“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
Do you enjoy running? For most of my life I hated it. However, in the past few years I have embraced it and actually enjoy running for both its exercise value and the stress relieving value.
It is interesting that in the opening passage above, Paul compares the Christian life to running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). He describes that at the beginning of a race many people start off, but only one person will win the prize. He encourages us to run in such a way as to be the winner of the race. While we know that there are many faithful Christians who will go to heaven when Christ comes again (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul encourages each of us to run the Christian race with the determination of a runner who is going to be the sole winner of the prize.
To be effective runner involves many things such as breathing techniques, eating properly, and the length of strides one takes as he or she runs. Paul’s analogy of running a race points out the kind of self-control, temperance, and discipline it takes to be successful as a follower of Christ. He describes how a runner is “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25), extremely focused running “not with uncertainty” (1 Corinthians 9:26), and must “discipline” his body (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Paul uses ancient Israel as an example. He describes how ancient Israel had passed through the Red Sea as they were led out of Egypt by Moses, fed with manna from heaven, and given water to drink by Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). They had a very promising start to their race to the Promised Land! However, Paul adds, “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5). They had failed to have the kind of self-control, temperance, and discipline that it takes to be a successful follower of God. They began to “lust after evil things” (1 Corinthians 10:6), commit sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 10:8), and complain (1 Corinthians 10:10). As a result not only did they not win the prize, but got off course as the roamed in the wilderness for 40 years, and fell short of reaching the finish line, the Promised Land.
The apostle now turns from speaking about Israel to challenging us: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We should learn from ancient Israel that if we are going to be successful in following Christ as He leads us to our Heavenly home, we must not become distracted, undisciplined, and intemperate. Paul then adds: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
What do you think about Paul’s description of using a runner competing for a prize as an analogy for living the Christian life? Some might look at this, become discouraged, and think “I can’t do this”. Let me encourage you to not resist the challenge of running the Christian race, but join me in saying, “Today, I embrace the challenge of running the Christian race as I run to reach my Promised Land!”
“Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).