Summary: Paul tells us that in this life we are in a race. This Gospel message looks at how we can win the prize that Paul describes and what exactly that prize is.
Running for the greatest prize.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
25: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 for ever.
26:Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
27: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.
The passage that I have just read is a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. In this small passage he is talking about how we should live our lives before God. He uses the analogy of an athlete running a race in order to get the prize.
The Corinthian church would have understood the analogy as the Isthmian games was held just a few miles away from Corinth. It was a large scale games like that of the Olympics, and would have brought both athletes and spectators from both Europe and Asia. It drew all of the top athletes and their would be track, field, combat, and even equestrian events. The athletes would have to qualify and prove that they had been in strict training. To win the Isthmian crown would have been of great importance as the winner would be exempt from paying taxes and from military service. They would receive free education and a statue of themselves would be put on display.
The athlete today faces similar challenges and motivations, and strives for their goal in much the same way as their predecessors. Today we also need to see ourselves as athletes striving for a prize. Paul makes it clear that in this life, whether we like it or not, we are all in the same race. The consequences of winning or losing are the same for everyone.
There are three things that I want to look at, that we need in order to win the race that we are in in this life. Firstly we need to qualify for the race. Secondly we need to discipline our bodies for the race. Finally we need to get a good coach.
Qualification for the race.
In order to run the goal must be attainable. It must be within our reach or else there is no point trying. The athletes in the Isthmian games would have to qualify for the competition. Not just anybody could compete.
I started to swim when I was very young and began training at a swimming club. At first I was made to go, but then I started to enjoy it. I started to win a few events and started to dream of becoming a top swimmer. As I grew older I started to train even harder, and in my late teens I was swimming every morning. However I realised at the age of about 21 that I was never going to make it to the standard that I wanted. However hard I trained I just didn’t have the physical capability to become anything other than just a good club swimmer. The desire to get up early every morning, dive into a freezing cold pool, and work yourself to exhaustion, soon wore off. I just didn’t have what it took to win the prize that I wanted.
In our lives we face the same problem when it comes to pleasing God.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
As it is written: "There is no-one righteous, not even one;
The Jews, in Bible times, thought that they could please God, but each and every one of them fell short. We can never do enough to please God while we are in our own, naturally sinful, bodies. We can never win that prize in our own strength.
The situation seems hopeless, and for those that don’t find the answer it is. There is however somebody who qualifies us for the race. Jesus set the qualifying time and the qualifying distance. Through Jesus living a perfect life and dying on our behalf, he qualifies us for the race should we chose to enter on his terms. Jesus death and resurrection is our ticket. The bible says that all we have to do is accept him by faith. We have to believe in Him, what He came for, and trust that He can qualify us for the prize. In order for us to gain qualification we need to put our trust in the qualifier.