In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Paul writes:Â 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. 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 forever.
As you may have guessed, Paul was simply using athletic training and competition as images for something much more important, something longer lasting, something imperishable, something of eternal significance. Paul uses sports analogies in describing our lives as disciples. Just as athletes dedicate every aspect of their lives to compete and win a perishable prize so should we Christians devote ourselves to becoming men and women after God’s own heart by dedicating every aspect of our lives to becoming more and more like Christ.
Paul uses the powerful image of an athlete in training and he begins with a probing question: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” Now, we know that is a fact, right? In a race, all of the runners run to win. The Olympic awards of gold, silver and bronze are given for first, second and third place but as more than one athlete has been heard to say, “Coming in second just means I was the first loser.” It is that gold medal that counts. Paul comes upon all the runners to run in such a way as to win the prize. Over the last twenty years I have become interested in Cross Country and Track and Field andÂ I stand amazed at the hours upon hours upon hours that are required for runners to become champions. I have watched my daughter Maia over the last four years work herself beyond belief to become a better runner. I have been deeply inspired by her hard work, discipline and self-sacrifice. One can hardly take a day off when they are in training for a race. It becomes obsessive.
Paul describes the discipline and self-sacrifice needed to win but points out that his training is a bit different. Paul is not in training to run a footrace or to win a perishable prize. No, Paul trains his body intentionally as a disciple of Christ so that in the end he will not be disqualified. Scholars say he isn’t talking about disqualification from heaven here but rather being disqualified to preach Christ as a disciple due to failing in some moral way as a disciple. Paul also points out to Timothy in I Timothy 4:8 that bodily exercise is indeed good for us and good for our bodies. Â However, theÂ importance of exercise is diminishedÂ when compared to godliness, which is profitable for all things and all times. We too are here for the gold to find those nuggets of gold from Jesus which will inspire us toward godliness, to be the men and women after God’s own heart, to be God’s friends, to be the disciples of Jesus we are called and created to be.
How would you describe your spiritual training? Do you think our world today spends more on physical training or spiritual training? How about you, do you spend more time and effort on getting your body in shape or your soul? May GOD richly bless you as you richly bless all those around you by living, loving and leading like Jesus.