I don't know how many of you are like me; but usually after the holidays, I determine it's time for me to get in shape again, lose some weight and pick up in other areas of my life where I've been slacking off (e.g., Scripture reading, prayer, time alone with God, etc.).
But you know what? There is a side of me that doesn't want to do any of it! I don't want to muster up the discipline or take the time to do what needs to be done physically and spiritually in my life. Anyone relate? You're sick of making one more New Year's resolution; you're tired of going on a diet; you're not sure you have the energy or the desire to get in shape—spiritually or physically—again.
When I begin to think this way, I have to realize that the part of me that does not like control is what the Scriptures call my "sinful nature." (The Message calls it "...the compulsions of selfishness.") When the compulsions of selfishness are in control, I don't like to deny myself anything; I like to do what I feel like doing. If I don't fight it, however, that selfishness will keep me out of the race God has for me.
I hope to make the point in this study that life is like a race, and that if we don't consistently subdue our sinful and selfish nature, it will tend to sabotage our race and attempt to destroy our effectiveness in it. This is what Paul was dealing with in 1 Corinthians 9:24. In 1 Corinthians 7-9, the Apostle Paul shows us the way to live and react when we feel like being selfish and sluggish in our spiritual race/lives. He tells how to win!
Speaking of this section, Ray Stedman says:
"The apostle has revealed to us his own practice in this regard. He is glad to give up his rights, even the right to support in the gospel. He is glad to labor long, painful hours at night, making tents with his own hands in order to pay his expenses so that he can present the gospel free of charge to these Corinthian believers"—Ray C. Stedman, Studies in First Corinthians.
Listen to 1 Cor. 9:19.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20] To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21] To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22] To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23] I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Why did Paul push beyond his comfort zone, the natural inclination to take the easy road and become all things to all men and use all possible means? He answers, "...to win as many as possible"—v. 19; "...to win the Jews...to win those under the law "—v. 20; "...to win those not having the law"—v. 21; "...to win the weak"—v. 22b; "...(to)..save some...for the sake of the gospel.."—vv. 22-23.
This introduces us to the five "A's" of life's race
The Aim of Life's Race
Let's ask ourselves, what is the aim for our lives? Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:26 : "I do not run like a man running aimlessly..." What then should be our aim? To win, to win, to win, to win—to bring as many people as possible to Christ. It was the potential of winning others to Christ that pushed Paul beyond selfishness. This is what Paul chose to do. As he looked at all the options available, he chose to be an instrument of God, to be used whenever/wherever God wanted to use him. This is what set the tone of his day: to win the prize, a sense of delight that he was being used by God to win others to Christ.
I believe that aim can/should be our motivation as well! We should be willing to become what we need to become in order to win people! I am motivated more than ever before to do what I can (and we can), to win as many people as we can for the gospel. This desire "to win" is pushing me in lots of areas too. Right now, my most consistent prayer is, "Lord here we are as a church; send us to do whatever it takes to reach and win as many people as possible for You!"
I wonder how many of us have that aim? Sooner or later each of us has to ask, What am I here for? Why did I appear on the earth, in this part of the world, and at this time in history? What's my aim in running the race? (See 1 Cor. 9:26.) The Bible, of course, gives us two main aims:
- To become like Jesus: "...to be conformed to the likeness of His Son..."—Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:13,15
- To fulfill God's intention to use us in winning others. He designed us with all our peculiar abilities and the unique talents and gifts we have, so that we might be useful and pleasing to Him and win others.
Looking back at 1 Corinthians 9, we see that the potential to win others is made possible by one thing:
The Attitude of Life's Race
Our attitude should be to do whatever it takes to stay in the race—i.e., disciplining ourselves and exercising self-control in the Christian life. Beyond losing opportunities for winning others, Paul also suggests in this section that if we give all our time to our own comfort and the waste of our own selfish lives, we may find ourselves trapped in something so spiritually damaging —we could be "disqualified if we don't find a way to discipline ourselves."
Listen to the heart and attitude of a Christian athlete:
1 Cor. 9: 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."
Listen to this passage in The Message. "You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself"—Eugene Peterson, 1994, p. 418 (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
So are you feeling unmotivated, wanting to be selfish and indulgent for awhile? Coach Paul offers a solution to break yourself of that problem. Paul tells us to exercise self-control in all things; and advocates the need to pummel our bodies and subdue them so you won't become disqualified and can win others.
We'll return to this passage in a moment and discuss specifically what Paul is talking about in this passage; but first I want you to see that everything Paul says is built around the picture of an athletic contest—a race. Ray C. Stedman, in his Studies in First Corinthians says:
"This was a familiar thing to these believers in Corinth. Every three years the Isthmian Games (very much like the Olympic Games we are familiar with, which were also held in Greece), were held right outside the city."
If you go to Corinth, you can still see the areas where the races were run. The starting blocks where the athletes started out the races are still embedded in the stones. Paul is using this figure, because to him, life is a race like that.
Stedman quote, continued: "These Corinthians knew, however, that every athlete who participated in the races had to do a number of things. They had to: 1) take an oath that they had been training for 10 months; 2) and that they had given up certain foods in their diet so they would be able to endure the race; 3) they (also) had to subject themselves to very rigorous discipline in order to win." Ray Stedman
Now we understand why Paul disciplined himself: He was ready to give up certain indulgences if necessary (which were perfectly right and proper for him at a given time), if they interfered with his objective to be what God wanted him to be. Likewise, if we want to be used by the Lord in winning others and keeping ourselves from being disqualified, we will need to enter into strict training and discipline. There will always be something to derail us if we let it; there will be the temptation to rest on our laurels; to let life go as we enjoy ourselves.
Some tests can potentially overwhelm us and keep us preoccupied, out of the race. A million things can come up to sabotage our race and attempt to disqualify us. If we are not diligent, we can live many years with excuses for why we can't run the race God has for us, and we may trip pretty badly.
Paul spoke to that potential in 1 Cor 9. Listen to the passage again:
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.
Let me share these words from Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, speaking on the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says we are to "hunger and thirst after righteousness." He says,
"People who really want something always give some evidence of that fact. People who really desire something with the whole of their being do not sit down passively waiting for it to come. And that applies to us in this matter. There are certain things in this life that are patently opposed to God and his righteousness. There is no question about that at all. We know they are bad; we know they are harmful; we know they are sinful. I say that to hunger and thirst after righteousness means avoiding such things just as we would avoid the very plague itself. If we know there is an infection in a house, we avoid the house. We segregate the patient who has a fever because it is infectious, and obviously we avoid such persons. The same is true in the spiritual realm. But it does not stop at that. I suggest that if we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness (or desiring to run in the race) we shall even avoid things that tend to dull or take the edge off our spiritual appetites. There are so many things like that, things that are quite harmless in themselves and which are perfectly legitimate. Yet if you find that you are spending too much of your time with them and that you desire the things of God less, you must avoid them. That is a common sense argument" —D. Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies In the Sermon on the Mount.
That is basically what Paul did, and that is what God is asking us to do in increasing fashion as we learn to run the race more effectively.
Now, I know that this whole area of a disciplined race is not always appealing. It could even sound legalistic when we start talking about discipline. One author says,
"Discipline is a term that is nothing more than a 'dirty word' for self-control. It is one of the hated terms of our times. But have you noticed how often it comes up in the testimonies of those who win? (Paul) says he 'willingly forfeited his apostolic rights for the sake of winning more' (1 Cor. 9:19-23). That took discipline. In 2 Tim. 2:10 he mentions that he endured all things in order to reach his objective. That certainly took initiative.
"Discipline/self-control have to be key in winning the race and winning others to Christ. No runner completes the training or the race without it. No mind is sharpened without it. No temptation is overcome without it. So who are we kidding? Without discipline, we can kiss a win goodbye.
"The alternative to discipline is dangerously close to an irresponsible lifestyle (hardly the model expected of the authentic Christian)"—Charles Swindoll, Victory, Word Books, p. 41.
With that general encouragement in mind, let's specifically look at what this means
The Agony of Life's Race
First Corinthians sort of drips with the sweat of a committed athlete. We can almost feel the perspiration, the agonizing sounds of the track, the court, the ring. There is also some enthusiasm woven throughout the fabric of these words. Try to picture the scenes of activity as you read the following:
"...runners run...as to get the prize."
"...Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training."
"...I do not run...aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air." Definition of "competes": agonizomai. It is the very word from which we get our English words "agony" and "agonize." We have to understand that agony is attached to this competition.
There will be no win without the agony of pain and the competition against our old nature and the enemy of our soul. It will take more than a lazy, laid-back life.
The Action Plan of Life's Race
As we read this passage closely, we see that the need and expectation of an action plan/game plan is quite clear. Clearly the runner and the boxer have to keep an action plan in mind. They "..run in such a way as to get the prize to win." In order to win the race we will have to keep our plan clear. Losing sight of the goal and merely beating the air weakens our potential to win.
It is important for us to be able to articulate our aims/goals/objectives. Winning requires it.
"The victory isn't discovered; it is achieved. Winning a battle is never something troops stumble upon; it is the result of a strategy, a carefully thought-through plan of attack. The same analogy holds true for a ball game. It is called a 'game plan.' High priced, brilliant, seasoned coaches spend hours each week thinking about and then communicating a plan. As the players enter the contest, they have literally memorized the plan. To use Paul's words, they 'run in such a way as to get the prize.'"
- What is your plan for winning the race?
- What is your strategy for handling distraction, temptations and fatigue when running the race?
- What is your training program so you will have the necessary strength to endure the race?
I know these questions can seem rigid and demanding, but they aren't inappropriate when we consider what is at stake: finishing well and winning others to Christ.
This leads us to the reason for all we have talked about.
The Award of the Race
v. 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
Here is the reason for the strict training and discipline. The athlete Paul refers to works hard for something that is perishable: a soon withering wreath and momentary fame. The spiritual athlete running the race for eternity, however, has a crown awaiting him that will last forever.
Christians don't talk much about rewards. It is almost as if we don't expect any. But that's not what the apostle Paul believed. He anticipated an award, especially seeing his Lord. Read this slowly.
2 Tim. 4:7-8—I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8] Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
A crown of righteousness will be our reward. Think of the reward, to have the Lord put that crown on your head and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." What will that be worth to us? What will we do with our crowns? I hope, by God's grace, I have many because I intend to give them back to Him, to lay them before him and give Him praise for what He has done. (See Revelation 4:10-11)
I am reading a book entitled, God's Joyful Runner, the biography of Eric Liddell. We know him as the hero of the movie, "Chariots of Fire." The book tells of an incident which reflects the true attitude of a champion, one who knows how fleeting fame and worldly recognition will be. His daughter writes,
"My father, Eric Liddell, shunned the limelight because he felt that he had not done anything remarkable in his life [in case you have forgotten, he won a gold medal for the 400 meters in the 1928 Olympics]. My mother told me how, on one occasion following a big athletics meet, dozens of reporters were waiting for him. It was near the train station so father borrowed a cap from an obliging porter, took over the fellow's cart, and pushed the luggage right through the crowd. No one knew who he was."
Further on in the book the author gives another instance illustrating Eric's humility. As most of you know, less than a year after his remarkable accomplishment, he left the track to pursue a lifelong dream—becoming a missionary to China. Years later in 1932, he was asked by a Toronto journalist if he regretted such an astounding decision: "Are you glad you gave your life to missionary work? Don't you miss the limelight, the rush, the frenzy, the cheers, the rich red wine of victory?"
"Oh well," Eric replied, "Of course it's natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I'm glad I'm at the work I'm engaged in now. A fellow's life counts for far more at this than the other. Not a corruptible crown, but an incorruptible, you know." There is a man who understood.
The final question is one you're going to hear a lot about in the next couple of months.
Have you entered the race?
We intend to offer you six sequential races to run, seminars which we hope and pray will bring maturity and effectiveness to all who call this their church home.
At this point I want to simply ask, "Are you in the race?" If not, you can be.
- Are you aware of those in the stands watching as well as those who have run the race before you?
- Are you willing to run the race marked out for you?
- Have you laid aside the weights and sins that easily entangle you and trip you up?
- Are you running the race with perseverance?
- Are you looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith?
- Are you considering Him so that you will not lose heart and grow weary in life's race?
With that challenge in mind, let's take a moment and look at
The nature of a race
Here are some observations about races that might be helpful to us as we consider the race before us.
Let's begin with some general observations about races.
In a general way, we know that all races include the following elements.
The coach’s and team’s recruitment to get runners to join the track team so that eventually they will be able to enter the race
The initial and ongoing training—team and individual
- Essential conditioning/calisthenics being required
- Starting and running being practiced
- Individual and team responsibilities and relation- ships understood, i.e., individual performance understood in the light of overall team competition.
- All the runners will train specifically for their unique race, the events they are most gifted/skilled in.
The pre-race questions that need to be answered.
If we turn to Hebrews 12, we will find:
- The initial questions about the race for believers are answered in Hebrews 12:1-3.
1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2] Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Look back at the passage. Here we see some significant references to the crowd. It's important in the race the Lord has set before us to ask and answer: Who will be watching us? It's important to know. Sometimes the stands seem full of fans; other times only a few seem to be present. Sometimes the fans don’t seem to be present at all.
Why is this important? The crowd can affect the race!
the desire of some to mimic
Besides the Lord, who in the stands will be a constant source of encouragement to us? Heb. 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.." The context is focused on the saints who have gone before and are referred to in Heb . 11. The crowd also includes mentors, parents, friends, family, and enemies.
Looking back at this passage, notice the immediate preparation and time. What needs to be done before we can enter into the race? v. 2b—"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.." What is the difference between hindrances and sins?
I once had a roommate who thought he was too skinny, so he would wear extra clothes and three to four layers of socks. They weren't necessary, but he thought they were. The problem with this "weight of socks" was that he would rotate them, and by the fourth day I wanted to leave the room. I used to hang his socks out the window. Dave eventually got self-conscious about the aroma of the layers of clothes and socks he wore, so he began to steal cologne from people in the dorm. I didn't know at first where he was getting all this cologne. He kept it hidden under his bed and would sprinkle it all over his clothes and socks to cover up the smell.
The difference between weights and sins initially is obvious. One only slows you down; the other breaks the rules of the race, but both will eventually trip us up. With my roommate, it started with a weight of wanting to look better than he was. Eventually, however, it lead to a sin that affected his life and tripped him up.
Can we run the race without this preparation—the laying aside of weights and sins? Of course we can, but it will not be run effectively, and eventually we will get entangled and trip.
Now let's look at the runner. It is imperative we see what drives him or her. It's a question about the heart of the runner. What internal quality is necessary for any runner? v. 2c—"....and let us run with perseverance..."
Note the location and distance of the race. How long will the race be, and where will it take place? v. 2d—"...the race marked out for us." Every race has some similarities, but each will be unique. Only God knows the length and the uniqueness of the race we will run.
The example to follow. Who is the model for running this race? Heb. 12:2—"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." What does the Lord’s example tell us about the race we will run? What is the best, if not the only way, to stay on the course before us?
The biggest obstacles in our race. What obstacles or problems are we to be aware of in the race? Heb. 12:3—"Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." What is the cure for weariness, loss of heart, and opposition?
The opposition examined. Who will we be competing against? Heb. 12:3a—"Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men..."
The finish line. What will the finish line be like for us? v. 2—"and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
- The race preparation:
The location of the starting line is fully understood and visited often before the race! Obviously, our salvation is where all races begin. Then there are the practice starts. New convert packet or similar information can be used for starting blocks.
We find the clothes to be worn when we take off our warm-ups, outer clothing; i.e., we find ideal running clothes! Note: "....lay aside every weight and sins that so easily trip us up..." The opponent of our race needs to be studied, and the strategies he has used in the past should be understood as well. (See Ephesians 6.) The pace of the race should be practiced and understood thoroughly.
Questions to ask and answer:
How do we pace ourselves for the long haul, e.g., life’s marathon?
Should we compare ourselves with others in the race? Why?
What will it take to win the race?
Why is it essential to be committed to a track team, i.e., a team player?
Do we run or walk?
Is being a fast and quick runner the criteria for winning?
Will there be more than one winner—2 John 1:9? Note: Study the example in 2 Samuel 18:19ff to see the wisdom of a slow, deliberate, or a fast runner.
The goal of the race is to finish well, and the mindset necessary is to run with perseverance.
- The race marked out for us is an individual and team competition.
- The race obstacles: Understand race temptations, detours, motives, etc.
- The race conclusion: The chief question of our race is, "How do we finish well"? 2 Tim. 4:7—"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
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