GOING FOR MORE THAN GOLD 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Theme of the Month Spiritual Reflection and Renewal
Pastor Johnny Lo
Youth Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia
Sunday Sermon for 14 February 2010
Scripture Passages 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 24
Introduction: Go for more than gold. I was recently reading an article about how some Olympic athletes trained and one thing that caught my attention was something called the “puking bucket of fame.” Inside the gym where these athletes train, there’s this special bucket ready for an athlete to throw up into when they have pushed themselves too hard in their training. The cool part about this bucket is that after they have finished puking into it, they get to write their name and the date on it. Now it’s not quite like having your name engraved on the Stanley cup or winning a gold medal, but having your name on this “puking bucket of fame” shows people that you have pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and to the very limit. These athletes have trained and disciplined themselves so hard that they puke. Athletes are willing to push themselves so far and undergo such strict training because they have their eyes set on one thing and that is the prize; the possibility of winning the gold medal and the glory of it all. There are probably not many athletes who compete in the Olympic games who would not want to finish the race and possibly to even win the gold medal. In today’s passage, Paul uses this very same metaphor of the athlete training and winning the prize to teach Christians that we too need to train ourselves to win the prize. However, he is not talking about winning the gold medal, nor any prize of this world, but rather he is talking about the eternal prize that God rewards us with when we finish the race. The question that I want all of us to think about today is this. If athletes are willing to train and discipline themselves so hard for a prize that lasts only a short while, how much more should we as followers of Christ train and discipline our own lives for a prize that lasts forever and ever. Verse 24: Run with a purpose. When Paul was writing this letter in around 50 A.D., he was using an imagery that the Greeks and Corinthians were already quite familiar with. The Olympic games originated around 7th century B.C., (many years before Paul was born) and it was actually only one of the four sporting festivals held regularly in Ancient Greece. The three other games that the Greeks competed in addition to the Olympic Games where called the Nemean Games, the Pythian Games and the Isthmian Games. Now the interesting part about all this is that the Isthmian Games were held only around 11 kilometres west of the City of Corinth at a place called “Isthmia.” That is only about the distance of our church to downtown Vancouver. The Isthmian games were held every two years and it was the next most popular festival after the Olympic Games. And since the Olympics are here in Vancouver, we can get a good idea of how the Isthmian games can impact the entire city of Corinth. In addition to all this, one of the most popular sporting events at the Isthmian Games is the “footrace.” So when Paul writes to the Corinthians here in verse 24, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” the first thing that would come to the minds of the Corinthians would probably be the Olympics and the Isthmian Games that was held so close to where they lived. GOINGFORMORETHANGOLD 2
As we look at the last part of verse 24, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” I wonder what Paul meant by that. ✴
Perhaps back then there may have been some contestants who would run the race just for fun and didn’t even intend to win the prize. They weren’t being serious about the race.
Perhaps there were some contestants who would run the race but could not make it to the finish line because they did not train hard enough. They weren’t committed enough.
Perhaps some would cheat or play dirty while running the race and gets disqualified before they even make it to the end. They weren’t being honest.
And perhaps there were some contestants who would run the race but could not finish it because they just have no idea where they’re supposed to go. They did not prepare themselves.
After becoming a Christian, whether you like it or not, we too have also started running in a race, as Paul puts it. Throughout the course of this race, we’re bound to encounter many roadblocks that can hinder us from running the race in such a way to win the eternal prize and to live a life that God wants us to live. Let me try to provide some examples of these roadblocks by rephrasing what I have just said earlier about the contestants. Some reasons why people in the church may have difficulty following the path that God wants us to run: ✴
Perhaps there may be some Christians who would join the church just for fun and don’t intend to do what God wants. They weren’t being serious about their faith.
Perhaps there are some Christians who would drop out of the church because the Christian life is too difficult. They weren’t committed.
Perhaps some were pretending to be Christian on the outside all along and gets disqualified before winning the prize. They weren’t being honest.
And perhaps there are some Christians who are running the race and just have no idea where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do. They did not prepare themselves.
When we enter into Christian life and community, we are all called to run together for a purpose and towards the goal of becoming more Christ-like. We can’t just be dwindling around in the race track or pretend that we’re running towards the goal. There are certain things that we need to do that can help us endure the race and make it all the way to the finish line. Paul shows us what some of these things are in the next couple of verses. Verse 25: Train well and make sacrifices for the eternal prize. In the Olympics today, there are many athletes who have started training for their sport ever since when they were a child. Around two thousand years ago in the ancient Olympic games they did GOINGFORMORETHANGOLD 3
something different. Everyone who wanted to participate in the Olympic games had to first take an oath to Zeus and enter into a minimum 10 months of strict training. They would then live on a strict self-denying diet, refrain from wine and pleasant foods, endure cold and heat, and go through rigorous training and discipline. If anyone violated one of these regulations they would get kicked out of the games. This type of strict training for the games is likely what Paul was describing here in verse 25. Just like how athletes are willing to sacrifice certain pleasures and indulgences for the training and the race, Paul teaches us here that we too need to be willing to sacrifice and give up some of the worldly pleasures and self-indulgences if we want to win the eternal prize that God has prepared for us. So may I ask all of us here today, what are some of the things in your life that you need to cut back on, or to completely remove? What are the things that pull you away from finishing the race and to live a life that God wants you to live? For some of us, it may simply be laziness or having a cold and calloused heart. For some of us, it may be having misplaced priorities; when we put other things in our life above God. This can include school, our jobs, our ambitions, our finances, our friends, and sometimes even our families. I’m not saying these things are not important (they are!) or that we don’t need any of them in our life, but the point is that when we have prioritized and lifted these things up and above God then we are no longer obeying what God wants, and we have started to wander off the course in the race of life. In addition to refraining from certain temptations and indulgences in the world, we also need to exercise and workout our spiritual muscles. This of course includes reading the Bible, doing devotions and praying to God. However, not many Christians realize are that all Christians should actually be serving God in a ministry. Not only did Jesus command this, but serving God can also help us grow as Christians and to become more mature disciples. If you are a Christian and you are currently not serving God in any form of ministry, I’d like to encourage you to really think about the reasons why you are not, and to find a Christian friend to talk to about it. There are many opportunities both in and outside of our church for you to serve in and we would love to help you find out where God is calling you to go. Last of all, one of the best ways of training and refreshing our spiritual life is to be part of a small group, a fellowship or to be part of a Christ-centered community. This is where lots of growth can occur, and the best part is that you don’t have to be alone in the race. The Christian life doesn’t have to be a lone journey. Be active and take initiative in joining one of these groups if you don’t have one already! In the last half of verse 25, Paul writes “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” The “crown” that Paul is referring here is not the kind that Kings would wear. Back in the Isthmian and ancient Olympic games, they didn’t have such things as a gold, silver and bronze medal. There wasn’t a first, second, or third place. There would be only one winner of each race and that one winner would get a crown that is not made out of gold or silver, but one that is made out of certain plants depending on which game you GOINGFORMORETHANGOLD 4
participated in. For the Olympic Games, the winner would get a crown made out of wild olive, and the winner of the Isthmian Games would get a crown made out of pine. These crowns last at most only couple of weeks before they start to rot and die. And it is this very image of fleeting world glory that Paul is comparing to the eternal prize that is found in God’s kingdom only. Every single achievement that we make and earn in this world will one day fade away back into nothing and it is only what we invest in the Kingdom of God that will last forever. Verses 26-27: Give God your best. Moving on to the last two verses, Paul says, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” In other words, if Paul was living today and in terms of the Winter Olympics, he might say something like this: “Therefore I do not slap the hockey puck like a player who does not aim.” Or, “Therefore I do not ski without knowing where the finish line is.” What this verse is trying to tell us is that we need to start training hard, and to stop pretending. It’s time we start giving God our very best and to live life with the most important goal of all in mind. I like how Paul uses the example of a boxer here. I have a feeling that Paul himself might have been quite a sports fan. Back then in the Isthmian Games, boxing was one of the most popular and brutal events. The boxer would wrap his knuckles with leather straps, and this wrapping would sometimes even include lead, iron, and even spikes in it. These fights can sometimes even go on for as long as four hours. However, Paul here talks about a boxer beating “the air” and not of an opponent. In other words, this boxer here is “shadow boxing.” Unfortunately, if a boxer only does shadow boxing for training and punches nothing but the air, this would be no where enough training for the real fight. In the same sense, how many of us here are “shadow-boxing” with our faith? Sometimes we can be involved in so many ministries but at the end, none of them has really challenged or prepared you to do more for God’s kingdom. We may sometimes even pick and choose (kind of like dim sum) what we want to do for God instead of doing what God wants us to do. We’ll pick the ministries and service opportunities that are easier, more convenient and quicker to do, rather than the ones that would require more of our time, energy and resources. My friends, in a world that is so full of temptations and easy ways out, it’s time we start giving God our very best in all that we do, and to train hard for this fight. At the end of it all, what would you say? As I end, I just want to skip some 16 or so years ahead from when Paul wrote these verses to the time when he was about to be killed. While being locked up in a Roman dungeon and in the last moments of his life, he writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 the following words:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 7
At the end of Paul’s life, he was able to win the fight, finish the race and to win the crown that lasts forever. When our life is about to end on this earth and as we look back at all that we have pursued and chased after, at all that we have accomplished and saved, what would you say? Would you have fought the good fight and finished the race that God wanted you to run? Or would you have ran the race aimlessly and chased after things that doesn’t really matter in eternity? May each one of us continue to train harder than ever before and discipline ourselves with perseverance so that we will not be disqualified for the eternal crown, and so that at the end of our lives, we too can say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Reflection Questions 1. Have you ever tried training for anything? Did you reach the goal? 2. If athletes train to win a prize that lasts only for a short while, what are some things in your life that hinders you from training for the prize that lasts forever? 3. What are some areas of your spiritual life that you need to train more in? 4. What are some areas of your life that you need to have more self-discipline in? 5. What are some ways that you can challenge yourself more in your faith?