Run This Gospel Race Like You Stole Something

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. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

I coach the boys track team for the high school I work at (despite being a chubby white dude who only runs to the refrigerator). Other than extremely long meet days, it is a relatively easy sport to coach with short practices and straight forward workouts.

Even at the high school level, students must be self motivated and focused to reap any success in competitions.

I’m always a bit amazed (and perturbed) at the disparity of work ethic in seemingly identical athletes. Sprinters, jumpers or distance runners with the same genetic hand, background, and coaching can yield very different results because of one thing:

Discipline.

Some of my lazier athletes are quite shocked when they go up against another more focused athlete during competition and get flat-out smoked. I wonder:

What did you expect with no effort or discipline during training?!

Some get it now and succeed. Others will get it later in life when circumstances force them to.

But honestly, I have more in common with my lazier athletes than what I would like to admit. Spiritually speaking.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 cuts my non chalant approach to many spiritual matters at the knees.

Paul lived in a day when athletics dominated Greek society. The much-lauded Olympic games were right down the road. Every third year in Corinth, the Corinthians had the Isthmian Games where athletes competed on a more local level. Sometimes the stakes feel even higher when you’re competing in local rivalries. In order to get into the finals at the Isthmian games athletes had to give proof of ten months of training, and the last 30 days before the actual event they all came into the community to partake in intense highly scrutinized daily training.

Only after that preparation were athletes eligible to run. And if they ran and won the victor was awarded a pine wreath crown (along with being immortalized).

These ancient men worked tirelessly for months and years for a crown of weeds that would wither in weeks.

The Prize That Lasts

The context of the verse shows the great prize Paul speaks of is not our own salvation (we could never earn that), rather it is preaching the gospel and seeing men drawn to Christ (9:18, 22). Running is analagous to preaching/sharing the gospel. Paul says in effect: I want to see men won to Christ so I will run (read “preach”) as hard and as diligently as it takes for me to win that prize.

But see the preparation period in this type of preaching. During pre-season, I ran one 100 yard sprint with my team during a workout. I subsequently pulled a hammie in the process. For a couple days, I ended up limping like Jacob did after rasslin’ with God.

Why?

I hadn’t, in the most basic fundamental level, prepared my body for such physical exertion.

There is a crucible every gospel preacher should pass before attempting to set the world on fire. There is no benefit in sprinting ahead of the Holy Spirit when God tells you to sit and be still for a while. Praying, studying and repenting over the God breathed word is not a task taken lightly.

If you do take such weighty preparation lightly, you just may herniate a disc in your spiritual backbone. 

Beating Your Own Body Like A Rented Mule

The language used in this passage is pervasive: The apostle “threw down” in a fisticuff rage with his own sinful flesh on a daily basis (1 Cor 9:27).

By the grace of God, we must first conquer the formidable enemy within, before attempting to conquer the supposed enemy out there.

The weapons of our warfare work on our own flesh too. Intercessory prayer, the testimony of Scriptures, and the blood of the Lamb are too great of foes for any latent sin remaining in us. Paul used these to make his body his own slave instead of being a slave to his fallen fleshly desires (v 27).

We (I) desperately need such spiritual discipline.

The stakes are eternally high.

The prize is eternally worth it.

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

36 thoughts on “Run This Gospel Race Like You Stole Something”

  1. A great piece of work you have here My Friend. Thank you so very much for sharing it with all of us who care to study and gain knowledge from those who are willing to share what God has blessed them with. Continue to use the great gifts God as provided you with. Today, I leave you with my peace that we all may share in this great celebration that is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

  2. This post came at just the right moment Bryan! I literally was looking at those verses yesterday. I am working through a vision for sports ministry and how too many sports that churches consider ministry are fulfilling verse 26! They may not be bad in and of themselves, but they are not accomplishing the goal of preaching the gospel of Christ to the lost and leading immature believers in discipleship. Instead, they are simply serving as an event to enjoy. Again, enjoyment is not a bad thing I would not think. However, if we are going to call it ministry, then we better do ministry!

  3. Its quite interesting when church goers use this as an excuse to never be “good enough” or “sinless” and with out a battle, to be spiritually qualified enough to preach the gospel. When the truth is spiritual discipline isn’t achieved in levels. It’s you either practice discipline or you don’t, you’re saved or you’re not. If you’re waiting for God to say (even if it’s audible) “Go therefore and preach the gospel, Ye spiritual discipline is achieved,” then you might as well stop waiting because it’s gonna happen. Spirtiual discipline is being Christian, like the ones mentioned in Acts 11.
    It’s also interesting that Jesus co-missioned the disciples to teach and make disciples approaxamitely 2 weeks after “The Rock” betrayed Him… Maybe it’s impossible to preach the Gospel without dunamis of the Holy Spirit?

    1. Everything is impossible without the Holy Spirit brother (or sister?). We should always preach the gospel, but I’m simply expounding language Paul uses about spiritual discipline (as he writes to Christians in Corinth). He doesn’t say “all of you are disciplined already” but he does call us to a lifestyle of striving to be so. If the apostle was cautious about becoming “disqualified” himself (v 27), then I don’t think anyone should take the gospel call too lightly.

      I think it simply means we are to be diligent to preach the gospel to ourselves daily, let it break us to pieces, and the Holy Spirit uses that broken vessel to display to others the great treasure that Christ is!

      In the end, it is all of grace that calls and equips, yet God uses spiritual disciplines over the course of our life to sharpen and teach us.

      Peace and grace!

      1. That is for sure! I really like your post, I agree it is right on. My comment wasn’t in opposition to what you said. The post just struck my mind of my past ideas and thoughts that I always thought preaching the gospel required me to be in a specific spiritual atmosphere or level. When my devotion to Jesus and His will and way is what enables me to show and preach the gospel whether here or there or everywhere. I just hate to see our youth suffering from pressure to some achievement of spiritual levels. When pure devotion to Jesus is where it starts and ends!! Thank you!

  4. Once again, your message rings clear. I was an athlete myself, some years back. The discipline I learned then has served me well, now. But, I admit, I’m sadly lax in my spiritual life. It seems all I do is work, sleep, breathe a few prayers for sanity, read a chapter in my Bible, kiss the wife, hug the kid, and go to sleep. I think that is part of discipline (you know that the word is related to disciple). You have the character to stick to it, do it every day, and keep your priorities straight. Anyway, I’m rambling now (as I do when I am talking to someone about any non-retail related topic). Keep up the good work brother, and God bless!

    1. I feel you! Sometimes writing it helps me come to grips with how much I need it! A constant attitude of prayer and conversation with God throughout the ordinary daily routine goes along way.

      Keep on ramblin’ on brother, I’ll listen : ) Peace and grace…

  5. Reblogged this on noxforchristmas and commented:
    Yeah, I know I’ve reblogged this guy before….but he’s just that good!
    And anyway, if these are the last days, then it is all that much more important that we at least do some thinking about God, and how He would have us live…..

      1. Thanks to my Mom, I still look pretty young, but I having been practically rebuilt after that motorcycle accident, my insides feel like an 80 year old woman most days. Too bad, too. I used to love sports!

        Well, I’ll just focus on the race with a eternal reward!!

  6. Wow your post exactly echoed what God has been saying to me last and this week.. I’ve been trying to evangelise and God’s been telling me ‘read those 2 books i gave you to read first’.. Thanks for the encouragement and God Bless 🙂

  7. God bless you Bryan. I am grateful to the Christ in you as you continue to share your insights into the truth of God’s Word. Thank you brother; this I needed! Message received Holy Spirit!

  8. Discipline? Why’d you have to go there?? I came here looking for something warm and fuzzy. 😉

    I worked for 17 years as a social worker in foster care. One of my duties was to train prospective foster parents on the ins and outs of caring for the children. The greatest truth to be shared (besides NEVER spank the children!) was how to parent the child (especially since they couldn’t spank).

    The parents had to learn to “disciple” the child because they rarely had “discipline.” But, it had to be a training process. {We will train dogs to potty in a certain spot but expect a child to know how to act in Wal-Mart without proper training.}

    For me, to be a disciple, I must submit to training by the Master. And, in that, I learn discipline. 🙂

    1. Interesting Cristal! Discipline is key in parenting and life in general. We’ve been through a few adoption/foster, we’ll probably do it once the boys get older. Peace and grace…

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