How Are You Running in the Race for Life?
“Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 CORINTHIANS 9:24.
1. To what does the Bible liken our Christian course?
THE Bible likens our quest for everlasting life to a race. Toward the end of his life, the apostle Paul said of himself: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” He urged his fellow Christians to do the same when he said: “Let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1.
2. What encouraging start do we see in the race for life?
2 The comparison is an apt one because a race consists of a start, a set course, and a finish line, or goal. So it is with the process of our spiritual progress toward life. As we have seen, every year hundreds of thousands of people are getting off to a good start in the race for life. In the last five years, for example, 1,336,429 persons have formally started in the race by dedication and water baptism. Such a vigorous start is most encouraging. The important thing, however, is to stay in the race until the finish line is reached. Are you doing this?
The Race for Life
3, 4. (a) How did Paul point out the importance of keeping up the pace in the race? (b) How have some failed to heed Paul’s advice?
3 To emphasize the importance of keeping in the race, Paul admonished: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 Corinthians 9:24.
4 True, in the ancient games, only one could receive a prize. However, in the race for life, everyone is eligible for the prize. It is only necessary to stay the course to the finish! Happily, many have faithfully run the course to the end of their lives, as the apostle Paul did. And millions continue to run. Some, though, have failed to press forward or make advancement toward the finish line. Instead, they allowed other things to hinder them so that they either fell out of the race or became disqualified in some way. (Galatians 5:7) This should give all of us cause to examine how we are running in the race for life.
5. Was Paul comparing the race for life to a competitive game? Explain.
5 The question may be asked: What did Paul have in mind when he said that “only one receives the prize”? As noted earlier, he did not mean that among all of those who started out in the race for life, only one will receive the reward of everlasting life. Obviously that could not be the case, for time and again, he made it clear that it is God’s will that people of all sorts should be saved. (Romans 5:18; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 4:10; Titus 2:11) No, he was not saying that the race for life is a competition in which each participant tries to defeat all the others. The Corinthians knew only too well that that kind of competitive spirit existed among the contestants at their Isthmian Games, said to be even more prestigious at that time than the Olympic Games. What, then, did Paul have in mind?
6. What does the context reveal about Paul’s discussion of the runner and the race?
6 In citing the illustration of the runner, Paul was primarily discussing his own prospects for salvation. In the preceding verses, he described how he had worked hard and exerted himself in many ways. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22) Then, in 1Co 9 verse 23, he said: “But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.” He realized that his salvation was not guaranteed just because he was chosen to be an apostle or because he had spent many years preaching to others. In order to share in the blessings of the good news, he must continue to do everything within his power for the sake of the good news. He must run with full intention of winning, exerting himself just as hard as if he were running in a footrace in the Isthmian Games, where “only one receives the prize.”—1 Corinthians 9:24a.
7. What is needed to “run in such a way that you may attain it”?
7 There is much that we can learn from this. Although everyone who joins in the race wants to win, only those who are wholly resolved to win have any prospect of doing so. Consequently, we should not feel complacent simply because we have joined the race. We should not feel that everything will be fine because we are ‘in the truth.’ We may bear the name Christian, but do we have the substance to prove that we are Christians? For example, do we do the things we know a Christian should do—attend Christian meetings, share in the field ministry, and so on. If so, that is commendable, and we should strive to persevere in such excellent habits. Is it possible, though, that we can benefit more from what we do? For example, are we always prepared to contribute something to the meetings? Do we endeavor to apply what we learn to our personal life? Do we give attention to improving our skills so that we can give a thorough witness in spite of the obstacles we meet in the field? Are we willing to accept the challenge of calling back on interested ones and conducting home Bible studies? “Run in such a way that you may attain it,” urged Paul.—1 Corinthians 9:24b.
Exercise Self-Control in All Things
8. What might have prompted Paul to urge his fellow Christians to ‘exercise self-control in all things’?
8 In his lifetime, Paul had seen many who had slowed down, drifted away, or given up in the race for life. (1 Timothy 1:19, 20; Hebrews 2:1) That is why he repeatedly reminded his fellow Christians that they are in a strenuous and continuous contest. (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Timothy 6:12) He took the illustration of the runner one step further and said: “Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things.” (1 Corinthians 9:25a) In saying this, Paul was alluding to something with which the Corinthian Christians were well acquainted, namely, the rigorous training followed by the contestants at the Isthmian Games.
9, 10. (a) How does one source describe the contestants in the Isthmian Games? (b) What is particularly worthy of note about the description?
9 Here is a vivid description of a contestant in training:
“Contentedly and without a murmur he submits himself to the rules and restrictions of his ten months’ training, without which he may as well not compete. . . . He is proud of his little hardships, and fatigues, and privations, and counts it a point of honour scrupulously to abstain from anything which might in the slightest degree diminish his chance of success. He sees other men giving way to appetite, resting while he is panting with exertion, luxuriating in the bath, enjoying life at pleasure; but he has scarce a passing thought of envy, because his heart is set on the prize, and severe training is indispensable. He knows that his chances are gone if in any point or on any occasion he relaxes the rigour of the discipline.”—The Expositor’s Bible, Volume V, page 674.
10 Of particular interest is the observation that the one under training “counts it a point of honour” to follow such a rigorous routine of self-denial. In fact, he “has scarce a passing thought of envy” at the ease and comfort that he sees others enjoying. Can we learn something from this? Yes, indeed.
11. What improper view must we guard against while engaged in the race for life?
11 Recall Jesus’ words that “broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) As you endeavor to travel on the ‘cramped road,’ do you envy the freedom and ease that those on the other road seem to enjoy? Do you feel that you are missing out on some of the things others are doing, which may not seem so bad in themselves? It is easy for us to feel this way if we fail to keep in mind the reason we are undertaking this course. “Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one,” Paul said.—1 Corinthians 9:25b.
12. Why can it be said that the glory and fame that people have sought are like the corruptible crown awarded at the Isthmian Games?
12 The winner at the Isthmian Games received a wreath of Isthmian pine or some other such plant, which probably withered in a few days or weeks. Of course, it was not for the perishable wreath that the athletes contended but for the glory, honor, and fame that came with it. One source relates that when the victor returned home, he was welcomed as a conquering hero. Often city walls were torn down for his procession to pass through, and statues were erected in his honor. In spite of all of this, however, his glory was still corruptible. Today, few people have any idea who those conquering heroes were, and most really do not care. Those who sacrifice their time, energy, health, and even family happiness to gain power, fame, and riches in the world, but who are not rich toward God, will find that their materialistic “crown,” like their life, is merely passing.—Matthew 6:19, 20; Luke 12:16-21.
13. How is the life course of one in the race for life different from that of an athlete?
13 Contestants in an athletic game may be willing to accept the rigorous requirements of training, such as those described above, but only for a limited time. Once the games are over, they go back to a normal way of life. They may still train from time to time to maintain their skills, but they no longer follow the same course of severe self-denial, at least not until the next contest is due. It is not so with those who are in the race for life. With them, training and self-denial must be a way of life.—1 Timothy 6:6-8.
14, 15. Why must a contender in the race for life exercise self-control continually?
14 “If anyone wants to come after me,” said Jesus Christ to a gathering of disciples and others, “let him disown himself (or, “he must say, ‘No’ to self,” Charles B. Williams) and pick up his torture stake and follow me continually.” (Mark 8:34) When we accept this invitation, we must be prepared to do so “continually,” not because there is some special merit in self-denial, but because one moment’s indiscretion, one lapse in good judgment, may undo all that has been built up, even jeopardizing our eternal welfare. Spiritual progress is usually made at a rather slow pace, but how quickly it can be nullified if we are not on guard constantly!
15 Furthermore, Paul urged that we must exercise self-control “in all things,” that is, we must do so consistently in all aspects of life. This makes good sense because if a trainee overindulges or lives licentiously, what will be the good of all the physical pain and fatigue that he endures? Likewise in our race for life, we must exercise self-control in all things. A person may control himself in such things as drunkenness and fornication, but the value of this diminishes if he is haughty and contentious. Or what if he is long-suffering and kind toward others, but harbors some secret sin in his private life? For self-control to be fully beneficial, it must be exercised “in all things.”—Compare James 2:10, 11.
Run “Not Uncertainly”
16. What does it mean to run “not uncertainly”?
16 Seeing the strenuous efforts needed to succeed in the race for life, Paul went on to say: “Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26) The word “uncertainly” literally means “unevidently” (Kingdom Interlinear), “unobserved, unmarked” (Lange’s Commentary). Hence, to run “not uncertainly” means that to every observer it should be very evident where the runner is heading. The Anchor Bible renders it “not on a zigzag course.” If you saw a set of footprints that meanders up and down the beach, circles around now and then, and even goes backward at times, you would hardly think the person was running at all, let alone that he had any idea where he was heading. But if you saw a set of footprints that form a long, straight line, each footprint ahead of the previous one and all evenly spaced, you would conclude that the footprints belong to one who knows exactly where he is going.
17. (a) How did Paul show that he was running “not uncertainly”? (b) How can we imitate Paul in this regard?
17 Paul’s life shows clearly that he was running “not uncertainly.” He had ample evidence to prove that he was a Christian minister and an apostle. He had but one objective, and he exerted himself vigorously all his life to gain it. He was never sidetracked by fame, power, riches, or comfort, even though he could perhaps have attained any of these. (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:2, 3; Philippians 3:8, 13, 14) As you look back at your life course, what kind of track do you see? A straight line with a clear direction or one that wanders aimlessly? Is there evidence that you are contending in the race for life? Remember, we are in this race, not just to go through the motions, as it were, but to get to the finish line.
18. (a) What would be comparable to “striking the air” on our part? (b) Why is that a dangerous course to follow?
18 Drawing a parallel with another athletic event, Paul further said: “The way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26b) In our contest for life, we have many enemies, including Satan, the world, and our own imperfection. Like an ancient boxer, we must be able to beat them down by well-aimed blows. Happily, Jehovah God trains us and helps us in the fight. He provides instructions in his Word, in Bible-based publications, and at Christian meetings. However, if we read the Bible and the publications and go to meetings but do not put into practice what we learn, are we not wasting our efforts, “striking the air”? Doing so puts us in a very dangerous position. We think we are putting up a fight and thus get a false sense of security, but we are not defeating our enemies. That is why the disciple James admonished: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.” Just as “striking the air” will not disable our enemies, neither will being “hearers only” ensure that we are doing God’s will.—James 1:22; 1 Samuel 15:22; Matthew 7:24, 25.
19. How can we make sure not to become disapproved somehow?
19 Finally, Paul told us his secret to success: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Like Paul, we too must gain the mastery over our imperfect flesh rather than allow it to be our master. We need to root out fleshly tendencies, longings, and desires. (Romans 8:5-8; James 1:14, 15) Doing so can be painful, since the word translated “pummel” literally means ‘hit under the eye’ (Kingdom Interlinear). Is it not, though, better to suffer a black eye, as it were, and live than to give in to the desires of the fallen flesh and die?—Compare Matthew 5:28, 29; 18:9; 1 John 2:15-17.
20. Why is it now especially urgent to examine how we are running in the race for life?
20 Today, we are nearing the finish line of the race. The time for the prizes to be given out is at hand. For anointed Christians, it is “the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) For those of the great crowd, it is life everlasting on a paradise earth. With so much at stake, let us be resolved, as was Paul, that we “not become disapproved somehow.” May every one of us take to heart the injunction: “Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 Corinthians 9:24, 27.
Do You Recall?
◻ Why is it apt to compare a Christian’s life to a race?
◻ How is the race for life different from a footrace?
◻ Why must we exercise self-control continually and “in all things”?
◻ How does one run “not uncertainly”?
◻ Why is it dangerous to be just “striking the air”?
[Picture on page 16]
The champion’s wreath, as well as the glory and honor, is a fading one