God left us here to spend our lives preparing to go home. This radical pursuit of God’s well done has often cost those who have gone before us everything. And if we focus our lives upon Christ’s well done it may cost us dearly, even our life. . . . But it will be worth it.199
The world affects all who are not constantly immunized with a sin caused infection that leads to an insatiable longing, which it tries to satisfy with anything but God. Scenic vacations. Sexual exploits. Ascetic rigors. Managerial excellence. Sports extravaganzas.
When we as believers are not actively We have turned our back to the breathtaking beauty of God and fallen in love with our shadow. To seek God foremost is a difficult duty indeed. It may cost you your friends. It may cost you your reputation. It may cost you your life. But it will be worth it. Because the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3)!
For just a moment think of what will matter one minute (or even one second) after any one of us dies. Of course it will be what was permanent in our life. To help us the epistles are written. In his letters, Paul uses many illustrations from the world to communicate truth about the Christian life. Four are prominent:
- Armyorthemilitary(“PutonthewholearmorofGod”), Several times, for example, Christian living is compared to warfare. Paul counsels us to endure hardship “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) and to “put on the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11).
- Agriculture(“What so ever a man sows, that shall he also reap”)in Galatians 6:7.
as to the exact sport Paul is describing, whether the footrace or the chariot race. Either one will do, but my own preference is the chariot race. The Greek chariot, used in the Olympic Games and other events, was really only a small platform with a wheel on each side. The driver had very little to hold on to as he raced around the course. He had to lean forward and strain every nerve and muscle to maintain balance and control the horses. The verb “reaching forth” in Philippians 3:13 literally means “stretching as in a race.”
In order to participate in the Greek games200, the athlete had to be a citizen. He did not run the race to gain his citizenship. In Philippians 3:20, Paul reminds us that “our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven.” Because we are already the children of God through faith in Christ, we have the responsibility of “running the race” and achieving the goals God has set for us.
All of the metaphors Paul uses for the Christian life allude to opposing forces we struggle [agonidzomai] against. Hence his word pictures of warfare, races, struggles, and building. So all of life is a struggle [agony] to please Christ. Listen to Eric Sauer201 in his helpful book The Arena of Faith
“Is not the whole an astonishing, many-sided picture of the race and completion of the spiritual life? The arena of faith, the training, the self-control, the ruthless denial of self, the herald, the entrance to the racecourse, the different kinds of contests, the racing to the goal, the boxing, the wrestling, the rules of the combats, Christ the
200 There were also three other chief games: throwing the discus (Gk. diskobolia); throwing the spear (Gk. akontismos); and jumping (Gk. halma). Often jumping, spear-throwing, quoit-throwing, racing, and wrestling were united and formed the so-called “five-fold contest” (Gk. pentathlon). He who conquered in this was especially honored. With the 25th Olympiad began chariot racing, with two or four horses. Then horse racing was introduced. There was a race in armour (Gk. hoplites dromos). The stadium was 600 feet in length.
umpire, the danger of being disqualified, the appearance of the victor before the exalted throne of the divine Judge on the great day of the distribution of prizes. It is out of His hands the victors will receive the wreath and the palm. The list of the victors ‘the book of life’, the triumphal entry in the homeland, the banquet, the festival, the gifts, the place of honor– in fact, scarcely one essential feature of the whole course of the games has escaped the writers of the New Testament and not employed in their figure of speech.”
Paul was particularly fond of the figure of the race. He uses such phrases as “run in a race” (1 Cor. 9:24), “running well” (Gal. 5:7), and “run in vain” (Phil. 2:16). This is also the figure used by the writer in Hebrews 12:1-3. The Race (Gk. stadion). Of the different games the New Testament mentions three: racing, boxing, and wrestling. The race is mentioned most frequently. In each of the three pictures of athletic life as employed in the New Testament there is prominent a special view-point of the spiritual life and effort.
- ? The race looks forward to the heavenly goal, to the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” to the realm above (Phil. 3:14). This is a graphic picture of Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your own salvation… for it is God which worketh in you.” Each believer is on the track; each has a special lane in which to run; and each has a goal to achieve. If we reach the goal the way God has planned, then we receive a reward. If we fail, we lose the reward, but we do not lose our citizenship. (Read 1 Cor. 3:11–15 for the same idea, only using architecture as the symbol
- ? Boxing points to our opposition to the enemy in us. Paul at least so employs it: “so fight (lit. box) I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage” (I Cor. 9:26,27).
- ? Wrestling refers to our fight with the powers of darkness around and beneath us. Thus Paul says: “Our wrestling (Gk. pale) is against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness: (Eph. 6:12).
I Cor. 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Thus these three comparisons, in spite of their great similarity, nevertheless picture three different directions of our Christian warfare. The most important truths illustrated by the race are:
- ? All can reach the goal. Therefore, according to the will and by the power of God, it
is possible for you also.
- ? All must run and hasten with all available strength. Therefore you also.
- ? All must concentrate on the goal. No one must be drawn aside by things passing or external. “Looking unto Jesus”
- ? All must persevere to the winning-post. No one must yield to fatigue on the way. Therefore you must be purposeful and hold out also.
- ? All must press forward without pause. No one must permit himself to be detained.
- ? All must be careful not to stumble in this obstacle-race. For Christ can preserve us.
- ? All must be determined to win the noblest and highest, and in no case be content
with reaching only lesser aims. Therefore you also.
- ? Thus will be richly supplied to us the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord
Jesus Christ. (II Pet. 1:11).
- ? Thus will be apportioned to us the victor’s prize, the full glory in the day of our
manifestation before the judgment seat of Christ, the great heavenly Umpire (II Tim. 4:8; II Cor. 5:10).
We conceive that the picture of the race is particularly adapted to represent chief essential truths of Christian sanctification and the fight of faith, and therefore in the New Testament it is more used than any other comparison from the life of sport: (I Cor. 9:24; Phil 3:15: II Tim. 4:7; Acts 20:24; Heb. 12:1,2; perhaps also Gal. 5:7).
In the Greek Race at the Olympiad, whoever after rounding the course seven times crossed the starting line even one step, indeed one foot, ahead of the rest carried off the prize. In all this, however, keep clearly in mind:
- ? Only those who completed all the requirements of the race could win the prize.
- ? Only those who did not quit the race could win the prize
- ? Only those who cut no corners could win the prize.
- ? So only those who dedicate their life unreservedly to the Lord can win the prize.
- ? “Shun no difficulty connected with a holy walk and faithful witness. God never
compromises with sin. Therefore also you must never do so. Be ready to perfect a full devotion. Practice sobriety and self-control, deny profit and enjoyment, advantage and convenience so far as these can be a hindrance to your course in the race of faith. Christ gave Himself up entirely for you: therefore must your life be dedicated entirely to Him”.
How are we to run Christ’s race?
Paul says in Philippians 3:13 “forgetting those things which are behind”. It is an impossible202 feat of mental and psychological gymnastics to try to erase the sins and mistakes of the past. That is not what Paul asks, rather he explains that we break the power of the past by living for the future. Apart from senility, hypnosis, or a brain malfunction, no mature person can forget what has happened in the past. We may wish that we could erase certain bad memories, but we cannot. “To forget” in the Bible means “no longer to be influenced by or affected by.” When God promises, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17), He is not suggesting that He will conveniently have a bad memory! This is impossible with God. What God is saying is, “I will no longer hold their sins against them. Their sins can no longer affect their standing with Me or influence My attitude toward them.” We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past. There were things in Paul’s past that could have been weights to hold him back (1 Tim. 1:12–17), but they became inspirations to speed him ahead. The events did not change, but his understanding of them changed. A good example of this principle is Joseph (Gen. 45:1–15). When he met his brothers the second time and revealed himself to them, he held no grudge against them. To be sure, they had mistreated him, but he saw the past from God’s point of view. As a result he was unable to hold anything against his brothers. Joseph knew that God had a plan for his life—a race for him to run—and in fulfilling that plan and looking ahead, he broke the power of the past. Too many Christians are shackled by regrets of the past. They are trying to run the race by looking backward! No wonder they stumble and fall and get in the way of other Christians! Some Christian runners are being distracted by the successes of the past, not the failures; and this is just as bad. “The things which are behind” must be set aside and “the things which are before” must take their place. The Christian does not run the race in order to get to heaven. He is in the race because he has been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Only Greek citizens were allowed to participate in the games, and they had to obey the rules both in their training and in their performing.
Any contestant found breaking the training rules was automatically disqualified. In order to give up his rights and have the joy of winning lost souls, Paul had to discipline himself. That is the emphasis of this entire chapter: Authority (rights) must be balanced by discipline. If we want to serve the Lord and win His reward and approval, we must pay the price. The word castaway (1 Cor. 9:27) is a technical word familiar to those who knew the Greek games. It means “disapproved, disqualified.” At the Greek games, there was a herald who announced the rules of the contest, the names of the contestants, and the names and cities of the winners. He would also announce the names of any contestants who were disqualified. He was concerned lest he ignore himself and find himself disqualified. Again, it was not a matter of losing personal salvation. (The disqualified Greek athlete did not lose his citizenship, only his opportunity to win a prize.) The whole emphasis is on rewards, and Paul did not want to lose his reward.
Only one runner could win the olive-wreath crown in the Greek games, but every believer can win an incorruptible crown when he stands before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This crown is given to those who discipline themselves for the sake of serving Christ and winning lost souls. They keep their bodies under control and keep their eyes on the goal.
In recent years, evangelical Christians have rediscovered the importance of personal discipline and the relationship between a disciplined body and a Spirit-filled life. We must, of course, avoid extremes. On the one hand, religious asceticism is unhealthy and of no value spiritually (Col. 2:18–23). But on the other hand, there is something to be said for disciplined eating, exercising, and resting, and a Spirit-directed balanced life.
- Wesmuglycongratulateourselvesthatwedonotsmokeorusealcohol,but what about our overeating and overweight?
- AndmanyChristianscannotdisciplinetheirtimesoastohaveaconsistent devotional life or Bible-study program.
- Paulhadonegreatgoalinlife:toglorifytheLordbywinningthelostand building up the saints. To reach this goal, he was willing to pay any price. He was willing even to give up his personal rights! He sacrificed immediate gains for eternal rewards, immediate pleasures for eternal joys.203
How do we love Christ’s appearing? The Christian runner with the spiritual mind realizes that God must work in him if he is going to win the race (Phil. 2:12–13). “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). God works in us that He might work through us. As we apply ourselves to the things of the spiritual life, God is able to mature us and strengthen us for the race. “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness!” (1 Tim. 4:7–8) Some Christians are so busy “dying to self” that they never come back to life again to run the race! And others are so sure they can make it on their own that they never stop to read the Word, pray, or ask for the power of the Lord.
How do we keep from being disqualified? It is not enough204 to run hard and win the race; the runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek games, the judges were very strict about this. Any infringement of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize. In Philippians 3:15–16, Paul emphasizes the importance of the Christian remembering the “spiritual rules” laid down in the Word. One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the United States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and was undoubtedly the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the records. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules. (Thorpe’s medals were reinstated in 1985 by the Olympic Committee.) This is what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. “Any man who enters an athletic contest practices rigid self- control in training” (Phil. 3:14, WMS).
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
- ? If the athlete breaks training, he is disqualified;
- ? If he breaks the rules of the game, he is disqualified. “No contestant in the
games is crowned, unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5, WMS). The issue is not what he thinks or what the spectators think but what the judges say.
- ? One day each Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10–12). The Greek word for “judgment seat” is BEMA, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules, we shall receive a prize.
- ? Bible history is filled with people who began the race with great success but failed at the end because they disregarded God’s rules. They did not lose their salvation, but they did lose their rewards (1 Cor. 3:15). It happened to Lot (Gen. 19), Samson (Jud. 16), Solomon (I Kings 11), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). And it can happen to us! It is an exciting experience to run the race daily, “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:1–2). It will be even more exciting when we experience that “upward calling” and Jesus returns to take us to heaven! Then we will stand before the bema to receive our rewards! It was this future prospect that motivated Paul, and it can also motivate us.
In the ancient Isthmian games of Greece, a pedestal205 stood at the finish line, and on it hung a wreath-the winner’s prize. No one runs a race without some expectation of reward. The reward may be nothing more than a ribbon or a trophy or a wreath of leaves. It may be a prize worth a large amount of money. Sometimes the reward is fame and recognition. Sometimes it is a healthy body. Occasionally the race is run for the sheer exhilaration. The Isthmian races and the race spoken of in Hebrews 12, however, were not run for exhilaration. This type of race is the ????, the agony race, the marathon, the race that seems never to end. It is not a race you run simply for the pleasure of running. If you do not have something important to look forward to at the end of this race, you will likely not start it and will certainly not finish it.
The competition of the Christian life, of course, is different from that of an athletic race in two important ways. First, we are not to compete against other Christians, trying to outdo each other in righteousness, recognition, or accomplishments. Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Yet we do not compete with each other even in faith. We compete by faith, but not with each other. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but in Him.206
If we are believers, we are in the race207, and we are surrounded by a great cloud of lives whose examples call for our best—the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the prophets (Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Daniel, Jeremiah), the apostles (Peter, John, Paul), the martyrs (Stephen, Polycarp, Cranmer, Elliott, Saint), the preachers (Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon), the missionaries (Carey, Taylor, Carmichael), our departed family members, and on and on. Their faces invite us to finish well. So the imperatives are before us:
- ? We must divest ourselves of all hindrances and sins. Figuratively speaking, if our foot hinders us, we must chop it off; if our eye causes us to sin, we must gouge it out (cf. Matthew 5:29, 30). We will not finish the race apart from radical divestment.
- ? We must run with patient perseverance the race that is marked out individually for each of us. We must put one foot in front of the other, refusing to quit— unhasting, unresting, constant.
- ? We must focus on Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus must cover the entire sky. He must be the center and horizons of our sight. Such vision will insure for us faith’s beginning and end.
- ? We must consider him and how he lived amidst contradiction and follow his example.
Crowns are for Christians. There are five. Will you get one?
The CROWN OF LIFE to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ and persevere to the end. The perseverance of saints is one of the evidences of salvation. Thus the one who is loyal unto death gets the Crown of Life in Revelation. 2:10. This crown is especially for those endure suffering loving Jesus all the way. This means having the desire that He be glorified through our response to trials. GOD CROWNS THOSE WHO LOVE HIM: James 1:12 God crowns those who love Him. God wants your heart! Love only counts to God if it’s first place, priority #1 love, more than hobbies, money, professional achievements, scholastic honors, sports victories, possessions. Do you place a higher priority on God or: your job, your house, your recreation, your finances, (i.e. do you spend more time with investments on earth or heaven?)
The CROWN OF REJOICING is also called the soul winners crown and it consists of people won for Christ. The unselfish Worker who faithfully wins souls gets the Crown of Honor in I Thessalonians 2:19; Phil 4:1. The only things we can take with us are people! Are you taking anyone with you? Who, your friends, neighbors, children? ARE WE DISCIPLING OTHERS? GOD CROWNS THOSE WHO BRING HIM PEOPLE:
206 MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983.
God crowns those who bring Him what He wants. God wants people, not houses, plaques, collectibles. Remember the Lord allows no U-Hauls behind a hearse. Because the faithful proclaim the truth, there is promised a ‘crown of exultation’
The UNFADING CROWN OF SELF-CONTROL is for Steadfast Racer that consistently brings the flesh under the Spirit’s control, resisting all that disqualifies. This one gets Imperishable Crown in I Corinthians. 9:25-27.This is the crown for holy living as in Romans 6:6-14. This is the crown for focused living as in Hebrews 12:1-2. Some of the principles of this kind of life: GUARD AGAINST THE APATHY OF AFFLUENCE Revelation. 3:17: Our world tries to make us seek self- sufficiency and independence; this begets spiritual indifference. The only solution is to take spiritual therapy as we talked about this morning as we: VALUE RELATIONSHIPS OVER AND ABOVE FINANCIAL GAIN (Phil 4:1; I Th. 2:19-20); DREAM ABOUT WINNING THE ULTIMATE PRIZE Matthew 25:21-23; RUB SHOULDERS WITH THE LESS FORTUNATE TO REMIND US THAT THE MORE WE HAVE THE MORE WE NEED TO GIVE I Tim 6:18-19; FOCUS ON THE SECRET OF GODLY CONTENTMENT I Tim 6:6-8 GOD CROWNS THOSE WHO DENY THEIR FLESH: The Steadfast Racer that resists all Disqualifiers gets the Unfading Crown in I Cor. 9:25-27. This is for Mastering our old nature. The Lord’s reward for all His faithful followers are varied and wonderful, and all of them are imperishable
The CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS goes to those who faithfully watch for Christ each day living with eternity’s values as their own. These get the Crown of Righteousness in II Tim. 4:8. Remember Paul is now at the end of his life. He is in the depths of Mamertinum. This crown is for anticipating Christ. Are you? This crown is for following to the finishing line the course the Lord has given you? Are you? Finishing the race to the end. God crowns those who watch for Him: Look for Jesus every day. (I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE PARSONAGE WINDOW IN Rhode Island. When I drove up to the garage Bonnie would have the little ones watching. With wide eyes they would sound the coming home of dad. My joy is such a tiny example of God’s longing for our attention!) The Victorious Warrior who faithfully watches for Christ gets the Crown of Righteousness in II Tim. 4:8.
The CROWN OF GLORY is promised to those who live as an Example to the Flock. Faithful under-shepherds get the Crown of Glory in I Peter 5:1-5. This is for ministering to the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ in keeping with the elements of verses 2 and 3: willingness; sacrificial dedication; humility; living as an example for Christ. It is for living the life as in I Tim 3:1-13 and I Peter 3:1-7. SERVE CHRIST’S CHURCH BECAUSE GOD CROWNS THOSE WHO SERVE HIM: This is for feeding the flock. This is for enduring trials. Because of the service of the redeemed, the reward given is ‘the unfading crown of glory’
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THEM ? Look at Revelation. 4:9-11 And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (KJV)
2. Areyouwinninganddisciplingpeople?Willyougetthiscrownofrejoicing? 3. AreyouSpiritcontrolled?Willyougettheunfadingcrown?
5. AreyouservingChrist’schurch,His sheep?Willyougetthecrownofglory?
1 Corinthians 9:27
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Now what qualifications does God have? What does God require of those who serve Him? What kind of people does Jesus use in His ministry to advance His eternal kingdom? Well, since nobody is qualified, God has only one altemative-to use the unqualified to do the impossible. That is essentially how God works. God uses unqualified people, moves into their lives and with saving, sanctifying grace, and transforms them into useful instruments to perform His purposes. Let’s look at some biblical examples of unqualified people that God has used. FAILURES, ENCOURAGEMENT
- Noah got drunk and conducted himself in a lewd way.
- Abraham doubted God, lied about his wife, and committed adultery.
- Isaac sinned as his father had taught him, lying about his wife Rebekah to Abimelech.
- Jacob extorted the birthright from Esau, deceived his father, and raised a family of immoral
- Joseph was an outcast and hated by his brothers.
- Moses was a murderer and, acting in pride, tried to steal God’s glory by striking a rock to get
water from it, instead of obediently speaking to it as God had told him to do.
- Aaron, the high priest, led Israel in the worship of the golden calf and the accompanying orgy.
- Joshua was so deceived by the Gibeonites that he made a treaty with them instead of
destroying them as God had told him to do, and because of his disobedience, Israel was troubled
endlessly by them.
- Gideon had no confidence in himself and even less confidence in God’s plan and power.
- Samson was marked as a man with a lustful love for a wretched woman.
- Ruth was in the messianic line, yet she was an accursed Moabitess.
- Samuel was only a little child when he began to serve God.
- David was a ladies’ man, an adulterer, a murderer, a poor father, and a man with such bloody
hands that God wouldn’t even let him build the Temple.
- Solomon was the world’s leading polygamist.
- Isaiah put his trust in a human king.
- Ezekiel was a brash, tough, strong-minded, crusty, say-whatyou-think priest.
- Daniel was educated in a pagan country and taught the wisdom of the bitter and hasty
- Hosea married a prostitute.
- Jonah defied God in direct disobedience and got terribly upset when the Gentile city of Nineveh was converted.
- Habakkuk questioned the divine plan.
- Elijah was able to handle 850 false priests and prophets, but ran like a maniac from one woman-
- Paul was a former Christian killer.
- Timothy was ashamed of Christ and had to be rebuked by Paul.
If you’ll just follow the flow of the people God used, you’ll see a march of the unqualified. God uses unqualified people! And when you look at the twelve, you’ll meet a group of unqualified men, just like all the rest.