Running to Win

What would the New Year be without resolutions? Great! While I’m not a big resolution maker, I have, beginning a few years ago, begun the practice of reading through the resolutions that Jonathan Edwards’ made as a young man. (Click here or here to read them. It’s a worthwhile experience.) Edwards was perhaps the greatest American theologian to have ever lived. He was a brilliant mind, and I don’t throw that word around casually. Edwards made 70 resolutions; not all at once, but over the course of a few years. He kept track of them in his journal, and before he had penned his first resolution he wrote these words:

Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

That is a terrific mindset isn’t it?! That’s a mindset that is worthy of being emulated. I want to share just a few of his 70 resolutions.

  • #1 – Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure 
  • #5 – Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can. 
  • #6 – Resolved, To live with all my might (One of my favorites!)
  • #14 – Resolved, Never to do any thing out of revenge. 
  • #16 – Resolved, Never to speak evil of anyone 
  • #20 – Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

At least half of those selections are fairly typical resolutions, whether one is a believer or not, especially #20. So many people are always making a New Year’s resolution to “get fit.” Health clubs and gyms always see a spike in memberships at the start of the year, and diets are usually started near the beginning of January.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that America is obsessed with fitness: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Atkins, South Beach, sugar-busters, carb-counters…all of you here are familiar with, at least some of, those terms, maybe even involved in those programs. Curves is one of the top franchises in America, right behind Subway, which has its own claim to fitness fame in “Jared”, Mr. Subway. The whole food industry is scrambling right now to crank out “low-carb” alternatives to your favorite foods. Many people scan the nutrition labels for “0 Trans-fat.” Sports nutrition stores are booming, and Wal-mart, never one to miss the opportunity of turning a huge profit, has their own nutrition section.  There is a plethora of products available that will enable you to “maximize energy, minimize fatigue, and accelerate recovery” (supposedly).

Fitness is big business.  Americans are obsessed with fitness, but America is also obese!  It’s unreal isn’t it, that the same country can be obsessed with fitness, counting carbs, being thin, and worshipping beauty, but at the same time be populated with the heaviest people in the world.  According to statistics, we are the overweight nation, the land of lard, the bastion of freedom and flabbiness.  Baptists have not always been positive examples of physical fitness, even though we believe the body is the temple of God, and through it we give expression to our service for God, we don’t have a strong track record in this area.  Most of our fellowships and gatherings revolve around food; often fried food, followed up with lots, and lots of desserts. AMEN!

Now, there is certainly nothing run with physical fitness.  If you are saved, after all, your body is the temple of God, your body is the one instrument you have for worshipping and serving God.  The body is not to be worshipped, but it is the instrument for worship.  Still, all of us should realize that a healthy body with a sick soul is a tragic thing.  For everyone, the ultimate issue should not be the physical, but the spiritual.

In my brief 36 years of living I have learned this one inescapable truth: discipline is the necessary key for accomplishing anything in this life.   And that is true whether we are talking about being physically fit, playing an instrument, learning a trade, etc.  The apostle Paul states this to his young protégé Timothy, and to us, in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:

“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”

The word translated “exercise” in our Bibles is the Greek word “gymnazo”. The word basically means discipline. Believers need to be disciplined as we make our pilgrim trek through this world.  We must discipline our behavior, our emotions, and our thoughts.  Disciplined hearts will produce disciplined attitudes and behaviors.  Please don’t have a negative picture of discipline or exercise in your mind. They are not cuss words.  Discipline and exercise are good and necessary things; not only physically but (especially) spiritually.

Now, there is a reason why Paul uses the language of athletics, among other things, in several of his letters. The reason is this: sermons without illustrations are akin to houses without windows.  It often takes a good illustration to crystallize a truth that we have heard.  Jesus always employed vivid, relevant illustrations when He preached, and theapostle Paul was no different.  Paul regularly used three illustrations: soldiering, athletics, and farming.  He even used all three in 2 Timothy 2.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring [it] into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

In this passage Paul utilizes an athletic allegory.  The Greek culture was huge on games.  You all know that the Olympic Games have their origins in Olympia,Greece, but are you aware that the city ofCorinth also hosted a popular sporting event that occurred every three years known as the Isthmian Games?  Much like the Olympics, the Isthmian Games boasted a variety of competitions ranging from foot races to the javelin throw, discus, wrestling, boxing, and even gymnastics.  The culture was so consumed with sports that one commentator I read made this remark: “the masses only demanded two things from their government: bread and games. By day they stood about idle; in the evening they watched sports.”  I guess some things just never change!  But one thing is for certain, the Corinthians understood Paul’s illustration of athletics, and this is the true test of a good illustration.

In v. 24 Paul asks a rhetorical question. Don’t you know that of all the people who start a race, there is only one winner?”

Determined Running – v. 24

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”

“Of course they understood that, as do we, so, Paul says, “Run to win!”  I’m talking about determined running. Now, one thing of which you can be certain is that Paul is not teaching Christians to compete with one another.  This is not a call to proselytize members of other churches, or keep a ledger of who brings the most visitors to church, and who has led the most people to the Lord.  We compete not against each other, but against physical, practical, and spiritual obstacles that would hinder us.  We are not competing with one another for a reward, but we are to serve Jesus Christ with everything that we have!  Run to win, not just to be in the race.  Don’t present Christ with a half-hearted effort!

Do you know what separates must winners from losers?  It’s not always superior talent, superior coaching, superior intelligence, or giftedness.  What separates winners from losers more often than not is sheer effort and determination.  Listen, Jesus Christ endured death for you! He who was sinless, took upon Himself your sin, so that you may become the righteousness of God in Him.  Beloved, Jesus Christ desires and deserves your best effort, not a lazy, half-hearted, mamby-pamby, effort!  Run in such a way as to win the prize!!

Disciplined Training – vv. 25, 27

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible…27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. ”

Here Paul is describing disciplined training, and he is arguing from the lesser to the greater.  If individuals are prepared to go into strict training and deprive themselves of justifiable enjoyments all for the sake of a laurel wreath, how much more should we be concerned to run the race of the Christian life in order to gain heavenly rewards?  Now, it’s obvious that those ancient athletes, much like their modern counterparts, were not competing just for that laurel wreath, or in our day, a gold medal.  They competed for fame and acclaim, to be hailed a hero, to be famous, to be profiled on ESPN, or to be “immortalized” in some Hall of Fame.  But that “immortality” is just as mortal as a laurel wreath or a gold medal.  None of that stuff will last forever, not even a bust in Canton or Cooperstown will last forever; they are corruptible, perishable.

But think about all that athletes endure to gain acclaim, or rewards that won’t last.  They endure strict training; they must exercise extreme self-denial and self-discipline in order to be in shape to run the race.  Athletes limit their freedom and liberties, they discipline their minds and their bodies, they restrict their diets, they sleep when others are partying, and they are awake and training when others are asleep, their training is tough and demanding, they sacrifice everything as they pursue their goal of winning the prize, and their financial, mental, emotional, and physical commitment to winning is unrivaled.  And they do all that for a laurel wreath, for their bust in a Hall of Fame.

Now one thing is obvious, it was obvious to the Corinthians in the 1st century, just as it is obvious to us here in Texas 20 centuries later; no one wins the 400m at the Olympics coming straight off the couch, or after a brief period of training.  Those athletes train their whole lives, in many cases, their training is their life!  They discipline their minds and bodies; they bring their appetites into subjection, and this dedicated training is a continual thing, so that they will be prepared to run the race so as to win.

They can’t start training the night before, and there are no shortcuts!  That’s the kicker, that’s where it hurts, especially in our high-speed, fast-food, microwave, society of convenience.  We want all the end results of a life-time of disciplined training, but without all the disciplined training.  That’s why products which promise “instant abs” have such appeal.  Have you seen those ridiculous commercials of people putting electro-shock belts on their bellies that will work your tummy onto a flat, appealing shape while you watch TV?!?!  It’s ludicrous, but it’s apropos of our society.  People want the perfect body with the minimum of effort, and the same is true in the spiritual realm.  People want a quick fix and an easy route to godliness; a 12 step program, 40 days of purpose, whatever.  Quick fix offers are useless, because the Bible does not offer a shortcut to spiritual fitness.

Church, the athlete’s disciplined self-control and strict training is a rebuke to half-hearted Christians who do not discipline themselves for the race.  Our race, our fight, is much nobler and deserves far greater effort than the Olympics, the Isthmian Games, the BCS Championship, or any other game.  We strive for an incorruptible crown, a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award, on that Day, to all those who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8).  Ours is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:4).

We live and work for eternity.  Keep your eyes on that prize! Run to win with determined running, disciplined training, and finally, dedicated reasoning.

Dedicated Reasoning – v. 26

“I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

Athletes train for a reason; they have set goals for themselves to reach.  Did you notice that in verses 26-27 Paul switches from “you” and “we” to “I”?  We witness some transparency from the Apostle here. Paul has a dedicated reasoning, a clear purpose; he doesn’t aimlessly run. He doesn’t run with uncertainty.  His purpose has been stated throughout this chapter, specifically in verses 19-22, that his goal was to win as many people to Christ as possible by any means possible.

19For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 20And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul is not shadowboxing; he’s not flailing around with his eyes closed.  He’s not just working up a sweat, his right there in the mix of things!  There is a dedicated reasoning to the race he’s running and the fight he’s engaged in.  He has disciplined himself; he has brought his body under subjection so that he won’t become a hypocrite, and so that he may win souls to Christ.

Now understand this, Christianity is not about law but liberty; it’s not about rules and regulations, but about holy discipline, because liberty and freedom require self-control.  And do not misunderstand, external rules and asceticism will not make you holy, will not provide the training that we have spent this evening talking about.  And just so you are not sitting here this evening saying, “I know what you do, you do all these external things and then it all fits”; no, that’s not the case. Turn with me to Colossians 2:20-23:

20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21(Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; – promoting self-made religion in other words – not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh – they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Now here is the key to spiritual discipline, it’s found in the first verses of Colossians 3:1-2,

1If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

You’ve been raised with Jesus, positionally seated in the heavenly places, so let your practice match your position.  Get your heart there, get your mind there, get yourself there, and as v. 5 says, “Chuck out all the garbage!” Put to death that which is earthly (sinful) nature: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth, and lying. Why?  Because you’re now in tune with Jesus, and He doesn’t like that stuff, He knows it’s no good for you, He doesn’t want you to be a part of it, and you’ll never win the prize if you’re clinging to that stuff. Let loose of all that junk. Cast it aside so that you may run the race. As Hebrews 12:1-2 says:

let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us] – so easily clings to us –, and let us run with patience – with endurance – the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross

Beloved, we need spiritual fitness in this flabby generation.  Spiritual fitness, much like physical fitness, is begun and maintained, not on the basis of emotional surges and New Year’s proclamations, but on the basis of disciplined commitment, and also with a little, actually a lot of, “I get by with a little help from my friends!”  We need training partners, sparing partners (don’t read too much into that!)  The journey to spiritual fitness is not a series of sprints but a cross-country run that lasts the rest of your life!  Let’s run it together.

See you at the finish!

About Travis

I am married to Dianna, and we have three boys: Luke, Noah, and Ethan.
This entry was posted in America, Bible, Faith, Followership, Gospel, Health, Jesus Christ, Life, Obedience, Spiritual Disciplines and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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