RUNNING THE RACE
1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27
When I was in high school. I signed up for the varsity track team. I was reasonably fast on my feet and I figured that it might be nice to win some races on the school team. I suppose that I entertained visions of becoming a school hero as I led my team to victory.
Once I had signed up and joined the team, I learned that there was more to it than just showing up for the race. First there were long hours of practice and practice and practice. While all of my friends were at the beach or going to the movies or otherwise relaxing, I was expected to be running around the track and subjecting my body to other indignities in preparation for a coming race. I came to discover that to be a winner takes dedication and discipline.
Paul uses the illustration of a race to portray the Christian life in several of his epistles, but none more vividly than here in this first epistle to the Corinthians.
THE ILLUSTRATION OF A RACE
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Paul begins by pointing out a common phenomena found in all races. It is so obvious that it is sometimes overlooked. Whenever you watch a race, all of the contestants who have entered the race go on to run the course of the race.
This was well known to the Corinthians. Every three years, their city hosted the famous Isthmus Games. Those who had signed their names to a particular race would be expected to run. This brings us to the point that Paul wants to make. Even though all of the contestants run, there is only one winner.
1. Running is not the same as Winning: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? (9:24).
What does Paul mean by this? Does he mean that there is only one winner in the Christian life? Does he mean that there is only one winner allowed per each local church? I do not believe so. Rather, I think that Paul wants to show that not everyone who runs in a race is going to win.
This is the point. In any race there are going to be those who win and those who lose. You don’t get the prize just because you ran in the race. You only get the prize if you win.
Running is not the same thing as winning. While it is true that it takes some effort to run, it takes much more effort to run and win. For one thing, you have to finish the race in order to win. You can run the first part of the race in record time, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you never cross the finish line.
It is on this basis that Paul gives the believers at Corinth an exhortation. It is not just an exhortation to run. It is an exhortation to run so that you will win.
2. Run To Win: Run in such a way that you may win (9:24).
Winning the spiritual race doesn’t depend upon how fast you run. It is determined by HOW you run.
You can run in such a way that you are certain to lose. I am reminded of a infamous college football player who intercepted a fumble and then ran the ball all the way across the field for a touchdown. There was only one problem. He ran toward the wrong goal.
There is a right way and a wrong way to run. It did not matter to that player/s team that he ran with speed or with style or that he was sincere. He was running the wrong way. He cost his team the game.
PRINCIPLES OF WINNING
And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
In verse 24 Paul exhorted the Corinthians to win. Now he goes on to give them several principles of winning. He does not merely tell them what to do. He also tells them how to do it.
The Bible is very practical in that way. It never gives you a command without also giving you the instructions and the resources to fulfill that command. It is the Christian’s training manual and it tells you how to win the race.
1. The Principle of Self-Control: And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things (9:25).
The first principles in winning races is the principle of self-control. This is the principle of discipline.
You cannot eat everything you would like to eat if you re going to win races. You cannot drink all that you would like to drink. You cannot go everywhere you would like to go. This does not mean that any of these things are wrong. You have a perfect right to eat a hot fudge sundae. But this will not help you to win any races.
By the same token, Paul realizes that there are certain things he has to give up if he is going to win the race that God has set before him. Sometimes this means giving up liberties that he has a perfect right to enjoy. If it means the difference between winning and losing, then Paul is ready to give up anything that might stand in his way.
This principle extends to every area of life. An athlete is required to exercise control in ALL things.
This means more than merely abstaining from certain things. I know people who have abstained from all sorts of things and yet who have never won a race. Winning a race takes a great deal of positive effort. It takes devotion. It is hard work. It is not always fun.
I know from experience that when you are out there running around the track and doing calisthenics while your friends are all relaxing and enjoying themselves, you often find yourself wondering if it is worth all of the effort. Paul turns now to this problem of motivation. It is found in the prize.
2. The Principle of a Motivation: They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (9:25).
The winner of the Isthmus Games received an olive wreath that had been fashioned into the shape of a crown. This olive wreath was placed on his head. It declared him to be the winner.
This was the goal for which he strived. This was the motivation for all his training. He would wear the wreath and he would receive the acclaim from all the crowd. He was the winner. And then he would go home and place that wrath over the mantle of his fireplace. The years would pass and the wreath would fade. Its leaves would turn brown and brittle to the touch. Finally it would be thrown away.
Paul says that we have a much greater prize. We do not labor for a prize that will fall apart after a few years. We are striving for an eternal prize.
This ought to be a great source of motivation. What you do today is going to count for all eternity. You say, “But I didn’t do anything today!” That will also count for all eternity.
3. The Principle of Efficiency: Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air (9:28).
The third principle of winning is the principle of efficiency. It says that races are not necessarily won by the one who runs the hardest, but by the one who runs the smartest. There is a strategy to running. It requires that you do not waste energy. It requires that all your energy be directed toward achieving the proper goal.
I am not a great football fan, but I have managed to watch a few games. Not once have I ever seen a player who, while he was running with the ball, stop to admire one of the cheerleaders. He would be clobbered. He cannot divide his attention and expect to win the game.
Paul uses two illustrations to make his point.
· There is the runner who runs in the right direction, staying on the track as he runs the race.
· There is the boxer who makes every punch count, rather than wasting his effort in swinging at empty space.
In each illustration, the point is the same. It is that the effort that is used must be effective in achieving the desired goal.
4. The Principle of Disqualification: I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (9:27).
This is the final principle of winning. It is the principle that shall take us over into the message of the next chapter. It is the principle of disqualification.
One of the saddest things about any race is that it is possible to persevere through all of the training, exert all of the energy to run the entire course, only to be disqualified because of an infringement of the rules.
There are rules that must be followed in any race or else the race is forfeit. The spiritual race that we run is no exception.
What are the rules of the race? They are the commands that God has given to us. They are His instructions found in His Word. The temptation is always present to run in a haphazard direction, taking “short-cuts” and ignoring the rules. But to do so involves disaster. To do so will result in disqualification.
I have known a number of Christians who have been disqualified from the race. They had spiritual gifts. They sometimes even built up great ministries. They seemed to have an exciting relationship with God. Then sin crept in. Sin is always a disqualifier.
How about you? Are you running the race? Are you doing so with motivated efficiency as you lead a disciplined life? There is still a warning. It is that it is possible for one to run the entire race and even come across the finished line, only to find that you have been disqualified because you did not run according to the rules.
Remember that these principles are given in the context of the issue of the weaker brother. The question was whether Christians would see fit to limit their own liberty in order to build up the body of Christ. Building up the body of Christ involves...
· Self control.
· Approaching ministry in accordance with God’s principles -- “playing by the rules.”
You have a race to run. You have a ministry to fulfill. It has been given to you by the Lord of all the earth. It is your life’s calling and was given to you by your Creator. There is a prize that is worth winning. It isn’t easy. But it is worth the effort. Fulfill your ministry.