1 Cor. 9:24-27
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Some will say that it matters not whether one wins or loses but how one plays the game. For me, this sounds like a cop-out for anyone who has not met the goal they set out to achieve. Any competitor knows that, although the competitive spirit and how one competes matter, the ultimate goal is to prevail. Victory is what each competitor seeks. I think a better way to frame this is to recognize that both the competitive performance and the result matter. And when we are speaking of the spiritual race, the end result carries much more weight. We can end this life as spiritual victors or as spiritual losers, and that has eternal consequences. Having our eyes fixed on the prize at the end of the race will only motivate us to run the race well.
A critical point of Paul’s here is that everyone is running a race. No one is a spectator. Whether we want to participate in this race does not matter because we have no choice. Some will run the race for themselves and compete in a way that is unethical and immoral. Others will take the time to get to know the judge and learn the rules, and they will compete well. Furthermore, beyond the good competition, they will finish well. Generally speaking, finishing the race well brings a prize. We know from other scriptures that there is not just one aspect to this reward, but the point is that there is a reward. We do not compete for the sake of competition only. We compete for the sake of victory and reward.
Life can get rather dark and tiring sometimes. We might find ourselves wanting to just take a moment to rest and perhaps simply wait for the Lord to take us home. We might feel like we just cannot do more good work, so we will wait it out. Like any race, however, not putting in an effort will leave us behind. We do not have the option to just stand still. If we are not advancing in the race, we are falling behind the advancement of the kingdom, and we want to keep up with it. When our muscles ache and our breath is short, the vision of the prize up ahead should be enough to move us forward. Father, remind us daily what exactly we are running this race for, and keep us motivated to compete well.