- Sermon Notes
Which Race to Run
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We are now in the section in this letter where Paul has been answering questions asked of him by the leaders in the church in Corinth. He has answered questions about marriage, specifically sexuality within marriage as well as wisdom about being single. He also answered questions having to do with Christian liberty; questions having to do with whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols. After all, some realized, idols are nothing.
“You have knowledge that gives you freedom,” Paul was saying in response, “but your knowledge is making you arrogant and insensitive to those around you. There is a more excellent way. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
All of these questions have to do with a greater question that rises over all of them, “How are you going to live your life?” In chapter 8 verse Paul said, “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
We exist for the glory of God; that’s what gives purpose and meaning and significance to our lives. And that’s what determines how we live. There are many different ways a person can live his life on this earth. In Corinth, the temple of Aphrodite was right there in their city and many chose to live their lives pursuing the desires of the flesh.
In other words, you get to choose how you will live. You get to choose whom you will serve, you get to choose the race you will run. Wouldn’t it be sad to come to the end of your life and to realize you climbed the wrong ladder, or you ran the wrong race, or you pursued the wrong goal, you desired the wrong prize?
That’s the point Paul brings us to in these verses. He uses the analogy of running the race as an illustration of how we live. In other words, how are you living? How are you running? What are you pursuing? What prize are you longing for?
The church in Corinth would have completely understood this analogy. The Isthmus Games held in Corinth were second only to the Olympic Games in size and significance. They didn’t have the NFL or the NBA, they had the games and the fastest runners were treated as heroes.
The most prestigious of all races was the stadion. A dead sprint of about 630 feet. There was also the double stadion and the 10 stadion race. They would sometimes mark their calendars by saying, “The year so and so won the stadion.” That’s how important the games were, so they certainly understood.
I. Run for the Right Prize
- Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize, Paul said.
- Those who ran in the games did it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are running to obtain an imperishable wreath.
- The winner in the ancient games would receive the prize of an olive wreath intertwined to form a circle or horseshoe. The branches were cut from a sacred wild olive tree near the Temple of Zeus and cut with a pair of golden scissors. But the greatest prize was the prestige bestowed upon the winner.
- In other words, what prize are you running for? There is a common phrase in the world, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Frankly, that’s not much of a win.
- God says it’s about the value of your soul and also about the value of the souls around you. An imperishable wreath is eternal in value.
Matthew 16:26, “For what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
A. Love is a great way to run
- In both chapters 8 and 9 Paul makes the point that there is a principal that’s higher. “You have knowledge, that’s good, but knowledge puffs up and love builds up.”
Illus - When we were recently at the July 4 parade downtown, I was so blessed to see Aviah making sure the younger kids around her also got candy.
1 Corinthians 8:13, If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.
1 Corinthians 9:22, I have become all things to all men that I may by all means save some.
- In verse 23 Paul said, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel.” Why such dedication? Answer; because God has done so much for him. His faith is foremost because his love for Christ is first.
- Love is a great way to run. Have love in your heart. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength… and love your brother as yourself.
Illus - Do you remember the love you had for the Lord when you first came to faith? Do you remember the joy that was in your heart? Keep that love alive. The Lord also remembers the love you had at first.
Jeremiah 2:2-3, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest;”
B. Don’t be a spectator
- “Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize,” Paul said. In other words - run. Get in the race, Christianity is not a spectator sport.
- And in truth, if you have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then His blood has been applied to your life. You’re involved now. Think of all He’s done for you; your sins have been forgiven, you have eternal life, God is now your Father. Can you not run this race called life in thanks to Him?
- Some stand back and observe church and Christians, “That’s interesting,” they say to themselves, but it’s more than interesting, it’s a decision, it’s a choice.
Joshua 24: 15, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the people in whose land you are now living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
- Christianity is not something to be sampled, it is a step of faith that changes the entire course of your life. When the scripture says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” that doesn’t mean to nibble, it means to fully partake and you’ll see that the Lord is good.
Illus - On vacation we went swimming at Hagg Lake. I’ve found that the best way to get in the water is by jumping in headfirst. In Christ, you jump in heart first.
C. Run with endurance
- This is a race that endures for a lifetime. Paul said that he ran “not without aim.” In other words, he had purpose, he had direction; his eyes were fixed.
Hebrews 12:1-2, Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
Illus - When I was graduating from Bible college I had the privilege of giving the valedictorian speech and those were the verses I chose to speak on. There we were just graduating, young, full of hope and vigor, just getting started running the race of ministry. What a great lesson for us all; run with endurance by fixing your eyes on Jesus.
- But running with endurance also requires laying aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles.
Illus - It’s like running a cross country race and you come upon briars along the path. Don’t get near them, they will entangle you, they will hinder you from running well.
- One of the most grueling competitions of ancient Greece was for runners to run in full armor. Some people run like that, they run with too much baggage.
- I think one of the heaviest things people carry is bitterness and unforgiveness; and it hinders many.
Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; but no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
Luke 8:14-15, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life and bear no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
Illus - To quote the famous philosopher from Arendelle, Queen Elsa, “Let it go!”
II. Exercise Self Control in All Things
- Verse 25- Paul uses the example of an athlete training to compete in the games as an analogy of how we should live spiritually.
- An athlete must use self-control in what they eat, the regimen of their training, even the discipline of the mind.
1 Peter 1:13, Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
A. We need good spiritual food
- An athlete wouldn’t compete well on the typical American junk food diet. They’re disciplined about what they eat because they know it’s the body’s fuel.
- In the same way, there is junk food for the soul and there is spiritual food which endures to eternal life.
- As Jesus was coming to the end of a 40 day fast, He was tempted by Satan who said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, turned these stones into bread.” Jesus’s answer gave great spiritual insight…
Matthew 4:4, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
John 4:32, 34, Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about… My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”
- Most people don’t like the idea of exercising self-control, but Paul’s point is powerful and practical.
- Many people eat whatever they feel like at the moment without considering the consequences.
- But comfort food, which does make a person feel better at the moment, will, little by little, eventually make a person feel worse.
Illus - There was a recent study; does comfort food accomplish the goal of bringing comfort? Actually, no. The study revealed that instead of feeling comfort they felt guilty because they were starting to have a muffin top.
- Is there an equivalent spiritually? Absolutely. Many people are medicating their emptiness or loneliness or despair with alcohol or drugs or sexual things.
Psalm 42:1-2, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…
- Verse 27 - Paul says, “I buffet my body and make it my slave…” That’s not the word buffet, that’s the word buffet which means to keep it in check, bring it under submission. It’s like a wrestling term.
- Paul is straightforwardly saying that one of the great troubles of life is that this body of ours wants to be the master. It has urges and desires and wants to be in control. In other words, it wants what it wants when it wants it.
- Paul said, “I bring my body under submission and make it my slave.”
1 Corinthians 6:12-13, All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with them both. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
- An athlete who competes must discipline his body, he presses on even when he doesn’t feel like it. But the analogy is spiritual.
1 Timothy 4:8, Bodily discipline is only a little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
- How you live matters. You get to choose whom you will serve and the race you will run. Run well, the prize is eternal and imperishable.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB
24 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. 25 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 discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.