There is no greater exhilarating feeling than pushing yourself beyond the natural limit during the last seconds of a race. It’s as if every muscle and fiber in your body is working together to thrust forward to cross the finishing line first where with pulling off a victory.
Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 9:24-27, comparing the same type of commitment in athletics as to the believer in their Christian journey. He begins by exhorting the believer to run to win not just participating. Then Paul goes on by saying in verse 26-27, Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one
He that spends all their life speaking a message to others and not walking that message themselves will end up disqualified (tweet)
who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Paul is most likely speaking in light of the Isthmian Games that took place every two years during the spring in Corinth.
The athletes would compete in various competitions such as, long jump, footraces, wrestling, throwing the discus and javelin and more. Unlike our modern day Olympic Games where there is a gold, silver and bronze medal for the top three athletes, the games Paul was using as an illustration only awarded the first place winner with a perishable crown of leaves. These athletes would take an oath to keep the rules of these Games. If they broke their oath, they would be disqualified from the competition.
With the recent Russian doping scandal involving nearly a hundred athletes, as well as, past and present athletes being disqualified and banded from the Olympics games, it brings a stronger understanding of Paul’s letter to these believers. Sadly to say this problem of chemically enhancing one’s performance has been around from the beginning and has evolved into a sophisticated science. We have seen through the years many different countries as well as sports be entangled in the cheating process. Man has always tried to find a short cut or special passion to achieve the winner’s award. Whether Eve eating the apple for enlightenment, the people at the tower of Babel trying to get to heaven or Jacob stealing the blessing, all down through history individuals have tried to veer from the rules.
Using the athlete as his example Paul says that he runs with a purpose in every step. In other words he isn’t on a morning jog but is competing for the prize! He is motivating each follower of Christ as a person who has a goal to reach the finish line victoriously. Just as every Olympic athlete knows you will never win or come close if you don’t train and follow the guidelines; the Christian will never finish or achieve the crown unless they are disciplined and follow the guidelines set out in scripture. We discipline our bodies through prayer, fasting, Bible study and yielding to God’s will as we walk by faith.
Paul paints the sobering picture of living our spiritual lives in a nonchalant manner thinking everything is fine as we yield to fleshly desires, pampering our body with its lusts and appetites, then finding out at the end that you have disqualified ourselves. The person that spends all their life speaking a message to others and not walking that message themselves will end up disqualified. Let us be alert and disciplined as we run our spiritual race. God wants and will help us to achieve an eternal crown that will bring glory to His name.