Church Is A Team Sport (1 Cor 9:24-27)



I love sports. Competitive sports have been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. I started playing t-ball at the age of 4 and continued in baseball through age 18. I have played in baseball, basketball, football, and even bowling leagues. For fun I have tried dozens of other sports from kickball to soccer, from badminton to tennis. Even today I am a part of competitive or recreational leagues for sports. And I also enjoy watching sports. I watch the Redskins win the offseason and lose in season. I watch all sorts of hometown teams. As a previous youth pastor I endured… errr… enjoyed watching school teams play volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, football, and basketball. Sports are one of my passions. I love sports.

I have to wonder now that I’m a parent what will my children love? Will they love sports as much as myself? Will they participate in sports? I see many parents today spend incalculable resources and travel immeasurable miles back and forth to allow their children involvement in sports.

Yet, as I look back, I have to be honest and ask the question, “What was the point?” Don’t get me wrong, I loved being involved in sports and still love to this day. However, when I understand the grand purpose of life in view of eternity I cannot help but wonder and ask the question.

It is interesting to note that the chances of becoming a professional athlete are less than 1%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 9,380 professional athletes you have a .00565% chance of becoming a professional athlete.[1] NCAA provided statistics say In men’s basketball, for example, there is only a .03% chance of a pro career. This means that of the almost 156,000 male, high school senior basketball players only 44 will be drafted to play in the NBA after college, and only 32 women (.02%) out of just over 127,000 female, high school senior players will eventually be drafted. In football the odds are slightly better, with .08% or 250 of just over 317,000 high school senior players being drafted. The sport with the most professional opportunities is baseball, with high school players having a .4% chance of playing professionally.[2]

Sports are a powerful fabric and force within today’s society. They impact socially (city depressed when its team loses), culturally (language, symbols, education), educationally (city schools are promoted by sports), and of course economically (city declines when team is off-season or moves). Literally, billions upon billions of dollars hang on sports culture.

Sports can be seen as idolatry. The stadium is the temple that took great sacrifice and money to be made. The players are the gods of whom the fans become worshipers to image and reflect the gods’ persona with wearing their jerseys and praise with voice, time, and money.

All this being said, my hope is for this message to share what the church can learn from sports.

EXAMINE             Church is a Team Sport[3]      1 Corinthians 9:24-27

The Apostle Paul mentions the Christian life as compared to athletics several times in his writings. The Isthmian Games were held every two years in Corinth and were comparable to the Olympics held every four. The games would include, foot and horse racing, chariot races, wrestling, boxing and musical and art competitions. In this passage Paul relates the Christian life as both running a race and boxing. We can learn 3 principles for living the Christian life as sport.

God gave sports as a gift not god-substitute (9:24).

Paul says that we are all in a race. Everyone is running towards something. In other words, we are all worshipers. Our very identity is such that we were made to worship and image our Creator. Yet, unfortunately we often end up worshiping created things (Rom 1:21-23). Everyone runs (worships) but we must run to receive the right prize (Jesus Christ). In fact, Paul gives a command “run that you may obtain the prize”.

In sports there are winners and losers. Yes, there is a distinction. I know that there are movements among children’s leagues to not keep score in games, therefore implying there are no losers and we are all winners. However, that is not reality. In sports there will always be “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”[4] The point being, that there is only one way of winning in life. Only those who have turned to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of life and Savior from sin. Those who do not will suffer sin’s agony of defeat in hell. The trophies of this world are temporary and not all-satisfying.

ð       What is the prize of your life? What do you celebrate and cheer most?

ð       What brings you satisfaction is that which is your god? Is Jesus your God or do you have a god-substitute?

God gave sports to teach us excellence in effort (9:25-26).

Paul continues saying that those runners who get the prize are ones who exercise self-control. The Greek word “ἀγωνιζόμενος” implies agonizing striving and struggle. The athlete candidates in the Isthmian Games had committed themselves to ten-months of rigorous training both physical and dietary. The sacrifice and submit their body and focus towards the end goal. They are not aimless but disciplined. He beats his body (ὑπωπιάζω) into submission for a most worthy purpose. Their goal is one of imperishable worth. The Isthmian Games would award the winners with a pine wreath but Paul distinguishes saying followers of Jesus will inherit a prize that will never fade. Salvation and completion in Christ is a glorious and joyful reward for the perseverance of the believer in this race of life.

As we continue to consider the relationship between sport and life, it is vital for us to understand the end reward. Again, God himself is the gift or prize. As believers understand the supreme worth of God it must translate into how we live life in this world. The Christian life is not a call to laziness or complacency. No, it is a call to give our all. We must live lives of radical sacrifice and abandon for the sake of the glory of Jesus Christ. Jesus deserves our utmost for His highest.

–          What areas of your life do you withhold from service to Jesus? (family, relationships, job, school, finances)

–          Athletes train with excellence, work with teammates, commit to the purpose and goal of victory.

ð       As a church member, are you growing and training to use your gifts and talents?

ð       As a church member, are you working with others to serve the church and reach SP?

ð       As a church member, are you committed to the purposes and goals of SPBC?

  • All these involve submitting to the Coach’s authority.
  • Involve development of skill through practice.
  • Involve yielding to evaluation, correction and adjustment.
  • Involve relying on the commitments and synergy of teammates.


God gave sports to acquire humble orthodoxy[5] and orthopraxy (9:27).

After Paul challenges the Corinthians to run the race, he remembers his boast is not in his own effort but in his humble reliance upon Christ. He makes his body a slave (δουλαγωγῶ) realizing that his life must match his gospel preaching. The gospel that Paul received from Jesus was one of truth and transformation. His life was changed and through the spiritual discipline of yielding to Christ he was running for his reward in knowing Jesus.

Likewise, the Christian life is one of transformative truth. We cannot be hypocrites. Those who name Christ as Lord of life and Savior from sin are to reflect that truth in their lifestyle.

Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Chris is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, no on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).

As believers run the race and receive the gospel there is a certain humility that should be displayed. Paul realized that at any moment he could be disqualified and make a mockery of the gospel. He had to stay humble and close to Christ. The Christian life does not seek to bring attention to personal performance but seeks to display God’s grace.

Today, many Christians love the truth of the gospel and are contentious in displaying this truth. They easily condemn and judge others faults without realizing their own sin is equally offensive to God. In other words, those who understand the gospel run their race with both truth and grace. Paul tells the Corinthians “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12).

–      Like the teammate who grabs all the glory who doesn’t value team members.

–      Like the teammate who wins or loses without sportsmanship.

Pastor Joshua Harris says, “It’s not enough to get our doctrine straight. Life and doctrine  can’t be separated. Our lives either put the beauty of God’s truth on display, or they obscure it.”[6]

ð   Are you more concerned about how others live as a Christian than your own race with Jesus?

ð   Do you focus on making comparisons (whether to yourself or others to others)?

ð   Is your race in danger of disqualification?


µ       Does sports preoccupy thoughts? Passions? (excessively elated or deflated over team results; exceed passions for gospel and kingdom)

µ       Does sport participation trump godly participation? (demands take certain amounts of time… is this wise individually in big picture…? In other words there is difference between patterns and moments)

–          “train yourself for godliness, for while the bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8)

µ       Is your spiritual growth focused or flabby? Disciplined or disorderly?


µ       Are you ready to join the race and/or team of runners racing toward the prize of Jesus Christ?


[3] This message is somewhat inspired by CJ Mahaney’s talk “Don’t Waste Your Sports” found at

[5] Though I have not read Joshua Harris’ book, Dug Down Deep, his intention of humble orthodoxy is to match doctrinal truth with right living in humility.

[6] Ibid., p.227.

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