1 Corinthians 9: 24-27
Thinking about the New Year, I thought this an appropriate passage for our meditation. Here Paul puts the Christian under the metaphor of a runner and the Christian life under the metaphor of a race. Everyone of us is running; we are in a race. It isn’t a hundred-yard dash, but a marathon. The big questions we ought to ask ourselves is: Will I finish well?
The imagery of the runner is one of the apostle’s favorite pictures. It is used ten times in Scripture. He reminds us here that we are in a long-distance race. In earthly races, we compete against other runners. In the spiritual race talked about here we don’t compete against other Christians. Our race involves fighting against strong forces, the world, the devil and our own flesh.
Paul uses this imagery writing to the Corinthians, perhaps because Corinth was one of the main centers for the Greco-Roman games. Every two years the best competitors from around the world would compete in the Isthmian Games, which were more demanding than our Olympic games today. There were no consolation prizes – no silver, no bronze. Only one person received the prize. Paul stresses this here.
Every Christian running his or her race will receive the prize if they run it to the end, but the race must be run 100%, all the way. The prize was a wreath, or a crown of dried celery leaves. The Romans added a crown of pine. Imagine training thousands of hours then running a race for a crown of twigs. These were perishable crowns. How long does that last? It turns to dust within five to ten years or so.
Paul makes this comparison. We have a reward that is imperishable, immeasurable. The crown is a figure used to describe the reward. It is a crown of righteousness, a crown of glory. Paul lets us know, in verse 26, that he is not running this race, aimlessly, without purpose.
He says, Let me tell you how I am running the race. I am running with self-discipline, self-control. I’m not running in a half-hearted way. I am going to give myself to a self-disciplined life. Does that include physical discipline? We can’t separate soul from body, can we? We are stewards of our bodies. If we are to run this race well, we need to care for our bodies and our minds. There is often a connection between a healthy body and a healthy soul.
To run this race, we need a healthy soul. We will need to discipline ourselves devotionally. One of the most important keys to running this marathon is maintaining our relationship with God. How do we do that? Wayne Mack is right in suggesting that the two great pillars of the Christian life are reading our Bibles, meditating on the core doctrines of our faith, and prayer.
There are four clarion calls to prayer in our Bibles. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”. Romans 12:12, “be constant in prayer”. Colossians 4:2, “continue steadfastly in prayer”. Ephesians 6:18, “praying at all times in the Spirit”. If you are going to run this race, run it well and run it to the end you have to be a person of prayer; it isn’t optional. This is where you get your strength and help to run your race.
There are always so many things to pray about because we are needy creatures. Even if we never sinned, we would still need to pray. Our greatest needs are soul needs. In prayer, therefore, we place emphasis on our soul needs.