Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
Competition is a fact of life. It starts at the earliest age in our homes, impacts us both in and out of the classroom during our school years, and follows us throughout our adult lives. We compete for jobs. We compete for relationships. We compete for acclaim, award, and approval. One business leader sagely observed that, “Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people.”
The apostle Paul wrote to people who were quite familiar with competition. The sporting event known as the Isthmian Games was similar to our present-day Olympic Games. All the athletes in the competition and those who watched from the stands knew two things: First, only one contestant would be declared the winner of the event and receive the prize; second, the prize was perishable and would eventually decay into something of little or no value. With this understanding established in the minds of Paul’s audience, he set forth the concept of a cosmic competition of faith that will, in the end, result in a prize of eternal value.
Notice what Paul said:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Paul was telling his audience then and you and me today that we should indeed compete, but not against others. Rather, we compete against ourselves, with the goal of growing and maturing in our faith. In essence, our goal should be God’s goal for our lives: to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, from salvation to glorification. Paul added:
I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
You can see that Paul was serious and intentional about this competition. Running the Christian race was not something he took lightly or engaged in halfheartedly; he was rigorous in his self-discipline.
It is important to point out that this “strict training” was not done out of fear. When Paul spoke of being “disqualified for the prize,” he was in no way speaking about anything related to salvation. Paul made it crystal clear in Romans 8:38-39, Philippians 1:6, and elsewhere that all who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ are eternally secure in their salvation. No, when Paul spoke of “disqualification,” he was speaking of service; his eye was on his message and his ministry and whether or not he would continue practicing what he preached.
Who have you been competing against lately? Is your eye on the prize the Lord has for you? Or are you focused on the other people running in the race? When we are running our race, the race God has called us to run for His glory and the good of others, we will fix our eyes on Jesus, not those running alongside us, knowing that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion when we cross the finish line and enter into our eternal rest.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!