Pause for Thought aims to provide a short thought-provoking, perhaps controversial, piece to challenge your thinking.
Running to win
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”
These words are not, as one might think, from a manual of instruction given to athletes participating in this year’s Commonwealth Games, but the words of the Apostle Paul writing to the Christian Community in Corinth almost two thousand years ago. Paul was writing as a citizen of the Roman Empire, which carried on many traditions from the Greeks, including competitive sport, especially the Olympic Games. (They were abolished in AD 393, for being too pagan!) Many cities then were very wealthy, and competed with each other to achieve distinction by erecting temples, public baths, theatres and sport centres. So as Paul went around the empire on his missionary journeys he must have been witness to many sporting events, with crowds of spectators and in which the competitors enjoyed recognition and an enthusiastic following. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
No wonder then that Paul seizes the opportunity to use athletic images to proclaim the Christian faith. Competitors in sport must have a clear goal; self-discipline and regular training; above all courage to overcome obstacles and self-doubt. They cannot succeed without good mentors and coaches; encouragement from supporters is vital on the path to success. Paul’s words quoted above continue thus:- “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” In other words, we who follow Christ cannot be side-tracked by the diversions of the world, we cannot lose sight of the glory of God. Our aim is to be whole in body, mind and spirit, to achieve peace and in harmony with God, both in this life and the next. Whereas the athlete’s prize is “perishable” and momentary the Christian’s is eternal and everlasting (an imperishable garland).
But neither prize is won without some effort on our part. We cannot expect God to do everything for us, if we want to come closer to him and be joyful in his presence. We need to know our need of God in our lives, that we cannot do everything in our own power. It is by the discipline of prayer and regular worship that we are able to keep on the right track; in the words of Hebrews (12 vv 1-2) “let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Sport and faith also need the inspiration of someone who has come before. And for Christians that inspiration and role model for the great goal of eternal life with God is Jesus Christ. So let us take courage from another image given to us by Paul in his letter to the Philippians:-“I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” And in the words of a great hymn “Fight the good fight with all thy might. Run the straight race through God’s good grace, lift up thine eyes and seek his face; life with its way before us lies; Christ is our path, and Christ our prize.” May we all be given the strength and inspiration to strive for the greatest prize any human can win, to be at peace with God in this life and the next, through Jesus Christ our Lord and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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