1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
This is a glorious passage! I love the words God gave Paul to describe the Christian life, comparing it to an athlete who competes in a race. God gives us this picture to help us stay on track, to help us to stay strong and to help us keep growing in our faith. We are to be like a dedicated athlete training for an event. “All who run in a race run, but only one receives a prize.” I like that. I like prizes! When I was a young boy I used to open a new box of cereal and stick my arm in that box all the way to the bottom just so I could get the prize! My momma told me I shouldn’t be sticking my arm all the way through that box any more because it wasn’t clean….so I started opening the boxes of cereal from the bottom! I like prizes! And I like winning. I don’t know about you but I am competitive when it comes to sports. When I play basketball I want to win. When I run a race I want to win. When I play checkers I want to win. I am a competitive person. My wife still accuses me of cheating at Trivial Pursuit on our 3rd date. We have been married for over 26 years and she still hasn’t forgotten about that. She had enough evidence to accuse me but not convict me!
Yes, I like to win. I want to win when I am involved in something. That’s how athletes are. Athletes in an event compete to do their best. Athletes want to win. In Paul’s day, in the games at Corinth, the winner received a wreath. There was no prize for the others. So if you weren’t first, you were last. For that reason athletes take competition seriously. If you are a Christian, you ought to take your event; you ought to take your life seriously. You ought to take your witness and your testimony seriously. Unlike the athletes in Paul’s day, Christians are not in competition with one another. We all receive a wreath and it is an IMPERISHABLE wreath! Our prize never fades and never fails! We all receive eternal life. We all win the big prize. Based on our confession of faith we have received forgiveness of our sin and received eternal life. We will spend eternity with our Lord and Savior. WE ALL WIN! But just like an athlete it is still important for us to train every day. It is important for us to be disciplined.
An athlete trains and thinks about his event daily. Like an athlete we think about our faith every day. We must be vigilant and focused on our spiritual walk. That is what Paul means when he goes on to say in verse 26:
1 Cor. 9:26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Paul takes his faith seriously. He takes a strategic and disciplined approach to the race he is running. He takes that kind of approach because he wants to run well. Paul does not want to be telling others about the life changing power of Jesus Christ and then be seen by others to be living an unchanged life. Paul does not want to be telling others about the power of Christ to set men free from sin and then be seen by others living in bondage to sin. Paul says that would “disqualify me in my race”. That does not mean it would keep Paul from obtaining his salvation but it would get him off track and hinder him from completing the call that God has on his life.
Paul knows that if he does not take a strategic and disciplined approach to his race he will not run well. He is honest about his strengths and his weaknesses. He knows if he is not proactive and disciplined he won’t be in the race for the long haul. He won’t be able to keep up the pace. He won’t be able to go the distance. He will let himself down and he will let others down. And Paul does not want to let anyone down. Paul wants to win. Paul wants to glorify God. Paul wants to run well.
Because Paul wants to run well, Paul prays, Paul reads his bible and Paul worships the living God with others on a regular basis. Paul stays engaged in spiritual discipline. I want you to notice that Paul talks about it in terms that do not indicate that it is always a walk in the park. Paul says, “I run… I box… I make my body a slave…” Those words tell me Paul has to get up off of the couch and make himself do some of the things he needs to do some times. That tells me that Paul has to fight the urge to use some excuse not to pray, or read his bible or go to church. Paul has to choose to do the right thing. Paul has the right to stay at home on the couch but he doesn’t because Paul wants to run the race well.
Paul made the right choice and he was blessed…others were blessed…and we were blessed. Paul made the right choice and God was glorified. I want you to know that when you make the right choice, you will be blessed and others will be blessed too. When you make the right choice God is glorified! When you make the choice to pray, to read the bible and worship the Living God with others on a regular basis – you run the race well. Maybe you have gotten off track before and are still off track ….get back on! Get back in the race! Start praying again! Start reading your bible again! Start worshipping with God’s people again! Make amends where you need to but don’t think the race is over! The Lord will embrace you and receive you in His arms! Start running the race well today!
If you would like to know more about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you can send me an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is hard work to be an athelete, so we must be persistent in our commitment to Him. This also reminds me of 2Ti 2:4-6 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.
I was dealing with these verses over the weekend and your post is a great reminder.