Quiet time is a special time for me. I usually set aside time in the morning to dive into God’s word and talk with Him about the things on my heart. Because I don’t do well with complete silence, I usually choose the time when my kids are eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I go to my office, close the door, and begin reading with the sounds of footsteps and muffled voices running around the house. It’s either this or sitting under my favorite tree listening to the birds chirp. Either way, I prefer to have “white noise” in the background.
Anyway, this morning was no different. I sat down, opened my Bible, and began to read. I was reading 1 Corinthians out of a fairly new Bible. It’s the NGJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson. I love the way this group breaks down the passages and makes God’s word so easy to understand. This morning, I was reading through chapter 9. Many of you know this chapter because of verse 24 which reads, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
Chances are, as runners, we’ve all read that verse. But do we really know what that verse means. I had a good idea. I knew it was Paul telling us how we should live our Christian life. I knew that Paul set the example by some of the final words that he spoke in 2 Timothy 4:7 where he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” But I had never heard what that verse meant in the context of that day.
Thomas Nelson does a great job of putting this verse into context, and rather than paraphrase what my study bible says, I’ve included the excerpt below. Enjoy.
The Race For The Crown
From The NKJV Study Bible, copyright 1997, 2007 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
“What does it take to be a champion in a given sport? For one, it is necessary to have a dedication to succeed no matter what the cost. A passion for the game is certainly essential, as is a single-minded determination to accomplish the task at hand. A willingness to train incessantly is also required. And a burning desire for the trophy or prize awarded to the one who wins is an absolute must.
In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul drew a direct comparison between the Christian life and an athletic competition. This comparison would have had immediate resonance with Paul’s Corinthian readers. Corinth was the site of the Isthmian games, a great athletic festival that was very similar to the Olympic games. Contestants in the Isthmian games endured ten months of mandatory training. Anyone who failed to complete this training was barred from competing in the games. The highlight of the Isthmian games was a great endurance race. It was this race that Paul used as an illustration to depict the faithful Christian life.
In the Isthmian games, several athletes competed for one prize; there could be only one winner. In contrast, the Christian life offers the opportunity for many people to be winners. The winner of the Isthmian games received a pine wreath crown. Those who faithfully complete the Christian life, on the other hand, will receive an imperishable crown.
Paul illustrates the “champion” mindset required to faithfully complete the Christian life with his statements, “I run thus: not with uncertainty” and “Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air”( 9:26 ). Paul was not an aimless competitor. He had a clearly defined goal. Like an athlete preparing for a race or a boxing match, Paul knew that he had to discipline his body; he had to force himself to maintain the strenuous, consistent practice needed for success.
The race that Paul prepared himself for, the race that all Christians need to prepare themselves for, was the calling of God. Paul taught that Christians are rewarded for the calling that God gives them. Paul had an apostolic ministry for which he sacrificed all things. He knew that if he was faithful to his calling he would receive a reward from the Lord for his service( 4:2 ). Paul also knew that if he ignored or treated lightly his mission he would not receive from God the victor’s crown for service. Having seen some of his close friends forsake their calling (see 2 Tim. 4:10 ), Paul recognized that the loss of the victor’s crown was a very real possibility for any believer, regardless of his or her standing in the Christian community. The apostle’s overwhelming passion was to fulfill his ministry at all costs, to stay faithful to the “fight”( 9:26) to the very end. In Paul’s last letter, written shortly before his death, we discover that he accomplished his goal (see 2 Tim. 4:6–8 ).
Paul’s spiritual training was the very best available. Yet he did not assume that he would automatically persevere to the end of the race. He continued to discipline himself, to fight, and follow his calling from God. In doing so, Paul provided an ideal model for all Christians striving to become champions.”