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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
For some obvious reason, I hear Vangelis playing the theme music to "Chariots of Fire" when I read this passage. It's an eighties thing. Slow motion beach runs aside, the metaphor that Paul presses upon us and himself in this passage is well worth considering. It shows us the kind of sincere dedication that is needed to serve Christ. It is as radical as training for a marathon.
Paul chose an apt metaphor for the Corinthians. Every two years the city hosted the second most popular athletic event in the Graeco-Roman world, the Isthmian Games. A series of athletic contests was held, and just like the Olympian games, the contestants competed for a laurel wreath that signified their victorious achievements. There was disciplined training for the competition. There was magnificent display of athletic prowess. Their was reward for those who won the race.
Paul urges believers to run with the prize firmly in mind. We are to have one all-consuming passion in life, to serve God with disciplined minds and bodies so that the gospel can advance into the lives of others. That is the context of this metaphor. Paul has defended his ministry again to the Corinthians by making it clear that he lived before them a full dedication to serving Christ just for the sake of the gospel. The reason he did this was that he was running for the prize. There was no other passion that deserved such devotion. So... run to win. Box to land a blow. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. And God will reward those who do so for His glory.
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13