Run to Win

In the 2004 Olympics, American Matt Emmons held a commanding lead in the 50-meter Olympic rifle final. During the final round, Matt Emmons took aim at the target, and with skill and precision, pulled the trigger. The bullet pierced the bull’s eye. He was sure he’d just won his second Olympic gold medal.

But as he looked up to the scoreboard, his score did not get posted. Bewildered, Matt turned to the official wondering why his winning score had not appeared on the board. Was there some kind of technical problem? To his great disappointment, he learned from the judges that the problem was not with the scoreboard. Although he precisely hit the mark he was aiming for, it was the target in the lane next to his. His score was zero.

What is your aim in life? If we don’t have a target, we will never hit the mark. Moreover, we must aim at the right target. To accomplish what God has placed us on this earth for we need to aim for the target that He has set before us.  

Notice that Paul likens living the Christian life to what it takes for an athlete to be competitive and win the coveted prize:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) 

The Apostle Paul often used athletic metaphors to explain what it takes to live the Christian life. He used this metaphor because of its relevance to living for Christ and familiarity to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were not only very much aware of the Olympic games, but they took part in their own Olympic-type games which were held just outside the city of Corinth.

Knowing that they understood the devotion that it takes to be a competitive athlete, Paul paints a picture of a runner competing in a race. And he paints this picture to show them that like a competitive athlete runs with intention, focus, and purpose, so too must believers run the Christian race.

Moreover, like a professional athlete, to run our race for Christ, we must be disciplined. Paul continues:

 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) 

If an Olympic athlete watches what he eats and makes good use of his time to train because he’s after a perishable prize, how much more discipline ought we to exercise in view of the imperishable rewards that await the faithful? When you wake up in the morning, do you arise from your bed, leave the house, and start your day with a sense of purpose and accountability to God? A professional athlete will get up early to train in order to achieve earthly rewards. Often they will seek out a trainer who can advise them, train them, and hold them accountable.

Even more than an Olympic athletes, we too, for example, need to disciplined ourselves to rise early and get alone with God so that we can get our marching orders and the strength we need to carry them out. Although we may have good intentions, if we’re not practicing spiritual discipline and self-control, we will not have the direction and devotion it takes to run to win.

Now, winning for the Christian is not about earning our salvation, but being faithful to what God has called each of us to do. Getting to the finish line and hearing Jesus say, "well done," that’s the win. Are you running the Christian race with purpose and attention? Are you running to win?

Notice that Paul concludes: 

“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 9:26-27)

When Paul says that he disciplined his body so that he would not be disqualified, he’s not talking about losing his salvation. In Paul’s day, when a contestant in an athletic competition was disqualified, he didn’t lose his citizenship, only his opportunity to win the prize. Similarly, Paul wanted to be a credible witness. He knew that one day he would stand before Christ and give an account for the stewardship entrusted to him to preach the gospel and build up the body of Christ. Paul wanted to be found faithful.

He had the discipline and self-control necessary to run his race to win because he lived with a sense of accountability to Christ. Jesus wasn’t a means of achieving his personal goals and dreams. To know Christ and to make Him known was his ultimate aim in life.

It’s important to note that the discipline and self-control Paul had to live the Christian life didn’t come from sheer willpower. Paul’s counter-cultural lifestyle was the outworking of his salvation as his inward man was renewed day by day.  
Are you running hard for Christ? Are you running to win? Are you aiming at the right target? Remember, winning is not doing what God called us to do better than someone else.

Running to win is giving our all with grace-filled efforts and trusting God for the results. Running to win is making ourselves available by being adaptable and accommodating to people for the sake of the gospel in order that by all means we might save some. Running to win is staying accountable to God and to each other so that we live disciplined and self-controlled lives through the Spirit. Running to win is not living for ourselves, but for the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Find your target and go after it.

May we seek the Lord daily to give us holy ambition and the grace to run hard for Jesus knowing with all our hearts that His glory is worth it all.

In His service,
Pastor Marco