May 28, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to 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 9:24–27 (NIV)
Have you ever trained for something? A marathon, a bodybuilding competition, a spelling bee? It’s hard work, right? A bodybuilder has to constantly work out with intense dedication, eat a strict diet, and consume an astronomical number of calories, drink a certain amount of water, and cut out a wide range of things. Dedicated training always brings the need for sacrifice in other areas like time, diet, and activities.
Here, Paul uses an illustration about athletes training for the Isthmian games held in Corinth. He says, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Basically, be in it to win it! Win what? Well, there are a few things at play, but let’s be clear: The prize isn’t our salvation—that fight was won on our behalf by Jesus! We need only receive salvation as a gift. So, what then?
In verses 19–23, Paul uses the word win (kerdainó) five times. He says he wants to become “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV). So, why do we train and what are we trying to win? We train to win souls for Christ, and we train so other believers may win spiritually.
In chapter six, Paul says he’s willing to be defrauded as opposed to suing a fellow believer because although he may win the case, he may lose his brother and his witness. Paul’s admonition harkens to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, where He says proper conflict resolution between believers enables you to win “over your brother.” And as we’ve seen in the last few chapters, Paul talks at length about the sacrifices mature believers are called to make for the sake of the less mature, to not be a stumbling block to their spiritual growth, even explaining the various rights and privileges he has given up so as to never “hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12 NIV).
We also train to win a heavenly reward. Paul also refers to this in Philippians 3:14 (NIV) when he says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” What’s this prize? It’s beholding the glory of Christ and experiencing fully the glory of His presence!
So, Paul is calling us to “train [ourselves] to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7 NIV), to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us]” (Philippians 3:12 NIV), and to “live [our lives] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 HCSB). So, what does this training and life look like? Abiding! It looks like knowing Jesus better today than yesterday, walking with Him closer today than yesterday, pressing into His grace and experiencing the joy of salvation as we love Him a little more today than we did yesterday. Literally, everything else is added unto us when this is our singular focus: to know Him and enjoy Him forever!
And check this out . . . When I win my race, many people win—fellow believers who are built up and discipled by my life, and those God draws to salvation through me! When you win your race, many others win as God uses you to draw people to salvation, that they, too, get to behold the glory of Christ and experience the glory of His presence!
Pause: How is the Christian life like a marathon or athletic competition? What does Christian training look like?
Practice: Write down these words: Today, I will know Jesus better than I did yesterday. Today, I will walk with Jesus a little closer than yesterday. I will press into His grace and experience the joy of my salvation as I love Him a little more today than I did yesterday.
Put that somewhere visible, so you’ll see it in the morning when you wake up or as you leave your house. Consider making a nice piece of framed art out of it. Make this your daily reminder as you set out for the rest of your day.
Pray: Father, I desire to win that glorious, wonderful “crown that will last forever.” I desire to “do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” And I know the way to do it, the way to live in such a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ, is to live in Christ. So, help me, Lord, each day to remember that nothing in this life is greater or more valuable than knowing and living in relationship with Jesus, and everything in life is greater and more valuable in light of my relationship with Jesus! By Your Spirit, help me to cast off more and more each day the old way, the old self, the world, and put on Christ, walk with Christ, and conform to the image of Christ so I may know Christ and gain Christ and enjoy Him forever and ever. I know that if I seek Him first, then literally everything else will be added unto me. Help me, Father, to draw nearer each day. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.