The Christian Runner
October 16th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
THE CHRISTIAN RUNNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
10-16-55 7:30 p.m.
Now this morning in the Word, we left off at the twenty-third verse of the ninth chapter of First Corinthians; and tonight we begin at the twenty-fourth verse through the twenty-seventh which ends the chapter. And this is the word of the apostle:
Know you 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, by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
[1 Corinthians 9:24-27]
We shall first go through that text and look at those words. "Know ye not that they which run in a stadion run all?" [1 Corinthians 9:24] Now we have taken that word out of the Greek and made it – we’ve Anglicized it and made an English word out of it: "Know ye not that they which run in a stadium?" [1 Corinthians 9:24]
Now the Greek word for the chariot place where they raced horses was a hippodrome: a hippos, a horse; an adromos, a course – a hippodrome. And the Latin name for the same thing was a "circus." Circus is a Latin word; hippodrome is the same thing in Greek. It was a large arena with tiers of seats all around and a little partition in the middle, and they drove those chariots in the races round and around that middle partition, round and around. And the people, being above, could see the course of the race.
Now a stadium was different from that. A stadium was a place where they had their games of physical prowess, and most of it racing, most of it running. A stadium was always built exactly the same. The course never varied. It was 600 Greek feet long or 606-¾ of a foot English feet. And if you go to Athens, there is a philanthropic-minded citizen whose statue is right there to the right who has re-built the Athenian stadium. He has put it back just exactly as it was in ancient Attica. And if you paid any attention to it, I showed you a picture of that rebuilt Greek stadium about three Wednesday evenings ago. It is tiered like a horseshoe – open on one end – tiered like a horseshoe, and it will seat about thirty thousand people.
Now there were two places in ancient Greece that were the most famous for those stadium games. One was at Olympia: the Olympic Games. And they have taken that word "Olympian" and made it "Olympic," and it refers to the big, international physical contests that are held every four years. That is one of the famous Greek stadiums, the one at Olympia. Now the other one was at Corinth: the Isthmian Games they call them there from the little isthmian connection between Peloponnesus and Attica at which place the city of Corinth was located.
And not only were those stadiums there in Greece, but they were everywhere. All over the Mediterranean world, wherever the Greek civilization, the Roman civilization went, there you would find the stadium and there you would find those games. So when Paul uses the figure here, he was using a figure that everybody had witnessed and everybody shared in: "Know ye not that they which run in a stadium run all" – they all run, the contestants run together – "but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may win it; so run that you may obtain it" [1 Corinthians 9:24].
Now the way the stadium games were held is this: they had a kerux. The Greek word for preaching, for heralding – not just quietly talking – in the first verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: "In those days came John the Baptist kēryssōn in the wilderness of Judea and saying . . . " [Matthew 3:1]. Now there’s that word kēryssōn: "heralding, proclaiming." He lifted up his voice and the whole countryside shook with the thunder of that man’s sermons.
Now a kerux is a herald. He’s the announcer. And the herald comes forth, and he announces the contest that is to be run and then he leads all of the contestants around the course before all of those thousands of tiered spectators. And he says, "Is there anyone here that can lay anything to the charge of any of these contestants?" For ten months they had to go into rigorous training. Have they been faithful in their training? Have they been guilty of any crime or depravity in life or morals or manner? The herald leads them around and announces that to the spectator, "Does any spectator know anything?"
Then when the time of the race comes, that kerux – that herald, that announcer, that master of ceremonies – introduces each contestant by his name, by his country, and by his city. And then when the race is run, he stood at the end of the course with a garland of victory in his hands. In the case of the Olympian Games, it was made out of wild olive leaves. In the case of the Corinthian/Isthmian Games, it was made out of pine leaves.
And that honor was the most coveted honor in the ancient Greek world. To win that race brought honor to the country and dignity to the city and glory to the contestant, and the victor was escorted to his home and escorted to his city with great pomp and ceremony. And they did not deign to let him enter the city through the regular gate, but they made a breach in the wall. They tore down a section of the wall of the city in order that the Greek victor of the games might ride triumphantly into the city, and his name was immortalized in poetry and in song. I say it was the most coveted honor in the ancient Greek world to win in these stadium contests.
So Paul says to us, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may win it. And every man that striveth for the mastery . . ." [1 Corinthians 9:24-25] – and there’s an interesting Greek word: agonizomai. And you’ve got an English word "agonize" – "Every man that strives for it – presses for it, agonizes for it – is temperate in all things" [1 Corinthians 9:25]. That’s a good translation of that word there. He’s self-disciplined; he is continent; he is abstinent; he practices self-control; he’s getting ready for the race. "Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown" [1 Corinthians 9:25]. How long would a crown of olive leaves or pine leaves last? "They do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible crown" [1 Corinthians 9:25] – the crown of life that never fades away [James 1:12; Revelation 2:10], an unfading and imperishable reward [1 Peter 1:3-4].
"I therefore so run: not as uncertainly" [1 Corinthians 9:26]: adēlōs. And by the way, if somebody wanted to name a class, that’d be a beautiful word – Adēlōs Class, Adēlōs. "I therefore run not as adēlōs." By that he means, "I am not uncertain about the goal, about reaching the goal." But the word refers to the track; it refers to the race: "I therefore run not as not knowing which way I’m running," as though one doesn’t know the course, as though you stand here gazing there, wandering yonder, or looking behind you. "I run keeping my eye on the goal."
So many of us when we run our race for God, why, we stand around, looking around like Lot’s wife [Genesis 19:15-26]. We look in back of us, to the side and – . No, not Paul. He keeps his eye on the goal [Philippians 3:13-14]. So many of us in our running, why we’re after this opinion, and some of us are running after baptism, and some of us running after the sacraments, and some of us running after holy orders, and some of us running after different philosophical conceptions and opinions. Not Paul: "I therefore so run: not as uncertainly" [1 Corinthians 9:26] – not as looking around, not as a fellow lost and doesn’t know the track or the course. "I know the goal."
Then he changes the figure: "So fight I: not as one that beats the air" [1 Corinthians 9:26]. He’s a spiritual pugilist now – another of the games in the stadium, a boxing match. They’re fighting for the championship of the world. "And I’m fighting not – but I don’t fight," he says, "as an air-beater [1 Corinthians 9:26]. I don’t fight as a fellow just missing my blows, but I plant every blow. Every ounce of my energy is in every punch, and every punch lands."
"So fight I, not as one that beats the air," [1 Corinthians 9:26] that misses my blows. "But I keep my body under subjection" [1 Corinthians 9:27]: hupōpiazō. "I give it a black eye." That’s exactly what that word means. "I beat my body. I give it a black eye." You could translate it: "I beat my body black and blue."
"I keep under my body and bring it under subjection," [1 Corinthians 9:27] doulagōgō. And there’s your word agōgō. Used to have a class here: Agōgō Class. Agōgō means to lead; doulagōgō; doulos means a slave: "And I lead my body around as a slave. I keep it under subjection. My body doesn’t lead me; I lead my body, lest, by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" [1 Corinthians 9:27], an adokimos: a worthless one, a reprobate, a cast out. With all of the miracles that he wrought and with all of his superb preaching, if he himself did not keep the rules of the course and keep in training and press toward the goal, his own life would be refuse and cast out.
Now that’s the looking at those words. Now let’s speak of it for a moment. This prize: "Know ye not, they all run, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain it" [1 Corinthians 9:24]. Now a long time ago, from the beginning almost, these words were considered the words of the Lord, the inspired Word of God. So way back yonder in the beginning, Origen, who flourished about 250 AD, Origen read that, and he made the most brilliant comment on that that I’ve ever read. He says, "It looks as though here only one was going to be saved. ‘Know ye not that they all which run in a stadium, they all run, but one receiveth the prize?’" He says, "It looks as though only one’s going to be saved, only one’s going to receive a prize."
"No," said Origen, "he’s not talking about salvation there; doesn’t refer to salvation at all, but he’s referring to the reward," said Origen. And said Origen, it isn’t that just one of God’s children receives a prize. He said we’re all one in the body of Christ, and at the end of the way we all receive a reward, and each one according to his merit [Origen, Homilies, JTS 9, 514].
Now, I like that. Said a long time ago, but I think he’s got the heart of that matter. We don’t run for salvation. We don’t work for it. It’s a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast."
So we’re not running to be saved as though if we fell by the way, or if we stumble, or if we didn’t make it, we’d thereby be lost. No, we don’t run for our salvation, and this doesn’t refer to salvation, but it refers to the reward: the crown of life, not life itself, but the crown of life. We are in a race, and we are running for the Lord Jesus. We are working for Him; we are going for Him, and at the end of the way there is a crown for us – a garland of victory for us [2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12].
Now in that race there are some who never enter it. There are some who never try. There are some who never run; and what a pity, what a pity.
I don’t know of a sadder thing than to meet a man on the street, and I ask him, "Are you a Christian?"
"Are you a member of the church?"
"Do you belong to any religious faith?"
"No." And he says, "I make no profession of religion."
Isn’t that a tragic thing to see in a man? "I make no profession of religion. I have no hope for heaven. I have no pardon for my sins. Nothing faces me in life but death and damnation and despair and darkness and disaster. That’s all."
If a man in business says, "I make no profession of being honest," you know he’s a rogue. How about a man who makes no profession of God, no profession of Christ, no profession of religion? It’s a pitiful thing; it’s a tragic thing, and there may be some here tonight who’ve never made a profession of religion. My friend, you are in a desperate and in a pitiful way. What of you and of your future?
Isn’t that a strange thing for a man to confess? You wouldn’t walk down the street of Dallas and find many men there on the street who’d walk up to you and say, "Sir, I’d like to confess. I’ll make a confession. I’m a drunkard; I’m a sot, no-count drunkard." You don’t find that very often. You couldn’t walk down the street of Dallas and see a man – he come up to you and say, "I’ll make a confession to you. I am a miserable, covetous wretch. That’s what I am." You don’t hear that very often.
But you do hear often a man making a confession of the greatest fault in the world: "I make no profession of religion whatsoever. I have no God. I worship no Christ. I have no hope. All that I can look forward to is hell and damnation." Oh, what a pitiful thing! What a tragic thing to live through this life and then come down to the end of the way and how you need a Savior, but you don’t have a Savior; and how you need God, but you don’t love God; and how you need the angels to stand by your side, but you haven’t offered your life in faith to the saving Spirit of Jesus!
And what shall happen to you? The earth slips away, and the light fades, and the darkness come, and the grave yawns, and death holds out its awful, bony arm for you, and you fall into everlasting perdition and damnation. What shall you do? How shall you be? And it’s a long, long time that eternity out there. "Preacher, I don’t make any profession. I don’t propose to run. I don’t believe. I haven’t given my heart to any faith. I’m just drifting into eternity and into hell."
Oh, my brother, my brother, tonight, tonight, get on that race track! Run toward the Lord Jesus looking in faith to Him:
Wherefore, seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses
– let us press, let us run –
let us lay aside every weight, every sin that doth so easily beset us. Let us press toward the mark,
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and now victorious, seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Run, run, run! Get in this heavenly way, the highway to God’s heavenly celestial city. Do it tonight; do it tonight. "So run that you may win, that you may obtain the prize" [1 Corinthians 9:24].
I say, some don’t make any attempt to run. There are others of us who, starting the race, soon die away, soon fade away. I see that all the time in our church and among our people. There’ll be a young fellow come on the junior board and for about oh a little while he is just so fine and so faithful. Then, oh my soul, I don’t even know him anymore – don’t even see him. He’s not there; he doesn’t work; he doesn’t come; he doesn’t help. He just fades away, dies away.
And there are people who come in the church, and for a little while they are so faithful and devout and holy and dedicated; and I say, "What a mountain of strength and what a tower of goodness and holiness and helpfulness." And lo and behold, after about a little while, I don’t even see them anymore. I don’t know what’s become of them.
And they come and join the choir, and they sing for a while, and they help for a while, and they just encourage for a while. And then I can just look and look and look and look and not a single sign of them. Not a single sign of them do I see – not a one, not a one, not a one.
Isn’t that a funny thing? Isn’t that a funny thing? Just for a little while they just go lickety-split, and then they just fall by the wayside and quit. They’re like little children with flowers. And the children gather flowers and they put them in the ground, they stick them in the ground; and the little children say, "What a beautiful flower garden we have. Look at these beautiful colors and look at these beautiful, beautiful blooming flowers." And then in a little while, they’re all withered and dead ’cause they don’t have any roots. They didn’t get down in the ground. They didn’t get a good hold. They didn’t put themselves into the very heart and spirit and care and love of God.
That’s what we need to do. We need to grab a hold of the things of Jesus. We need to commit our lives to them. We need to run and to run and to run, and doggedly staying at it, until the victory crown is in our hands and God says, "You’ve done good and you’ve completed the course. Now here is the garland, the crown that’s yours" [2 Timothy 4:7-8].
Oh, that’s the way Christians win victories is just doggedly staying with it! [Romans 5:3-5] May be tired, may be weary, and may be discouraged, may be blue [2 Corinthians 1:8-11, 4:8-10] – may be everything under the sun, "But I’m in the race, and I’m still going."
And we’re not faint-hearted. We’re not discouraged, and the race is ours. "So run," says Paul, "so run that you may obtain," that you may win it – that you may get the prize [1 Corinthians 9:24].
Then there are some of us that are weighted down. We can’t run because we’re weighted down. That passage that I referred to in the twelfth of Hebrews: "Wherefore, seeing we’re compassed about this great tier of" – in the stadium, these witnesses – "witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us, laying aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us" [Hebrews 12:1]. Let’s lay it aside and run with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well we’re weighted down, weighted down. We’re too full of cares. We’re too full of business. We’re too full of social life. We’re too full of other interests. We are too committed to other things. We don’t run well. We haven’t time. We’re not disposed to do it. We don’t do good at it, and sin cankers our souls and our hearts. "So run," says Paul, "so run that you may obtain" [Hebrews 9:24].
And then some of us fall by the wayside for the lack of discipline and self-control. "I therefore so run, so fight I, not as one that beats the air, but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection – I make it a slave – lest, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" [1 Corinthians 9:26-27].
Now I’ve already said he’s not talking about our salvation, but he’s talking about our crown of victory – our reward in Christ. It is possible, says Paul, that even he who had wrought miracles for God and who had preached brilliantly and gloriously the unsearchable riches of Christ, it is possible for him to be derelict, to be worthless, to be refuse, to be a castaway, to be reprobate [1 Corinthians 9:27].
Now when he refers to himself here, "I’m a fighter, and I beat my body black and blue," what he’s talking about is this. There were two Pauls: there was Paul the saint, and there was Paul the sinner; there was Paul the man of God, and there was Paul the son of old man Adam; there was Paul committed to Christ, and there was Paul, a man carnal. There was Paul the man who could preach and do miracles for God, and there was Paul who had in his soul a great stirring of passion.
Now Paul says these two fight: "I fight" [1 Corinthians 9:26]. The spiritual man fights the carnal man; the saint fights the sinner [Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:16-17]. Paul given to Christ fights Paul the son of old man Adam.
"And I beat my body, and I bring it into subjection" [1 Corinthians 9:27]. During those Middle Ages, they had a whole group of people called the "flagellates." They beat their body. They self-tortured themselves. Now, they used the Scripture as a basis for that. Paul’s not talking about that. He’s not talking about getting whips and scorpions and black snakes and beating our flesh until we faint.
They had me to go to a little place – little thing about this big – and to look at that picture of Martin Luther. It had just been made, and there’s only one copy in this country; and they sent for it so I could look at it, and I looked at it.
And you remember in that picture of Martin Luther when he was striving for God, when he was seeking for the mastery, do you remember in that picture he goes into his little monastery cell, and he closes the door, and he reaches up on the wall behind the picture, and he takes out of there, he takes there from a whip, a scourge? And the next picture you see is Martin Luther unconscious. He has beat himself into insensibility, and he lies there on the monastery cell floor when the abbot of the monastery, seeking him, opens the door and finds him so prostrate. That’s a typical picture of the Middle Ages. The flagellates, the self-torturers: they beat themselves in order to overcome all of the sin inherent in old man Adam and in their carnal bodies.
No. In Colossians, the second chapter, Paul inveighs against that [Colossians 2:18-19]. You can’t do it that way. It’s done not by self-control but by Christ control [Colossians 2:20-23], not by outward constraint but by an inward dedication. "I keep my body under control. I bring it into subjection. I fight against the sin in my heart and my life, lest," he says, "by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" [1 Corinthians 9:26-27].
It is possible for a man to be a brilliant preacher or a glorious educational leader or an incomparable Christian singer, but because of the lack of self-control, of self-discipline, because of the lack of keeping the rules of the game, he breaks them and he becomes a castaway and a byword. He’s not lost; he’s not damned. His soul is not sent to perdition, but his life is ruined. His ministry is taken away, and the glorious opportunity opened before him is forever closed and undone.
"I keep my body under subjection. I lead it about as a slave, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" [1 Corinthians 9:26-27]. Oh, how God’s people need to pray, need to agonize, need to give themselves to God, need to cry aloud unto Him, lest we ourselves should be reprobate – we who are in the race running toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14].
I must cease. Just one thing in that picture: "Know ye not that they who run in a stadium, they run for a prize" [1 Corinthians 9:24] – a garland of victory, a reward, one that fades away. We are running for an imperishable crown, the gift of God, the reward that comes at the end of time [1 Peter 1:3-4, 13]. We are racing toward the Lord Jesus, our eyes fixed upon Him [Hebrews 12:1-2].
Now this one other thing. You couldn’t escape saying it. In the stadium, those great Greek games and the tiers upon tiers of people watching, they were there, the contestant’s countrymen. They were there: his family, all who loved him, his friends. They were there: the neighbors and the people. And as he represented their name and their god and their country and their city and their home, they encouraged the runner and they urged him on toward the goal.
Are there any who look down upon us and who encourage us to run a good race for the Lord Jesus? Are there any? Oh, the Bible says they are many: "Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us" [Hebrews 12:1] – "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." They watch us. Tier upon tier, the angels look down upon us. They see us. All the saints in glory, they look upon us; they urge us onward. Our people everywhere, they watch what we’re doing. They see; they look; and when we win a great victory, they are encouraged. Whatever we do – done like in a stadium – our race is watched. People see it, and when we do good for God, God is glorified and the Christian people of this whole world are encouraged and take heart to do better for Jesus.
So could I close this message with an appeal to your own heart? Are you in the race? Are you in the race? Are you running for the Lord? Are you given unto Him? Are you striving for the mastery? Is the crown that you’re working for one that fades away – one that you leave behind when you leave this world so soon? Or is it a crown that’s incorruptible in the hands of God, unfading that lasts forever? Do you strive to overcome? Are you triumphant? Are you given to God? Are you in the course? Are you doing His will? That’s the appeal of the Holy Spirit to this Word of His Book tonight.
While we sing our song of invitation and while we make this word of appeal to your heart, tonight would you come in faith looking to Him: put your life, dedicate your soul – all that you have – in this running toward the Lord Jesus with your soul – tonight? "Pastor, here I come giving my heart in faith to the Lord. Tonight, I make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ." Would you come? Would you come? "Tonight, I enter the course. Tonight, I enter the race. Tonight, I give my heart to the Lord Jesus." Would you come?
Somebody who’s already saved and in the church: "Here we come placing our lives with you in this church" – a family or one you. As God shall make the appeal to your heart and as He shall press the cause, would you say "yes" to Him, and "Here I come, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing?
THE CHRISTIAN RUNNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
A. Stadio – stadium; by implication a race course(1 Corinthians 9:24)
1. Found all over the Mediterranean world
2. When Paul uses this figure, everyone understood
B. Kerux – herald, announcer(Matthew 3:1)
C. To win was the most coveted honor
1. So Paul says run as to win(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
2. Agonizomai, strive, agonize; to obtain crown that never fades
D. Adelos – run certain about the goal(1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
1. No blows of a clumsy fighter that fail to land
2. Hupopiazo, doulagogo – beat body black and blue; keep body under subjection
3. Lest we be adokimos – worthless, reprobate
II. The prize(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
A. Origen asked, "Just one saved?"
1. No – all of us who are in the way of salvation are one body in Christ
B. The prize is not salvation, but the worker’s reward – the crown of life(Ephesians 2:8-9)
III. Running to win
A. Some never try, make no profession of religion
1. Brother, get on the track! Run!(Hebrews 12:1-2)
B. Some never obtain
1. Start quickly, but soon die
C. Some carry too much of the cares, business, interests of the world
D. Some fall by the wayside for the lack of discipline and self-control
1. The discipline of Paul(1 Corinthians 9:27)
2. Paul committed to Christ vs. Paul a man carnal (Colossians 2)
IV. The stadium spectators
A. There are people around us to encourage us in the race (Hebrews 12:1)