It’s a New Year, Run to Win the Prize
Confession is good for the soul, so here’s a little disclosure: I can’t run! What do I mean? Let’s just say, if you saw me running, you would understand perfectly well what I mean. To be more precise, I was never taught (or perhaps I failed to learn) how to properly bend my knees when running. The result today is a stride that resembles a loping duck.
I’m smiling as I write this, but there were moments growing up when this “deficiency” was anything but funny. I definitely had some “last to be picked for a team in gym class” moments! I’m only thankful that I can look back today and laugh. In the end, there is no real damage and childhood embarrassments have matured into amusing stories.
But whether athletic or not, all Christians are called to be spiritual runners. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, the Apostle Paul states, “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.” We are runners in a race, which if neglected, brings consequences not as easily dismissed as my middle-school gym class days.
Paul’s Letter to a Lethargic Church
We learn from Acts 18 that the Apostle Paul spent 18 months in the city of Corinth. His work there was difficult. The Jews strongly opposed the preaching of the gospel and Paul was at times fearful (Acts 18:9). But he persevered and his preaching was not without fruit. It is in Corinth that Paul meets Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:2), key synagogue leaders come to faith (Acts 18:8, 17), and a church is established.
But the city itself was wicked. Its situation made it ideal for commercial trade and with it came the exchange of both luxuries and vices. Additionally, Corinth was home to the temple of Aphrodite—the goddess of love—and devotees were only happy to worship through the use of cult prostitutes. This was the culture around the Corinthian church and perhaps within the church as well.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is packed with one issue after another. The first eight chapters address divisions among the members (chapters 1–3), arrogance in spite of little knowledge (chapters 3–4), gross immorality (chapter 5), Christians suing each other in pagan courts (chapter 6), marriage/singleness (chapter 7) and food sacrificed to idols (chapter 8). One is left with the impression of an immature, unconcerned, and spiritually lazy church.
Paul’s Admonition—Run to Win!
When we come to chapter 9, we find Paul defending his apostleship and offering himself as an example of a Christian “running to win the race”. Unlike the Corinthian church, seemingly focused on fleshly passions, Paul is willing to give up all things—even the right of support from this church—for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:11–12). To Paul, nothing matters more than the gospel of Jesus Christ, so much so that he is willing to make himself “a slave to all, so that [he] may win more.” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
So what does this mean to you and me? 1 Corinthians 9:24 should bring either challenge 0r encouragement—or perhaps both, depending on our honest self-assessment. The Scripture compares the Christian life to a race. No one enters a race and then jogs. Picture for a moment the runners from the 2012 Olympic 100-meter dash. None were slack and each ran with vigor, determined to win the prize.
This is our call! We are commanded to press toward sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:1–8). The moment you are declared righteous through faith in Christ, you are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in righteousness. This isn’t instant perfectionism but the gradual process of yielding to one’s new nature while denying the old sin nature (Ephesians 4:22–24). It is an active and ongoing conformity to the image of Christ.
God Enables You to Run, so Run!
While justification is the work of God alone (monergistic), sanctification is the work of both God and the believer (synergistic). God is at work in believers, enabling them to will and to work out the fruit of their justification in obedience that pleases Him (Philippians 2:12). So brothers and sisters, strive to exhibit the fruit of salvation for God Himself enables you! And run to win the race, for Christ Himself is our prize (1 Corinthians 9:22-24)!
He is our treasure, our reward, and our inheritance (Ephesians 1:11). Pray then for grace and make it your aim to hear His “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:14–23). In all, know that a faithful church is a gift and a gracious means toward this end. There, we are joined with one another for accountability, mutual encouragement, repentance, and the practice of Christian disciplines. Connect with others and pursue growth, knowing that God works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)!
It’s a New Year and Christ is our imperishable prize. So run to win! Get on your mark, get ready, get set … GO!