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1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Study Guide: Run to Win the Race

Community Group Study Guide — Run to Win the Race
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Main idea:
Followers of Jesus care called to center their lives on Christ which requires self-control and discipline. This is not vain religion but actually a pathway to true joy in Christ, the ability to love one another in community and cross cultural lines with the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:1-23). Our natural self will run aimlessly, Paul invites us to instead run with purpose to receive the prize. 

Study Information:
If you sign up for a 5k, half marathon or any other kind of race today you can expect that if you finish you’ll get some sort of finisher medal or t-shirt. We live in a time where we want to recognize accomplishments and finishing a half marathon is not an easy feat, so take your medal and display it well! In 1st century Corinth,
only one runner would receive the prize, a laurel wreath, to signify that they were victorious. Paul is using this image to call us to a life of dedication to Christ and his mission. Just as an athlete strives to win, so too we should lay aside any hindrance and give ourselves to the cause of Christ. 

1st Century Corinthians would be treated to the Isthmian games every two years. They were the second largest competition in the mediterranean world only overshadowed by the Olympics. Spectators and athletes would be housed in tents for the duration of the games, hence Paul having a pretty good customer base for his business. During the games, the town of Corinth would be full of sports enthusiasts and athletic competition would be a foundation of their culture. So Paul pulls this image of running and boxing into his message as a way of describing his point in chapters eight and nine. The goal for the Christian is to not be aimless in our spiritual growth and commitment to the people of God, but rather, like an athlete competing for a prize pursue it with all you have. For example, the same level of discipline we saw in the athletes competing in the Tokyo olympics is the level of dedication and discipline Christ calls his followers to when it comes to striving for church unity and crossing cultural lines for the gospel. The call to follow Jesus is the call to take up your cross, deny yourself and, to combine this with another verse, love one another as Christ has loved us. 

Paul has been focusing on the necessity for humility and love for one another in the body of Christ and a focus on reaching others who do not yet follow Jesus throughout chapter nine of 1 Corinthians. To do this, Paul detailed his own journey in moving from “am I not free?” to “I surrender all.” He knew that instead of insisting on his freedoms or rights, he could surrender them for the sake of unity in the church and crossing cultural barriers to share the gospel. This included his freedom to eat and drink, have a believing wife and his right to be paid for his work among the Corinthians. All of these things were freedoms found in Christ and called good gifts from God. As a believer Paul was no longer bound by the food laws in the Hebrew scriptures but he was willing to not eat meat if it caused others to stumble. 1 Corinthians 7 taught us that marriage is a gift from God and yet he was called by God to fully devote his attention to his mission work and he could best do that by being single. Finally, because of how the Corinthian culture was connected to speakers and teachers being supported by wealthy patrons, Paul chose to work with hands as a tent maker rather than take a wage from the Corinthians and become “weak to win the weak.” The Corinthians would look down on someone like Paul who was an intellectual but instead chose a life of a laborer among them. Paul does all this because he believes the gospel and he models the gospel, showing in his very actions that God the son descended to become like one his creation to win them to God. Even though the world is held together by the word of his power, Jesus laid aside power and humbly sacrificed his own life so that we’d be redeemed. This is the kind of love that Paul wants to model and wants us, as followers of Jesus, to live for. 

This call from Paul is to either pursue a life of discipline or be “disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). We can either take our faith seriously and pursue godliness or to live as if it is all a show. The word “disqualified” in verse 27 means “shown as counterfeit”. This would be the spiritual lives of the Pharisees who looked the part on the outside but were inwardly dead. It would be going through the motions of Christian faith, but not running in such a way that you desire to win the prize. The image of running aimlessly in verse 26 means that we can either run with purpose or run around in circles going nowhere. In both scenarios we are expending the energy of running but one person is going somewhere and the other remains stuck in the same place they began, or even worse they’re lost. A life of Christian discipline is a life willing to surrender one’s freedoms or rights for the purpose of love and witness; it is a life willing to live for something bigger than oneself. 

Self-control and discipline is the denial of things that our body or emotions may naturally desire for the sake of something greater. It is to exercise restraint and to create a routine that allows us to pursue something greater. This means that the Christian life is one of joy AND discipline. The discipline of fighting sin, being in the Word, enjoying Christian community and seeking the Lord in prayer are all things that enable us to experience joy and freedom. Discipline gets a bad wrap because it can be difficult and our culture does not like the idea of self-denial. To deny yourself goes against being “authentic” or being an expressive individual in our world. Yet, Paul would say who you truly are and what is truly joyful is found through living out a life that is built on grace based self-control and discipline. This is not to say that true Christian faith is one that looks like living in a monastery. The early church actually struggled with what’s called asceticism, which is the complete denial of God given things to be enjoyed. Colossians 2:20-23 talks about the dangers of asceticism and the Colossians giving into a life of “do not taste, do not touch, do not handle.” These things can appear godly, but are self-made religion. The point Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is that we need to live a purposeful life of discipleship and remove barriers to growing in faith, living in Christian community and pursuing a life of witness to Jesus. 

What race are you running to win? Are you running the race Paul is describing and pursuing Christian unity, gospel witness and joy in Christ just like an athlete would pursue the laurel wreath at the games? We all run a race, do not run aimlessly in your Christian faith, but discipline your body and rightly order your life so that you can run to receive the prize. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Many of us have been really dedicated to something, whether that is a sport or a club. What is the craziest thing you’ve done in dedication to a sport, team or club (example: drive ___ numbers of hours to a contest, woke up at 4am for practice for a semester, etc). 

What prevents followers of Jesus from running to win the prize? Or another way to think about it, what keeps us “running aimlessly” in this world?

When Paul talks about perishable wreath and an imperishable wreath, he is talking about a prize that we receive. What do you think the prize is based on what Paul has discussed in 1 Corinthians 9?

Why are Christian unity and cross cultural witness of the gospel challenging and how can surrendering our rights help?