<19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
24 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. 25 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Today we get to a “bumper sticker” text. You know what I mean. It’s the stuff of refrigerator magnets. “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” It typically gets interpreted to mean such things as run faster, try harder, and you can do better. “Eyes on the Prize” the T-shirt might say.
This is typically how the Christian faith gets pitched. It comes down to human efforts to be more disciplined and a kind of athletic striving to be more spiritual. A person can run a thousand miles in this direction before ever realizing the Christian faith is not a race. Read it again.
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.
The Christian faith is not a race. It is about a prize. The Christian faith is about running with focus not running faster. It’s not about precise form but perfect freedom.
Let’s take the text off of the t-shirt and remember the biblical context. Paul has been exhorting the Corinthians to leave behind their former way of life and to enter into the new life to which they have been called’the calling to be God’s holy people. To be clear, holiness does not mean religious behavior. It means something more like living in “the zone;” the place of glorious aliveness in the power of the Holy Spirit. This “zone” of the Holy Spirit empowered life is much more like playing a game than grinding it out.
I have a sense these Christians in Corinth had lost sight of the big picture. All they could see was the salacious, seductive culture all around them. When we lose sight of the grand vision, we tend to succumb to the closest thing we can see. Remember when the freed Hebrew slaves wanted to go back to Egypt? They had lost sight of the vision. There’s a verse in Proverbs that says something like, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This text is a favorite of leaders who want people to follow their particular vision. That’s not what it means. It’s about the vision‘the vision of God that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Another common misunderstanding of the Christian faith comes when we think the prize is somehow at the end. If we run faster and try harder now we will surely win the prize at the end when we die or even later at the resurrection of the dead. To be sure, those will be major prize winning days, but this is not what Paul is talking about.
For Paul, and for us, the prize is Jesus. Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God and sent the promised Holy Spirit, the prize now exists in the present—right now. Paul is not hoping for a good outcome in the future. It’s hard to grasp this concept, but Paul is living in the present—from the future. To “run in such a way as to get the prize” means to live fully in the freedom of the Holy Spirit—right now; so much so that the grace of Jesus Christ becomes the palpable goodness of your every day life and the life of Jesus becomes the power of your love for God and neighbor.
Paul is waving his arms about trying to get our attention as if to say, “People of God, this is real. This is now. Stop wasting your life on all of these things that promise life but only deliver death. Run in the new way of the Spirit. Run in the unconventional way of the cross. Run in the un-wearying way of the power of God.
Almost every time I write now I start with the thought that I can get it done in fewer words, yet by the time I’m to the end I just can’t stop. Today, I find myself running in the way I’m writing! Somebody stop me!
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. I am ready to lay down all my striving to run faster. I want to run instead with ever deepening focus. Come Holy Spirit and help me run in the in the new way of the Spirit. Help me run in the unconventional way of the cross. Show me to run in the un-wearying way of the power of God. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. Have you settled for a sophisticated substitute version of a prosperous life instead of the real life that comes through knowing Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit now?
2. It’s critically important to be honest with yourself. Have you accepted a version of the Christian faith that is more about trying harder to not sin and to do better, grinding it out and hoping it will all turn out OK in the end?
3. Are you ready to take the next step to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” Are you ready in a new way to exchange your old life for the New Creation?
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