Permit me to start by quoting the apostle Paul. He said, “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. Everyone who competes in the games go 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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others; I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
The above quotation will form the basis of our discourse today. Let me quickly say, before we proceed, that before one must win a prize or earn a position, he or she must be qualified for it, to the extent that there is no disqualifying factor found in him or her. Do not mind that what happens in our world presently is that the unqualified seems to win most. If interviews are conducted, those who fail or who should fail turn out to be those who will be offered appointment. We even find people, who will not attend interviews but are taken in the end, while those who attended will be dropped. This is why I like the game of football and athletics.
In the game of football, when you do not play according to the rules, you are punished there and then. You could earn yourself a yellow card or a red card. Your club can even be penalized for a single mistake you make. If it is something that will create doubt, the particular scene is replayed over and over again on the screen for everyone to see and be convinced.
The same thing happens in athletics. When, for instance, you run on the wrong lane, you are automatically or instantly disqualified for a prize.
The kingdom race is like the game of football or athletics where people have to play to the rules to win a prize. We shall again illustrate with sports, examinations and employment.
When one is to participate in sports, he does so with the intention to win a prize. This is his purpose. This is why Paul said, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air”. Therefore, before you can participate in a game, you must have a set goal or a purpose, that is, to win. If you do not know why you are running, then, you have no business with the prize.
In examinations, one normally would have the intention of passing, and not failing. If you are in the school, of course, your promotion to the next class or grade depends on whether you pass or fail. Apart from those who are unnecessarily witch-hunted by their teachers, for one reason or the other, for which such teachers must answer to God, only those who work hard should pass or be successful in examinations. Think of the humiliation which failure brings. Therefore, it is certain that the most important qualification for passing an examination should be hardwork.
As it concerns employment, one has to be sure that he meets up with the stipulated conditions, which necessarily will include paper qualification and in some cases, relevant experience. I am talking of a normal situation, devoid of human sentiments and manipulations.
In all the situations stated above, one thing is common. That one thing is that each of the situations imports preparation. You have to prepare to win. This is why Paul said that, “Everyone who competes in the games go into strict training”. He also adds that he beats his body to make it his slave”. In other words, in the course of preparing for the prize, he subjects his body or desires to his control, not allowing them to control him. It also tells us that the desire for the Kingdom of God involves some preparations.
Now, think of how painful, disturbing and manifestly humiliating it will be being disqualified after you had made preparations to win in a race or to score high grades in your examinations. Think again of how much more painful it will be if you are the cause of your own disqualification. May be you did not write your examination number or follow the instructions given while answering questions! May be you came for an interview after it had been concluded! May be you are a striker in a football match and you score an equalizing goal from an offside position and the goal is disallowed or disqualified. In all these situations, you will blame yourself for being the very cause of your disqualification.
Paul said he would not like to stand disqualified for the crown or prize after struggling here for the prize. We should all say, “May that also not be our portion in Jesus name. Amen!” The prize every Christian ought to battle for, as can be seen from what Paul said (as quoted in the opening paragraph) is that crown that will last forever, not that crown that will never last. If you look at trophies and plaques won ten years ago, you will be disappointed because of the tear and wear they have passed through. This will give you a better understanding of what we are saying here. Moreover, it is not this type of prize we need in life. These are prizes that depreciate in value with time.
Unfortunately, a lot of us are disqualifying ourselves today from that prize, the crown that lasts forever, by the many evil things we do or say. God, in His infinite mercy has spelt out to us those things that are likely to disqualify us from the prize. He has said we should not have other gods before Him or make any graven image for ourselves, murder, fornicate, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against others, covet other people’s property (Exo. 20).
In many other places, the Bible warned us not to cheat, tell lies, be greedy, sexually immoral, impure, lustful and indulge in sorcery. (Col. 3:5-11) After telling us of things that are likely to disqualify us from the prize, God gave us the options to choose between life and death, but expressed his desire that we chose life (Deut. 30:19). I do not know the one you have chosen. But one thing is certain. One cannot say he has chosen life without being qualified for it.
How sad it is today to see people choosing death instead of life! How sad it is to see people disqualifying themselves from the prize by doing those things God had asked us not to do. What, actually, does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? (Lk.9:25)
Moses was everything God wanted His servants to be but he was disqualified from entering the Promised Land, because he disobeyed God (Num.20:1-13).
Saul was a renowned King of Israel but he was disqualified from continuing as king of Israel when it mattered most to him, because he disobeyed God (1Sam. 15).
In the case of both Moses and Saul, the disqualifying factor was disobedience. You will also recall that many Israelites, during exodus from Egypt, were disqualified from getting to the Promised Land because they murmured against God. They disobeyed and tested him ten times, notwithstanding all the miracles He performed in Egypt and in the desert. Their attitude made God pronounce His judgment upon them that none of them would see the land He promised to their fathers on oath (Num.14).
I do not know what your own disqualifying factor is. It could be unbelief or disobedience to God’s commands as in the case of Moses and Saul. It could be the perchance to grumble and murmur against God when you find yourself in difficult situations, perhaps, when you cannot find what to eat or drink. It could also be because you generally hold God in contempt or treat Him with levity. It may also be because of what comes out from your mouth against or about others!
Many of us stand disqualified today for the prize of a crown that lasts forever because we have turned ourselves into oppressors or because we have killed contrary to God’s instruction. Many of us stand disqualified today because, unlike Paul, we have allowed our bodies and desires to control us, instead of subjecting them to our control. It is when a man’s body and desires control him that he commits adultery, steals or develops such dangerous ambitions that lead him into troubles.
A lot of us today stand disqualified from the prize because of greedy ambitions which have led to unhealthy rivalries, in which they are principal actors. Greed is the reason for many crimes today, like kidnapping and obtaining by tricks (OBT or 419). It can also be the reason for many murders in our society today. Sometimes, it is the reason why people join secret societies.
Are you disqualified or about to be disqualified? What are the disqualifying factors in your life? Are you going to let them be until your last day? Christ says to you, “Come!” He did no turn away the thief on the cross when he came back at the last minute. He rather said to him, “Today shall thou be with me in paradise” (Lk.23:43). He did not cast Zaachaeus away when he returned to him. He rather dined with him to the consternation of sceptics. He is still willing and prepared to dine with you when you return (Lk.19:1-9).
For avoidance of doubt, the race for the kingdom of God is different from other races in a way, that is, in the sense that whatever you get in the end is forever. It is either eternal life in God’s Kingdom or eternal damnation in Satan’s hell fire. In other races, whatever crown or prize one gets does not last forever. It is only for a while. We must, however, note that the only thing that will make one not to get the crown that lasts forever, in the kingdom race, is sin. In other words, righteousness is the only key or visa to obtaining that crown which lasts forever in the end.
One thing, however, is to be a sinner and realize that you are a sinner. Another thing is to be determined to come out of that sin. Both the thief on the cross and Zaachaeus referred to above knew they were sinners and therefore, disqualified from the prize. So, when the opportunity came to grab the crown, they did not miss it.
In the race for the crown that lasts forever, one must avoid pride, because pride blinds. One, it will not make one see his sins or that he or she is not running well. Two, even if one sees that he is disqualified, he will not admit that fact, even to himself or herself.
I have one advice, however! My advice is that even if you “know” you are righteous, the best thing to do is to run the race as if you are not righteous or as if you are a sinner. This is because it is good to stand qualified from the beginning, to the end. The fact that you were qualified in the beginning will not make you stand qualified in the end if along the line, you got disqualified.
Brethren, it was not for nothing that Paul pointed out that those who run or compete go into “strict training”. I want you to notice the word “strict”. It was also not for nothing that he said, “I beat my body and make it my slave”.
Anyone who goes into strict training does not look sideways. He avoids every distraction, no matter how pleasant they may seem. He takes instructions and does not take anything for granted. He remains focused all the time.
Anyone who beats his body takes pains and suffering, believing that his end must be better than his beginning, and even present. He can skip his breakfast, lunch or dinner as the case may be. As a student, when others go night-clubbing, he burns his midnight oil. When others go fashion crazy, he spends his money on books, because he has an aim to make his tomorrow better than his today.
To avoid being disqualified for the crown, we must go into strict training and beat our bodies and make them our slaves. If it is drinking of alcohol that will disqualify you, you must drop it off even though it might be sweet to you and makes you happy. The sweetness and happiness it gives you are temporary. The real happiness lies ahead when you will receive that crown of life.
The number of women a man keeps immorally may be a source of happiness to him but yet be a disqualifying factor for the prize. What it means is that if you are in this habit but you desire to make the kingdom of God, you must discipline your body and reject everything which makes you think the practice is giving you enjoyment.
In the final analysis, let everyone strive to stand qualified for the last day. We do not know when this last day will be but there are signs, according to the scriptures, which show that the last day is not far away from now. Do not be caught unqualified. See! See the yellow card and the red card before you. If you take the warning the yellow card gives, you will surely get the prize (the crown of Life). But if you fail to heed the warning, you may get a red card, beyond which, there is no redemption! May the red card never be your portion. Amen!