1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Analogy is a literary form that an author uses to communicate a concept by presenting it in a form that is easily understood by the reader. The Bible is full of analogies. Sometimes it can be challenging to peel back the surface of the analogy to really understand what the writer is trying to communicate. I think that is why one of the most important things we can do when reading our Bibles is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to read along with us opening our eyes of understanding as we go.
I really connected with the Apostle’s Paul’s analogy of athletics from 1 Corinthians 9. The connection was not so much because I am an athlete but more so because athletics is featured prominently in our culture as it was in the Roman culture to which Paul was writing.
So what is Paul telling us with his analogy and what is the application to the Christian?
In verse 24 Paul asks the question. If you are going to compete shouldn’t you compete like a person who intends on winning. Isn’t the whole point of competing winning?
Continuing in verse 25, Paul points out that if you look at the way athletes train you will find a great deal of focus and self control. He also points out that the reason athletes are focused and self controlled is so they may obtain a simple trophy or prize that will not last forever. He reminds the Christian that the prize we seek will last forever.
In 26, Paul really starts to bring it home. His proclamation is that his work in the Lord is for a purpose. Would it make sense for a athlete to train day in and day out to never compete?
Finally, Paul reminds the reader that one of the reasons he is focus in his spiritual journey and in his spiritual disciplines to make sure that his example builds others up rather than causes them to stumble.
So what is the application?
For me this analogy really gets to the heart of how we are to approach our discipleship of the Lord Jesus. Paul sets a good example and exhorts us to:
- Be focused and live a life that reflects that we intend to win the race for Jesus
- Be disciplined in training (Seek God in the Scripture, pray and fast, build one another up, participate in the fellowship of believers)
- Where it is possible don’t sin. Set a good example for fellow believers to follow. Don’t be a hypocrite. Walk the talk!
Heavenly Father, thank you for your communication to us. Thank you for allowing us to understand your Kingdom and your purposes through the Spirit and through the written word. I pray Father that my focus today would be on not only finishing the race but also on winning the race. Forgive me where my disciplines have been weak, where my training has not be focused, and where my actions have caused other believers to stumble. Help me Father to be a better witness of your Son and help me not to run aimlessly. I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.