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Run To Win - 1 Cor 9d

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1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Stephen Caswell © 2002

The Story of John Landy   

In 1960 there was a famous race in Canada between two great runners. The four minute mile recently been broken by both John Landy and Roger Banister. Now they were racing each other. John Landy was leading the race and there was only about two hundred yards left to go. As they were coming out of the last corner 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 concentrated on his own race. By taking his eyes off the finish line he lost the race.


Paul wrote 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 didn't have. They coined phrases, like, all things are lawful for me,  and  food is for the body and the body is for food. 

Paul responded to this attitude 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 continued to challenge the Corinthians regarding Christian liberty till the end of chapter 11. In chapter 9 he defended the right of those who preach the gospel to be supported by the church. But Paul hadn't use his right, so that he could preach the gospel freely and not have it identified with the religious huxters and philosophers of his day. Paul was denied himself his rights for the benefit of others and he told the Corinthians to do the same. They shouldn't place a stumbling block before unbelievers and weaker brothers by living for themselves. At the end of chapter 9, Paul used the analogy of running a race to describe the Christian life. The Christian life is like running a marathon. This requires both preparation and endurance.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul asks them this question: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?


Paul used the analogy of a race to show that although many run in a race, only one wins the prize. Paul was not saying that if we lose the race we lose our salvation. Neither was 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. Just like the recent Commonwealth Games in Manchester, athletes must compete according to the rules to receive a prize.

Sunday School Races

I used to love running in the junior 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, you Run To Win ! How do you win the Christian race? Paul gives three requirements, Denial, Decisiveness & Discipline.

The first quality a good athlete needs is: I. Denial 

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 ejgkrateuomai means to be self controlled, to practice abstinence. This involves a choice to abstain from the nicer, less healthy things of life. To be self controlled in mind and body allows runners to prepare physically for the race. Christian athletes deny themselves the pleasures of life so that they can win the prize.

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 remove it so that he can focus 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. We should remember that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. If athletes abstain from drinking, smoking and eating the wrong foods, how much more should runners in the Christian Race absatin from them?

All things are lawful for us, but not all things edify. Do you want to be in 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 can 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! Both drinking and smoking are addictive. They lower your physical fitness. Because they affect people's behaviour they spoil our Christian witness. God wants His runners to be healthy in body and soul. He wants them to be self controlled, to be temperate. 


Paul shares his race philosophy in Romans 14:20-23: 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. Two rules apply to using our freedom. Will the thing I am doing become a habit that controls me? Will the thing I am doing place a stumbling block before a weaker brother? Are you weighed down in the Christian race by earthly baggage? Would Jesus or the apostles run the way you do?


The Incorruptible Crown

The prize that athletes competed for was a stefano" or victors crown. It was made of laurel leaves woven together. Because it was made of green laurel leaves it didn't last long. Paul encourages believers to deny themselves since they are competing for an incorruptible crown, a crown that will last forever, an eternal reward.


Are you laying aside your freedoms and rights for the sake of the gospel? Is smoking or drinking ruining your witness as a Christian? Are you setting a good example for your children to follow? We need to deny ourselves anything that would hinder us or our brethren in the Christian race. Are you watching movies and shows on TV that are harming your Christian race? Does your music glorify God? Does it build up your faith? We need to  feed only on the things which build us up in our Christian life. Are you reading your Bible allowing it to transform your life? If we don't feed our souls with the right food we won't be able to compete lawfully. We will be disqualified. Runners in the Christian race can't lose their salvation but they can lose their reward, their crown. If you are running to win, you will need to deny yourself anything that hinders you. All things are lawful for us, but not all things edify. God holds us accountable for how we use our Christian freedom.

The second quality a good athlete needs is: II. Decisiveness

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 finishing 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 didn't run without giving attention to his race. He studied the course for the race and planned accordingly. Paul stayed on the right course. He 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 focused on running his own race. He's 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 doesn't shadow box, just hitting the air. Rather he strives to make every blow hit his opponent. He doesn't want to waste his time and effort. Paul sticks to his game plan to win the fight. Beating the air may look impressive, but it doesn't accomplish anything. Paul doesn't compete aimlessly!

Kirsty Marshall


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 read books written by successful athletes. They talk to coaches about their sport. They constantly evaluate their past performance so that they can improve their future efforts. 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

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 need to have a purpose in everything we do! Like Paul we should be unhappy with our present performance. Since we aren't perfect we should press on to maturity. We haven't arrived yet. Christians are running a race that will finish in glory. Are you evaluating your race performance in light of God's Word? Are you learning from older Christians and from studying the Bible? Do you know the Lord better now than when you got saved? Are your choices helping you to improve as a Christian athlete? Do you think you have arrived or are you pressing on toward perfection? How much time do you spend in prayer? Are you using your spiritual gifts in God's service? Are you using your money to further God's kingdom? 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 Applied Discipline!

Paul disciplined his body. What does it mean to discipline your body? Isn't this like denial? The word discipline u&pwpiazw 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 doesn't 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."

Mohammad Alli

I saw a documentary on Mohammad Alli and how he prepared to fight Joe Frazier. Most sports commentators expected Frazier to win. He was stronger, heavier and had a longer reach. 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 wouldn't be easy to beat. He knew that he would have to suffer a lot of 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.  

Kirin Perkins

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!   

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 quit when he is persecuted at work for being a Christian, he keeps on witnessing. He runs a good race according to the rules and leaves a good example to 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 Avoided 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.  

Ben Johnson

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.

The Bema Seat  Bhma

The term Judgement Seat bhma, describes a platform in Greek towns where speeches were made and decisions were 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 did  suffer public shame.

2 Cor 5:10: 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. 

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 if 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.

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 choose to live for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We don't rest on our laurels but press on toward perfection. We persevere in trials and suffering. We push ourselves to finish the race according to the rules. 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? 2 Timothy 4:6-8 tells us: 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 you run the Christian Race? You run to win. This will require Denial,  Decisiveness, & Discipline.

I. Denial

Are you laying aside the weights that harm your Christian life? Are you denying yourself addictive habits like smoking and drinking for the sake of God's Kingdom? Are you choosing to avoid anything that will hinder your Christian witness, things like immoral movies or T.V, rock and roll music and impure speech? Are you setting aside your rights for the sake of other runners? Are you laying aside the sin which so easily besets you to run a good race?

II. Decisiveness


Are you running with purpose, or running aimlessly? Is your focus on the finish line? Are your setting priorities that will help you to obtain your goal? Are you pressing on toward perfection or do you think you have arrived? Do you know the Lord better than you did a year ago? Are you using your time well? Are you serving the Lord? Do you evaluate your progress along the way? Are you using your talents and money in the Lord's work? If you finished your race today would you win or lose?

III. Discipline

Are you pushing yourself to the point of weariness in your race? Are you making time to spend alone with God each day? Are you feeding on the Word of God, Christian music and books? Are you agonising in prayer? Are you witnessing for the Lord even if it means persecution or ridicule? Are you running a disciplined race? Are you running according to the rules? 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.  

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