Not For the Faint of Heart

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Frequently the Apostle Paul reflects on his journey as a Christian. He did so in Galatians Chapters 1 and 2, and also in Philippians 3, but in other places as well. Sometimes he emphasizes his previous religion in comparison to his present beliefs, but here in 1 Corinthians 9, he describes the nature of journey. The Christian life requires a deep commitment because it will be tested, often without warning.

Paul drew from the world of Olympian athletics to illustrate the Christian life. (Sometimes he drew upon militaristic images to describe it, too.) Paul may have even attended the games at some point during his life. Runners, he writes, do not run aimlessly, but rather to win a prize. Paul encourages “runners” of the faith to run likewise. We should run our Christian life in such a way to win the gold medal. Of course, we don’t do this for worldly glory, but to please God. Paul referred to the pace of the contest, one requiring training and maximum exertion. If we want to know how to run well, we need to expend maximum effort and spare no opportunity to excel.

One reason we need to put forth such effort comes from the nature of our race. We face much opposition, and those who set their gears to idle risk getting run over. The race, as our title indicates, is not for the fainthearted. In order to prepare himself, Paul “disciplined his body” and kept it under control. He would later write in Chapter 9 how he even did not exercise certain rights he had. He refrained from exercising his rights in order to reach more people. He set a clear pace for self-denial and commitment, one that few attained since his days on earth.

How would we measure our own commitment? Do we run the race wholeheartedly and with earnestness, or do we just glide by, and go with the flow? Ask God to give you grace to make a major commitment to place Christ first and to commit to a pace that doesn’t faint when tested.

Finally, Paul warns against disqualifying ourselves from usefulness (verse 27). If we yield to the flesh or this world, we will slow down our pace. If we continue to slide, we can neutralize our testimony and usefulness. These warnings provide all the more reason to deepen our commitment and prepare us for the long haul. But the end of the race brings victory and a smile from the Savior. It may be a grueling race at times, but rest assured, your reward awaits you at the finish line.

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