Are You in Championship Form?

Please read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, manifest in the self-discipline of a heaven-bound disciple.

  1. Life is like an athletic contest: we’re “in it to win it.”

The PRIZE in the game of life is eternal life.  The difference between an athletic contest and the game of life is that in life, all of us can win; while in a game at the arena, ONLY ONE GETS THE PRIZE.

Paul is getting at the athlete’s motivation, his will to be the winner.  As followers of Jesus, our motive is to receive the prize of eternal life by beating our only opponent, Satan.

Thus motivated, the athlete competes by committing his/her entire self to the contest; they RUN IN SUCH A WAY AS TO GET THE PRIZE.  To win THE PRIZE, the athlete must compete within rules, demonstrating superior skill or ability.  If the athletes are equal in these areas, then two other factors decide the contest.

– One is the will to win. Who wants it more?

– The other is training. Who has trained harder?  Training is difficult and tedious.  One must keep the goal in sight to faithfully prepare.

The CROWN is a symbol of God’s reward for spiritual maturity.  Paul noted that in his day, athletes competed FOR A CROWN THAT WILL NOT LAST.  The winner of an athletic contest received a crown woven out of laurel or celery leaves. While wearing a salad on your head may not sound like much of an honor to us, the wearer of that crown was treated like “king for a day.”  Regardless of what your trophy is made out of, it will not last.  Our faith tells us that everything in this world is temporary.

Another important difference between disciples and athletes is that a we follow Jesus FOR A CROWN THAT WILL LAST FOREVER.  The only things that will last beyond this life are the things God does through us, the sacrifices we make in order to follow Him.  The believer has his/her eye on a PRIZE that will endure longer than human history!  We survive the tedium and trouble of this life to “win” eternal life.

We sacrifice it all for the sake of the cross.  We don’t do this to earn salvation, for we can’t: it is a gift from God, an act of grace.  BUT, that grace makes us part of God’s team and we from then on act and think and talk and train as a member of His team, the Church.

Self-discipline increases our confidence of salvation.  Here’s another place where the athletic metaphor doesn’t fit as easily.  In an athletic contest, athletes who violate the rules are disqualified.  They lose.  In the game of life, people reveal who they are by the way they play.

Paul wrote about being DISQUALIFIED in this sense – allow me to paraphrase – “I am in strict training and play by the rules because after I have gone through this life wearing the uniform of God’s team, I don’t want to be found to be playing for the enemy’s team.”  Paul had repeatedly taken a stand for Jesus and it cost him plenty.  How sad would it be if his actions proved that was never real?

Like an athlete, we choose to play the game of life in a way that shows we are on the right team.  When we do that, when we train and play and live by God’s rules, then we are wearing the right uniform.

  1. Winning the game of life requires self-control.

STRICT TRAINING is made necessary by a will to win.  All this athletic imagery was potent to the Corinthians, people who hosted athletic games second only to the Olympics in Athens.  This was familiar terminology to them.

Serious athletes do not merely step onto the field to compete.  Instead, they have prepared to compete by lengthy and intense training of mind and body.

Similarly, serious and maturing followers of Jesus exercise spiritual discipline, focused on God.  In our case, STRICT TRAINING includes prayer, Bible study, fasting, stewardship, etc.  We are in training for heaven!

Self-sacrifice is one exercise of self-control.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, I DO NOT RUN LIKE A MAN RUNNING AIMLESSLY; I DO NOT FIGHT LIKE A MAN BEATING THE AIR.  Real training has purpose; it contributes to realizing the goal.  It has intelligent form and function; it is planned to be particular preparation.  This is another aspect of the Fruit of Self-control; it is keeping ourselves moving toward the realization of our purpose, winning the PRIZE.

Self-control happens as we submit to God’s control.  A dedicated athlete sacrifices himself in training and in competition.  He doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of winning.

Similarly, as Paul wrote, I BEAT MY BODY AND MAKE IT MY SLAVE.  The word BODY here can stand for “human nature,” all the things that this world says is important but aren’t, the things that can distract us from keeping “our eyes on the prize.”  Paul was not going to let a temporary and petty thing like his body get in the way.

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