Thursday, May 11, 2017
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "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. 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."
Life has been very busy as of late. Since 2014, I have been a very active runner. I may not be the fastest guy around, but, I do find running. Running is an enjoyable physical and spiritual activity. This coming Saturday will be the biggest race up to this point in my fledgling running experience - a half-marathon. Over the last three years I have ran in 5Ks (3.1 mile races) and 10Ks (6.2 mile races). Each one has been enjoyable and the Lord has enabled me to net a some medals and win some races. None though have been more challenging in preparation than what I'm deeming "big-race" on Saturday. On Saturday, the half-marathon I'll be running will be through the rolling hills, streets and country-sides of a Northern New York town. In lieu of thinking about what the Lord has taught me thus far as a runner, I thought I'd share some reflections on Paul's challenge of running the race called the Christian life.
Just as the beginning of one's running must include important disciplines for there to be improvement, Christian salvation must include spiritual disciplines to improve in one's sanctification.
What the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 very much captures what is involved in preparing for a running competition. There is much preparation and discipline that goes into preparing for any race of any size. Whenever I ran my first race three years ago, I had no preparation. I had turned "40" and on a whim, decided to enter a 5K race. When I finished the race, I remember laying on the ground for quite a while, regretting the decision. I had no experience and I had not a clue on what "training" involved. I almost gave-up and said to myself: "if one feels like they're going to die after every run, then running surely cannot be all that it is cracked-up to be." Thankfully, that would not be the last time I ran. I learned over-time the necessity of training and weekly exercise.
The imagery of "training", "exercise" and "running" are applied to illustrating the Christian life. Whenever we talk about the Christian life, we first and foremost must begin with the miracle of the New Birth in saving faith (John 3:3-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). At the event of saving faith, the Holy Spirit enters into the human spirit (that inner-most part of one's immaterial nature) and begins the process of changing the sinner into more and more of a saint. The process following from the new birth is what the New Testament deems "sanctification" (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Sanctification is the cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the Christian that enables the Christian to become more like Jesus in thought, word and deed.
An effective Christian life involves both training (the spiritual disciplines, like Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, partaking of the Lord's supper or baptism if one is a new convert) and running (the daily Christian life). Notice again 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 "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." It was only when I talked to other, more experienced runners, that I learned what training involved. Over time, I have purchased books on running, researched proper dietary needs of runners and have entered into various races. What one puts into the body makes a difference in how well one can endure in running days and race days. The indwelling Holy Spirit in the Christian makes all the difference in stirring the Christian to run the race of faith. In between race seasons, I try to run over 20 miles a week. By attending to all of these various disciplines, I have developed a lifestyle of running. When the Christian attends regularly to the Christian disciplines listed above, they will find the Christian life to be more enjoyable, doable and powerful.
Like running and racing, all those naming the name of Christ must run so as to win.
As I said earlier, I may not be the fastest runner in town, but, when race day comes, I plan on giving it all I got. The Apostle Paul is very fond of athletic imagery - and rightly so. In first century Greco-Roman life, especially Corinth, the Isthmian games were highly popular. In mimicry of the great Olympic games of Athens, such athletic competitions were central to Corinthian life. To run in such races involved running so as to win (since in some cases, losers could lose their lives)!
There was plenty of motivation, but more important than even one's life was the goal of pleasing people like the Emperor of Rome or some other high ranking official present at such competitions. All of these details of first-century life are flowing through Paul's mind as he applies pen to paper. I know when race day comes, I will run as to win. We read in 2 Timothy 2:5 "Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules." The author of Hebrews 12:2 (if he be the Apostle Paul), capitalizes on the imagery above - "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
In my first half-marathon, all competitors will get a medal. All who run the race of faith will receive rewards when they appear before Christ at His return
The one thing that encourages me about my pending race is the fact that all participants in the half-marathon will get a medal. Certainly, for those who place overall or finish first through third in their age group, there will be additional medals. Still, to know that there will be medals for all makes running the race worth it. As a runner, I certainly strive for the medal, but I also want to run as hard as possible to perhaps get one of those other rewards! All true followers of Jesus are urged to adopt a similar attitude in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "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." Anyone who has a lifestyle of running wants to do all they can to place and maybe even win. Anyone who is a true follower of Jesus ought to be eager to run the race of the Christian life and bring pleasure for their Lord.
As time passes, all the medals that I've acquired will lose their luster. To be honest, when the day comes where I may not be able to run anymore, I'll likely give the medals to our children. They're neat little trinkets that bring back memories of past races, however, they are perishable nonetheless. The Christian's true prize - seeing the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ - is the "imperishable" crown alluded to by Paul. The ultimate prize of seeing Jesus' face and his words: "well-done good and faithful servant" is what drives the Christ-follower to run-so-as-to-win (Matthew 25:21; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; 1 John 3:1-3). May all who name the name of Jesus run the Big race of the Christian-life for the glory of Jesus!