Ministry is hard. Paul begins 1 Corinthians 9 asking, “Am I not an apostle?” (v. 1). People, who he had poured his life into, were questioning his authority and authenticity. Life is hard. Why do so many couples split up? Why do so many friendships dissolve? Why do people walk away? If we aren’t careful, we can think our efforts are all useless or a waste of time. It’s easy to become guarded and quit. The truth is, God will get His work done with or without you and me, but we will be the losers if we quit. Paul traveled to dangerous places, faced disagreeable people, and fought difficult enemies, but what Paul feared more than anything was preaching to others and then himself be disqualified. Paul closes chapter 9 saying, “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” (v. 24-27). For Paul, it was not a question of going to heaven, because that was settled at the cross and the Damascus road. It was a matter of losing his ministry, his testimony, and the prize Jesus would give him when he crossed the finish line. The image here comes from the Greek games. How many Olympic winners have been disqualified? If Paul was concerned about being disqualified, you and I should be concerned about it too. In 1 Corinthians 10:12, Paul says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” We will be disqualified if we…
Run for the Wrong Reason
I heard a basketball coach at a beginning-of-season parent meeting say, “We are not going to win any games. We are not a basketball school.” Who says that? You have heard it said, “It is not if you win or lose but how you play the game.” No. We are in it to win it. Paul said Christians are to run to win! He wanted to win as many people to Christ as possible. He wanted to cross the finish line and hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Too many are running the race aimlessly (v26.), carelessly, not giving 100%. Olympic athletes give a lifetime of training to hear their national anthem and see their country’s flag raised. Can you imagine when you hear the host of heaven singing and Jesus welcomes us home? Run to cross the finish line. Make sure you run for the right reason. Be in it to win it!
Fight the Wrong Foe
In verses 26-27 it’s clear that Paul was not shadow boxing. Don’t be deceived by the devil. We cannot trust our flesh. In our flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). We are all a candidate for a crisis. We are all one step away from stupid. We all have the potential to be the next fallen victim. Spiritual warfare is real. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” But, we also cannot say, “The devil made me do it.” James says we are drawn away by our own desires (Jam. 1:14). There is no shortcut to success. The biggest problem we have is not with others but with ourselves. The battle you must win is the battle within. Athletes are successful because of training. It is a privilege to serve Jesus. Sure, it is hard work, but it is also the happiest work in the world. It is not a waste. It is not for nothing. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! Cross the finish line playing by the rules, staying in your lane, and being faithful. Make sure you fight the right foe.
Compete for the Wrong Crown
Paul says he’s running for an “imperishable crown” (v. 25). Athletes receive a laurel wreath, a crown that fades. We run for an eternal prize. Run like a prize-winner, not half-hearted, drifting, or coasting. Compete means to agonize. No pain no gain! Jesus said that if anyone wants to be His disciple they must take up their cross daily and follow Him. That involves self-denial, self-control, and self-evaluation. It matters who you run with. Run together with those who are running for the same prize. Encourage each other. Revelation 22:12 says,“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”
Are you giving God your best? Are you running as hard as you know how? Or, are you backing up on God? Stealing from God? Holding back from God? Running from God? Run to Him! He is worth it!