Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
— 1 Corinthians 9:24
The main goal of all believers should be to find God’s plan for their lives and then to go after it with all their might and strength. But most Christians have never even awakened to the fact that God has a special race for them to run! This is why Paul asked the Corinthians, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but only one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”
Paul teaches us here that we are in a “race.” The word “race” is the Greek word stadion, which later became our word stadium. However, it first described a race course that was 600 feet in length or one-eighth of a Roman mile — the exact length that was used in the Olympics of the ancient world and in the Isthmian Games that were held near the city of Corinth. Because Paul was highly educated, he knew precisely what he was doing when he used a word that described the Olympic race course of his day.
As noted above, eventually the word stadion became the word for a stadium, a place where athletic competitions were held. Since this is the picture Paul has in his mind as he uses the word “race,” let’s stop to consider the Olympic competitions and competitors of that time.
The winners of the Olympic competitions were rewarded both materially and with great honor; however, if you study the Olympic champions in the ancient world, you will see that the primary emphasis of reward was not on material wealth, but on the distinguished honor bestowed on the winners. These people were only able to achieve victory in the Olympic games by being disciplined, balanced, and committed to excellence; for these qualities, they were held in high regard. They became revered as heroes, gods, or icons in their society. Respect, honor, notoriety, and fame became their lifelong reward.
In addition to these ideas, it is also important to note that the word “race,” from the Greek word stadion, depicted the huge arena where athletic competitions were held. Paul uses this word to tell us that when we enter the race of faith, it puts us in the center of the arena. People see us as we walk by faith. They know of our struggles, and they watch as spectators to see if we will win our battles.
We must always keep in mind, therefore, that we’re not running a private race of faith, but a race that has influence on many people’s lives. Hence, Paul urges us to run our race in a way that encourages the bystanders who are watching from the sidelines to jump into the race themselves and pursue their destiny in God!
By using these ideas, Paul was communicating to the Corinthians (and to us) that we need to see ourselves as spiritual Olympic competitors! This life we lead is no game; it is the most serious competition we will ever face in this world. The rewards of a life well lived are enormous. Not only will God materially reward us as we are faithful to His call, but He also reserves eternal rewards of honor and glory for those of us who run our race well in this life (Romans 2:10).
It is interesting that Paul says, “…They which run in a race run all….” Notice particularly the emphasis “run all.” It means every believer is in some kind of race. A believer may not have awakened to the race he is in yet, or perhaps the race hasn’t yet been revealed to him. Nevertheless, the fact remains that God has a specific plan for every individual.
Our task is to find the divine plan for our lives; to get in shape so we can start running our race; and then to run like mad so we can finish in first place! That’s why Paul exhorted us, “…Run, that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
You see, runners have one thought foremost in their minds — the finish line! With this analogy in mind, Paul tells you to run your spiritual race with all your might, keeping your focus on the goal — the divine call on your life as God has revealed it to you. You may ask, “How long am I supposed to keep running and trying to reach my God-given goals?” The answer is until you “obtain” what God called you to do!
The word “obtain” is the Greek word katalambano, which is a compound of two words, kata and lambano. The word kata describes something that is coming downward, and the word lambano means to take or to seize something. When compounded together into one word, katalambano means to grab hold of, to seize, to wrestle, to pull down, and to finally make a desired object your very own. This is the picture of someone who finally sees what he wants — and instead of letting that goal he desires slip away, he pounces on it, seizing it and latching hold of it with all his might!
Paul uses this word katalambano to depict the attitude of a runner who is running with all his energy, straining forward as he keeps his focus fixed on the finish line. At last the runner reaches the goal, and the prize is now his! He gave that race all he had to give, and it paid off! Had he approached the race with a casual, lazy attitude, the prize would have gone to another. But because he ran to obtain that prize, in the end that’s exactly what he did!
There is no doubt that you have a divine purpose for your life, something God has called you to do. God has marvelous ideas and plans for your life! The question is this: Do you want to fulfill His plans for you? If your answer is truly yes, then set your heart on your goal. Don’t be half-hearted, mealy-mouthed, touchy, or easily discouraged. It’s time for you to develop some resolve!
Do you see yourself as someone who is running the spiritual Olympic event of his or her life? Or are you simply “jogging for Jesus”? If you’re serious about fulfilling God’s plan for your life, it’s time to shift into high gear and to start putting all your spiritual, mental, and physical energies into getting the job done. You have to remove all distractions and commit yourself to a life of discipline, balance, and devotion.
Your attitude must be, “I’m going to run this race, and I’m going to WIN it! I’m not going to live my whole life missing out on what God has for me! No matter what inconvenience I endure, what price I have to pay, or what adjustments I have to make, I am going to faithfully run my race so that one day I can obtain the prize — the fulfillment of God’s call on my life!”
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I want to set my eyes on the finish line and never lose my focus until I know that I’ve accomplished the task You have given me to do. I know it’s going to take all my spiritual, mental, and physical energies to get this job done. So I am turning to You now, Holy Spirit, and I’m asking You to empower me and to help me make it all the way to the completion of the dream You have given to me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I declare that I have a divine purpose in life! I am not half-hearted, mealy-mouthed, touchy, or easily discouraged. I am like a runner who is seriously running a race. Because I’m serious about achieving God’s plan for my life, I am shifting into high gear and putting all my spiritual, mental, and physical energies into getting the job done.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Do you know what race you are supposed to be running in your life?
2. Are you running that race with 100 percent of your effort, or are you just half-heartedly jogging along in your life?
3. For you to achieve what God has told you to do, what changes of attitude and behavior do you need to make in your life? Write these changes down so you can pray about them!