Life Is a Game: Play It for All You Are Worth 9/24/00

I Corinthians 9:24-27

JESUS CHRIST should be our primary source of motivation.

Coach Grant Teaff, one of the most successful football coaches in the history of Baylor University, the only coach to beat the University of Texas ten times, told me he made an on going study of the crucifixion of Christ because it was the ultimate sacrifice. He acknowledged that if he was going to ask his players to sacrifice for the good of the team he should have an understanding of what sacrifice really way. He used this example of Christ to motivate his teams. Christ’s example in life and death is a matchless motivating factor.

Last week a dear friend asked me what motivates me. I have thought a lot about that this week and resorted to our text for a fuller explanation. Nothing motivates like a good example.

Sixteen years ago a little eight year old girl named Brooke Bennett watched the American swimmer Janet Evans win a gold medal. Right then she was motivated and resolved to strive for the same. This week Brooke Bennett won her gold medal in Sydney and no one was more proud than her model Janet Evans.

Mike Marsh, Barcelona Gold Medalist in the 200 meters, tells of a friend who was a coach urging him to participate in track without success. He finally motivated him to watch one of the world’s greatest athletes run on TV. Mike watched Carl Lewis and was fired with excitement. He was motivated by Carl’s example as no one had ever been able to motivate him. That motivation created an Olympic Gold Medalist in the person of Mike Marsh.

You may lack motivation for life. You may be without motivation to achieve your best in life. If you study the life of Christ you will find inexhaustible motivation in Him. He then can create in you the best “you,” you have the capacity of becoming. Contained in that “best you” is the most happiness and contentment for which you have the capacity.

Will it make you a Gold Medalist? Likely not, but there are other benefits. There is an old TV ad that will illustrate this.

A famous athlete is depicted as using a certain deodorant. An aspiring younger athlete holds up a container of the deodorant and asks, “If I use “Ban” will it make doors open for me?”

A voice comes from nowhere saying, “No, but it will make windows open.”

Turning to Christ in faith and trusting Him as Savior might not make you a Gold Medalist but it will make you the best “you,” you can be. Trust Him and see! He will motivate you
to strive to be your best at everything you do.

Our text is a vivid summary of the drive and dynamic resulting from following Christ. The letter is addressed to Christians in Corinth. This great city with a population of 500,000 was the “Vanity Fair” of the Roman Empire. It was one of the most famous “good time cities” of all times. It was an athletic crazed city. The Isthmus Games, which were larger than the Olympic Games, were held in Corinth.

In considering what was required to participate in the games we can gain insight into what is involved in serving our Lord Jesus. To participate you had to – – –

Athletes represented various Greek City States. To represent a city the athlete had to prove he was a citizen of that city.

To represent Jesus Christ you must be able to prove you belong to Him. That is, that you have by faith trusted Him in the forgiveness of sin. It is as simple as A, B, C.

A. – ACKNOWLEDGE you are a sinner.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s us.

B. – BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For with the heart one believes unto righteousness…”

C. – CONFESS Christ as Savior.
“…with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).

If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you. How about last night? Some have established their citizenship but failed to become competitors.

One common characteristic of every great athlete is self- control. To participate in the Isthmus Games every athlete had to check into the training facility nine months before the games. When they checked-in they checked-out of society. They went into isolation from the public and were completely cut off from everything and everyone outside.

The Greek word describing this experience is AGONIZOMAI. Various translations of the Greek New Testament make its meaning more understandable. Some are:
“Every man who strives for the matches trains himself by all manner of self-restraint.”

Josh Davis, the swimmer who won three gold medals, spoke of his twelve years of training that resulted in a few moments of glory. Our life time of discipline will result in an eternity of glory.

“Anyone who enters a contest goes into strict training.”

The many splendid athletes competing in the Olympics have done so. There is an English word that has come from the Greek word describing this intensive training. It can be heard in the Greek word AGONIZOMAI. Our word is “agony.”

If you are going to follow Christ submit to the self-discipline required to be obedient to Him.

Each participant in the Isthmus Games was given a personal trainer. He was the athlete’s master. What he said the athlete did. If we are going to be spiritual victors we must submit to Christ as our master\trainer.

If you have watched gymnasts they listen intently to their coaches just before their event. They then go out and try to do exactly what the coach said do. So must we.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Every competitor did the same exercises during this nine months of agony. The boxer, distance runner, weight lifter, jumper, and sprinter all did the same exercises. Today greater knowledge and techniques let it be known various exercises need to be tailored to the sport.

The point this illustrates is there are no favorites with the Lord. We are all alike.

They wore only oil and nothing else. In Scripture oil is used as an illustration of the Holy Spirit. He is often represented as associated with oil.

If we are going to strive for the mastery in spiritual matters we must allow the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to cover and control us.

V. BE CERTAIN “Not as uncertain”
If you want a victorious spiritual life it requires being spiritually focused. The word in verse 26 translated “uncertainty” is ADELOS and it means “I do not run without clarity.”

Every athlete comes to the games with clarity of purpose. Each knows in what he or she is to compete and is focused on that.

What is your goal in life?

Are you a wondering generality or a meaningful specific?

Athletes have to make demands of their bodies.

Your body is a demanding master if it isn’t a good servant.

In the months leading up to the game in which we played the Brazilian Olympic team I trained hard. Training methods were not as defined as now nor was equipment as sophisticated. My personal road work involved running long distances on gravel roads. To toughen myself and build endurance to pain I ran bare footed. When I think of today’s sophisticated shoes I get envious.

It all paid off when we won and I was given the game ball for being the high scorer in the game.

Spiritual victory doesn’t happen without keeping your body under control.

VII. BE A COMPETITOR “Thus I fight …”
The figure of speech now changes from a runner to that of a fighter. In 684 B.C. the Olympic Games were expanded to include boxing.

“Thus I fight not as one who beats the air…”

This is a description of a person shadow boxing — pretending. The Christian life isn’t a pretend world. It is for real.

To gain an understanding of what was involved in boxing in the Isthmus Games let me share these insights.

The boxer wore only oil and a pair of potentially lethal gloves. That’s all. These gloves were known as “Caestus.” They consisted of leather thongs set with metal knobs of lead or iron. Round one began with the competitors towing a line and starting at a given signal. Round one ended when one of the boxers had been knocked out or killed. Round two began when the boxer who had been knocked out was revived. He was then given a certain amount of time to resume the fight. A line was drawn and he had to tow the line within the time limit. When he did round two began. The fight ended when one had either been killed or beaten senseless.

We too have to tow the line for Jesus.

There was a technical term employed in boxing used in the text. The decisive first blow was the “fist blow under the eye” known in the Greek as the HUP-OPIAZO. “Hupo” meaning “under” and “ops” meaning “eye.” It was the term of that era comparable to our term “knock out.” In our text it is used in the Greek and translated “I buffet” or “I discipline my body” (vs. 27).

In verse 27 the word in the AKJ translated “disqualified” and in the AKJ “Castaway” is ADOKIMOS.

It was a word used to describe an heirloom that had become cracked and no longer being usable was put on a shelf.

Do you discipline your body? Is there ever a craving you desire that you know to be wrong and you say “NO,” to your body?

Are there quantities of food your body craves and you discipline your body to abstain. Are there times your body indicates it feels lazy and you discipline it to get the exercise needed? Are there sexual drives you know to be inappropriate and you discipline your body and exercise self-control?

Like such a boxer we must mentally use our spiritual resources to control our bodies if we are to be spiritual victors.

If an athlete didn’t do all this he became disqualified.

If he did strive for the mastery and became a winner there was a reward.

When the Olympics were held in Atlanta Michael Johnson set a new world record in the 200 meter dash. Joe DeLoach, winner of the gold medal in the 200 meters in Barcelona commented: “Michael Johnson didn’t just break my record, he smashed it. That just goes to show how temporary are the earthly things we strive for.” Why would one go through nine months of agony? Why would one be willing to box in such a fight? Because of the award awaiting.

They didn’t give medals. They gave leaf crowns. In verse 25 it is described as a “perishable crown.” That was only part of the award.

The Olympic Games honored Zeus, also known as Jupiter. The wreath was made of olive branches, a tree preferred by Zeus. At the Isthmian Games, which honored the mythical Greek sea god Poseidon, the wreath was made from the god’s sacred tree the spruce.

Before the contests the wreath was placed at the feet of the statue honoring the god of the games. At Olympia it was Zeus. At the Isthmian Games it was Poseidon. This was referred to as “the joy lying before them.” It was a term used of Christ enduring the cross because of the “joy lying before Him.”

There are five different crowns mentioned in the New Testament. The faithful were crowned:
The Victorious Fighter with the wreath of righteousness (II Timothy 4:8).
The Steadfast Runner with the unfading wreath (I Corinthians 9:25, 26).
The One Faithful unto Death with the wreath of life (Revelation 2: 10, James 1:12).
The Unselfish Laborer with the wreath of Honor (I Thessalonians 2:19).
The one who is an Example to Others with the wreath of glory (I Peter 5: 3, 4).

He was then taken back to his home town for a celebration. If the city was walled as most were a hole was cut in the city wall in the profile of the athlete. After he entered through it, once again it was sealed.

A parade followed in which the athlete rode through the city in a chariot. The people celebrating threw flowers in his path. Women splashed perfume on him.

The parade led to the center of the city where he was greeted by the equivalent of the mayor. There the city poet read an ode to him about himself. Next, the mayor presented him a citation which in part gave him a life-time exemption from income tax. Now you know why they were willing to compete!

If they did all that for an corruptible crown how much more we should be willing to strive for an incorruptible crown!
That is a term referring to a heavenly home with our Lord.

The reward awaiting all faithful citizens of the kingdom who go through agony in obedience to the Master is a heavenly home. That will make it all worth while.

In the Book of the Revelation is given another depiction of the honor given a winner. It has a spiritual application.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).

That is the ultimate reward awaiting the person who will spiritually “compete for the prize,” that is, “strive for the mastery.”