How to Be a Champion in the Game of Life

How to Be a Champion in the Game of Life

How to Be a Champion in the Game of Life

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Sylvester Stallone surprised the entertainment world by resurrecting his iconic movie hero, Rocky Balboa, for one last film in 2006. Then, while promoting the film, Stallone shocked Christian fans by saying that his faith in Jesus Christ had influenced the writing of the first Rocky screenplay. His renewed affiliation with Christianity had motivated him to write the last one.

In an interview with Citizenlink.com, Stallone said, “I was raised in a Christian home. I went to Catholic schools, and I was taught the faith. I went as far as I could with it until I got out into the so-called real world and was presented with temptation. I kinda lost my way and made a lot of bad choices.”

Those bad choices, especially his decision to place fame and career ahead of his family, left Stallone unsatisfied. So he went back to church. “The more I go to church, the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his Word and having him guide my hand,” Stallone said.

Stallone also realized he had to trust Christ more than himself. “You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else,” he said. “You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and the church. The church is the gym of the soul.”1

If the church is the gym of the soul, then every Christian should be skilled enough to be champion in running the game of life. I want to share with you how to be that champion in the game of life. Here, we see four skills of a champion Christian. I want you to see these skills and evaluate yourself. Do you have these skills? Are you working on them? Because in today’s world, being champion Christian is more important than ever before. So let’s look at these skills that can help you be a champion Christian in the game of life.

FOUR SKILLS OF A CHAMPION CHRISTIAN

1. DESIRE – Run to win (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, CSB)

If you are going to be a champion Christian, then you need to have the desire to run and win.

Such a desire for God should compel us and propel us to run with all that we have. Unfortunately, instead of going for the gold, we too often settle for silver or bronze. In fact, I’m convinced that most believers never venture too far past the starting line. Instead of straining and pressing on, we get comfortable on the sidelines.

What does it take to make a pro athlete? It begins with a burning desire to compete and win.

Vince Lombardi said,

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”

Paul had such a desire. And he desires that you and I be the same. Yet, desire alone is not sufficient. It takes other skills as well.

I may have the ’wanna’,

But if I don’t have the ’gotta’,

I’m never going to have the ’getta’.

That leads us to the second skill to be a champion Christian – determination. You have to train to gain.

2. DETERMINATION – Train to gain the eternal reward (1 Corinthians 9:25)

Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown.” (1 Corinthians 9:25, CSB)

In the Superbowl, the players of the winning team receive the Superbowl ring. These rings are typically made of yellow or with diamonds. They usually include the team name, team logo, and Super Bowl number (usually indicated in Roman numerals.) The NFL contributes up to $5,000 per ring for up to 150 rings for the winning team; any additional costs are borne by the team. Most rings are manufactured by memorabilia company Jostens. In 2015, the rings for the New England Patriots reportedly cost $36,500 each, making them the most expensive rings Jostens has ever produced, at 5.4 million dollars total. The winning team can typically present rings to whomever they choose, including usually, but not limited to: players (active roster or injured), coaches, trainers, executives, personnel, and general staff.2

A Superbowl ring is temporary. The prize that Paul describes here is the crown. The Christian will receive a crown for their determination. The crown described here is like the wreath crown from the Greek Olympics. This crown is the same as a royal crown. Instead, these crowns represent a set of rewards that Christians will receive. I believe that there are five rewarding crowns listed in the New Testament for the Christian. These rewards reflect the focus that a Christian has in running the race that God has set for them in the game of life.

FIVE REWARDING CROWNS FOR THE CHRISTIAN3

There are eternal rewards. These rewards are given to every Christian. It is interesting to see that each of the five crowns listed in the New Testament is related to each of the five purposes for the Christian.

1. The incorruptible crown – The crown of DISCIPLESHIP

Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown.” (1 Corinthians 9:25, CSB)

The first crown that a champion Christian can receive for running in the game of life is about discipleship. Here, the crown is a crown that will not be destroyed. It is an imperishable, immortal crown. Paul makes the connection between exercise and winning. In life, athletes exercise or practice their sport as a form of discipline. They have self-control. Athletes don’t splurge, over-eat, or do other things that detract them from winning. They have determination. For the Christian, discipleship is a spiritual discipline. Exercising self-control is part of discipleship process. Exercising self-control leads to having Spirit-control, or being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Athletes exercise with physical objects to have bodily self-control in order to win the sport. Christians exercise self-control with spiritual disciplines to have self-control in order to win in life.

2. The crown of rejoicing – The crown of MISSIONS

For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, CSB)

So then, my dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.” (Philippians 4:1, CSB)

The second crown that a Christian can receive for running and winning in the game of life is the crown of missions and evangelism. Paul describes the people in both the Thessalonican and Philippian church as his crown. It is a crown in which he will take joy. In both of these verses, the crown is a crown of joy, but the crown is about people. What is going here? Paul recognizes that this crown is about evangelism. When we engage in missions and people come to Jesus Christ, we receive a crown. Jesus will give us this crown at His return for the work of missions.

3. The crown of righteousness – The crown of WORSHIP

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8, CSB)

The third crown that a champion Christian can receive for running and winning in the game of life is the crown of righteousness, or the crown of worship. The crown of righteousness, is given by Jesus. Jesus gives this crown to those who finished the mission. The mission is a good fight. It’s a race. The mission is lived by faith. Christians love the appearing of Jesus because Jesus will only appear when the mission is finished. What will they do when that mission is finished? They will worship. This is why this crown is given when Jesus returns. Christians, who look forward to the return of Jesus, look forward to renewed worship with their King. These Christians look forward to renewed intimacy with Jesus. The only Person to worship when Jesus returns is Jesus Himself.

4. The crown of life – The crown of FELLOWSHIP

Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, CSB)

Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, CSB)

My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death,” (Philippians 3:10, CSB)

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, CSB)

The fourth crown that a champion Christian can receive for running and winning in the game of life is the crown of fellowship. The crown of life is the crown of fellowship. Some may say that the crown of life is associated with Christian persecution. That is true. But Jesus called us to join Him in His sufferings. Fellowship means to identify with someone. Normally, we consider that to mean that we have a happy time with other people. We eat and share stories. But fellowship also means to identify with someone during the hard times as well. This makes the crown of life a special crown to receive.

5. The crown of glory – the crown of SERVICE

Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:2–4, CSB)

The fifth and final crown that a champion Christian can receive for running and winning in the game of life is the crown of service. The crown of glory is the crown of service. Some say that this crown is reserved for pastors, elders, people who serve and lead the church. But I think this is the crown of service for people who serve the church. I don’t think this is exclusively for pastors. I believe that people who serve others for Jesus Christ will receive this crown. The verse after this describes people who follow the example of these servants, these pastors, overseers, and elders.

In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, CSB)

So it is not the position of being a pastor that gets you a crown. Instead, is the act of service that allows you to receive a crown. You are rewarded for your service. Pastors are called to lead by serving. They are examples. But they are not the only examples. I believe that if you lead by serving, then you qualify for this crown. A person steps up to teach and lead Sunday School. Another steps up and lead an event. Or maybe you step up to serve others, you will receive this same crown.

One may say: “Jim, you are wrong, this is clearly about pastors.” I think that the key here is whether one is a servant. I believe that those who learn to be servants will receive this crown. They may not all be pastors. There may be some deacons and some teachers and some people in the church who served, who were humble. These are the people who will receive this crown.

You will see that in each of these rewards, it is a result of determination. They exercised self-control in every area of the Christian life so that they could be Spirit-led. This brings us to the third skill to have in order to be a champion Christian: direction.

3. DIRECTION – Compete with focus (1 Corinthians 9:26)

So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26, CSB)

Here, Paul shifts images. He shifts from a runner to a boxer. He is comparing these two sports to describe the importance of direction. When an athlete competes, they have to compete with focus or direction. To get in the ring with an opponent and only beat air is as useless—and absurd—as the runner who has no eye for the finish line.4 In other words, there is a direction, a purpose, to how one competes. A boxer doesn’t get in the ring and just start boxing in the air. He lands those punches on the opponent. You don’t run in any direction. You run for the finish line. That brings us to the final skill that a champion Christian must have: discipline.

4. DISCIPLINE – Stay Alert (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27, CSB)

Finally, the last skill that a champion Christian needs to have is discipline. In determination, one trains to get ready to compete. But one doesn’t stop the training. An athlete trains for a purpose. He trains to race. Here, Paul is describing of staying alert. It takes discipline to stay alert. It is easier to fall asleep than to stay awake.

Jesus, on the night when He was going to be betrayed, stayed alert and awake as He prayed in the Garden for God’s direction. His disciples fell asleep. They didn’t have any discipline. Peter, James, and John came to the nearest rock and used it as a pillow. These three couldn’t wait after the Passover meal to have the Passover nap.

Discipline is necessary for the long haul in the Christian life. Without discipline, one becomes distracted. This distraction is what disqualifies you. When an athlete is distracted, they run off course and become disqualified. Paul says that even after he has preached to others, he stays disciplined. The reason is that integrity matters. If I say I am a Christian, then I need to act like one. If I preach to others, then I need to be consistent in my faith.

Earlier, Paul says that he will use different methods to reach different people for Jesus Christ. Here, he reminds himself and us that if we are going to be committed to Jesus, to be a champion Christian, then we need to be committed.

Almost every church competes each Sunday with television, local or national sporting events, and outdoor recreation, as pastors wonder who will show up that week. Getting believers to commit to activities, particularly ministries of visitation and outreach, at times other than Sunday morning, often defies the creativity of even the most innovative of leaders.

Yet Paul compares the evangelistic lifestyle of believers to athletes who sacrifice normal pursuits for the sake of strict training and a competitive edge. In a day when fewer and fewer Christians commit themselves to long-term pastorates, career missions, lifetime service as elders or deacons, or other multi-year ministries, we need people who will make such commitments to Christ and to a particular local body of believers. The same is true of personal spiritual discipline and holy obedience to all God’s commands.5

Because if you want to be a champion Christian, you need to get in the game.

1 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 33. Stuart Shepard, “The Gym of the Soul,” Citizenlink.com (November 15, 2006).

2 Mike Reiss, “How much does each Patriots Superbowl ring cost?”, 16 June 2015, http://www.espn.com/blog/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4782282/how-much-does-each-patriots-super-bowl-ring-cost, accessed 26 January 2018.

3 Jim Erwin, “5 Rewarding Crowns for the Christian,” 26 January 2018, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2018/01/26/5-rewarding-crowns-christian/, accessed 27 January 2018.

4 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 438.

5 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 189.

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash


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