The Self-Denial Required to Win the Prize (1 Corinthians Sermon 31)

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The Self-Denial Required to Win the Prize (1 Corinthians Sermon 31)

September 01, 2019 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Running the Race, War Against the Flesh, Perseverance

Running The Marathon

So, turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians Chapter 9, we resume now series in 1 Corinthians. So we've been walking through this incredible book. Pretty much all my life I've been fascinated by the longest race that there is, the marathon. I know there's ultra marathons, but I don't even know what to think about people that run 50 miles or 100 miles, that's in a whole other category. But the marathon has always been fascinating to me. Perhaps that's because I lived in Framingham, and it was the 6 mile mark, basically the 10K mark of the Boston Marathon, one of the most famous marathons in the world. And for free, you could watch that race, you just go downtown, Framingham. I could ride on my bike down there and stand with the crowd and watch some of the best athletes in the world just run by and for free, you got to see them for about 1.5 seconds, as they went right by, and there they went. So there you can see some of the best marathoners in the world and then you could stand and see some of the not best marathoners in the world that would run by you and that was kind of exciting.

I remember at Wellesley College, where my sisters went to college, that was later in the race, and that was heading towards something called Heartbreak Hill. And I've never run a marathon, I ran cross-country growing up, the longest I ever competed was 25K, which is about a little short of 16 miles, that was long enough, but people... And they've been members of our church that I just hold in high esteem that have run the 26.2 miles, incredible. But I'm told that psychologically how it feels, the race is about half over at the 20 mile mark. That last six miles takes a level of dedication, a level, let's be honest, of suffering that is hard to even fully understand if you've never competed in that race. And it just so happens in the Boston Marathon, there's a series of three hills right at the 20 mile mark, from small to medium to the largest, it goes in that order. And people for some reason, line-up along Heartbreak Hill to watch them fall like flies. I really think a lot of the spectators there are to watch failure. I don't know what it is, but they're there to watch people drop out of the race.

Others will say, no, not at all. We're there to encourage and say, you can make it. It's all downhill from here. But that's Heartbreak Hill. And so, for me, I have an attraction, a fascination to the level of dedication, the level of suffering it takes to run that race, and I follow the best in the world. And the records now are incredible.

The best marathon in the world right now is a Kenyan named Eliud Kipchoge and he is training, he's in training right now to break the two-hour mark in the marathon. Some of you will just knowing that will be aghast that that is even possible. This man runs on average every mile faster than my best mile time. I ran one mile at a certain time, he runs every mile three seconds faster than that one race, so I couldn't keep up with him for one mile at my best, and that was when I was a lot younger. But this guy runs 4:38 a mile and just fast for every mile. And the training, the level of training that goes into that, it's been a lifetime of preparation, the culture in Kenya is a running culture different than we have here. They use it as transportation to get from place to place.

This man runs an average of 110 to 120 miles a week in training and he never takes a day off. And the level of training is almost staggering. Now, that's true of every Olympic athlete, everyone that competes at a high level in a sport has to put in that level of dedication, of self-denial, of sacrifice to succeed in his or her sport, whatever it is, figure skating, skeet shooting, running, anything requires that level of dedication.

Now, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 uses that image, which was familiar to them back then, to urge all Christians to a similar pattern of self-denial for the glory of God, for the running of the race right to the end, to the upward calling of God, the heavenly prize in Christ Jesus. And in our day and age of constant alluring bodily temptations, of a lifestyle that tends toward comfort, and ease, we need to hear this call so that we can make progress in both the internal journey of holiness and the external journey of Gospel advanced through evangelism and missions. Both of those journeys kind of come together and meet in this text and this is a call on all of us to run.

As a matter of fact, simply there is one command in this text, one imperative, run. In Verse 24, expanding a bit, so run or run in such a way that you may obtain it, that you may obtain the prize that's a command. The rest of it is just Paul using himself as an example on how we have to run. So this is a command to exertion, to self-denial for all of us, for the heavenly prize. And there is no better coach to yell at us than the Apostle Paul. There is no better drill instructor to come alongside us and give us the exhortations that we need to run this race with endurance.

Now, here we have to just be cautioned a bit, because this is one of the most challenging passages in the Bible in terms of self-denial and discipline. And we need to understand salvation properly to understand this passage properly, we need to understand justification and sanctification and glorification, these stages of salvation properly. We need to understand that justification, the beginning of the Christian life, it starts with forgiveness of sin, the atonement of our sins, reconciliation with God, whereby we sinners are made right with a Holy God, and we are declared righteous, that is morally perfect in His sight, not by our own exertions, not by our own works but by simple faith in Christ.

By His exertions, by his works, culminating in His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, by that we are saved, not by our own exertions, not by our own running. We just need to know that again and again, it's so hard for us sinners to believe that, that we are forgiven by grace through faith in Christ alone. But having been forgiven, having begun the Christian life, we are then called on to run a race with endurance, and we're called on to run it to the very end, and the race from justification till death, or the second coming of Christ is called sanctification, a progressive growth in Christ-likeness through putting sin to death, and through habits of holiness that we acquire and development of Christian character, a Christian mindset that's the rest of the Christian life, and that takes exertion. It takes us denying ourselves, it takes us running a race with endurance, that's what we're talking about here. A race run to the end. And then glorification happens at the end of our lives, either at our own death or at the second coming of Christ, whereby in an instant we are made perfect and fit for Heaven, body, soul, and spirit, we are in every way conformed to Christ, that's the end of our salvation.

And in that we will spend eternity radiantly glorious. Now if you don't understand salvation that way, this text could easily be misunderstood, you could be exhorted strongly and instead of being motivated you might be moved to despair, because you're comparing yourself to, other than Christ, I think probably the greatest spiritual runner there's ever been in the Apostle Paul. And it's easy to look at him and look at his level of dedication, his level of holiness, his level of sacrifice for the Gospel and say, I can't measure up to that and to give up and that's the very thing Paul's working against. He wants you to run, to run in such a way that you obtain the prize. And so, we need to understand that very plainly.

I. Giving Up Rights and Privileges for the Sake of the Gospel

So, Paul is calling on us to give up rights and privileges for the sake of the Gospel. Let's look at the context. It's been months since we looked at 1 Corinthians. So I just want to remind you where we're at in this incredible book. Paul is writing, he planted the church in Corinth. It was a gifted church, brothers and sisters in Christ, he loved them dearly, but they were pretty severely dysfunctional in a lot of levels.

And so, he's got to address a bunch of topics, and we're in the middle of a bunch of topics that he's addressed. And in Chapters 8 through 10, in that three Chapter section he's addressing, big picture, the problem of their pagan religion, idolatry and the issues specifically of meat sacrificed to idols, and what Christians should do about that difficult topic. And so, it's really three chapters of a complex answer to that question. So what was happening in Chapter 8 is the more doctrinally mature Corinthian Christians understood from the preaching, understood from the Word of God, that idols are nothing, stone, wood, metal, they're nothing. There's no reality there, that the pagan religion is nothing, that there is only one God, and that meat is just meat, it can't catch a spiritual disease and that Christ is declared all foods clean, and therefore we can eat whatever we want. But the problem was, they were flaunting their freedoms in such a way that other more not so doctrinally mature Christians were being harmed, their consciences were being violated, they were being led astray by these more mature knowledgeable Christians.

Basic Principle: Love Limits Liberty when it comes to evangelism

And so, Paul gives them a very clear principle in Chapter 8 Love limits liberty. It's not all about your freedoms, what you get to do, what you want to do, but you need to look around at the consequences, and people are watching you and you need to care about your brothers and sisters, and just because you can eat and it doesn't damage you, what about people who are watching you? And so, he's addressing that, and so, if you love your brothers and sisters, you need to care what they're thinking, as they watch you. And then he uses himself as an example, of how love limited his own liberties. In Chapter 9 he talked about money being paid for ministry. And he said, I have the right to receive a salary for preaching the Gospel, the Lord has ordained that those who preach the Gospel should make their living from the Gospel. But I don't use that right. I don't take any money for my church planting, so I have that freedom to do that, but I don't use it.

And then he goes beyond that, and broadens it, and he says, Actually, I turn my back on all of my freedoms. When it comes to food and cultural things and personal preferences to the Jews. I became like a Jews to win the Jews, so I ate the foods they ate, I kind of fit into the Jewish culture to win the Jews to the pagans to the gentiles, the Greeks to those not having the law. I became like one not having a law. Not in immorality, not all, but in cultural issues that separated the Jews from Gentiles, I just became like a gentile to win the Gentiles. I become all things to all people. So by all possible means, I might save some and I do this so that I might share in the benefits of the Gospel, I want a fruitful harvest. And so that's the context here. And the basic principle is love limits liberty when it comes here, first and foremost, linking it backward linking it here, love limits liberty when it comes to evangelism and missions. If you want to be fruitful in winning lost people you're going to have to deny yourself at some level, you're going to have to say no to what you prefer.

If you live for your personal preferences in food and clothing, and culture and lifestyle you're not going to have a very fruitful life as an evangelist, or a missionary, you will not have much fruit. So if you ask Paul, Paul which do you prefer? Jewish food, or Gentile food? He would answer. I prefer whatever food would be maximally fruitful, for the Gospel at that moment. That's what I prefer. He would answer that way. Reminds me of something that George Mueller, the great leader in caretaking 1000 orphans in 19th century England, just a godly man, godly pastor, a man of faith, George Mueller, he said this though, this incredible statement, he made, "There was a day I died, utterly died to George Mueller, to his opinions, preferences, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and my friends. And since that day I have studied only to show myself approved unto God." Intensely vertical, but first and foremost, started with himself. I died to me. I died to George Mueller, I died to what I prefer day-by-day.

We all have preferences, we all have taste, we all have desires, stuff we like. Everybody does, that's God gave us those tastes and desires, those amoral pleasures, those are part of the richness of life that God's given us and He wants us to enjoy those amoral diverse pleasures and give glory to God. But if you make an idol of those things, if they become uppermost in your own affections then you will not have much fruit to show when it comes to winning others.

Patrick Lai, who wrote a book on tent making, which is using business for mission, spoke of the food issue for himself when it came to missions. This is what he wrote:

"In seminary, we learned the slogan, 'Where He leads I will follow, what He feeds I will swallow.' Food is a major issue, many argue that eating the local cuisine is not a big deal. But consider, if foreigners came to your country and if they rejected your national dishes how would you feel? As Americans, perhaps if we invite an international for a Thanksgiving dinner and they say, they hate turkey, and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, are we likely to invite them again the next year? To reject a person's food is to reject the person. Having grown up in a Midwestern American city, I never ate spicy food, but when we moved to Asia, I quickly realized that the people there loved hot chili peppers, on almost every dish. So what did I do? Stop eating? No. I simply trained myself to eat spicy food by going out and eating the hottest food I could find for several weeks. It was hard, I hated it, I felt sick to my stomach. However within a month, my taste buds adjusted, and my body adapted. Nowadays, I truly enjoy spicy food."

Honestly, all over the world. Missionaries face these kinds of challenges. For me as some of you know, going to Japan, the problem was seafood, and I'm not changing. God gave me a special dispensation of grace for two years, and I prayed for it and God gave me the ability to actually enjoy Sashimi.

Now, Sashimi, let me tell you something, it's not sushi, that's little bits of fish surrounded by other things, so you can survive that fine, but Sashimi is like a T-bone steak, of uncooked fish flesh with nowhere to hide right there on the plate. And I'll never forget the first time I sat at a restaurant, a Japanese man wanted to honor me for some things we had done in his house, we had helped them out in the missionary, we'd done some things, and he wanted to thank us and he thanked me with a bunch of raw fish flesh and there it was, and I said, Where now is the God of Elijah? So I said Please don't leave me now. But then I came to find out that Sashimi is super fresh in Japan, I would not advocate truck stop Sashimi here in the US. Not a good idea. But in Japan super fresh and almost flavorless. Pretty close to flavorless. Never bothered me that it wasn't cooked. What I liked was the Wasabi and the sudachi that you could dip it in. And the flavor of that sauce was good and it was a good... So for two years I enjoyed that.

However, I never got so far as to enjoy what they call tako. It's not Mexican tacos, it's octopus. And the suction cups and the chewy demeanor, it's the gift that just keeps on giving. You can just enjoy tako for a long time. I never got used to it, and so I guess I wasn't there long enough. Patrick Lai would say, "That means you need to eat tako every day for a month and then you'll love it." The issue here, friends, is bigger than food. How much are you willing to be inconvenienced? To be put at a personal disadvantage for the sake of others? How are you willing to limit your liberties? You have the right to eat whatever you want, fine, but are you willing to give up that right for the sake of winning others? If we continue to stay safe in our bubbles of personal preference and comfort, choosing what we eat, what we watch, what music we like, what climate is best, what clothing looks best on us, if honestly, we live a life of me, we will not have much to show on judgment day, in terms of the Gospel.

And we Americans are used to one of the highest standards of living in the world. We're used to air conditioning and central heat, we're used to very comfortable beds with something called a Sleep Number. I've heard, I've never used it, but you can dial in your personal comfort number, I guess, and then we're used to that. We're used to electronic entertainment. We're used to being continually connected with the rest of the world through wifi. We're used to personal transportation in America, especially the automobile to get in and go wherever you want at any points of the compass. Whenever you want. We're used to that. We're used to top-notch medical care, We're used to 911 in case we're in trouble, medical emergency and people will come and help us, We're used to roads that are almost continually worked on, so that there are not the kinds of pot holes that I've experienced in other countries. The types of damaged under the road that the government doesn't have the resources to continually repair.

But we are used to a high level of treatment of the roads. We're used to credit card swipers, and chip readers and Walmart that has basically almost any physical thing you could want. And if it doesn't, Amazon Prime will bring it even faster than Walmart. And we're used to that lifestyle. Most of the world doesn't live that way. If we're going to be fruitful in global missions, we have to give up those kinds of preferences, and beyond that just within our own American culture as well. If we want to meet non-Christians, if we want to befriend them, get to know what's involved in their lives, you're going to have to make sacrifices. You're going to have to do things that you do not prefer to do. You have to open your home in hospitality. You have to do your hobbies, perhaps with other people, with non-Christians. You have to just change your lifestyle. If you just stayed within the Christian bubble you'll only know Christians and you won't be very impactful for eternity.

And so you have to make habits, you have to make life choices for the sake of the Gospel. And if you decide to use your time, your energy, your money, your life for the sake of eternity, to as Jesus said, win friends for the gospel. He talks about winning friends in Luke 16:9. If you do that, you'll take up an entirely different way of thinking about your life.

II. What is the Race?

And Paul likens the sacrifices needed here, to running in a race. And he reaches for an image that the Corinthians would have been very familiar with. Look at verse 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." So what is the race? The cultural context there was something called the Isthmian Games. There were two ancient games of competition back then, we're very familiar with the Olympic Games that were centered in Athens, but the Isthmian Games were centered in Corinth the second most popular and well-known in Ancient Greece and they included many contests, like chariot races, running, boxing, feats of strength, and he chooses two of the images from the Isthmian Games, running and boxing, and he uses it here in this text as well, and the Central Command, he gives here is run. You should run, run this race run in such a way that you may win that you can obtain the prize.

He says, Everyone competes, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way that you get the prize. That's what he's saying, he's appealing to their competitive nature, a desire for excellence and achievement. Now, if I want to stop and pause and just say for a moment, what's amazing is as I've meditated about heaven and rewards, I have come to realize we are going to celebrate other people's rewards as though they were our own, that we are going to be so one so that in 1 Corinthians 12:24, it says, If one part of the body is honored, the whole body is honored with it. So we're not in competition actually with each other. If we were, I wouldn't be preaching the sermon I'd keep my secrets to myself on how I'm planning on running the race, and you all are just on your own. But I believe that my reward is wrapped up in yours and that the more I help you be rich on Judgment Day, the better for me as well, I will celebrate your rewards, you'll celebrate mine, we will be so set free from me in heaven, we will just be celebrating each other's honors. And so there is a competitive aspect here but we're not actually competing against each other, we're competing against a common enemy, the world, the flesh, the devil, that's what we're all competing against, not against each other.

So we should help each other be as rich as possible, in rewards. Now, what is the race? Well, in this context as we follow his train of thought right up into 24-27, these verses the context here seems to be evangelistic or missions. Winning lost people, becoming all things to all people. So that by all possible means, we might save some. So saving lost people. That's what's in Paul's mind. And he says, uses this language in Acts 20-24. "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me, the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." So Paul considers his Evangelistic mission to be a race that he's running, and he's challenging the Corinthians to run as well. However, the whole Christian life in other scriptures, is presented similarly as a race to be run. Paul says at the end of his own life, in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

And it's very similar. The fighting and running analogy is just like in our text here. He's talking about his own Christian life, he's reached the end of his Christian life. And then more openly, the author to Hebrews says, plainly in Hebrews 12, "Since we're surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with endurance the race marked out before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." So there the whole Christian life is a race and we're called on to run to the end. So frankly, I think it's both, friends, it's the external journey, winning lost people, and it's the internal journey of holiness. How do I know that? Well, if you go on, if you remove the chapter division between Chapter 9 and 10 and just go right on, he's going to go on in the next chapter immediately linked by the words, "For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers…" he goes right into lessons from Israel's history and he says... Do you not realize that lots of Jews began the journey, but only some of them finished, and frankly most of them died in the desert, they didn't make it because of idolatry. So he's talking about holiness, he's talking about sin and temptations and all that.

So there's a perfect connection here between the external journey of winning the lost, and the internal journey of making certain you make it all the way to Heaven by fighting sin. And they both come together in this one text of running the race, so it's not either or, it's both. The two races really in the end are of the same, the internal race of holiness and the external race of evangelism. What do we think we're doing with evangelism missions? We're calling on dead people to begin to run a race, and to obey every commandment that Christ has given them, that they would be in running that race. The two journeys are really just one and they come together here.

III. What Is the Prize?

And so what is the prize? He says, "Don't you know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way that you may get the prize." Verse 25. "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training, they do it to get a crown that will not last. We do it to get a crown that will last forever." What is the prize? What is the crown?

Well, in the Isthmian Games, the prize was a wreath that would be woven together from some living vine maybe, some olive branches that we've woven together or maybe some pine, a garland, that was then set on the head of the victor to the cries and adulations of the crowd, they're all... And it's put there on their heads. Paul calls it a corruptible wreath, it's corruptible, it begins to fade the moment it's cut from the branch. Probably won't look that great the next day. And the athletes knew that. They'd seen it, maybe they won last time three years ago and they're going to go again, they know what's going to happen, but what they want are the cries and cheers of adulation, honor that come from their fellow citizens. But frankly even that goes away, even that echoes and then disappears. The modern Olympic Games were restarted in 1896 in Athens. I looked this up. I didn't know... Do you know how many gold medals, Olympic gold medals, have been awarded since 1896? I know you don't know, but I didn't either. So here's the answer: 18,553, gold medals. Now, I was amazed that there were that many. They're actually not all that uncommon except that there's billions of people and very rare do people win gold medals.

But honestly, I don't know who won the gold medal in 1956 in skeet shooting, I don't know who won even the marathon that year. It disappears. They're running a race to get a crown that will not last, we're running to get a crown, he says that will last forever. And so here, this dovetails with Jesus' teaching. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So that's the crown, it's praise from God it's, "Well done, good and faithful servant," it's the crown of achievement of having served God faithfully in this life. James 1:12, says this: "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him." So just making it to the end of the Christian journey, there's a crown of life awarded.

But then Paul talks about his church planting efforts. And he frequently calls the churches he planted, and the people that he won to Christ, his crown, 1 Thessalonians 2, he says, "What is the hope, the joy and the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord when He comes. Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy." So Paul says the Thessalonian Christians that he won to faith in Christ, they are his crown. And so that's the crown.

IV. How Should We Run?

So how should we run? Well, Paul gives the secret to winning the prize and that is self-control in everything. Stern self-denial of the body. Look at verse 25, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things." So for a world class athlete, there is no area of life off limits for their trainer, for their coach. Everything is worth discussing. So that would include everything they eat, everything they drink when and how long they sleep, all, of course, all of their exercises, what they're doing. How much lifting, how much flexibility, how much all of these things. So when it comes to eating amounts, nutritional value, caloric intake, protein, fats, carbohydrates, everything. Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, actually eats something called avocado ice cream. And some of you are like, "What is the point? If you're going to eat avocado ice cream, better not to eat it," but apparently he finds something delicious in it. But for him that's what's been necessary to keep his body ready to compete.

I was reading a number of years ago, a basketball player name Hakeem Olajuwon was a very, very good player, but he just wasn't reaching his potential and he said for him it was really when he gave up ice cream that he reached another level because that became just a symbol of a whole life of self-denial of discipline that was required, and then he started playing at the highest level. So that's the way it is for athletes. Everything, sleep patterns, all of that, but for us Christians it expands. Body counts, what you do with your body, what you eat, how much you sleep, all of those things matter, your exercise patterns. But we're talking about body, soul, and spirit, everything, the mind, the heart. And so we have to discipline ourselves not only physically, but mentally, spiritually, so that we can grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ. And Paul actually it seems takes a violent approach here. Look at Verse 26-27, "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." That's one translation. Another translation says, "I discipline my body and bring it under strict control so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

So I looked up the Greek words. These are very severe in the one translation. Beat my body make it my slave, the Greek for beat my body is literally to strike beneath the eye or to give a black eye to. Metaphorically to brow-beat or to annoy greatly provoke or irritate. So Paul annoys his body, he irritates it, frustrates it. Now he talks against harsh treatment of the body in other places. He's not talking about a literal beating here like wearing a hair shirt or self-flagellation, like some people did in the Middle Ages. He's not talking about that, he's really talking about his flesh, his bodily drives that the flesh pushes to, where you have normal bodily drives, but they're pushed beyond boundaries that God's Word has set up, that's what the flesh does. And so, it's normal to want to eat dessert, that's a normal thing. The flesh pushes beyond to the second and third helping. So Paul says I irritate my flesh, I frustrate my flesh by pushing away from the table at that point.

It's normal to sleep a right amount of time, so your body's refreshed and renewed, but all of us have an inner sluggard that we want that extra time asleep, more than we need. Many Americans are sleep-deprived, I'm not talking about that, but I'm saying, we're talking about getting that extra hour. I frustrate my flesh. Paul says, I get up when it's time to get up. When it comes to the sexual drive, it's normal for a husband and wife to desire to be together in marital relations, but the flesh pushes beyond boundaries that God has set up, those boundaries into sexual immorality, And so the text is calling on you to frustrate your flesh, to irritate it and push away from temptation and sexual immorality, to deny it and put it to death. So that's the first phrase. The second is make it my slave, it's literally in the Greek lead into servitude. So I lead my body into serving what? Serving Christ, serving my mind as it's led by Scripture. This is friends, this is the language of war. That's what he's talking about here and he talks about this war very plainly in Romans 7:22 and 23, he says, "In my inner being, I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will set me free?"

There is a war going on inside. We all know what we're talking about here, we know a battle against lusts. Galatians 5:17 says, "The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh. These are waging war against each other, they're in opposition to each other so that you do not do what you want." So Paul combines these images, he's actually boxing while running a marathon, But he's boxing himself. And he has a goal, his goal is to complete the race that God laid out in front of him. Let me quote this again, Acts 20:24, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me." Of internal holiness and external witnessing to lost people. That's what I want to do. So that's his goal. And he says "I'm not running like a man running aimlessly."

So we have a device in our home called a Roomba. Have you ever heard of these things? These robots that vacuum. I do not understand it. I don't understand what it does, this is what happens. It's got little bumpers and sensors that cause it to go as far as it can in one direction and then turn somewhere and go off in a straight line in another direction. What that means is, it could spend as much as 45 minutes in one corner of the room. If you give it enough time I guess, it'll get the whole room, so the idea is put it in a room, close the door and walk away And you come back some time later and the whole room is vacuumed. But if I'm in the kitchen there and it's bumping into me and comes around and then bumps on my other ankle, I don't understand its patterns, it's wandering aimlessly without any seeming strategy to approaching the room.

Now, having said that, the Roomba's kind of fun and you put it in there and the room does get vacuumed and you don't have to do it, so that's pretty cool. I've heard they have them for lawns. Now that scares me. Just put it on your lawn, walk away. I'm like... But there are people that seem to live life like that, aimless. It even seems some Christians can live like that, they don't seem to have a purpose. Well your purpose is to be holy and to present your life as a holy offering to God, day after day. Put in a holy Monday tomorrow. Put in a holy rest of today, today. Put sin to death, give it to God as an offering, that's your goal. And then realize you're surrounded every day by people who are on their way to destruction, they're on their way to hell, say something to them about Christ, invite them to church, speak up, be inconvenienced, be willing to suffer, that's the purpose.

As Jesus said, "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life…" And "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." So Paul was running a clearly marked race here. He's also boxing the entire way, he's not shadow boxing, though. He knows exactly what he's about, he is fighting himself and he's fighting his lust and he's fighting the temptation to quit, all of it. So Paul's saying, "I'm not going to be enslaved to my body's demands for food, I'm not in slave to my body's demand for drink, I'm not enslaved to the demand for sleep, I'm not slave to the demand for public encouragement and adulation. All of those things make me feel good, but I'm not enslaved to any of them, I want to serve Christ."

V. What Is the Danger?

So what's the danger? Verse 27, "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." Disqualified. Disqualified. In the context, looking backward, at the external journey, it means that through your failure to watch yourself closely, you may no longer be of any use to God, You may be put on the shelf. And I know in Pastoral ministry, many pastors have been disqualified through sin, through sexual immorality, through financial malfeasance, through what's gone on in their marriage, or their family, or through their love of power and dominating of others. They have not kept their flesh in control and they've been disqualified from ministry.

It's one of the greatest fears of my life, that some day I'll have to get up in front of you and confess sin and be disqualified. So you should pray for me, because if Paul has to do it, I have to do it, we all have to do it. As Richard Baxter, said in his classic, Reformed Pastor, "Be very careful, pastors, that you do not un-say with your life what you said with your lips." And so for us to keep careful watch over ourselves, but the deeper issue, I'm going to pick this up next week, is your own final salvation. We have to keep going in sanctification and frankly if you stop going in sanctification, there's a strong doubt that you ever were justified. So if you stop running the race of holiness, you have every good reason to wonder if you ever were born again to begin with. And so we have to keep running this race right to the end. Jesus said, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved."

VI. Applications

So what application can we take from this? Well, isn't it wonderful that we're not saved from our sins by how well we run a race? We are saved from our sins by how well Jesus ran His race, and He got to the end of His race on the cross, and He said "It is finished" and He broke through that finishing line and then I was going to suggest, but I got to you too late that we sing today, Crown Him With Many Crowns, but brother, thank you. We already sang it. Jesus broke through the finish line, and we crown him Victor and Lord of all and in His victory we stand and we receive the gift of righteousness, He is our righteousness, we are not saved from our sins by how well we run a race, but how well Jesus ran the race. So let me just say to you who came in here on the outside of Christ, this is the gospel for you. You're not going to be saved by how well you live the rest of your life. Trust in Christ. He is the Savior, He never sinned, He died on the cross for sinners like you and me, all you need to do is call on Jesus' name. Say, "Be my Savior" and He will save you, He'll give you the gift of perfect righteousness, He'll give you the crown as a gift. But once that happens, now you're in here with the rest of us and we're called on to run race.

And I say two races, those two journeys, we're called on to run that internal race of holiness. So what is the Holy Spirit speaking to you about right now? What ways do you need to beat your body and make it your slave? What ways are you showing excess? Lack of self-control. I don't know what it is. Might have to do with your eating habits, might have to do with your entertainment habits, might have to do with sexual immorality and lust, internet issues, might have to do with what you're doing with your money, your possessions, might be a materialism issue. I don't know what it is. What is the Holy Spirit saying where your flesh has gone beyond boundaries and you need to pull it back in and put strong self-discipline in your life so that you can run this race with endurance? What's going on, I don't know, But whatever the Holy Spirit speaking to you do it today, don't put it off.

And then in the external journey for evangelism, how much are you willing to be inconvenienced for the salvation of lost people around you? What changes are you willing to make, how are you willing to step out of your comfortable bubble to meet people and win them to Christ? Close with me in prayer.

Other Sermons in This Series

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