1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 62
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|Sometimes in your life you’ve got to back up and look at the whole picture. You can’t just look at the chapter that you’re in. You’ve got to look at the whole book. You’ve got to see the whole picture of what’s going on.|
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The Discipline of the Christian Life
Don’t forget the context of 1 Corinthians 9. The whole context is with people who understand, but who are not filled with the Spirit of God, people who don’t have that love mixed with their knowledge. They’re not willing to deny the privileges they have, that they understand under grace, for the sake of a weaker brother. All of this is in that context. Paul is simply saying, “I’m not telling you to do something I myself am not willing to do.”
You know, you don’t find the word discipline, determination, or diligence much anymore in the Christian vocabulary. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard some people say, “Well, that’s legalism, isn’t it?” Do we understand the difference of being under grace and under law? If you have a set of rules that you live by, that only builds character.
Legalism is not living disciplined. Legalism is when you take what you do, measure yourself by it, and claim to be spiritual because of it. That makes it legalistic. Rules just build character.
There are a lot of people today who want to push all these words out of their vocabulary. You know Paul said in the book of Philippians, “I say this weeping, that there are people among us who are enemies of the cross of Jesus.” Nobody wants to die to self. Nobody wants to go through the pain and the agony of saying “No” to self by saying “Yes” to Jesus. It’s a lost message almost. It’s like when we preach, like a voice in the wilderness, trying to tell people that you don’t live by your feelings. You live by your choices. Those choice many times are totally devoid of any feeling. And we choose to say “Yes” to Christ in order to let Christ be who He wants to be in and through us.
Well, the apostle Paul is going to bring the Corinthian church back into focus. I believe the Word of God is profitable to all of us “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, instruction, and righteousness, that the man of God might be adequate, equipped for every good work.” I believe it’s a word to us. He’s going to bring them back into focus.
Before he takes them there, go back to chapter 3. I want to help bring us back into focus. The apostle Paul is putting everything in a perspective. Sometimes in your life you’ve got to back up and look at the whole picture. You can’t just look at the chapter that you’re in. You’ve got to look at the whole book. You’ve got to see the whole picture of what’s going on. In chapter 3 he tried to give it to them. He says in verse 12 that every man is a builder. Be careful how you build. He talks about the materials you build with. You either choose to deny yourself by saying “yes” to Jesus or you choose to not to and serve self. But there’s going to come a reckoning day. There’s going to come a time of accountability some day. It’s not us that’s going to be judged that day, because we were judged in Christ. But it’s going to be our works, and it’s going to have to do with rewards.
He says in 1 Corinthians 3:13, “each man’s work will become evident.” The word “evident” is phaneros. It depicts a brilliance of light. It’s going to become evident. Paul’s not getting on to them to make them ashamed. He’s saying, “Hey, I’m trying to encourage you with something. Pay attention. There’s coming a day you’re going to pay for this.” You try to teach your children this, don’t you? If you do this, this, and this, it’s going to happen. They do this, this, and this and, boy, it happens. And you say, “I tried to tell you.” That’s what he’s doing.
He goes on and says, “for the day will show it.” I believe that to be the day He takes us to be with Him, the rapture of the church, because it is to be revealed with fire. That fire is going to consume that wood, hay, and stubble—that’s the fleshly works—but it cannot consume that which is the precious stones. It simple refines it. The fire itself will test not the quantity of man’s work, but the quality of each man’s work, where it comes from.
You see, you may end up in the same place but be coming at it from two different directions. There may be somebody who legalistically does something of the flesh, but here’s somebody else who under grace does the very same thing. This man’s work will last; this man’s work will not. That’s what he’s telling them.
He says in verse 14, “If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.” That ought to be the most thrilling thing in the world for us, to realize if we’re willing to say “yes” to Christ and to His Word and to His will and live up under His kingship in our life, then what happens is, we’re going to rejoice one day because the reward is going to come, not only now but then. “If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.”
Then he says in verse 15, “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” He takes that whole passage and drops it right in the middle of a teaching to show them how immature they are. He’s trying to get their attention. A little later on he says, “I don’t say these things to shame you. I say it as a father would say to his child. You’re my children. I’m telling you the hard things because I don’t want you to end up and be short-changed.”
That’s the focus of chapter 3. Putting it in perspective, he’s saying, “Hey guys, step back just for a second. Get out of your little circumstance here in Corinth. Step back for a minute and let’s look at the big picture.” I heard a person one time who used this illustration: He drew a long line. He said, “That represents eternal life.” He put a dot on it. He said, “That represents the time between when you were born physically on this earth and the time that you die. Isn’t it interesting how many people live for that one little tiny dot instead of looking at the big picture and living for all of eternity?”
That’s what Paul is saying. Quit living for the now. Live for the now and the then. You do live in the present. He’s the I Am, not the I was, and the I will be. He’s the I Am. You live in the present, but you live for the future. You know you’re headed somewhere, and, therefore, that dictates a lot of how you live down here. That’s what he’s doing.
He’s going to take a sporting event, something that he was very familiar with and fond of, and use it to help the Corinthian church get a perspective once again. He did it in chapter 3. He’s now doing it again in 9:24-27. These are some of my most favorite verses. But this is the first time I’ve taught it in its context. I’ve never seen it couched right here. The context is beautiful. In the midst of denying self for the sake of others he puts these verses.
Let’s read the text. Verses 24-27 say, “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. 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. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
First of all, there is the concept Paul wanted them to realize. In this whole subject of denying yourself, in this whole subject of disciplining yourself to say “yes” to Christ, and therefore saying “no” to flesh, Paul has a concept he wants them to see. He says in verse 24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run?” Of course, he goes on to say to win the prize. But I want you to see this. Paul, in refocusing the Corinthian believers, picked something they were very aware of. I love him. He’s such an amazing teacher. He takes something right out of their everyday life and puts it right into their vocabulary of their Christian life so that they can understand.
Now, remember, in Corinth there were three major idolatrous temples. One was on top of a mountain, Acropolis. It overlooked Corinth. There was a gulf on one side and a gulf on the other side and this little isthmus that sat there. In that Acropolis up there was the Temple of Aphrodite or Venus, the love goddess. They had 1,000 priestesses there who were really prostitutes. It wasn’t much of a religion. But they would come down in the city with little markings on the bottom of their shoes that said, “Follow me”, and everywhere they would step in the sand the sailors would see that and follow them. That was the problem. That was one of the temples.
That had a temple in the middle of the city by the marketplace called the Temple of Apollo. Now remember, Apollos was the second pastor, Apollo was a false god of that day, so don’t get them mixed up. That was the god of knowledge and wisdom.
Then outside the city was the Temple of Poseidon. Poseidon was the health spa god. He would fit well in the twentieth century, the macho god. Right beside his temple was the arena where they would have the Isthmian Games. You know, they had the Olympic Games in Athens, but they had the Isthmian Games on this little isthmus where Corinth would set. Corinth set right there on that little piece of lane, four miles long, four miles wide, then hooked itself to the main body of European Greece and down to the lower peninsula. That’s what that little isthmus did. On that little isthmus they would have the Isthmian Games.
Many people, and I’m one of them, believe that in Acts 18 when Paul went over to Corinth that’s what he went for, to make tents for the Isthmian Games. It doesn’t make any other sense to me. For instance, when he walked into town, he met Priscilla and Aquila. They made tents so he said, “Good, I’ll make tents with you.” He went there to make tents and he thanked the Lord that he found Priscilla and Aquila so they could all work together. Remember chapter 9 says that he refused being supported by the churches so, therefore, he made his own way. He was a tent maker. Why would he go to Corinth? Because of the Isthmian Games, every two to three years. He said, “Hey, they’re coming up. Let’s go make some tents.” That’s probably why he was there.
Now, here’s what he wants them to see in a running event that they were so familiar with. It’s just like today. That was an individual sport. You think about it for a while. It overwhelms you how God put this together. It’s not a team sport. When I played basketball and football, you may have four guys on a basketball team doing well, but if one guy out of sync you’re going to lose. It depends on five guys, not just one guy.
Not in track. Running is an individual sport. Man, the way he does this, you cannot miss it. They understood this. They went to these games. That was the big thing in their life every so many years. You and you alone determine the outcome of the race. He’s not depending on anybody else. And in the Christian life it’s exactly the same.
This is what Paul said in chapter 3. “I’m not going to be standing there with you. Why would you attach yourself to Paul? Why would you attach yourself to Apollos? Why would you attach yourself to Cephas?” No, he says, “Attach yourself to Christ, because it’s the way you live that you’ll be judged for one day, not the way I lived, not the way somebody else lived. Stand on your own two feet. Run your own race.” That’s what Paul was saying to them. You see, when we deny ourselves in the Christian life, we can look forward to a reward one day. It’s not going to be based on what you did or didn’t do.
Years ago God just got all over me and I made a decision and my wife made a decision which has freed us up for a long time. Sometimes we regress, but most of the time we can stay right there. That is never to let life work against you, but always to let life work for you, because you’re in a race. If you’ll just take the principles of Scripture and the truth of Scripture and live up under it, then life fits up in that and that does nothing more than make you run faster. It keeps you in the lane and you look forward to the prize that’s down the road. It’s an individual sport, the Christian life.
There’s going to be an individual judgment one day of our works. What Paul is saying is, “Hey, guys, who are you counting on besides yourself? You are the one responsible to make these choices. Therefore, you understand that just as track is an individual sport, Christianity is an individual race.” We need each other. That’s right. We encourage one another. The bottom line is, when we stand before Him one day, it’s going to be how each of us, on our own, of our own choices, lived. So, when the rewards are given one day, we’ll know who made the right choices and who didn’t. That’s the only time we’ll know, because down here you can fool everybody, including yourself.
So the first thing you see is the concept he wants them to realize, the concept of putting the Christian life into the arena of an athletic event, understand the individuality of it, and to understand it’s your choices that you’ll be judged for one day.
The second thing he brings up, and this will take us a little longer, are the comparisons Paul wanted them to relate to. Now, it’s beautiful. Again, Paul is the master teacher. After I look at Jesus for about a million years, I want to spend some time with the apostle Paul. I love him. I love studying the epistles. Do you realize most of the false doctrines come out of the Old Testament and the Gospels? They never get into the epistles. Rarely will you ever hear somebody in false doctrines ever preach from the epistles to the churches. If they would just get in there, they would find the balance they’re looking for. The apostle Paul is responsible for about three-fourths of it. One of the greatest, most intelligent, master teachers. The imagery that he brings in here.
Now, there are some major differences and similarities when you compare living the Christian life and running a race in Corinth. There are some major things that compare. But remember there are differences. I think as a teacher, Paul wants them to see this and learn from it. Look in verse 24. He said, “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.”
That little phrase “do you not know,” eido, comes from the word horao, which means do you perceive, do you understand, do you grasp this. Really that was kind of a dumb question in a sense. Sure they did. You could have asked them about a lot of other things they might not have understood, but they understood this. This is their life. This is their culture. Paul knew that. It’s kind of a rhetorical question. He knew that they know the answer to that. They knew that in a race all run but only one wins the prize. Everyone trains the same way, but only one can win the prize.
We know that today, don’t we? You don’t have to know that from ever having participated in a race in a track meet. You know that from watching television, if nothing else when the Olympics were on.
I remember when the Boston marathon was on, I saw them start. It looked like a bunch of ants coming off an ant hill. I’m thinking, “How in the world can you even find a place to run with that many people?” It was just jammed packed. Later on I came back to it and I saw that it had thinned out quite a bit. A little later on I came back and it had thinned down to about five of them. Now I got interested in it. I started watching those five. Some more slipped back. Finally, only one crossed the finish line. But he won.
I thought to myself, “Yes, Paul, I understand that.” I’m sure they understood that. Do you not know? “Yeah, we know.” Paul, what are you trying to say? Let’s go on. He’s using that as a teaching tool. He knows they know that. Why would he ask that question? Well, he’s making a comparison. Now that he’s got their attention, now that they understand it, now he’s going to give the comparison of the Christian life. He’s comparing one who runs the race with intensity, having trained, having denying self, looking forward to the prize which is his purpose with the Christian life and how he lives his whole life until the day he sees the Lord Jesus. It’s like he takes you into the training camp of the athlete. You can smell the sweat. You can feel the intensity of the athlete. You can feel the sobriety, the seriousness of them.
If you ever are around a group of athletes and there’s something on the line, you’re not going to hear a bunch of frivolous talk. You’re not going to hear a lot of laughter. You’re going to see intensity. You’re going to see focus. You’re going to feel the sincerity of these men. You’re going to feel the moment with them and that’s what Paul wants you to do. Paul wants to make sure that these Corinthian believers get right into the situation with him.
These runners knew that in that racing event there could only be one winner. Therefore, they would train. They would work. These athletes came into Corinth early, before the race ever started. Can you imagine the excitement in the city? They looked forward to this many years before they had the event. And then, months before, here comes these athletes, probably by a ship. Who knows how they got there?
But I’ll tell you what, there’s a whole lot of thinking that goes behind this. You bring them in early. That creates an excitement. That’s exactly the way it was in Corinth. These people were pumped by the time the day came. They went down to the track. I guarantee you, if they had cameras they would have been taking pictures of the athletes. You see, back in those days athletes were to them just like they are to us in these days. They were gods. It’s a shame that we have to say that, isn’t it? Things haven’t changed much. What did Ecclesiastes say? There’s nothing new under the sun.
Well, the apostle Paul, getting them into the feel of this athletic event, says, “Run in such a way that you may win.” Here’s the comparison. The word for “such a way” is houtos, which means in like manner. There’s your comparative word right there. In other words, as you understand how these men train, how these men deny themselves, how these men made choices, how these men had a purpose that drove them, how they were single-minded, how they marched to the beat of a different drum, you live your Christian life exactly the way they lived theirs. That’s what he’s saying. Don’t ever think about the fact that you have any R & R. It’s every day, every moment, every breath that you live the Christian life with purpose in mind, with integrity in mind, and the discipline of denying yourself.
The first major difference
When you start making the comparisons here, you’ve got similarities. You’ve got differences. Let’s just look at some of them, because these are teaching tools. Oh, when you start putting one side by side, it just teaches itself. First of all, there’s a major difference in the Isthmian Games and living the Christian life. What is that? Well, in the Isthmian Games there was only one prize. All these men were intensely training for it and they got out on the track and they ran. But there was only one prize. In the Christian life, oh, there’s a prize for every believer. Prize of prizes for every believer. There’s a reward for every one of us. Isn’t that exciting? We’ve already seen that in chapter 3. In other words, God wants to reward every one of us. We’re not competing against each other.
Isn’t it good that we don’t compete anymore? Isn’t that great? I’m not competing with you in your gift. You’re not competing with me in my gift. To him that’s given much, much is required. You may have been given much so I’m not required to do what you do. But you’re not required to do what I do. We’re not competing with each other. We just come alongside each other and encourage one another so all of us can get the prize. That’s the whole picture, standing one day before Christ and seeing our work remain. We’re not competing. There’s a prize for all of us.
I could stay on that for a while because we live as competitors with one another in the Christian life, even a husband and a wife. “How come you get to speak and I don’t ever get asked to speak?” Is there competition here? A little bit. But is there competition in this thing? Paul says that there’s a reward for everyone who lives choosing to deny himself.
Look at 2 Timothy 4:6. I want you to see what he says. Paul is finishing his ministry. He doesn’t have a dime. As a matter of fact, he’s in a prison. He’s in a hole somewhere in Rome. Onesiphorus couldn’t even find it. He writes to Timothy and says, “Timothy, would you come and see me? I’m lonely. I’m cold. Would you bring me my coat? Would you bring me my parchment?” He didn’t have anything, but he had everything.
Look in verse 6: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” How did he know that? I don’t know. God must have told him. In September 1966 my dad got me out in the front yard and said, “Wayne, I won’t be living by Thanksgiving.” He had some trouble, but he didn’t look like he was that sick to me. I said, “How do you know, Daddy?” He said, “Just listen to me, Wayne. I’m not going to be here.” He began to give me some things to do since he wasn’t going to be there. On November 12, 1966, he went on to be with Jesus. How did he know that? I don’t know. I guess God must have put it on his heart.
How did Paul know it? I don’t know. I guess God must have told him. Sure enough, he was martyred right after this letter. It’s the last epistle he ever wrote.
Verse 7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” What can he look forward to now? He’s run the race. That’s exactly what he would have said if he had been writing Corinthians. And he says, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” And you think, “Oh, yes. That’s good for you, Paul, but what about me?” Look at the last of the verse: “and not only to me.” I love this. Do you mean to tell me the same crown could be given? He said, “but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Oh! There’s no competition here. You don’t put this guy up here and praise him. No. We put Jesus where He belongs and attach ourselves to Him and there’s a reward for every one of us. We can all finish the race in the Christian life with no regrets.
In prison, he doesn’t have a dime. It knocks the health and wealth message, doesn’t it? He doesn’t have a dime, but he has everything. Why? Because he’s run his race and knows there’s a reward waiting on him. He knows he’s not going to be judged. That was in Christ. It’s not his sins. It’s his works. His works are for a reward. He takes the crowns and gives them back to the Lord Jesus.
Won’t it be great one day for the Lord to take you out of here and just put His arms around you and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant?” Shouldn’t that motivate each one of us every day of our life? You let something bad happen in your life and I guarantee half of us would just throw the whole thing out the window and react according to the flesh, not even thinking of the bigger picture, not even realizing how there’s a reward to those who say “Yes” to Christ. I’d do it. I can’t point a finger at anybody else. There’s a major difference there.
The first major similarity
But also there’s a major similarity. Here we go with these comparisons. What? Put the race over here and the Christian life over here. Here comes a major similarity. It’s in the faith that the pain of choice is the same in running as it is in the walk of the Christian life. The pain of choosing. It’s the same thing. You see God does not spare us the pain of our choices nor does he spare us the pain of the consequences of that choice. He does not spare that. Grace enables us but never spares us the pain. Why in the world do people have this concept that if they obey Christ, everything’s going to be great until they see Jesus one day? That is not in Scripture. He says, “The things that you’ll suffer for my sake,” over in Philippians.
He says in verse 25, “And everyone who competes in the games.” The word for “competes” there really tells us the pain that’s involved. It’s the word agonizomai. Guess what word we get from that. Agony, that’s right. You know the word. It’s one who agonizes. Every athlete can identify with this, the pain that comes in choosing to train and discipline yourself in order to win. There’s pain to go with it.
Some of us, though, are lazy and live from catastrophe to catastrophe. That’s the way some Christians live. I remember back when the Gulf War came. On a Wednesday night the church was packed out. People I’ve never seen before and I’ve never seen since were there. They live from catastrophe to catastrophe. They don’t understand the pain until the catastrophe hits and then they’re upside down and the pain’s overwhelming.
When I was in military school I played three sports: football, basketball, and track. I didn’t run track. I was on the team. I went out for the field events. That’s the broad jump and the high jump. Well, the coach would come by every day and say, “Guys, you better be training. You better be training.” “Why, coach? Come on. We’re in shape. We play two sports.” He’s say, “Guys, there may come a day when a runner is not here and you may have to take his place.” “Right. When’s that ever going to happen?” Will I ever learn?
One day we had the mile relay in the field events. Do you know what a mile relay is? It’s a 100 yard sprint for 440 yards. I didn’t know that. He came over, knowing that I hadn’t been doing a thing but goofing off. He walked up and said, “Barber, the anchor leg of the mile relay is out today. Would you take his place?” All of my friends are going, “Oh, no!” So I got out there.
The first thing I had to do is learn how to take that baton. It took me forever to get that down. Finally I said, “Alright, I’m ready.” That last guy came around and we were way in the lead. I took that baton. Oh, if it had only been 220, I would have broken the world all-time record in the 440.
But 220 yards into that 440 yards, the gorilla jumped on me. Have you ever run track? If you have you know what I’m talking about. It was a 1,500 pound gorilla. It jumped on me. It was like I hit a wall. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I was going to finish. I held up another race. I got more attention than the guy who won. When I walked across, I was barely able to walk, but I finished that race, and I understood pain in a way I wouldn’t have had to understand if I had been training all the time.
That’s the way people are when they live calamity to calamity. That’s why it’s so overwhelming to you. If you would live in the good days trusting Christ, you’d live in the bad days trusting Christ, and you’d understand the pain that is involved. Every believer who walks by faith, denying self so that Christ can live through him, should be able to identify with this word. God doesn’t spare the pain.
Colossians 4:12 reads, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly [agonizomai] for you in his prayers,” feeling the pain of paying the price for you.
It says in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith [the word for “fight” is agon, agony], take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
Second Timothy 4:7, that we read a moment ago, reads, “I have fought the good fight,” agon. “There’s been agony in my life,” Paul is saying. He’s in prison and about to die. He said, “I have agonized by making choices.” I really think what he’s saying here is, “I’ve won the battle over me and I’ve allowed God to do through me what He wanted to do.” There’s pain and agony in the act of self-denial. I don’t care who you are.,God does not spare us that pain.
That’s the similarity between a runner and a person living the Christian life. Do you know what? If Paul hadn’t used a runner, he could have used a mother of children who agonizes for her children and who makes painful decisions for the reward that you’ll see down the road in her child. It’s the same thing. He could have taken a lot of things with his imagery, but he simply uses the runner. So a difference, but also a similarity.
The second major difference
We go on. There’s another major difference in the comparison of the two. In running the race at Corinth, it’s up to the runner and his own strength as to whether he finishes and how he finishes. But in the Christian life, once we have made the painful choice and endured the pain of its consequences, Christ in us produces the strength that enables us to go on. That’s the big difference in the runner and a Christian in the Christian life.
Look in verse 25, and I’ll show you where I got that. “And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.” The word for “exercises self-control” is egkrateunomai. It’s the word that means to master something, for something to be under submission to you. This gives us a wonderful clue as to the message of grace.
This word “self-control” is the fruit of the Spirit of God. Look over in Galatians 5:22-23. I want you to see this. This is not something you can do. That’s the difference of the will-power of the runner and the God-power in a believer living the Christian life. It’s not up to me and my strength, it’s up to Him and His strength. But I do have to make the painful choice; I do have to suffer the pain of its consequence. But I am enabled by His Spirit to do so. It is produced by something, not by us, but by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love [the rest of these things characterize that love], joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The word “self-control” is the same word. God does not spare us the pain but enables us in the process. That’s a beautiful thought to me. What a difference in a runner, depending on his own strength to finishing and whether he wins or whether he loses.
Here’s the balance. You’ve got to look at this. Look at Colossians 1:29. When I studied these words, whew! I love when I’m studying and something gets a hold of me. The only problem is, it’s terrible when it happens and you can’t find anybody you can tell. In Colossians 1:29, watch this! You’ve got to see the balance. “And for this purpose [now look] also I labor.” You think there’s not some pain and agony in the Christian walk? Here’s your balance: “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Son, the runner doesn’t have that. The Christian does. Man, what a difference!
You say, “I can’t run. I’m feeble.” Hey, man, be strong. The more feeble you are, the more strength you’re going to realize in Him. But you have to make the painful choice. He even enables you in the choice and the consequence that comes from that choice. You strive, you labor, according to power that mightily works within us.
So what do we have so far? A difference that every believer has a reward waiting, whereas in the races they only had one reward. Only one could win. Everybody was competing against everybody else.
The similarity, that every Christian must make the same painful decisions of discipline, denying self just like an athlete would. But then the difference, whereas the runner is depending on his own power, we’re depending on Christ’s power in us once we’ve made the decision.
The third major difference
Now, there’s another major difference. It’s in the nature of the reward. Verse 25 reads, “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.” Paul points to the reward that a runner runs for. Do you know what it was in Corinth? It was a pine wreath. But with that pine wreath that was put around their necks for winning came immortality. Seriously, they deified winners in the Isthmian Games. They had immortality as far as people were concerned, fame. They were heroes. But the difference in our reward and their reward is theirs was corruptible. Their immortality was as perishable as their wreath. It quickly dissipated and passed away. But our reward is imperishable. It doesn’t point to us. It points to Him and is eternal.
Do you realize how we deify athletes just like they did? I heard the other night that the super-heroes of NBA average 2.5 illegitimate children per man. One of the Dream Team members has had seven illegitimate children by six different women. Their wreaths are corrupted. Thank God, ours aren’t.
Let me close with this thought. What is motivating your life? Are you living from crisis to crisis to crisis, or have you learned as an athlete you train on the good days so that you can run on the bad days? Have you learned that yet? It’s very important that we learn that. Paul says, “Take this race. You’re familiar with it.” He could have talked about football, because it would get everybody’s attention. That’s exactly what it was to them. He compares the Christian life to it and says, “Hey, you better get a bigger perspective than what you have.” You’re not living for the dot, you’re living for the line.