You don’t have to be an expert on racing to know that you don’t get a prize just for signing up, but many
feel that is all that is needed to be a winner in the Christian life. They think that you do not have to budge
from the starting line as long as your name is on the list of contestants. Paul, however, made it clear that
the Christian life is a struggle and a challenge, and it calls for suffering, sacrifice and service. Before he
died he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, henceforth there is laid up for me a
crown.” You see there is a cross before the crown. There has always been a tendency to bypass the cross
and gain the crown. The flesh desires comfort and not challenge; ease and not effort. Now I lay me down
to sleep is our favorite theme. We want to receive the reward without running the race.
A sign in the window of a sporting goods shop said, “See us for camping supplies so you can rough it
smoothly.” We want all the blessings and none of the burdens. There is a church in Florida that has put
in rocking chairs in place of the pews. They are perfectly balanced so as to give the maximum amount of
rocking for the least amount of effort. There is nothing wrong with rocking chairs, but there presence in
the sanctuary is a symbol of how we seek to avoid the cross for the sake of comfort. This is nothing new,
for Paul found the same tendency in the Corinthian church. They had the idea that now that they were
Christians they could take life easy. The flesh began to dominate their lives and they became immoderate
in eating, drinking and sexual practices. Paul seeks to correct their foolish thinking by comparing the
Christian life with the life of the contestants at the Isthmian games held every two years just 8 miles from
Corinth. He refers specifically to the runners, and in so doing he teaches that there are 3 qualification
necessary to be successful in the Christian race.
I. COMMITMENT v. 24-25
The men who wanted to enter the contest in the arena had to commit themselves to a rigorous ten
months of training. They gave up all sensual pleasures, and they had to be in bed early. They had to eat
special food and have no alcoholic beverages. This was not just a suggestion, but it was demanded before
they could even enlist in the races.
Paul, like his Lord, used the examples of the world to teach Christians. He is saying that they need to
stop and consider what your favorite runner goes through in terms of self-denial in order to win a
perishable crown. It was a wreath of parsley, ivory or pine. They do it for a bit of self-glory, and will you
offer less to gain the crown of eternal glory? What is eternal life worth to you? If a man will gladly live a
life of committed self-control and constant exercise to get a piece of pine on his head and a crowd cheering
him, how much more ought you to be committed to gain the crown that is incorruptible. Paul is not
criticizing the athletes. He is just using them as examples of commitment.
Even the philosopher Seneca saw the folly of men who devote more energy than sports than they do
for developing a good life. He wrote, “What blows do athletes receive in the face, what blows all over the
body, yet they bare all the torture from thirst of glory. Let us also overcome all things, for our reward is
not a crown or a palm branch or the trumpeter proclaiming silence for the announcement of our name, but
virtue and strength of mind and peace acquired ever after.” Even a thinking pagan wonders at the mixed
up values of men who will commit themselves to the trivial, but who will not lift a finger for the essential.
We have lost the biblical concept of the Christian life as a race. We make conversion represent
crossing the goal, when it really is just stepping up to the starting line. We are in the race between of the
grace of God. He paid our entrance fee on the cross to get us in, but then we have to do the running, and
to run well we need to prepare ourselves. We need to practice self-denial, and we need to exercise our
soul in prayer, and strengthen our minds by wrestling with the Word of God. Failing to do so results in a
The problem is not that we do not have a glorious and thrilling Gospel. The problem is that we do
not have enough trained and committed instruments to communicate it. The instrument makes all the
difference in the world as to the quality of music it produces. Two men in Old London met on the street
and began to talk. Just then a street organ struck up a tune. It was a rickety old instrument that wheezed
and groaned. One of the men wanted to move on and get away from that awful tune. The other said, “It is
not the tune, for that was written by the great Handel, and it is ‘See The Conquering Hero Comes.’” The
other responded, “Well then Handel wrote a poor thing.” A month later the man who knew Handel’s
music invited his friend to go with him to the Handel’s festival. As they listened to symphony the friend
went into rapture in his praise of it, and he asked what that was called. When his friend told him it was the
same music they heard a month earlier on the street he was amazed. The instrument made all the
In order to be the best possible instrument for communicating the good news of God, we need to be
trained and committed. We need to examine our lives to see if we are a race course type Christian, or a
rocking chair type Christian, and if we find ourselves sitting at the starting line, we know we lack the
II. CERTAINTY. v. 26-27
This is an age of anxiety and uncertainty, and the masses of the world do not know where they are
going. There is no fixed star and nothing steady to hold on to. A French aviator in his book Night Flight
tells of being lost in the sky at night. He caught a faint whisper from the radio control operator, and he
frantically asked him to flash the signal at the air field. When the operator replied he had already flashed
them and he saw nothing, he knew he had not found a light to guide him home. So many have no light to
guide them, but the Christian does, and he is to look to Christ to keep him on course.
Paul says he does not run like a man running aimlessly. Paul had a clear aim and goal. He had many
setbacks, but he always knew where he was going. He was always pressing on toward the mark. His eyes
were always focused on Jesus. As Calvin said, “In him alone is the whole stuff of our salvation.” Nothing
is more dangerous than uncertainty as to one’s goal. If you are not sure what you are running for, you
will not be very zealous, and more than likely you will choose a lesser goal than the crown of
righteousness and joy in Christ. Paul says to know your goal and keep pressing toward it. You may be
fast and full of energy, but if you are running all over the landscape, no one will thank you, and especially
the judge who awards the crown. It is not just action that is important, but your aim. Religious activity is
not enough, for it must be Christ centered to be an adequate goal.
Paul changes his metaphor from runner to boxer, and he says I am not wasting my energy by hitting
wildly, but I take careful aim and make every blow count. The Christian is no part time amateur, but a
professional, and it calls for our very best. His certainty as to his goal causes him to use every means
possible to attain it. Here is where men fail, for they think it is enough to want and wish for great values
without working for them. Every young couple wants a happy marriage, and they all want it to work out
for the best. They desire a good end, but they are not willing to use the means to attain it. You can’t
arrive at your goal if you do not use the necessary means to get there. Every parent wants their child to
grow up to be a wonderful person, but so often they think that loving them and desiring that goal for them
takes care of it, but it is not so. Love does not train a child. That takes sacrificial effort, and all the
wishing in the world will not accomplish that goal without the proper means.
Paul says in verse 27 that he finds one of the greatest obstacles in his way is his own body. The Bible
does not teach that the body is evil, for Jesus took on the form of human flesh and gave it dignity. It does
teach that the body is an instrument of either good or evil. It is a bad master, but a good servant. Paul
says that he keeps his body under. The Greek word for keeping under refers to a solid blow right under
the eye. He says that he is no air beater, but that he beats his body black and blue to bring it into bondage.
He does not destroy it, but he makes his body his slave by keeping his soul on top and his body under it.
Because he is certain of his goal he disciplines his body to make sure it does not slow him down. The
Christian who allows his body to dominate him will be beaten to the canvass by crushing blows of self-indulgence.
III. CONSISTENCY. v. 27
Even with a committed attitude and a certain aim you are not assured of success without consistent
action. You not only have to start and keep on going, but you have to finish. You must persevere to the
end. If a Greek runner obeyed all rules and had his ten months of training, but the night before the race
had his fling by staying out late and eating and drinking to excess, all of his preparation would in be vain.
Paul says that he never lets up, but is constantly running and fighting lest after telling others the rules he
ends up disqualified. Paul is saying to the self-indulgent Christians that you are babes in Christ who are
relaxing in your running. You spurt ahead now and then, but spend most of your time on the bench when
you should be consistently striving for the goal.
Just being in the race is not enough, for you have to keep running to gain the crown. In chapter 10 he
illustrates by saying that all our fathers were in the race as well. They were all baptized and had their
name on the roll. They drank the spiritual drink, but many were not pleasing to God, and they fell before
they reached the promised land. He goes on to say that this is an example for us. You can be baptized and
partake of the Lord’s Supper, but this will not carry you across the goal line. You must be obedient and
give yourself to concentrated and consistent effort to pursue the will of God. Even the best of men like
Moses fell before the finish line.
Ike Skelton Jr. was stricken with polio as a boy. A doctor in Kansas City told his parents that
nothing could be done. Ike had such a will to win, however, that through months and years of painful
recovery he never gave up. He became a student at Wentworth Military Academy and joined the track
team. When the big meet of year came Ike entered the two miles race. His legs had recovered, but his
arms were still useless, and so his teammates taped his helpless arms to his side. He went all the way, and
it made no difference that his opponents had already finished two laps before him. He gritted his teeth and
tore across the line into the arms of his teammates. One of them said, “The rest of them came in first, but
they didn’t beat this boy.” It is he who endures to the end that shall be saved. We must run with the
determination until we die. It is not enough to tell others the way, for you must go the way yourself.
Paul says that he is no signpost Christian. A sign points to a place, but it never goes there itself. Paul
says that he practices what he preaches, and he goes where he points. We need to take the words of Paul
seriously. Just as a magnifying glass can concentrate the rays of the sun and start a fire while it remains
cold itself, so a Christian can be an instrument through which others can receive the Son of Righteousness,
and yet remain as cold as ice themselves. Paul had perfect assurance of his salvation, and that nothing
could separate him from the love of God, but he didn’t give up persistently pursuing the path to perfection.
It is not enough to start, but we must run all the way to the finish line. An unknown poet wrote,
Its prizes call for fighting,
For endurance and for grit,
For a rugged disposition,
And a don’t know when to quit.