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Disciplined Gospel

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 for ever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIVUK)

The Roman Empire was well ordered, its military forces were disciplined, and they knew how to keep the peace with a good degree of success.  Although they conquered Greece by the decisive battle of Corinth in 146BC, the legacy of Greek culture persisted - the arts and competitive sport were rigorously tested, but personal morality was morally dissolute. That morality was infecting the church. As new believers joined the church they had to be taught to control their fleshly appetite to please themselves, for Christ's sake (2 Timothy 1:7).
Sports were a big part of Corinthian culture. The Isthmian Games were held there the year before and after the Olympic Games (in the second and fourth years of an Olympiad). Paul used two of the sports, athletics and boxing, to illustrate that it is right to be self-disciplined in order to do well and win. Strict training with graded exercise, good diet and enough rest is still necessary for modern day high-level competitors going for gold. In those days, the prize was a wreath of leaves which would soon fade and rot.
The Christian life, Paul says, requires a similar focus and dedicated attention to the small details which make a sporting competitor efficient and effective in winning. Run to win, he said; box to score points. In the same way forsake distractions and concentrate on pleasing Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1): live to win His approval (Philippians 3:13-14). Practise godliness, practise holiness and always be aware that the eternal 'crown' is not a fading halo of foliage but an eternal inheritance (James 1:12).

For many, sport is an occasional leisure activity when they have the time and inclination. Compared to the dedication of Olympic athletes, they are feeble minded and give up when training becomes too arduous. Once enjoyment is overtaken by pain they stop; and many Christians have the same attitude. They are seeking their own pleasure rather than the glory of God. They are not living with their eyes fixed on the Second Coming of Christ. They are living for themselves and not for Him. Where that happens, as in Corinth, the church becomes dysfunctional and disunited: even a few such people can wreck the gospel impact of the believers. So we should ask the Lord to help us focus on Him and consider our Christian lives as a series of serious intentionally relational actions, instead of being an optional leisure activity (Hebrews 12:2).


Wonderful Lord. Thank You that the Lord Jesus chose to endure the cross and lived a disciplined life in perfect harmony with You. Forgive me when I get distracted by the pleasures of this world and forget my eternal destiny. Please help me to be serious about following Jesus, willing to sacrifice my preferences for His glory. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams