The Christian Race
TEXT: I Corinthians 9:24-27
TOPIC: The Christian Race
Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point, Alabama
The Ultimate Reality Community Worship Series, Center Crest Baptist Church, July 9, 2006
(Portions of this message adapted from a similar sermon by Dr. James Merritt)
This evening we begin our series of Community Worship Services around the theme of “the Ultimate Reality.” My assignment this evening is to deliver a biblical word of exposition based upon The Amazing Race.
The Amazing Race is a Reality program featuring 11 teams of 2 people racing around the world for a cash prize of $1,000,000. The teams compete in thirteen legs traveling all over the world. In most legs the last team to arrive at the pit stop is eliminated. When only three teams remain in the race, they compete in a final leg. The team in first place is the winner of $1,000,000 and the winner of The Amazing Race.
While millions tune in each week to watch the Amazing Race on television, there is a far more important race occurring everyday in the lives of God’s children. It is the Christian Race in which we are all participants.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25And 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. 26Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1. I believe that if the Apostle Paul were alive today the first piece of the newspaper he would pick up and read would be the sports page. Paul I believe was a sports fan. He enjoyed the thrill of competition, the excitement of winning and the lesson that you can learn from losing. On several occasions Paul likened the Christian life to a race. He talked about winning the victory crown. He was enamored I believe with sports.
2. We live in a sports minded generation. Nothing excites people more today than sports. Sports have become a religion and its champions have become gods. I read the other day about a husband who said to his wife, “Now before football season begins, is there anything that you would like to say to me?”
3. In Paul’s day there was a great thirst for sports just like there is today. As a matter of fact there were four sets of athletic games that were world renowned. There were the Olympics which were held every four years. Then there were the Pythian Games which were held also held every four years. And then there were the Nemean games which were held every two years. Then there were the Isthmian games which were held the first and the third years of each Olympian. These games were staggered so all of the wealthy and elite people of that day could go and watch all of these various Olympic events.
4. These games included everything from gymnastics to horsemanship to wrestling and to boxing, but the main event of the Olympics and all of the major athlectic events of that day was the Marathon, the long distance race.
I want you to picture a stadium in Corinth that is packed with over 30,000 people. You are one of the runners. You enter the stadium. A hush falls over the crowd. You remove your warm-ups. You stretch your legs. You loosen up your muscles. Your take your mark. There’s not a sound, not a whisper. The start is sounded and you’re off. Your race has begun.
5. I want you to think of yourself in a race, the Christian race. You see the Christian life is not a rest. It’s a race. It is not a frolic. It is a fight. The word used for race in the first verse is the Greek word agon. It is the word from which we get the English word agony. The Christian life calls for the discipline of an athlete, the endurance of a marathon runner and the determination of a champion. It is an agonizing race. It is a race that if you are going to run and win will take every ounce, every fiber, every sinew, every muscle of your very being.
6. Now you must understand two things about your race. First of all it’s your race. It’s a PERSONAL RACE. Paul says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
God has given you a race to run and God has given to me a race to run. You cannot run my race and I cannot run your race. You are to run your own race.
7. It is also a PERMANENT RACE. In this race you’re in it until you die. Every Christian will finish his race but not every Christian will win his race. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
Every Christian is going to finish the race but not every Christian is going to win. This passage of Scripture is your strategy.
Paul provides us with a strategy for running to win the Christian race.
1. THE MOTIVATION THAT EXHORTS US-- I Corinthians 9:25
1. Paul says run to win. Nothing less than a gold medal is to be our goal as we run this Christian life. In verse 25, Paul tells us “and everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it for a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”
2. In the original Olympics, the winner would receive a crown of olive leaves or pine leaves. These were the perishable crowns of which Paul referred. Yet our crown which is a crown of righteousness and a crown of rewards is eternal.
3. We do not run to obtain eternal life nor do we run to maintain it. We run the race of this Christian life to please the One who has called us and saved us and given us this eternal life. I heard about a man who lost his wife and the two had been married for many years and they both loved the Lord Jesus and on her tombstone he had placed this epitaph:
Death can hide but not divide;
You are but on Christ’s other side,
You are with Christ and Christ is with me,
United still in Christ are we.
II. THE DISCIPLINE THAT ENABLES US-- I Corinthians 9:27
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I should become disqualified.”
The expression I discipline my body entails the idea of giving oneself a black eye,” “buffet,” or “bruise.” Literally it could mean to beat yourself black and blue. Paul’s readers knew that in the Isthmian Games, the boxers wore gloves consisting of ox-hide bands covered with knots and nails, and loaded with lead and iron. To prepare for such an event, a man would have to brace himself to endure all forms of physical abuse.
The author of Hebrews reminds us also that we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us press on, let us run—let us lay aside every weight, every sin, that so easily besets us. Let us press toward the mark, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and now sits victoriously at the right hand of the throne of God.
Every professional athlete will tell you the reason they have reached the level of success they have is because they have learned to discipline their bodies, to deny themselves in order to be crowned as champions.
We are called to run. We are called to run with discipline and faithfulness. I say this for I have known many who make no attempt to run.
There are others of us who, starting the race, soon fade away. I see that all the time in the church. There will be a young fellow who becomes a leader in the church and for a little while he is just so faithful and active then, I don’t even know him anymore—don’t even see him. He’s not there. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t come. He doesn’t help. He just fades away, dies away.
And, there are people who come in the church, and, for a little while, they are so faithful and devout and holy and dedicated. And, I say, “What a wonderful and committed couple.” But after a little while, I don’t even see them anymore. I don’t know what’s become of them.
And, they come and join the choir and they sing for awhile and they help for awhile and they just encourage for awhile. And, then, I am just looking, looking, looking and there is no sign of them. Not a single sign of them do I see, not a one, not a one, not a one.
By the way, these are the words of a pastor who should know, W.A. Criswell.
III. THE CONFIDENCE THAT ENSURES US— I Corinthians 9:26
“Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.”
You should run your race with determination, with resolve, with resolution. Make up your mind right now with Jesus at my side I will not quit. You see when you get into the Christian race you get into a marathon not a 10 yard sprint. You are to run this race with perseverance.
There are over 14 million Southern Baptists members. Of those 14 million Southern Baptists, one-half of them never come to church and in fact we don’t even know where most of them are. These are Christians who have quit running the race.
Some of them have quit because of hard feelings. Some of them quit because of sin. Some of them quit because of the world. Some of them quit because of indifference.
Would to God that we would have the motto of the Foreign Legion "If I falter push me on, If I stumble pick me up, but if I retreat shoot me. Jesus is not interested in how fast you run but in how far you run.
Jerry Falwell said, “you can determine the greatness of a man by what it takes to discourage him.” If you want to know just how close you are to the Lord and what kind of a Christian you are ask yourself this question: What would it take for me to quit coming to church?
For some let just one person say one wrong word and they won’t be back. For somebody else let the church vote to do one thing they don’t agree with, and they won’t be back. For some church members, just let one thing go wrong with their lives, lose their job, get into an auto accident, go through some severe sickness, and their out of here.
I have made up my mind in my life. I want to be like the Apostle Paul who when he came to the end of his life said, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course.”
Jesus is not timing you with a stopwatch. He’s measuring you with a yardstick. It’s not how fast you run. It is how far you run that really counts with the Lord. It is not how fast you run. It is how far you run that really counts with the Lord.
Let’s run our race with perseverance determined not to quit.
Dwight L. Moody was lying on his deathbed. I want you to listen to his last words: "Earth is receding. Heaven is descending. God is calling, and I am going home. Is this death? Why it is not bad. It is glorious. This is my Coronation Day. "
Friend, what a finish is waiting the faithful child of God who runs with perseverance the race set before him.
There is a beautiful hymn that we don’t sing very often called "When we see Christ." I love the chorus of that old song because it says it best.
It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus;
Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Christ.
One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase;
So bravely run the race, till we see Christ.
LET US RUN the Christian Race till we see Christ!