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 17th September 2000

Obey The Rules
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I will never forget the 1988 Olympics Games. It was the year of the Olympic Summer Games in Seoul and the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. It was the first time a Chaplain was appointed to the Australian Olympic team. I had the privilege to be the first and the only Chaplain. We remember the summer Games as the Games when cheating became an art form.

Serious drug testing came to the Olympics in 1976, but in the years that followed, new methods of cheating evaded the testers. The drugs most concerning Olympic officials were anabolic steroids - artificial forms of the male sex hormone testosterone. These steroids, used in conjunction with weight lifting and a high-protein diet, build muscles, making the athletes stronger and able to train harder. Female athletes also use them. The IOC and various international sports federations banned steroids because of dangerous side effects including cancer and circulatory problems.

One man brought a mood of awful disillusionment to those Games. His name was Ben Johnson. He was a Jamaican-born Canadian, and seemed like the greatest hero of them all. To have watched him win the 100 metres final was to have been a privileged witness to the most stunning performance ever on an athletic track. The sheer power of the man, with his shaven skull, bulging muscles and eyes to match, was awe-some. In an amazing 9.79 seconds, he beat Carl Lewis and Linford Christie for the title of the fastest man in the world…ever. As he blasted through the finish, he looked across at Lewis and thrust one finger triumphantly towards the sky.

Lewis, running the fastest 100 metres of his life, was shocked to find himself beaten into second place. Afterwards he showed grace by offering congratulations. Johnson later told the assembled media: "You can take away a world record. But a gold medal - that's something no one can take away from you." But he was wrong. Within 2 days the medal was taken from him. In Canada, the reaction was ecstatic to their first track and field gold medal since 1932. The Toronto Star summed up: "Ben Johnson - a national treasure".

For the next day his urine sample proved positive to the anabolic steroid stanazol. A second sample also registered positive. Ben Johnson denied having taken steroids. Then he claimed he had been given a spiked drink. Within seventy-two hours of having achieved glory, Johnson was flown out of Seoul, and his gold medal awarded to Carl Lewis (who had al-ready won four in Los Angeles, and who also won the broad jump in Seoul). Later, in hearings before a Ca-nadian judge, Johnson admitted that he had taken steroids. His trainer and coach revealed he had been doing so for seven years.

Altogether, ten athletes were suspended, among them two gold medallists and one Australian pentathlete, Alex Watson. But Johnson was the Big One, and the revelation that this man was a drug cheat brought with it a sense of betrayal and outrage. Peter McFarline, writing in the Melbourne Age, caught the mood well: "Just as surely as if he had ripped a butcher's knife through the face of the Mona Lisa, Johnson disfigured and debased the world's best-known festival."

The Canadian government banned Johnson for life from representing Canada. Johnson's commercial contracts, worth millions of dollars, were cancelled. The fact was that Ben Johnson did not obey the rules. Carl Lewis did.

It is never enough to compete well. It must also be done within the rules. To be disqualified for cheating is an ultimate disgrace. A runner or swimmer may break at the start because of nerves. That is unfortunate. But it is still starting before the gun and so gaining an ad-vantage. The competitor has broken the rules. Intentionally or unintentionally it is still breaking the rules. The same is true for the athlete who runs in another person's lane. Or of a walker who lifts the heels. Or a breast-stoke swimmer who breaks the water. Or a wrestler who uses an improper hold. You cannot cheat and win! That is true in business, in filing income tax forms, in passing examinations. Life has rules. While some cheats can avoid detection for while, ultimately there is a punishment to be faced. At the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the Oath taken by the competitors and then by the judges says that they promise to "obey the rules."

The Apostle Paul wrote about the Pan Isthmian Games. They were held every two years at Corinth where Paul lived and worked during 50 and 51 AD.. They were held on a narrow neck of land, which joins the Peloponnesus to the rest of Greece. Those Games included running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and so on. Paul used an illustration of the first three to described Christian activities.


The Apostle Paul compares himself to the runners, wrestlers and boxers in the Isthmian games. He encourages us to persevere with all our strength. Those who competed in these games were kept to a sparse diet. They faced hardship in training. They practiced. They disciplined their bodies. The apostle presses this advice on the Corinthians. 1 CORINTHIANS 9:24 "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 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. 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."

There is in the last line a threat. "so that… I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." That is the dread of every athlete: of being disqualified. The Greek word adokimos, means that one is regarded as unworthy, re-jected, disqualified. Paul used his own example of personal discipline to ensure that his preaching was backed by the quality of his life. He did not want to be disqualified as unworthy. Paul also used that word when he warned Timothy 2 Tim. 3:8 of people in evil times who pretended to have faith but who possessed corrupt minds. They were disqualified. Paul also warned Titus Titus 1:16 of persons professing to know God but who were disqualified because they showed no evidence of any good works in their lives. This is a serious thought for Christians: we can be disqualified be-cause we do not obey the rules for Christians.

Paul writes: "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." He disciplines himself. His human nature is like an opponent with whom he must contend. To win he must strengthen himself by self-denial, abstinence, and hard work. He is not going to let himself down as a Christian and so have his work and witness depreciated. He is not going to allow all the good work he has done be destroyed by a moment's foolishness which would lead to his disqualification.

Our son, David, is senior minister of a great church in Melbourne. But when he was called to that church it was in despair. His predecessor, a very talented minister who had built up the church over a twenty-five year ministry, who had trained with me and had a deep commitment to the Gospel, was discovered to have abused women in vulnerable counseling situations. That abuse of many women came about because he did not discipline himself. Granted privileges as a minister, he did not obey the rules. He was disqualified as a minister. He can no longer hold office. His marriage has broken. His family has been divided. His career ended. The high regard with which he was held, has disintegrated. If only he had heeded this warning from Paul to so discipline himself lest he be disqualified!

Disqualified! Rejected by judges as not having de-served the prize. Paul disciplines himself so he will never be disqualified by the great Judge; and to pre-vent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, he disciplined his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God.


Athletes must observe the rules of competition. Those rules are clear. They are in written form and published. The athlete should study the rules. You must not start before the signal. You must keep in your lane. You must not interfere with the progress of an-other runner. Strange that. I was competing in a running championship once with that same minister from Melbourne who has been disqualified from ministry. It was in a mile race in 1957. He went out fast in the first two laps and led the field. At the half-way mark I passed him and went into the lead. As I did, he reached out and grabbed my athletic singlet and pulled back! I broke free from his grip without breaking stride and went on to win. I did not enter an objection to his tactic although clearly, he had broken the rules and should have been disqualified. I have since wondered if that tendency to break the rules then, if corrected by dis-qualification, may have been a lesson that would have saved his more serious breaking of the rules later.

What kind of things can disqualify us? The Bible does not list a string of prohibitions. Christians are to live a positive life based on the example of Jesus, not a life of obedience to laws. But there are some things that are clear. If our lives indicated a rejection of God, He shall disqualify us. If our actions show a lack of care for our neighbour we shall be disqualified. If we possess no evidence of a changed life, what Jesus calls "being born again" we shall be disqualified. If we continue to sin after our conversion, Paul mentions continuing to steal as an example, we shall be disqualified. If we neglect worshipping regularly, we shall come under judgement and may be disqualified.

Lack of discipline in personal morality is a common failing. Sexual immorality has led to many being disqualified. I have witnessed many well trained and well meaning ministers being disqualified, not because they could not preach or lead a church, but because they acted immorally. They were disqualified because they failed to discipline their bodies.

Australians do not like rules. During World War 1 the Australian soldiers had little respect for the British army and its regulations. The Australia digger did not want to salute any man. The badges of office and rank meant nothing positive. It was an act of defiance to break the rules, to refuse to salute, to steal the flag. That has become a national characteristic. The Australian playwright, David Williamson, in his play "The Removalist" (1971) has Simonds say: "It's a pretty good life if you know how to organize yourself and get your priorities straight….and stuff the rules. That's the first thing you've got to learn. Stuff the rules."

Many Australians learn to stuff the rules. But you never ultimately get away with it. We all have to obey the rules. The rules are there for everyone. The judgement will be made.

What can you do when you have broken the rules?

  1. Repent of your sin and failure.
  2. Seek forgiveness from God and any other hurt.
  3. Determine to remain close to God in future.
  4. Go on in faith recommitted to Jesus Christ.

By God's grace we can be welcomed back and re-stored, provided we repent and turn back to Him.


Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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