FINISH THE RACE!

I CORINTHIANS 9:24-27

Listen to this study SM2126

            Please turn in your Bibles this morning to I Corinthians chapter 9 as Paul admonishes the Corinthian believers, and us, to finish the race that God has them in and he uses his life as an example. For some Christians they don’t think the race is important, they never signed up for any race, they are not in shape to compete in any race, they don’t even know where the race is, and the list of excuses why Christians don’t run can go on-and-on.  On this subject, Richard Baxter tells us:

            It is a most lamentable thing to see how most people spend their time and their energy for trifles, while God is cast aside.  He who is all seems to them as nothing, and that which is nothing seems to them as good as all. It is lamentable indeed, knowing that God has set mankind in such a race where heaven or hell is their certain end, that they should sit down and loiter, or run after the childish toys of the world, forgetting the prize they should run for.  Were it but possible for one of us to see this business as the all-seeing God does, and see what most men and women in the world are interested in and what they are doing every day, it would be the saddest sight imaginable.  Oh, how we should marvel at their madness and lament their self-delusion!  If God had never told them what they were sent into the world to do, or what was before them in another world, then there would have been some excuse. But it is His sealed word, and they profess to believe it.

- Richard Baxter

 

            For those of you who are hanging out on the sidelines, I hope to encourage you to get into the race.  For those of you who are in the race, who are running, I hope I would admonish you to continue on, to forge ahead. With that said, let’s begin reading in verse 24 of I Corinthians chapter 9 and see what the Lord has for us this morning.

 

I CORINTHIANS 9:24-27

 

            As I said on Thursday, this summer we will be watching the Olympic Games which will be held in Greece this year, something most people are very familiar with.  Back in Paul’s day the Greeks not only had the Olympic Games but also the Isthmian Games which was held in Corinth.  So the idea of training, hard work to compete in this competition was very well known to the Corinthians and Paul uses it as an illustration of the Christian life.

            This morning, as we study these verses, I would like to focus or look at four main issues that come out of this section. They are: THE GOAL, THE TRAINING, THE RULES and THE OUTCOME.  So with that as our outline, let’s dig into these verses for I believe they will help us forge ahead in the race we are in.

 

FINISH THE RACE

1.  THE GOAL – I CORINTHIANS 9:24-25

            There are all kinds of races people are in today, and the most familiar for many is what we call the “rat race.”  It is not a pretty race, it is brutal, it is self-seeking many times and in the end, it seems to lead to nowhere!  For Christians we need to know what race we are in, the course that God has set for us so we may run in it.  Too often we are like this world-class runner who ran a race that was far different than the one she intended to run.  We are told:

            A world-class woman runner was invited to compete in a road race in Connecticut. On the morning of the race, she drove from New York City, following the directions – or so she thought, given her over the telephone. She got lost, stopped at a gas station, and asked for help. She knew that the race started in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The station attendant also knew of such a race scheduled just up the road and directed her there.

            When she arrived she was relieved to see in the parking lot a modest number of runners preparing to compete.  Not as many as she’d anticipated; an easier race than she’d been led to expect.  She hurried to the registration desk, announced herself, and was surprised by the race officials’ excitement at having so renowned an athlete show up for their race. No, they had no record of her entry, but if she’d hurry and put on this number, she could just make it before the gun goes off. She ran and, naturally, she won easily, some four minutes ahead of the first male runner in second place.

            Only after the race –when there was no envelope containing her sizable prize and performance money – did she confirm that the event she’d run was not the race to which she’d been invited. That race was being held several miles farther up the road in another town.  She’d gone to the wrong starting line, run the wrong course, and missed her chance to win a valuable prize.

- D. Bruce Lockerbie, Thinking and Acting Like A Christian, p. 52

 

            We need to know where we are running to, where the finish line is and for us Christians, Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:2, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  The Amplified Bible puts this verse this way, Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Ps 110:1.]

In other words, keep your eyes on Jesus, He is the finish line, He is what we are running to!  In High School I ran both long distance and sprints and in the long distance races my coach would always tell us to keep our eyes forward, on the runner ahead until you pass him, don’t look back or you will slow down, you might even drop out!  Keep focused until you cross the finish line!  In the sprints, being a short distance, you would never turn your head to the right or to the left to see where you were in the race because by doing that you would lose time and you would most likely lose the race. That distraction could cost you the race!  Thus, we were told to keep our eyes on the finish line, don’t lose sight of it, don’t be distracted by anything else, focus on the goal!  

            Now as we set our eyes upon Jesus we will be directed by Him in the course that He has set for us and if we do start moving in the wrong direction, the Holy Spirit will guide us back on course!  We see this in the life of Paul in Acts 16:6-10, Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.  After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.  So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.  Paul was on the move for the Lord but the Lord needed to fine tune where they were going. Thus, the Holy Spirit, acting as the ultimate GPS system, Global Positioning Satellite, guided Paul to go to Macedonia and he immediately went!

            Folks, there is no doubt in my mind that God desires to guide us, to direct us, and even when the course seems messed up, don’t fret, seek the Lord, look to Him and He will either get you back on track if you are off track or He will encourage you to continue on.  We are told in Psalm 32:8-9, I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.  Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, Else they will not come near you.  God wants to direct us but there are times when we can be as stubborn as a mule and God has to get our attention to move us!

            You see, before we were saved the course we followed was chaotic, it was whichever way the wind blew, we set sail.  We meandered through life with no real direction outside of the Lord.  Paul, in Ephesians 2:1-10 put it this way, And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus . . .

. . . For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

            Once we had no direction, but now we do!  Once the course was of this world, but now God sets it for us and we follow.  Once we did as we pleased and now we do as He desires for God has prepared the work for each of us to do in this life, He has a course for each of us to follow and now He tells us to walk in them, to run the race to win!  And again, as you are running you must always keep your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!

 

2.  THE TRAINING – I CORINTHIANS 9:26

            The people of Corinth were very familiar with the extensive and difficult training these athletes went through to compete in the Isthmian Games. They went through 10 months of rigorous training outside of Corinth and then the last month was spent in Corinth with supervised workouts all for someone to win a perishable crown!

            To give you an example of what people will go through to compete in the Ironman Triathlon, which is swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 112 miles, and finally running a marathon, 26.2 miles all in one day!  Now this is just a sample workout for beginners and intermediates keeping in mind the distance they must cover on race day for all three of these events.

 

TRIATHALON TRAINING SCEDUAL

DAY OF WEEK

SWIM

BIKE

RUN

WEIGHTS

OTHER

MONDAY

SWIM SESSION

NO BIKE

NO RUN

CYCLING WEIGHTS SESSION

GOOD STRETCH

TUESDAY

NO SWIM

RACE DISTANCE

HALF OF RUN DISTACNE

NO WEIGHTS

PRACTICE TRANSITION

WEDNESDAY

REST

REST

REST

REST

REST

THURSDAY

SWIM MORNING OR LUNCH

NO BIKE

TRACK OR FARTLEG SESSION

NO WEIGHTS

GOOD STRETCH

FRIDAY

NO SWIM

RACE DISTANCE

NO RUN

NO WEIGHTS

GOOD STRETCH MASSAGE

SATURDAY

SWIM SESSION

NO BIKE

STEADY ENDURANCE RUN

NO WEIGHTS

CHECK AND CLEAN BIKE

SUNDAY

NO SWIM

LONG STEADY BIKE RIDE 45 MINS + (HILLS)

NO RUN

NO WEIGHTS

LOOK FOR RACE TO ENTER

 

I can’t imagine working out like that for 6 days, but when I ran the Chicago Marathon, I ran 6 to 10 miles a day with longer runs on weekends, so I was that crazy at one time.  The thing is, it takes all of your time to train for these things! How many of us Christians train that hard for the race we are in? Paul, in I Timothy 4:7-8 tell us, But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.  Paul is saying that we must exercise our bodies to godliness; to train them up, get them in spiritual shape!  Oswald Sanders tells us, “Spiritual ends can be achieved only by spiritual men who employ spiritual methods.”

            We work so hard at keeping these physical bodies in shape, and Paul says that it does profit some. But what is even more important is that we get our spiritual bodies in shape and that is done as we read the Word of God, as we apply the Word of God to our lives. It is living what you believe, it is exercising your faith and that is done as you trust in God’s promises to you.  This morning you all came into church and sat in the chair because you had faith that the chair would hold you, that it would not fall apart as you sat in it.  If you can have that much faith in a chair that is not living, is not powerful, can’t you have faith in God who is living, who is powerful, who created everything? You should be able to!

It is as Paul said in Hebrews 11:1-3, and this is from The Amplified Bible, NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].  For by [faith — trust and holy fervor born of faith] the men of old had divine testimony borne to them and obtained a good report.  By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.

We look at the athlete and his disciplined life, his self-control and it puts many Christians to shame for we do not prepare ourselves to live godly lives, and thus, our witness is just a flicker!  Thus, train yourself up in the things of God and get yourself spiritually in shape.  Why?  Because of what Paul tells us next.

 

3.  THE RULES – I CORINTHIANS 9:27

            I don’t know how many of you remember Rosie Ruiz who ran the Boston Marathon, but for those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, we are told that:

            On April 21, 1980, Rosie Ruiz won the women’s division of the Boston Marathon, with the third fastest time ever (for a woman), 2 hors. 31 min. 56 sec.  But no one had seen her running the race. None of the officials monitoring the race (at various check points) had seen her.  None of the runners, men or women, had seen her. Some of the female runners had hopes of first place, and might notice a woman ahead of them, or passing them. Then spectators came forward, claiming Rosie had come out of the crowd of spectators and run the last half mile. She was disqualified.

            Rosie had qualified for the Boston Marathon by finishing highly in the New York Marathon. Evidence came to light that she had started that race, but had taken a shortcut by [the] subway, and then finished the race.

            She probably would never have been found out if she had finished back in the pack, but she had accidentally won the race.  Oops.

- Jim Loy, 2003

 

            Folks, we too must follow the rules that God has set for us or we can be disqualified from the race we are in.  Now I don’t believe Paul is speaking of losing our salvation because that is a free gift of God. But he is talking about our witness, that we can be put on the shelf if we don’t discipline our bodies to godliness! We can lose our rewards that God has for us, the crowns that He will give to us when He returns and we can then cast back to Him for He is the one who has enabled us to do these things.

            As I said on Thursday that phrase I discipline my body can be translated, “to strike under the eye; to give a black eye.”  Paul is speaking of the old flesh nature getting the better of him, controlling his life once again. He is not talking about physically beating himself up but to feed his spirit and starve his flesh for his flesh was to be a slave to the control of his spirit, it was not to lord over his life!

            Paul makes that point in Romans 6:1-14 as he tells us, What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts . . .

. . . And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

            Over the past couple of months I have being trying to diet, to lose some weight, and I have been successful and still have a few more pounds to go. The thing that was difficult is my flesh kept telling me, “Go to Culver’s, go to Culver’s!”  On the cruise, the midnight chocolate buffet was calling to me!  I know I need help!  The thing is, I could partake of those things, it is not against the law, but if I feed my flesh, succumb to its calling, then I can become a slave to it!  If I continue to feed the flesh I will not lose weight, I will not attain the goal that I have set or the reward, and it doesn’t matter how good I started out, but how well I finished!  I need to follow the rules that were set so I could attain that goal.  Paul, in Galatians 5:7 tells us, from The Amplified Bible, You were running the race nobly. Who has interfered in (hindered and stopped you from) your heeding and following the Truth?

            As Christians it is not always easy.  Paul again tells us in II Timothy 2:3-5, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.  And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  The thing is, it doesn’t matter how hard it is, we must run according to the rules that the Judge, Jesus Christ has set for us!  Of this John MacArthur tells us:

            While watching a decathlon meet between the United States, Poland, and the U.S.S.R., I asked a friend, who was coaching the American team, to identify the best athlete among all those competitors. He pointed to a slender, lithe [agile] young man, and I asked, “Do you think he will win today?”  Surprisingly, he answered, “No.”  When asked why, he pointed to another athlete and said, “He’s going to win, because he has the greatest determination, the strongest will to win. He is the most mentally tough competitor I have ever seen.”  Sure enough, he did win that day.  His name was Bruce Jenner, and two years later he won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, which ranked him as the greatest athlete in the world.

            Our spiritual competition is not, of course, against other Christians. Trying to outperform another believer is far from spiritual. Rather, our competition is against our fleshly old self, against the world and against Satan and those who serve him. And our goal is to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).

- John MacArthur

 

            Don’t let things get in the way of the goal that God has set, the work He has called you to do. Don’t let things hinder or weigh you down but forge ahead in the work, follow the rules!

 

4.  THE OUTCOME – I CORINTHIANS 9:24-27

            The outcome is seeing people saved, come to know the Lord as you let your light so shine they may see the Lord and receive the Lord into their lives.  Paul went through much turmoil in his life, persecution from unbelievers and even from believers and he told the Ephesian elders and us, these words of encouragement as we look at his own life, And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.  But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  Acts 20:22-24.  None of those things were going to move Paul from the course that God had set for him! What a great lesson for us to learn and apply to our lives!

            Also, in Jeremiah 12:5 God said to Jeremiah If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, Then how can you contend with horses?  And if in the land of peace, In which you trusted, they wearied you, Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?  In other words, God is saying to Jeremiah, “If you can only trust Me in times of peace, in times of ease, what are you going to do when things get tough?”  The thing is, they will get tough and He is telling Jeremiah not to worry about the enemies even though it will get tough!  God is strengthening Jeremiah, calling him to trust in the Lord to prepare him for what is ahead. God does the same with us.  Look at the things you are going through now, or have gone through and how God has helped you or is helping you through these times to strengthen you.  You see, it is not “How can I get out of this mess?” but “What can I get out of this mess, this situation? What can I learn from it to help me to grow and to share the light of Jesus to others?”

            Paul did finish the race that God set before him as he tells Timothy, For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.  II Timothy 4:6-8.

            We can all finish the course, the race that God has placed us in if we understand the goal – Jesus Christ!  If we train ourselves up in the things of God. If we follow the rules that God has given to us and not let the flesh lord over our lives. And if we know the outcome, that others will see the light of Christ in us and get saved!  Yes, it is important to start the course right, but it is also important that we end well too!

            Let me leave you this morning with this to think about. We are told:

            The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first.  It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. I want to run all the way with the flame of my torch still lit for Him.

- J. Stowell, Fan The Flame, p. 32

 

            May we have that same fire, that same desire, that same passion, to finish the course that God has set before us with our torch still lit, our witness still shinning brightly!  May we not go to the wrong starting line, run the wrong course, and miss out on the crowns, the rewards that God desires to give to us for our service to Him so that we may cast them at His feet when we receive them!  FINISH THE RACE!