The obvious implication is easily discernable. If you sign up to run a marathon you are not guaranteed recognition just because you signed your name on the entrance form and paid the entry fee. You are not going to get a ribbon or medal for starting the race and then dropping out midway through. Your name will not be listed as one who completed the race if you decide to detour off the designated raceway or take a break from which you never return. NO. The prize goes to the one who not only begins the race but also successfully crosses the finish line.
The Apostle Paul compared living the Christian life to a race in several different passages; all with the understanding that we are participants in an eternal event. We are, as professed Christians, running toward or running away, or not running. Each category has it’s own predetermined reward. We do not set the race rules, the Master Race Builder, Initiator, Referee, Trainer, etc., has set them.
I Corinthians 9:24-27 declares the following: Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So, run that you may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air; But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
We truly need an understanding that allows us to embrace the longevity of our commitment, requirements to win and the consequences of not completing the race. We are racing for our eternal rewards.
Paul, who pinned the words of I Corinthians, plainly states that we should have as our goal to “obtain.” There is a reward stored up for those that successfully finish. Second Timothy four and eight states it this way: And now a crown of righteousness is kept for me, which my Lord shall award to me in that day when he shall judge the just. And again in Philippians 3: 13-14 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high. calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Running to win. That really is the gauntlet that the Apostle Paul is throwing down in the Corinthians 9 passage. And like any winning athlete the regimen is one of discipline and training. The Olympic runner watches carefully what he eats and drinks. He is mindful of his daily routine and is diligent to maintain his physical fitness with daily exercise. What ever the cost to obtain defines his lifestyle. Now, if we transfer that same mindset to our spiritual race, we see the correlations. Again, it was the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Whether I eat or drink or whatsoever I do, I do all to the glory of God. (I Cor. 10:31) And, …”Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (I Cor. 8:13) The Apostle Paul was very serious about his spiritual race and so should we.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to eliminate everything that would slow us down or hinder us in our life ‘s journey:“…let us lay aside every weight and every sin that does so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” We are called to live a disciplined life if we desire to win the prize, even to the elimination of everything that would disqualify us.
As it was stated earlier, it would be foolish for a runner that does not finish the race to expect the same acclamation as the runner who crosses the finish line. The Apostle Paul was cognizant of this fact: “ But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Imagine the great Apostle Paul fearing that he himself would be castaway because he became slothful, lazy and spiritually unfit? Where, beloved, do you suppose that puts you and me? He boldly declares that he buffets his body. In other words he makes himself uncomfortable to the point of pain in order to insure he does not lose his crown or become a “castaway.” Sobering.
I truly believe in the power of the blood of Jesus to keep us unto the day of His appearing. If, I am rightly discerning these passages, I see a differentiation between salvation and the crown that is laid up for us. Jesus states in Revelation 3:11: I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He also tells us in the Gospel of John the tenth chapter and the twenty-eighth verse: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” There is heaven to gain, hell to eschew and a crown to obtain.
Again, this is what the Holy Spirit whispered in my heart: “ it is not the one who starts the race that gets the prize, it is the one who finishes.” I beseech you my brothers and sisters in Christ to make the main thing the main thing. In the words of a dear departed saint and family member: “the main thing is to always be ready.”
Let us all run to win!