9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Paul uses the comparison between sports and the Christian life more than once. He compares living for Jesus to running a race and his point is that we should live and act as though we are athletes in training. There are three main parallels that he draws:
1, Run to win. Following Jesus is not a hobby. It's not one of many pursuits. It is not a weekend diversion or an intermittent obsession that we pick up and lay aside and pick up again. Jesus is not to be part of our life. He is to be our life. Run to win. Pursue Him relentlessly. Follow Him closely.
2, Self-control. It needs to be made clear here that self-control is not the exercise of the will. You can't develop self-control any more than an Ethiopian can change his skin or a leopard his spots. Self-control is a gift, a fruit of the Spirit. It increases as we follow. Like a muscle it grows with use. Self-control applies to everything. The words that come out of our mouth are either controlled or reckless. Jesus never spoke a flippant or hurtful word. I wish I could say the same. However it must also be restated here that we are not saved by how perfect we become. Repeatedly Paul referred to this messed up church in Corinth as saints, as sanctified, as fully His. The growth that comes from a relentless pursuit of Jesus does two things. First it makes us less likely to pull a Judas and turn back. Second it makes us more fit to help others find Jesus. We need self-control in every area of our lives and with time spent with and for Jesus it will increase and our ability to "run" will also increase.
3, Living with purpose. Paul wrote that he ran with aim and boxed with intention. He wasn't aimless in his run and swinging at nothing when he boxed. His direction was firm and his aim precise.
Think about Jesus. He more than Paul or anyone else lived with purpose. One day as he approached Samaria with his disciples he took note that a woman was at the well alone at noon. Jesus was always watching. His surroundings were known by Him. The expression on faces was noted by Him. Body language was analyzed. Jesus lived with purpose. When He saw her He knew something in her life was way off because women didn't typically gather water alone and never in the heat of the day.
Without saying why he sent everyone who was with him into the village to get food; a job that could have easily been accomplished by two of them. He knew the issues that needed to be discussed were intensely personal and he did not want to either hinder her from being open because of a crowd or expose her private business to more ears than necessary. Jesus lived with purpose.
It is a skill He can and wants to teach us. He wants us on duty for Him at all times. If we were in tune with Him and those around us we would have opportunities over and over to influence others for His kingdom.
Athletes live with purpose. They exercise self-control, and they train and run to win. The beauty of the race to Jesus is that we can all win and will all win if we keep running. :)