February 28, 2022

What Does Running Have To Do With Christian Life?

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.  1 Corinthians 9:24

In the classic movie Chariots of Fire, the competitive Oxford athlete, Harold Abrams, watches his arch rival, Eric Liddell, run and is afraid that he cannot outrun him in a contest.  He’s sitting in the bleachers after the crowd has left, alone and dejected, his head buried in his hands when his girlfriend sits down to console him.  “If I can’t win, I won’t run,” he cries. And she replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win!”

There are a lot of people who reflect the “winning is everything” mentality.  To them, winning is not everything; it is the only thing that counts, regardless of how it is done.  When officials at Cambridge confronted Abrams about the ethics of using a professional coach to train for the Olympics, he challenged them as being outdated and cried that he would carry the future.

In a sense, he was right.  He did carry the future, which means that today how a person runs is overshadowed by the importance of winning.  Cheat, be dishonest, use drugs or steroids, destroy your competitor, but win is the message that kids get.  Is winning the only thing?

I often think of what Paul wrote long ago to the Corinthians. And, as he penned these words, no doubt the image of the Isthmian games, which were held in the city of Corinth, loomed in his thoughts. Paul had been there and had observed them.  He wrote, “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.  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” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

May I repeat those words, “Run in such a way as to get the prize?”  Paul, of course, was using the analogy of running in a contest, relating to living in such a manner that a person obtains eternal life.  In both cases, he held, there are rules or laws which govern what is acceptable, not only to athletic officials, but to God as well, and to violate those rules results in disqualification.  Sure, Paul believed that winning is important, but winning at the cost of violating the rules is completely wrong.

Paul believed that, for he continued saying, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

The word adokimos that Paul used, which is translated “disqualified” or “disapproved” or “not standing the test,” is an interesting word.  It was used of fruit which was inspected before it was brought into the city, but not measuring up to the standard was disqualified and rejected.

What’s the point of today’s devotional?  Winning is important, but how you run is also important.  In terms of reaching heaven’s goal, God has outlined quite clearly what is necessary, in spite of the fuzzy thinking which abounds today– thinking which is far, far off the principles given in Scripture.  While you may skirt the rules and win in running a race in a local contest, you can’t violate the rules and win when it comes to life.  “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight,” says the writer of Scripture, for “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

True, you can’t win if you don’t run; but neither can you win, if you’re outside of God’s plan.


Resource reading: Hebrews 4:13-16