Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
It’s that time of year again. It hasn’t been declared a national holiday yet, but it certainly feels that way. So many things build around one football game that begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. Many electronic stores show a spike in sales of televisions. Grocery stores will sell more snacks. Then, even though the game doesn’t begin until 6:30 p.m., the pre-game show begins at noon. It lasts until 4:00 p.m., at which time there will be live interview with President Barack Obama. At 6:00 p.m. there’s the coin toss. Then at 6:30 p.m., after the national anthem by Frozen singing sensation Idina Menzel, the game gets underway. Pop singing star Katy Perry will do the half-time show. Between 10 and 10:30 p.m. the game should be over, unless there’s an overtime. All of this national enthusiasm is over one championship game of football. So will the Seattle Seahawks be grounded in their attempt to win a second straight title? Or will the hopes of the New England Patriots be deflated? It all happens tonight. When all the excitement settles, the champions will emerge with the Vince Lombardi trophy.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul also speaks of champions and a trophy. He’s not describing a sporting event however, he’s describing your life as a follower of Jesus Christ. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, there’s no way you can win at life. You have to have a relationship with him. Once you have that relationship, then are five qualities that you’ll possess as a life champion, as a championship Christian. I’ll go through all five quickly.
First of all, championship Christians are known for desire. Paul here is speaking of a race competition, and he says in verse 24, “run to win.” Vince Lombardi once remarked, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of talent, but a lack of will.” Often the contest is determined not by the team that has the most talent, but by the team that has the most desire. An athlete that isn’t hungry for a win has little chance of it. A team that doesn’t have their heart in the game probably won’t do well. For you as a Christian, if your heart isn’t into following Jesus, if you’re not hungry to know more about Him and his word, to make a spiritual difference in the lives of others, then you’ll accomplish very little. You may be mediocre, you may always be a part of the pack, but you’ll never be the believer that excels as Paul describes here. If the desire, the hunger, the passion isn’t within you to follow after Jesus, then you need to pray and ask God to rekindle it. Paul encouraged young Timothy to fan into the flame the gift of God that was within him. Championship Christians are known for desire.
Then, championship Christians are known for discipline. Paul says in verse 27, “but I discipline my body…” Athletes go through months of training. Dictionary.com defines discipline as, “activity, exercise or a regimen that improves an ability or a skill.” While there is a big football game happening tonight, Paul’s language here is referring to a big track meet. The city of Corinth hosted one of the largest athletic events in Greece, second only to the Olympic games in Athens. The Corinthians knew exactly what Paul meant when he talked about discipline. If you are a parent or a grandparent of a budding young athlete, you understand the importance of discipline. You practice, you practice, and you practice again. You prepare for the events when your abilities will be tested. That’s exactly the way it is with following Jesus. If you really want to make a difference, if you want to be a championship Christian, you’ll embrace discipline. You’ll spend time in prayer.
You’ll have daily devotions.
You’ll be in church regularly.
You’ll read the Bible, study it and even memorize it just as a team member needs to memorize their plays.
Today’s society in many ways is an instant one, so much so that many would like to experience victory without sacrifice. One young boy was asked what he would like to be when grew up. He said, “I’d like to be a returned missionary.” In other words, I really don’t want to go through the hardship of traveling, adjusting to another culture and learning another language. I just want to get the accolades when I come back home. There is no crown without a cross. Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Championship Christians are known by discipline.
Then, championship Christians are known for commitment. Verse 27 says, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” “Keeping it under control” is commitment, it is ongoing. Listen to these words from Vince Lombardi, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” There are ups and downs to anything you undertake in life. There are ups and downs to school, to work, to church, to family, to marriage. Being committed means you stick with it, you see it through the hard times to better times. Being committed means that other people can count on you to be there, to show up, to do what you’ve said you’d do. Commitment doesn’t mean you’re perfect, it doesn’t mean you won’t stumble. It does mean that when you make mistakes, you won’t give up. It does means that when you fall, you’ll get back up. Desire, discipline, commitment – they build upon one another.
Then, championship Christians are known for sacrifice. Verse 25 says, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” Any athlete knows that if he or she really wants to succeed, there will be sacrifices of time, energy, money and comfort. Practices take time and energy. Gear costs money. Sore muscles are not a pleasant thing.
If you want to be a championship Christian, you’ll have to sacrifice time spent just doing anything you want to do. You’ll arrange your time for a purpose, to serve Jesus and to get to know him better.
If you want to be a championship Christian, you’ll have to sacrifice your energy. There will be many times that you’ll be tired as a result of doing what God would have you to do.
If you want to be a championship Christian, you’ll have to sacrifice your money. You’ll realize that your money belongs to God, all of it, and that the way you manage it is not to please you, but to please him.
If you want to be a championship Christian, you’ll have to sacrifice your comfort. It may be getting up an hour earlier to have morning devotions. It may be taking a stand for Jesus at school or at work, and taking the risk of being ridiculed by your friends. Jesus gave up all he had for you. What are you willing to sacrifice for him?
Then, championship Christians are known for character. Verse 27 says, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Character means you practice what you profess. Character means you not only talk the talk, but you walk the walk. Character doesn’t just refer to what you do or how you act, character goes much deeper to who you are. For an athlete, character means good sportsmanship. It means not playing dirty. It means showing respect for your teammates and the opposing team. For a Christian, character means you’re more and more like Jesus. Paul said in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him…” (NIV84)
Christian character is something that happens in your heart and in your mind as you spend more and more time with Jesus. Spending time with Jesus, serving him and getting know him, changes you for the better. As a matter of fact, you can’t walk with Jesus and not have your character transformed. The Bible says the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of Jesus being present in your life, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” That fruit of the Spirit is the character of a championship Christian.
Tonight one team will emerge from the game as the victors. There’ll be a trophy, rings, cash and glory. There’ll be advertising contracts. One team will be called the champion for the next year. It all ends tonight. You however, are in a game of far greater importance. You are playing for eternal rewards. The Bible says, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 NLT) So when it comes to the contest of your life, are you just going through the motions, or are you playing to win? Do you just want to survive, or do you want to thrive and to give your best for Jesus? Will you be a championship Christian? The choice is yours.