We are all familiar with races. It could be two children challenging each other as to who will get to a certain place the fastest. Or it could be organized games in school or even the Olympic Games. Whoever gets to the goal the fastest is the winner. The Apostle Paul likens your life as a Christian to running a race. 1 Corinthians 9:24 “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.” In order for you to win a race, you must put all of your energy into doing the best you can, otherwise you are likely not to win. That type of effort is what you and I should be using to run our Christian race. The prize is the crown of life. James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” While in a physical race only one wins the first place prize, in your Christian race, you want all of your brothers and sisters in Christ to receive the crown. But the effort you use in running your race should be an all-out effort to receive the prize.
The writer continues in 1 Corinthians 9:25 “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” When top athletes prepare for a race, they watch what they eat and drink. They eat the best foods and are careful to avoid anything that might harm their bodies and slow them down. They make sure they get lots of sleep and are rested before the race. They do all this to receive a prize such as a ribbon, metal or trophy. In a similar way, you should prepare yourself as best you can to run your Christian race. You want to be careful about what you do for your physical body and your spiritual life so that you can be at your best spiritual performance. You want to spend time in prayer, feed yourself good spiritual food, and keep sin out of your life so that you can run a good spiritual race and receive the crown of life.
The writer continues in 1 Corinthians 9:26 “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” Imagine a runner uncertain of where the goal is. You can imagine him running the wrong way or sitting down in the middle of the race. Such a runner would lose. Or imagine a boxer doing shadow boxing; he jabs his fists at the air and tires himself without landing any blows or defeating his opponent. You have a definite goal that you need to keep ever before you. Your life has the purpose of serving your Lord and receiving the crown of life.
The Apostle Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Top athletes go into training before a race. They make sure they don’t do anything to violate the rules. They don’t take any banned drugs or supplements. They make sure they are not disqualified for any reason. You also should discipline yourself to make sure there is no activity or sin in your life that would disqualify you for the crown of life.
The race you are running is more of a long distance race than a sprint. It is certainly an endurance race. Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” You must put off any weight that would slow you down. You must disentangle yourself from any sin that would ensnare you and stop you from completing your race. You must keep on going regardless of the obstacles, jeering bystanders or discouragements along the way. Look to Jesus as your example. He told the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10b “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
I encourage you to run your race so that when you come to the close of your life, you can be like the Apostle Paul as he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”