Thursday, July 17, 2014

RUN TO WIN (1 Corinthians Chapter 9)

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

The Apostle Paul frequently used athletic analogies when speaking of spiritual matters (Cf. Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5, 4:7).  The metaphor was particularly relevant to the Corinthians inasmuch as the city of Corinth served to host the biennial Isthmian games, which were at the time second in fame only to the Olympics.

The Isthmian games were widely celebrated.  Every two years they were held in a great stadium located near the city.  Only “freeborn” men could enter the games.  They were required to engage in ten months of preparation.  They had to be able to certify to their faithfulness in training.  They were to keep themselves morally clean in the period preceding the contest.  The contestants were led about the arena by a master of ceremonies while he shouted out in a loud voice to all the spectators inquiring of them if they had some matter in which they could accuse a contestant of any crime or wickedness.  For thirty days before the contests a rigid period of preparation was observed.  Each contestant was announced and introduced by name and country.  The victor in the games was crowned.  In the earlier days it was with a garland of parsley.  Quite a prize!  That was later changed to a pine wreath.  That is what they sought after and exercised self-control and discipline to obtain.  To be sure they became quite famous in their hometowns—and were sometimes even written about--but their winnings were all of the perishable variety.

And even today there are countless examples of athletes who sacrifice much by way of discipline and self-control that they might excel in their particular athletic endeavor.  Successful athletes are the ones who take their sport seriously.  The requirements of their training impact their sleep, diet, exercise.  Their freedom to do as they please is limited.

That which is true in the physical holds true in the spiritual.  The Christian life is compared to a race.  A prize (reward) awaits the winner (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).  The contestants (believers) don’t compete against each other, but against the obstacles that would work to hinder each one (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  Holding on tightly to one’s rights and freedoms is a sure way to lose.  It is self-control—the fruit of the Spirit (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23)—that is necessary.  “Self-control” translates a Greek word meaning “strength.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary comments on the meaning of the term, “The various powers bestowed by God upon man are capable of abuse; the right use demands the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God.”  By the means of Spirit-imparted self-control the will of a man is brought into submission to the will of God.  In this matter, restraint and discipline—in both the negative and positive sense—is exercised. 

Paul was a great example in all of this.  Like an athlete he single-mindedly pursued the goal (1 Corinthians 9:26, “So I do not run aimlessly”; Cf. Philippians 3:13-14).  In exercising self-control and discipline, Paul endured hardship (Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:1-10), gave up his right to receive material support (1 Corinthians 9:1-18), and went out of his way to relate to various groups of people (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)—that he “might win more of them” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19).  In his single-minded pursuit of a worthwhile goal he serves as a good example for us to follow (Cf. Philippians 3:17).  How you doing in the race?  Are you pressing on to the goal?  Is there evidence in your life of the Spirit-imparted self-control enabling you to make wise choices?  Are you faltering?  “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith,” we find strength and encouragement that we might “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 4:13).

No comments: