Most people cannot imagine the price an athlete pays to be a winner. The Olympic Games were already being held in Paul’s time, and the Isthmian Games were held at Corinth every two years. Athletes would come from all over Greece to compete for the highest honors in the empire. They would work under a coach for ten months of self–denial, painful exercises, and unending practice.
If we knew what the promise “great will be your reward in heaven” (Matt 5:12) actually meant, then our lives would be completely dedicated to winning the prize for the souls of men. Jesus taught His disciples to give up their lives and ambitions to follow Him and make Him known. Have you started the journey by taking this step, or will you remain a spectator like most who heard Jesus in the first century?
The phrase “runners in a stadium” illustrates that every believer is on the track whether he wants to be or not. Paul is not saying that only one believer out of millions will receive the reward but that all who strive will be rewarded. He expected every believer to take his spiritual life seriously, just as an athlete takes his bodily conditioning seriously. We are commanded to “continually or habitually be running to win” as we serve the King. Paul said, “By the grace of God I am and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
What is the prize that makes it worth it all? Paul wrote, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thes 2:19). His goal was not a selfish crown of glory, but all the people he had won to Christ. His relationship with his brothers in Christ meant more to him than life itself.
The race is against time. Our time on earth is brief, and opportunities to share the gospel are fleeting moments that cannot be missed. We must learn at every encounter to tell the story of Jesus’s love for sinners. Will you train to run the race with your life?
“You tell me, Lord, that there is a great reward for living for Your kingdom’s purposes. Whatever honor You would give Your servant is undeserved, but I thank You for the encouragement that nothing done for You is lost or in vain.”