If you’ve been reading my blog over the last few months, then you know that I began walking in July for exercise. After a couple of weeks of walking, I started running, short distances at first, then eventually running longer distances. (In fact, yesterday I ran the longest distance I’ve run yet: 7.5 miles.)
One day, as I was running, some different passage of Scripture came to mind in which the authors used running or races or athletes as illustrations or examples. I decided to looking more closely into these passages in order to determine if my recent experiences with running could help me understand them.
Here is one those passages:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, 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 ESV)
Just before this passage, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul had expressed how he gladly gave up his rights for the sake of the gospel. Though free from the law (by the grace of God), he would become as one under the law (a Jew who had not received the gospel) for the sake of sharing the gospel with the Jews. To Gentiles – those who were not under the law – Paul would live as one outside the law so that he could better share the gospel with Gentiles. He would give up everything for the weak or the strong for the sake of the gospel.
Then, Paul gave the illustration above about the the runner (and boxer). The focus of the passage is not on the one who receives the prize (as if living in Christ is a competition with other believers). Instead, the focus is on giving up what is rightfully your for the sake of the gospel in the same way that an athlete gladly and willingly gives up certain foods or activities for the sake of winning that prize.
Back in July, the doctor gave me a sheet that described a diet called the Mediterranean Diet. It’s not so much a way to reduce calories as it is a new way to approach food. So, according to this diet, I should only eat 1-2 servings of red meat each week, plus 1-2 servings of fish (particularly fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids), and several servings of poultry. Most importantly, I should be very careful of the serving sizes, keeping them in the range of 3-5 ounces depending on the type of meat.
Also, according to the diet, I should eat several servings of vegetables (6-8) and fruit (3-4) each day. Plus, I need to make sure that I’m eating true vegetables and not starches such as potatoes and corn or beans and legumes. I can eat those things, but they should not count as vegetables.
Now, I’m free to eat any food that I want. But, if I want my body to be healthier – especially if I want to be able to run longer and longer distances at faster paces – then I must be extremely careful about what I eat. In other words, I must discipline my body and keep it under control.
Paul says that he takes the same approach to the gospel. While he is free to do many things, he gives up those rights for the sake of the gospel (just like an athlete gives up certain foods and activities for the sake of excelling in the sport).
This illustration helps Paul explain what he had already written to the Corinthians concerning “weak” brothers and sisters in chapter 8. He had also used himself as an example in the first part of chapter 9 where he explained to his readers why he refused to take money and instead worked to support himself and those who traveled with him.
In the same way that I’m learning to control what I eat and how I exercise in order to be able to run, I also need to learn to control my desires, my wants, my rights even in order to share the gospel with those around me and helping them mature in Christ.
What would you like to add to this?
Running the Race as an Illustration in Scripture: