Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
The Super Bowl is coming up on February 5th. This will be the 51st championship game of the National Football League.
When I was a boy, I was fortunate to go with my dad to Super Bowls II and III at the Orange Bowl in Miami where I grew up. These Super Bowls I attended were not sellouts, and the halftime shows merely consisted of local high school and college bands.
But this year’s Super Bowl will be watched by over 110 million people in the United States alone. And around the world millions more will watch in over 180 countries and 25 languages. The halftime show will include some of the biggest names in entertainment, headlined by Lady Gaga.
The Super Bowl has become big business. And winning the Super Bowl is every football player’s dream.
In a December 4, 2016 Sports Illustrated article, Greg Bishop wrote about what NFL football players go through to reach the Super Bowl. He told specifically about four players and what they endured after the tenth week of the season.
He said about Jacksonville Jaguars’ receiver Allen Robinson, who writhed in pain during a treatment the morning after the game: “Every NFL player, he says, is injured. It’s only a matter of degree.”
Bishop then quotes Robinson’s teammate, receiver Allen Hurns: “Everyone’s hurting. You don’t feel normal until after the season.”
These athletes go through all of this with the hope of sharing a trophy with 52 other players and $185,000 (the winner’s share in this year’s Super Bowl). Winning the Super Bowl is the highest prize in football.
We can learn from the examples of these football players, and from all kinds of athletes.
Athletic competitions have always been popular. Even in New Testament times.
The apostle Paul used many athletic illustrations in his letters.
For example, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Paul wrote here about the effort and pain runners and boxers go through to reach the prize of “a crown that will not last.”
So what does all this have to do with marriage?
As husbands and wives, we want a winning marriage. We want it to be the best it can be. And just as the Super Bowl is the highest prize in football, the highest prize in marriage is a God-pleasing, God-honoring marriage.
This is what Paul speaks about in the passage quoted above from his first letter to the Corinthian church. He provides several important keys to receiving this prize—a prize “that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25). And as James 1:22 tells us, it is a prize that can only come from hearing and then following God’s Word.
Three Important Keys to a Winning Marriage
1 – Serve God by serving others.
First, Paul explains why he is willing to go through all he has. In 1 Corinthians 9:23, Paul says: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Paul is willing to do whatever he must so that he can tell others about Jesus and what He has done for him. And as he does, he will share in the blessings that come from serving Jesus and others.
Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
If we want the best marriage—the one God wants for us–our marriage must be about serving God. And we do this by serving others.
God’s Word tells us how to do this by using another athletic illustration. He gives us this command in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
2 – Train yourselves by studying and applying God’s Word.
Paul’s second important key to a winning marriage is found in 1 Corinthians 9:25: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”
The best marriage requires some strict training as individuals and as a couple. This training includes the study of God’s Word.
Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy what he must do to prepare to serve others: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15).
As we study God’s Word, we can then use it to guide our lives and marriage. And it will train us to be ready to use His Word to help others.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” We may not preach, but we must always be ready to point to God’s Word for answers.
We read in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
It’s important to study God’s Word together and be ready for whatever God asks us to do. Our Couple Connect ebook can help you develop a time together for this very purpose. It is short and includes a worksheet to help you get started. Just click here to download it for free.
3 – Live with one purpose—to bring glory to Christ.
The third important key to a winning marriage is found in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”
A great athlete has a purpose or goal. Paul is saying that he has a purpose for his life. Everything he does is guided by that purpose. And everything he does is to prepare himself for that purpose.
Here is how Paul describes this purpose in Philippians 1:21 (knowing that he is about to die for his faith in Christ): “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul’s one purpose is to bring glory to Christ.
He also speaks about this purpose in the following passages:
Philippians 3:7-8: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”
2 Corinthians 5:9: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
2 Corinthians 5:15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Paul also writes this great statement of faith and commitment in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I trust you see the point. Paul’s life was about serving God. And this, too, must be what our lives and marriages are all about.
Paul used yet another athletic illustration in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have long for his appearing.”
When all we do is done to please the Lord, then we can say this same thing with confidence as we reach the end of our lives: I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
Like winning the Super Bowl or winning a race, it takes a lot of training, practice, and effort to have a winning marriage. But unlike athletic competitions, the prize of a winning marriage lasts forever. It blesses us throughout our life and brings glory to God for all eternity.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
♦ Read this week’s teaching together. What did God teach you through it?
♦ Is your marriage first and foremost about serving God? Are you both willing to seek God together to see what that is, and then do what He calls you to do? Is the prize you are seeking to do God’s will and bring glory to Him?
♦ What are you doing to prepare yourselves to serve God when He shows you what He wants you to do? Do the things you know He wants you to do now, and He will show you more in His perfect time.
Jesus tells us this in Matthew 13:12: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 25:29. It must be important to Him. We better listen carefully.
♦ Conclude your time together in prayer. Ask God to help you make your lives and marriage to be about Him. Ask Him to reveal how He wants you to serve Him together. Ask Him for the understanding and wisdom to see what that is. Ask Him for the strength and resources to do it.
Next week, we will begin a series about the Ten Commandments, and how they speak to our marriages. I have been doing quite a bit of study for this, and I think you will find that God has much to teach us through these timeless truths.
Until then, may God bless you and your marriages in all His wonderful ways,
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