Bible Study Tools / Self Control

So Run, That You May Obtain

by Kevin Ford
Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

There are many analogies of the Christian life in God's Word. It is sometimes likened to a soldier on active duty (2 Timothy 2:3-4), or as the construction of a building, whose foundation stone is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9-16) and in one striking analogy, the apostle Paul compared it to a running race.

He wrote that, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24 RSV).

Of course, Paul did not mean that we are competing with fellow Christians for a limited number of places in the Kingdom of God! He was explaining that an athlete who expects to win a race has to devote his total energies to that end, and that a Christian is expected to show the same total commitment to achieving that spiritual goal. Paul wrote, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (verse 25).

In our modern era, the Olympic Games, being held this year in Sydney, Australia, are considered the most prestigious sporting competition of all - especially in track and field. The prospect of winning an Olympic gold medal has spurred athletes to incredible effort and self-sacrifice. An athlete will usually plan his training over many months to try to reach peak performance in the few brief weeks when the games will be held. Not even the grinding pain of an injury will deter some athletes from their quest for Olympic "gold", as Ontario's Elvis Stojko demonstrated so courageously in the Winter Games in February - all for the sake of a little gold-plated trinket to place around the neck!

It has been suggested that if the Christian life is to be likened to a race, it would be a marathon rather than a 100-metre sprint. Those who have run marathons, especially amateur athletes, report that a kind of "wall" is often reached after about twenty miles. The runner feels himself at the point of total exhaustion and only his will power is left to take him to the finish line. A friend who took part in the London Marathon some years ago is convinced that if it had not been for the encouragement of total strangers among the spectators, he would not have made it to the finish.

There are many references to a spiritual "wall" that seems to arrive in our Christian lives. Notice the following scriptures:

"And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (Galatians 6:9 RSV).

"Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (those mentioned in Hebrews 11, who are symbolically spectators to our Christian marathon), "let us lay aside every weight" (did you ever see an Olympic runner carrying a pack on his back?), "and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…….for consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Many years ago, I happened to see a television recording of a two-mile race which had taken place somewhere in Europe. At the start of the final lap, a runner called Brendan Foster not only had a big lead, but was on schedule for a world record. On the sound commentary, recorded afterwards, he was explaining his feelings on seeing the time flash up on the big screen, and realising how close he was to that record. He actually felt a kind of anger with himself because he knew he was going to have to really suffer on the last lap if he was to achieve his goal.

God tells us, "Resist him" (the Devil), "steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" (1 Peter 5:9-10).

Like that athlete who did achieve his world record, some may also be on their last spiritual lap. Like him, some may have to move out of their comfort zone and put in whatever effort is necessary to be ready for God's Kingdom.

Christ says, "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7).

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