Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV, 1978)

We have very little personal information about Paul’s life outside of his time as a persecutor of the church or, later, of his time as a missionary apostle and writer of what would become most of the New Testament. At no time is there any indication that Paul was any sort of athlete. This is interesting due to the fact that he makes many references to running, wrestling and boxing and the training required to become successful. It is, therefore, likely that his athletic imagery was yet another attempt on his part to “speak the language” of the audience to whom he was writing. Corinth would have been a hotbed of the same Greek culture that gave birth to the Olympic games, so allusions to athletic competition would have resonated with his readers.

Paul’s emphasis was not so much on the event itself, but on the degree of devotion and effort put forth to win. For Paul, there was only one event—the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order that all who heard it might be saved. For him, there was no, distance too great, no pain too severe, and no person too lost that he was not willing to lay aside his pride and do whatever was necessary to share the Gospel by whatever means necessary. His motivation was simple—Jesus was the prize that he pursued because it was Jesus who had given purpose to his life regardless of his past sin.

Paul’s language still translates well to our day. Today’s church is largely made up of those who have tasted the joy of salvation and the hope of heaven yet remain strangely unmotivated by the love of Jesus that was poured out on the Cross. Many simply choose not to identify with the urgency and passion spoken of by Paul. Let it not be said of us that we were merely nameless faces in the mass of runners awaiting the gunshot to begin the race in which we refused to sweat. No. Let us never settle for a participation trophy when it is Jesus who offers Himself as the ultimate prize!