*“RUNNING TO WIN IN THE RACE OF LIFE”*
*(I Corinthians 9:24-27)*
The Christian life is far more active and aggressive than most Christians have realized.
According to this text, the Christian life is not a spectator sport, but a “game” calling for diligent participation from each believer.
However, it must be sadly conceded that most Christians today never seem to get out of the spectator mode.
Alonzo Stagg is renowned as the founder of the American game of football.
As a coach, he was known for his “coaching on the bench” while a game was in progress on the field.
On one occasion, the game clock was winding down when Stagg turned to his third-team quarterback, who had only been on the field for a few plays all year.
The coach posed to the young quarterback this situation: “There are eighteen seconds left on the game clock.
We are behind by six points, but we have the ball on the opponent’s twelve-yard line.
It is fourth down, with two yards to go for a first down, and twelve yards to go for a game-winning touchdown.
What would you do?”
The uncomfortable young quarterback quickly answered, “Coach, I think I would move down to the other end of the bench to get a better view of the play!”
Tragically, the most participation which many Christians have in “the big game of life” is to jockey for a position on the bench as they see /someone else/ running the plays.
Christian, don’t spend all your time in the locker room, listening to “chalk-talks” by a smart coach, or in the huddle discussing the plays.
/Go to the line of scrimmage and get the “feel” of the game.
/You may get bruised by a few hard hits here and there, but you will like the feel of victory when the game is won!
Some years ago, cartoonist Al Capp caricatured our society in a comic strip called /Li’l Abner./
The comic strip was a combination of political and social satire.
One of the characters in the comic strip was an odd-looking character called the “shmoo.”
The shmoo was shaped like an exaggerated pear.
Its head was small and round, blending into a big, round body.
The shmoo was intended to be a commentary (indeed, a satire) of the trend of the times in our society.
The idea was that, if our society continued in the direction it had taken, soon all Americans would have small brains, big bodies, and even bigger bottoms!
In other words, it was a critique of the “spectator syndrome” of our society.
Tragically, most Christians are caught in this syndrome.
In fact, it never seems to occur to most Christians that there is another possibility except the “survival routine” of going to church, being a good person, reading the Bible, praying, and going to church again.
Friends, the Christian life is far grander and greater than that!
When properly lived, it offers a great gamut for risk-taking and winning and losing.
It offers a challenge that makes great demands and offers great rewards.
In short, it can be as adventurous as any life man has ever known.
Our text is one of over fifty references to athletics in the New Testament, most of them appearing in the letters of the Apostle Paul.
One cannot read such a passage as this with any degree of understanding without realizing that Paul must have been a very intelligent sports fan.
He must have observed in person the athletic events he refers to this text.
There are at least ten specific references to sports personnel and sports events in this brief paragraph.
For example, he refers to the /runners /in a track and field event (verse 24).
Then he refers to the /race /itself.
The word he uses for “race” in verse 24 is also the word from which we derive our English word “stadium,” but in Paul’s day it referred to the /distance/ of a race (some 202 yards) rather than the /place/ where the event occured.
Also in verse 24, Paul refers to the /prize /which the winner receives in such a race.
And he counsels each participant in the Christian race to run in a manner that will make a /winner /of him (verse 24c).
In verse 25, he mentions the /athlete /himself, referring to him as the “man who strives for the mastery.”
Literally, that phrase speaks of the athlete “who agonizes in order to attain excellence.”
The word “agonizes” refers to the /disciplines/ and /conditioning/ the athlete must practice in order to adequately compete in the field in which he participates.
Also in verse 25, Paul says that every athlete “who disciplines himself in order to attain excellence must be /temperate in all things./”
The word “temperate” means “self-controlled,” and the text says that the winning athlete’s self-control must extend to “all things” in his life.
You see, a champion athlete will not only omit from his daily life all things that are bad for his performance, he will also eliminate many “good” things that will prevent full concentration or unhindered performance.
Following this same athletic picture, Hebrews 12:1 says that the athlete will “lay aside every weight” that hinders his best performance, and not merely the obvious wickedness that will destroy his effectiveness.
In verse 25, our text also refers to the /trophy/ or the award the winning athlete will receive at the judge’s stand when the race is over.
He says that the winner in an earthly event may win a “corruptible crown” such as a wreath or a plaque or a trophy, but the Christian is running the true race in order to gain an “incorruptible crown.”
Here, Paul points out the inconsistency of earthly athletes engaging in such rigorous training in order to gain only a temporal crown, while the Christian often will not pay any price to win an “incorruptible” (eternal) reward.
In verse 26, Paul moves from running to /fighting/.
He says that he does not run or fight without a /goal/ or without purpose.
“I do not run as one who is uncertain of the course or the finish line," and “I do not fight as one who aimlessly flails at the air.”
The latter reference is to the common training practice used by a boxer known as “/shadow/ /boxing/.”
Then, in verse 27, Paul leaves running and boxing and moves to /wrestling/.
Note that the events mentioned have moved through a progression – from the individual participation of separate performers (running) to more intense and more aggressive contact with other participants (boxing and wrestling).
In verse 27, Paul says, “I keep my body under (that is, underneath me),” a picture of extreme discipline.
The idea is that he controls his body in order to prevent his body from controlling him.
In verse 27, Paul refers to the /public address announcer /who officially starts the events and introduces the participants with each new event.
He does this under the image of “preaching,” or heralding the events.
Then, he closes with a warning that it is possible to run the Christian race, and then break a rule and lose the reward at the end of the race.
What a cosmopolitan picture given by a cosmopolitan Christian of the cosmopolitan life that is ours in Christ!
Some time ago, a college wrestling team was traveling to a neighboring college to compete in a wrestling match that evening.
As they traveled, the coach warned them of the other team’s strategy.
“They have perfected a certain hold and have been winning all of their recent matches,” he said to his team.
“The particular maneuver that has been winning for them is called ‘the double reverse.’
Here is the way it works.
Your opponent gets a hold on you, then he folds you up once, then he folds you up again, and while you are helpless, he throws you down and pins you, and before you know it the match is over.”
However, it was obvious that his wrestlers did not think the “double reverse” would be a really serious threat, so they didn’t seem to take his warning seriously.
He continued to exhort them, but they showed little interest in hearing of the “double reverse.”
The team arrived at the opponent’s gymnasium, preparations were made for the six matches on schedule for that evening, and the coach continued to warn his team.
Every wrestler reassured the coach, and the matches began.
However, in the very first match, the visiting wrestler was victimized by the “double reverse” and lost the match – as the coach groaned.
The players immediately began to refer to the “dreaded double reverse,” taking it a bit more seriously than before.
However, the second wrestler was also defeated after being thrown by the “dreaded double reverse.”
The coach’s despair and anger intensified with each new match.
His team went through five matches without solving the “dreaded double reverse,” losing all five matches.
The coach was seething with anger as he said to his last wrestler, “Please don’t get caught as the others did; I would like to win at least one of these matches!”
The match began, and within two minutes, the final wrestler on the visiting team was caught in the “dreaded double reverse.”
The coach groaned and buried his head in his hands and refused to look at the inevitable outcome.
The home stands were cheering wildly – but suddenly the cheering stopped, and the visitor’s bench erupted with cheers.
The coach looked up just in time to see his wrestler pin his opponent and win the match!
When the celebrations had finally ceased, the coach took his winning wrestler aside and exclaimed, “What happened?
When I last looked, you were locked in the double reverse and there seemed no way out.
How did you get out from his hold and win the match?”
His wrestler replied, “Well, coach, when he got that hold on me, I was so twisted up I could hardly move.
But when I opened my eyes, all I could see inches away from my nose was a big toe.
So I did the only thing I could think of to do; I opened my mouth and bit down on that toe as hard as I could bite – /and coach, it is absolutely amazing what a man can do when he bites off his/ /own big toe/!”
The story explains the radical difference between /extrinsic /motivation (illustrated by the counsel of the coach) and /intrinsic /motivation (illustrated by the athlete biting off his own big toe).
The motivation of the athlete may be casual when he is hearing instructions from some other person, but it becomes very intense when damage (or delight) is being experienced by him personally.
One of the great problems among Christians is that we have depended far too much upon the imposition of extrinsic motivation and not nearly enough upon the individualizing of intrinsic motivation.
What kind of life is the Christian life?
Just how are we supposed to live it?
The text supplies an excellent commentary on the nature and method of the Christian life.
Let me point out several features of that life as it is presented in this text.
The first requirement for living the Christian life is /citizenship /in the kingdom or the family of God.
The background of this text is the famed Isthmian Games which were played periodically in the city of Corinth.
The city was located on a narrow ribbon of land which connected the bulbous Pelopenisian Peninsula of southern Greece with the mainland of northern Greece.