Run To Win
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run [their very best to win], but only one receives the prize? Run [your race] in such a way that you may seize the prize and make it yours! Now every athlete who [goes into training and] competes in the games is disciplined and exercises self-control in all things. They do it to win a crown that withers, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable [crown that cannot wither]. Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service].
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The Apostle Paul was very familiar with Greek culture, including the Olympic Games. In this particular passage, he used the metaphor of a race to describe the Christian life. Finishing the race wasn’t good enough for Paul. He wanted to win his race, and he wanted to inspire all of us to win our races too.
Athletes in Ancient Greece were incredibly popular, just as athletes are today. They trained, worked, and labored under their coaches’ instructions for one purpose: to be the one standing on the podium, wearing the laurel wreath of a champion. Everything in their lives was subjugated to that purpose, and everything was evaluated by how it contributed or detracted from winning the race. Dedication. Intensity. Passion. Focus. Those were the traits of athletes who strove to win, just as they are for athletes today.
Paul encourages us to run with the same fierce dedication to winning our race. We honor Christ with everything we are and everything we do. But our reward is different. The day after the race at the Olympic Games, the laurel wreath had already wilted, but our wreath is imperishable, lasting for all of eternity.
Some rewards don’t mean much because we didn’t work hard for them. The imperishable crown of victory we win for following Christ, though, matters because it is dearly won. It’s worth the effort,
I win not because of my own efforts or my own goodness, but rather through the grace, love, and mercy of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He died so that I might win this game of life and live with Him forever.
God will not look you over for medals, degrees, or diplomas but for scars.
In the kingdom of this world there is usually only one winner and the rest are losers, up in the kingdom of heaven, everyone who runs without ceasing wins. In His address to the seven churches of Asia, Jesus tells them that those who overcome will receive reward. When you tie this with Paul’s analogy of running to win the prize, we begin to understand that the Christian life is one of challenges and sometimes struggles. Paul says that those who run, discipline themselves. Their focus is on the race before them and every action they take is done so in the light of preparation for that race. Their goal is to win the prize of first place. Paul says no one runs in these races just for the sake of running, but all run to win. And Christ says that those who drop out race will not receive the rewards promised.
If we can consider our Christian experience as a race or something to overcome, then our effort will be focused on the prize before us. No runner looks behind. Their eyes are on the track before them and they refuse to become distracted by what is happening on the sidelines. They keep their focus on the finish line. They also have to run their own race. It’s impossible to win by running someone else’s race. Neither can we win if we keep paying attention to everything around us that draws our attention away from the race. Sometimes in the race, even a small pebble can cause us to stumble and fall behind so we have to look and as much as possible avoid them. That said, sometimes they trip us up and we fall. At that point we have a decision to make. Do we get up and keep running or do we quit and go sit on the sidelines, giving up any possibility of crossing the finish line.
Now the beauty of running the race Christ set before us is that our competition isn’t other Christians. Every Christian who runs receives the prize. One of the most moving things I’ve ever seen was watching the Special Olympics. As the entrants were running down the track, one of them fell down. At that moment, all the other entrants stopped, turned around, and went back to their fallen comrade. They picked him up and the whole group crossed the finish line together. The judges rewarded the whole group the prize.
One day we, too, will cross the finish line. Whether we cross it individually through death or cross it together as a group in the rapture, we all will receive the crown of life.
Hebrews says that since we are surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses- those who have completed their earthly race- we should also run our race with patience and perseverance, looking unto Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
As Paul is nearing the finish of his race, he writes these words to a young preacher, Timothy.
“I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error]. In the future there is reserved for me the [victor’s] crown of righteousness [for being right with God and doing right], which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that [great] day—and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved and longed for and welcomed His appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8
May those words be our words too!
Dr. John Thompson