“Run to win”

Summary of sermon by Erlo Stegen, 08 Mar 2015

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.”

The Apostle Paul addressed this letter to the Corinthians. Corinth was a business centre in Greece. Paul preached the gospel there and it was wonderful. Then he left to continue his journey, travelling the world and planting churches. He didn’t forget those who were left behind. He kept writing letters to them. He always remembered them in prayer, urging them to continue in the Lord’s work. He desired that each one would go forward to achieve the goal. Sometimes he disciplined them and sometimes he strengthened and comforted them.

Close to Corinth there was a place where there were competitions and games and until today we have those games called the Olympics. Once every three years there would be this competition. There were different events like running, riding horses, racing chariots or throwing heavy objects or javelin. The one who came first received a prize. Everyone who competed in the games tried to win this prize. The big prize was obtained by only one person. Paul says like them we should run the race and compete in the same way. If you want to succeed you need to be a trained, disciplined Christian. Those in the competition would train and train for years so that when the big competition came and many competed they might be able to win. Paul said we must run like they do in the games – running properly because you cannot compete if you don’t compete according to the rules (2Tim 2:5). It is sad that many Christians don’t compete in that way. Some claim to be Christians but they look around at what others do and they are not focused. However some say with Paul, “For Jesus’ sake I have lost everything” (Phillip 3:8). He wasn’t sidetracked by how others ran, he ran so that he would win the prize. When it was close to his death he said he had run the race, kept the faith and looked forward to the prize (2Tim 4:7).

The story is told of a king who had a beautiful daughter. Men wanted to marry this princess. So the king said to those who wanted to marry the princess that he would test them. They would run to a certain point and back. The one who came first would receive the hand of the princess. Along the race, the king placed a golden shoe that was sparkling in its beauty and polished like a mirror. One young man ran enthusiastically. He looked sure to become the son-in-law of the king. As he ran he saw a glittering object in the distance was. He thought that it looked like a lump of gold. He turned off the track and found the golden shoe. He was very sure that it was real gold. Suddenly he saw the others running past him. He realized that he was looking at the shoe and not running the race. He put his all in but the others had passed him by. One was far in front. He realized that he had lost the princess. Let us learn from him. On the way there are distractions to distract us so that we don’t get the prize. He had been sidetracked by a piece of gold. Demas had been running well but on the way he was distracted by the world (2Tim 4:10). It is not to receive an earthly prize because the Bible says faith is better than gold for gold will also fade (1Pet 1:7). The person who is sidetracked by earthly things is not wise.

A famous Baptist preacher in America liked to preach about heaven. He called heaven the ‘no land’ – no sickness, no troubles, no tears. We are fools to stick to these earthly things. As he was dying, he said, “I have been speaking about the glories of heaven but the reality is far greater than what I have said.” We only touch the hem of the garment. But in heaven we will fully understand. The Bible says if we overcome we will be seated with Him on his throne (Rev 3:21). Think of that – no more disease or death but to partake of the heavenly kingdom of God. The thief said, “Remember me when you enter paradise” (Luke 23:42). The heavenly prize cannot be expressed in words at all. The breadth, the height and depth cannot be put in words. Jesus said, “if you have lost anything for My sake it will be given to you multiple times in heaven” (Mark 10:28-30). We would be fools if we replace the heavenly prize for the things of this world that perish. Paul says that he strives so that he would be there. Paul was trying to strengthen and keep them from losing out what is from heaven.

What thrills me is that each one of us can win the prize. I heard of something that happened in a certain church. There was a troublesome woman. She was a harassment to the church because of her tongue. Her slander caused friction and caused things to be upside down. The pastor was trying to put out the fire. Even when the preacher approached her it didn’t help. He was desperate because she was like a serpent and a serpent’s child. He said, “Mrs so-and-so I want you to visit me.” He gave her a chicken and said, “I want you to walk a certain route with the chicken and pluck all the feathers out and come back without one feather left on the chicken.” It was a windy day. She returned. The pastor asked, “Did you do it?” She said, “Yes.” Then he said, “But now lady I want you to go and collect every single feather.” She said, “I could never do that. The feathers have scattered everywhere.” He replied, “When you gossip it will spread everywhere and you cannot gather it again”.

If you want to run according to the rules, be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Go to the person that is doing wrong and challenge that person. Should he not listen call another and a third person and if he doesn’t listen bring him before the church (Matt 18:15-17). Gossipers do not speak in a person’s presence. They are running but are disqualified. If you can’t challenge a person directly go to your pastor.

How are you running? Would you rather die than commit sin? John the Baptist challenged the king who had taken his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18), and eventually died because of his courageous stand.

God will look to the one who has a broken and contrite spirit (Is 66:2). Does this touch you? Do you tremble at God’s word? Do you truly fear the Most High (Matt 10:28)? If there is a storm of thunder and lightening, some are suspicious and others tremble. But do you tremble for Him who made the sky? When God speaks it should cause you to tremble and say you can’t continue with sin any more. If it is not like this, you belong to satan.

Are you running according to the heavenly rules in this Book. If not this is your opportunity to get right with God. How terrible if you leave and continue with your lying and immorality and gossip. Rather turn from your evil and be saved.