1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Every August, sportscasters on TV ask the big question. "Are you ready for some football?" Those who don’t like football may give a different answer, but for me, the answer is a resounding YES! Although I love college football, I usually don’t watch that much pro football. However, I was watching on January 3, 1993 and it is one football game I will never forget.
The Houston Oilers were dominating the Buffalo Bills. At halftime, the Bills were behind the Houston Oilers 28-3. Everyone thought the game was over. Everyone thought the Buffalo Bills were finished. But at the end of the game, in overtime, the Bills kicked a field goal to win 41-38, culminating the greatest comeback in playoff history in the NFL.
There are conflicting reports as to exactly what was said in the locker room at halftime. I don’t know what the coach told Frank Riech or the Buffalo Bills, but I can only imagine it was very similar to what Paul said to the Christians at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 9. I can summarize what he said with three short sentences.
NEVER GIVE OUT
NEVER GIVE IN
NEVER GIVE UP
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. 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. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself, will not be disqualified for the prize."
I. Never Give Out
The 2012 Olympics end today. We’ve seen some incredible feats by some great athletes because they went through a rigorous training regimen to be at peak performance.
In the ancient Greek Olympic games, an athlete would begin training at least 10 months before the race. This training involved rigorous discipline. It included the athlete’s diet, his sleep habits, his exercise routine, and his daily running. His goal was to literally punish his body until he was in the best possible shape to win the game.
Then, one month before the games, the athlete would move to Corinth, 10 miles from where the games were held. He was assigned a personal coach who put him through even more training in preparation for the race. It meant rising early and long days spent lifting weights, exercising, pushing himself to the edge of his strength. All this was done in order to prepare him to run the race of his life.
In the Olympic locker room, the speech might sound something like this...
"You’ve trained hard; You prepared well. Your strength, your stamina & your endurance are incredible. You’re in the best possible shape you can be
In God’s locker room, God’s speech might sound something like this...
You’ve sacrificed; you’ve prayed long hours; you’ve studied your Bibles intensely; you’ve been committed to worship; you’ve been godly leaders, faithful parents and devoted spouses. You’ve led devotionals in your homes; you’ve placed worship above work and sports; You’ve worked out spiritually every day.
Why have I made you do this? Why have I made you go through this strenuous training? So you’ll never give out.
Your enemies may get winded;
Your opponents may give out of breath.
But you won’t.
You’re trained; you’re disciplined; you’re in the best spiritual shape you can be. You will never give out.
In Isaiah, I told you that you’d run and not grow weary. You’d walk and not faint. In Hebrews, I told you that I’d run with you, walk before you and support you all the way.
In this passage, Paul describes two types of athletes. - those who trained pointlessly and those who trained productively.
1. Pointless Training
Why did they train? They trained for a prize that wouldn’t last - a laurel leaf - a crown made of laurel leaves that would soon dry up; become brittle, break apart. There are people today who spend half their time chasing prizes that will soon fade away - money, cars, houses, trophies, fame, recognition, power, etc.
Did you notice how Paul describes them? They run aimlessly. They have no goals. No focus. No real direction. They fight the air with their fists. They’re working out. They’re building up their muscles. They look good, they look strong, but, in reality, all it does is make them look good and feel good. It’s pointless and there’s no eternal purpose to their actions.
2. Productive Training
In vs. 25-26 Paul is saying, "I don’t run aimlessly. I don’t fight the air with my fists. My training has a goal. I’m ready for anything. I’ve got spiritual stamina. I’ve beaten my body so that it’s tough and when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I’ve trained so hard that when others fall by the wayside, I’ll keep going. When others give out, I’ll still be competing. When others are down to their last gasp, I’ll just be getting started."
What about you? Are you spiritually well-trained? Are you doing spiritual exercises every day to get you in great spiritual shape? Is your heart pumping out love and mercy and grace at full capacity? Are your spiritual lungs full of worship as you exhale praise to God.
How’s your spiritual stamina? Do you seem to tire out with every spiritual struggle? Do you seem you have no stamina when you’re going through trials and tribulations? Then check out your training.
A. There has to be Daily Training
You have to train each day. All of us know that exercising just one day a week won’t do it. Exercising just a few minutes each day won’t do it. So how can you expect to train productively if you only read the Bible once a week. How can you expect to expand your spiritual lung capacity if you only pray a few minutes each day. Spiritual training must be daily training.
B. There has to be Diligent Training
Jesus said that each day you must deny yourself, take up the cross and follow him. (Luke 9:23) Half-hearted commitment won’t work. Partial commitment won’t work. Part-Time commitment won’t work. Productive spiritual training requires daily, diligent commitment to that training.
II. Never Give In
"Surrender is not an option"
Winston Churchill is supposed to have given a commencement address where he stood up, said "Never Give Up" and then sat down. His actual speech is several paragraphs in length and contains these words.... "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. "
Never Give In to Your Present Problems
80 years ago, Notre Dame was preparing to play USC. Coach Knute Rockne was aware that his opponent had a far better team, so he devised a plan to intimidate the Trojan players. Rockne scoured the city of South Bend and hand-picked 100 of the largest men he could find - each of them was at least six - foot - five and three hundred pounds. He put them in Fighting Irish uniforms and at game time marched them onto the field ahead of the real team. (Obviously, 80 years ago was long before the days of limited rosters and eligibility restrictions.)
As USC watched these giants line up on the sidelines, they forgot about their talent and their undefeated record - and they began mentally preparing themselves for a beating. Though none of these specially recruited men ever played during the game, their presence on the sidelines was enough to knock Southern Cal's concentration off balance. Knute Rockne's trick had worked; he had intimidated the Trojan players into giving up before the game even started. As a result, Notre Dame won the game.
As Christians, we have an opponent who tries a similar trick. He intimidates us by appearing larger than life - but we must remember this... The Bible says, "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4) Don't let your problems intimidate you. No matter how big the enemy may appear to be, remember that you have God's power in you and He is greater than any enemy you face.
God says - Don’t be Intimidated. Don’t Give In.
You’ve got my strength, my power, my resources. I’m bigger and stronger... than any opponents; than any situations; than any circumstances that you’ll ever face. I’m living in you - my Holy Spirit is living and dwelling in you.
Just remember my words...
1. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
2. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
3. If God is for us, who can be against us.
Listen to God’s challenge 1 Corinthians 15:58 "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." Be steadfast. Immovable. Like a rock.
In the midst of overwhelming odds, don’t give in.
In the face of unsurmountable problems, don’t give in.
One of my all-time favorite sports stories happened in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Not from a gold medal winner, but from someone who didn’t win a medal.
Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed all his life of winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race, and his dream was in sight as the gun sounded in the semi-finals. He was running the race of his life and could see the finish line as he rounded the turn into the backstretch. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain go up the back of his leg. He fell face-first onto the track with a torn right hamstring. As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. He set out hopping, in a valiant attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands - hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father.
Jim told his weeping son, "You don’t have to do this". Dereck answered, "Yes, I do" "Well, then," said his father "we’re going to finish this together." And they did.
Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the finish line - as the crowd gasped, then rose - and cheered - and then wept. Derek didn’t walk away with the gold medal, but he walked away with an incredible memory of a father who, when he saw his son in pain, left his seat in the stands to help him finish the race.
That’s what God did for us. When we are experiencing pain and we’re struggling to finish the race, we can be confident that we have a loving Father who won’t let us do it alone. He left His place in heaven to come alongside us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus said, "I am with you always - even to end of the world." Because He lives in us, we should never, ever give in.
III. Never Give up
"Stay Focused - Stay the Course - Focus Straight Ahead - Finish Strong"
Anyone can start strong, but God wants us to finish strong as well. Maybe you’ve given up, but God hasn’t given up on you. Maybe you’ve stopped to rest. Maybe you’ve called a time-out. God hasn’t. He wants you to keep fighting, keep plowing ahead, keep struggling, keep going. As Paul said in Philippians , God wants you to press on. To press on toward the mark. Press on toward the prize.
Look back at v. 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."
Keep the faith.
Maintain the standard.
Raise high the banner.
Never give up.
Maybe you’ve blown it... Maybe you’ve messed up. Maybe you feel as though you’ve failed. Maybe you think there’s no use trying. As far as you’re concerned, there’s no hope. But there is hope. There is another half. There’s still time. You may not think so, but God does. And he holds the stopwatch.
"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." There is a crown of righteousness that will never fade - it’s waiting for you and me to claim it. Press On toward the prize!!!