Summary: Reward for successfully running the race of the Christian life
Here it is—my one and only sports trophy. [Show trophy]
I played football in high school and our team was okay—nothing like Southern Columbia or Berwick. We never won a championship. And I played lacrosse as well. Our school fared better in lacrosse, but we could never seem to get past the quarterfinals in the playoffs. And then I played hockey as well—ice hockey, not girls’ field hockey! And that’s where we excelled. In my senior year we won the County championship. We were the best high school hockey team in the city of Rochester. And we all got a trophy.
And, of course, there are trophies awarded on the professional level in sports as well. The winner of the National Hockey League playoff wins the Stanley Cup. In professional football we have the Superbowl. Each player on the winning team gets a ring. The same is true for Major League Baseball. Each player on the winning World Series team receives a ring.
Two years ago at our Shiloh men’s retreat Doug Davis was our guest speaker. At that time Doug was the bench coach for the Florida Marlins and they had just won the World Series. We were hoping Doug would have his World Series ring and bring it to the retreat so we could see it, but he hadn’t received it yet.
In the sports realm, athletes strive to win a prize. And likewise, in the spiritual realm, believers should strive to win a prize. That’s what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 9. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, we are told that there is a prize for winning the race of the Christian life.
C. I. Scofield wrote a booklet many years ago entitled, Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth. Scofield reminds us that when we study the Bible we must be careful to distinguish between different topics that are being addressed. For example, we need to clearly distinguish between passages that deal with salvation and those that deal with rewards.
It is important not to confuse the two subjects. Salvation, on the one hand, is a gift received by faith. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The way we enter God’s family is through accepting God’s gift of forgiveness. But rewards, on the other hand, are prizes earned by works. In Revelation 22:12 Jesus says that He is coming and that His reward is with Him, and that He will give to everyone according to their works. After we enter God’s family we begin to run the race of the Christian life and we will be rewarded based on our works.
There is another distinction. Salvation, on the one hand, is a present possession. In John 3:36 we read, “Whoever believes in the Son has everlasting life.” Once you receive God’s gift, eternal life is yours—right now. It is a present possession. But rewards, on the other hand, are a future attainment. In Luke 14:14 Jesus says you will be rewarded “at the resurrection”—at a future time. You haven’t received your reward yet.
So in our study of the Word of God it is important to keep clearly in mind the distinction between salvation and rewards. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul is addressing the topic of rewards, not salvation. And Paul tells us that there is a prize that is awarded to believers who successfully run the race of the Christian life.
Paul gives us three descriptions of this prize. First, Paul says the prize is…
I see this in verse 24: “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.”
We mentioned last week that Paul is using athletic metaphors in this passage. And he does so because the Corinthians could relate to sports terminology. The city of Corinth played host to the Isthmian games that were held every two years. And these games were second only to the Olympic games as far as national importance. People from all over the empire would come to Corinth to watch athletes compete in various events. And one of the favorite sports was the foot race. Athletes would compete in the 200-yard dash, 400-yard dash, and the 3-mile run.
Now, there are several similarities between the Isthmian races and the race of the Christian life. One similarity is the contestants. In the Isthmian games, only Greek athletes could compete. The race wasn’t open to just anyone of any descent. In the same way the race of the Christian life is open only to believers. In order to enter the race you have to have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior. If you’re not a Christian, you’re ineligible.