sold at a garage sale!
f. The Scriptures speak of five such crowns.
i. 1 Corinthians 9:25 Crown of Incorruption. It is awarded for spiritual discipline.
ii. 1 Thessalonians 2:19. Crown of Rejoicing and it is the soul-winners crown. It is awarded for evangelism to those who are involved in helping others come to Christ.
iii. 2 Timothy 4:8 Crown of Righteousness. It is awarded to those who love Christ’s return.
iv. James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10 Crown of Life. This crown is given to those who endure the testing and hardships of life.
v. 1 Peter 5:4 Crown of Glory. It is awarded for faithfully shepherding God’s people.
g. As you look through this list what kind of crowns do you expect to receive someday? If you can’t identify any, you had better get running. You see, you don’t receive this prize automatically—you have to work for it. You have to win the race of the Christian life in order to receive it.
3. Be Deliberate vv.26-27
a. Paul was not interested in just going through the motions of a Christian life. He wanted to win.
b. He didn’t want to run around in circles, he focused on the goal and ran straight for it.
c. As a boxer, he didn’t want to whiff when he threw a punch, he wanted to land a haymaker! (I once was in a boxing club for a short time and I wore myself out trying to punch a golden glove champion boxer). Paul didn’t want to wear himself out accomplishing nothing.
d. The last time I boxed I fought an opponent that was scary. He was bigger and stronger than me and I knew he would probably hurt me. In my corner was the golden glove champ who told me that I could beat this guy, and somehow I did! After that match I quickly (retired) from boxing feeling fortunate that I didn’t get my head tore off! I didn’t want to face any more scary opponents!
e. Paul states that the scariest opponent that we face, the one who will probably do the most damage to our winning the race or match is ourselves!
f. Paul says that he had to “keep” or buffet his own body, his own sinful desires, or else he would have been ineffective as a boxer or runner. Although Satan, the Roman government, and Jewish legalists were all after him, he saw his biggest detriment as his weak flesh. He had to constantly give himself a “black eye” whenever he began to lose focus.
g. He both called others to join in the race and was a competitor as well. He wanted to make sure that after taking such a position that he didn’t lose out on the reward because he did not have control of his desires. He fought a continuing battle with his flesh and had to make it his slave, forcing it to do what was right. He denied himself things that he was allowed to do but chose not too for the good of others. He also fought the on going war with sinful desires and never gave up even though he felt like a “wretched man” and questioned if he would ever be delivered from the old nature.
h. Ever feel like Paul? What we must do is be deliberate. Don’t run aimlessly. Swing to hit something. Hit yourself once in a while! We all need a good black eye to get us back on track now and then.
Conclusion: We must be determined. We must be dedicated, and we must be deliberate. Can we say that we are? Do we need to get back in the race or step into the ring? Don’t get disqualified from the coming rewards because you never won or had to surrender your prize. The awards that we get will never fade in their significance or elegance.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
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 a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.