Running for the prize: I Corinthians 9

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 9-11.

“How can I be a successful servant of Christ?”

“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.”– Ken Doherty

When Paul wrote I Corinthians he had been a Christian for twenty years. He was deep into his second missionary journey. He knew what it took to be a witness for Christ, but more than that he knew what fruitful ministry required.

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 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. 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. I C0rinthians 9: 22-27

Paul had the spirit of ministry. Maybe not the greatest skill in speech-making, maybe not the smoothest personality, but he knew the spirit that was required, and the stamina. His spirit was one of selflessness. Paul wasn’t important. Christ was important. Winning the lost people of the world to Christ was important. Therefore he could make himself like the people he was serving in order to open the doors to greater ministry. He wasn’t being meek but skillful. He wasn’t doing anything immoral. His Christian liberty allowed him to follow the law if that was needed, or to live without the law among those who didn’t recognize it.

His spirit was also one of sacrifice. He did without in order to go about. He went without pay or earned his way through his trade of tent-making. He went without a home and often without any comfort or safety. He suffered every kind of danger and abuse. He did it for the Corinthians so that his ministry to them would not be hindered. He became a slave for the sake of the Gospel.

Paul could do all this because he had his eye on the prize, and the prize waited in eternity with Christ. He had the spirit of faith which saw through all the present difficulties to the heavenly success. He saw the kingdom in its glory even though many counted him as the scum of the earth. His faith wasn’t in himself but in Christ who made him able to do all things. Because he looked in faith to the future reward, he was also able to live with a spirit of discipline. He trained himself like an Olympic athlete, running for the prize, fighting against his own weaknesses, and always keeping his eye on the finish line. He also kept a keen eye on any wrong step that would take him out of the race. He did nothing that might disqualify himself.

Paul could have made a list of the things he didn’t do. That would also be instructive.

  • He didn’t insist on his own needs.
  • He didn’t quit when things were difficult.
  • He didn’t take it personally when others attacked him; he knew it was because of Christ.
  • He didn’t avoid taking a stand.
  • He didn’t work for financial security.
  • He didn’t stay away from risky or dangerous areas of ministry.

One final point about Paul. He didn’t just study or prepare (running aimlessly, beating the air); he did the hard work of ministry. He had the spirit to fight the good fight.

“Strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24). “Labor for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “Let us not be weary in well-doing, for we shall reap if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9). “Redeem the time, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 3:12). “Christ gave himself to purify for himself a people zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). “Show earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end” (Hebrews 6:11). “Love one another earnestly from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Strive, labor, abound, be zealous, be earnest. Run like the winner runs. Be done with half-heartedness and laziness and lukewarmness. Christ has laid hold on you for this very thing. You do not do it in your own strength. You strive and labor and abound and love in the strength that he supplies so that in everything he gets the glory (1 Peter 4:11). – John Piper

image by Nguyen Vu Hung on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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