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MESSAGE: The Crown: How to Excel in Your Faith
SPEAKER: Skip Heitzig
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

The Crown: How to Excel in Your Faith - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 - Skip Heitzig


Don't we live in a great country? Happy Independence Day.

And thank you to all those of you who have or are defending our country, who fight for our country, who are in our military.

Special honor to you. God bless America. Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to 1 Corinthians chapter 9. 1 Corinthians chapter 9. There's a very popular series on Netflix called The Crown. And how many of you, just a show of hands, just on a show of hands, how many of you have seen it? OK, so a lot of people have. 73 million people have viewed. 73 million people or homes have viewed The Crown.

And The Crown is about the queen of England. It's about Elizabeth II, who by the way, is 95 years young. So she is the oldest living constitutional monarch that England has ever had. 95 years old. And she has been the queen of England for 69 years, since 1952. That's when she became queen, 1952. She has been served by 14 British Prime Ministers, including Sir Winston Churchill. So she goes way back, and she's still at it.

And people across the Atlantic over here, we are always fascinated by all things British royalty. We love the whole royal wedding thing. That has captivated Americans for a long time. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul is speaking about the crown, but not the crown like the queen of England wears, not a crown that a monarch wears. This crown in 1 Corinthians 9 is not hereditary. It is not dynastic. That is, it doesn't follow a bloodline. It is not an earthly or temporary crown. It is the crown of a runner in an athletic race, and that crown depicts an eternal crown that one day you and I will wear.

By the way, the only reason the Queen of England is the Queen of England is because her dad was once the King of England. She's the oldest daughter of King George VI. And the only reason he was ever a King is because his brother who was the King abdicated the throne, placing the other guy on the throne so that Elizabeth is now the queen.

We're going to begin in 1 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 24 and read down to verse 27. That's the paragraph of thought. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus. Not with uncertainty. Thus I fight not as one who beats the air, but I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Now, Paul is working off an athletic theme. He is writing about two different categories of athletic competition. One is the foot race and the other is boxing. And he's combining these metaphors, which Paul does a lot, by the way, into this one theme in the paragraph of striving in athletics. It's pretty obvious in reading the New Testament letters of Paul that he likes sports. I don't know if he watched Monday night chariot races or what the deal was. But the wording of athletics appears much in his ministry and in his letters.

Here's a quick sampling. When he goes to Ephesus and he meets with leaders, he says, look, I know that I'm going to face struggles as I'm on my way to Jerusalem, and I know that it's been tough and it's going to be tough. It's been revealed to me. But then he said this. None of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear unto myself that I might finish my race with joy and the ministry that the Lord Jesus Christ has given to me. So he pictured his life as a race. He's on the race track and he wants to run that race.

In Philippians chapter 3, he also said this, and this is familiar to you. I press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Interesting that the word he used for goal is the word scopas, which was a square pillar in a stadium that runners would look at to align themselves in running the race. I press toward that. I'm looking to cross the finish line.

In 1 Timothy chapter 4, he said to young Timothy, train yourself for godliness. That's an athletic term. The word he used for train is the word from which we get our word gymnasium from. Get a good workout spiritually. Put yourself in the spiritual gym, Timothy. And then at the end of Paul's life, he finally said this. To sum up his whole life, he said, I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

So Paul is using athletic terminology so often in his writings. I suppose that if Paul would have written a letter to a mountain town somewhere, he might have used ski metaphors if it was a modern letter. I think maybe if he was writing to believers in Indianapolis, he might have used Formula One racing language. But he's not. He's writing to the Corinthians. And the Corinthians in particular knew about sporting events because they hosted one of the most important sporting events in the world just outside of their town in Corinth. I'm going to explain that.

Corinth was familiar with two basic sporting events. Number one, the Olympics. The Olympics, because it took place in Olympia in Greece. And the other was a set of games called the Isthmian Games. That's so hard to say. Isthmian. You know what an isthmus is? You remember your geography? An isthmus is that narrow neck of land that connects to other pieces of land. And because Corinth was on an isthmus called the Peloponnesian peninsula, they had a set of games called the Isthmian Games. And it was second in importance only to the Olympics.

Now, let me describe that just so you get the background. The Olympics began in 776 BC. It occurred every four years in the plains of Olympia in Greece, and it lasted for five days. The first day was the day of ceremonies. It was a day of sacrifice to the Greek gods. And the competitors came into the arena and they swore their oaths. And then on day two, an announcer or a herald stepped into the arena and introduced the competitors to the crowds. That was then followed by chariot races followed by horse races followed by the pentathlon for men.

On day three, the boys competed. By the way, only males competed in those Olympics back then. The boys competed on day three. They had their contests. On day four was the foot race, jumping, wrestling, and boxing. And on day five, final sacrifices were given. Awards were given out. In the evening was a banquet and entertainment for all the visitors who had come. Now, those are the Olympic games.

But then there were the games that the Corinthians knew about as well called the Isthmian Games. Let's just call them the Corinthian games, because it's just a whole lot easier to say. And the Corinthian games were played not every four years but every two years. And as I said, they were almost as well attended as the Olympic games. And they were hosted right there at Corinth.

So what I want to do is go through this very simple, short passage and give you four slogans, four sporting slogans. You've all heard them. But those four slogans represent four decisions that we should make if we're going to excel in our race, in our Christian walk, in our life of faith. I don't have time to give you all the background of the Corinthian letter, but you probably already know that the Corinthian Christians were like the problem children of the New Testament when it comes to churches. They had so many issues in their churches at Corinth, and Paul addresses them.

But in this chapter, he basically says, look, I'm giving my life all I can. And I want to reach the Jews. I want to reach the Greeks. I become all things to all men if by all means I might save some. That's how serious I am about this. Then he closes off this chapter by giving us this analogy, this metaphor that is a picture of the Christian life and it represents decisions. And I'm going to give you four decisions we need to make in these slogans.

Number one, eyes on the prize. Eyes on the prize. Every athlete steps into the event that he or she is going to participate in with their eyes on the prize. They have a goal. They want to win. Nobody says, I'm going to join this race so that I can lose. Everybody wants to win. That's what's in mind.

Now, notice the choice of words that the apostle uses, verse 24. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it, it being the prize. And everyone who competes for the prize is tempered in all things. Now, they do it to obtain a perishable crown. The prize is the crown. But we for an imperishable crown.

Now, you need to know that in the Greco Roman world, the athlete was highly revered, especially an Olympic athlete. He was highly regarded, highly respected. But to lose an event was a disgrace. In fact, they went through a public humiliation. But it was quite an honor to win a race. But here's the question. What did they win? You said, well, they won a prize. Well, what was their prize? It says a crown.

Now, when you hear the word a crown, you're thinking, yeah, wow, a gold crown or a silver crown, some precious metal probably with jewels and gems. Not even close. It wasn't that kind of crown. I mean, it wasn't even as good as a Burger King cardboard crown or a tin foil crown that your kids would make for you. The crown of the athlete was a plant. A plant. In the Olympic games, it was a little wreath made out of all of leaves or celery. Wilted celery. I kid you not.

That's the gold. You make it all around the race and you're the winner, and here is a salad for you to wear on your head. If you win the Corinthian games, the Isthmian Games, theirs was a little pine wreath of pine needles wrapped in a little circle placed on the head. And so when he says crowned, the Greek word is stephanas, and it's a temporary victor's crown. A leafy wreath on the head.

When an athlete won, there was an elaborate ceremony. The athlete would leave the arena and in a parade march to the Temple of Zeus and he would be greeted there by judges in purple robes on raised platforms called bematas or the bema seat, the judgment seat. And there they would receive their award, their reward. When they got that little salad on their head, that was the greatest day of the athlete's life.

Because along with it came fame and notoriety and he was considered a hero and he got acclaim. And they even thought that he is communing with the gods. And so it was just a day of great pride. But what you actually walk away with is going to wither in about four hours or at least a couple of days, you're going to toss that crown out because it's not meant to last. I mean, wilted celery. Come on.

Right now taking place in France is the most famous bicycle race called the Tour de France. 2,000 miles of bicycling. 2,000 miles of rigorous, intense, steep terrain in France. And the athletes don't stop to eat a cheeseburger. They eat their meals and their energy drinks on the run while they're bicycling. And what's the prize that you get when you win the Tour de France? Now, your team might get a monetary award, some compensatory sum of money for the team. But basically, the winner of the Tour de France just walks away with a jersey. A yellow jersey. And the ability to say, I won the Tour de France. That's it. That's what you walk away with.

That is Paul's point. These athletes keep their eyes on the prize, and their prize doesn't last long. It fades in a couple days. You do it. You serve the Lord. Your race ends up in an imperishable crown. Now, let that sink in. One day you're going to stand before the Lord for an imperishable crown, a reward. There's going to be some kind of reward or rewards that will be given to you by God in heaven.

Now, some people might read this and say, yeah, I think really what he's just talking about is heaven itself. Just making it to heaven is the prize. Just getting into the courtroom of heaven is the crown. I don't think so. Because notice what it says in verse 24. Run in such a way that you may what? Obtain it.

You don't obtain heaven. You can't earn heaven. You don't work for heaven. You are saved by grace through faith, that not of yourselves. You get to heaven not by doing anything but by believing in someone who did it all for you. That's how you get to heaven. You don't obtain it. It's a gift. So getting into heaven is by faith. Getting rewarded in heaven, however, is according to works.

I'm surprised at how many Christians are not aware of this. The kind that just think, I'm going to make it to heaven. That's all there is. Well, let me put it to you this way. I'm going to make it to heaven, but once I get there, I want more. And you can have more. You can get rewarded. And that's not just heaven itself, but it's some kind of compensation, some kind of status that God gives to those the Bible indicates will be different according to each one.

Listen to 2 Corinthians 5. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Same word as in the Olympics. The bematas, the bema seat where the judges stood and gave out the awards. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body. At the end of the Christian life, at the end of your race, when you appear in glory, when you get to heaven, you are going to be evaluated, not judged for eternal matters. You'll be in heaven. You'll be welcomed into glory. But you are going to be evaluated and then compensated for your faithfulness to God while on the Earth for how you ran that race. Some kind of reward.

Jesus said in Revelation chapter 22, "Behold, I am coming quickly and my reward is with me." Jesus said in Matthew 16, "The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." Once again, Paul at the end of his life said, I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give me at that day and not only me but to all those who have loved His appearing. I'm looking forward not only to heaven, Paul said, but to a crown, a reward that God is going to give me.

So think of it this way. Heaven should be more than just a destination. Heaven should be your motivation. You should start thinking about that. Keeping your eyes on the prize. Living your life in such a way that I'm pleasing God now because the reward in the future is what helps me to run the race in the present. This race is getting tough. It's getting hard. But my eyes are on the prize. The crown of righteousness, the reward for serving the Lord on this Earth. So eyes on the prize.

Here's the second motto or the second decision to excel in your faith. No pain, no gain. Now, everybody's heard that one, right? It came in the 1980s. I think that's when that first slogan first came out. Gyms all across the country used that as their pitch. No pain, no gain, or feel the burn. Or another famous one that kind of goes along with that I have heard more recently is this. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. Ever heard that? I think I was in a gym recently and I was grunting under a weight. And somebody said, you know, and then they quoted this. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. And I think I turned and said to him, well, why does it seem like the older you get, it stays? It ain't leaving. It's still here.

Look at verse 25 for just a moment. And everyone who competes for the prize. Stop right there. The word competes. I'm going to tell you what the word is in the original language, and you're going to tell me what the English equivalent is. You ready? Everyone who competes. Competes is this word, agonizomai. What does that sound like? Agonizomai. Agonize. It comes from the word agon, agony. Everyone who competes, everyone who has an agonizing struggle, which is so accurate of being an athlete.

Any great athlete will tell you this is hard work to do this. This is agonizing work. An Olympic champion, PattiSue Plumer said, and I'm quoting her, every single day I hated what I was doing. Now, here's an athlete. Here's a winner who's training every day and she goes, I hate this. Every day I hated what I was doing and loved what I was doing because I knew it was going to come down to who was willing to hurt more.

And this word aptly describes what it is to be an athlete. If you're a runner, as soon as you start running hard, your body overheats. When your body overheats, you start running low on blood sugar. And then your body starts compensating. Your blood vessels distend. They get bigger so you can get more blood flowing through, more oxygen to the muscles. Your lungs, you start gasping for air to get more oxygen in. There is an agonizing event that takes place.

A fifth century BC Greek poet said of the Olympic athletes, the athlete delights in the toil and the cost. Now talk about toil and cost. If you're an Olympic athlete, when you go into the arena on that first day of sacrifices and the athlete gives an oath. And the oath that he gives is that he has complete-- he swears that he has completed 10 months of agonizing routine to get there and is even willing to die. That's the oath that he takes. That's the agony that the athlete has gone through.

Now, if an Olympic athlete is willing to agonizomai, how much more the Christian? Remember, it was Paul who said, I press toward the goal. I'm looking at that scopas. I'm looking at that square pillar. And it's not like I'm going, oh well, I'm going to make it through and just kind of get to heaven. I press. I press. I use my energy.

Here's a fun fact. 80% of all those people who join a gym will quit within five months. Usually we join gyms what, January? That's right. That's the New Year's resolution. That's sort of typical. I'm going to get in shape. I'm going to lose weight. I'm going to work out. And you join a gym. 80% of people who join the gym will quit in five months. You want to know why? Because it's hard. That's why. That's just what it comes down to. It's just tough to do that day in and day out.

Did you know that according to Jesus Christ, a large percentage of those people who claim to follow Jesus Christ will also quit the gym? Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13, the seed fell on stony places. Represents those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, but he has no root in himself but endures only for a little while. For when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, immediately he stumbles. What happened? It's hard. That's what happens. It is difficult. It is inconvenient.

Which leads me to say this. Christianity is far more than a decision to follow Christ. It must become a determination to walk with Jesus, not just as Savior but as Lord. Agonizomai. Otherwise if you don't plant that in your mind, like I'm going to follow no matter what or no matter how easy or how hard it is, you're going to become a pew potato. That's the church equivalent of a couch potato. You're here you're going to become a viewer, not a doer. You're just going to watch people run the race going, oh, I'm glad they're doing it. Christianity is not a spectator sport. You've got to get on the track. Get in the arena.

The Bible never says lounge in the Spirit. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say veg ye in the Spirit. Kick back in the Spirit. It says walk in the Spirit. Run the race that is set before you looking onto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. I wonder what would happen if we put as much dedication into our spiritual life as we do into our golf game. If we put as much energy into our walk with the Lord as we do fishing. Or you could name any hobby, any activity that we do.

I mean, let me ask you this. What would ever motivate a guy like Paul the apostle, who was an academic and could have had a pretty slouch life, what would ever motivate him to travel long distances in discomfort, go to cities, preach, get beat up, get thrown in jail, then get up and do it all over again? Why? For that matter, what would ever motivates somebody like David Livingstone to go to medical school, become a doctor, then hightail it to Africa in the jungles under extreme conditions and life-threatening conditions to serve the Lord? Or people like E. Stanley Jones to do it in India. It's this idea, no pain, no gain. Eyes on the prize. No pain, no gain.

One of my favorite scenes and one of my favorite movies, which is now an old movie, 1981, Chariots of Fire. Remember Chariots of Fire? So it's about Eric Liddell who ran, but he had a buddy named Harold Abrams. And there's a scene in the movie where were Harold Abrams just suffered his first defeat. He got beat in a race. And he was so mad at himself and mad at his competitor for losing. So he goes over to the bleachers and he sits in the bleachers. And he's just by himself. He's just pouting. His head's down. He's kicking the seats.

And his girlfriend comes over to him to encourage him. And he turns to her and says in his Scottish brogue, if I can't win, I won't run. And she turns to him and smiles and says, sweetheart, if you don't run, you can't win. And that was enough encouragement for him to sort of get it in his head that he had to keep putting out the energy and the agony to win. And he went on to win. Gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. Great story. So no pain, no gain. Eyes on the prize. No pain, no gain.

Let me give you a third motto that is a decision. Say no to say yes. Every athlete knows that he has or she has to make some decisions about their career and about their workout. And let me take you to verse 25 to show you this. Everyone who competes for the prize is, what's the next word? Temperate in all things. Now, that's simply a word that means self control. He who competes, he who agonizes as an athlete exercises self control in all things.

So athletic training involves far more than just a passionate energy to win eyes on the prize. It also includes rigid denial. The ability to say no. I mean, athletes are incredibly disciplined. They've learned to say no to staying up late. They've learned to say no to sleeping in too long. They've learned to say no to eating certain kind of foods. They've learned to say no to hot fudge sundaes.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a hot fudge sundae. But if you want to win the race, there's something wrong with a hot fudge sundae. I suppose an Olympic athlete on the day of the race would wake up and have a half a gallon of ice cream, but it's dumb if you want to win the race. So you learn to say no. There's nothing wrong with good food. There's nothing wrong with good fun unless it keeps you from winning. So here's the principle. I've said it so many times, but it's a good principle.

A good thing becomes a bad thing if it keeps you from the best thing. That's what an athlete learns. And this is what a lot of us do. Well, there's nothing wrong with doing that. That's not the issue. It's not is it wrong in and of itself. Is it wrong for me now if I want to win? So a good thing becomes a bad thing if it keeps you from the best thing. Half our troubles, I think, come from saying yes too quickly and no not soon enough. So we say no so that we can say yes.

Now I'm going to take you down to verse 27, because this is sort of part of that mentality. Paul writes, but I discipline my body. Now, watch this. And I bring it into subjection. Literally I make my body my slave. I tell my body what to do. My body doesn't tell me what to do. I tell my body what to do.

Most people are slaves to their body. Let's just be frank. Most people are slaves to their body. Their bodies tell their minds what to do. Their body decides when to eat. Their body decides what to eat. Their body decides how much to eat. Their body decides when to go to sleep. Their body decides when to wake up and when to sit down, because it's been up since you got it up. Now it wants to sit down. Your body decides all that.

Not an athlete. An athlete's mind tells his or her body what to do. The body is not the master. The body is the slave. If an athlete says, well, I've got to listen to my body, not a good-- no, my body is going to listen to me. So my body wants to rest, but I'm going to make it run. My body wants to eat ice cream, but I'm going to have a balanced meal. My body wants this, but I'm going to make it do that.

Now here's the question I'm leading to. Are there things in your life, is there anything in your life that you need to say no to so that you can say yes to something else, someone else? What things are OK but if you said no to them, you in a spiritual sense could win? Are there certain activities? Are there certain requests that you get? Are there certain hobbies. Nothing wrong with any of those things. But maybe possibly it could be that in making some of the decisions you've made and saying yes to so many things, you've spread yourself out so thin your family is suffering, your walk with God is suffering.

Could it be saying no to spending money on certain items? Could it be saying no to wasting time on social media? I know some people that's all they do. They're glued to that stupid little screen forever, all day long. Your phone will even tell you how long you're on it. And you probably get embarrassed every time it does. Really? Four hours? Could be saying no to certain forms of entertainment.

Look, this is just setting boundaries. That's all. Setting spiritual boundaries. The Bible has a word for this called self control. Good old word. Let's bring that one back. It's part of the Fruit of the Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, self control. Saying no so that I can say yes.

Wilbur Chapman, a spiritual leader from yesteryear, wrote this. The rule that governs my life is this. Anything that dims my vision of Christ or takes away my taste for Bible study or cramps my prayer life or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me, and I must as a Christian turn away from it. Doesn't say it's wrong period. It's wrong for me. I'm saying no so that I might learn to say yes.

So we have three. Three models, three principles. Eyes on the prize, no pain, no gain, say no to say yes. Let me give you a fourth and final one. Play the long game. The long game. So the event that Paul is speaking about when he talks about running the race probably wasn't the 50 yard dash, probably wasn't the 100 yard. Probably more like he's thinking the marathon, the 26 point whatever mile run. The long haul. Since you're running your race throughout your whole life.

Now, I'm going to take you down to verse 27, because he talks about running, but then he quickly switches metaphors midstream. Watch this. Verse 26. Therefore I run. So he's still on the track running the race. I run thus, not with uncertainty. Stop there. Let me tell you what he's talking about. To run aimlessly or without certainty is to run not aligned to the scopas. Remember I told you about that square pillar that was at the end of the stadium?

And don't worry. I'm not going to run up here or anything and fall down. But if I'm in a stadium and way at the other end of that 182 meter track is that pillar, the athlete will always keep its eyes on that square pillar so that he doesn't run aimlessly or in the wrong direction. He's looking at that while he runs. Paul says that's how I live my life. I live it single mindedly on a goal and I press toward the mark. I press toward. I'm at it. I run with certainty, not aimlessly.

But after the period, now he changes settings from the runner to the boxer. Watch what he does. Thus I fight not as one who beats the air, which means shadow boxing, but I discipline my body, bring it into subjection. Lest when I preach to others, I myself should be disqualified. The second analogy after running is boxing. And did you know that boxing was one of the major competitions in the Greek games, both in the Olympics and in the Corinthian, Isthmian Games? It was a violent sport in ancient times.

Boxers wore gloves, leather gloves, that covered the forearm. So pretty long honkin' gloves. Covered the forearm. When it came to the hand, the gloves stopped and the boxer would wrap the knuckles in leather strips, but the fingers would be totally exposed. Clenched into a fist. And usually a boxing match resulted in great injury or death. Most boxers in the Olympics left the arena with either broken teeth, swollen ears, deviated septum, or sustained injuries to the skull.

You're thinking, what person in their right mind would enter a competition like that? Well, I never said that boxers are in their right mind. I'm not saying they're not either, but I never said they were. But only a boxer who's stepping into the ring and believes he's going to win the match. That's what he comes with. By the way, in ancient times, there were no rounds. Today we have 12 rounds that are three minutes. In the Olympics, you won when the guy's knocked out or gives up. They just kept fighting. And the only time they would take a break is by mutual consent. Otherwise they would just fight till it's over. It ain't over till it's over.

Now, do you know that Paul pictured himself not just as a runner, but as a fighter? 2 Timothy chapter 4. I have fought the good fight. He wrote to Timothy and said in 1 Timothy 6, fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of eternal life. And let's be real. Paul bore the marks of a fighter on his body, marks of persecution on his body. He was stoned at Lystra. He was beaten at Philippi. He was jailed in Jerusalem and in Rome. He bore the marks as if he was a boxer on his body.

Now, I want to show you two things, because there's two things he wants. Number one, Paul wants to strike a decisive blow on the enemy. Verse 26. He says, thus I fight not as one who beats the air. Now, that's shadowboxing. That's this. Dancing around. I'm not even good at this. You can tell I'm not good at this. But he's boxing the air. He's kind of going through his moves, but there's nobody there. That's what he means by beat the air. I'm not a guy who wants to sit around and dance and shadowbox. I want to make sure that I strike a blow to my opponent. I want to hit hard.

Now, he could be referring to himself. Some scholars believe he's saying this about himself, that I wrestle myself down and I discipline myself so hard that I win my goal. Or he could be referring to the common enemy of our souls, the devil. He could simply be saying, you know what? I want to give the devil a black eye. I want to strike a decisive blow. I want to tick the devil off.

I get so happy when I know the devil is not happy. When we do freedom celebration and I know that people have come to Christ and there's people worshipping Jesus with all their heart in the freedom of the Spirit, I know that makes the devil so mad, and it makes me so happy to go to bed at night going he lost another one or another few hundred or another few thousand. And just knowing that he's mad makes me happy. Paul said, I want to strike a decisive blow. Not as one who beats the air.

The second thing he wants here is to be able to stay in the fight. Stay on the race track or stay in the ring. When he said, I discipline my body, make it my slave, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Now, in the ancient Olympics, if you lose the race, I mentioned this before, you get publicly scorned, publicly humiliated. But if you withdraw from the race. Let's say you run a few feet and then you say I'm pulling out, or you get disqualified from the race, you get whipped.

So Paul is saying, I'm playing the long game. I'm thinking long term. I don't want to do anything that'll take me off the race track. I don't want to do anything that keeps me out of the boxing ring. I want to make sure I am going to be effective for the glory of God and make sure that I can serve Jesus Christ my whole life. I want to finish well. I want to finish strong.

Back in 1968, the Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City. It was 7 o'clock PM one evening for the marathon event, 26 point whatever miles. All the contestants had crossed the finish line. They had come into the arena. Suddenly the crowd noticed, because they heard a siren, they noticed a vehicle coming through, a siren, as the last runner came staggering into the arena. He was wearing the colors of Tanzania, his country. His name was John Stephen Akhwari and he was the last contestant in the 26 mile marathon.

As he came into the arena, the crowd stood on their feet and began to applaud the loser. The man in last place. And here's why. They noticed he had been badly injured. They noticed he was bloodied and bandaged. He had fallen in the race early on, but he kept running. And though he came in last place as he just sort of stumbled and staggered over to the finish line, they cheered him like he was the winner.

Well, after it was all done, somebody on the field said, why didn't you just drop out? You were injured so long ago, but you got back up and continued to run. Why? And he said simply this. My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish the race. That's a winner. I finished the race.

What are you willing to do? What are you willing to give up to finish the race with joy, like Paul said? Only one life. It will soon be passed. Only what's done for Christ will last.

Father, may we run for the glory of God. May we run with the attitude of the apostle Paul, who said, I discipline my body. I do what I know should be done, and I want to finish my race with joy. Lord, thank you for so many who in this church over the years have run so well and have become such great examples for us of what it is to run the race, to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, and now to look forward to a crown that comes from your hand, a reward or rewards, plural, for the service, the services, the gifts used, just being faithful in whatever arena you place them in. Thank you in Jesus' name, amen.

Hey, would you stand to your feet? We're going to close with a song. But speaking of Chariots of Fire, the classic line is when Eric Liddell decides to run and he said, and when I run, I feel his pleasure. May you run that way. May you feel the Lord's pleasure as you run the race that is set before you. Looking under Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith.

We hope you enjoyed this special service from Calvary Church. We'd love to know how this message impacted you. Email us And just a reminder, you can support this ministry with a financial gift at Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Church.


The Crown: How to Excel in Your Faith - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 |
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