1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Continue Running and Fighting WC McCarter
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
The Olympic games were the grand athletic spectacle of the ancient world as they are today. Even today, many who are not avid sports fans will tune in to see the various events of the Olympics. Athletics, culture, and pagan religion were all celebrated during the Olympic festival. The Greek festival that was second only to the Olympics was called the Isthmian games which were hosted on the Isthmus (or neck) of Corinth. This was a narrow land-bridge that connected the penisula with the mainland. On this narrow passageway was a temple for Poseidon. This was in the territory of Corinth, who was the host city. The games took place every two years, the year before and the year after the Olympics which were every four years. Of course the Romans took over these traditions, and added many of their own Caeserean cultic traditions. The Apostle Paul would have been at the games during his stay in the city. The Corinthians knew athletics well and all of the things surrounding them. They would have been genuinely proud of hosting their own festival and games which attracted people from all over the Greek world.
Contrary to popular belief, this passage is not about the Christian life in general. There are other references to athletics in the New Testament which are to promote endurance in the faith, but here we are talking about evangelism. The Apostle has just finished a lenghthy passage on his own personal sacrifice in order that the Gospel may be heard. He said that he had rights as an Apostle, but he did not claim them. He said, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more. . . ." Then he went on to famously state, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." So, you see, our main point today is to not give up evangelizing. I have a feeling that most of you can remember back to when you first became a Christian. You would have told anyone about the Lord Jesus Christ. Life was breathed into you, and you wanted to share that with others. You wanted them to be saved. You wanted them to be satisfied. You were on fire for the Lord and the church, but that fire soon began to dim. What happened?
Let's talk for a few minutes today about continuing the run and fight of Christian evangelism. Maybe the Lord will reignite a fire within us to reach others with the Good News of Christ Jesus.
Running to Win v24
One of the premier sporting events of ancient times until now was/is foot racing. There will be many competitors in each race, but only one can win, the first to cross the finish line. The Apostle encourages the Corinthians, and us by extension, to run in such a way that we may win the prize. We can discuss all sorts of things on this note. A runner must devote himself to years of training in order to even have the opportunity of competing in an event. His diet would have to be strict and healthy, his sleeping habits would have to be set in order (early to bed, early to rise), and his training would have to be rigorous and steadfast. Then that individual would have to travel a long distance to Corinth to run in an event that would last only a short window of time. It has always amazed me that people will devote hours upon hours of strict training for years upon years, travel accross the world, and compete in a one mile event that will last less than four minutes. Sprinters will compete for only a few seconds. Yet, they do it to obtain the prize. When you do this, you do it to win. A football coach once said, "You play to win the game" which is often quoted in sports today.
Obtaining a Crown v25
The phrase "temperate in all things" refers to the strict training to which an athlete submits himself. Temperance is key to athletic training. Actually, I think we can say, self-control is what makes anyone successful at what they do. You have to know your own limits and hold yourself to them. The athletes would do it win the crown. In those ancient times, the crown was for several hundred years made of celery. At some points it was made of pine twigs and leaves. Either way, though, it was simply a perishable wreath. It would not last, but would evetually rot. All of that hard work, all of those years, all of the fame would soon fade away.
The Christians race is much like the athlete's. It is a race of discipline, self-control, and sacrifice as we pursue the prize. The thing about the Christian life, though, is that there is more than one winner and we will receive an imperishable crown. Keep in mind, we are instructed to run like those who believe there is only one winner. No one competes for second place, right? We must run like that, but with the knowledge that others will obtain the prize as well. The other difference is our crown. We will not receive a fading and flimsy wreath, but a prize that will last forever; that is, eternal life in the presence of our Savior's glory.
Run and Fight v26
This verse is the Apostle's summary statement. Here is the principle. We must know what our goal is. If we do not know where the finish line is or where the opponent is standing we will never run there or hit our target. Set your eyes on the finish line. Know what you are running toward and you can keep straight on that path. If not, you will be one of those people who wander around your whole life not knowing where to go or what to do. The Scripture tells us the path to follow to reach the finish line.
Notice that another athletic metaphor is introduced in this verse. Boxing was another major sport in the Greek games. The phrase about beating the air could refer to a couple of things. First, it could refer to shadow boxing which is an important element of a boxer's training and is actually a good excercise. Yet, if you only shadow box and never get into the ring, what good will it do? You will never win the prize. Second, the phrase could refer to standing in the ring, but constantly missing your opponent. We are encouraged to both run and fight with knowledge, confidence, certainty, and in a way that we may win.
Paul would not allow himself to be one who did not live the Christian life with discipline and certainty. He uses the language of an athlete when he refers to how he maintained his spiritual well-being. The word "discipline" is the word that is used for giving a punch that would leave a black eye. "Subjection" means that he made his body his slave. I'm not sure that this means that Paul literally beat himself. I believe Paul is using these strong phrases in order to show how he controls himself in the faith. An athlete may have to choose to eat some raw vegetables for a snack instead of a cupcake. A Christian may need to choose a time of prayer instead of a night out on the town. An athlete may need to drink a glass of water instead of a soda. A Christian may need to sing a hymn instead of falling to the lust of the eyes. We must know our limits. We must know our weaknesses. Paul uses one last athletic word, "disqualified," on his last point. Athletes could be found for several reasons to be disqualified. If you did not follow the strict training regiment or regulations of the games, you would not be allowed to compete, much less obtain the prize.
As I said at the beginning, this passage is link to the previous one about evagelism. It was Paul's life-mission to preach the Gospel to others. Now, you are not required to give up everything you have and drop what you are doing in order to travel the world and preach the Gospel as Paul did, but you are called to take advantage of the opportunities you are given. You do not have to be in a pulpit, but you can share the Word of God on the phone. You do not have to be on a stage, but you can share the Good News at the mall. You see, we have opportunities, but we so often do not take advantage of them. You need to reignite that fire you once had, maybe when you first came to the faith. You must be passionate about the Good News. It has saved you from this present wicked age and from the wrath to come, don't you want others to be saved?
So, what will it take?
(1) It will take you running in such a way that you may win. You have to witness in such a way that others will be enlightened to the truth.
(2) You must excercise self-control, temperance in all things. Do not do those things which will hinder others from being saved. So many Christians damage their witness by the activities that they involve themselves in, their negative attitude, and their filthy language. Control yourself both physically, emotionally, verbally, and spiritually. Take a stand. Draw the line that you will not cross.
(3) Know that your prize is eternal. We are not talking about trivial things.
(4) Know your target. Know your goal. Set your eyes on it.
(5) Finally, discipline yourself. You need to be trained in righteousness. Set your mind to Bible reading and study, prayer, heavenly things, eternal things, the good things.