The apostle Paul likens the Christian faith to a race. 1 Cor 9:24, “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” Do we think of our faith in these terms? After all, we speak of walking with Christ, not running with Him. Our day to day lives seem more like a walk than a high energy, high pressure race to be first. Work, school, chores, rest, recreation, church – it all feels rather pedestrian. This analogy in 1 Cor 9:24 provokes some questions.
A. Why are we in a race? Runners enter a race in order to win. Paul accordingly says we are to run so as to win the prize, but in what sense are we competing, and what is the prize? In Phil 3:14 he explains the race in these terms, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” The goal is to faithfully complete the course and cross the finish line which is the end of life and the eternal state. The prize is Christ Himself and conformity to His image. Like a runner, Paul removes anything which distracts or weighs him down; he endures pain and perseveres when the going gets tough. Within the ordinary things that comprise our days, we are to be committed to that great spiritual prize at the expense of all else.
B. How are we to run? Paul says we are to “run in such a way that we obtain”. He puts it like this in 2 Tim 2:5, “if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” We are used to hearing of salary cap breaches and athletes testing positive for banned substances which enhance performance. Cheaters are disqualified. Christians likewise cannot cut corners; we cannot make it easy for ourselves. What are the rules? God’s commands comprise the rule book – the ten commandments summarised as love for God and love for one another. Submission to God’s will is the course. We cannot live to please ourselves indulging the flesh and expect to receive the crown of life. We are crowned winners through faithfulness.
C. Are we running? That is the question we are left with. I tend to think that many Christians live without much focus. They have their ticket to heaven, and they get on with the business of living life. Runners, however, are not just engaged in the business of running, they are engaged in the business of winning the prize. They run with purpose; there is an objective. They discipline themselves and deny themselves for the sake of the prize. With regards to the prize that is set before us, are we stagnant and not moving forward (bogged down in the cares and concerns of this world); have we become distracted and going off course (friends and recreation are the main priority); are we falling behind and even going backwards (returning to the old sinful ways and habits).
As Christians we need to be focused, we need to be principled, and we need to be determined. The prize belongs to those who run to win.