This is a guest post from one of my great friends at Life In Christ Ministries, George Ippolito!
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. 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 9:24-27)
Earlier in this chapter Paul explained both the rights he has as an apostle of Christ (vs.1-14), and his desire to leave those rights unclaimed for the sake of the Gospel. For example, though he had the freedom to receive financial support from those to whom he ministered (vs.7-14), he chose to forego that right, and extend himself in whatever way he could for the sake of the Corinthians and the ministry of the Gospel. He knew such sacrifice would not be without reward (as we’ll see) and in verses 19 through 23 he shows how he vigorously pursued that prize, becoming all things to all men that he might by all means save some (vs.22-23).
To illustrate this rigorous pursuit he uses the example of an athlete, and today we’ll look at the first attitude we’re exhorted to have.
1. Run to win (vs.24). Paul writes, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in a such a way that you may obtain it“. Paul begins by asking the question, “Do you not know?”; the presumption is that the people of Corinth knew exactly what Paul was referring to; namely the Greek foot races. In the Greek competitions there could be only one winner, and those who competed did so to win. For the Christian, however, ”the prize” is available to every believer, as signified by Paul’s use of the second person plural form of “you” in addressing all of the Corinthian Church.
It’s worth noting that the prize Paul is referring to here is not salvation.
Salvation is a free gift received by grace, through faith, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:21-26).
Being that Paul has been writing about his ministry as an apostle, the prize in this context refers to the rewards he may or may not receive in addition to his salvation. It’s quite a humbling thought to think that the God who is so gracious as to extend to us the free gift of salvation then offers us additional eternal rewards as well. What an amazing, gracious God!
As you consider, and meditate upon on 1 Corinthians 9:24, in awe of God’s gracious love, may you be exhorted in the following ways:
- Run! Resist the temptation to walk, sit on the sidelines, or at worst, quit. The time for resting will come and you, along with many from the north, south, east and west will sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God (Mt 8:11). But for now, maintain forward progress. Be steadfast, and abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58). Be swift to hear, swift to repent, quick to build up, and quick to forgive. Abide in Christ, and follow hard after Him to know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil 3:10). The Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration gave us this command, to “run”… and run in such a way as to win.
- Exhort, not envy, the other runners. We’re called to run the race that is marked out for us (Heb 12:1); we are not to compete with other Christians. There will be those in the body of Christ who are faster, and those who are slower, but regardless of the capacity or giftedness you have (i.e. the parable of the talents) you and I can receive the prize by faithfully running the race set before us.
- Keep running! There will come times when you will think to yourself, something like, “I don’t know what happened…. I was running well but I feel like I’ve dropped out of the race.” When those moments come may you repent, turn your eyes upon Jesus, and put your hope in the LORD! Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary (Is 40:31). Hallelujah! Keep striving to serve Christ and His Church! Keep on pursuing purity! Keep persisting in prayer! Keep desiring intimacy with your Savior! In a simple phrase… “Keep running”.