Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 9
George Washington Carver once said, “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you’ll command the attention of the world.” The apostle Paul lived for God in an uncommon way. He commanded the attention of the world with how he lived for Christ. He made the Christian life a pursuit of doing it the best he could:
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27, MSG)
We live in a sports infested society, just as they did in the first century. Paul speaks sports to get our attention and he gets it. The image Paul uses is of the Greek games. The Greeks dated their calendars based on those games. The Jews dated their calendars by what they thought the creation date was. The Romans dated theirs by when they thought Rome was founded. And we date ours by the life of Christ.
Because sports were important to the Greeks, those calendars were based on their sports games. And so to get our attention and to help us better grasp about the Christian life, he uses a sports image.
I want my goal to be what Paul is speaking about, which is not just to get to heaven but to win on the way there. In order to help us do that, he chooses two sports that are the most grueling in their training: boxing and running. They both require treacherous workouts in order to be good and to compete. And they both require even more sacrifice to win. To win at Christianity Paul puts everything on the table. He says that Christ and that relationship is worth giving up anything else. Everything else is a distant second.
Look at what Paul puts on the table in the preceding verses: he would give up certain eating habits (verse 4), getting married (verse 5), and even a salary (verse 6-7). Think about it. To be a world-class athlete, they are also willing to give up certain foods, committed relationships, and even a career to pursue their passion. So was Paul—but for a greater reason than sports. The end he is reaching toward is eternal. He says:
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, MSG)
The power and strength of anything is determined by what we are willing to sacrifice for it.
Is it worth giving things up for?
Is it worth dying for?
Only fanatics make a difference. Those who follow the status quo won’t even make a dent. Baptist preacher Harry A. Ironside said: “No sacrifice should be too great for Him who gave Himself for us.”
Notice how many times Paul says “that I may win” in verses 19-24:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (1 Corinthians 9:19-24)
Six times in six verses. Winning was on his mind. And you can’t win unless you sacrifice. He was in it to win it!
When it’s all said and done, in five years, even in one year, no one is going to care who won the NBA finals, Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, the World series, or the NCAA men’s basketball final four. Those athletes hold up their trophies that no one will care about even the following week. That winning has an expiration date. Ours doesn’t.
Jim Elliot was a missionary in the 1960s who not only knew that concept but lived it. Jim put these words in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Later, he wrote, “‘We are the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.” And what are sheep doing going into into the gate? What is their purpose inside those courts? . . . Those sheep were headed for the [sacrificial] altar.” He gave up his life trying to reach a group of South American Indians with the gospel, and they eventually killed him. He sacrificed. He was in it to win it.
Don’t just be a Christian. Don’t just do Christian. Win. Give it all.